Douglas A-20B Havoc

This type may be the opposite of “iconic”; I think the A-20 family of aircraft is one of the least known types that saw wide service.

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After the jump I’ll take a brief look at a prolific and useful type that was/is under-represented in major media.

The whole category of attack aircraft and light bombers seems to draw little attention.  Before World War II the Douglas Company had been working on one such aircraft under the company designation DB-7 (“Douglas Bomber 7”).  This was a free lance project that was not supported by any branch of the US Military.  But as the French were trying to arm themselves for a possible war with Germany they found the design interesting.  US export laws at the time required some American patronage, so US and French Air Force officers worked through a flight test program with Douglas.

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The type was quickly considered attractive; the aircraft handling was excellent, and the plane was fast with a decent bomb load.  So in spite of an early prototype crash that drew unwanted press to the whole program, the French ordered over four hundred aircraft.  Only 64 were delivered before the fall of France and Britain took over the order.  In British service the type was known as the “Boston”.  And it was in British service the type really proved its worth.

Head on view emphasizes how narrow the Havoc is.  Unlike medium or heavy bombers this has only a single pilot cockpit.

Head on view emphasizes how narrow the Havoc is. Unlike medium or heavy bombers this has only a single pilot cockpit.

So just a little bit about what the plane was.  As a light bomber it only carried 2000 lbs of bombs internally.  It had a crew of three; a single pilot, radio operator/gunner and bombardier. It was fast for its type (over 300 mph) and maneuverable. Initial versions were powered by two R-1830 engines.  Positive reports from Britain finally led to US Army interest in the type; and US interest led to re-engining with two R-2600 engines.  Internal capacity was not increased; but the new engines meant more external stores could be carried.

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The A-20B firepower consists of two .50s in the nose (below and either side of the bombardier’s position) and a single .50 in the radio operator’s compartment.

Functionally this was exactly the sort of attack plane the Army Air Force wanted.  Especially as opposed to dive bombing types used by the Navy or German Luftwaffe.  The A-20 was much faster, carried a heavier load at longer range, and offered the extra safety of twin engines.

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American airpower in North Africa, late 1942.

American airpower in North Africa, late 1942.

Ultimately the aircraft would be used by France, both for and against the allies, Britain, the US, and a significant number were lend leased to the Soviet Union.  Production ended in early 1944 for the type’s replacement, the A-26 Invader.

A pair of A-20Bs over North Africa.

What could these two types have in common?  Quite a lot actually.  In early World War II the US Army Air Force was trying to decide what attack squadrons would look like.  Would it be a fast twin engine bomber, or the A-24 Banshee, and land based derivative  of the SBD Dauntless? Ironically, both were products of the Douglas Company, and both were designed by Ed Heinemann.

What could these two types have in common? Quite a lot actually. In early World War II the US Army Air Force was trying to decide what attack squadrons would look like. Would it be a fast twin engine bomber like the A-20, or the A-24 Banshee, a land based derivative of the SBD Dauntless?
Ironically, both were products of the Douglas Company, and both were designed by Ed Heinemann.

This example is from the AMT kit with Third Group decals. This aircraft served in North Africa in late 1942 to early 1943.  The AMT kit is interesting; it well engineered and nicely detailed, but the production quality is very low with excessive flash and soft plastic.

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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.
This entry was posted in Bomber - Tactical, USA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Douglas A-20B Havoc

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Got one in my stash as well as an A-26 Invader. At the pace I am setting for myself I will be in my late 90s when I start those.

  2. Theresa says:

    Was not the A20 a type of plane mentioned in Catch 22?

  3. Beautiful job Dave. I love the A20, very clean lines, a good looking aircraft. Once again a fantastic job!

  4. jfwknifton says:

    A really interesting blog post. We seem to forget just how many aircraft went over to help the Soviets. For the most part, they loved them all, especially the Boston and apparently, the Aerocobra.

    • atcDave says:

      The Boston/Havoc seems to have been loved everywhere it went. The Soviet affection for the Airacobra must remain one of life’s great mysteries.

  5. One of my favorites! Looks great!

  6. shortfinals says:

    There were some excellent early night intruder missions flown by RAF Squadrons using the Havoc, as well as one or two false steps. The Turbinlight Havoc makes for an interesting kit conversion, but was a truly terrible combat concept. Sending up a searchlight and radar equipped Havoc (accompanied by two Hurricanes) and then illuminating a German bomber so the fighters could shoot it down was NEVER going to be worthwhile!

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah that is definitely an interesting, and badly flawed concept! Of course turning the Havoc into an actual night fighter (as the P-70) is only marginally better.

      Along similar lines was the US Navy’s use of “Bat Teams”; a single radar equipped TBF Avenger accompanied by two F6F Hellcats. Ideally the Avenger would lead the Hellcats to the target. Not only was this clumsy. it resulted in the death of Butch O’Hare.

      There is obviously no real substitute for a capable, radar equipped night fighter. Unfortunately it took some time to get such aircraft into service.

  7. Joey Haeck says:

    Although not the fastest or longest-range aircraft in its class, the Douglas DB-7 series distinguished itself as a tough, dependable combat aircraft with an excellent reputation for speed and maneuverability. The aeroplane represents a definite advantage in the design of flying controls .

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