Douglas TBD-1 Devastator Forward Back Home

TBD DevastatorIn mid 1934 the US Navy ordered the development of a new generation single-engine torpedo-bomber. Two designs were developed, the first being the Great Lakes XTBG-1 biplane which was rejected on the grounds of instability and inadequate performance and the second was the Douglas XTBD-1. The Douglas aircraft was an extremely clean-looking all-metal monoplane with a retractable main undercarriage. The XTBD-1 was destined to serve aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger and others of this class.

The basic characteristics of the TBD-1 Devastator included a 50 foot wing span with an overall length of 35 feet. Unloaded, the aircraft weighed 10,914 pounds and was propelled by a Pratt and Whitney K-1830-64 Twin Wasp 14 cylinder radial engine. The Devastator had a maximum speed of 206 miles per hour and could attain an altitude of 19,700 feet. Designed as a torpedo-bomber, it’s armament included a 21 inch torpedo or a 1000 pound bomb. In addition there were two machine-guns, one .30 inch and one .50 inch.

Flying for the first time on April 15, 1935 testing continued for two years. During this time experience with the XTBD-1 was incorporated into the production model. In February 1936 the first production order was placed for one hundred and fourteen TBD-1 Devastators. The TBD-1 thus became the first carrier-based monoplane produced for the US Navy. On June 25, 1937 the first production Devastator was flown. In August 1938 a second batch of TBD-1s were ordered.

The first US Navy Squadron to receive the new aircraft was VT-3, attached to the USS Saratoga, and by the time the US entered World War II, Devastators, had been delivered to VT-2 USS Lexington, VT-5 Yorktown, VT-6 Enterprise, VT-8 shore based Norfolk, Virginia, VS-42 Ranger, and VS-71 Wasp.

Split Top - Bottom - Side View of TBD-1At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor the US Navy had a hundred Devastators of which sixty-nine were in front line operational service. During the first six months of the war in the Pacific they were flown intensively against Japanese shipping and land targets, establishing a fine record of operational success that reached its peak in the Coral Sea campaign of May 1942. However, a month later, in the Battle of Midway Island, the remaining Devastators were decimated by the heavier and superior Japanese opposition. Those that remained were withdrawn and reassigned to various instructional duties.

Following the Battle of Midway Island and removal from operational service, accidents continued to reduce the number of surviving TBD-1 aircraft.

On December 19, 1942, TBD-1 #0282 was destroyed in a forced landing after the engine failed at NAS Miami, Florida. Ensign Robert R. Jones, pilot, and William D. Blocker received minor injuries. On the 24th of the month #0350 was damaged beyond repair in a taxi collision at the same base. Neither the pilot, Ensign Clark W. Miller nor R.T. Lacey AMM3c were injured.

On January 22, 1943, #0286 was transferred from the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, where it was stricken in September that same year.

TBD-1 #0363 was destroyed on August 27, 1943. The aircraft dove into the water two miles off the coast of Miami, killing the pilot Ensign Donald E. Brown and Hugh W. McCain Sea2c.

Actual Incident Report The actual US Navy Incident report filed for this loss reads:  "Forced landing at sea due to engine failure. Pilot was on a torpedo attack instruction flight. While effecting a rendezvous at about 700’ altitude, his engine RPM increased to approximately 3000. Apparently the propeller changed to ex tremely low pitch, due to undetermined cause, and, in spite of high RPM, did not provide any thrust. Pilot made a water landing because he lacked suf ficient power to maintain flight. The plain sank, preventing the determination of any cause for the power plant failure."

On September 2, 1943, TBD-1 #0353 ditched eight miles off the coast of Miami. Again the cause was engine failure. Neither Ensign Bruce T. Mallory pilot nor Alfred L. Jackson AMM1c were injured.

Combined with a shortage of replacement parts, aging airframes and newer aircraft, the number of existing TBD-1s declined until September 30, 1944, when #0272, the last TBD, was stricken from the Navy roles at Mustin Field, Pennsylvania, after being declared obsolete.

Although no TBD-1’s remained on the Navy roles, several airframes remained in ground school work until after the war. There are no known examples of the Douglas TBD-1 aircraft today. Several aircraft archeologists are presently engaged in seeking our the crash sites of the aircraft in the hope of obtaining sufficient wreckage for a restoration project.

UAS, in association with Champlin Fighter Museum, is currently involved with the location and recovery of TBD-1 #0353. In 1994, after researching the details of this incident, a search was launched to locate the crash site.

1994 Location of TBD-1 #0353
1998 Return to the TBD-1 #0353
Letter Details Battle of Midway

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