Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator

This dive bomber was one of the first generation monoplanes in Navy service and was thoroughly obsolete at the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific.  Yet a small number served in Marine squadrons until the Battle of Midway.


Join me for a look at an early dive bomber.

Dating back to 1934 the Vindicator was in the first group of monoplanes ordered by the US Navy.  At this early date the Navy was unsure if monoplanes would work on aircraft carriers at all and Vought was ordered to build a similarly powered bi-plane as well (the SB3U, never ordered into production).  The R-1535 engine produced about 750 horsepower.  The type was metal covered on its forward fuselage and wings, while the tail and control surfaces were fabric covered.  It had no dive flaps and was expected to use its fully reversable propeller for that job.
The type was also ordered by the French Navy and saw action in the Battle of France.


Scruffy markings here are partly the result of a recent change in the Navy markings orders.  Red and white tail stripes, and red insignia centers were ordered removed in mid-May, 1942.  A trace of them remains.

This SB2U-3 represents the last major variant of the type and was built exclusively for the Marine Corps.  It had a slightly more powerful R-1535 engine and extra fuel tanks in the fuselage.  It’s main armament was a 1000 lb bomb at the center station and a 250 lb bomb under each wing.  It also could have two .50 machine guns in each wing, but I believe only one gun was ever carried in service.  The radio operator also had a defensive .50 machine gun.


The white stripes on the rear fuselage are not for tactical identification!  The Vindicators of VMSB-241 were scheduled for complete overhauls before they deployed to Midway Island, and the fabric of the rear fuselage had started to separate from the frame on many aircraft due to the prolonged tropical conditions. Squadron mechanics borrowed white surgical tape from the infirmary to accomplish repairs.  Pity they didn’t have duct tape…


By the time War broke out the Navy had replaced all Pacific Fleet Vindicators with Dauntlesses, although Atlantic Fleet carriers (Wasp and Ranger) used the type for a few months into the war, mainly for anti-submarine patrols.
But Pacific Vindicators did see combat with the Marines.  Some were destroyed on the ground at Pearl Harbor.  In late December of 1941 VMSB-241 was ordered to fly from Pearl Harbor out to Midway Island, a distance of 1137 miles.  At the time, this was the longest flight ever ordered for a combat ready single-engine aircraft.  The coming months were filled with endless patrolling, and on May 26 the squadron was reinforced by SBD-2 Dauntlesses that were shipped in. On June 4, 1942, in The Battle of Midway, the Squadron made its first attack on the Japanese fleet. It was a mixed formation of 16 SBD-2 flown by the more experienced pilots, and 12 SB2U-3 flown by newer pilots. No hits were scored, and the Squadron Commander Lofton Henderson (in a Dauntless) was killed in the attack. Later that evening, the new Squadron commander, Benjamin Norris (in a Vindicator) was killed in a follow up mission.
The next day, the squadron was in action again against a pair of withdrawing cruisers, the Mogami and Mikuma.  For the third time in two days the squadron commander, this time Richard Fleming (in a Vindicator), was killed in action. Fleming was believed to have scored a damaging near miss while crashing to his death. The ships were both heavily damaged, the Mikuma being finished off by Navy Dauntlesses and the Mogami would need six months for repairs.


White 2 was flown by Lt.  Richard Fleming on the June 5 mission.


The SB2U-3 could mount up to four .50 machine guns in the wings.  But here, only the inboard port .50 is carried. Other openings are patched over.

Film maker John Ford was on Midway Island during the great battle.  He captured VMSB-241’s morning take off on June 4 with color film. (from Wikimedia.org)


This example is the Accurate Miniatures kit.  Accurate Miniatures was an interesting company that appeared in the mid-1990s.  They absolutely raised the bar for detail and accuracy on 1/48 scale kits.  Their models are often complicated and require close attention to the instructions.  I’ve been a big fan, I enjoy their well engineered sophistication. But this kit is a product of the company’s second incarnation, after a bankruptcy.  I would say it is clearly not up to the standards of the earlier kits.  I get the impression it was rushed to market; engineering, fit and quality of the moldings are all inferior to other releases by this company.  I feel like it still built up all right, but I fought it far more than I’m used to with this brand.


