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Grumman TBF Avenger

The Grumman TBF Avenger was a torpedo bomber used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps during World War II. It operated from land and aircraft carriers, first seeing action at the Battle of Midway. Crewed by a pilot, turret gunner, and radio operator/bombardier/ventral gunner, the Avenger became one of the best torpedo bombers of the war. Its superior operational ceiling and range let it perform in a variety of roles, from submarine hunting to ground strafing and as a command aircraft for Commanders, Air Group (CAGs). The Avenger's excellent capabilities kept it in service until the 1960s.

Grumman TBF-1 Avengers
Grumman TBF-1 Avengers.

Today in WW II: 30 Sep 1938 Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier sign the Munich Agreement, abandoning Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland to German occupation.   

Grumman TBF Avenger in World War II

The Grumman TBF was nicknamed the "Avenger" in October 1941. Grumman introduced the Avenger to the public at a ceremony to open a new manufacturing facility on 7 December 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The facility was sealed immediately because of security concerns.

The Avenger first saw combat at the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. In early June, over 100 Avengers were shipped to Pearl Harbor, arriving just hours after three U.S. Navy aircraft carriers departed for Midway. But on Midway Island, VT-8 had six Avengers available, and others flew from the USS Hornet (CV-8). In the battle, the Avenger, due in part to lack of pilot experience with the aircraft, suffered heavy losses, though still helped draw off Japanese combat air patrols so that American dive bombers were able to strike Japanese carriers.

The Avenger next saw action at the Eastern Solomons on 24 August 1942. The 24 Avengers based on the USS Saratoga (CV-3) and Enterprise (CV-6) sank the Japanese light aircraft carrier Ryujo, losing seven aircraft in the process. Navy and Marine Corps Avengers helped sink the Japanese battleship Hiei at the Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942.

In the Battle of the Atlantic, Avengers used their torpedoes to destroy 30 submarines, including the Japanese cargo submarine I-52. They also helped fend off German U-boat attacks on Allied convoys.

On 20 June 1944 Avengers from the Belleau Wood (CVL-24) sank the Japanese light aircraft carrier Hiyo. Later in 1944 Avengers participated in the destruction of the Japanese battleship Musashi, and helped fend off Japanese surface ships at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The Avenger was the aircraft flown by former president George H.W. Bush when he saw shot down on 2 September 1944 over Chichi-jima in the Pacific. The actor Paul Newman served as a rear gunner aboard an Avenger. The Avenger is also famous because of Flight 19, mysteriously lost in the Bermuda Triangle on 5 December 1945.

The Fleet Air Arm of the British Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Air Force both operated the Avenger during WWII. The British initially used the designation "Tarpon" but later adopted the "Avenger" name. The RNZAF used the Avenger as a bomber in the South Pacific.

After the war, the Avenger remained in use in both military and civilian capacities. The Royal Canadian Navy obtained 125 former USN TBM-3E Avengers, using them primarily for anti-submarine warfare. Other retired Avengers were used in agriculture and fire-fighting roles.

Grumman TBF Avenger Models and Production History

The Avenger was the replacement for the obsolescent TBD Devastator. Grumman won a competition to replace the Devastator with its TBF design. Engineers led by Leroy Grumman developed the first prototype, designated the XTBF-1.

Grumman incorporated many new features into the TBF, including a wing-folding mechanism designed to maximize storage space on aircraft carriers. The Wright R-2600-20 was adopted as the powerplant, necessary because of the large size and weight of the aircraft.

Early Avengers had a .30 cal. machine gun mounted in the nose. But when pilots requested more firepower and better strafing capacity, the .30 cal. was replaced with one .50 cal. gun in each wing. The Avenger also had a large bomb bay, which could hold one 2,000-lb. bomb or up to four 500 lb. bombs.

Grumman refined the Avenger design, increasing fuel capacity and doubling the range. But in 1943, Grumman shifted from manufacturing Avengers to the F6F Hellcat. The Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors took over production of the TBF, and such Avengers are designated "TBM" instead of "TBF." The TBM-3, with a more powerful engine and hardpoints on the wings for drop tanks or rockets, was manufactured in greater numbers than any other Avenger model.

Grumman equipped the Avenger with the latest avionics and communications gear. The radio equipment took up considerable space, filling the entire glass canopy behind the pilot. The Avenger was the first fighter to carry onboard radar because it had the space to accommodate the bulky equipment.

A total of 9,839 TBF/TBM Avengers were manufactured. Major models are as follows.

Model TBF-1

The first production model of the Avenger, this aircraft was based on the second prototype. A total of 1,526 were built. The TBF-1C saw the addition of wing guns and an increased fuel capacity. A total of 765 were built.

Model TBM-1

The TBM-1 was the General Motors version of the TBF-1, with a total of 550 built. The TBM1-C was essentially the same as the TBF-1C, with 2,336 built.

Model TBM-3

The General Motors version of the TBM1-C, but with double cooling intakes and an improved engine. A total of 4,657 were built. Various "dash 3" designations were developed for specific needs during the war, usually as conversions.

Grumman TBF Avenger Characteristics

ArmamentOne .30 cal. machine gun in nose; two .50 cal. machine guns in wings; one .50 cal. machine gun in turret in cockpit rear; and one .30 cal. machine gun in ventral turret
Bomb load2,000 lbs of bombs, or one 2,000 lb. Mark 13 torpedo
EngineWright 1,900 hp R-2600-20 radial
Maximum speed275 mph
Cruising speed153 mph
Range1,000 mi.
Ceiling30,000 ft.
Span54 ft. 2 in.
Length40 ft. 11 in.
Height15 ft. 5 in.
Weight10,545 lbs. empty; 17,893 lbs. loaded

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the TBF Avenger variant, manufacturing site, and date.

Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo plane makes an arrested landing on board USS Long Island (ACV-1), probably during carrier qualifications in late 1942 or early 1943
Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo plane makes an arrested landing on board USS Long Island (ACV-1), probably during carrier qualifications in late 1942 or early 1943.

Grumman TBF-1 Avenger
Grumman TBF-1 Avenger.

Badly damaged Grumman TBF-1 (Bureau # 00380) Avenger of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8), at Midway, 24-25 June 1942, prior to shipment back to the United States for post-battle evaluation.  This plane was the only survivor of six VT-8 TBFs that had attacked the Japanese carrier force in the morning of 4 June
Badly damaged Grumman TBF-1 (Bureau # 00380) Avenger of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8), at Midway, 24-25 June 1942, prior to shipment back to the United States for post-battle evaluation. This plane was the only survivor of six VT-8 TBFs that had attacked the Japanese carrier force in the morning of 4 June.

TBM Avenger
TBM Avenger.

TBM Avenger torpedo plane landing on board USS <i>Cowpens</i> (CVL-25), at the time of the Marshalls-Gilberts raids, November-December 1943
TBM Avenger torpedo plane landing on board USS Cowpens (CVL-25), at the time of the Marshalls-Gilberts raids, November-December 1943.

TBM Avenger torpedo bombers warming up on the after flight deck of USS <i>Enterprise</i> (CV-6) during operations in the Pacific, circa May 1944
TBM Avenger torpedo bombers warming up on the after flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6) during operations in the Pacific, circa May 1944.

Recommended Books about the Grumman TBF Avenger

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