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The Douglas TBD=1 Devastator



The Douglas TBD-1 was the Navy's first widely-used monoplane shipboard plane. Designed to carry a heavy torpedo below the fuselage, it was necessarily a large aircraft and its 900-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radial engine could drive it to a maximum speed of slightly over 200 miles per hour. The XTBD-1 first flew in April 1935 and 129 production TBD-1s were delivered in 1937-39, rapidly replacing biplanes in the Navy's carrier torpedo squadrons. The type gave U.S. Fleet aviators valuable experience with what was, for the time, a rather high-performance aircraft. Operational attrition whittled away at the TBD inventory, which peaked at about 120 in 1939 and had declined to barely more than a hundred at the start of the Pacific War.

Though the new Grumman TBF "Avenger" was entering production as its intended replacement, the TBD-1 was the Pacific Fleet's sole torpedo plane for the first part of the war against Japan. It seemingly did well in the raids of February-March 1942 and in the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, serving in both the torpedo attack and high-level bombing roles. However, in about an hour's time on 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway, the TBD entered the annals of Naval history as a synonym for costly futility. Three squadrons of TBD-1s, VT-5 from Yorktown,  VT-6 from Enterprise, and VT-8 from Hornet, made heroic torpedo attacks on the Japanese carrier force.  All but four of forty-one aircraft in the raid were lost while achieving no hits. Old and slow, with a weak defensive armament and without self-sealing fuel tanks, the TBD had proven horribly vulnerable to enemy fighters, though this vulnerability was to a great extent typical of all torpedo attacks against well-defended ships.

At the end of the Midway battle, the Navy had just thirty-nine TBDs left. New Avengers quickly took their place on Pacific Fleet flight decks, but the older planes continued to serve (briefly) in the Atlantic Fleet and in training squadrons until late 1943. By this time, air torpedo attacks were seldom used because of the vulnerability of even the newest bombers. The twenty-one TBDs left in the Navy inventory at the start of 1944 were mainly employed as stationary hulks for maintenance training, and all were gone by the end of that year. There are no surviving TBDs today, though hope exists for recovery, restoration and exhibit of a plane lost at sea.

The TBD's short production life, and specialized intended employment, precluded much variety in the type. The first production unit was converted to a floatplane, designated TBD-1A, and used for tests well into World War II. With the 1941 adoption of popular names for Navy aircraft, the TBD began to be called the "Devastator", but for most of its operational life, it was just known as the TBD-1.


TBD-1 characteristics:

Dimensions: Wing Span, 50 feet; Length, 35 feet; Wing Area, 422 square feet.

Weights: Empty, 5712 pounds; Gross, 9444 pounds

Power plant: One 900 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 double-row radial engine.

Crew: Three men -- Pilot, Torpedo Officer/Navigator (not always carried) and Radioman/Gunner.

Armament: One 1949-pound Mark XIII Torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs; Two .30 caliber machine guns (one fixed, firing forward through the engine cowling; one flexibly mounted in the after cockpit).

Performance (with torpedo): Maximum Speed, 207 m.p.h. (@ 8,000 feet & weight of 9444 pounds).