Douglass SBD-3 Dauntless

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first naval battle in history fought between fleets that never sighted each other.  Waves of carrier based bombers exchanged salvos instead of the ship’s guns.

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After the jump, a look at the main US weapon from this early carrier battle.

In May of 1942 Japanese expansion had run mostly unchecked for six months.  The last allied outpost on the large island of New Guinea was Australian held Port Moresby.  If the Japanese could take it, it would put much of Northern Australia within range of their bombers, as well as opening up the possibility of invasion for that nation.

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The terrain of New Guinea is formidable in the extreme, so a naval operation against the Australian port seemed the obvious way to go.  A combined US and Australian fleet was the defense.  Several outstanding books have been written on this, but again, I think the definitive authority is John Lundstrom’s “The First Team”.

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The bottom line is; the main units involved were the American carriers Lexington and Yorktown, against the Japanese carriers Shokaku, Zuikaku and Shoho.  The battle is considered a Japanese tactical victory because they only lost the light carrier Shoho and suffered damage to the Shokaku.  While the US lost the Lexington and suffered damage to the Yorktown.  That was trading a 10000 ton carrier for a 40000 ton carrier.  And the Japanese had more carriers to start with.

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Nicely detailed cockpit and gunners position. I just had to leave them open this time!

BUT, for the first time in the war, the battle is considered a strategic victory for the allies; because the damaged Japanese fleet withdrew and canceled their invasion plans.

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Many tactical lessons were learned by the US carrier force as a result of this battle.  As is so often true, the loser learns more than the victor.  And the Japanese thought they had won even bigger than they did (assuming the Yorktown had also been sunk).  American fighter direction, or combat air patrol, would eventually become a great strength, and the groundwork was laid here.  One curiosity of Coral Sea, is that Dauntless dive bombers were put out on low altitude anti-torpedo bomber patrol. The crews felt they were up to the task due to the type’s good maneuverability and relatively heavy firepower (two .50s in the nose).  No surprise, it was found the Dauntless was too slow to be of much help in a role it was never designed for.

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But several pilots found success, or at least claims of success (hmmm, I see an essay on claims vs reality in WWII somewhere in my future!).  This particular aircraft was flown by  John Lepla, with John Leska as his gunner.  In two days of battle Lepla claimed four kills in this SBD.  That, in addition to his more traditional role carrying bombs against the Japanese fleet.  There was much war time propaganda made from the exploits of this team in this plane, and John Lepla would eventually make the ultimate sacrifice after transferring to fighters.

The most common bomb load was a 500 lb bomb on center, and a 100 lb bomb under each wing. A common alternative against heavier ships was a 1000 lb bomb on center with nothing on the wings.

This is the Accurate Miniatures kit.  As is expected from this brand, it is an accurate and complicated kit, surprisingly so for a smallish aircraft.  But engineering and fit are good, and its a fun build.

A deckload strike of Dauntlesses ready for launch.

Up Next: General Motors 2.5 ton Fuel Truck 

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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19 Responses to Douglass SBD-3 Dauntless

  1. Theresa says:

    As slow as these craft were they still did an admiral job.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the crews said SBD meant “slow but deadly!”

      It was a slow bomber that absolutely required fighter support; but, it was one of the premier dive bombers of the war. And when it was replaced by the SB2C, crews had a much less flattering nickname for it!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        The SB2C was the plane that killed Curtis.

      • atcDave says:

        Curtiss had a few missteps. Like four failed attempts to replace the P-40, and a contract to manufacture Thunderbolts that resulted in a substandard product that couldn’t be sent to the war zone.

        I think it started with the conflict between head designer Donavon Berlin and their marketing department (over performance vs aesthetic issues on the P-40). Berlin left the company when management sided with marketing. And Curtiss never had another completely successful design. The C-46 was probably the best of their wartime product, and it had serious issues too.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    I’ve always loved this plane. I did several builds back in the day. The Dauntless’ were the only planes to hit the Japanese carriers at Midway (although that had just as much to do with our crappy torpedoes as our torpedo bombers).

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I’m a huge fan of the Dauntless. It’s a type that doesn’t look great on paper (slow, small bomb load, short range, and no folding wings) but it did great things, like being the most successful allied weapon system in the first year of the Pacific war.

      I thought about launching into a whole essay on dive bombing here, I love the subject and the tactic is fascinating. But I’m thinking I’ll eventually do a separate post for that, and I’ll keep the specific subject posts shorter and more on point.
      But the one tidbit I love, only the US Navy, US Marines and Luftwaffe (!) used the extreme, over 70 deg dive angle and low altitude pull out (below 1000 feet) known as “Helldiving”.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      And the Dauntless was made for Helldiving. It was rock solid in it’s handling even in those steep dives. Pilots could adjust and keep a maneuvering ship in their bomb sights even at those extreme conditions.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Almost forgot to mention one feature of the Dauntless that shows it was made for Hell-diving. They had a special bomb release that swung the bomb away from the airframe before releasing, so the dropped bomb wouldn’t hit the propellor!

      • atcDave says:

        The crutch, or bomb displacement gear. To be fair, this exists on all American Naval dive bombers and the Stuka. The Japanese Val also has it (I’m not sure about the Judy), although the Japanese also used a low pull out, they only dove at 60-70 deg; so it is possible they didn’t require it.

        The Crutch is an American innovation, and it goes back to the start of Helldiving in the late 1920s. I’m not sure right off what manufacturer and type first used it. But the British, Italians and US Army Air Force all favored shallower dives that didn’t require such a thing. Shallower dives meant less accuracy, but also lower risk due to higher dive speeds (dive brakes optional!) and a higher altitude pull out.

        Peter Smith is the real authority on this stuff. He’s written several books on the history of dive bombing. And it’s fascinating to me the range of techniques, and the trade off between risk and accuracy.

  3. John says:

    Dave, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that I read in a Barret Tillman book that during the year 1942 more enemy tonnage was sunk by the Dauntless than all other sources for the U.S. Navy. That includes all other types of aircraft, surface ship’s and submarines. Of course the earlier defective torpedoes skews the results.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah that would be correct. The Dauntless was the most effective weapon all through the Guadalcanal Campaign. I think, even at the end of the war, only submarines did more damage; obviously they got off to a slow start with the torpedo problems.

    • atcDave says:

      A funny aside. You all know I’m a bit of a Bears fan, well we just lost our CB extraordinaire Charles Tillman for the season due to injury.
      For the last decade, I’ve had a terrible time confusing Barrett Tillman and Charles Tillman. It makes me laugh since their careers are so different. I doubt Charles Tillman is a master of WWII Naval Aviation; or Barrett Tillman has actually intercepted very many NFL passes…

  4. Pingback: Douglass TBD-1 Devastator | Plane Dave

  5. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    How I missed that post I will never know.

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    A beauty Dave!

  7. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Where did you get the carrier deck to display your Dauntless?

    • atcDave says:

      I think it was Eduard, purchased through Squadron.
      They sold it just as printed paper sheets with the plank pattern. Then I designed the base with border and non-descript blue just with the idea it could be any deck or dock. It’s sort of a generic naval aircraft display base.

      They do make (I mean Eduard) more specific molded plastic carrier decks and I have the Japanese one. But I’ve never seen their 1/48 WWII US deck in stock anywhere.

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