Flightdeck Friday: Planning, Building and Training for the Future

(which might also serve as a cautionary tale to those who decry ‘future warists’ – SJS)


…Investments in blood and treasure:

o2b-1Jan. 1927: 8 officers and 81 enlisted men of VO-1M, led by Maj. Ross Rowell, arrived at Corinto, Nicaragua with six DH’s. Amidst the anarchy of the civil and banditry, the U.S. Marines held the railroad. In July the Sandinista rebels (the original ones) besieged 37 Marines at the Ocotal garrison, 125 miles from Manaagua. Patrolling Marine pilots, Lt. Hayne Boyden and Gunner Micahel Wodarczyk, discovered the defenders’ plight. After they reported this to Maj. Rowell, he led five DH’s to bomb the rebels. From 1,500 feet, they conducted one of the first dive bombing missions, killing dozens of Sandinistas. Rowell and his fliers flew 50 missions against the Nicaraguan guerrillas.

27 June 1927: Dive bombing came under official study as the Chief of Naval Operations ordered the Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet, to Martin XT5M-1conduct tests to evaluate its effectiveness against moving targets. Carried out by VF Squadron 5S in late summer and early fall, the results of these tests generated wide discussion of the need for special aircraft and units, which led directly to the development of equipment and adoption of the tactic as a standard method of attack.

21 March 1930: 21–The Martin XT5M-1, first dive bomber designed to deliver a l,000-pound bomb, met strength and performance requirements in diving tests.

9 April 1931: A contract was issued to the Glenn L. Martin Company for 12 BM-1 dive bombers. This aircraft, which was a further development of the XT5M-1, was the first dive bomber capable of attacking with a heavy (1,000 pound) bomb to be procured in sufficient quantity to equip a squadron.

28 July 1932: Research into the physiological effects of high acceleration and deceleration, encountered in dive bombing and other violent maneuvers, was initiated through a Bureau of Aeronautics allocation of funds to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery for this purpose. The pioneer research, pointing to the need for anti-G or anti-blackout equipment, was performed at Harvard University School of Public Health by Lieutenant Commander John R. Poppen MC, under the direction of Dr. C. K. Drinker.

XBT-118 November 1934: A contract was issued to the Northrop Corporation for the XBT-1, a two-seat Scout and l,000-pound dive bomber. This aircraft was the initial prototype in the sequence that led to the SBD Dauntless series of dive bombers introduced to the fleet in 1938 and used throughout World War II.

15 May 1938: A contract was issued to Curtiss-Wright for the XSB2C-1 dive bomber, thereby completing action on a 1938 design competition. The 1941-Mar-31preceding month, Brewster had received a contract for the XSB2A-1. As part of the mobilization in ensuing years, large production orders were issued for both aircraft, but serious managerial and developmental problems were encountered which eventually contributed to discarding the SB2A and prolonged preoperational development of SB2C. Despite this, the SB2C Helldiver would become the principal operational carrier dive bomber.

9 December 1941: The Secretary of the Navy authorized the Bureau of Ships to contract with the RCA Manufacturing Company for a service test quantity of 25 sets of ASB airborne search radar. This radar had been developed by the Naval Research Laboratory (under the designation XAT) for installation in dive bombers and torpedo planes.

…And the payoff:


3-6 June 1942: The Battle of Midway— Concentrating on the destruction of Midway air forces and diverted by their torpedo, horizontal, and dive bombing attacks, the Japanese carriers were caught unprepared for the carrier air attack which began at 0930 with the heroic but unsuccessful effort of Torpedo Squadron 8, and were hit in full force at 1030 when dive bombers hit and sank the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.   Japanese losses totaled two heavy and two light carriers, one heavy cruiser, 258 aircraft, and a large percentage of their experienced carrier pilots. United States losses were 40 shore-based and 92 carrier aircraft, the destroyer Hammann and the carrier the Yorktown, which sank 6 and 7 June respectively, the result of a single submarine attack. The decisive defeat administered to the Japanese put an end to their successful offensive and effectively turned the tide of the Pacific War.

…Finally a first person perspective of a young Helldiver pilot late in the Pacific war (from a future post):

… to the side a few balls of flame and black smoke drift seaward.   All clear. ..over land now.   Thoughts become disjointed.   Must concentrate.   Habit takes over.   Speed increases.   The high speed run in.   There’s a target!   The Japanese troop and munitions ships were still a mile from shore. Task Force 38.3 has won the overnight race and is first to attack. You hear nothing.   The engine roar is a whisper after these many months of riding behind it.   Suddenly the second Japanese ship in line explodes, sending debris Helldiver_SB2C-1C_on_approach_Yorktown_CV10_up to 4,000 feet, vaporizing before our eyes from hits by planes preceding us. Black puffs splash against the blue.   What a shame to dirty those pretty white clouds. The black balls are bursting all around now.   Peel off!   Peel off!
The lead plane rolls over, down the funnel, into the inferno…light, medium and heavy guns pouring a sheet of metal up from the ships and some shore batteries.   Hell concentrated in a few square miles.   Straight down goes the first division, six planes cascading down, diving into the black and while and red and orange death bursting around them.
Over we go! Mixture rich.   Blower low.   Props set.   Tabs set.   Flaps open.   Bomb bay doors open.   Bombsight on.   Switches on.   Habit and excruciating training pays off. Down, down, down!   The horizon swings overhead.   The pipper settles on a large destroyer.   Exploding bombs throw up white geysers or volcanoes of debris.   The red and black and white and orange death is rushing to meet you but somehow passes harmlessly by.   A maelstrom of destruction below yet silence in the cockpit.

The lesson — you go to war with what you’ve got.   As the war progresses, and if you have the time and space, new tactics, new technologies are developed and introduced – but the crux of what you have to fight with began with pencil to paper long before the first bullet flew.   The SB2C Helldiver that replaced the legendary Dauntless in the front-lines late in the war was developed before the war.   The mighty Essex class CV that followed the few who held the line early in the war began on the drawing boards before the first bomb fell at Pearl Harbor. Even the B-29, considered the first of the modern bombers with its pressurized environment, centrally controlled defense system and other examples of exotic engineering, was submitted as a prototype by Boeing to the Army – in 1939.

The key tactic, weapon and training of aircrews that turned the tide at Midway began over the jungles of Nicaragua in an act of desperate bravery and   from the desk of an officer on the Navy Staff fifteen years earlier.   And today?   Well, looks like someone has the same idea in mind for a future game-winner:

The Great Game in Space

Things that make you go hmmm…, eh?

1 Comment

  1. Bill Price

    After the “incredible” victory at Midway, the Administration and Ge. Marshall were convinced that ADM Nimitz had the Pacific under control. This allowed them to focus on Europe and accelerate the landing of D Day by two tears. And this had the impact of shortening the war in Europe. And with the risk of being repetitious, it is clear that the SBD Dauntless WON the Pacific War. We owe our gratitude to Douglas Aircraft and to Ed Heineman for producing such great planes, ones that were still used in the Vietnam War.

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