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The Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber

Overview

Northrop build the XBT-1. This all metal aircraft made its first flight in July 1935.[i] When Northrop dissolved on September 8, 1937 Douglas took over the contract. The U.S. Navy (USN) ordered major modifications on November 28, 1937.[ii] Douglas built the BT-2. The USN re-designated the aircraft the SBD-1. The first production aircraft reached the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) in 1940. By the spring of 1941 the SBD-3 Dauntless was in service. Douglas built 584 SBD-3s. The U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) also purchased almost 900 of these aircraft, designated the A-24 Banshee. The USAAC wanted an aircraft similar to the German Junkers Ju 87[iii] dive bomber.[iv] When production ended Douglas had built 5,936 Dauntless aircraft.[v]


[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers, 2005

[ii] Aviation History.com, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/sbd.html, last accessed 9/9/2020.

[iii] The Ju 87 was commonly called the Stuka.

[iv] Aviation History.com, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/sbd.html, last accessed 9/9/2020.

[v] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers, 2005

In Combat

On December 7, 1941 the USS Enterprise sent out 18 SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers for routine scouting and navigation training. At 0815 Japanese Zeros spotted the dive bombers. A Zero shot down a Dauntless piloted by Ensign Manuel Gonzales. Ensign Gonzales died in the shootdown. The Dauntless pilots engaged Zeros. The Zeros shot down 5 more Dauntless dive bombers without loss. U.S. groundfire shot down another Dauntless.[i] Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson piloted one of the lost SBD-2s. His Radioman/gunner, Miller, was killed.[ii]

On December 10, 1941 a Dauntless, flown by Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward I. Anderson with Radioman/gunner 3rd Class S.J. Mason, damaged the Japanese submarine I-70. The damage forced the I-70 to stay on the surface. Later in the day a Dauntless piloted by Lieutenant Dickinson became the first USN aircraft to sink an enemy ship in World War II, the Japanese submarine I-70. All on board the I-70 perished. [iii]

On February 1, 1942 Lieutenant Kazuo Nakai, was attempting to bomb the USS Enterprise in his heavily damaged twin-engine bomber. Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd Class Bruno Gaido jumped from the catwalk and climbed into the back seat of a Dauntless. AMM3/C Gaido opened fire with the SBD’s twin 30 caliber (7.9mm) tail guns. Nakai missed the carrier proper but clipped the tail off the Dauntless before crashing into the sea. Vice Admiral William F. Halsey witnessed the incident and promoted Gaido to Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class.[iv]

In the Battle of the Coral Sea Dauntlesses and TBD Devastators attacked Japanese warships. Lieutenant Commander Robert Dixon led 3 Dauntlesses in an attack against the Japanese light aircraft carrier Shoho. Other Dauntlesses and Devastators finished off the Shoho. Lieutenant Commander Dixon radioed the famous message “Scratch one flattop! Dixon to carrier. Scratch one flattop!” The Dauntlesses and Devastators also sank the destroyer Kikuzuki and 3 auxiliary ships. The Shoho was the first Japanese ship larger than a destroyed lost in the war. Numerically the USN suffered heavier losses but they inflicted enough damage to cause the Japanese to cancel their planned invasion of Australia. This was the first major naval battle in history where the enemy ships didn’t fire on each other.[v] All the shipping damage done was from aircraft.

Japanese Zeros shot down 4 SBDs on the morning of May 8, 1942. The USN credited Dauntless pilot Lieutenant (j.g.) Stanley W. Vejtesa with shooting down a Zero.[vi]

