Douglas TBD Devastator

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TBD Devastator
US Navy TBD-1 Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), USS Enterprise (CV-6), 1938
RoleTorpedo bomber
ManufacturerDouglas Aircraft Company
First flight15 April 1935
Introduction3 August 1937
Retired1942 (from active service)
1944 (completely)
Primary userUnited States Navy
Number built130
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TBD Devastator
US Navy TBD-1 Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), USS Enterprise (CV-6), 1938
RoleTorpedo bomber
ManufacturerDouglas Aircraft Company
First flight15 April 1935
Introduction3 August 1937
Retired1942 (from active service)
1944 (completely)
Primary userUnited States Navy
Number built130

The Douglas TBD Devastator was a torpedo bomber of the United States Navy, ordered in 1934, first flying in 1935 and entering service in 1937. At that point, it was the most advanced aircraft flying for the USN and possibly for any navy in the world. However, the fast pace of aircraft development caught up with it, and by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the TBD was already outdated. It performed well in some early battles, but in the Battle of Midway the Devastators launched against the Japanese fleet were almost totally wiped out. The type was immediately withdrawn from front line service, replaced by the Grumman TBF Avenger.


Design and development

The XTBD-1 with the original flat canopy in 1935.
The first production TBD-1 in 1937.
A single TBD-1A was tried as a floatplane.

Ordered on 30 June 1934, and entered into a U.S. Navy competition for new bomber aircraft to operate from its aircraft carriers, the Douglas entry was one of the winners of the competition.[1] Other aircraft ordered for production as a result of the competition included the Northrop BT-1 which would evolve into the SBD Dauntless, the Brewster SBA and the Vought SB2U Vindicator.[2][N 1]

The XTBD Devastator, which flew for the first time on 15 April 1935, marked a large number of "firsts" for the U.S. Navy.[3] It was the first widely-used carrier-based monoplane as well as the first all-metal naval aircraft, the first with a totally-enclosed cockpit, the first with power-actuated (hydraulically) folding wings; it is fair to say that the TBD was revolutionary.[4] A semi-retractable undercarriage was fitted, with the wheels designed to protrude 10 in (250 mm) below the wings to permit a "wheels-up" landing with only minimal damage. A crew of three was normally carried beneath a large "greenhouse" canopy almost half the length of the aircraft. The pilot sat up front; a rear gunner/radio operator took the rearmost seat, while the bombardier occupied the middle seat. During a bombing run, the bombardier lay prone, sliding into position under the pilot to sight through a window in the bottom of the fuselage, using the Norden Bombsight.[5]

The normal TBD offensive armament consisted of either a 1,200 lb (540 kg) Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 aerial torpedo or a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb. Alternatively, three 500 lb (230 kg) general-purpose bombs: one under each wing and one under the fuselage, or 12 100 lb (45 kg) fragmentation bombs: six under each wing, could be carried. This weapons load was often used when attacking Japanese targets on the Gilbert and Marshall Islands in 1942.[5] Defensive armament consisted of a .30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun for the rear gunner. Fitted in the starboard side of the cowling was either a .30 in (7.62 mm) or .50 in (12.7 mm) machine gun.[5]

The powerplant was a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp radial engine of 850 hp (630 kW), an outgrowth of the prototype's Pratt & Whitney XR-1830-60/R-1830-1 of 800 hp (600 kW).[6] Other changes from the 1935 prototype included a revised engine cowling[7] and raising the cockpit canopy to improve visibility.[4]

The XTBD had a flat canopy that was replaced on production models by a higher, domed canopy over a roll over bar. Other than requests by test pilots to improve pilot visibility, the prototype easily passed its acceptance trials that took place from 24 April-24 November 1935 at NAS Anacostia and Norfolk bases. After successfully completing torpedo drop tests, the prototype was transferred to the Lexington for carrier certification.[8] The extended service trials continued until 1937 with the first two production aircraft retained by the company exclusively for testing.[9]

