TBD Devastator, U.S. Carrier Torpedo Bomber

  Photograph of TBD Devastator in flight

National Archives #80-G-19341

Douglas TBD-1 Devastator


Crew 2 or 3
Dimensions 50' by 35'6" by 15'1"
15.24m by 10.82m by 4.60m
Wing area 422 square feet
39.2 square meters
Weight 7,195-10,194 lbs
3264-4624 kg
Maximum speed       206 mph (332 km/h) at 8000 feet (2400 meters)
192 mph (309 km/h) at sea level
Cruise speed 128 mph
206 km/h
Landing speed 69 mph
111 km/h
Climb rate 12 feet per second
3.7 meters per second
Service ceiling 19,700 feet
6000 meters
Power plant 1 850 hp (634 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder two-row radial engine
Armament 1 0.30 machine gun on right side of nose
1 0.50 flexible machine gun in rear cockpit
External stores 1 2216lb (1005 kg) 21" torpedo or 1 1000lb (454 kg) bomb or 3 500lb (227kg) bombs
Range 435 miles (700 km) with full weapons load
716 miles (1150 km) maximum range
Fuel 180 gallons
680 liters
Production 130 produced from 10/5/37 to 11/39 by Douglas at El Segundo

The Devastator is the aircraft that became notorious for its high losses at Midway.  It was slow, clumsy, and not particularly rugged.  It did not help that the torpedo carried by this aircraft required an attack run at 80 feet (24m) at not more than 92 mph (148 km/h) at a range of not more than 1000 yards (910m), which made an attacking Devastator a sitting duck for both antiaircraft and fighters.  To add insult to injury, most of the torpedoes that did hit were duds. The Devastator was also capable of horizontal bombing, but this required the bombardier to lie prone in the belly of the plane, operating the Norden bombsight through a belly window.

The design was selected on 3 February 1936 over a more traditional biplane design resembling the British Swordfish. The Devastator was very innovative for its day, with such features as partially retractable landing gear, and the production order of 110 aircraft was the largest the U.S. Navy had ever placed. Its adoption prevented the Navy from abandoning torpedo bombing entirely.

However, its day had passed by the time the TBD first saw combat. It was almost thirty miles per hour (50 km/h) slower than its Japanese counterpart, the B5N Kate, and had a much shorter range. The effective combat radius of a TBD was reckoned at 150 miles (240 km) with a torpedo or 175 miles (280 km) with a 1000 lb (454 kg) bomb. This was considerably less than half the theoretical maximum range, reflecting the higher use of fuel during combat maneuvers and the need for a fuel reserve.

Production of the Devastator had already ended when war broke out, but it took some time for its replacement, the TBF Avenger, to be available in sufficient numbers to equip the carrier squadrons. However, Midway was the Devastator's last important combat operation.


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