Kit No. 3412
Decals: One version – for an SBD-5 of VB-16 aboard the U.S.S. Lexington, Battle of Tarawa, November 1943
Comments: Exceptionally detailed throughout; engraved panel lines; boxed-in wheel wells; highly detailed cockpit and radial engine; perforated dive flaps; option for two-part or multi-part greenhouse canopy
The Douglas SBD Dauntless began life as a design of Northrop Aviation. Its lineage included the Northrop Gamma, which won fame as a high-speed mail and racing plane in the mid-1930’s; Northrop’s A-17 bomber, developed from a Gamma 2F; and the unsuccessful Northrop BT-1 bomber, which briefly equipped two U.S. Navy squadrons, and from which the Dauntless was directly decended. When Jack Northrop sold out his minority interest in Northrop Corporation to his partner Donald Douglas in 1938 to form yet another company bearing his name (Northrop Aviation) the following year, what had previously been Northrop was absorbed by Douglas Aircraft Company.
As part of the sale, Douglas took ownership of the XBT-2, a Northrop design intended to improve upon the BT-1. At the time, the Navy was convinced the BT-1 was a lemon; it was underpowered with an 825 hp Pratt & Whitney engine, had poor lateral stability at low speeds, an unreliable rudder, and a tendency to roll severely if power was increased too suddenly on approach. These problems added up to dangerous handling characteristics leading to a number of crashes. In fairness to Northrop, the BT-1’s flaws were obvious during its brief flight testing program, but the Navy ordered it anyway, and got what it paid for. The object of the XBT-2 was to fix the bugs.
Renamed the SBD-1, the XBT-2 made its first flight on April 25, 1938 with a more powerful 1000hp Wright Cyclone X-1820-32 engine, but showed insufficient improvement. The Navy reluctantly authorized the XBT-2 to be sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA) wind tunnel facility at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory at Hampton, Virginia. After the wind tunnel testing, NACA recommended a fully retractable landing gear, fixed slots in the wing to improve aileron effectiveness at low speeds, and an enlarged tail and rudder to address the lateral instability. This triggered several modifications which in six months became the prototype Dauntless, with a taller canopy to improve pilot visibility. The new aircraft not only fixed all the BT-1’s problems, but became such a smooth-handling airplane that years later, at the height of the war in the Pacific, Navy carrier air groups would fiercely resist efforts to get them to transition into what was (on paper) a better dive bomber: the SB2C Helldiver. The Helldiver was faster (by 40mph), carred 25% more payload, and had better range than the SBD (at least 50 miles), yet the dive bomber squadrons did not want to give up their SBDs. The reason for this intense loyalty, aside from the SBD’s ruggedness, was its beautiful handling, an adjective which the Helldiver, for all its virtues, would never enjoy. By all accounts, the SB2C was a bit of a beast, even for experienced pilots.
The first SBD-1’s entered service with the Navy in February 1940, but lacked the features necessary to make them truly combat-worthy. Their fuel capacity of 210 gallons in four unprotected tanks in the fuselage and wing center-section was considered inadequate, providing them a range with a bomb load of just 860 miles. The fuel tanks had no self-sealing liners, there was no armor in the cockpit, nor was there an armored windscreen — all items that the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics considered essential in 1940. Beginning with the 58th aircraft in the -1 series, design changes were made, and the Navy accepted the first 57, but shunted them off to the Marines. VMB-2 got the first SBD’s at MCAS Quantico in late 1940.
Dauntlesses were among the first aircraft lost in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At dawn on December 7, 1941, seventeen SBD-2’s from the U.S.S. Enterprise launched to conduct search patterns east of the carrier force, and then fly in to Pearl Harbor, with the Enterprise set to arrive in port later that day. The force of SBD’s flew straight into the attack, confronting both Zeros and friendly fire as they landed at Ford Island amid anti-aircraft fire. One SBD ploughed up a pasture at Kauai; another shot up a Zero over Ewa and then collided with it — both crashed. Others ditched offshore. Nine of the seventeen got through in servicable condition and were launched at noon on the 7th to find the Japanese task force, but were sent out too late to catch the retreating enemy carriers.