A total of 129 of the type were purchased by the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer), and starting from 1937, began to equip the carriers Saratoga, Enterprise, Lexington, Wasp, Hornet, Yorktown and Ranger. In pre-war use, TBD units were engaged in training and other operational activities and were gradually approaching the end of their useful service life with at least one aircraft being converted to target tug duty.[10] By 1940, the U.S. Navy was aware that the TBD had become outclassed by the fighters and bombers of other nations and a replacement [N 2] was in the works, but it was not yet in service when the U.S. entered World War II. By then, attrition had reduced their numbers to just over 100 aircraft.[11] The U.S. Navy assigned popular names to its aircraft in late 1941, and the TBD became the Devastator, although its nickname "torpecker" was commonly used.[12]

Operational history

A VT-6 TBD after attacking Wake, 24 February 1942.
TBDs from VT-5 over the Huon Gulf, 10 March 1942.
A TBD-1 from VT-3 en route to the Japanese fleet at Midway.
VT-8's "T-16" (BuNo 1506, LCDR John C. Waldron, Horace F. Dobbs CRMP) taking off from Hornet, 4 June 1942.

In the early days of the Pacific war, the TBD acquitted itself well during February and March 1942, with TBDs from Enterprise and Yorktown attacking targets in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, Wake Island and Marcus Island, while TBDs from Yorktown and Lexington struck Japanese shipping off New Guinea on 10 March.[13] In the Battle of the Coral Sea Devastators helped sink the Shōhō on 7 May, but failed to hit the Shōkaku the next day.[14]

Problems were discovered with the Mark 13 torpedo at this point. Many were seen to hit the target yet fail to explode; there was also a tendency to run deeper than the set depth. It took over a year for the problems to be corrected. These problems were not fixed by the time of the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942.

At Midway, a total of 41 Devastators, a majority of the type still operational, were launched from Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown to attack the Japanese fleet.[15] The sorties were not well coordinated, in part because Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance ordered a strike on the enemy carriers immediately after they were discovered, rather than spending time assembling a well-coordinated attack involving the different types of aircraft - fighters, bombers, torpedo planes - reasoning that attacking the Japanese would prevent a counterstrike against the US carriers. The TBDs from Hornet and Enterprise lost contact with their fighter escort and started their attacks without fighter protection.[16][17]

The Devastator proved to be a death trap for its crews: slow and scarcely maneuverable, with light defensive weaponry and poor armor relative to the weapons of the time; its speed on a glide-bombing approach was a mere 200 mph (320 km/h), making it easy prey for fighters and defensive guns alike. The aerial torpedo could not even be released at speeds above 115 mph (185 km/h).[18] Torpedo delivery requires a long, straight-line attack run, making the aircraft vulnerable, and the slow speed of the aircraft made them easy targets for the Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. Only four TBDs made it back to Enterprise, none to Hornet and two to Yorktown, without scoring a torpedo hit.[19]

Nonetheless, their sacrifice was not completely in vain, as several TBDs managed to get within a few ship-lengths range of their targets before dropping their torpedoes, being close enough to be able to strafe the enemy ships and force the Japanese carriers to make sharp evasive maneuvers.[20] Furthermore, the actions of the Devastator aircrews that day drew the Japanese air cover out of position. This window of opportunity was exploited by the late-arriving Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander C. Wade McClusky and Max Leslie, and three of the four Japanese carriers were fatally damaged shortly afterwards.[21]

The Navy immediately withdrew the TBD from front-line units after Midway; in any case, there were only 39 aircraft left. They remained in service briefly in the Atlantic and in training squadrons until 1944. The original prototype finished its career at NAS Norman, Oklahoma, and the last TBD in the U.S. Navy was used by the Commander of Fleet Air Activities-West Coast. When his TBD was scrapped in November 1944,[22] there were no more.[23] None survived the war and there are none known to exist on dry land today.[24]

In fairness to the Devastator, the newer TBF Avengers were similarly ineffective in 1942, losing five out of six aircraft without scoring a hit at Midway. The Avengers' only successes in 1942 would be against the light carrier Ryūjō and the battleship Hiei [N 3][25] In the initial part of the Pacific War, the poor performances of US torpedo bombers was due to the vulnerability of that type in general against AAA fire and defending fighters, plus the inexperience of American pilots and lack of coordinated fighter cover, as well as serious defects in US torpedoes which were not discovered and corrected until the fall of 1943.[6][15] It took growing American air superiority, improved attack coordination, and more experienced pilots, before the Avengers were able to successfully accomplish their roles in subsequent battles against Japanese surface forces.[26]

