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20 Pages in detail

66 Origin
and history
68 In Combat Avengers in
74 Artwork Flight 119
76 Inside the
78 Men Behind the
84 From the

Main picture

A pair of US Navy Grumman TBM-3E

Avengers, with 91704 nearest the
camera. KEY

This month, Spotlight shines on the Grumman

Avenger, an American torpedo bomber that first
saw action in 1942s Battle of Midway. After
playing a key role through the remainder of
World War Two, the durable machine was rapidly
developed, and continued to serve in a variety of
roles until the 1960s. We examine this rugged,
dependable aircrafts meritorious history, and reflect
on a Flight that was mysteriously lost in the so-called
Bermuda Triangle.

In this striking view, Planes of Fames

Grumman Avenger TBM-3E N7835C
(top) and Chance-Vought Corsair
F4U-1A NX83782 fly above a beautiful
sunlit backdrop. JOHN DIBBS


Scrutinizes the history of...

The Grumman


The Avenger was

originally known as
the Tarpon in Royal
Navy Fleet Air Arm

A Grumman TBF
aboard the USS
Santee in November
1943. BOTH KEY

y the end of World War

Two, Grumman had
established a reputation
for designing and building
outstanding naval combat aircraft.
The Avenger a rugged, three-seat
torpedo bomber was among them,
despite making an inauspicious
debut during the Battle of Midway
in June 1942. Unlike most of its
contemporaries, the big Grumman
continued to serve long after the
end of hostilities, and many variants
were developed post-war to fill
anti-submarine and early warning
roles, some fitted with distinctive
underfuselage radomes.
In 1939, the US Navy issued a
requirement to replace its ageing
Douglas TBD Devastator. During
US reprisals following the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor in December
1941, TBDs were shot down in large
numbers by enemy fighters or lost to
flak. Even before the US entry into
the war, the Navy had predicted that
a faster and more robust machine
would be required.

64 FLYPAST July 2016

Grummans TBF design (the TB

stood for Torpedo Bomber, the
F designated Grumman as the
manufacturer) was selected as the
Devastators replacement in 1940.
The XTBF-1 prototype flew for
the first time on August 7, 1941.

Despite an early setback when

one of the two prototypes crashed
near Brentwood, New York, the
programme proceeded apace, the
first TBF-1 flying in January 1942.
Such was the success of Leroy
Grummans original design that

SPOT FACT Avengers were used in wartime

research into counter-illumination camouflage

Origin & history

Grumman TBF-1 Avenger













First Flight:









A total of 9,836 Avengers were built, comprising 7,543 TBMs made by General
Motors Eastern Aircraft and 2,293 TBFs by Grumman.
The prototype XTBF-1 first flew on August 1, 1941.
One 1,700lb (1,268kW) Wright R-2600-8 or 1,900hp R-2600-20 Double Cyclone
14-cylinder radial driving a three-bladed propeller.
Span 54ft 2in (16.5m). Length 40ft 0in. Height 16ft 5in. Wing area 490sq ft
(45.5sq m).
Empty 10,080lb (4,572kg). Loaded 15,905lb.
Max speed 271mph (436km/h) at 12,000ft (3,658m). Service ceiling 22,400ft.
Initial rate of climb 1,430ft per min. Range 1,215 miles (1,955km).
Two 0.30in machine guns in nose and ventral positions, one 0.50in machine
gun in dorsal turret; internal bomb bay for one 22in torpedo or 1,600lb bomb
load. Later models had provision for eight 60lb rockets under wings; max
bomb load 2,000lb.
Three pilot, navigator/radio operator and gunner.

Note: performance and weights varied according to role and configuration.

numerous variants and sub-variants

were produced over the next few
years. Other Grumman-built
versions included the TBF-1C
which carried additional wing guns,
with later Avengers fitted with more
powerful versions of the Wright
R-2600 radial engine.
Other conversions included the
TBF-1D and E, which both had
specialised radar equipment, the
searchlight-equipped TBF-1L and
the photo-reconnaissance TBF1CP.
Because demand for Grummans
F6F Hellcat was so high, TBF
production ended in December
1943. Most Avengers were built by
General Motors Eastern Aircraft
Division as the TBM deliveries of
the TBM-1 beginning in November
1942. Many other versions were
built by GM, principally the massproduced TBM-3 with strengthened
wings (4,000-plus were made).
In total, GMs aircraft division
supplied more than 7,500 Avengers,
compared to around 2,300 from

