TBF Avenger

Grumman TBF Avenger
Missing image
Grumman TBF Avenger

TBF Avengers in 1942
RoleCarrier-based torpedo bomber
First FlightAugust 7 1941
Entered Service1942
ManufacturerGrumman, General Motors
Length40 ft 11.5 in12.48 m
Wingspan54 ft 2 in16.51 m
Height15 ft 5 in4.70 m
Wing area490.02 ft²45.52 m²
Empty10,545 lb4783 kg
Loaded17,893 lb8115 kg
Maximum takeoff17,895 lb8117 kg
Engines1x Wright R-2600-20 radial
Power1,900 hp1,420 kW
Maximum speed276 mph444 km/h
Combat range1000 miles1609 km
Ferry rangemileskm
Service ceiling30,100 ft9170 m
Rate of climb2060 ft/min10.5 m/s
Wing loading36.5 lb/ft²178 kg/m²
Power/Mass0.0094 hp/lb170 W/kg
Guns2 × .50 cal (12.7 mm) forward-firing machineguns
.50 cal (12.7 mm) dorsal-mounted machinegun
.30 cal (7.62 mm) ventral-mounted machinegun
Bombs900 kg
Other1 &times 2000 lb (900 kg) torpedo

The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) was an American torpedo bomber, developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps and used by a large number of air forces around the world. It entered service in 1942, and began major use during the Battle of Midway.

The Douglas Devastator, the main torpedo bomber of the U.S. Navy (from 1935 to about 1942) had become obsolete by 1939. In order to replace it, Grumman (the "Iron Works") was contracted to create a new replacement. Designed by Leroy Grumman, its first prototype was called the XTBF-1. Although one of the first two prototypes crashed near Brentwood, New York, rapid production continued.


The powerplant of the TBF (as it was known after production) was the Wright R-2600-8, which had 1700 horsepower (1.3 MW). It was the first to feature a new wing-folding mechanism (designed by Grumman) that would minimize space; the F6F Hellcat (also manufactured by Grumman) would have the same mechanism. There were three seats (pilot, rear gunner, and bombardier/belly gunner). There was a single .30 calibre (7.62 mm) rear turret and a belly turret; however, the most important piece of weaponry was probably the front machine gun.

During the Battle of Midway, all of the three aircraft carriers' torpedo groups (from the USS Hornet, USS Enterprise, and USS Yorktown) had taken horrendous casualties; one group had a single survivor (Ensign George Gay). This was partly due to the slow speed of the Devastator (less than 200 mph (320 km/h) during glide-bombing) and its weak defensive armament. Ironically, the first shipment of TBFs had arrived only a few hours after the three carriers quickly departed from Pearl Harbor (although a few eventually participated).

Continuing with its design, the TBF had a large bomb bay, allowing for either a single 2000 lb (900 kg) torpedo or up to four 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. It could also carry an extra fuel tank for long flights. Also, many Grumman-made planes had trademark large wings (allowing for easier handling, among other things). Finally, the plane had overall ruggedness, unlike its predecessor. With a 30,000 foot (10,000 m) ceiling and a fully-loaded range of 1,000 miles (1,600 km), it was better than any previous American torpedo plane, and better than its chief opponent, the Japanese Nakajima B5N "Kate".

General history

On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, Grumman held a ceremony to open a new manufacturing plant and display the new TBF to the public. Ironically, on that day, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, as Grumman soon found out. After the ceremony was over, the plant was quickly sealed off to ward against possible enemy action. By early June 1942, though, a shipment of more than 100 planes was sent to the Navy (although, as mentioned before, most were too late to participate in the fateful Battle of Midway).

However, six torpedo bombers were present on Midway Island, as part of VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron 8), while the rest of the squadron flew Devastators from the Yorktown. Unfortunately, most of the pilots had very little previous experience, and only one TBF survived (with heavy damage and casualties). As author Gordon Prange mentions in Miracle at Midway, the outdated Devastators (and lack of new planes) contributed somewhat to the lack of a complete victory (and the loss of the Yorktown); bravery was no equal to superior planes.

On August 24, 1942, the next major naval battle occurred at the Eastern Solomons. With only two carriers (the USS Saratoga and the Enterprise), the 24 TBFs present were able to sink the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryujo and claim one dive bomber, at the cost of seven planes. During these problems, a non-aircraft related problem had emerged: the faulty torpedoes used by the U.S. Navy had failed to explode (even on direct hits) on many occasions; Prange mentions a likely problem in the magnetic detonation device (at Midway, one submarine actually hit the Soryu with a faulty torpedo, although fortunately after it was already incapacitated).

The first major "prize" for the TBFs (which had been christened the "Avenger", in respect to the fallen pilots at Midway) was at the Battle of Guadalcanal, when Marine Corps and Navy Avengers sunk the Japanese battleship Hiei. By 1943, Grumman began to slowly phase out production of the Avenger, and General Motors took over (causing the designation to be changed to the TBM).

After hundreds of the original TBFs were built (designated the TBF-1), the TBF-1C began production. It replaced the rear turret with a .50 cal. machine gun, and replaced the fuselage-mounted front turret with two wing-mounted .50 cal. machine guns. The allotment of space for specialized internal and wing-mounted fuel tanks doubled the Avenger's range. Then, starting in mid-1944, the TBM-3 began production (with a more powerful powerplant and wing hardpoints for drop tanks and rockets). The dash-3 was the most numerous of the Avengers (with about 4,600 produced). However, most of the Avengers were dash-1s until near the end of the war (in 1945).

Besides the traditional surface role (torpedoing surface ships), Avengers claimed about thirty submarine kills, including the cargo submarine I-52, whose remains were found in 1998. They were one of the most effective sub-killers in the Pacific theatre.

After the "Marianas' Turkey Shoot", in which more than 250 Japanese aircraft were killed, Admiral Marc Mitscher ordered a 200-aircraft mission to find the Japanese task force. At the extreme end of their range (more than 250 statute miles (400 km) out), the group of Hellcats, TBF/TBMs, and dive bombers took many casualties, claiming the light carrier Hiyo as their only major prize. Although Mitscher's gamble was acceptable, it did not pay off as well as he had hoped.

In June 1943, future-President George H.W. Bush became the youngest naval aviator ever. While flying a TBF with VT-51 (from the USS San Jacinto), his plane was shot down on September 2, 1944 over enemy territory. Both of his crewmates died; however, because he released his payload before being forced to bail out, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Near the end of the war, TBF/TBMs killed two of the Japanese "super battleships": the Musashi and the Yamato (which was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's flagship for most of the war). The Avengers played a very major role in the American victory during World War II, although torpedoes had become largely outdated (replaced by the faster and more effective dive bombers) by then.

The Avenger was also used by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm where it was initially known as the "Tarpon" however this name was later discontinued and the Avenger name used instead.

Soon after the end of the war, Avengers were involved in pioneering aerial topdressing trials in New Zealand that led to the establishment of an industry which markedly increased food production and efficiency in farming worldwide. Pilots of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 42 Squadron spread fertilizer from Avengers beside runways at Ohakea air base.


  • The Avenger (http://www.acepilots.com/planes/avenger.html)
  • Prange, Gordon William, et. al. Miracle at Midway (1983, Viking): ISBN 0140068147.
Related content
Similar Aircraft TBD Devastator - TB2D Skypirate - TBY Sea Wolf - Nakajima B5N - Nakajima B6N - Fairey Barracuda
Designation series TBF Avenger - Grumman TB2F - TB3F Guardian
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

de:Grumman TBF



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