The Douglas SBD Dauntless was a naval dive bomber made by Douglas during World War II. The SBD was the United States Navy's main dive bomber from mid-1940 until late 1943, when it was supplanted, although not entirely replaced, by the SB2C Helldiver.
The next version, designated SBD-3, began manufacture in early 1941. It provided increased protection, self-sealing fuel tanks, and four machine guns. The SBD-4 provided a 12-volt (from 6) electrical system, and a few were converted onto SBD-4P reconnaissance platforms.
The next (and most produced) variant, the SBD-5, was primarily produced at the Douglas plant at Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was equipped with a 1,200 hp (895 kW) engine and increased ammunition. Over 2,400 were built, and a few were shipped to the Royal Navy for evaluation. In addition to American service, the type saw combat against the Japanese with No. 25 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force which soon replaced them with F4U Corsairs, and against the Germans with the Free French Air Force. A few were also sent to Mexico. The final version, the SBD-6, provided more improvements but production ended in summer 1944.
The U.S. Army had its own version of the SBD, known as the A-24 Banshee, which lacked the tail hook used for carrier landings, and a pneumatic tire replaced the solid tail wheel. First assigned to the 27th Bombardment Group (Light) at Hunter Field, Ga., A-24s participated in the Louisiana maneuvers during September 1941. There were three versions of the Banshee (A-24, the A-24A and A-24B) used by the Army in the early stages of the war.The USAAF used 948 of the 5,937 Dauntlesses built.
The SBD was involved in combat from the first day of the Pacific War, as Dauntlesses arriving at Hawaii from USS Enterprise were caught in the Pearl Harbor attack.
The U.S. Army sent 52 A-24 Banshees in crates to the Philippine Islands in fall 1941 to equip the 27th Bombardment Group, whose personnel arrived separately. However with the attack of Pearl Harbor, these aircraft were diverted to Australia and the 27th BG fought on Bataan as infantry. While in Australia, these aircraft were reassembled for flight to the Philippines, but missing parts including solenoids, trigger motors, and gun mounts delayed shipment. Plagued with mechanical problems the A-24s were diverted to the 91st Bombardment Squadron and designated for assignment to Java instead. On 17 February 1942, only seven of the original 52 A-24s were combat ready. The A-24s had worn-out engines, no armor plating, and no self sealing fuel tanks. Referring to themselves as "Blue Rock Clay Pigeons", the 91st attacked the enemy harbor and airbase at Bali and damaged or sunk numerous ships around Java. After the Japanese shot down two A-24s and damaged three so badly 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, 3rd Bombardment Group, to defend New Guinea. On 26 July 1942, seven A-24s attacked a convoy off Buna, 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, too short-ranged and too poorly armed, the remaining A-24s were relegated to non-combat missions. In the United States, 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.
The type's first major use was in the Battle of the Coral Sea, when SBDs and TBDs sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō. SBDs were also used as anti-torpedo combat air patrol and scored several times against Japanese aircraft trying to attack USS Lexington and USS Yorktown.
Their relatively heavy gun armament (two forward firing .50 caliber machine guns, one to two rear flexible-mount .30 caliber machine guns) was effective against the lightly built Japanese fighters, and many pilot-gunner combinations took an aggressive attitude to fighters which attacked them. American sources claim that one pilot, "Swede" Vejtasa, was attacked by three A6M Zero fighters and managed to hold them off and down all three in the process . (His skill as a fighter pilot thus clearly demonstrated, he was transferred to fly fighters; in October 1942, no longer an SBD pilot, he downed seven enemy planes in one day.)
However, the SBD's most important contribution to the American war effort probably came during the Battle of Midway (early June 1942), when SBD dive bomber attacks sank all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers, three of them in the space of just six minutes (the Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū) as well as heavily damaging two Japanese cruisers (including the Mikuma, which sank before a Japanese destroyer could scuttle it).
At Midway, Marine SBDs were not as effective. One squadron, VMSB-241, operating from Midway Island, was not trained in the "Helldiving" technique; instead, the new pilots resorted to the slower but easier glide bombing technique, which led to heavy losses. The carrier-borne squadrons, on the other hand, were much more effective, combined with their F4F Wildcat fighter escorts. It should also be mentioned the success of dive bombing was due to two important circumstances: First and foremost, 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 TBD Devastator squadrons from the American carriers had drawn the Japanese fighter cover away from the dive bombers, thereby allowing the SBDs to attack unhindered.
Next, SBDs participated in the Guadalcanal campaign, both from American carriers and Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island. Dauntlesses contributed to the heavy loss of Japanese shipping during the campaign, including the carrier Ryūjō near the Solomon Islands on 24 August, damaging three others during the six-month campaign. SBDs proceeded to sink one cruiser and nine transports during the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
During the decisive time of the Pacific Campaign, the SBD's strengths and weaknesses became evident. Interestingly, while the American strength was dive bombing, the Japanese stressed their Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bombers, which caused the bulk of the damage at Pearl Harbor.
Although it was already reaching obsolescence by 1941, the SBD was used until 1944 when the Dauntless undertook its last major action during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. However, some Marine squadrons utilized Dauntlesses until the end of the war. It had already been replaced by the SB2C Helldiver in the U.S. Navy, much to the dismay of the pilots, many of whom believed the "Slow But Deadly" Dauntless was a better aircraft than the Helldiver, which gained the nickname "Son of a Bitch 2nd Class." The Dauntless was one of the most important aircraft in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, sinking more enemy shipping in the Pacific war than any other Allied aircraft. In addition, Barrett Tillman, in his book on the Dauntless, claims that the Dauntless has a "plus" score against enemy aircraft, a rare event for a nominal "bomber" indeed.
A total of 5,936 SBDs were produced in World War II.
The next (and most produced) variant, the was primarily produced at the Douglas plant at Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was equipped with a 1,200 hp (895 kW) engine and increased ammunition. Over 2,400 were built, and a few were shipped to the Royal Navy for evaluation. In addition to American service, the type saw combat against the Japanese with No. 25 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force which soon replaced them with F4U Corsairs, and against the Germans with the Free French Air Force. A few were also sent to Mexico.