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Douglas SBD Dauntless

The Douglas SBD Dauntless was a dive bomber used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps during World War II. The Dauntless was the main carrier-based Navy dive bomber from 1940 through 1943 in the Pacific fleet. It had the lowest loss ratio of any U.S. carrier-based aircraft, and sank more Japanese ships than any other aircraft. Crewed by a pilot and rear gunner, the Dauntless was credited with the first enemy ship sunk by the U.S. Navy in the war. It was also used by the U.S. Army Air Corps under the designation A-24 Banshee, and adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps as well as Allies such as the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Despite its age at the start of the war, the Dauntless saw action through the end of the war.

The Douglas A-24 Dauntless light dive bomber, the Army counterpart of the Navy SBD, with certain modifications to meet Army requirements. It was designed for dive-bombing operations against ground troops and installations. It is equipped with slotted diving flaps to decrease air speed and obtain greater accuracy. The Dauntless is more maneuverable than the German Stuka and is capable of carrying heavier bomb loads.
The Douglas A-24 Dauntless light dive bomber, the Army counterpart of the Navy SBD, with certain modifications to meet Army requirements. It was designed for dive-bombing operations against ground troops and installations. It is equipped with slotted diving flaps to decrease air speed and obtain greater accuracy. The Dauntless is more maneuverable than the German Stuka and is capable of carrying heavier bomb loads.

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Douglas SBD Dauntless in World War II

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps Dauntlesses engaged Japanese fighters. A total of 18 SBDs from the USS Enterprise (CV-6) saw action. At Ewa Mooring Mast Field, most of the Marine Corps SBDs in Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 232 (VMSB-232) were destroyed in Japanese ground attacks.

In the fall of 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps shipped 52 A-24 Banshees, the AAC version of the Dauntless, to the Philippine Islands. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, these planes were diverted to Australia. Due to mechanical problems and missing parts, only some of the aircraft were operational. These aircraft were assigned to Java, where the 91st Bombardment Squadron used them in attacks against a Japanese airbase in Bali. But two A-24s were shot down, and three severely damaged and grounded.

The other A-24s in Australia saw action defending New Guinea. But most were destroyed by Japanese fighters due to the short range and low speed of the A-24. The remaining A-24s became training aircraft, though the A-24B was used against Japanese forces in the Gilbert Islands.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps used the Dauntless in strikes against Japanese targets in the Pacific. SBDs from the Enterprise destroyed the Japanese submarine I-7 on 10 December 1941. In February 1942, SBDs from the Enterprise, Lexington (CV-2) and Yorktown (CV-5) attacked Japanese installations in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Dauntless, in concert with the TBD-1, sank the Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft carrier Shoho.

At the Battle of Midway, the U.S. Navy Dauntless played a vital role by engaging in dive bombing attacks that sank or fatally damaged all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers present. They also damaged two Japanese cruisers. But Marine SBDs operating from Midway Island did poorly because they used glide bombing attacks instead of the "helldiver" technique. Carrier-based SBDs did better, in part because of escort from F4F Wildcats.

The SBD remained in use in the Pacific until 1944, when it saw its last major action during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Navy went on to replace the Dauntless with the SB2C Helldiver, a change that frustrated many pilots who preferred the Dauntless, nicknamed "Slow But Deadly" over the Helldiver, derisively called "The Beast" or "Son of a Bitch Second Class" because of its poor handling characteristics.

Some Marine squadrons continued to operate the SBD until the end of the war. In the Atlantic, the Dauntless was used in Operation Torch, the Allied landing in North Africa in November 1942. These Dauntlesses operated from the USS Ranger (CV-4) and two escort carriers. The same Dauntlesses assaulted German shipping near Norway in 1943.

Despite being a bomber, the Dauntless also destroyed many Japanese aircraft. But its major success was in destroying enemy ships. The Dauntless was responsible for sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers, 14 enemy cruisers, and 15 transports or cargo ships.

