The U.S. Navy (USN) was looking for a torpedo bomber to replace the TBD Devastator. The USN ordered two XTBF-1S prototypes in April 1940. The XTBF-1S had a bomb bay large enough to contain the largest torpedo then in the USN’s inventory.[i] One of the prototypes crashed on November 28, 1941. The crew, Bob Hall and Gordon Israel bailed out safely.[ii]
After the attack on Pearl Harbor the TBF was dubbed the Avenger. [iii] The first production TBF-1 Avenger flew on January 3, 1942. TBF-1S Avengers reached a front-line unit, VT-8 within the month.[iv] Production ended in June 1945 after Grumman built 9,836 Avengers. The USN kept Avengers in service into the 1950s.[v]
[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © HarpersCollins Publishers 2005. P.166.
[ii] Military Factory.com, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=300, last accessed 9/17/20.
[iii] Military Factory.com, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=300, last accessed 9/17/20.
[iv] Military Factory.com, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=300, last accessed 9/17/20.
[v] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © HarpersCollins Publishers 2005. P.166.
The TBF Avenger’s baptism of fire was the Battle of Midway. On June 4, 1942 the USS Hornet launched 6 Avengers. The Japanese shot down 5 of them. The Avenger that returned had a dead tail gunner, Seaman 1st Class Jay D. Manning, and a wounded bombardier, Radioman 3rd Class Harrier H. Ferrier. The pilot was Ensign Albert K. Earnest.[i]
On August 24 the USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga launched 24 Avengers against the Japanese light carrier Ryujo. The Avengers sank the Ryujo with 4 bombs and 1 torpedo. The Avengers also claimed a Japanese torpedo plane. The Japanese shot down 7 Avengers in the attack.[ii]
In the first naval battle of Guadalcanal the USN credited Avengers with sinking the Japanese battleship Hiei, on November 13, 1942. The Hiei, the first Japanese battleship sunk during the war, received multiple hits from ships and aircraft.[iii]
In the Atlantic Ocean, near Newfoundland two USN Avengers from the USS Bogus sank the U-569 on May 22, 1943.[iv] Avengers claimed sinking a submarine off Tarawa on November 29, 1943. It was most likely the Japanese submarine I-21, which was lost with all 101 on board.[v]
On the first day of the Battle of the Philippine Sea one of the lost Avengers was piloted by Ensign George H.W. Bush. Ensign Bush ditched his Avenger and the destroyer USS Clarence K. Bronson rescued Ensign Bush and his crew.[vi] The U.S. Navy lost 130 aircraft, about 100 of them due to fuel starvation, in this 2-day battle. Japan lost 476 aircraft.[vii] On the second day of the battle a flight of 4 TBFs, led by Lt. (jg) George Brown attacked the carrier Hiyo. The Japanese shot down two of the TBFs, one of the downed TBFs dropped a torpedo bomb, which struck the Hiyo’s engine room, before crashing. The Hiyo was later torpedoed by a submarine.[viii] The sinking of the Hiyo was attributed to aircraft.[ix]
On July 25, 1944 two Avengers attacked and sank a Japanese trawler. Ensign George H.W. Bush was one of the Avenger pilots.[x] The other Avenger pilot was R. R. Houle.[xi] In 1993 Mark Hertsgaard insinuated then Ensign George H. W. Bush and the others sank an unarmed ship and committed a war crime. This was laid to rest when a team of divers found the sunken trawler along with a 75-mm gun, 75mm and smaller caliber ammunition.[xii]
On September 2, 1944 Lt. (jg) Bush was in a flight of 4 Avengers attacking installations on Chi Chi Jima. Anti-aircraft fire struck Bush’s Avenger. He completed his bomb run. A short time later he and another crew member bailed out. The chute of the other crew member didn’t open. The submarine USS Finback rescued Bush. The crew members who died were Radioman 2nd Class John Delaney and Lt. (jg) William White.[xiii]
The Japanese built 2 battleships they believed to be unsinkable. These were the Musashi and the Yamato. They displaced 64,170 tons. These were by far the largest battleships ever built. Both of these ships were in action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The USN attacked the Musashi from the air and struck it with 17 bomb and 19 torpedo strikes. Avengers were credited with its sinking on October 24, 1944. 1,023 Japanese sailors went down with the Musashi. The USN lost 18 planes in the effort.[xiv]
On April 7, 1945 the battleship Yamato, with an escort of the light cruiser Yahagi, and 8 destroyers was near Kyushu when carrier-based aircraft attacked. The Yamato suffered many hits from bombs and torpedo bombs before sinking. The USN credited Avengers with the killing blows. The Yahagi and 4 of the escorting destroyers sank, the surviving 4 destroyers suffered damage and casualties. The USN losses were 10 planes, 14 airmen killed and 3 injured.[xv]
On May 4, 1945 Royal Navy Avengers and Martlets (Wildcats) sank the U-711. It was the last U-boat sunk by the Royal Fleet Air Arm.[xvi] Avengers sank 11 U-boats and shared in the sinking of 23 others.[xvii] Avengers sank over 60 surface warships and many merchant ships.[xviii]
On December 5, 1945, a flight of 5 Avengers, Flight 19 led by Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor, took off on a training mission from NAS Fort Lauderdale. The weather deteriorated and from radio messages the crews were disoriented. When NAS Fort Lauderdale lost contact a Martin PBM Mariner flying boat was dispatched from NAS Banana River. No trace of the Avengers, the Mariner, or the 27 crew members, were ever found. The aircraft were in an area of the Atlantic Ocean dubbed The Bermuda Triangle. These and other disappearances in that area have been the cause of much speculation by many who suspect a supernatural or extraterrestrial reason for the losses.
