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Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was a carried-based diver bomber used by the U.S. Navy in World War II. It carried a crew of two, a pilot and radio operator/gunner. Though disliked and plagued by design problems, the SB2C was widely used during the final two years of the Pacific War in a variety of roles. Navy pilots nicknamed the SB2C the "Big Tailed Beast," or "Beast" for short, or the "Son of a Bitch Second Class" because of its poor handling. The U.S. Army Air Corps had its own version of the Helldiver, known as the A-25A Shrike, which never saw combat. The Helldiver was the last purpose-built diver bomber, and played an important role in tactical attacks against Japanese shipping and ground targets.

Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver bombers from <i>USS Yorktown</i> (CV-10) fly over the Iwo Jima invasion fleet, while en route to bomb targets on the island, 22 February 1945. Note bombs under the planes' wings.
Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver bombers from USS Yorktown (CV-10) fly over the Iwo Jima invasion fleet, while en route to bomb targets on the island, 22 February 1945. Note bombs under the planes' wings.

Today in WW II: 20 Apr 1945 Northern Italy: US 5th Army breaks out beyond the Apennines, into the broad Po River Valley, forcing retreat across the Po by forces of German Gen. Heinrich Von Vietinghoff.   

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver in World War II

The SB2C Helldiver first saw action on 11 November 1943 when squadron VB-17 of the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) attacked Rabaul, the important Japanese naval base on the island of New Britain. Design problems prohibited Navy pilots from using the Helldiver as a diver bomber: The SB2C-1 also flew slowly and had limited range, so that 45 aircraft were lost when they ran out of fuel returning from the first Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Curtiss improved the Helldiver sufficiently that when the SB2C-4 was first manufactured, many of the faults had been corrected. Early problems with the Curtiss-Electric propeller and the hydraulic system were corrected in later SB2C models. This allowed the Helldiver to keep up with escort fighters, carry a heavier bomb load, and operate over greater distances.

Helldivers saw action in Leyte Gulf, the Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, where they participated in the sinking of the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato. The development of ground rockets led to SB2C Helldivers engaging in precision attacks against ships and land-based targets without the risks of dive bombing.

The Navy continued to use Helldivers through the end of the Pacific War. Helldivers went on patrol between the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, before the official Japanese surrender.

The A-25A Shrike, the U.S. Army Air Corps version of the Helldiver, never saw combat. The AAC wanted its own diver bombers after seeing German use of such aircraft in Europe, and opted for an existing design to reduce development time. The A-25A was based on the SB2C-1, but altered for the Army. The Shrike had no arrestor hook and its wings did not fold. The Shrike could carry 2,000 lbs. of bombs in an enclosed bomb bay and another 1,000 lbs. on the wings. Other armament was the same.

The Shrike first flew on 29 September 1942. The Army ordered 100 A-25As in December 1940, and a total of 900 were actually built, with about half of those going to the Marine Corps when the Army decided not to use dive bombers in combat. The A-25As were instead used for training.

The Helldiver was also intended for use with the British Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force, but orders were canceled due to the aircraft's poor handling.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver Models and Production History

Curtiss developed the Helldiver as a replacement for the Douglas SBD Dauntless. The Helldiver was larger and able to operate from the latest aircraft carriers, and could carry a variety of weaponry. It had an internal bomb bay to reduce drag, folding wings, and a turret-mounted machine gun in the rear of the cockpit for the radio operator/gunner to use against opposing aircraft.

The first prototype, designated the XSB2C-1, had problems due to its R-2600 engine and three-blade propeller. It also was structurally weak and handled poorly. This prototype flew in December 1940, but then crashed in February 1941. Curtiss redesigned the SB2C, but the second prototype was lost in December 1941 due to catastrophic failure when pulling out of a test dive.

Although production was ordered on 29 November 1940, the production model required many modifications. Fuel capacity was increased, the rudder was enlarged, and self-sealing fuel tanks were added. The number of machine guns in the wings was doubled too. This production model was designated the SB2C-2.

Ongoing production problems delayed the appearance of the Helldiver until November 1943. Helldivers were built at the Curtiss facility in Columbus, Ohio, as well as by Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. in Canada and the Canadian Car and Foundry.

A total of 7,140 Helldivers were manufactured, with Fairchild building 300 and Canadian Car and Foundry, 894. Major models are as follows.

Model SB2C-1

The first production model of the Helldiver, with 200 built. The SB2C-1A became the A-25A for the U.S Army Air Corps and the Marine Corps. The SB2C-1C had two 20mm cannons added to the wings, and hydraulically operated flaps. A total of 778 SB2C-1Cs were built.

Model SB2C-3

The second major production model of the Helldiver, the SB2C-3 had a R-2600-20 engine of 1,900 hp and a four-bladed propeller. A total of 1,112 were built. The SB2C-3E was equipped with the Western Electric AN/APS-4 radar (also known as ASH X-Band Intercept Radar).

Model SB2C-4

This model was the same as the SB2C-1, but had wing racks for eight 5-in. rockets or 1,000-lbs. of bombs added. A total of 2,045 were built.

Model SB2C-5

The final production model of the Helldiver, with increased fuel capacity. A total of 970 were built.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver Characteristics

ArmamentFour .50 cal. machine guns in wings; one .50 cal. flexible machine gun in the rear cockpit
Bomb load3,000 lbs.
Engine1,700 hp Wright R-2600-8
Maximum speed275 mph
Cruising speed240 mph
Range700 mi.
Ceiling26,800 ft.
Span49 ft. 9 in.
Length36 ft. 8 in.
Height14 ft. 6 in.
Weight10,114 lbs. empty; 13,674 lbs. loaded

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the SB2C Helldiver variant, manufacturing site, and date.

SB2C Helldiver bomber prepares to land on USS <i>Hornet</i> (CV-12), January 1945
SB2C Helldiver bomber prepares to land on USS Hornet (CV-12), January 1945.

Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver scout-bomber of Bombing Squadron Ten (VB-10), USS <i>Intrepid</i> (CV-11) flies over Tientsin, China, as the city is reoccupied by the Allies, 5 September 1945
Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver scout-bomber of Bombing Squadron Ten (VB-10), USS Intrepid (CV-11) flies over Tientsin, China, as the city is reoccupied by the Allies, 5 September 1945.

Flight Deck Officer on USS <i>Hancock</i> (CV-19) waves the take-off flag at SB2C Helldiver bomber, during strikes on Manila Bay, Philippines, 25 November 1944
Flight Deck Officer on USS Hancock (CV-19) waves the take-off flag at SB2C Helldiver bomber, during strikes on Manila Bay, Philippines, 25 November 1944.

Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver bombers return to their carrier after a mission supporting Marines fighting on Iwo Jima, March 1945. The planes' tail markings indicate that they are from USS <i>Lexington</i> (CV-16)
Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver bombers return to their carrier after a mission supporting Marines fighting on Iwo Jima, March 1945. The planes' tail markings indicate that they are from USS Lexington (CV-16).

U.S. Army Curtiss A-25A, based on the Curtiss SB2C-1 (Scout Bomber) design
U.S. Army Curtiss A-25A, based on the Curtiss SB2C-1 (Scout Bomber) design.

Commemorative Air Force Navy Curtis-Wright SB2C Helldiver takes off from Joint Base Andrews (Andrews AFB, MD) after completion of the Joint Service Open House 2010, 16 May 2010.
Commemorative Air Force Navy Curtis-Wright SB2C Helldiver takes off from Joint Base Andrews (Andrews AFB, MD) after completion of the Joint Service Open House 2010, 16 May 2010.

Recommended Books about the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

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