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Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
SB2C-1 of VB-8 aboard USS 'Bunker Hill' during Saipan campaign - from The Encyclopedia of Air Warfare (Salamander Books, 1977)
The Helldiver was ordered into large-scale production in 1940, the prototype making its first flight on 18 December of that year. SB2Cs went into action for the first time on 11 November 1943 in a heavy raid on the major Japanese base of Rabaul,  flying from the new Essex Class carrier Bunker Hill.

This large, heavy, impressive and powerful dive-bomber was intended as an improvement on the SBD Dauntless, which it was to replace.  However, during ithe SB2C's development it became apparent that there were serious problems with its design.  Combat experience,  especially at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, revealed that the Dauntless was in fact the superior aircraft. The Helldiver's handling was poor - in particular it had unsatisfactory low-speed stability, and dangerously poor stalling characteristics.  It was also unstable in a high-speed dive, and therefore a less accurate bomber than the SBD. Since dive-bombing was the aircraft's raison d'etre, this fault alone was enough to make the SB2C an unacceptable replacement for the Dauntless.   However, it was at this stage impossible to reverse the changeover to the Helldiver, and the Philippine Sea battle was the SBD's last major action as a carrier aircraft.

Despite its initial lacklustre showing - and its inherent defects - the SB2C served as the sole shipborne dive-bomber of the US Navy from late 1944 until the end of the war, inflicting immense damage on enemy shipping and installations.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver - by Peter C. Smith

Helldiver - the Last Dive Bomber - by Robert Guttman

Two SB2Cs in flight (view at 1024 x 768 pixels) - 87k
SB2C with two 'Essex' Class fast carriers in background


Type:  Two-seat carrier-based dive-bomber

Dimensions:  Length 36' 8", span 49' 9", height 16' 11".

Weight (typical):  Empty 11,000 lb,  loaded 16,607 lb

Engine:  One 1,700 hp Wright R-2600-8 Cyclone 14-cylinder radial.

Performance:   Maximum speed 281 mph, service ceiling 24,700 feet

Range:  1,110 miles

Armament (later versions): -
1,000 lb bomb load in internal bay
(later versions also having provision for bombs under wings)
Two fixed forward-firing 20mm cannon or four fixed forward-firing 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns in wings
Twin manually-aimed 0.3-inch or 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns in rear cockpit

Pacific Aircraft - Index

Douglas SBD Dauntless - the SB2C's predecessor

Grumman F4F Wildcat - US shipborne fighter

Grumman F6F Hellcat - US shipborne fighter

Grumman TBF Avenger - US shipborne torpedo-bomber

 Task Force 58 - the Fast Carrier Task Force

The Battle for Leyte Gulf

The Battle of the Philippine Sea


Curtiss SB2C Helldiver - by Peter C. Smith

Helldiver in markings of USS 'Shangri-La' air goup