Pacific warrior

Around 100 Avengers had reached

the US Navy by June 1942, but only
six were present on Midway Island

as part of VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron

8) in time for the Battle of Midway.
The TBFs combat debut was not a
success five being shot down and
the sixth returning severely damaged
and with a dead crew member. Later
in the war, with better numbers,
more experienced airmen and
superior attack co-ordination,
Avenger crews played a pivotal role
in turning the tide.
On August 24, 1942, Avengers
from the carriers USS Saratoga and
Enterprise sunk a Japanese light
carrier, but a bigger prize awaited in
November when, at Guadalcanal,
TBFs from the Navy and the US
Marine Corps sunk the enemy
battleship Hiei, which had been
crippled the night before. Avengers
also contributed to the demise of the
two Japanese super battleships, the
Musashi and the Yamato.
Over islands still held by the
enemy, TBF/TBM crews typically
softened up defences by striking at
pillbox-type installations, airfields
and buildings. Using guns, rockets
and napalm, airborne attacks often
succeeded in driving enemy soldiers
out from fortified positions, thereby
assisting US ground troops.
Famous Avenger pilots included
future US President George Bush

who, after successfully attacking a

radio tower, was targeted by enemy
fire and forced to bale out over
water on September 2, 1944. He
was rescued by a US submarine,
and later received the Distinguished
Flying Cross. Actor Paul Newman
also flew operationally in Avengers,
serving as a rear gunner.
In service with the Royal Navys
Fleet Air Arm (FAA), the type
was initially known as the Tarpon,
although the name was soon
discontinued. The first 402 aircraft
became known as Avenger Mk.Is,
with TBM-1s and -3s designated
as the Mk.II and III respectively. A
further 100 former US Navy TBM3Es were supplied to the FAA in
1953, and flew as Avenger AS.4s
before being replaced over the next
few years by Fairey Gannets.
Avengers also served with the air
arms of New Zealand, Uruguay,
Cuba and Brazil, among others. The
Royal Canadian Navy was among
the types primary post-war users,
fitting 98 of its aircraft with radar
and electronic countermeasures
equipment. Replaced in the late
1950s by Grumman S-2 Trackers,
the last Avengers were used for
training and finally retired from use
in July 1960.

RNZAF units, plus its Central Fighter Establishment, operated Avengers

July 2016 FLYPAST 65


66 FLYPAST July 2016

Starboard elevator
Fabric-covered aileron
Elevator trim tab
Elevator horn balance
Tailplane construction
Rudder tab
Trim tab control jack
Tail navigation light
Fabric-covered rudder
Aerial cable rear mounting
Fin construction
Port elevator
Port tailplane
Elevator hinge controls
Tailplane support frames
Deck arrester hook (lowered)
Arrester hook guide rails
Rudder hinge control
Rear fuselage frames
Flush-riveted aluminium skin
Fin root fairing
Tailplane control cables
Arrester hook retraction drive
Lifting tube
Rear fuselage frame and
stringer construction
Tailwheel shock absorber strut
Catapult hold-back shackle
Retractable tailwheel
Crew compartment rear
Search flares
Parachute flare launch tube
Ventral gun turret
Ammunition magazine
Browning 0.3in (7.62mm)
machine gun
Machine gun mounting
Gun camera switch box
Crew door
Parachute stowage
Rear fuselage production break
Spare coil stowage rack
Bombardiers side window
Upper turret spare
ammunition magazine
Bombardiers folding seat
Gun turret mounting ring
Gun elevating mechanism
Ammunition feed chute
Browning 0.5in (12.7mm)
machine gun
Upper rotating gun turret
Bullet-proof windscreen
Gunners armoured seat back
Aerial cable
Port wing folded position



Canopy aft glazing

Emergency life raft stowage
Hydraulic reservoir
Radio communications
ASB weapons aiming
Bomb release levers
Cabin heater duct
Aft end of bomb bay
Fixed wing root construction
Wing fold joint line
Browning 0.5in (12.7mm)
fixed machine gun
Ammunition feed chute
Ammunition magazine (320
Trailing edge flap shroud
Lattice wing ribs
Starboard, fabriccovered aileron
Aileron hinge
Aileron trim tab
Starboard wing
navigation light

93 Second cockpit control

column provision
94 Propeller de-icing fluid tank
95 Seat-back armour
96 Headrest
97 Safety harness
98 Pilots seat
99 Emergency hydraulic hand
100 Centre main fuel tank
101 Fuel tank filler cap
102 Main undercarriage retraction
103 Wing fold locking cylinder
104 Machine gun muzzle
105 Centre section leading edge
106 Front fuselage frames
107 Rudder pedals

Leading edge ribs

Fixed leading edge slot
ASB aerial
RT-5/APS-4 search radar pod
Radar mounting sway braces
Rocket launching pylons
Jettisonable fuel tank
Main undercarriage wheel well
Sloping main spar
Wing fold hinge axis
Twin hydraulic folding
Machine gun blast tube
Starboard main fuel tank
Centre section main spar
Oxygen bottle
Autopilot controls
Rear cockpit entry hatch
ASB equipment rack
Aerial mast
Roll-over crash pylon

