Douglass TBD-1 Devastator

When the Devastator was introduced in 1937 it was the most modern torpedo Bomber in the world.  But by the time World War Two broke out it was due for replacement.


After the jump, a brief look at one of the types that had to make do, until a much needed replacement was available.

The late 1930s were a time of very rapid aviation advances.  Like electronics today, imagine how obsolete you’d be using an original iPhone now!  So too the Devastator had gone from state of the art to has been in just a few short years.  When introduced in 1937 it was the first Naval aircraft in the world to feature monocoque construction, retractable landing gear and enclosed crew quarters.  It had a maximum speed of over 200 mph and a range of over 400 miles.

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When the war broke out its replacement, the Grumman TBF Avenger was in the pipeline and offered dramatic improvements.  It cruised 70 mph faster and had twice the range.  It was also more robust and better armed.  But it would take until June of 1942 before Avengers could work their way into combat units, so the Devastator soldiered on.  It performed as a bomber and torpedo plane, capably, as it was designed to do.


Until it met with disaster at Midway.  Many readers will know the story, in 30 minutes of attacks, mostly without fighter escort, 41 TBDs from three squadrons attacked the Imperial Fleet.  They scored no hits and lost 35 of their number.  But I always think its a mistake to lay too much blame on the aircraft everyone knew was due for replacement.  The tactical situation was terrible; only one of those squadrons came with fighter escort.  Torpedo Five off the USS Yorktown had six Wildcats of Fighting Three as protection against thirty Zeros.  But the fatal flaw was, the Mk XIII torpedo they carried had to be dropped at less than 100 kts and below 100 feet.  This was a killer.  I’m going to guess if the Avenger had already replaced those Devastators, we might have only lost 33 planes instead of 35.  It was a real improvement, but it couldn’t work miracles.  Only a Dauntless could do that…

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The TBD shown here is from the Monogram kit, with decals by Superscale.  This is a classic old kit.  Not quite modern quality in terms of fit; but a good shape and detail.

A Devastator having just completed a bomb run on Wake Island, 2/1942.


The TBD Devastator next to the plane that replaced it, the TBF Avenger.

The TBD Devastator next to the plane that replaced it, the TBF Avenger.

A US Carrier air group in the first six months of the Pacific War was made up of one Torpedo Squadron of Devastators, a Fighting Squadron of Wildcats, and two squadrons of Dauntlesses (Bombing and Scouting).

A US Carrier air group in the first six months of the Pacific War was made up of one Torpedo Squadron of Devastators, a Fighting Squadron of Wildcats, and two squadrons of Dauntlesses (Bombing and Scouting).

This particular aircraft flew with Torpedo Two on the USS Lexington in early 1942.  It carries the torpedo load out like on the morning of May 7, when it was involved in the attack on the IJN Shoho that resulted in the sinking of that carrier.

As of 3/2018, amazing color pictures from Paul Alan’s exploration of the wreck of the Lexington would indicate side numbers for Torpedo Two were apparently in white and included the “T” in front of the plane number (so this aircraft may have carried a white “T-3” instead of the black “3” shown here). I believe this went against the current marking directives. Shocking, but true, sometimes combat units did not follow all the latest directives.

Related Posts

Douglass SBD-3 Dauntless
Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat
Grumman TBM-1c Avenger

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; 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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22 Responses to Douglass TBD-1 Devastator

  1. Ernie Davis says:

    It really speaks to the rapid rate of improvement in aviation technology at the time that a “worlds best” aircraft would only have a 5 year service life. The F15 entered service in the 1970’s. Now granted, they are on the 4th model (D) but still…

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the pace of change was amazing. Especially compared to now (how long has the B-52 been in service?!)
      But I bet there’s still a lot of electronic avionics and weapon system upgrades that don’t even get new model letters. The pace of change on the electronics today matches that of the hardware then.

