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Photo # 80-G-19341:  Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane in flight, circa 1938

Online Library of Selected Images:
-- U.S. NAVY AIRCRAFT -- 1922-1962 DESIGNATION SYSTEM --

Douglas TBD-1 "Devastator" Torpedo Planes

The Douglas TBD-1 was the Navy's first widely-used monoplane shipboard plane. Designed to carry a heavy torpedo below the fuselage, it was necessarily a large aircraft and its 900-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radial engine could drive it to a maximum speed of slightly over 200 miles per hour. The XTBD-1 first flew in April 1935 and 129 production TBD-1s were delivered in 1937-39, rapidly replacing biplanes in the Navy's carrier torpedo squadrons. The type gave U.S. Fleet aviators valuable experience with what was, for the time, a rather high-performance aircraft. "Normal" operational attrition whittled away at the TBD inventory, which peaked at about 120 in 1939 and had declined to barely more than a hundred at the start of the Pacific War.

Though the new Grumman TBF "Avenger" was entering production as its intended replacement, the TBD-1 was the Pacific Fleet's sole torpedo plane for the first part of the war against Japan. It seemingly did well in the raids of February-March 1942 and in the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, serving in both the torpedo attack and high-level bombing roles. However, in about an hour's time on 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway, the TBD entered the annals of Naval history as a synonym for costly futility. Three squadrons of TBD-1s made heroic torpedo attacks on the Japanese carrier force, losing all but four of forty-one aircraft while achieving no hits. Old and slow, with a weak defensive armament and without self-sealing fuel tanks, the TBD had proven horribly vulnerable to enemy fighters, though this vulnerability was to a great extent typical of all torpedo attacks against well-defended ships.

At the end of the Midway battle, the Navy had just thirty-nine TBDs left. New "Avengers" quickly took their place on Pacific Fleet flight decks, but the older planes continued to serve (briefly) in the Atlantic Fleet and in training squadrons until late 1943. The twenty-one TBDs left in the Navy inventory at the start of 1944 were mainly employed as stationary hulks for maintainance training, and all were gone by the end of that year. There are no surviving TBDs today, though hope exists for recovery, restoration and exhibit of a plane lost at sea.

The TBD's short production life, and specialized intended employment, precluded much variety in the type. The first production unit was converted to a floatplane, designated TBD-1A, and used for tests well into World War II. With the 1941 adoption of "popular" names for Navy aircraft, the TBD began to be called the "Devastator", but for most of its operational life, it was just known as the TBD-1.

TBD-1 characteristics:

  • Dimensions: Wing Span, 50 feet; Length, 35 feet; Wing Area, 422 square feet.
  • Weights: Empty, 5712 pounds; Gross, 9444 pounds
  • Powerplant: One 900 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 double-row radial engine.
  • Crew: Three men -- Pilot, Torpedo Officer/Navigator (not always carried) and Radioman/Gunner.
  • Armament: One 1949-pound Mark XIII Torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs; Two .30 caliber machine guns (one fixed, firing forward through the engine cowling; one flexibly mounted in the after cockpit).
  • Performance (with torpedo): Maximum Speed, 207 m.p.h. (@ 8,000 feet & weight of 9444 pounds).

    This page features and provides links to virtually all our views of Douglas TBD-1 torpedo planes.

    For further views of TBD-1 aircraft, see:

  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- Combat Views;
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- Torpedo Launching Practice;
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- On Board Ship;
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- 1940 Experimental Camouflage; and
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- Miscellaneous Views.


    If you want higher resolution reproductions than the digital images presented here, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

    Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

    Photo #: 80-G-19341

    Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane


    The Torpedo Squadron Six commanding officer's aircraft, from USS Enterprise (CV-6), in flight with a formation of nine other TBD-1s in the background.
    Photograph was received in 1938.
    This aircraft, Bureau # 0322, was lost in an accident at sea on about 10 March 1939.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 70KB; 740 x 605 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

    Note:
    This image is somewhat disfigured by a full-height vertical crack just to the right of center.

     
    Photo #: NH 77104

    Douglas TBD-1 torpedo planes
    ,
    of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), from USS Enterprise (CV-6)

    In flight, circa 1939.
    Plane closest to the camera is Bureau # 0318.
    Note how stripes painted on wings assist pilots in maintaining three-plane "V" formation.

    Collection of Vice Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Retired).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 113KB; 740 x 510 pixels

     
    Photo #: NH 77106

    Douglas TBD-1 torpedo planes
    ,
    of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6), from USS Enterprise (CV-6)

    Fly in formation, circa 1939.
    Plane closest to the camera is Bureau # 1511, which was lost while assigned to Torpedo Squadron Three, probably while operating from USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the Battle of Midway.

    Collection of Vice Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Retired).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 86KB; 740 x 515 pixels

     
    Photo #: NH 102550

    Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane
    ,
    of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6)

    In flight, circa late 1941.
    Note the black marking "6-T-13" on the plane's fuselage side.

    Courtesy of Steve Ewing, 1991

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    Online Image: 67KB; 740 x 525 pixels

     
    Photo #: 80-G-17531

    Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane


    Landing on board USS Enterprise (CV-6), in about July 1941.
    Note landing signal officer is in the foreground, and plane guard destroyers in the center distance.
    The original photo caption gives a date of 8 April 1942, which is highly improbable as the plane is in mid-1941 vintage overall gray paint and the destroyers are wearing peacetime light gray paint.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 86KB; 740 x 605 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-21056-H

    Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane
    ,
    of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6)

    Passes over USS Enterprise (CV-6) during flight operations on 29 July 1941. The plane's arrestor hook and wheels are down, indicating that it is attempting to land.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 60KB; 740 x 625 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-17525

    Douglas TBD-1 "Devastator" torpedo plane
    ,
    of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6)

    Approaches USS Enterprise (CV-6) to land, 4 May 1942. Note Landing Signal Officer at left.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 50KB; 740 x 615 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     
    Photo #: 80-G-10570

    Douglas TBD-1A experimental floatplane

    (Bureau # 0268)

    In low-level flight during torpedo drop tests at the Newport Torpedo Station, Rhode Island, 10 October 1941.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

    Online Image: 115KB; 740 x 620 pixels

    Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

     

    For further views of TBD-1 aircraft, see:

  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- Combat Views;
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- Torpedo Launching Practice;
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- On Board Ship;
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- 1940 Experimental Camouflage; and
  • Douglas TBD-1 Torpedo Planes -- Miscellaneous Views.


    If you want higher resolution reproductions than the digital images presented here, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."


    Return to Naval Historical Center home page.

    Page made 14 February 2001
    New image added 11 January 2002