SPOT FACT The Avenger featured a new

compound angle wing-folding mechanism

Back of instrument panel

Control column
Pilots sliding entry hatch
Illuminated torpedo sight
Instrument panel shroud
Windscreen panels
Ring-and-bead gunsight
Gun camera
Port split trailing edge flaps
Remote compass transmitter
Aileron control rods
Aileron hinge control
Fabric-covered port aileron
Aileron trim tab
Formation light
Pilot tube
Port navigation light
Fixed leading edge shot
Wing tie-down shackle
ASB aerial mounting
Retractable landing lamp
Red, white and green approach


130 Port ASB aerial
131 Ground attack rockets
132 Oil tank filler cap
133 Engine oil tank
134 Engine compartment bulkhead
135 Engine mounting struts
136 Cowling air exit flap
137 Twin carburettors
138 Carburettors air trunking
139 Wright R-2600-8 Cyclone
14-cylinder two-row radial
140 Carburettor air intake
141 Propeller governor
142 Reduction gearbox
143 Hamilton Standard threebladed variable-pitch propeller
144 Engine cooling intake
145 Engine cowlings
146 Cowling air flap control lever

Inside the
TBM-1C Avenger

Lower cowling air flap

Starboard exhaust pipe
Oil cooler
Oil cooler air exit flap
Bomb release shackle
Four 500lb (226.8kg) bombs
Bomb bay door construction
Bomb doors (open)
Port mainwheel
Bomb bay jettisonable fuel
Main undercarriage leg door
Retraction strut
Shock absorber leg strut
Torque scissor links
Hydraulic brake pipe
Starboard mainwheel
Removable wheel disc cover
Torpedo stabilising vanes
Mk 13-2 torpedo

TBF-1C variants, with extra wing guns and greater fuel capacity, were made
July 2016 FLYPAST 67

During the longest-ranging
Fleet Air Arm strike of the
war Avengers helped to sink a
Japanese cruiser. Andrew Thomas
describes the action

68 FLYPAST July 2016

Out of

hile Britain was

celebrating Victory
in Europe Day
on May 8, 1945,
in South East Asia and the Pacific
the war against Japan continued
relentlessly. In the Indian Ocean the
Japanese maintained a garrison on
the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
and on the morning after VE Day,
an evacuation of this exposed outpost
was initiated.
Under the command of Captain
Kaju Sugiura, the heavy cruiser
Haguro in company with the destroyer
Kamikaze sailed from Singapore.
The following day,

May 10, the battle fleet was sighted

separately in the Malacca Strait by
the submarines HMS Statesman and
Subtle and their reports triggered
Operation Dukedom.
Japanese reconnaissance aircraft
spotted that the British fleet was at sea
and the Haguro and Kamikaze turned
back. Meanwhile the supply vessel
Kurishoyo Maru had succeeded in
evacuating the personnel on Nicobars.
On May 14 the two warships again
left Singapore, presumably to cover
the Kurishoyo Maru.
The first days of May had seen
the Royal Navy heavily involved in
Operation Dracula, the amphibious

SPOT FACT Grumman first displayed the

TBF to the public on December 7, 1941

in Combat

The Sun
landings in Rangoon. Fleet Air Arm
(FAA) aircraft operating from escort
carriers carried out strikes with rockets
and bombs against Japanese airfields
and other targets in the Andaman
Islands archipelago.
One of these carriers was HMS
Shah, with the Avengers of 851
Squadron, under Lt Cdr M T Fuller,
embarked. The Dracula fleet returned
to Ceylon on May 9 but no sooner
had it moored up than reports of the
movement of the Haguro arrived.
At this critical moment Shahs
catapult went unserviceable.
The squadron diary
described: Learnt that
aircraft would operate
from [fellow escort carrier]
Emperor due to Shahs u/s
accelerator. Thirty ratings and stores
transferred to Emperor in a panic.
To attack the Japanese ships, a
task force including the battleships
HMS Queen Elizabeth and the
French Richelieu, the cruisers HMS
Cumberland, Royalist and Nigeria,
eight destroyers and the escort carriers



Because of faults on
its own carrier during
Operation Dukedom, 851
Squadron flew from HMS
Emperor. US NAVY
Below left

One of 851 Squadrons

Avengers preparing to be
catapulted off HMS Shah,
just before Dukedom.

Emperor, Hunter, Khedive and Shah

sailed from Trincomalee in Ceylon
(now Sri Lanka) to intercept.
At 1430hrs on May 11, lightly
loaded Avengers of 851 flew off the
Shah to the Emperor while most of
the latters Hellcats transferred in
the opposite direction. Unlike the
Avengers when carrying weaponry, the
fighters could launch without the aid
of a catapult.

Course 240, Speed 10

On May 14 an RAF Liberator

sighted what was reported as a
supply ship and escort heading south
from the Nicobars. At 0730hrs
the following morning, Emperor
launched four Avengers each armed
with four 500lb bombs on an armed
reconnaissance to intercept the
enemy vessels.
Two of the Avengers found

TBFs took part in the attacks that sunk the Japanese light carrier Ryujo in 1942
July 2016 FLYPAST 69

SPOT FACT The TBM-3 had an upgraded engine

and wing hardpoints for drop tanks and rockets


The Haguro under

way in a heavy
swell her main
armament readily
apparent. US NAVY
Below right

Heavy cruiser
Haguro at anchor
in Rabaul harbour
during an Allied
air attack in 1943.

