Grumman TBF Avenger
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Before the Avenger Joined the War

Douglas TBD Devastator
Douglas TBD Devastors in a pre-war Navy photo.
Click on image to enlarge.

The Douglas TBD Devastator

was originally ordered by the Navy in 1934 and entered service in 1937. It was the most advanced carrier plane when it entered service with single wing, all metal construction, and folding wings, but by the time US got into the War, it was no longer competitive with newer planes. Devastators helped to sink a Japanese carrier in the Battle of the Coral Sea, but met with disaster in the Battle of Midway. Of 41 Devastators taking off from carriers Hornet, Yorktown, and Enterprise, 37 were gunned down by Japanese Zeros. The American planes were seriously disadvantaged by low speed and poor maneuverability. They had to slow down to launch their torpedoes, which their brave crews did during their attack, but had no fighter plane cover, and tragically, the torpedoes were faulty and failed to detonate. The Navy had ordered a total of 129 of this plane, and relegated the remaining planes to training duty. Their mission at Midway, however, did succeed in distracting the Japanese naval defenses while Dauntless dive bombers were coming in to attack. The Dauntless attack then resulted in the loss of three of the four Japanese carriers. In any event, the fighting career of the Devastator was over, and the Grumman Avenger came into to replace it.

Grumman TBF / TBM Avenger

Grumman Avenger
Avenger ready for take off. Click on photo to enlarge.
Wright R-2600 aircraft engine
Mounting the Wright R-2600 radial engine on the wing of a B-25 mitchell at the North American Plant in Inglewood, CA, Dec. 31, 1941. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, a photographer employed by the Defense Dept. during the war. Click on image to enlarge.
The Avenger also served in the British, Canadian, and New Zealand air forces during the War.
Above: a Royal New Zealand Air Force Avenger on the Turtle Bay air strip at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides in 1944. Click on image to enlarge

Grumman Aircraft

Grumman designed the three aircraft most used by Navy during the War. The Avenger looked like Grumman's F4F Wildcat, with its "greenhouse" canopy and radial engine, but it was in fact a great deal larger. The photo at left helps to give a sense of its size. Standing upright under a wing, your head will still be well below the bottom surface of the wing. It was the largest carrier-based and the heaviest single-engine plane of the War. Then engine selected to power the new plane was the massive Wright Twin Cyclone, a variation of the engine powering the B-25 Mitchell twin engine bomber. Carrier-based planes all had radial engines because they were easier to maintain. They also performed well for short take-off distances.

Grumman developed the Avenger as the XTBF-1 to meet the Navy's request for torpedo bomber to replace the outdated Devastator. The first flight was on 7 August, 1941, 4 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Grumman scheduled a ceremony for Dec. 7 to introduce the plane and open a new manufacturing plant. It was the day Pearl was attacked. And right away, the Navy knew this new plane that would take the fight to the Japanese would be called the Avenger. Grumman had delivered a relatively small number of the TBF early in the war. Six were stationed at Midway when the Japanese attacked on June 4, 1942. Knowing the attack was imminent, All six scrambled to meet the incoming Japanese planes, and only one survived. The TBF had not been designed for air-to-air combat.
Avenger bombing raid
Above: Avengers and Curtiss Helldivers from the carrier USS Essex (CV-9) during a bombing raid over Hakodate in July, 1945. Hakodate is a port city on Japan's northern island. As the war in the Pacific progressed, Avengers were deployed more in bombing missions over land than in anti-ship torpedo missions. Each plane carried four 500-lb bombs. Click on image to enlarge.

