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Douglas TBD Devastator

The Douglas TBD Devastator was the first shipboard aircraft in widespread use in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Though only about 100 were in service at the start of the Pacific War, the Devastator was the Pacific Fleet's sole torpedo bomber in 1941. Crewed by a pilot, torpedo officer/navigator, and radioman/gunner, the TBD performed well in the Battle of the Coral Sea and elsewhere in early 1942, but sustained heavy losses during the Battle of Midway. The remaining Devastators served briefly in the Atlantic Fleet and in training squadrons, with none surviving to the end of the war.

Douglas TBD Devastator drops a Mark XIII torpedo during exercises in the Pacific, 20 October 1941. This aircraft is number 6-T-19 of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), based on USS Enterprise (CV-6)
Douglas TBD Devastator drops a Mark XIII torpedo during exercises in the Pacific, 20 October 1941. This aircraft is number 6-T-19 of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), based on USS Enterprise (CV-6).

Today in WW II: 20 May 1940 German General Rudolf Veiel's 2nd Panzer division reaches the English Channel at Noyelles, splitting the Allied defense.  More 
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20 May 1941 Germans launch Operation Mercury, the Battle of Crete, the first airborne invasion in history.
20 May 1942 First African-American seamen taken into the United States Navy.
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Douglas TBD Devastator in World War II

The U.S. Navy rapidly replaced older biplanes with the TBD Devastator in its carrier torpedo squadrons starting in 1937. Naval aviators gained valuable experience with the then high-performance aircraft. The Navy named the TBD the "Devastator" in 1941, though the aircraft was typically referred to as the TDB-1 during its operational life.

The TBD was a large, heavy aircraft that could launch from aircraft carriers, but flew slowly and maneuvered poorly due to the weight of a heavy torpedo it carried. The TBD had little armor and lacked self-sealing fuel tanks, making it vulnerable in a dogfight or to antiaircraft fire.

With the outbreak of the Pacific War after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. Navy used the TBD for torpedo attacks and high-level bombing in raids in February and March 1942. The Devastator was also used in the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, in which it helped sink the Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft carrier Shoho.

The Battle of Midway, however, highlighted all of the TBD's weaknesses. Three squadrons of TBD-1s valiantly attempted torpedo attacks against Japanese aircraft carriers, but only four of the 41 aircraft involved survived, and no hits were made. The TBD had to fly dangerously low and slow to reach the 115 mph necessary for torpedo release, making it a death trap. Japanese Zeros and shipboard antiaircraft weaponry overwhelmed the slow, poorly armored TBD.

Only 39 TBDs remained after Midway. The Navy was already phasing in the new TBF Avenger on aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet. The TBDs briefly served in the Atlantic Fleet and training squadrons until the end of 1943. Only 21 TBDs were in the Navy inventory at the outset of 1944, and they were primarily used for maintenance training. The last TBD in the Navy was used by the Commander of Fleet Air Activities (West Coast), then was scrapped in November 1944.

Douglas TBD Devastator Models and Production History

The U.S. Navy placed an order with Douglas Aircraft on 30 June 1934 for a new bomber aircraft that could operate from an aircraft carrier. The Navy instituted a competition for this aircraft specification, and Douglas was among the winners.

The XTBD-1 prototype flew for the first time on 15 April 1935. At the time, it was a revolutionary aircraft, made completely from metal, with a fully enclosed cockpit, a monoplane configuration, and power-actuated folding wings. The undercarriage was designed so that the wheels protruded 10 inches below the wings to allow for a wheels-up landing with only minor damage.

The TBD carried a crew of three, including a pilot, gunner/radio operator, and torpedo officer/navigator. The torpedo officer, who acted as a bombardier, lay prone under the pilot during a bombing run, using a Norden bombsight to align targets through a window in the bottom of the fuselage.

Douglas refined the prototype into the TBD -- full designation TBD-1 -- after acceptance trials from April through November 1935. Production models had a higher, domed canopy instead of the flat canopy of the prototype. Further trials in 1936 resulted in carrier certification for the USS Lexington, and Douglas kept the first two production aircraft for testing.

Douglas delivered 129 production TBD-1s between 1937 and 1939. The first production TBD-1 was converted to a floatplane, designated the TBD-1A, and was utilized for tests through the start of the war.