Formidably armed warrior

Haguro was a Myoko-class heavy cruiser of 13,300 tons with a main armament of ten 8in
guns fitted in five turrets. Commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Navy on April 25,
1929 she first saw action during the Battle of the Java Sea in late February 1942.
She saw further action in the Battle of the Coral Sea the following May. Based in the
Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, Haguro was damaged at Empress Augusta Bay in late
1943 during the Bougainville Island campaign and in 1944 survived the savage battles
against the US Navy at the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. Following that she was moved
to Singapore and received the attentions of the long-range Avengers of 851 Squadron.

One of the three

Avengers was
damaged when it
bounced over the
arrester wire and
into the barrier
after the long-range
attack. MRS S SMYTH

and attacked the supply ship and

her escort, and although they scored
no hits they returned to strafe them.
However Sub Lt J G V Burns crew
in JZ137 was hit by flak, lost engine
oil and ditched in the Andaman Sea.
Burns and Sub Lt G H Robinson
made it into their dinghy, but air
gunner, PO A R Murley was lost. To
make matters worse, having stayed
to provide cover over the dinghy
until the last moment, the other
Avenger, JZ203 flown by Sub Lt W
R P Bowden and crew, ditched out
of fuel 30 miles from the carrier, but
were picked up by a Walrus of 1700
Squadron from HMS Hunter.
The others, including JZ147 flown
by Lt K C Crompton, recovered safely,
having responded to Burns distress
call but found nothing. Two further
Avengers were launched to search
for the enemy convoy and the Burns
crew, but Sub Lt Riordens aircraft
lost power and made an emergency
landing aboard Hunter.
The other Avenger, flown by the
CO with his crew of Lt Lansdale and
CPO Sherlock pressed on. To increase

70 FLYPAST July 2016

his endurance Lt Cdr Fuller jettisoned

the bomb load, but then found the
Kurishoyo Maru and her escort. As he
circled, two more vessels were spotted
about 15 miles to the south. Fuller
tracked these new contacts out of gun
range, identifying them as warships
heading southwest off Sabang,
Sumatra, and then accurately reported
the Haguro and Kamikaze.
Fuller recalled later: This was a
very big excitement. She was very
large and very black against a very
dark monsoon cloud. An enormously
impressive sight, just as a warship
ought to look, though trying to

remain unobtrusively out of sight,

hoping not to be noticed.
Sherlock transmitted the electrifying
signal that was received by the task
force at 11:50: One cruiser, one
destroyer sighted. Course 240. Speed
10 knots.
For the next hour the crew sent
a stream of accurate updates until
shortage of fuel forced Fuller to

withdraw. His last report was made

from directly above the Haguro to give
the fleets direction finders the chance
of obtaining an accurate fix.
When they landed back aboard
Emperor, Fullers aircraft had just ten
minutes worth of fuel remaining.
On receiving his reports, three more
Avengers had been catapulted off
Emperor but returned without making
any sightings and one was damaged in
a barrier engagement.


Each armed with four 500lb

semi-armour piercing bombs

in Combat
Classic attack

The location reports from 851

Squadron were used to good effect.
That night the destroyers HMS
Saumarez, Venus, Verulam, Vigilant
and Virago attacked the Haguro
and the Kamikaze in a classic night
torpedo attack. Gunfire and three
torpedoes caused Haguro to slow
down with a 30 list to port.
Soon after 0230hrs on May 16
the old cruiser began to go down
by the stern approximately 55 miles
off Penang, taking with her 900 of
her crew, including her captain and
Vice Admiral Hashimoto. This was
the last major gun action fought
with 14-second delay fuses, three
Avengers - FN939 flown by Lt
Crompton, JZ147 (Sub Lt J A
Eedle) and JZ210 (Sub Lt RoweEvans) launched off Emperors deck
for a strike at 1340hrs. Two hours
later they found the enemy ships.
Compton recorded: Enemy
sighted on starboard bow bearing
040, 12 miles. Commenced
climbing, moving astern of the
enemy. Initial and first sighting
reports sent out during the climb.
Approached enemy force out of sun
at 10,000ft, weaving to avoid antiaircraft fire and attacked from port
Cruiser turned port during dive,
this did not appear to be particularly
violent. Relative bearing of cruiser
when bombs were released was about
310. Method of getaway turn to
starboard, jinking and weaving at
3,000ft with full throttle.
Having attacked in the face of
fierce anti-aircraft fire, the Avengers
claimed one direct hit and a very
near miss right forward on Haguro
by Crompton, but causing only
slight damage. The formation



Maintenance ratings
practising bombing-up an
Avenger in Ceylon shortly
before the Haguro
Below left

