Douglas SBD Dauntless
Operational History

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps
The SBD Dauntless was in the thick of action from the very begining of the war with their first action at Pearl Harbor. The USS Enterprise launched 18 SBDs that arrived over Pearl Harbor during the attack. Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) lost six aircraft, while Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) lost one. The majority of the Marine SBDs belonging to Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 232 (VMSB-232) were destroyed on the ground at Ewa Mooring Mast Field. On December 10, 1941, SBDs from the Enterprise sank the Japanese submarine I-70.

In February–March 1942, SBDs from the carriers USS USS Lexington, USS Yorktown, and USS Enterprise took part in various raids on Japanese installations in the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, New Guinea, Rabaul, Wake Island, and Marcus Island. Later, SBDs painted to resemble Japanese aircraft appeared in the John Ford film December 7th (1943).

The first major use of the SBD in combat was at the Battle of the Coral Sea where SBDs and TBD Devastators sank the Japanese light aircraft carrier (CVL) Sho-ho- and inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese fleet carrier Sho-kaku. SBDs were also used for antitorpedo combat air patrols (CAP) and these scored several victories against Japanese aircraft trying to attack the Lexington and the Yorktown.

Douglas SBD Dauntless WRG# 0000392
Deck handlers spot SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers of Escort-Scouting Squadron (VGS) 29 on the flight deck of the auxiliary aircraft carrier Santee (ACV 29) on Dec 27, 1942.
[Source: U.S. Navy Photo]

Their relatively heavy gun armament—with two forward-firing .50 in M2 Browning machine guns and either one or two rear flexible-mount .30 in AN/M2 machine guns—was effective against the lightly-built Japanese fighters, and many pilots and gunners took aggressive attitudes to the fighters that attacked them. One pilot—Stanley "Swede" Vejtasa—was attacked by three A6M2 Zero fighters, he shot two of them down and cut off the wing of the third in a head-on pass with his wing tip.

The SBD's most important contribution to the American war effort, doubtless, came during the Battle of Midway in early June 1942. Four squadrons of SBD dive bombers attacked and sank or fatally damaged all four Japanese fleet carriers present—three of them in the span of just six minutes (Akagi, Kaga, So-ryu- and, later in the day, Hiryu-). They also caught the Midway bombardment group of four heavy cruisers, heavily damaging two of them, the Mikuma so badly that she had to be scuttled.

At the Battle of Midway, Marine Corps SBDs were not as effective. One squadron, VMSB-241, flying from Midway Atoll, was not trained in the techniques of dive-bombing. Instead, its pilots resorted to the slower but easier glide bombing technique. This led to many of the SBDs being shot down. On the other hand, the carrier-born squadrons were effective, especially when they were escorted by their Grumman F4F Wildcat teammates. The success of dive bombing was due to two important circumstances:

First and most important, the Japanese carriers were at their most vulnerable, readying bombers for battle, with full fuel hoses and armed ordnance strewn across their hangar decks.
Second, the valiant but doomed assault of the torpedo aircraft squadrons from the American carriers and from Midway Atoll had drawn the Japanese fighter cover away from the dive bombers, thereby allowing the SBDs to attack unhindered.

Douglas SBD Dauntless WRG# 0017423
A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 "Dauntless" scout bomber (Bu. 4542), of Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) from USS Enterprise (CV-6), after landing on USS Yorktown (CV-5) at about 1140 hrs on June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway. This plane, damaged during the attack on the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga that morning, landed on Yorktown as it was low on fuel. It was later lost with the carrier.
[Source: U.S. Navy Photo]

Next, SBDs took part in the Guadalcanal campaign, both from the American carriers and from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island. SBDs contributed to the heavy loss of Japanese shipping during the campaign, including the carrier Ryu-jo- near the Solomon Islands on 24 August; damaging three others during the six-month campaign. SBDs continued to sink one cruiser and nine transports during the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

During the decisive period of the War in the Pacific, the SBD's strengths and weaknesses became evident. While the American strength was dive bombing, the Japanese stressed their Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" torpedo bombers, which had caused the bulk of the damage during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the Atlantic Ocean the SBD saw action during Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942. The SBDs flew from the USS Ranger and two escort carriers. Eleven months later, during Operation Leader, the SBDs saw their European debut when aircraft from the Ranger attacked Nazi German shipping around Bodø, Norway.

By 1944 the U.S. Navy began replacing the SBD with the more powerful SB2C Helldiver.

During the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, a long range twilight strike was made against the retreating Japanese fleet at the limit of their range and beyond. The force had about twenty minutes of daylight over their targets before attempting the long return in the dark. Of the 215 aircraft, only 115 made it back. Twenty were lost to enemy action in the attack, while 80 more were lost when one by one they expended their fuel and had to ditch into the sea. In the attack, however, were 26 SBDs. Of these, all 26 made it back to the carriers.

Douglas SBD Dauntless WRG# 0000642
SBD-5 Dauntless of VB-10 flown by LTjg "Jake" Jacobsen from the USS Enterprise, 1944.
[Source: National Archives via the Jack Cook Collection]

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was the last major engagement where SBDs made up a significant part of the carrier born bomber force. Marine squadrons continued to fly SBDs until the end of the war. Although the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver had a more powerful engine, a higher maximum speed and could carry nearly a thousand pounds more in bomb load, many of the dive bomber pilots preferred the SBD, which was lighter, had a greater range and better low speed handling characteristics, critical for carrier landings.