  2. Great job! I’m a big fan of the Devastator. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a good kit in 1/72.

    • atcDave says:

      There’s got to be some choices in 1/72? It seems I’ve seen a Devastator by Valoom in that scale, but I know nothing about its quality.

      • There are two that I know of. One is from Airfix. I have built this kit and it was a flop. I can’t think of the other I’ve seen but it’s a pricey kit. I would think Hasegawa has made one at one time.

      • atcDave says:

        The Devastator is that weird niche of planes that are important, but not super well known. So I can see why it’s maybe missed by many companies.
        I know in 1/48 we only had this early 1970s vintage kit until just recently.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        So here is an interesting question I’ve been thinking of. How is 3D printing going to affect scale modeling? I’m sure there will always be a market for the styrene kits, but could this even impact the manufacturers, who can now make castings directly from the original designs (assuming they can be made electronic)?

      • atcDave says:

        Well long term I think it will completely change the industry and hobby. I have already seen articles on 3-D printing accessory, detail or modification parts. For many years there’s been a significant cottage industry of little companies making such things; like a resin tanker trailer, more detailed cockpit interiors, or the one missing part you need to convert Tamiya’s P-47D kit into a P-47C.
        I expect with 3-D printing it will become easy to download the plans for such details instead of buying the actual part(s). In time, I am sure it will extend to entire kits. No need to ever handle the physical product until you’re ready to print all the pieces parts at home.
        Speaking as someone with a huge inventory of unbuilt kits at home, I would love being able to just access the kit specs for printing when I’m ready to build. It sure would cut down on clutter at home. Well, at least the unbuilt sort of clutter!

        Eventually it may even displace the hobby entirely when it becomes possible to print an accurate and fully detailed scale model already complete. And actual scale model builders would then be as common as blacksmiths or telegraph operators.
        I would like to say I model because I love the hobby. I find it satisfying and relaxing. But I see younger generations don’t relate to that at all. Its a hobby from another age.

  3. Terry Brodin says:

    Very nice job on the TBD. The subtle color fade and weathering are realistic and convincing.
    Monogram’s Devastator still holds its own against the Great Wall release.
    All of Monogram’s kits seem to have stood up to the test of time. Any of the old Monogram kits can be built into little gems with some tender loving care. Thier FW-190 may be years behind a Tamiya, but it was light years ahead of Aurora. I got my start with an Aurora Spitfire and the kits were fun to build. Then Lindberg seemed to raise the bar, but it was Monogram provided me with kits to model “seriously”. Sure they had thier faults, but todays “big bucks” kits come with thier own flaws. As nice as the Tamiya F4F Wildcat is, I still enjoy seeing a Monogram Wildcat that has been corrected, tweaked and added to.

    Back in the 80’s modeling seemed to be go through a die down phase.
    I think at this time most “baby-boomer” modelers had to put it on the back burner while they made a living, raised our families and saw to other responsibilities. Things eventually picked up again as we grew older and more leisure time was available along with dispoable income.
    You’re right as far as the younger generation not relating to “plastic kit assembly”, let alone “scratchbuilding”. I’m sure “pre-built” and “die-cast” models will hang on — instant gratification, I guess. Unfortunately, the years of plastic kits seem to be numbered. Isn’t that partly why we all have (had) our “stashes”?

    • atcDave says:

      No doubt a big part of the reason for my stash is that I always wonder what important kit may be impossible to find in the future.
      I grew up with the Monogram kits. They really were the best for a very long time. But I generally do like the better fit and greater detail of the newer kits. No doubt they aren’t all perfect! And in so many cases there simply is no substitute for the older kit. Some, like the Devestator, I’m really not sure yet. I haven’t tried the Great Wall kit. But it looks great in the box. Much more interior detail, better ordnance, more delicate details. But we’ll see how the fit compares. I’ve been very frustrated with some of the Chinese kits I’ve built (Hobby Boss Wildcat, Trumpeter SM.79), one nearly was subjected to a test flight into a wall (!). But I look forward to trying some more, especially that Devestator looks nice!
      I’ve been pleased that people still see how a well built model is qualitatively different from a “die cast” or “adult collectable”. But I don’t know of any kids who are interested in building one.
      But then I spent Christmas playing a table top Civil War game with my 18 year old niece; so who knows, maybe there’s hope!