Douglas SBD Dauntless Models and Production History

The SBD Dauntless was based on the Northrop BT-1. A production team led by Ed Heinemann created the basic plan for the prototype aircraft, designated the XBT-2 and later the XSBD-1, at the Douglas Northrop facility in El Segundo, CA. The aircraft was intended to be a carrier-based dive bomber. Douglas introduced dive brakes punched with 3-inch holes, so-called "Swiss cheese" flaps, to the Dauntless so the aircraft could dive precisely when attacking a target, then drop its bomb and pull out of the dive safely.

The SBD Dauntless first flew on 1 May 1940. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps placed orders for the SBD, with the SBD-1 going to the Marine Corps in late 1940. The SBD-2, which had greater fuel capacity and different armament, went to the Navy early in 1941.

A different version of the SBD was manufactured for the U.S. Army under the designation A-24 Banshee. This aircraft had no tail hook, and a pneumatic tire was used instead of the solid tail wheel. The 27th Bombardment Group at Hunter Field, GA, received the first A-24s. Ultimately there were three variants of the Banshee, designated the A-24, A-24A, and A-24B. The Army used 948 of the total number of SBDs built.

The Dauntless was the last dive bomber purchased by the U.S. Navy. A total of 5,936 SBD Dauntlesses and Army Air Corps/Forces A-24s were manufactured, with the final aircraft coming out of the Douglas Aircraft Company's plant in El Segundo, CA, on 21 July 1944. Major models of the SBD Dauntless are as follows:

Model SBD-1

The first production Dauntless, this aircraft was used by the U.S. Marine Corps. It lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and had minimal armor. A total of 57 were built.

Model SBD-2

The first Dauntless produced for the U.S. Navy, this version had increased fuel capacity. But it still lacked self-sealing fuel tanks. A total of 87 were built.

Model SBD-3

This variant was first manufactured in early 1941. It offered increased armor, self-sealing fuel tanks, and four machine guns. A total of 584 were built.

Model SBD-4

This variant saw improvements in the aircraft's electrical systems. A total of 780 were built. A few of these aircraft were converted to the SBD-4P, a reconnaissance version of the Dauntless.

Model SBD-5

This variant of the SBD was produced in the largest quantity, manufactured at the then-new Douglas plant in Tulsa, OK. The SBD-5 aircraft had a more powerful engine, and carried more ammunition than earlier models. Several SBD-5s went to the British Royal Navy for evaluation. Others went to the Royal New Zealand Air Force to join No. 25 Squadron in use against the Japanese, and to the Free French Air Force. A total of 2,965 were built.

Model SBD-6

The final production variant of the Dauntless, with a more powerful engine of 1,350 hp. A total of 450 were built.

Model A-24 Banshee

Also known as the SBD-3A, this is the U.S. Army Air Forces equivalent of the SBD-3, but without a tail hook. A total of 168 were built. The A-24A was virtually identical to the SBD-4, with 170 built. The A-24B was the same as the SBD-5, with 615 built.

Vought SBD Dauntless Characteristics

ArmamentTwo forward-firing fixed .50 cal. machine guns and one or two flexible, belt-fed .30 cal. machine guns in rear cockpit
Bomb load2,250 lbs.
EngineWright-R 1,200 hp 1820-60
Maximum speed255 mph
Cruising speed252 mph
Range1,205 mi.
Ceiling27,100 ft.
Span41 ft. 6 in.
Length33 ft.
Height12 ft. 11 in.
Weight9,353 lbs.

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the SBD Dauntless variant, manufacturing site, and date.

A vintage SBD Dauntless, flies over Falcon Field at the Great Georgia Air Show during Air Force Week Atlanta, 12 Oct 2007, Peachtree City, GA
A vintage SBD Dauntless, flies over Falcon Field at the Great Georgia Air Show during Air Force Week Atlanta, 12 Oct 2007, Peachtree City, GA.

In the early afternoon of 6 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway, SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS <i>Hornet</i> (CV-8) approach the immobilized and burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her
In the early afternoon of 6 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway, SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approach the immobilized and burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her.

Douglas SBD Dauntless scout bomber goes around for another landing attempt, after being waved off by the Landing Signal Officer on USS <i>Ranger</i> (CV-4), circa June 1942
Douglas SBD Dauntless scout bomber goes around for another landing attempt, after being waved off by the Landing Signal Officer on USS Ranger (CV-4), circa June 1942.

Recommended Books about the Douglas SBD Dauntless

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