GM's Eastern Aircraft Division

Grumman had also developed the F6F Hellcat to replace the F4F Wildcat as a powerful naval fighter, and since the Navy needed Grumman to build as many of the new fighter as possible, General Motors was licensed to build the Avenger as well as continue production of the wildcat. Just a few days after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked car manufacturers to stop making cars and focus their production on the war effort. GM announced its new Eastern Aircraft Division and went to work converting its automobile plants in New York and New Jersey. It was a massive job that started with pulling the car machinery out of the plants for storage. The war was on, and the need was immediate. Everyone went into high gear, and just eleven months after Pearl Harbor, the first GM built Avengers were ready to fly. The new Eastern Aircraft Division could not hire engineers or workers from any other aircraft manufacturers, so they had to train their people with new skills in very short order. They also brought in a lot of women to work side-by-side with the men. By December of the following year (1943) GM had built a thousand Avengers. The next thousand would roll off the assembly line in a third of the time. And by the end of the War, GM had built 7,000 of the total 9,839. The Navy designated the Grumman built plane as the TBF, and the GM built plane as the TBM. They were identical, and even had interchangeable parts.
Avenger Basics
Length: 4o ft. 11 in.
Wingspan: 54 ft. 2 in.
Weight: 17,895 lbs loaded
First Flight: August 7, 1941
Number Built: 9,839
Top Speed: 275 mph
Cruising Speed: 147 mph
Range: 1,000 miles loaded
Ceiling: 30,000 ft.
Crew: 3
Power: Wright R-2620 Twin Cyclone 14-cylinger 1,900 hp radial engine.
Armament: one 2,000 torpedo or four 500 lb. bombs, three .50 cal. machine guns, one .30 cal machine gun.
Grumman Avenger
Above: The Avenger had to come in low to about 200 ft. above the water and slow down to 200 mph before dropping its torpedo. This made the plane vulnerable to the enemy ships anti-aircraft guns. On most missions, Grumman F6F Hellcats accompanied the Avengers to fend off enemy planes.

As the war in the Pacific progressed, US forces advanced to take strategic islands from the Japanese. Avengers, carrying four 500-lb bombs, were used in close air support for marines landing on beaches.
President George H. W. Bush
Future President George H.W. Bush in the cockpit of an Avenger in 1943.

WW2 Pilot George H.W. Bush

Born to privilege the son of Prescott Bush, a banker and US senator who had served in the army during WW1, George Bush was in his senior year at prep school when Pearl Harbor was bombed. As soon as he could after graduating, he enrolled in the Navy on his 18th birthday. Like so many other young men, he wanted to take the fight to the Japanese and decided to postpone college. He wanted to fly the Avenger. Three days before his 19th birthday he was commissioned as an ensign in the US Naval Reserve, having completed a 10-month aviation course and became the Navy's youngest pilot.

On Sept. 2, 1944, having flown several successful missions and being promoted to Lieutenant JG, Bush piloted one of four Avengers on a critical mission to knock out Japanese radio towers on Chichijima. Flak from ground defenses was intense and Bush's plane was hit, catching the engine on fire. He was still able to drop his bombs and get the plane over water before bailing out with one of his three-man crew. The other man's chute failed to open, but Bush splashed down with only a surface injury to his head. He was able to find his life raft and avoid enemy capture for four hours before being rescued by the USS Finback (SS-230) a Gato class submarine. Bush was the sole survivor of his 3-man crew.

Grumman Avenger in Museums

National Naval Aviation Museum
Avenger at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL
USS Midway (CV-41) Museum, San Diego, CA

Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, San Diego, CA

USS Hornet (CV-12) Museum, Alameda, CA

Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson AZ

Airbase Arizona, Falcon Field, AZ
Commemorative Air Force

Missoula International Airport, Missoula, MT

George Bush Presidential Library, College Station, TX

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, TX

USS Lexington (CV-16), Corpus Christi, TX

Lone Star Flight Museum, Galveston, TX

National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA

Mid-America Air Museum, Liberal, KS

National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FL

USS Yorktown (CV-10), Patriot’s Point, Charleston, SC

National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, VA

Wings of Eagles Discovery Center, Horsehead, NY

Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York, NY

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, Long Island, NY


© 2019 Phil Dickinson
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and American History

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This site is part of the American Tribute Online project. It is not a commercial site, and it is not associated with any museum or other organization. The purpose of the project is to celebrate our American heritage and provide an online resource for showcasing the America that we can all be proud of.
There is no paid advertising or listing on this site

© 2017 Phil Dickinson
P.O. Box 4195, Middletown, RI 02842

Ocean Color Group, Inc.
A design studio specializing
in unique solutions
for display, print and internet


This site is part of the American Tribute Online project. It is not a commercial site, and it is not associated with any museum or other organization. The purpose of the project is to celebrate our American heritage and provide an online resource for showcasing the America that we can all be proud of.
There is no paid advertising or listing on this site
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