In the Battle of Midway 16 USMC Dauntlesses from Midway Island, led by Major Loften P. Henderson, attempted to strike the Japanese task force. Japanese Zeros shot down 8 Dauntlesses, 6 more were damaged and out of the fight.[vii] The battle for Midway had gone in the Japanese favor until 37 USN Dauntlesses, led by Lieutenant Clarence W. McClusky, dove down Japanese carriers Akagi and Kaga. Lt. Richard H. Best Jr. led a 3-plane attack against the Akagi. Lt. Best’s bombs landed on the flight deck and started a fire that doomed the ship. Other Dauntlesses sank the Kaga. Then 18 Dauntlesses, led by Lieutenant Commander Maxwell E. Leslie, mortally wounded the Japanese carrier Soryu. Zeros shot down 16 of McClusky’s SBDs after the attack. [viii] That afternoon Lieutenant Wilmer E. Gallagher led a 24 Dauntlesses, without fighter escort, against the carrier Hiryu. The Hiryu was mortally wounded and sank the next day. [ix] The Dauntlesses turned the tide of the Pacific War. They sank 4 Japanese aircraft carriers defeating the Japanese task force. The battle of Midway ended on June 4, 1942. SBDs from the USS Hornet and Enterprise attacked the retreating Japanese ships. On June 6 SBDs attacked the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami. They heavily damaged the Mogami and sank the Mikuma.[x]

On 29 July, 1942 the USAAF sent 7 A-24 Banshees on a bombing mission to Burma without a fighter escort. Japanese Zeros shot down 6 of the Banshees. The USAAF withdrew the A-24 from front line service.[xi] They turned some Banshees over to the USMC. The Marines used these Banshees in various functions including antisubmarine patrols in the Caribbean, ground support, and raids on Wake Island, Bolo Harbor, Norway, and Rabaul.[xii]

On August 7, 1942 Zero pilot Petty Officer 1st Class Saburo Saki attacked an SBD piloted by Ensign Eldor E. Rodenburg. The SBD’s Aviation Radioman 3rd Class James W. Patterson, Jr. opened fire. Saki attempted to break off the attack but Aviation Ordinanceman 2nd Class Harold L. Jones opened fire and severely damaged the Zero and seriously wounded Saki. The 8 gunners in the SBD formation expended over 1,000 rounds at the attacking Zero.[xiii]

On August 24, 1942 USN SBDs sank the Japanese carrier Ryūjō. USMC SBDs sank the destroyer Asagiri.

SBDs also flew missions as part of Operation Torch. On November 10, 9 Dauntlesses sank the French battleship Jean Bart at Casablanca, Morocco. [xiv]

On November 13, SBDs sank the Japanese the heavy cruiser Kinugasa.[xv] SBDs were among the aircraft that attacked the battleship Hiei after it was heavily damaged in a battle with other ships.

The USN credited the SBDs with shooting down 138 aircraft in air-air combat. [xvi] Dauntlesses sank 14 cruisers, 6 destroyers, and 15 transport ships during World War II.

The French Navy flew the last Dauntless combat missions in the Indochina War. In 1947 SBDs from the carrier Arromanches flew 200 missions and dropped 65 tons of bombs.[xvii]


[i] Pearl Harbor Fact: A Handful of American Fighter Pilots Took On Hundreds of Japanese Warplanes, by Sebastien Roblin, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/pearl-harbor-fact-handful-american-fighter-pilots-took-hundreds-japanese-warplanes-103092?page=0%2C1, last accessed 9/8/2020.

[ii] Weapons and Warfare, https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2018/01/20/the-sinking-of-i-70/, last accessed 9/8/2020.

[iii] Weapons and Warfare, https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2018/01/20/the-sinking-of-i-70/, last accessed 9/8/2020.

[iv] USN History, https://usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/2017/04/24/toughness-aviation-machinist-mate-first-class-amm1c-bruno-peter-gaido/#:~:text=On%201%20February%201942%2C%20five%20Japanese%20twin-engine%20bombers,in%20an%20attempt%20to%20crash%20on%20the%20Enterprise., last accessed 9/11/2020.

[v] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski © 1981.

[vi] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020. Lieutenant (j.g.) Saburo Sakai lost an eye in this incident. He was the highest scoring Japanese Ace to survive the war, credited with 64 air victories.

[vii] The Pacific War 1941-1945 by John Costello, © 1981 by Atlantic Communications, Inc., P. 291.

[viii] The Pacific War 1941-1945 by John Costello, © 1981 by Atlantic Communications, Inc., P. 296.

[ix] The Pacific War 1941-1945 by John Costello, © 1981 by Atlantic Communications, Inc., P. 301.

[x] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020.

[xi] Aviation History.com, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/sbd.html, last accessed 9/9/2020.