After the debacle at Midway, the surviving TBD Devastators in VT-4 and VT-7 remained in service for a short time before being shipped back to the United States where the aircraft were relegated to training duties for pilots and mechanics or were destroyed following use as instructional airframes for fire-fighting training.[27] By late 1944, no TBD Devastators were left in the US Navy inventory.[28]


Prototype powered by a 800 hp (600 kW) XR-1830-60, one built.
Production variant powered by a 850 hp (630 kW) R-1830-64, 129 built.
One TBD-1 modified with twin floats.[N 4]


VT-4 TBD-1 taking off from Ranger in 1942
VT-6 TBDs on Enterprise, during the Battle of Midway
 United States


There are no Devastators in any collection or museum. Several wrecks are known and are being investigated for possible salvage and restoration:

TBD-1, BuNo.0298
Ex-VT-5 / USS Yorktown (CV-5) "5-T-7", Jaluit Lagoon, Marshall Islands.[31]
TBD-1 BuNo.0353
Ex-NAS Miami, Atlantic Ocean, Miami, Florida.[32]
TBD-1 BuNo.1515
Ex VT-5 / USS Yorktown (CV-5) "5-T-6", Jaluit Lagoon, Marshall Islands.[33]
TBD-1 BuNo.0377
Ex-VT-2 / USS Lexington (CV-2) "6-T-7", Pacific Ocean, Mission Beach, California.[34][35]
TBD-1 Devastator

Specifications (TBD-1)

Data from Devastator...The Not-so-Devastating TBD-1[36]

General characteristics



Notable appearance in media

Dive Bomber (1941) was an American propaganda film directed by Michael Curtiz.[37] It is notable for both its Technicolor photography of pre-World War II United States Navy aircraft featuring the TBD Devastator,[38] and scenes on the aircraft carrier Enterprise as well as the NAS North Island in San Diego.[39]

See also

A VT-6 TBD dropping a torpedo in October 1941.

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. ^ The Great Lakes XB2G, Great Lakes XTBG, Grumman XSBF, Hall XPTBH and Vought XSB3U were also tendered to the specification but were not developed beyond prototype status.[2]
  2. ^ the TBF Avenger
  3. ^ The Hiei had already been crippled the night before.
  4. ^ In 1939, the first production TBD was test flown with floats at Newport, Rhode Island.[4]


  1. ^ Doll 1967, p. 28.
  2. ^ a b Doll 1992, p. 4.
  3. ^ Gunston 1976, p. 66.
  4. ^ a b c Winchester 2004, p. 78.
  5. ^ a b c Winchester 2004, p. 79.
  6. ^ a b Mondey 2006, p. 128.
  7. ^ Taylor 1969, p. 485.
  8. ^ Doll 1967, p. 29.
  9. ^ Tillman 1973, p. 25.
  10. ^ Doll 1967, p. 32.
  11. ^ Tillman and Lawson 2001, p. 56.
  12. ^ Tillman and Lawson 2001, p. 57.
  13. ^ Air International March 1990, p. 155.
  14. ^ Doll 1967, pp. 7–8.
  15. ^ a b "USS Enterprise CV-6: The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War, p. 2." Retrieved: 11 April 2010.
  16. ^ Cressman et al. 1990, pp. 84–89.
  17. ^ Parshall and Tulley 2005, pp. 206–215.
  18. ^ Jackson and Doll 1973, p. 5.
  19. ^ Buell 1987, p. 494.
  20. ^ "USS Enterprise CV-6: The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War, p. 3." Retrieved: 7 June 2010.
  21. ^ Parshall and Tully 2005, pp. 215–216, 226–227.
  22. ^ Ginter 2006, p. 91.
  23. ^ Jackson and Doll 1973, p. 43.
  24. ^ Champlin, Doug. "Douglas TBD-1." Retrieved: 11 April 2010.
  25. ^ Mondey 2006, p. 152.
  26. ^ "'Sinking the Supership'." PBS-Nova. Retrieved: 11 April 2010.
  27. ^ Doll 1967, p. 34.
  28. ^ Tillman and Lawson 2001, p. 61.
  29. ^ Tillman 2000, p. 82.
  30. ^ Ginter 2006, p. 45.
  31. ^ "TBD Devastator Jaluit Lagoon Survey 2004." Retrieved: 7 June 2010.
  32. ^ 1998 Return to the TBD page at the "Douglas TBD-1 #0353 wreck." Retrieved: 7 June 2010.
  33. ^ "TBD Devastator Jaluit Lagoon Survey 2004, p. 2." Retrieved: 7 June 2010.
  34. ^ "Holy Grail of Warbirds Found off San Diego." Retrieved 21 November 2011.
  35. ^ "Accident Report, TBD-1 BuNo.0377" Retrieved: 21 November 2011.
  36. ^ Air International March 1990, p. 152.
  37. ^ Dolan 1985, p. 63.
  38. ^ Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, pp. 57–58.
  39. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 28.


