“Slow But Deadly” – Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive-bomber with 26 Photos

 
 
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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.

SBD-5s pictured on the assembly line at Douglas Aircraft Company’s El Segundo Plant, California (USA), 1943.
SBD-5s pictured on the assembly line at Douglas Aircraft Company’s El Segundo Plant, California (USA), 1943.

The United States Marine Corps also used the SBDs both from aircraft carriers and land bases.

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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.

A U.S. Navy SBD releasing a bomb. Note the extended dive brakes on the trailing edges.
A U.S. Navy SBD releasing a bomb. Note the extended dive brakes on the trailing edges.

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.

A comparison of the Northrop XBT-1 and XBT-2. The upper photo shows the XBT-1 (BuNo 9745) on 4 December 1936, the lower the XBT-2 (BuNo 0627) prototype on 23 July 1938. This was to be the prototype of the later Douglas SBD Dauntless, although canopy and tail would differ from the XBT-2.
A comparison of the Northrop XBT-1 and XBT-2. The upper photo shows the XBT-1 (BuNo 9745) on 4 December 1936, the lower the XBT-2 (BuNo 0627) prototype on 23 July 1938. This was to be the prototype of the later Douglas SBD Dauntless, although canopy and tail would differ from the XBT-2.

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.

This SBD-2 was one of sixteen dive bombers of VMSB-241 launched from Midway on the morning of 4 June. Holed 219 times in the attack on the carrier Hiryū, it survives today at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida.
This SBD-2 was one of sixteen dive bombers of VMSB-241 launched from Midway on the morning of 4 June. Holed 219 times in the attack on the carrier Hiryū, it survives today at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida.

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.

Refueling a U.S. Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless, on the flight deck of a training escort carrier, mid-1943.Hose man, swab man, and fire extinguisher (CO2) man. The plane captain is in the cockpit.
Refueling a U.S. Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless, on the flight deck of a training escort carrier, mid-1943.Hose man, swab man, and fire extinguisher (CO2) man. The plane captain is in the cockpit.

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.

U.S. Navy ordnancemen of Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6) load a 500 pound (227 kg) demolition bomb on a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), during the first day of strikes on Guadalcanal.
U.S. Navy ordnancemen of Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6) load a 500 pound (227 kg) demolition bomb on a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), during the first day of strikes on Guadalcanal.

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.

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō is torpedoed, during attacks by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft in the late morning of 7 May 1942.
Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō is torpedoed, during attacks by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft in the late morning of 7 May 1942.
Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku under dive bombing attacks by USS Yorktown (CV-5) planes, during the morning of 8 May 1942.
Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku under dive bombing attacks by USS Yorktown (CV-5) planes, during the morning of 8 May 1942.

SBDs had several victories against Japanese aircraft that attempted to attack the aircraft carrier USS Lexington.

Damage in the port forward 127 mm gun gallery aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2), from a Japanese bomb that struck near the gallery’s after end during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 1942.
Damage in the port forward 127 mm gun gallery aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2), from a Japanese bomb that struck near the gallery’s after end during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 1942.

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 burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryū, photographed by a Yokosuka B4Y aircraft from the carrier Hosho shortly after sunrise on 5 June 1942. Hiryu sank a few hours later.
The burning Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryū, photographed by a Yokosuka B4Y aircraft from the carrier Hosho shortly after sunrise on 5 June 1942. Hiryu sank a few hours later.

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.

Battle of the Philippine Sea: the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku (center) and the destroyers Akizuki and Wakatsuki maneuvering, while under attack by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft.Zuikaku was hit by several bombs during these attacks, but survived.
Battle of the Philippine Sea: the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku (center) and the destroyers Akizuki and Wakatsuki maneuvering, while under attack by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft.Zuikaku was hit by several bombs during these attacks, but survived.

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.

U.S. Navy ordnancemen loading belted cartridges into a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless at Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1942.
U.S. Navy ordnancemen loading belted cartridges into a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless at Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1942.

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.

U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” dive bombers from scouting squadron VS-8 from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the Battle of Midway, 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. Note bombs hung beneath the SBDs.
U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” dive bombers from scouting squadron VS-8 from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the Battle of Midway, 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. Note bombs hung beneath the SBDs.

 

SBD-2, BuNo 2106, a Battle of Midway veteran, later returned to United States as a carrier qualification training aircraft. Ditched in Lake Michigan while attempting to land aboard USS Sable, 1943; recovered from Lake Michigan, 1994. Totally restored and placed on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in 2001.
SBD-2, BuNo 2106, a Battle of Midway veteran, later returned to United States as a carrier qualification training aircraft. Ditched in Lake Michigan while attempting to land aboard USS Sable, 1943; recovered from Lake Michigan, 1994. Totally restored and placed on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in 2001.

 

A USAAF Douglas A-24B-5-DT (S N 42-54459) Banshee of the 531st Fighter Squadron taxis on 13 December 1943. This was the first A-24B to arrive on Makin in the Gilbert Island Chain.
A USAAF Douglas A-24B-5-DT (S N 42-54459) Banshee of the 531st Fighter Squadron taxis on 13 December 1943. This was the first A-24B to arrive on Makin in the Gilbert Island Chain.

 

A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber of Bombing Squadron 5 (VB-5) from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) over Wake Island, 5 or 6 October 1943.
A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber of Bombing Squadron 5 (VB-5) from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) over Wake Island, 5 or 6 October 1943.

 

A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless flies over the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CV-6), foreground, and USS Saratoga (CV-3) near Guadalcanal on 19 December 1942. The aircraft is likely on anti-submarine patrol.
A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless flies over the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CV-6), foreground, and USS Saratoga (CV-3) near Guadalcanal on 19 December 1942. The aircraft is likely on anti-submarine patrol.

 

A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” scout bomber (BuNo 4542), of Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) from USS Enterprise (CV-6), after landing on USS Yorktown (CV-5) at about 1140 hrs on 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway.
A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” scout bomber (BuNo 4542), of Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) from USS Enterprise (CV-6), after landing on USS Yorktown (CV-5) at about 1140 hrs on 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway.

 

A Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless of U.S. Navy bombing squadron VB-4 during Operation Leader , on 4 October 1943, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4).Bodø, Norway
A Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless of U.S. Navy bombing squadron VB-4 during Operation Leader , on 4 October 1943, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4).Bodø, Norway

 

A Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force receives the attention of ground personnel on Espiritu Santo, in 1944.
A Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force receives the attention of ground personnel on Espiritu Santo, in 1944.

 

5-Inch Forward Firing Aircraft Rockets (FFARs) mounted on a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber at Harvey Field, Inyokern, California.
5-Inch Forward Firing Aircraft Rockets (FFARs) mounted on a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber at Harvey Field, Inyokern, California.
Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless – Chino Airshow 2014.Photo: Airwolfhound CC BY-SA 2.0
Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless – Chino Airshow 2014.Photo: Airwolfhound CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Barrier crash of SBD-4 positioned on deck of USS Charger (ACV 30).1943
Barrier crash of SBD-4 positioned on deck of USS Charger (ACV 30).1943

 

SBD’s of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 236 (VMSB-236) line up for early morning take-off from Bougainville Island air strips.
SBD’s of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 236 (VMSB-236) line up for early morning take-off from Bougainville Island air strips.

 

U.S. Navy airmen training on a Douglas SBD Dauntless at the Naval Air Technical Training Center Memphis, Tennessee
U.S. Navy airmen training on a Douglas SBD Dauntless at the Naval Air Technical Training Center Memphis, Tennessee
 
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