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Douglas SBD Dauntless (A-24 Banshee)

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Dauntless Navy's Main Carrier-Based Dive-Bomber

SBD-5 Dauntless - WWII American dive bomber

SBD-5 Dauntlesses painted a in tricolor scheme. The SBD-5 was the major production model. US Navy photo.

The SBD Dauntless was the Navy’s main carrier-based dive-bomber in World War Two and was responsible for sinking more enemy ships than any other single type of aircraft, playing a major role in the battles of Midway, the Coral Sea and the Solomons. "From 1940 until four years later this was one of the important US combat aircraft, indeed, in the first half of 1942, it saw more action than any other American type." Combat Aircraft of World War II, by Bill Gunston (p.221).

The sturdily built SBD (Scout Bomber, Douglass) dive-bomber/scout had perforated dive flaps, a 3-blade propeller, retractable landing gear, and an arrester hook for deck-landing. It carried a crew of 2 which included the pilot, who also acted as front gunner, and a radio-operator/rear gunner who rode facing backward. Reportedly, the visibility in the Dauntless was excellent.

A-24 army Banchee

Banshee during a nearly vertical dive.

Perforated dive flap is visible one the wing edge. USAAF photo.

A-24 Banshee - Army Version

Although primarily used by the U.S. Navy approximately 780 SBDs were used by the U.S. Army Air Corps and designated as A-24 Banshee, with delivery beginning June 1941. The army version was used mainly for training rather than combat service. The Dauntless also served with Marine Corps squadrons.

Diving in the SBD Dauntless

During World War II, the SBD Dauntless was typically assigned as part of an aircraft carrier air group which would have consisted of fighters, torpedo-bombers and Dauntless squadrons. The dive bombers were often used to attack ships and other valuable targets. The pilot would begin the dive at 15,000 to 20,000 feet, from a position almost directly above the target. Accelerating rapidly, the bomb load was released as the aircraft neared the objective. Perforated dive brakes (flaps) added control in the dive, making the bomb drop more accurate. The pilot would then pull out of the dive and return to the carrier.

Gunner on SBD Dauntless

Twin .30 caliber machine guns on the SBD Dauntless. US Navy photo.

Armament on the Dauntless

Armament on later versions of the Dauntless included two 0.5 inch machine guns fixed in nose, two 0.30 inch flexible machine guns in the rear cockpit, and a variety of bomb loads including one 1,000 pound bomb under the fuselage, and two 250 pound bombs or depth charges under the wings. These aircraft could carry increased bomb loads but there were always risks in doing so; range was reduced and the length of runway required was increased.

Improvements were made throughout production and six successive versions were built. Later models had improved armament, a more powerful 1350 hp engine, greater fuel capacity, self-sealing fuel tanks, armor and bullet-proof windscreens, and radar was eventually installed.

Continued SBD Service as Escort Carriers

Production of the SBD Dauntless end in July 1944, but replacement with the SB2C Helldiver began in 1943. The Dauntless continued to serve on escort carriers for anti-submarine patrol and close-support duties.

The Dauntless became famous for sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway in 1942, three of them after an ill fated attack by TBD Devastator torpedo planes had drawn all of the protecting Japanese fighters down to near sea level where they could not reach the SBD Dauntlesses in time. Tough and reliable, the SBD Dauntless, nicknamed “Slow But Deadly”, was able to sustain severe battle damage and still return home.



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* SBD Dauntless facts

Category Dive bomber
Manufacturer Douglas
Introduced 1940
Used in
US Navy
US Marine Corps
US Army Air Force
Free French Air Force
Number built 5,936
Cruising speed 185 mph
Max. speed 255 mph
Altitude 25,200 feet
Range 456 miles
* Numbers are approximate