The SBD Dauntless had replaced the SB2U throughout the Pacific Fleet.  Only at Midway did one Marine squadron, with a mixed compliment including Vindicators see action.

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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24 Responses to Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Thanks for posting this.
    Now I am going to read it.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Facts I did not know…

    It had no dive flaps and was expected to use its fully reversable propeller for that job.

    The type was also ordered by the French Navy and saw action in the Battle of France.

    • atcDave says:

      Actually the French didn’t like the propeller and had dive flaps installed in the wing. But US versions did not.
      I don’t think it worked very well, at Midway they did shallow angle glide bombing instead of hell diving.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I have learned so much more than the above comment.
    Great post again.

  4. jfwknifton says:

    A really interesting article. I think that this aircraft and a selection of other American carrier planes appear in the film “Dive Bomber”. Learning the aircraft of the Pacific War is an ongoing task for me, although I have a nasty feeling that I shall never master more than half a dozen Japanese aircraft.

    • Pierre Lagacé says:

      Dive Bomber is most interesting for the plane scenes although you have to suffer a bit through the story and the ongoing smoking of the doctors.

      • John says:

        I don’t believe I have ever seen more smoking and lighting up in a movie as I saw in ‘Dive Bomber’.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        Quite unbelievable isn’t…
        One cigarette after another. A full length cigarette commercial!

    • atcDave says:

      Dive Bomber is outstanding for color footage of pre-war Navy. And the Vindicator is very prominent in some of it.

      But the chain smoking, and story in general is sort of a hoot! And “Schneider number”?!
      About the time I first saw the movie I had a supervisor named Schneider, who was a chain smoker and former Navy controller, so that left a strong impression.

  5. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Taken from the Internet

    SB2U Vindicators served from their introduction to service until 1942 on four carriers, and for a period in a training role into 1943. They are perhaps best remembered in American service when used heroically by the US Marine Corps at the Battle of Midway.

    A somewhat different export version for the French, the V-156-F also saw service with the Aeronavale. It featured wing mounted finger-like air-brakes, different tail surfaces and bomb release gear, plus various other instrument and control changes to suit French practice. It took part in brave but futile actions against German advances in the Battle of France, and briefly against the Italians after they opportunistically joined the fray when German victory seemed assured.

    Following the fall of France Britain was desperate for all the aircraft it could obtain, and so took over a French order with Vought, which following some changes back and more inline with American versions became the Chesapeake in British service. By the time the British evaluated them their obsolescence was overwhelmingly apparent, and were too underpowered to lift a useful war-load from the small escort carriers the Royal Navy planned to use them on.

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Sorry Dave for commenting this much…

  7. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Last comment Dave…

  8. It’s nice to see less well known types being modelled. The undercarriage looks very high, presumably strengthened for carrier use? And a fully reversible propellor? I’m learning something new every day!

    • atcDave says:

      The gear is pretty spindly looking! And in scale, its not terribly strong either. My only defense is that it looks pretty tall in photos of the real thing too.

      I suspect the propeller mechanism was not wholly successful. I don’t know of any modern piston engine aircraft that uses a reversible propeller (its common on turbo-props however). And every other American dive bomber has more conventional dive flaps (although I seem to recall one of the Stuka’s early rivals, a Heinkel maybe, used something similar).
      As a non-engineer my knowledge of such things is superficial.

      • That’s interesting. I presume it reveres by rotating the props around the propellor boss in such a way as to ‘push’ rather than ‘pull’. A fainting idea and one I had not come across ever.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah it just changes the pitch of the blades. But I think it puts tremendous strain on the engine, and the gearbox itself. Turbo-props may use actual thrust reverse like a jet too.

        I remember years ago at the airport I was working we had a temporary runway closure that left us with only 1800 feet usable. A King Air came in and landed, no problem. But I had a Golden Eagle circling who said he’d wait for the whole runway to re-open. I teased him with “a King Air just did it” (ugh, what was I thinking! If he tried and failed on my account I probably would not be an air traffic controller today!). The King Air is a bit bigger, heavier and faster. But the Golden Eagle pilot just said “sure, he’s got reversers”.
        I’ve observed many times since that the turbo props clearly change pitch and slow dramatically after touchdown, while piston engines just slow to a stop. I hesitate with any absolutes, but again I suspect the whole contraption did not work very well.

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