The TBM-3E Avenger had a crew of 3-4 and the total produced was 9,839.
In 1939, the US Navy set new requirements for a torpedo bomber to replace the Douglas TBD Devastator; particularly, an aircraft capable of greater range and weapons load. The requirements for the new aircraft included: a top speed of 300 MPH, a (fully loaded) range of 1,000 miles, an internal weapons bay, a 2000-lb payload, and a ceiling of 30,000 feet.
Grumman rose to the task. Built around the 1700 horsepower Wright R-2600-20 engine, a 14-cylinder double-row radial engine, the new aircraft became the largest carrier-based, versatile aircraft capable of carry various ordinance in an internal bay. It featured an upper gun turret and lower rear defensive gun port. The pilot sat in a lofty, upper cockpit above the leading edge with a perfect view. The bombardier could either man the lower rear Browning .30-inch machine gun or face forward and control the aircraft for medium-altitude level bombing employing the Norden Bomb Sight. The turret gunner sat behind the cockpit manning a single .50 inch machine gun. As well as the .30-inch machine gun, the new aircraft house a .30-inch machine gun on the right side of the nose firing through the propeller.
The first XTBF-1 made its first successful flight on August 1, 1941. On December 7, 1941, Grumman held a ceremony to open its new Plant 2 in Bethpage and display the new torpedo bomber to the public. During the program, Grumman vice president Clint Towl was called to the phone. He was informed the Japanese had attached Pearl Harbor. No announcement was made and the festivities continued. When the crowd filed out of the plant, they locked the gates, swept the plant for saboteurs. The plant remained secured for the remainder of the war
The first production TBF-1, BuNo. 00373 flew on January 3, 1942. Six TBF-1s flew from Grumman's Plant 2 with additional tanks in the bomb bay across the Pacific to Pearl Harbor to be attached to the USS Hornet's VT-8. The carrier had departed; and the aircrafts few to Midway island and were involved in the Battle of Midway.
On June 4, 1942, the six flew into the Battle of Midway; only one survived. After his attempt to torpedo a cruiser, Ensign Albert K. Earnest flew his badly damaged TBF-1 back to Midway, using the trim tab for longitudinal control. The radioman, 3rd Lass Harrier H. Ferrier was injured, and Seaman 1st Class Jay D. Manning, who was operating the .50 caliber machine gun turret, was killed.
Despite its first combat record, the TBF-1s then on became a destroyer of not only Japanese ships, but of German U-boats as well. Its internal weapons load of an Mk 13-2 torpedo or four 500-lb bombs, and a full internal fuel load of 335 gallons, the aircraft was capable of attacking the enemy up to 260 miles.
Other WWII Engagements:
Eastern Solomons - Aug. 24, 1942:
After the Americans captured Guadalcanal; Japanese Admiral Yamamoto quickly organized a large naval counter-force. On August 24, 1942, the opposing carrier forces met. 26 TBF-1s from the carriers Saratoga and Enterprise were launched against the Japanese force in four separate strikes. On the second strike, torpedoes from the TBF-1s helped sink the carrier Ryujo. In the exchange, seven Avengers were lost.
Santa Cruz - Oct. 26, 1942:
The USS Enterprise and Hornet carried 14 Avengers each. The U.S. carriers met the Japanese force attempting to seize Guadalcanal. The opposing fleets' patrol planes spotted each other in the early morning and both launched air strikes across the intervening 200 miles. Enterprise and Hornet sent out three strikes, totaling 73 planes: 18 Avengers, 32 dive bombers, and 23 F4F fighters.
Commanding Torpedo Ten, VT-10, from Enterprise was Lt. Cdr. John A. Collet. Collet led his torpedo bombers westward, toward the Japanese force. The US planes found their targets, but Japanese combat air patrol and anti-aircraft knocked most of them down. The SBDs did damage a carrier, but the TBFs were shot out of the sky. A Zero shot up Lt. Cdr. Collett's Avenger. Collett and his radioman, ARM1/c Thomas C. Nelson were seen parachuting. Nelson floated in the ocean nearly 24 hours until he was captured by the Japanese destroyer Yugumo. Nelson survived as a POW outside of Tokyo.
The Olympic Flight Museum is proud to have Thomas C. Nelson "Tomcat" as an active member of our museum. His exploits in WWII are presented on the museum wall. At present, he is one of only two surviving POWs interned in Japan who are also Pearl Harbor survivors.
The early battles proved the Mark 13 torpedoes were fragile and had to be dropped from low heights at speeds below 130 mph. Often, they failed to explode when they hit. Accordingly, many TBF-1s flew many missions dropping 500-lb bombs.
First Major Victory:
Navy and Marine Corps TBFs scored in a big way in November, 1942. On the nights of November 12-13, 1942, American and Japanese surface ships pounded one another. Henderson field was pulverized by the 14-inch guns of the Japanese battleship Hiei. In the exchange, the US Navy lost 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers; the Japanese lose 2 destroyers and the Hiei was crippled. The next morning, American aircraft attacked the Japanese force. Dive bombers from Henderson Field struck the Hiei. TBF-1s led by Lt. Col. Paul Moret, Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 131, put a torpedo into the battleship. Later, around 10 a.m., they attacked again and scored another torpedo hit. Shortly, thereafter, 15 Avengers from the USS Enterprise attached the Hiei at 11:20 a.m. Yet later, six more Avengers from Squadron 131 put two more torpedoes into the Hiei. By sundown, the battleship was doomed.
In the struggle for the North Atlantic, Avengers were credited with destroying 30 submarines. Flying from escort carriers (CVEs), TBFs were well-suited to the sub-killer role with its long endurance and stable, large weapons capacity. They became a vital strike aircraft in the hunter-killer groups that ranged the Atlantic: CVEs flying Avengers and Wildcats with destroyers in support.
The Yamato, April 7, 1945:
TBM Avengers attacked the last remnants of the Japanese Fleet, which comprised the battleship Yamato, the cruiser Akagi, and two screen destroyers. The first TBMs scored on the battleship severely damaging the ship, ready to sink. The other TBM scored on the Akagi sinking it.
At the outbreak of war, the urgent need for TBF-1s made it crucial to increase production through a second-source producer. General Motors answered the call. It stripped out and refurbished five automobile plants quickly into aircraft production facilities. General Motors not only built Wildcats under the designation of FM, but also the Avengers under the designation TBM. In December 1943, the 1,000th TBM was manufactured. By war's end, 7,546 were produced in more than 20 variants. Most were the TBM-3 version, which incorporated more power and an external arrester hook. Most lacked a turret, but included provisions for outer wing rockets or drop tanks. The TBM-3D and TBM-3E had the RT-5/APS-4 search radar, which operated at 3-cm wavelength, in an outboard pod on the right wing. By war's end a total of 9,836 avengers were produced.
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