  4. Terry Brodin says:

    Don’t get me wrong some of the new kits are amazing and some are dogs. I just meant sometimes people simply disregard a kit because it’s old school.
    I remember an old Lindberg 1/48 F11F Tiger that was more or less based on the prototype. The builder modified and reworked and it into late model F-11A complete with cockpit and wheel bays. The end result was a model that look like it was from a Tamiya mold.
    Even though I don’t build anymore, my biggest gripe with newer kits (some not all) is the inconsistent quality. Some components are accurate and crisply molded, yet other parts look like a wad of bubble gum with the a vague shape of the original. I don’t know, maybe different components are farmed out to different pattern/mold makers.

    • atcDave says:

      Some brands mean more than others. And some builders can make something beautiful from anything.
      I know of a few composite type kits that truly are the result of different designers at different times. But generally speaking I think “state of the art” has improved a lot over the last 20 years. Again, that’s not to say everything new is wonderful; but generally, newer is better. I think model companies seriously try to top each other; especially companies like Tamiya, Hasegawa or Eduard, its fun to see every new boxing.
      A few companies, like Airfix, clearly went through tough times for a few years. Or Hobbycraft kind of specialized in doing cheap garbage.

  5. Terry Brodin says:

    I can’t remeber the year exactly, but when Tamiya released thier F2A Buffalo I was in awe of every aspect of it — even though I hade to fork out a wallopping $6.00 for it!
    Hobbycraft was strange; mostly garbage but occassionly something good like the P-26. I will give them credit for going with some of the more obscure subject matter.
    Always hoped for a 1/48 P-66 Vanguard. Never got around to picking up the Kagero kit before it became extoinct. Now it’s like buying gold when it occassionaly shows up on E-Bay. Still have the S-Model vacuform kit, but I never was able to master vacs. Then there’s my kitbashing effort of a Monogram F4U Corsair, FW-190 Focke Wulf. and miscellaneous spare parts. It require alot of cutting and fitting, but I was slowly getting a pretty resonable P-66 coming together.

    • atcDave says:

      You are a far braver man than I! I’ve done some work with resin and photo-etch, but vacu-form frightens me (!). Limited run in general is beyond me. And I like to see projects done. I am a bit jealous of builders who can make beautiful things from such crude beginnings; but I think I lack the skills and patience.

      Hobbycraft did have a few gems, and I appreciate their willingness to tackle obscure subjects. But they are always simple and minimalist. I still wish we’d get a more modern Hawk 75 family! Their Ms406 is pretty crude. And I’ve heard similar things about their Ju88 and Do17.

      I would love to see a nice P-66 kit, but it seems unlikely. There’s so many of those minor types, especially minor American types I’d love to see. Like a B-10/B-12 would be awesome. Do it up in Dutch markings. That would be fun!

      • Terry Brodin says:

        You’re not lacking the skill, that’s obvious.
        The thing that I learned over the years was that patience came as I learned not to settle for less then I started out for. This means a whole lot of do over and over again and over again. But finally you get to where you want it. You learn to have patience not with the kit or part but with yourself —- and sometimes walking away for awhile helps.

        Sorry if I’m cluttering your site with my comments, but there are alot of interesting subjects I’m catching up with.

      • atcDave says:

        Hey I’m happy with the chit chat!
        If I didn’t want it, I’d shut off the comments!

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Built one in the 70s, and gave it as a gift to my friend’s wife.
    I have one in my stash.
    So much history in that plane.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah and the climax of its service life at Midway is the stuff of legend (of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” sort!).

  7. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    My next build…

  8. Pierre Lagacé says:

    It’s about time I build it.

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