The limited service and small production run of the TBD resulted in no major model variants to the aircraft.

Douglas TBD Devastator Characteristics

ArmamentTwo .30 caliber machine guns (one fixed in the forward position; one flexibly mounted in the rear of the cockpit)
Bomb loadOne 1949-lb. Mark XIII torpedo or 1500 lbs. max of bombs
EngineOne Pratt & Whitney 900 hp R-1830-64 double-row radial
Maximum speed207 mph
Cruising speed128 mph
Range435 mi.
Ceiling19,700 ft.
Span50 ft.
Length35 ft.
Height15 ft. 1 in.
Weight5712 lbs. empty; 9444 lbs. loaded

Wake Island Raid, 24 February 1942. A Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane from USS Enterprise (CV-6) flies over Wake during the raid
Wake Island Raid, 24 February 1942. A Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane from USS Enterprise (CV-6) flies over Wake during the raid.

Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) TBD-1 aircraft are prepared for launching on USS <i>Enterprise</i> (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 hrs, 4 June 1942 during the Battle of Midway. Eleven of the fourteen TBDs launched from Enterprise are visible. Three more TBDs and ten F4F fighters must still be pushed into position before launching can begin.  The TBD in the left front is Number Two (Bureau # 1512), flown by Ensign Severin L. Rombach and Aviation Radioman 2nd Class W.F. Glenn. Along with eight other VT-6 aircraft, this plane and its crew were lost attacking Japanese aircraft carriers somewhat more than two hours later.  USS <i>Pensacola</i> (CA-24) is in the right distance and a destroyer is in plane guard position at left
Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) TBD-1 aircraft are prepared for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 hrs, 4 June 1942 during the Battle of Midway. Eleven of the fourteen TBDs launched from Enterprise are visible. Three more TBDs and ten F4F Wildcat fighters must still be pushed into position before launching can begin. The TBD in the left front is Number Two (Bureau # 1512), flown by Ensign Severin L. Rombach and Aviation Radioman 2nd Class W.F. Glenn. Along with eight other VT-6 aircraft, this plane and its crew were lost attacking Japanese aircraft carriers somewhat more than two hours later. USS Pensacola (CA-24) is in the right distance and a destroyer is in plane guard position at left.

USS <i>Enterprise</i> (CV-6) with TBD-1 Devastator torpedo planes and F4F-3 Wildcat fighters parked on the carrier's flight deck, April 1942. Note variations in aircraft fuselage markings and national insignia sizes
USS Enterprise (CV-6) with TBD-1 Devastator torpedo planes and F4F-3 Wildcat fighters parked on the carrier's flight deck, April 1942. Note variations in aircraft fuselage markings and national insignia sizes.

USS <i>Enterprise</i> (CV-6), 4 May 1942. An SBD Dauntless scout-bomber and five TBD-1 Devastator torpedo planes prepare to take-off from the carrier during operations in the south Pacific area.  Note launching officer making arm signals in the lower left-center. Take-offs averaged one every thirty seconds
USS Enterprise (CV-6), 4 May 1942. An SBD Dauntless scout-bomber and five TBD-1 Devastator torpedo planes prepare to take-off from the carrier during operations in the south Pacific area. Note launching officer making arm signals in the lower left-center. Take-offs averaged one every thirty seconds.

Douglas TBD-1 Devastator Torpedo Planes, of Torpedo Squadron Five (VT-5) parked on the after flight deck of USS <i>Yorktown</i> (CV-5) at Naval Air Station, North Island, San Diego, CA, in June 1940. Three of these aircraft are painted in an experimental color scheme used during Fleet Problem XXI.  This section of the ship was examined when Yorktown's wreck was located in May 1998. The after thirty feet (approximately) of the flight deck was missing, but most other features seen were present, including the ship's name on her stern
Douglas TBD-1 Devastator Torpedo Planes, of Torpedo Squadron Five (VT-5) parked on the after flight deck of USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Naval Air Station, North Island, San Diego, CA, in June 1940. Three of these aircraft are painted in an experimental color scheme used during Fleet Problem XXI. This section of the ship was examined when Yorktown's wreck was located in May 1998. The after thirty feet (approximately) of the flight deck was missing, but most other features seen were present, including the ship's name on her stern.

Recommended Books about the Douglas TBD Devastator

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