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Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless Dive Bomber Guillows Kit #1003

The Dauntless was the standard shipborne dive-bomber of the US Navy from mid-1940 until November 1943 (when the first operational Curtiss SB2C Helldivers arrived to replace it). In 1942-43, at the Battle of the Coral Sea, in the bitter Guadalcanal campaign and most of all in the crucial Battle of Midway, the Dauntless did more than any other aircraft to turn the tide of the Pacific War. At Midway on 4 June 1942 it wrecked all four Japanese carriers, and later in the battle sank a heavy cruiser and severely damaged another. From 1942 through to 1945, in addition to its shipboard service, the SBD saw intensive use with the US Marine Corps, flying from island bases.

In the Guadalcanal Campaign the Dauntless - operating from US carriers and from Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal itself - took a huge toll of Japanese shipping. SBDs sank the carrier Ryujo in the battle of the Eastern Solomons, and damaged three other carriers in the battles of Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. In the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942, SBDs sank the heavy cruiser Kinugasa and, supported by TBD Avengers, sank nine transports.

The Dauntless was older and slower than its Japanese opposite number, the Aichi D3A2 "Val" - but the SBD was far more resistant to battle damage, and its flying qualities perfectly suited it to its role. In particular - as its pilots testified - it was very steady in a dive.

When the more modern and powerfully-engined Helldiver went into action alongside the SBD it was soon realised - particularly at the Battle of the Philippine Sea - that the new aircraft was inferior to the Dauntless. But the Helldiver was already in large-scale production and it was too late to reverse the decision that it should supplant the Dauntless in shipboard service. The SBD was gradually phased out during 1944, and the 20 June 1944 strike against the Japanese Mobile Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea was therefore its last major action as a carrier-borne aircraft. The SBD nonetheless continued to be used effectively by the Marine Corps right up to the end of hostilities in August 1945, most notably in the Philippines campaign.

In the spring of 1938, a Northrop dive-bomber designated the BT-1 entered service with the US Navy. Its influence was felt over at the Douglas Company, where a new naval dive-bomber was designed and produced based on the Northrop design. Initially designated the XBT-2, the new design was later called the SBD when Northrop was bought out by the Douglas Company. Production began in 1940, and although the SBD had a general likeness to its Northrop predecessor, it was a completely different airplane. Testing of the prototype (with a 1,000-hp Wright Cyclone engine) revealed an exceptionally capable airplane.

In April 1939, the US Marine Corps and US Navy placed orders for the SBD-1 and SBD-2, respectively, the latter having increased fuel capacity and revised armament. The first SBD-1s entered service with the Marines' VMB-2 Squadron in late 1940, and the first SBD-2s joined the Navy in early 1941. The next variant to appear, the SBD-3, entered service in March 1941, and incorporated self-sealing and larger fuel tanks, armor protection, a bullet-proof windshield, and four machine guns. The SBD-4 followed with an upgraded 24-volt electrical system, and a few of these were converted to SBD-4P reconnaissance platforms.

The next, and most produced, variant was the SBD-5, which was built at Douglas's new Tulsa, Oklahoma plant. It had a 1,200-hp R-1820-60 engine and increased ammunition capacity. Over 2,400 SBD-5s were built, and a few were shipped to the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, under the designation Dauntless DB.Mk I, but these were never used operationally. Mexico also took delivery of a small number of SBD-5s. The SBD-6, the final variant, had an even more powerful engine and greater fuel capacity.

Meanwhile, the US Army, realizing that it did not have a dive bomber equal in capability to Germany's Ju 87 Stuka, ordered the SBD-3 in 1941, under the designation A-24. This aircraft was identical to the Navy airplanes except it did not have an arresting hook, and its tailwheel had an inflated tire instead of a solid rubber one. The A-24 was never found to be of great use during WWII, as its range and performance were inadequate for service in the South Pacific, and the dive-bombing mission was of little use elsewhere. Nevertheless, the A-24 (and later the A-24A, equivalent of the SBD-4; and A-24B, equivalent of the SBD-5) remained in service with the US Army Air Corps for several years after the war.

The Douglas A-24 was the Army's version of the Navy SBD carrier-based dive bomber. It was almost identical to its Navy counterpart, but the Army's A-24 never achieved the degree of success and immortality as did the SBD. Its relative lack of success in combat led to its early withdrawal from operational service and its relegation to training and other support roles.

The US Navy had been a pioneer in the development of dive-bombing techniques as a means of attack enemy shipping. In contrast, the US Army Air Corps had long been committed to strategic bombing, and had almost completely neglected dive bombing. However, the spectacular results obtained by German Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers during the offensives against Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and France at the beginning of the Second World War sparked a renewed interest in dive bombing on the part of the USAAC. To explore the possibility of acquiring dive bombers for its own use, in July 1940, the Army borrowed a number of newly-issued Marine Corps SBD-1 Dauntless dive bombers, and had them evaluated by the 24th Bombardment Squadron.

The results of the evaluation were quite favorable, and on September 27, 1940 the War Department ordered 78 examples of the Dauntless under the designation A-24-DE. Although intended for the Army, the aircraft had to be ordered under Navy contracts since the Navy had jurisdiction over the Douglas El Segundo plant. Serials were 41-15746 through -15823.