The Dauntless was one of the most important aircraft in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, sinking more enemy shipping in the War in the Pacific than any other Allied bomber. In addition, Barrett Tillman, in his book on the Dauntless, claims that it has a "plus" score against enemy aircraft, considered to be a rare event for a nominal "bomber".

A total of 5,936 SBDs were produced during the War. When the last SBD rolled off the assembly lines at the Douglas Aircraft plant in El Segundo, California, on 21 July 1944, it marked the final SBD that the Navy was to buy. The Navy placed emphasis on the heavier, faster, and longer-ranged SB2C. From Pearl Harbor through April 1944, SBDs had flown 1,189,473 operational hours, with 25 percent of all operational hours flown off aircraft carriers being in SBDs. Its battle record shows that in addition to six Japanese carriers, 14 enemy cruisers had been sunk, along with six destroyers, 15 transports or cargo ships and scores of various lesser craft.

A handful of A-24 Banshees survived in the inventory of the USAAF long enough to be taken over by the Air Force when that service became independent of the Army in October 1947. The USAF established a new designation system for its aircraft, eliminating the "A-for-Attack" category, through 1962.

The twin-engined "A" versions were redesignated as bombers, with another Douglas Aircraft design, the A-26 Invader becoming the B-26 Invader). Most of the single-engined "A" aircraft were either classified as fighters, or scrapped. As a result, the Banshee was called the F-24 Banshee, although this aircraft was scrapped in 1950.

United States Army Air Forces
The U.S. Army Air Forces sent 52 A-24 Banshees in crates to the Philippines in the fall of 1941 to equip the 27th Bombardment Group, whose personnel were sent separately. However, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, these bombers were diverted to Australia and the 27th BG fought on the Bataan Peninsula as infantry. While in Australia the aircraft were reassembled for flight to the Philippines but their missing parts, including solenoids, trigger motors and gun mounts delayed their shipment. Plagued with mechanical problems, the A-24s were diverted to the 91st Bombardment Squadron and designated for assignment to Java Island instead.

Douglas SBD Dauntless WRG# 0006363
A-24B Banshee (42-54736) of the 18th FG 13th AF Morati, NG 1944.
[Source: National Archives via the Jack Cook Collection]

Referring to themselves as "Blue Rock Clay Pigeons", the 91st BS attacked the enemy harbor and airbase at Bali and damaged or sank numerous ships around Java. After the Japanese shot down two A-24s and damaged three so badly that they could no longer fly, the 91st received orders to evacuate Java in early March, ending a brief but valiant effort.

The Banshees left in Australia were assigned to the 8th Bombardment Squadron of 3d Bombardment Group, to defend New Guinea. On 26 July 1942, seven A-24s attacked a convoy off Bun, but only one survived: the Japanese shot down five of them and damaged the sixth so badly that it did not make it back to base. Regarded by many pilots as too slow, short ranged and poorly armed, the remaining A-24s were relegated to non-combat missions. In the U.S., the A-24s became training aircraft or towed targets for aerial gunnery training. The more powerful A-24B was used later against the Japanese forces in the Gilbert Islands.

French Air Force and Naval Aviation (Aeronavale)
The first production Dauntless sent into action was the "SBD-3", which was produced for the French Naval Aviation. A total of 174 Dauntlesses were ordered by the French Navy, but with the fall of France in the spring of 1940 that production batch was diverted to the U.S. Navy, which ordered 410 more.

The Free French received about 80 SBD-5s and A-24Bs from the United States in 1944. They were used as trainers and close-support aircraft.

Squadron I/17 Picardie used a few A-24Bs for coastal patrol. The most combat-experienced of the Banshee units was GC 1/18 Vendee, which flew A-24Bs in support of Allied forces in southern France and also experienced how deadly German flak was, losing several aircraft in 1944. This squadron flew from North Africa to recently liberated Toulouse to support Allied and French resistance troops. Later, the unit was assigned to support attacks on cities occupied by the Germans on the French Atlantic coast. In April 1945 each SBD-5 averaged three missions a day in the European theater. In 1946 the French Air Force based its A-24Bs in Morocco as trainers.

French Navy Dauntlesses were based in Cognac at the end of 1944. The French Navy Dauntlesses were the last ones to experience combat, during the Indochina War, flying from the carrier Arromanches (the former Royal Navy carrier Colossus). In late 1947 during one operation in the Indochina War, Flotille 4F flew 200 missions and dropped 65 tons of bombs. By 1949, the French Navy removed the Dauntless from combat status although the type was still flown as a trainer through 1953.

Royal New Zealand Air Force
The Royal New Zealand Air Force received 18 SBD-3s and 23 SDB-4s, and RNZAF 25 Squadron did use them successfully in combat over the South Pacific.

Douglas SBD Dauntless WRG# 0017425
A Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless (Bu 06766/RNZAF serial NZ5034) assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force receives the attention of ground personnel on Espiritu Santo, in 1944.
[Source: U.S. Navy Photo]

Under the original plan, four Squadrons (25, 26, 27 and 28 Sqn) of the RNZAF were going to be equipped with the Dauntless, but only 25 Sqn used them. The RNZAF soon replaced them with F-4U Corsairs.