On May 17, to make

room for Hellcats
aboard Emperor, two
unserviceable Avengers
were pushed over the side
including 1C that had
taken part in the search
for the Haguro two days
earlier. MRS S SMYTH

An Avenger of 851
Squadron in early 1945
showing that the Type B
wing roundels have been
replaced by two-tone blue
SEAC markings as worn
when they attacked the
Haguro in May 1945.

re-formed and set course back to the

carrier, landing on by 1830hrs.
Although the results were
disappointing, the flight of 530
miles (853km) was the FAAs longest
round trip by carrier strike aircraft
during the war. It was also the FAAs
only dive-bombing attack on a
major enemy vessel in open water,
albeit with disappointing results.
However, little more could have
been expected from such a small
force with little recent practice in
anti-shipping strikes.

between major surface ships during

the war.
Throughout the day, 851 Squadron
continued searching for the dinghy
of the Burns crew until the task force
withdrew to Ceylon. The Avengers
swapped back onto the Shah the next
The dinghy with Burns and
Robinson aboard drifted onto
the Burma coast where they were
captured. Fortunately, they were
among the prisoners released following
VJ Day.

TBM-1s were used by the Fleet Air Arm

July 2016 FLYPAST 71

SPOT FACT A Royal Navy Avenger gunner successfully

shot down a V-1 bomb on July 9, 1944


Andrew Thomas
recounts the valiant
combat service of New Zealand Avengers in
the South Pacific


RNZAF Avenger
NZ2510 of 30
Squadron during
work-up at Turtle Bay
in the New Hebrides
in February 1944.

Avenger NZ2506
of 31 Squadron
while working up at
Gisborne in early

hen the Liberty Ship

SS William Keith
docked in Auckland
in September 1943, its
cargo transformed the strike capacity
of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
On board were half a dozen TBF-1
Avengers, the first of 48 to serve the
RNZAF as land-based dive-bombers.
The first one ready for action,
NZ2505, was issued to 30 Squadron
at Gisborne on the east coast,
replacing obsolescent Vickers Vincent
biplanes and Harvard trainers. As
more Avengers became available, 31
Squadron was formed at Gisborne
on December 7, under Sqn Ldr M
Wilkes. The following month, 30
Squadron, commanded by Sqn Ldr R
G Hartshorne, moved to Turtle Strip,
Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides,
to continue working up.
Prime task for the Avengers was to
neutralise the large and troublesome
Japanese base at Rabaul in New
Britain. They were to operate from
a strip at Piva on Bougainville in the
notorious Solomon Islands.
Although a bridgehead had been
established by the Allies, many
thousands of Japanese troops
remained on the island. When
30 Squadrons servicing element
arrived on March 15, 1944 they
were greeted by a barrage of artillery
fire. Their first task was digging
foxholes, as the enemy were only a
few hundred yards away.

72 FLYPAST July 2016


The first TBF-1s touched down at

Piva on March 23 and operations
began the following afternoon when
19 sorties were flown. Along with
more than 50 US Avengers and
SBD Dauntlesses, 30 Squadron
attacked Rabauls Kavieng airfield
on the 26th. The Kiwi Grummans
bombed in the face of fierce antiaircraft fire, during which NZ2510
was badly damaged and made an
emergency landing at a strip on
Green Island.
As the Japanese counter-attack
petered out, enemy supply dumps,
moorings and gun emplacements
were hit. Additionally, 30 Squadron
provided close air support to US,
New Zealand and Australian troops
by bombing Japanese bunkers,
personnel and transports.
Rabaul and its airfields remained
the main focus. From April 9, a

new CO, Sqn Ldr H N James,

dispatched two formations of six
Avengers on most days throughout
the month, despite intense antiaircraft fire. On the 25th, NZ2511
was badly damaged over Vunakanau
but made it back to Green Island.
During an attack on Lakunai
airfield on May 10, Fg Off Alan
Bailey steadied NZ2541 for its
bombing run but was hit and dived
into the sea off the coast. Bailey,
navigator F/Sgt Louis Schlesinger
and gunner W/O Reg Curtiss were
On the 22nd, a dozen Avengers
struck a supply dump near Tahili
Bay, Rabaul. This brought an end to
30s tour, having flown almost 1,500
hours on 35 strikes and dropping
330 tons of bombs, for the loss of
one crew and aircraft. The squadron
returned to New Zealand where it
disbanded on June 26.

in Combat
Crop spraying

It was time for 31 Squadron to

step up, and on May 25 Sqn Ldr
Wilkes led the way to Bougainville.
Operations began immediately
and the grim reality of action over
Rabaul was brutally driven home on
the 28th.
Flt Lt Melvin Greenslade settled
NZ2530 into its dive on Vunakanau
but it was hit shortly after delivering
its bombs. Greenslade, Flt Lt John
Morrison and F/Sgt Bill McCloud
were all killed. Three days later, flak
hit NZ2521 over Rabaul. It crashed
with the loss of Sgt Bill Truelove, Flt
Sgt Malcolm Harsant and Flt Sgt
Frank Brown.
During May, 31 Squadron had also
begun action against a new target
with a bizarre weapon diesel fuel.
To offset the Allied blockade, the
Japanese were growing crops around
Rabaul, and spraying them with
diesel rendered the fields infertile.
This was perilous flying, having to
be done at very low level in the face
of heavy return fire.