The A-24 was essentially identical to the Navy SBD-3 but featured Army instrumentation and radio equipment and was fitted with a pneumatic tailwheel rather than the solid rubber tire of the naval version. Like the SBD-3, the A-24 was powered by a 1000 hp Wright R-1820-52 radial and was armed with two fixed forward-firing 0.50-inch machine guns in the engine cowling and a pair of 0.30-inch flexible machine guns on an installation operated by the rear gunner. A swinging bomb cradle with a maximum capacity of 1000 pounds was located underneath the fuselage, and a fixed rack for one 100-pound bomb was mounted underneath each outer wing section.

The first A-24 was delivered to the Army on June 17, 1941. The first operational A-24 unit was the 27th Bombardment Group. It was in the process of been shipped to the Philippines when the war broke out.

The aircraft made its first flight in July 1935. The SBD Dauntless was the scourge of the Japenese Imperial Fleet in the crucial years of the Pacific War. Almost single-handedly, 54 SBDs from the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown won the pivotal Battle of Midway on June 4th 1942, destroying four Japanese "flat tops" in the course of just 24 hours. The SBD of 1942 could trace its origins back to the rival designs penned by gifted engineers John Northrop and Ed Heinemann in the mid 1930s. Northrop produced the BT-1 for the US Navy in the spring of 1938, its revolutionary all-metal stressed-skin design exhibiting airframe strength that made it an ideal candidate for adoption as a dive-bomber. By the time the BT-1 had evolved into the BT-2, Northrop had been acquired by Douglas, and the type was redesignated the SBD-1. Production aircraft began to reach the Marine Corps in 1940, and by the spring of the following year the definitive SBD-3 was in service, this version boasting self-sealing tanks, a bullet-proof windscreen, armour protection, an upgraded engine and improved armament. 584 SBD-3s were built, and it was these machines that became the key combat aircraft in the Pacific in 1942-43. The USAAC also procured nearly 900 Dauntlesses, which it designated the A-24 - production of all variants of SBD/ A-24 finally totalled 5 936. It could accommodate two pilots. It was equipped with a Wright R-1820-66 Cyclone 9 engine.

In 1943, when French North Africa joined the allied nations, the 3FB and the 4FB squadrons were created and equipped with SBDs (a total of thirty-two examples). Those units were operational in September 1944. They were moved to Cognac, they carried on missions over South-West of France at the end of the WWII against last German bastions. On April 30th 1945 the surviving planes of the 4F were embarked aboard CVE Dixmude in order to fight over Indochina. In November 1948, the ship was replaced by the CV Arromanches armed with the 3F with its SBDs. Last Dauntlesses were retired from French service in July 1949.

The story of the SBD Dauntless number 06624 of the US Navy

It was at the bottom of Lake Michigan for 50 years after going off the side of a ship and it looks like it. The Great Lakes are actually an inland fresh-water sea. Something like 20% of all the fresh water on the earth is in them. Lake Michigan is about 100 miles (over 160 km) wide so you can see that it is a big body of water. It is Navy serial number 06624, which is what we usually call it. The zero is significant because of the way the US Navy did its serial numbers. 6624 was a PBM so you have to include the zero. It was accepted late in 1942 (I think it was September) and sent from a base called Roosevelt Base at Long Beach, California to Norfolk, Virginia. Soon it was assigned to Scouting Squadron 41 (VS-41) embarked aboard USS Ranger (CV-4). Ranger was assigned to Operation Torch. 06624 participated in all normal carrier scouting squadron operations such as anti-submarine patrol, scouting, close air support, air defense suppresion, and opposing fleet operations. Because of the outstanding accuracy and effectiveness of Jean Bart's guns, a number of flights were made against it. 06624 participated in the one which opened up the forward end and caused much of the stern damage. It is my belief, based on official records, that 06624 dropped the bomb which opened up the port (left) forward side at main deck level. It still has some of the yellow paint surrounding the fuselage insignia. Soon after Torch, it was reassigned to VGS-29 aboard USS Santee. Santee was an escort carrier converted from a tanker and retained all of its tanker/replenishment oiler capability. Santee had also been at Torch. Afterward, it was sent to Recife, Brazil for operational testing of carrier-centered ASW task groups. The mission included ASW and blockade runner interception. We do not know what particular events 06624 was involved in. Some submarines were intercepted and at least one blockade runner, SS Kota Nopan, was intercepted and scuttled. Unfortunately, a US Navy boarding party was aboard when the charges blew and many were killed.

Boarding rules throughout the Navy were changed. Overall, the test was regarded as a great success and CVE-centered operations began in earnest. Santee was sent to the Pacific where it operated as both an escort and fleet unit along with its three sister ships. Depending on which story you accept, it was the first ship or first fleet unit, or first carrier hit by a kamikaze. However, 06624 was close to a year old and the SBD-5 was already in service so 06624 was pulled from fleet operations and operated at Norfolk for a few weeks. We do not know what it did in particular. Then it was sent to NAS Glenview near Chicago, Illinois where the Navy had a Carrier Qualification Training Unit. Two coal-burning paddle-wheel passenger steamers had been converted into aircraft carriers. Both pilots and deck crews were trained in carrier launching and landing. 06624 operated there for about three months before going over the side of USS Wolverine in September of 1943 during a landing accident. The pilot was recovered but the plane (along with over 100 more through the war) was abandoned. Four or five years ago it was salvaged and sent to the Air Zoo by the National Museum of Naval Aviation (the Pensacola museum) for restoration and display. It will not be restored to flying condition since little of the original would be left. The Navy does not fly its museum planes, anyway. However, it will look very good. It will be finished in two years.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

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