SBD is an acronym for Scout Bomber Douglas, but the performance of the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber, especially in the Battle of Midway, earned it the nickname “Slow But Deadly.”
Having been designed and produced by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation from 1940 to 1944, the service of the Dauntless with the United States Navy spanned from mid-1940 to mid-1944. It featured as a carrier-based surveillance plane and dive bomber during the Second World War.
The United States Marine Corps also used the SBDs both from aircraft carriers and land bases.
During its time, it was praised for its excellent maneuverability, powerful bomb load, good defensive armament, sturdy external features and its ability to fly longer distances with a single fueling.
The SBD was manufactured after Douglas Aircraft took over Northrop Corporation. Before then, Northrop Corporation was already designing a two-seat monoplane dive bomber called Northrop BT-1, and Douglas continued the project after acquiring Northrup.
Modifications were made to the BT-1 to obtain Northrop BT-2, and it was on the basis of the BT-2 that the SBD was built.
The SBD was developed in late 1940 at the Douglas plant in El Segundo, CA, to meet orders from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The aircraft were designated SBD-1 and SBD-2.
SBD-1 was sent to the Marine Corps, while the SBD-2 with increased fuel capacity was sent to the Navy.
SBD-3 came shortly after, in early 1941. Next would be SBD-4, -5, and -6, with more improvements on each variant.
The SBD had a space for a crew of two and weighed nearly 10,700 pounds on full load. It was powered by a Wright R-1820-60 radial engine, which produced 1,200 horsepower.
The aircraft had a cruise speed of 185 mph and a maximum speed of 255 mph.
The SBD’s armament comprised two 0.50-in and 0.30-in Browning machine guns in its engine cowling and rear respectively. It also carried 2,250 pounds of bombs.
Another version of the SBD known as the A-24 Banshee was built for the United States Air Force. It came with the omission of the arrestor hook which was used by the SBDs for rapid deceleration during carrier landings.
The SBD served with the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater and was the first U.S. Navy plane to sink an enemy ship. SBDs featured in the Battle of the Coral Sea, during which the Japanese light aircraft carrier Shōhō was sunk and fleet carrier Shōkaku was damaged.
SBDs had several victories against Japanese aircraft that attempted to attack the aircraft carrier USS Lexington.
The SBD’s most vital service came in June 1942 during the Battle of Midway. Four Japanese fleet carriers, Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū, were sailing along the Midway Atoll when they were ambushed by four squadrons of Navy SBDs. The SBD dive bombers disabled three of them in just less than six minutes, and by the end of the attack, all four of the carriers were severely damaged, forcing the Imperial Japanese Navy to scuttle them.
The performance of the SBDs in this event marked a highly decisive strategic defeat for Japan, and would affect them negatively throughout the Pacific War.
The SBD was also active during Operation Torch and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, among others.
The “Slow But Deadly” aircraft was preferred by many dive bomber pilots over the much faster, more powerful, and better armed Curtiss Helldiver due to its better handling characteristics, particularly during carrier landings.
Before production of SBD’s ceased shortly before the end of the war, a total of 5,936 of them were manufactured.
The SBD was more involved in the sinking of enemy ships than any other Allied bomber, with six Japanese carriers, fourteen cruisers, six destroyers, fifteen freighters, and several other lesser crafts on its list. This established the SBD among the most crucial aircraft in the Pacific War.