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Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber

The Douglas A-20 Havoc was a versatile light bomber and night fighter operated by the U.S. Army Air Force as well as American allies during World War II. The aircraft gained its name from the havoc it wreaked on German and Japanese targets. Capable of strafing attacks and bombing runs, the A-20 was especially effective against Japanese shipping and airfields throughout the Southwest Pacific. The A-20 carried a crew of two or three, and saw action in every theater of the war. Tough and dependable, the aircraft underwent many revisions and improvements. The Havoc was ultimately replaced by the A-26 Invader and the Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter.

Douglas A-20 Havoc, WW II
Douglas A-20 Havoc, WW II.

Today in WW II: 19 Jun 1944 First day of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the last major carrier aircraft battle [19-20 June].   

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber in World War II

The Douglas A-20 Havoc first saw action on 10 May 1940 when the Germans attacked France and the Netherlands. The French, who had purchased 100 A-20s and designated them DB-7s, deployed 64 aircraft against attacking Panzers. The French defense failed, and the DB-7s fell under the control of the Vichy government. They were only used against the Allies during Operation Torch. Once the Allies retook North Africa, the DB-7s were used as trainers, with the Martin B-26 Marauder taking over bomber duties.

The British were impressed with the A-20, which was easy to handle during takeoff and landing, tough, and could carry a substantial bomb load. It was adaptable enough to take on virtually any task, and a favorite among pilots. The first deliveries of the A-20 reached the 3rd Bomb Group of the RAF in early 1941.

On 4 July 1942, twelve A-20s undertook a daylight bombing raid at low altitude against four Dutch airfields. This attack represented the first raid in the European Theater. However, the A-20 saw little action until the D-Day Invasion on 6 June 1944.

The most common variant of the A-20 aircraft, the A-20G, was used widely in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation. The 47th, 409th, 410th, and 416th Bomb Groups in Europe were equipped with A-20s, as were the 3rd, 312th, and 417th in the Pacific.

In the Pacific, the 312th transitioned to the A-20G in the field. Naming themselves the "Roarin' 20s," the 312th fought their way from New Guinea to the Philippines in the A-20, using the aircraft primarily for ground attack. The A-20 also undertook low-level attack missions against Japanese airfields and shipping in the Pacific Theater.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Models and Production History

In the fall of 1937, the U.S. Army Air Corps issued a specification for an attack aircraft. Douglas, led by Ed Heinemann, submitted a design based on the existing but failed Model 7A light fighter, upgraded with Pratt &smp; Whitney R-1830 S3C3-G Twin Wasp engines.

This model, designated the Model 7B, was fast and agile, but did not receive any orders in the U.S. The French Purchasing Commission was impressed, however, and quietly participated in flight trials. Despite a crash on 23 January 1939 during a single-engine performance test, the French ordered 100 production aircraft, designated the DB-7 for Douglas Bomber 7.

The French order required significant modifications, including a deeper, narrower fuselage, guns built by the French, and metric instrumentation. The French designated the resulting light bomber the DB-7 B-3, where "B-3" signified "three-seat bomber." The DB-7s were shipped to and assembled in Casablanca for use in France and French North Africa. The French increased their order to 270 when World War II began but surrendered shortly after before delivery.

The A-20 was a "tweener," a twin-engine aircraft that filled the gap between true fighters and bombers. The A-20 had four or six cannons mounted in its solid nose, and two defensive guns in the rear of the cockpit. Blister guns on the lower fuselage were seen in some variants. The A-20 had an internal bomb bay capable of carrying a load of up to 4,000 pounds.

Early A-20s had problems with nose cannons, which tended to jam during sustained firing and had a slow firing rate. The forward firing armament was redesigned, with some A-20Gs having six cannons instead of the typical four. Later A-20Gs also saw their twin .50-cal. flexible machine gun mount replaced with an electrically powered turret with the same weapons.

The A-20G also had its wings strengthened so it could carry four 500-lb. bombs on hardpoints outboard of the engines. The bomb bay could also be fitted with a 374-gallon drop tank to extend the aircraft's range.

A total of 7,478 A-20s were manufactured, with the last A-20s coming off assembly lines in September 1944. Major models are as follows:

Model DB-7A

This early A-20 was fitted with Wright R-2600-A5B Double Cyclone engines. Destined for use by the French, the DB-7A was produced after the fall of France and instead went to the British Royal Air Force to serve as night fighters under the designation "Havoc Mk II."