On June 5, Rapopo airfield on

Lesson Point was the objective and,
although most of 31s Avengers
bombed uneventfully, NZ2518
named Plonky was shot down,
killing Flt Lt Charles Prior, Fg
Off Sid Clayton and W/O Theo
The largest action of 31s tour
came on May 30. Nine Avengers
each flew three separate missions
to deliver 27 tons of bombs on
large concentrations of Japanese
troops near the village of Pikei, on
Empress Augusta Bay.
While attacking Tobera airfield
on July 1, the unit suffered its final
loss. F/Sgt Rex Mathieson, piloting
NZ2512, was hit and the Avenger
spun in, killing him and F/Sgt
Albert Weber. The gunner, F/Sgt
Aitcheson, managed to bale out,
and after four days was rescued and
flown back to Piva.
The final strike was flown on
July 23, after which 31 Squadron
returned to New Zealand where it
disbanded on September 1.

Old skills

This was not the end of the

RNZAFs Avengers. A dozen TBFs
were retained on target-towing
duties until going into store at the
end of the war. In March 1949 three
were taken out and prepared for
aerial top-dressing trials not far
removed from diesel spraying on
Rabaul in 1944, but without the
opposing fire!
This flight became part of 42
Squadron, which re-formed under
Sqn Ldr J R Wendon in March
1950. The unit continued in
its prosaic, but important, task,
through to the final RNZAF
Avenger sortie, by NZ2504, on June
30, 1959.
One of the original TBF-1s offloaded from the William Keith in
September 1943, NZ2504, was
eventually passed to the RNZAF
Museum (now Air Force Museum
of New Zealand) at Wigram.
Painted in wartime colours, it is an
impressive memorial to the valour of
RNZAF Avenger crews.
Left centre

The RNZAFs last Avenger,

NZ2504, is displayed in
the Air Force Museum at
Wigram, masquerading as

Left and below

Several of 30 Squadrons
Avengers carried noseart. A suitably modified
kiwi adorned the nose of
NZ2520 and the aircraft
was known as Dumbo.

When 30 Squadrons servicing

element arrived... they were
greeted by a barrage of artillery
fire. Their first task was digging
foxholes, as the enemy were only
a few hundred yards away.

TBF-1s were lost during the Battle of Midway in June 1942

July 2016 FLYPAST 73


Lost Patrol
Andy Hay artwork of an Avenger lost within the so-called Bermuda Triangle


Grumman TBM-1C
Avenger F-T 3
of Flight 19 was
flown by US Navy
Lt Charles Carroll
Taylor on December
5, 1945. ANDY HAY2016

n December 5, 1945, a
flight of five Grumman
TBM Avengers known
as Flight 19 went
missing over the western part of the
North Atlantic Ocean. Neither the
aircraft nor any of the 14 airmen
have been found.
Leading the overwater navigation
and combat training flight was US
Navy Lt Charles Carroll Taylor,
whose TBM-1C, 45714 F-T 3,
is our subject. The formation
took off from the naval air station
at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at
1410hrs, heading roughly east over
the sea to carry out a low-level
bombing practice and a multiple-

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leg navigation exercise. Taylor had

around 2,500 flying hours, mostly
in Avengers, and had completed a
combat tour in the Pacific theatre.
After finishing the bombing
training, radio transmissions
indicated the flight was
experiencing problems with
compass readings and had
effectively become lost. By 1750hrs,
several land-based radio stations
had triangulated Flight 19s position
as being north of the Bahamas
and well away from the coast
of central Florida. Taylors final
radio transmission was reportedly
received at around 1820hrs, his
words indicating that the aircraft

would probably have to ditch unless

they made landfall soon.
A Consolidated Catalina had
already been despatched to search for
Flight 19, but was unable to make
contact. After dark, two Martin
PBM Mariner flying-boats were
diverted to carry out square pattern
searches. One of them, 59225, was
lost along with all 13 crewmen
aboard. It is assumed to have
exploded in mid-air.
The fate of Flight 19 has never
been confirmed, leading to some
wild speculation. It seems most likely
they ran out of fuel and crashed into
the ocean somewhere north of the
Abaco Islands and east of Florida.

SPOT FACT In 1945 Avengers were used in

crop-spraying trials in New Zealand


in profile

TBM-1Cs were built by General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division

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Warren E Thompson
highlights three pilots who
flew the Avenger a warplane
that was given its name in
the aftermath of the Japanese
attack on Hawaii

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enowned naval fighter

specialist Grumman served
the US Navy from the
FF-1 biplane of the 1930s
all the way through to the F-14
Tomcat swing-wing 'hot-rod' in
the 1970s. In 1939, the Bethpage,
New York, company had ambitions
to expand into other types and a
requirement released by the navy
was too good to miss.

