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Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War

Douglas SBD Dauntless
Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless of US Marine Corps VMSB-232, Hawaii, December 1941

The Dauntless was the standard shipborne dive-bomber of the US Navy from mid-1940 until November 1943 (when the first operational Curtiss SB2C Helldivers arrived to replace it).  In 1942-43,  at the Battle of the Coral Sea,  in the bitter Guadalcanal campaign and most of all in the crucial Battle of Midway, the Dauntless did more than any other aircraft to turn the tide of the Pacific War.  At Midway on 4 June 1942 it wrecked all four Japanese carriers, and later in the battle sank a heavy cruiser and severely damaged another.  From 1942 through to 1945,  in addition to its shipboard service,  the SBD saw intensive use with the US Marine Corps,  flying from island bases.

In the Guadalcanal Campaign the Dauntless - operating from US carriers and from Henderson Field on the island of  Guadalcanal itself  -  took a huge toll of Japanese shipping. SBDs sank the carrier Ryujo in the battle of the Eastern Solomons, and damaged three other carriers in the battles of Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz.  In the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942, SBDs sank the heavy cruiser Kinugasa and, supported by TBD Avengers,  sank nine transports.

The Dauntless was older and slower than its Japanese opposite number, the Aichi D3A2 "Val" - but the SBD was far more resistant to battle damage, and its flying qualities perfectly suited it to its role.  In particular - as its pilots testified -  it was very steady in a dive.

When the more modern and powerfully-engined Helldiver went into action alongside the SBD  it was soon realised - particularly at the Battle of the Philippine Sea - that the new aircraft was inferior to the Dauntless.  But the Helldiver was already in large-scale production and it was too late to reverse the decision that it should supplant the Dauntless in shipboard service.  The SBD was gradually phased out during 1944, and the 20 June 1944 strike against the Japanese Mobile Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea was therefore its last major action as a carrier-borne aircraft. The SBD nonetheless continued to be used effectively by the Marine Corps right up to the end of hostilities in August 1945, most notably in the Philippines campaign.

SBD-3 Dauntlesses at Midway - from a painting by R.G. Smith (109k)

Carrier-borne US Navy SBD Dauntless dive-bomber
Douglas SBD Dauntless - by Peter C. Smith

Type:  Two-seat carrier-based and land-based dive-bomber

Dimensions:  Length 33' 0";  span 41' 6";  height 12' 11"

Weight (typical):  Empty 6,535 lb,  loaded 9519-10,700

Engine:  One 1,000 hp Wright (R-1820-32 or R-1820-52)
or 1,200 hp (R-1820-60 or R-1820-66) Cyclone 9-cylinder radial

Performance (SBD-5):   Maximum speed 252 mph,  initial climb 1,500 feet per minute,  service ceiling 24,300 feet

Range:  As dive-bomber 456 miles - as scout-bomber 773 miles

Armament (later versions) -

One 1000lb or 500lb bomb under fuselage
Two 250lb or 100 lb bombs under wings
Two fixed forward-firing 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns  in nose
Twin manually-aimed 0.3-inch Browning machine-guns in rear cockpit

Pacific Aircraft - Index
Douglas SBD Dauntless - by Peter C. Smith
Grumman TBF Avenger - shipborne torpedo-bomber

F4F/FM Wildcat  -  shipborne fighter

Grumman F6F Hellcat - shipborne fighter

Task Force 58 - the Fast Carrier Task Force

The Battle of the Philippine Sea, 19-20 June 1944

The Battle for Leyte Gulf,  23-26 October 1944

I am grateful to Frank H. McFadden, of VMSB-236,  for pointing out that
the SBD saw extensive service with the US Marine Corps
in the Philippines through to the ceasefire in 1945.

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