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TBD Devastator

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Douglas TBD Devastator
Douglas TBD Devastator
Douglas TBD-1 Devastator.
Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) commanding officer's plane, from USS Enterprise (CV-6), 1938.
Description
RoleCarrier-based torpedo bomber
CrewThree: Pilot, Torpedo Officer/Navigator, Radioman/Gunner
First Flight1935
Entered Service1937
ManufacturerDouglas
Dimensions
Length35 ft 0 in10.67 m
Wingspan50 ft 0 in15.24 m
Height15 ft 1 in4.60 m
Wing area422 ft²39.2 m²
Weights
Empty6,182 lb2,804 kg
Loaded9,862 lb4,473 kg
Maximum takeoff10,194 lb4,623 kg
Powerplant
EnginesPratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp radial
Power900 hp671 kW
Performance
Maximum speed206 mph331 km/h
Combat range435 miles700 km
Ferry rangemileskm
Service ceiling19,700 ft6000 m
Rate of climb720 ft/min219.45 m/min
Wing loadinglb/ft²kg/m²
Power/Masshp/lbkW/kg
Armament
Guns.30 cal (7.62 mm) machinegun forward-firing
.30 cal (7.62 mm) machinegun in rear cockpit
Bombs1 × 1000 lb (453 kg) bomb
Other1 × Mark XIII torpedo - 1,200 lb (544 kg)

The Douglas TBD Devastator was a torpedo bomber of the United States Navy, ordered in 1934, first flying in 1935 and entering service in 1937. At that point, it was the most advanced plane flying for the USN and possibly for any navy in the world. However, the fast pace of aircraft development caught up with it, and by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the TBD was already outdated. It performed well in some early battles, but in the Battle of Midway the Devastators launched against the Japanese fleet were almost totally wiped out. The type was immediately withdrawn from service, replaced by the Grumman TBF Avenger.

The TBD Devastator marked a large number of "firsts" for the US Navy. It was the first widely-used monoplane design in Navy service, as well as the first all-metal plane, the first with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulically folding wings and the first with wheel brakes; it is fair to say that the TBD was revolutionary. A retractable undercarriage was fitted, although the wheels were designed to protrude 10 inches (250 mm) below the wings to permit a "wheels-up" landing with only minimal damage.

A crew of three were carried beneath a single, large "greenhouse" canopy almost half the length of the airplane. The pilot, of course, sat up front; a rear gunner and radio operator took the rearmost, rear-facing seat, while the Torpedo Officer (bombardier) sat in the middle seat during flight. During a bombing run, the bombardier lay prone, sliding into position under the pilot to sight through a window in the bottom of the fuselage. The offensive armament that he targeted would be either a single Mark XIII torpedo or a single 1000 lb (450 kg) bomb. Defensive armament consisted of either a .30 or .50 cal (7.62 or 12.7 mm) machine-gun firing forwards, and a .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun for the rear gunner.

The powerplant was a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp radial engine of 900 horsepower (671 kW).

129 of the type were purchased, equipping the carriers USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, USS Wasp, USS Hornet, USS Yorktown and USS Ranger.

While the US Navy became aware by about 1940 that the TBD had become outclassed by the fighters and bombers of other nations and a replacement (the TBF Avenger) was in the works, it was not in service yet by the entry of the United States into World War II. Training attrition had reduced their numbers by then to just over 100 aircraft.

The early days of the Pacific war saw the TBD acquit itself well in the attacks in February and March 1942 and in the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which their attacks sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho.

Problems were being discovered with the Mark XIII torpedo at this point. Large numbers of the torpedoes were seen to hit the target yet fail to explode; it took quite some time for the problems to be corrected, including a tendency to run deeper than the set depth.

These problems were not corrected by the time of the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. 41 bombers were sent by USS Hornet, USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown to attack the Japanese fleet. Their fighter escort lost contact with the torpedo bombers in the clouds, and the Devastators started their attack runs without protection from the Japanese fighters. Torpedo bombing requires a long, straight-line attack run, making the planes vulnerable anyway, and the slow speed of the aircraft made them sitting ducks for the Mitsubishi Zeros. One by one they fell; only four planes made it back to the carriers. Worse, not a single torpedo hit its target.

Later on in the battle, TBDs did sink one Japanese cruiser and severely damage another.

The Navy immediately withdrew the TBD from front-line service in the Pacific after Midway. There were only 39 aircraft left in any case. They remained in service briefly in the Atlantic and in training squadrons until 1943. None survived the war.

In fairness to the type, the disaster of the Battle of Midway attack was as much due to the vulnerability of torpedo bombers against AAA fire and attacking fighters fielded by an undistracted enemy fleet. Without a fighter escort to keep off the Zeroes and distract the shipborne AAA guns, TBF Avengers might have seen nearly as heavy losses.

Related content
Similar Aircraft TBF Avenger - Fairey Barracuda - Nakajima B5N - Nakajima B6N
Designation Series TBD Devastator - TB2D Skypirate
Related Lists List of military aircraft of the United States


Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

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