The first combat-worthy Dauntless was the SBD-3, a variant initially intended for the French Navy, but retained by the U.S. Navy after France fell to the Germans in June 1940. A total of 584 were built, featuring (finally) self-sealing fuel tanks, a 260-gallon fuel capacity, all in the wings, cockpit armor and a bulletproof windscreen. The SBD-3 rapidly equipped all carrier-borne squadrons, and were flown by the air groups of the carriers Lexington and Yorktown by the time of the Battle of Coral Sea, sinking the Japanese light carrier Shoho on May 7, 1942 with a total of 13 bomb hits. A flaw in the SBD came to light at Coral Sea: inadequate cockpit ventilation. As the planes dove from cold temperatures at 15,000 feet to sea-level humidity, windscreens and gunsights fogged up. This problem was never totally resolved, although emergency measures alleviated it somewhat. Follow-up attacks on May 8th underscored the need for the SBDs to have fighter protection: 46 Dauntlesses ran into a fully prepared combat air patrol of Zeros, and 13 of them were shot down.
The SBD Dauntless’ greatest fame came to it during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Seven SBD squadrons were launched against the Japanese fleet, with four of them making contact and sinking four enemy aircraft carriers. Had the Dauntless been retired after Midway, its place in naval aviation lore would have been assured, but it went on to serve in front-line Navy and Marine units for over two years, fighting in the campaign to retake the Solomon Islands, in raids on Marcus, Wake and Palau islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marianas Campaign, as well as the Battle of the Phillipine Sea. The Navy’s last SBD sortie was launched from the U.S.S. Enterprise for a strike against Guam on July 5, 1944, but Marine units in the Solomons and the Phillipines would continue to fly SBD’s until the end of the war. As the war progressed and combat aircraft speeds grew ever faster, the Dauntless began to show its age. But it was beloved, for its ruggedness and fine handling qualities meant that it could still get the job done and bring its crew home.
Accurate Miniatures’ Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless is molded in grey and consists of 115 injection molded parts. As modelers have come to expect, the kit features thorough detailing in the form of engraved panel lines over the entire surface of the aircraft, as well as other details such as the ribbed ailerons and rudder, and the boxed-in wheel wells found on the original. The cockpit is exquisitely detailed with side panel instrumentation, a highly detailed floor molded to have an integral wing spar, dual control columns, rear gunner’s rudder pedals and a turret ring assembly for the rear machine gun, detailed pilot’s seat and bulkhead, and a clear main instrument panel that must be carefully painted to leave the dials untouched so that the instrument decal, when applied, will show through.
The Dauntless’ non-folding wing is faithfully created, complete with the perforated dive brakes which made it such an effective dive bomber. There is a crisply detailed radial engine and separate machine guns for the nose armament. The detailed landing gear include a choice of either realistically flattened or fully inflated tires, and the instructions have a diagram to help properly position both the landing gear and the landing gear doors. There is an accurately recreated bomb trapeze on the centerline of the belly, together with a 1,000 lb. bomb, as well as two smaller 100 lb. bombs which are fitted onto two detailed, separately molded underwing bomb racks. Finally there is a choice of a two-part or multi-part greenhouse canopy.
The decals provide markings for one of two SBD-5 Dauntlesses assigned to VB-16 and serving aboard the U.S.S. Lexington during Operation Galvanic, the Marine invasion of the island of Tarawa in November 1943.
An excellent, highly detailed kit and arguably the best kit of the later series Dauntless in 1/48 scale. Highly recommended.
- U.S. Navy Carrier Bombers of World War II; Copyright 1987 Squadron Signal Publications; Carrollton, Texas, USA, and by Vintage Aviation Publications, Oxford, England.