Model DB-7B

The first A-20 to be ordered by the British, the DB-7B arrived in February 1940. It had better armor and larger fuel tanks than the DB-7A, making suitable as a light bomber for the RAF. The British reserved the name "Boston" for this A-20. The DB-7B participated in Operation Cerberus and Operation Jubilee.

Models A-20 and A-20A

Similar to the DB-7, the A-20 was adopted in early 1941 by the U.S. Army Air Corps for high-altitude bombing. The A-20A was a variant with R-2600-3 engines, used for lower-altitude missions. The U.S. Army ordered 123 A-20As, which the British referred to as the "Havoc."

Model A-20B

The first A-20 to be ordered in large numbers (999 in total), the A-20B was similar to the DB-7A, with lighter armor and stepped glazing in the nose. Most of the order went to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease.

Model A-20C

The A-20C was the result of an effort to standardize British and American versions of the A-20. The slanted nose of early A-20s was restored, and RF-2600-23 engines were used. Improvements included the addition of self-sealing fuel tanks and more armor. The A-20C could carry a 2,000-lb. naval torpedo. A total of 948 were built for Britain and the Soviet Union. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, the U.S. AAF retained many of them. Some A-20Cs were built by Boeing in Seattle, while 808 were produced by Douglas in Santa Monica, CA.

Model A-20G

The most numerous A-20, a total of 2,850 were built. The A-20G was redesigned to act as a ground attack aircraft. The glazed nose in earlier models was replaced by a solid nose that had four fixed 20mm cannons. These cannons protruded from the nose, giving the A-20G a distinct profile. Many of the early A-20Gs, designated A-20G-1, were transferred to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. Later A-20Gs, starting with the A-20G-5, had six .50-cal. machine guns instead of cannons, with four in the nose and the other two in a fixed position in the lower forward fuselage. A total of 2,850 were built.

Model A-20J

The A-20J was built to serve as the lead aircraft during bombing attacks. Norden bombsights were added to improve bombing accuracy, allowing the A-20J to lead "sightless" bombers to targets and achieve good drop times. The A-20J was virtually identical to the A-20G, except for nose modifications to accommodate the new bombsight. The nose guns were removed, and in the field, the lower-fuselage guns were sometimes taken off to reduce weight. A total of 450 were built. The A-20J was ultimately replaced by the A-26 Invader.

Model P-70

The U.S. need for long-range fighters resulted in some A-20s being converted to P-70 fighters and P-70A night fighters. These aircraft were given SCR-540 radar. In addition, the nose was painted black to minimize glare and conceal the radar. The P-70 saw action only with the U.S. AAF and only in the Pacific theater. The P-70 was replaced by the purpose-built P-61 Black Widow night fighter in 1944.

A wide variety of other models, variants, and conversions exist for the A-20 because of its widespread use among the Allies during World War II. The A-20 also played a role as a trainer, target tug, and was used for evaluation purposes.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber Characteristics

ArmamentEight .50-cal. machine guns
Bomb load4,000 lbs.
EnginesTwo Wright R-2600-A5B Double Cyclone engines of 1,600 hp each
Maximum speed317 mph
Cruising speed230 mph
Range1,025 miles
Ceiling25,000 ft.
Wing Span61 ft. 4 in.
Length48 ft.
Height17 ft. 7 in.
Weight26,580 lbs. loaded

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the Lancaster Mark variant, manufacturing site, and date.

The 89th Bombardment Squadron, assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Group, flew the Douglas A-20 Havoc attack bomber, during World War II in the Pacific Theater of Operations
The 89th Bombardment Squadron, assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Group, flew the Douglas A-20 Havoc attack bomber, during World War II in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber, used extensively by the Soviet Union
Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber, used extensively by the Soviet Union.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber with nose cannons visible.  These appear to be dummy or covered
Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber with nose cannons visible. These appear to be dummy or covered.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber
Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber with D-Day invasion stripes
Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber with D-Day invasion stripes.

Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber with 20mm nose cannons visible
Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber with 20mm nose cannons visible.

A-20G at the National Museum of the USAF, painted to represent 'Little Joe' of the 5th Air Force, 312th Bomb Group, 389th Bomb Squadron, with 150 missions
A-20G at the National Museum of the USAF, painted to represent 'Little Joe' of the 5th Air Force, 312th Bomb Group, 389th Bomb Squadron, with 150 missions.

Recommended Books about the Douglas A-20 Havoc Bomber

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