Curtiss SB2C-4E Helldiver

From an outside view it seems clear the War was all but over at the start of 1945, but for those involved combat remained intense and relentless towards an Apocalyptic end.

Bombing 84 (VB-84) on the USS Bunker Hill had a noteworthy, late, tour of duty.

Bombing 84, calling themselves “The Wolf Gang”, first saw combat during Tokyo air strikes of February 16-17 1945. Task Force 38 was a huge combat force at this time, 16 aircraft carriers with over 1000 aircraft. 135 of these were Helldivers. These were the first carrier raids on Japan since the Doolittle B-25s in 1942.
During these raids the Helldivers targeted airfields and and industry around Tokyo. Weather and anti-aircraft fire were both reported as heavy, only one Helldiver squadron reported fighters. Bombing 9 fought off fighters, claiming two damaged for no loss. This was the last reported such combat for Helldivers during the War. A pair of Bombing 12 pilots shot down a Japanese transport. Bombing accuracy was considered good too, so overall a very successful operation for the Helldiver.

Dive flaps have a red interior so that when the leader opens up for the dive, everyone in trail sees it quickly.
US Navy marking regulations allowed for Dark Sea Blue aircraft to only have the white elements of the insignia, but apparently Curtiss really liked Insignia Blue and continued using it.

The invasion of Okinawa came on April 1. Bombing squadrons had just been reduced to 15 aircraft (I believe from 18, but in 1942 there were 36 dive bombers on a fleet carrier) in an effort to increase fighter numbers against the Kamikaze. The Helldivers were much appreciated by the ground forces for their ability to hit precise targets.
On April 7 air support was interrupted by a large Japanese “special operation” (Japanese euphemism for a variety of suicide operations). The World’s largest battleship, Yamato with light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers, were sent on a one-way mission to intercept the landing force and beach themselves to become shore-based artillery.
They didn’t come close. 386 carrier aircraft found them, including four SB2C squadrons. Bombing 84 was among them and attacked the destroyer escorts, sinking at least one. Only four destroyers survived to escape back to Japan, apparently they didn’t consider themselves that special.

AN/APS-4 radar pod visible beneath the starboard wing. The SB2C-4E also had a proper radar display in the Observer’s Compartment, but the pod could be detached if required for a load.

On May 11 Bunker Hill suffered one of the worst kamikaze strikes of the War. By this date special attack tactics had become fairly sophisticated. The preferred attack being to drop a carried bomb then fly into the impact point so the aircraft’s gasoline would be ignited within the damaged area. On this morning the ship was in the middle of air operations with fighters and dive bombers being repositioned on deck. A Zero dropped a bomb on the flight deck then impacted itself into the fighters. As damage control kicked into action a Judy dive bomber came in with a bomb at the base of the island and then succeeded in impacting into the damaged area.
The total combined damage was massive. Bombing 84 lost its entire strength of 15 aircraft. The combat tour had so far cost the squadron nine men, the kamikaze attack cost 21 more. The Bunker Hill had been the flagship of Task Force 58 with Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher and his staff on board, 12 men on the Admiral’s staff were killed. Overall there were 393 dead and another 264 wounded. Bunker Hill’s seakeeping was not badly compromised and the ship was able to withdraw under its own power but was still in the shipyard when the War ended.

A Helldiver with the rear turtle deck folded down to allow the gunner a wide field of fire. [photo via Warfare History Network]

This aircraft is a VB-84 SB2C-4E shown at the time of the Tokyo strikes. The yellow nose was applied to most aircraft on the strike for quick identification. The “E” at the end of the designation is for “electronic”, it carries an AN/APS-4 radar. This is in the white pod under the wing. It can be detached to make room for other stores, but adds serious search and all-weather capability to the aircraft. During its deployment VB-84 operated a mix of -4 and -4E aircraft.
This is the Pro Modeler (Revell) kit with Aeromaster decals. Because the kit can only build a SB2C-4, the AN/APS-4 was sourced from inSight details (a brand I’ve never heard of before, and I’m not even quite sure where I got it, most recently I found it in my miscellaneous parts drawer. I must have bought it sometime….). The kit dates back to the 1990s, it is noticeably not quite modern but mostly fits well and offers nice detail. The build did slow down in a couple fiddly places, like fitting the whole interior then closing the fuselage around it. This didn’t go as smoothly as I’ve come to expect with newer kits. But at least it HAS a nice interior, just some adjustments are needed to fit it all.
The decals performed well. Converting to a SB2C-4E was also pretty painless; I filled the mounting holes for the Yagi antennae, then drilled new holes for the AN/APS-4 pod.

An air group on a fleet carrier in early 1945 consisted of up to four squadrons. Bombing with 15 Helldivers, Torpedo with 15 Avengers (clover leaf on the tail here), and Fighting with up to 72 Hellcats (top left). It was found that 72 fighters were unwieldy to command so the squadron was often split in two; with the second (functionally identical) squadron being either “Bombing/Fighting” or “Marine Fighting” with Corsairs.

A last quick note, given how much work I’ve been getting done it surprised me a little to make it 18 days into the year for my first post! I have been a little busy with other things, but mostly it was just a matter of some tricky builds. The Mustang should be done by the middle of the week and that will have only been a three week project. So it was mostly just a matter of bad timing on things, three projects should be done in a week.

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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8 Responses to Curtiss SB2C-4E Helldiver

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    As usual most informative.
    Pro Modeler Helldiver is very hard to find right now. I guess I will have to settle for my old Monogram Helldiver I have on my shelf…

  2. Pingback: Curtiss SB2C-4E Helldiver — Plane Dave – My Forgotten Hobby III

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    Certainly the problematic rollout of this model had a role in cementing the Dauntless’ reputation. The fact that dive-bombers were also on the way out as this model was deployed (no more Japanese carriers to target, whereas the Dauntless has the credit for almost every Japanese carrier sunk in WWII). Still a worthy build and a bit of history as the last dedicated dive bomber ever deployed, at least by the US.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the advent of smart weapons was the end of dive bombing. And no doubt the Helldiver’s development was troubled.
      In the end, it was capable enough. But as you say, it will never enjoy the reputation the Dauntless did.

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