Staff Writer (Updated: 5/16/2016):
The torpedo bomber would play a critical role in operations across the Pacific Theater, where battles would be won or lost at sea by individual as well as collective exploits. Torpedo bombers were a distinct group of fighting aircraft that were specifically charged with engaging all manner of enemy surface ships and, unlike conventional bombers, they could be utilized with a high degree of accuracy in the delivery of potent torpedo payloads against the vulnerable sides of awaiting enemy vessels - this of course assuming the aircraft bypassed the network of anti-aircraft protection that dotted major warships and enemy fighter aircraft cover. Slow in flight, many-a-torpedo bomber design depended upon the protection brought about by their own carrier-based escort fighters. Their bombing runs were usually the most critical time for the crew of torpedo-laden planes where their slow, plodding nature and projected attack runs were open to enemy fire at ever closing ranges. In today's military aviation world, the torpedo bomber no longer exists, replaced by multi-role strike fighter types and anti-ship helicopters.
TBD Devastator Origins and Production
The Douglas TBD Devastator was born out of a United States Navy requirement issued in 1934 for a carrier-based torpedo bomber. Unlike today's single-winner competition based contract programs, the Douglas TBD Devastator design was accepted alongside other like-designs from competing companies, including those from both the Brewster and Vought concerns, which produced a muddled field of sorts and limited large-scale production to certain designs. The Devastator emerged in prototype form as the "XTBD-1" to which first flight was recorded on April 15th, 1935. Only a single prototype would ever be constructed and evaluated, this being powered by a single Pratt & Whitney XR-1830-60 radial piston engine. The XTBD-1 was accepted into service with the US Navy as the "TBD-1" and these entered production with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 series Twin Wasp radial piston engine of 850 horsepower. Maximum speed was listed at 206 miles per hour with a range of 435 miles and a service ceiling of 19,700 feet. Rate-of-climb was a manageable 720 feet per minute. The aircraft was introduced on August 3rd, 1937 and production spanned from 1937 to 1939 delivering just 130 examples.
TBD Devastator Walk-Around
The Devastator was something of an ungainly form when considering other streamlined torpedo bombers that followed it. She was a large plane with a deep fuselage and a crew of three specialists. The radial piston engine was mounted in a forward compartment at the extreme front of the fuselage. The cockpit and crew cabin was immediately aft of this mounting and covered over in a "greenhouse" style framed canopy offering up adequate views. The pilot was seated forward in the design with a commanding view over the nose. The bombardier (Torpedo Officer) was situated at the middle of the arrangement and appropriated managed the bombing facilities utilizing the fabled Norden Bombsight. When readying for the bombing run, the bombardier would slip into a prone position against the cockpit floor and manage the bombsight as needed. He also doubled as the crew's in-flight navigator. The rear position was manned by a machine gunner serving to protect the aircraft's vulnerable "six" and doubled as the crew's radio operator. The main wing assemblies sported noticeable dihedral while the undercarriage was retractable and of the "tail dragger" arrangement with two main legs and a tail wheel. The main legs recessed only partly inwards under the wings to allow for emergency landings on the aircraft's bell, her designers hoping to reduce structural damages and protect the crew within. The empennage was conventional and sported a single rounded vertical tail fin and a pair of applicable horizontal tailplanes.
TBD Devastator Armament
In terms of defensive armament, the TBD Devastator was limited. The pilot controlled a single forward-firing 7.62mm general purpose machine gun or 12.7mm heavy machine gun to engage targets ahead of his position, suitable for strafing actions during the bombing run. The rear gunner held access to a single 7.62mm machine gun though this was only later upgraded to include a pair of 7.62mm machine guns for slightly improved defense. However, it was in its offensive prowess that a torpedo bomber would ultimately succeed or fail. As such, primary armament for the TBD Devastator family was a single 1,200lb Mark XIII torpedo for attacking ships along their long running broadsides. This offensive load could be replaced by the carrying of 1 x 1000lb bomb, 3 x 500lb conventional drop bombs or up to 12 x 100lb drop bombs - these useful in conducting dive or level bombing against the decks of surface ships.