[xii] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020. Lieutenant (j.g.) Saburo Sakai lost an eye in this incident. He was the highest scoring Japanese Ace to survive the war, credited with 64 air victories.

[xiii] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020. Lieutenant (j.g.) Saburo Sakai lost an eye in this incident. He was the highest scoring Japanese Ace to survive the war, credited with 64 air victories.

[xiv] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020. Lieutenant (j.g.) Saburo Sakai lost an eye in this incident. He was the highest scoring Japanese Ace to survive the war, credited with 64 air victories.

[xv] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020. Lieutenant (j.g.) Saburo Sakai lost an eye in this incident. He was the highest scoring Japanese Ace to survive the war, credited with 64 air victories.

[xvi] Warfare History Network, Why the Douglas SBD Dauntless Had Such a Stunning Combat Record, by Martin K.A. Morgan, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2018/12/27/the-stunning-combat-record-of-the-douglas-sbd-dauntless/#:~:text=The%20ship%20sank%20later%20that%20evening%2C%20marking%20the,all%20been%20destroyed%20by%20the%20Douglas%20SBD%20Dauntless., last accessed 9/9/2020. Lieutenant (j.g.) Saburo Sakai lost an eye in this incident. He was the highest scoring Japanese Ace to survive the war, credited with 64 air victories.

[xvii] USN History, https://usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/2017/04/24/toughness-aviation-machinist-mate-first-class-amm1c-bruno-peter-gaido/#:~:text=On%201%20February%201942%2C%20five%20Japanese%20twin-engine%20bombers,in%20an%20attempt%20to%20crash%20on%20the%20Enterprise., last accessed 9/11/2020.

SBD Dauntless Stats

Source: Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes (c) HarperCollins Publications 2005.

Max Speed

255mph

420km/h

Range

773 miles

1,244 km

Armament

2x30 caliber (rear) 2x50 caliber (front)

2x7.9mm (rear) 2x12.7mm (front)

Bomb Load

2,250 lbs.

1,021kg

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

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on September 18, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 18, 2020:

I have only seen these planes in movies, and its dives are amazing.

Robert Sacchi (author) on September 17, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. That's quite a compliment coming from a Navy man.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 17, 2020:

Well this was jam-packed with information, wow! You really took your time with this hub. Nice work!

Robert Sacchi (author) on September 14, 2020:

Thank you all for reading and commenting.

Miebakagh Fiberesima - Yes, the Dauntless really turned things around for the U.S. in the Pacific. It is amazing how much things changed in Midway in a matter of minutes.

MG Singh emge - Yes, in the Mid-30s many fell in love with the dive bombers concept. In Midway they were the ones that scored the lethal hits.

Liz Westwood - Yes they were. When the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver became operational many SBD squadron changed to the Helldiver. WWII was a time of quick aircraft development and deployment.

Peggy Woods - Yes, major battles such as Pearl Harbor and Midway have a lot of minute details that don't get into many history books.

FlourishAnyway - Yes, sometimes the name really does fit the aircraft, What is at least as interesting is the unofficial nicknames assigned to some aircraft.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 13, 2020:

The plane is aptly named and no doubt describes those flying it. It makes me wonder how they come up with these names — Dauntless, Banshee, etc.? There must be a list of possible names.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 13, 2020:

Many of us learn about battles such as the Battle of Midway, what happened at Pearl Harbor, and more. Your articles fill in the details such as the types of aircraft used, the pilots, etc. Thanks for doing all of this research.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 13, 2020:

These planes appear to have had a relatively short career of 10 years, but they were in use at a busy time of conflict.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 13, 2020:

Rodric, you're welcomed.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 12, 2020:

This plane made an appearance when the concept of the dive Bomber was at the top of tactical warfare. The Germans perfected It in Poland and France. Interesting article on this plane.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 12, 2020:

Robert, this aircraft is very powerful. It seems it is the USA success in WW 2. Thanks.

Robert Sacchi (author) on September 12, 2020:

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing. The Dauntless has an impressive history. It was the plane that turned the war in the Pacific around.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 12, 2020:

The Dauntless has quite an amazing history. This article about the history of this plane is interesting. My husband is always reading WWII books so I will share your article with him, Robert.