Douglas SBD Dive Bomber


The Douglas built SBD (Scout Bomber Douglas) also called the “Dauntless”, was a World War II United States Navy (USN) Dive Bomber and  Scout plane.  The SBD was the USN main aircraft carrier bomber from 1940 through 1944.

It is remembered as the plane that devastated four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.  The SBD also had a nickname of “Slow But Deadly” which was well deserved as it possessed long range, good handling characteristics , maneuverability,  potent bomb load, excellent diving characteristics, good defensive armament and ruggedness.

The SBD was also used by the United States Marine Corp (USMC) on land bases and Marine squadrons were also assigned on aircraft carriers.

One SBD variant, without the arrestor hook , was built for the United States Army Force  (USAAF) as the A-24 Banshee. The primary users of the SBD Dauntless/A-24 Banshee were The USN, The USAAF,  Free French Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force.   The SBD/Banshee were built between 1940-1944 and 5,936 of all variants were built.

The BT-1 (top) and the BT-2 (bottom)

Design and Development

Design work begin on the BT-1 by the Northrop Corporation in 1935  Two years later the Douglas Aircraft Company took over Northup but retained all active Northup projects including the BT-1.  The BT-2 came from advancements from the BT-1 .

In November 1937 Ed Heimann led a team of designers in developing the BT-2  supplying it with a 1,000 Wright Cyclone engine.    In the same year the BT-2 design was now called the SBD-1.  In 1938 the USN and USMC placed orders for the SBD-1 and the SBD-2 (the latter had larger fuel capacity and different armament).

The SBD was developed and eventually built in the Douglas El Segundo, California plant and also at the Tulsa Oklahoma plant where the two plants produced all the variants of the SBD/A-24.   The refinements included increased armor, self-sealing fuel tanks, 12 volt electrical system, a Wright R-1820-60 radial engine rated at 1,200 hp and an increase of ammunition supply.

The most produced of the SBDs was the SBD-5 which included all the above mentioned advancement.  There were over 2,400 of the SBD-5 built.  In 1944, the SBD-6, which had minor changes, was built in very limited quantities as production ended in 1944.

The USAAF had it’s own version of the SBD,  called the A-24 Banshee in which 3 versions were made.  There were 948 of the A-24 ordered by USAAF out of  5, 937 aircraft built.

An SBD over Wake Island in October 1943

Operational History

The USN and USMC saw their first action on 07 December 1941,  certainly  not as they would have liked it.  The USMC SBDs at Ewa Mooring Mast Field, Hawaii were destroyed on the ground as were  the SBDs at Pearl Harbor (Ford Island Field).

Then on 10 December 1941, SBDs from the USS Enterprise attacked and sank the Japanese submarine I-70. 

During the time period of February-March 1942 SBDs from USS Lexington, USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise attacked Japanese installations in the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, Rabaul, New Guinea, Wake Island and Marcus Island.  These raids did little damage and did not preclude any invasion of any these locations.

The first major combat the SBD saw, was the “Battle of the Coral Sea.”   The SBDs along with TBD Devastators sank the Japanese light aircraft carrier Shoho.  They also damaged the fleet (full size) Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku.  The USS Lexington  was lost.

SBDs also were used for Combat Air Patrol (CAP) which normally the carrier’s main fighter does, but the SBD was so effective in this role they could be used to supplement the CAP.  The SBD scored several victories against attacking Japanese aircraft in the Coral Sea battle.

The SBD’s armament included two forward facing .50 cal M2 Browning machine guns and one or two rear facing flexible .30 cal AN/M2 machine guns.  These proved very effective against the lightly built Japanese fighters.

Midway Island 1942 Eastern Island in the foreground and Sand Island in the rear

The major event the SBD was involved in was the “Battle of Midway” in June 1942.  USN intelligence discovered a huge Japanese invasion task force that was headed for the American held  Midway Island

The invasion force was backed by 6 fleet carriers, several which had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 were part of the invasion force.

The Japanese  split the invading  force with the 4 fleet Aircraft carriers with escorts to arrive from the Northwest and the main invasion body to arrive from the West.

The Japanese aircraft attacked Midway around 0900 hrs.  Many of the USN and USMC aircraft were destroyed in the air and on the ground.

Meanwhile the 3 American aircraft carriers,  USS Enterprise, USS Hornet and USS Yorktown were North-Northwest of Midway searching for the Japanese carrier force.

As the Japanese aircraft were returning from Midway and were been prepared for another attack on the island,  the attacking American force of SBDs, TBDs and F4F Wildcat fighters spotted the Japanese carrier force sending the rather obsolete torpedo bombers, TBDs first, this drew the CAP of Japanese Zeros down to attack the TBDs.

Most of the TBDs were shot down, but now the SBDs were above the Zero CAP and could unleash their bombs on the now unprotected Japanese aircraft carriers,  Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu. 

Within 6 minutes,  3 of the carriers were ablaze and sinking and the fourth,  Hiryu was severely damaged  It sank later that day.

Most historians agree this battle was the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

SBDs played a major role in the Guadalcanal Campaign  as they sank the aircraft Ryujo and damaged 3 others along with a heavy Japanese cruiser and nine transports over the 6 month campaign.  This was to be known as the “Battle of  Guadalcanal”.

The last major battle SBDs were involved in, was the “Battle of the Philippine Sea”.  There were 26 SBDs as part of an USN attack force on  retreating Japanese ships.  The 215 USN attacking air group were to fly to their maximum fuel range and attack the enemy fleet.

Twenty of the attackers were shot down but only 115 made it back their careers as fuel starvation caused the others to ditch.  All 26 SBDs make it back safely.

The Dauntless was one of the of the most important aircraft in the Pacific War, sinking more enemy shipping than any other Allied bomber

Where you can see the Douglas SBD

42-60817 (Airworthy) Erickson Aircraft Collection Madras, Oregon

42-54582 (Airworthy) Lone Star Flight Museum Galveston, Texas

28536  (Airworthy) Planes of Fame Chino, California

01273  (On Display) Pacific Aviation Museum Ford Island Hawaii

36173  (On Display) USS Yorktown (CV10) Patriots Point Naval and Maritime               Museum Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Reg Number Unknown (On Display) USS Midway Museum San Diego, California 

42-54654 Pima Air and Space Museum Tucson, Arizona

This is Just a Partial List of the Douglas SBD, Check With Your Local Air Museum for More Information 


Wingspan:     41 ft 7 in 

Length:           33 ft 1 in 

Height:            13 ft 7 in 

Weight:           6,404 lbs (empty) 9,359 lbs (loaded) 10,700 lbs(*MGTOW)                                 *Maximum Gross Take Off Weight

Max Speed:     255 mph; 185 mph (cruise)

Ceiling:            25,530 ft 

Range:            1,115 mi  (combat)

Engine:           1/Wright R-1820-60 radial engine rated at 1,200 hp

Crew:               2


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