The Douglas TBD Devastator

carrier-based torpedo-bomber was
state-of-the-art when introduced
in 1935. In 1939 a request was
released demanding the TBDs
replacement needed a top speed
of 300mph (482km/h), a 1,000mile (1,609km) range and a service
ceiling of 30,000ft (9,144m), all
while fully loaded. It would have an
internal weapons bay with a payload



SPOT FACT AS.4 was the Royal Navy

designation for the post-war TBM-3S

Men Behind
the Avenger

l Harbor

of 2,000lb (907kg) and the airframe

would need to have increased
resistance to battle damage.
This was a tall order and the
answer that came off the Bethpage
drawing boards was the XTBF-1.
Two examples were ordered on
April 8, 1940 and the prototype
took to the air on August 1, 1941.
Production was shared by Grumman
(TBF variants) and the Eastern

Aircraft Division of General Motors

(TBMs) at Trenton, New Jersey.
Between the two factories, 9,836
Avengers were built.

Vengeful intent

Robert Hall, assistant chief engineer

at Grumman, was in charge of
experimental work. He remembered
the formative days of the Avenger:
The prototype XTBF-1 had to go

through a rigorous flight schedule

designed to give our engineering
department what they needed.
The first prototype was lost in a
cockpit fire, so we had to depend on
the second prototype to take up the
slack. This was mostly identical to the
first aircraft except that a dorsal fin
had been added between the fuselage
and vertical stabiliser [the fin] for
greater stability in combat.


An early TBF-1 under

test from Grummans
plant at Bethpage
during the spring
of 1942. TAILHOOK

TBM-3Es were made - featuring a stronger airframe with ventral gun deleted
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SPOT FACT The Avenger TBF-1P was the first of

its kind to be modified for photo-reconnaissance

The tunnel gun

ventral position in a
Centre right

Lt George Bush
in the cockpit of
an Avenger on
board the USS San


TBF-1s during a
torpedo dropping
training session,
probably off the
coast of Florida in

Sunday December 7, 1941 was

quiet for Grumman except that an
open house was beginning up at
Plant 2. Not long after the event
was in full swing, the news of the
Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor was
broadcast and, at that time, the
name of the new aircraft was not
determined. That all changed and
it became the Avenger, typifying its
role in the next few years.
The Japanese attack had a positive

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effect on the government to choose

a contractor to produce the torpedobomber. This led to a contract for
Grumman for 286 TBF-1s that
arrived about three weeks after the
Delivery of the first production
TBF-1 to the navy was on January
30, 1942. After that, the Grumman
facility was drawn into full gear and
by the end of May, 85 Avengers
had been delivered. Full production

of all aircraft types caused the

government to cease all private
automobile manufacturing and
within a week after Pearl Harbor,
General Motors shut down its lines.
The game of producing machines to
win the war had begun.

Decisive Midway

For his action in the Battle of Midway

June 3-7, 1942 Ensign Albert K
Earnest received the Navy Cross. The

Men Behind
the Avenger

An Avenger on the deck of

the training carrier, USS
Matanikau in October

The sky was suddenly filled with A6M Zeros

which pounced on the six as they dropped down to
200ft and opened their weapons bays ready to drop
their torpedoes

atoll at Midway was well named. It

was as far from the continental USA as
it was from Japan.
On June 1, 1942, six TBF-1s of
VT-8 were dispatched from Ford
Island on Pearl Harbor to Midway
an eight-hour, 1,200-mile flight,
led by Lt Langdon K Fieberling.
The Avengers were fitted with an
extra fuel tank in their weapons
bays for this epic venture and were
shepherded by a pair of PBY-5A
Catalinas of VP-24 that were
carrying torpedoes under the wings
for use by the strike wing that was


being assembled at Midway.

At 0600hrs on the morning of June
4, the six TBFs were ordered into
the air because the Japanese fleet had
been discovered about 100 miles
away to the northwest. Earnests
crew for the mission were: Radioman
3rd Class Harry H Ferrier, who also
acted as tunnel gunner (the ventral,
rearward-facing position), and
Seaman 1st Class Jay D Manning in
the turret. Both were 18. Earnest was
a vet at 25. Their aircraft was TBF-1
00380 coded 8-T-1.
Also bound for the Japanese fleet

was a quartet of B-26 Marauders

from Midway. Launched from the
carrier USS Enterprise were 41 aged
Target in sight, the Avengers
formed up for an attack on the
enemy fleet. The sky was suddenly
filled with A6M Zeros which
pounced on the six as they dropped
down to 200ft and opened their
weapons bays ready to drop
torpedoes. Earnest was aware of the
constant pings of bullets hitting the
TBF, especially the armour plating
behind his seat.
Earnest had a warship in view
when he realised all was not well.
He no longer heard return fire from
the turret and could not raise either
Ferrier or Manning on the intercom.
A piece of shrapnel whistled through
the cockpit, hitting Earnest in the
neck, splattering blood all over the
With agile Zeros harassing him
all the way, Earnest discovered
the elevator was not working.
Thankfully, the elevator trim tab was
functioning and with this minimal
control of pitch, Earnest went on to
complete the torpedo run. Despite
his determination, his tin fish was
believed to have been ineffectual.