  • Adcock, Al. TBD Devastator in Action, Aircraft Number 97. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1989. ISBN 0-89747-231-4.
  • Buell, Thomas B. The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 1987. ISBN 978-0-87021-562-9.
  • Cressman, Robert B. et al. A Glorious Page in Our History: The Battle of Midway, 4–6 June 1942. Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1990. ISBN 978-0-929521-40-4.
  • "Devastator...The Not-so-Devastating TDB-1". Air International, March 1990, Vol 38 No 2. pp. 148–156. ISSN 0306-5634.
  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Doll, Thomas E. The Douglas TBD Devastator, Aircraft in Profile Number 171. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1967. No ISBN.
  • Doll, Thomas E. SB2U Vindicator in action, Aircraft Number 122. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1992. ISBN 0-89747-247-8
  • Drendel, Lou. U.S. Navy Carrier Bombers of World War II. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1987. ISBN 0-89747-195-4.
  • Ginter, Steve. Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Naval Fighters Number Seventy-one. Simi Valley, California: Ginter Publishing Company, 2006. ISBN 0-942612-71-X.
  • Gunston, Bill. The Encyclopedia of the World's Combat Aircraft: A Technical Directory of Major Warplanes from World War 1 to the Present Day. New York: Chartwell Books, Inc., 1976. ISBN 0-89009-058-8.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Jackson, B.R. and Thomas E. Doll. Douglas TBD-1 "Devastator", Aero Series 23. Fallbrook, CA: Aero Publishers, 1973. ISBN 0-8168-0586-5.
  • Kinzey, Bert. U.S. Navy and Marine Aircraft of World War II, Part 1: Dive and Torpedo Bombers. Northbrook, Illinois: Revell-Monogram, LLC, 2003. ISBN 09970990067.
  • Lawson, Robert and Barrett Tillman. U.S. Navy Dive and Torpedo Bombers of WWII. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-0959-0.
  • Mondey, David. "Douglas TBD Devastator." The Hamlyn Concise Guide to American Aircraft of World War II. London: Bounty Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7537-1460-4.
  • Nowicki, Jacek. Douglas TBD Devastator - SBD Dauntless (Wydawnictwo Militaria 119) (in Polish). Warszawa, Poland: Wydawnictwo Militaria, 2000. ISBN 83-7219-074-7.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Parshall, Jonathan B. and Anthony P. Tully. Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005. ISBN 1-57488-923-0.
  • Taylor, John W.R. "Douglas TBD Devastator". Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the Present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
  • Tillman, Barrett. "Go in and get a hit!: The Navy's last combat torpedo bombers." Airpower, Volume 3, No. 4, July 1973.
  • Tillman, Barrett. TBD Devastator Units of the U.S. Navy, Combat Aircraft Vol. 20. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-84176-025-0.
  • Tillman, Barrett and Robert L. Lawson. U.S. Navy Dive and Torpedo Bombers of WWII. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-0959-0.
  • Winchester, Jim. "Douglas TBD Devastator." Aircraft of World War II (The Aviation Factfile). Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-639-1.

External links