Even after retirement from fleet carriers the SBD continued to provide service to the end of the War.
Let’s take a look at an example in Marine service in the later phase of the type’s career.
Externally the Dauntless changed little from SBD-1 to SBD-6. Every sub-type used an engine of the R-1820 family. Later versions had more power, going from 1000 HP to 1350 HP for the SBD-6. There were improvements in protection (armor and self-sealing tanks), electric system and accessories, and defensive gun. But apart from a change in air intakes and propeller there was little to tell them apart.
The type was well loved by pilots. Pilot Richard Best of VB-6 said his only complaint was he disliked the sound of the Cyclone engine (Wasp engines sounded smoother!). The Navy however, considered the type obsolete at the start of the War. Bigger, more powerful types (mainly the Helldiver, but the post-War Skyraider was in planning too) with higher speed and heavier payloads were on the way. Perhaps the biggest knock against the SBD was just that it lacked folding wings, therefore taking too much deck and hanger space on an aircraft carrier.
But Curtiss’ SB2C proved troublesome and had a lengthy development process. That meant the venerable Dauntless remained in fleet service into 1944, with the Battle of the Philippine Sea (6/1944) being its last carrier battle. It accounted for more Japanese shipping than any other aircraft type by a wide margin. As a dive bomber it was also fully aerobatic which led to a number of air-to-air kills as well.
The Marine Corps had a number of Dauntless squadrons throughout, in fact the SBD-1 was a wholly Marine variant. And when the Navy was done with the type it continued on as a Marine. Through 1944 they continued to pound bypassed Japanese positions in the Solomons and Marshalls. They also provided close support through the Marianas campaign. At the end of 1944 seven Marine Dauntless squadrons found themselves shipped to the Philippines to provide close support in MacArthur’s on going campaign. Supposedly Army troops had concerns about getting close support from Marines, but the concerns didn’t last long. The Marine Dauntlesses routinely took targets within 300 yds of Army positions, occasionally much closer. Even taking the responsibility for covering the Army’s flanks on occasion. The Marines claimed this as a first, and it was in the Pacific, but 9th Air Force routinely provided this service in Europe as well.
As far as I can tell, the local Army Air Force (5th Air Force) was mostly concerned with anti-shipping and airfield suppression. In New Guinea, I believe, most close support was provided by the Australians. So in the Philippines it quickly became clear something was missing which led to the Marines being called. Given how jealous MacArthur was of the Marines and any publicity they got it makes me wonder just how this ever came to be. Likely some wrangling and horse trading at levels beneath his notice.
But it was as tactical support in the Philippines that had the Dauntless still flying combat missions to VJ Day.
This particular aircraft was assigned to VMSB-231 in the Marshall Islands, late 1944. It was flown by the squadron commander, Major Elmer Glidden. As a Captain, he was a section leader in VMSB-241 at Midway Is in June 1942. He won the first of two wartime Navy Crosses for his actions there. He is considered to have the most combat dives of any American pilot with 107.
It is the Accurate Miniatures kit with Super Scale Decals. The kit is from the 1990s. When it first came out it was considered, by some, to be the best scale model kit ever made. It clearly isn’t now, but its still interesting to compare state of the art 25 years apart. Surface detail is beautiful. It has some surprisingly advanced features, like the way the landing strut and cover self align for their distinctive complex angles. But it has a few fails, the biggest and most maddening to me is the dive flaps. They are attached by a simple butt join. No doubt this is very fragile! I think I had to (re)attach them five times! The last time, I was consciously thinking “now don’t pick it up near that flap” and proceeded to grasp the plane by the dive flap on the other wing! Being a stupid modeler doesn’t help the situation…
Next time I build one I’ll look at either building up a ledge to rest them on or maybe make my own pins for them.
Overall still a very nice kit, with just a few idiosyncrasies.