A TBM-3 returning to the

USS Lexington during
late 1944. TAILHOOK

TBM-3Es were acquired by the Royal Canadian Navy from 1950 to 1952
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SPOT FACT The AS.3M variant had a magnetic

anomaly detector boom added to the rear fuselage

Flying-bomb killer


A pair of TBF-1s
believed to be from
the USS Lexington,
Below right

Instrument panel of
a radar-equipped

Course to steer

Thankfully, the Zeros gave up on

Earnest. He would have set a course
for Midway but the compass (no
secondary compass on a TBF-1) was
inoperative. He wasnt to know it, but
the weapons bay doors would not
come up: the hydraulics had packed
in. Using the sun as a guide, Earnest
flew south, then eastwards when he
guessed he was abeam Midway.
Then Ferrier, who had been knocked
out, spoke on the intercom and
announced Manning was dead. Ferrier
alerted him to a large plume of black
smoke to the east: Midway was under
attack. Obligingly, the Japanese had
provided a course to steer.
With the hydraulics gone, Earnest
used the emergency release for the
undercarriage, but only the port main
leg deployed. With a dead gunner and
a wounded radioman, baling out was
not an option. Using the elevator trim
tab, Earnest set up 00380 for a long,
slow approach. It ended in a violent
ground loop, but with no further
harm to himself or Ferrier.
Avenger 00380 had been riddled
by the Zeros; ground crew counted
64 holes made by machine guns and
nine from 20mm cannon. It was the
only one of the six that had set out
to return. Two of the four Marauders
came back to base. Personnel on the
Enterprise were in shock. Of the 41
TBDs sent off, four made it back to
the carrier.

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During the summer of 1944 several

squadrons of Royal Navy Avengers
attached to 157 Wing were flying Channel
Stop operations to secure the invasion
forces from any threat from the German
navy. The V-1 flying-bomb offensive
against London and southern England was
also at its height.
A D-Day striped Avenger of 854 Squadron over
In the late evening of July 9, Avenger II
the English Channel. VIA ANDY THOMAS
JZ554 of 854 Squadron, flown by Sub Lt D
P Davies, left Hawkinge in Kent on another patrol over the Channel. At the end of the long
patrol, at 0510hrs on the 10th, telegraphist air gunner Leading Aircraftman Fred Shirmer,
spotted a V-1 approaching from behind, gradually overtaking them. As the doodlebug
passed about 700 yards (640m) away on the port side Shirmer had the opportunity to
fire from his turret. His aim was good, he needed only 20 rounds to bring the V-1 down.
This was the only success over a flying-bomb by a Fleet Air Arm aircraft and Shirmer was
Mentioned in Despatches for his gunnery skills. ANDREW THOMAS

Men Behind
the Avenger

Presidential Avenger

The 41st President of the United

States was the first aviator to take the
post George H W Bush (in office
1989-1993). On his 18th birthday,
January 20, 1942, Bush enlisted in the
US Navy, training initially at Corpus
Christi, Texas. When commissioned in
June 1943 he was the youngest naval
pilot of his time.
From September 1943 Bush flew
Avengers with VT-51 from the USS
San Jacinto. Operating from Guam
during the amphibious invasion of the
Marianas Islands, on June 19, 1944
the San Jacinto came under attack as it
was preparing to launch a strike force
of Avengers.


Waiting on the deck, hitched up

to the catapult was Lt Bushs aircraft.
Having beaten off the onslaught, the
deck officer was cleared to launch.
Off went Bush, but either his Avenger
had received some damage, or the
engine developed a fault while ticking
over, and it toppled into the ocean.
Bush and crew scrambled out and
were rescued by one of the escorting
During an attack on Chichijima to
the north of Iwo Jima on September 2,
1944, Lt Bush and his crew were part
of a flight of four attacking a heavily
defended target. Having dropped his
bombs and with his aircraft on fire,
Bush ordered the crew to bale out.

Patrolling on lifeguard duties was

the submarine USS Finback and
Watchman Donnet Kohler plucked
a young pilot from the water it was
the future President Bush. One of
five lucky airmen rescued by the sub
that day, they had to adjust to life
underwater as the Finback was not
going to interrupt its combat cruise to
drop off its guests.
Finback went on to sink two
Japanese vessels and was depthcharged, sustaining minimal damage.
Bush, the unexpected submariner,
re-joined VT-51 on October 30, going
on to complete 58 combat missions
with the unit and 1,228 operational
flying hours.

Canadian Avengers were fitted with electronic countermeasures equipment

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