TBF Avenger, U.S. Carrier Torpedo Bomber

Aerial photograph of TBF Avenger torpedo bomber

U.S. Navy

Grumman TBF-1 Avenger


Crew 3
Dimensions 54'2" by 40' by 16'5"
16.51m by 12.19m by 5.00m
Wing area 490 square feet
45.5 square meters
Weight 10,100-15,905 lbs
4580-7214 kg
Maximum speed       271 mph (436 km/h) at 11,200 feet (3400 meters)
251 mph (404 km/h) at sea level
Cruise speed 145 mph
233 km/h
Landing speed 76 mph
122 km/h
Climb rate 24 feet per second
7.3 meters per second
Service ceiling 22,400 feet
7830 meters
Power plant 1 1700 hp (1268 kW) Wright R-2600-8 Cyclone 14-cylinder two-row radial engine driving a three bladed propeller.
Armament 1 0.30 machine gun (nose)
1 0.50 machine gun (rear cockpit turret)
1 0.30 machine gun (ventral tunnel)
Bomb load
1 torpedo or 1 1600 lb (726 kg)  bomb or 4 500 lb (227 kg) bombs or 12 100 lb (45 kg) bombs or 1 600 lb (272 kg) depth charges or 4 325 lb (147 kg) depth charges or 1 1500 lb (880 kg) Mark 12 mine
Range 1215 miles (1955 km) at 153 mph (246 km/h) with full weapons load
1450 miles (2330 km) as scout
259 miles (417 km) nominal combat radius
Fuel 335 gallons internal
1268 liters internal
Production 8852 from 3/25/42 to 9/45 at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, NY (TBF) and at Eastern Aircraft, North Tarrytown, NY (TBM):
  1525 TBF-1 (1942)
  764 TBF-1C (1943)
  550 TBM-1 (1943)
  2332 TBM-1C (1943)
  4664 TBM-3 (1944-1945)

-1C added 2 0.50 machine guns (wings) and racks for eight 66 lb (30 kg) rockets. It also added fittings for 1 275 gallon (1041 l) bomb bay drop tank and 2 58 gallon (220 l) wing drop tanks for a total ferry fuel capacity of 726 gallons (2748 liters) and ferry range of 2335 miles (3758 km).

-3 had radar and a R-2800-20 engine rated at 1900 hp (1417 kW) that increased the service ceiling to 27,100' (8230 m).

-3P was a photoreconnaissance version with the cameras mounted in the bomb bay

-3W was the model number for CADILLAC, which went into production 1943-3 but was still undergoing field tests at the time of the surrender.

The TBF Avenger made its combat debut at the Battle of Midway, where a strike of six TBFs was launched from Midway Island.  Only one returned, shot to pieces, with the gunner dead and the radioman wounded.  Most missions flown by the TBF were much more successful, with this type proving the most flexible carrier bomber of the war.  It could deliver torpedoes or be used for horizontal bombing, and it was discovered to be a surprisingly effective glide bomber. Like all Grumman aircraft, it was very rugged. Unlike its predecessor, the TBD Devastator, it had an internal torpedo bay that greatly reduced drag.

The first production order, of 286 aircraft, was placed in December 1940, even before the first prototype flew on 7 August 1941. This reflected both dissatisfaction with the performance of its predecessor, the TBD Devastator, and the shortage of Devastators, of which only 130 had been produced and only 40 were still operational by June 1942. The Navy had requested a design with a top speed of 300 mph (483 km/h), an internal torpedo bay, and a range of 3000 miles (4800 km), but Grumman could only manage 275 mph. The Navy decided that this would have to do, and the only major modification required to the TBF prototype was the addition of a dorsal fin for stability.

After building the first 2290 aircraft, Grumman turned production over to General Motors in order to focus on the F6F Hellcat, and General Motors' Eastern Aircraft division produced another 7546 Avengers as the TBM. A few early production TBMs suffered from structural failure of the wings, and this was eventually traced to relocation of rivets to speed production that inadvertently reduced wing strength. In general, though, the combination of Grumman's aeronautical engineering expertise and General Motor's mass production techniques was a successful partnership.

Experiments with the Avenger as a glide bomber were conducted in July 1942, perhaps because of the Navy's disappointment with the accuracy of horizontal bombing using the Norden bombsight. It was discovered that the Avenger could dive from 6500' (1980m) at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees, drop its bomb at 2500' (760m), and come within 40' (12m) of a moving target. A bomb crutch, such as was used in dive bombers, was not needed for this relatively shallow dive. Because the Avenger was not originally designed for glide bombing, an Avenger occasionally came apart during a glide bombing attack, and there are reports that some crews tried to reduce this danger by lowering the landing gear to act as a sort of dive brake. Later production aircraft were strengthened at a few critical points and equipped with accelerometers to warn pilots when the aircraft began pushing its envelope, but a true glide bomber version of the Avenger using high-strength alloys and strengthened wing hinges, the TBM-4, did not make it into production before the war ended.

Given the Avenger's effectiveness as a glide bomber, the Navy considered discarding the Norden bombsight, but hesitated to give up on the Avenger's horizontal bombing capability. By 1944, it was clear that the Avenger was a bust as a horizontal bomber, and that the only use to which most crews were putting the Norden was as an autopilot. The Norden began to be replaced with a conventional autopilot that year.

In March 1943, Avengers began flying mine laying missions in the central Solomons. Avengers would eventually be extensively employed to lay mines in Japanese ports throughout the Pacific. In some cases, ports were quietly mined just prior to a more general air or surface attack, in order to destroy shipping fleeing the harbor.

Beginning in late 1943, the U.S. Navy began night combat air patrols consisting of a radar-equipped Avenger accompanied by a pair of conventional Hellcats, with the Avenger acting as an airborne controller to direct its fighters onto the enemy. This required rather careful coordination. Later in the war, radar was developed that was small and simple enough to be operated from single-seat fighters, releasing the Avengers to scout for enemy warships.

By the end of the war, the typical American light carrier or escort carrier air group was composed entirely of fighters and Avengers, with Avengers making up about a third of the aircraft in escort carrier air groups and about a quarter of the aircraft in light carriers. Fleet carriers carried increasing numbers of fighters to fend off kamikaze attack, with a single squadron (about 15 aircraft) each of Avengers and dive bombers. Virtually the entire production of the Avenger went to the Pacific.

The British received 402 and New Zealand 63 as Lend-Lease. The aircraft continued in post-war service, with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm continuing to employ 100 Avengers as antisubmarine aircraft as late as 1953.

Photo Gallery

Avenger seen from the side

U.S. Navy

Avenger seen from below

U.S. Navy

Avenger preparing to launch from carrier

U.S. Navy

Avenger landing on carrier

U.S. Navy

Avengers being armed with torpedoes

U.S. Navy

Turret of battle-damaged Avenger at Midway

U.S. Navy

View of rear fuselage of Avenger

U.S. Navy

Schematic of Avenger

U.S. Navy

Schematic of Avenger

U.S. Navy



Friedman (2013)

Gunston (1986)

Morison (1951)

Navy History and Heritage Command (accessed 2013-11-23)

Rickard (2010; accessed 2011-4-30)
Sharpe et al. (1999)

Stern (2010)

Tillman (1999)

Wilson (1998)

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