In the autumn of 1945 New Zealand Avengers sprayed fertilizer over Japan to increase crop yields. In 1947 New Zealand Avengers carried out aerial seeding and fertilizer in New Zealand.[xix] Canada used some Avengers as aerial firefighters. They served in the role until 1973.[xx]
[i] Midway-based Torpedo Attacks on the Japanese Carrier Striking Force, 4 June 1942, https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/OnlineLibrary/photos/events/wwii-pac/midway/mid-4a.htm, last accessed 9/18/20.
[ii] Commemorative Air Force, Missouri Wing, https://cafmo.org/content/our-aircraft/avenger/avenger.aspx, last accessed 9/19/20.
[iii] Combined Fleet.com, http://www.combinedfleet.com/hiei2.htm, last accessed 9/19/20.
[iv] Uboat.net, https://www.uboat.net/boats/u569.htm, last accessed 9/24/20.
[v] Combined Fleet.com, I-21, http://www.combinedfleet.com/I-21.htm, last accessed 9/27/20.
[vi] History.navy.mil, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/biographies-list/bios-b/bush-george-h-w.html, last accessed 9/22/20.
[vii] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981P325-326.
[viii] Combined Fleet, http://www.combinedfleet.com/hiyo.htm, last accessed 9/22/20.
[ix] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981P325-326.
[x] History.navy.mil, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/biographies-list/bios-b/bush-george-h-w.html, last accessed 9/21/20.
[xi] Harper’s Magazine, The Question Bush Never Got Asked: Did he, as a Navy pilot, strafe a lifeboat? By Mark Hertsgaard, https://harpers.org/archive/1993/09/the-question-bush-never-got-asked/, last accessed 9/21/20.
[xii] Project Recover, Finding the Trawler President Bush Sank, https://www.projectrecover.org/ghw-bush-japanese-trawler/, last accessed 9/22/20.
[xiii] History.navy.mil, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/biographies-list/bios-b/bush-george-h-w.html, last accessed 9/22/20.
[xiv] Warfare History Network.com, Death of Super Battleship Yamato and Musashi, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/30/death-of-super-battleship-yamato-and-musashi/, last accessed 9/23/20.
[xv] Warfare History Network.com, Death of Super Battleship Yamato and Musashi, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/30/death-of-super-battleship-yamato-and-musashi/, last accessed 9/24/20.
[xvi] Royal Fleet Air Arm, https://www.uboat.net/boats/u711.htm, last accessed 9/24/20.
[xvii] U-boat.net, https://www.uboat.net/allies/aircraft/avenger.htm, last accessed 9/24/20. This page shows Avengers getting partial credit for the sinking of U-589. The U-589 page, https://www.uboat.net/boats/u589.htm, indicates the HMS Onslow and a Swordfish from the HMS Avenger sank the U-589.
[xviii] Aviation Trivia, https://www.aviationtrivia.org/tbm-avenger, last accessed 9/27/20.
[xix] Aviation Trivia, https://www.aviationtrivia.org/tbm-avenger, last accessed 9/27/20.
[xx] Aviation Trivia, https://www.aviationtrivia.org/tbm-avenger, last accessed 9/27/20.
3 x 0.30 cal. machine guns
3 x 7.69mm machine Guns
Bomb Load (internal)
1,600 lbs. torpedo bomb
726 kg torpedo bomb
Sunk By Avengers
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 28, 2020:
Thank you both for reading and commenting. It is interesting how much history is in aircraft. Fate is fickle.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 28, 2020:
Avengers was a great name for this fantastic plane, Robert. This was another great historic artical and I enjoyed reading about this plane. The Bermuda Triangle aspect is very interesting. Bush's survival is also good.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 28, 2020:
History would have changed if-then Ensign George H.W. Bush not survived that battle incident. Thanks for writing about the history of another aircraft.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 27, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Flight 19 took off in good weather but the weather deteriorated quickly. The flight apparently got disoriented and when their fuel ran out they would of had to ditch. The lost rescue craft may have been caught up in the bad weather. The Mariner wasn't the first or only rescue plane sent out. The reports of transmissions indicating there was something attacking the Avengers are bogus.
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 27, 2020:
How interesting to find references to the elder Bush’s service as well as disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. What is your perspective on what happened to military people unaccounted for in the Bermuda Triangle?