Kit No. 480121
Decals: Two versions — both U.S. Navy; one for Night Torpedo Bomber Squadron VT(N)-90, the “Batmen” of USS Enterprise (CV-6), March 1945; the other for the Flight Leader’s aircraft of TBM-3 Squadron 79M, NAS Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the infamous Flight 19 that vanished in the Bermuda Triangle on December 5,1945.
Comments: Engraved panel lines; highly detailed kit and instructions; highly detailed cockpit, cabin interior, landing gear, and gun turret assembly; detailed Mk. 13 torpedo
The TBM Avenger originated with a Request for Proposals from the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) in 1939, calling for a design for a new torpedo bomber to replace the aging TBD Devastator. The Devastator had entered service in 1937, but was already showing signs of obsolescence due to the rapid pace of aircraft development by the late 1930’s. The Grumman Avenger enjoyed a relatively rapid and trouble-free development, entering service barely in time to participate in the Battle of Midway, where it had a spectacularly disastrous debut through no fault of its own. Intended mainly as a torpedo bomber, it went on to become and effective weapon in the Navy’s Pacific arsenal, being employed far more often as a conventional medium bomber.
The language of the Navy’s RFP was so explicit that very similar designs were submitted: all called for a crew of three (pilot, bombardier, radio operator), each armed with a defensive weapon (a fixed forward firing .50 caliber machine gun for the pilot, a turreted, aft-firing .50 caliber for the radio operator, and a flexible .30 caliber gun for the bombardier, protecting the lower rear tail area. There was only one specification for the powerplant: It had to provide a significant increase in top speed over the Devastator’s 206 mph. Offensive weapons consisted of a single Mk. XIII torpedo or any combination of bombs, mines or depth charges (up to 2,000 lbs. worth) to be carried in an internal bomb bay.
Development of the XTBF-1 was relatively uneventful. The first full-scale mock-up looked very similar to the production version of the Avenger, with the only major differences being modifications to the cowling and the addition of a tail fillet along the rear spine of the fuselage just forward of the vertical tail, to cure lateral stability problems in flight. The major innovation of the design was the incorporation of an electrically powered turret that would perform well when it was needed most — the very moment the aircraft was performing violent manuevers to evade gunfire from enemy aircraft. The experience of RAF airmen with their so-called “turret fighters,” the Blackburn Roc and the Boulton-Paul Defiant, had been less than encouraging, as their turrets turned quite well in level flight, but weight loads on various points along the circumference of the turret differed at different altitudes, causing their electric motors to fail at critical moments.
Grumman engineer Oscar Olsen cured the problem with a new motor called the amplidyne motor, whose torque and speed could be varied rapidly and synchronized with other motors. The first experimental motors of this type fitted onto the Avenger performed so well that they went into production without modification. The Avenger’s development was the opposite of that of its service contemporary, the Helldiver, which was plagued by the need for multiple modifications from the outset. The second XTBF-1 flew on December 20, 1941, and the proximity of the date to the Pearl Harbor attack prompted Grumman — with the consent of BuAer — to name the plane Avenger. However, those who flew the Avenger lovingly called her “turkey,” due to the alleged resemblance of the TBF to that particular bird when in flight. The Navy took its first deliveries of the new torpedo bomber in January 1942, and Grumman was producing 60 Avengers a month by June.
The Avenger was the largest single-engine aircraft of World War II, and dropped far more bombs than the torpedoes she was primarily designed to deliver. In spite of a disastrous combat debut, she ultimately became an effective weapon in the Navy’s Pacific arsenal.
The Avenger’s baptism of fire came at Midway, with disastrous results that were no fault of the rugged new aircraft. One of the most famous stories to emerge from the Battle of Midway is that of torpedo bomber squadron VT-8 operating the TBD Devastator off the carrier U.S.S. Hornet. Fifteen Devastators were launched in a strike against the Japanese carriers during the batlle, only to be mauled by a combination of the much faster Zero fighters protecting the carriers, and anti-aircraft gunners, which found the Devastator easy prey due to its slow speed. All 15 Devastator’s were shot down, and only one pilot, Ensign George Gay, survived. However, a parallel force of 21 crews, also part of VT-8 and newly trained in the Avenger, but arriving in the Pacific to late to ship out aboard the Hornet, was instead detached and posted to the Marine air base on Sand Island, Midway.
Six VT-8 Avengers took off from Midway on the morning of June 4, 1942, found the Japanese carriers at 0700 hours, and immediately attacked. Their fate was nearly identical to that of the Devastators: five of the six were shot down during their torpedo runs by Zeros or AA fire, and none scored any hits. The surviving TBF-1, flown by Ensign A.K. Earnest, landed back at Midway totally shot up, hydraulics barely functioning, the radio operator dead and the bombardier badly wounded. The Avenger attack was compromised by a lack of fighter escort, and perhaps the pilots’ lack of familiarity with their new aircraft. Of 21 VT-8 aircraft launched against the Japanese that day, 20 were destroyed in combat; of 47 crewmen, 44 died. Never in the history of American aviation had a single squadron paid such a price.
After Midway, eight of VT-8’s surviving sixteen Avengers flew from the U.S.S. Saratoga at Guadalcanal in August 1942, helping to sink the Japanese carrier Ryujo with at least one torpedo hit, finishing her off after she was damaged by hits from SBD dive bombers. Flying as part of a coordinated air strike, the Avenger proved itself an effective replacement for, and improvement over, the Devastator. In the weeks to come, Avengers were based at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, becoming part of an ongoing campaign to block the Tokyo Express, the effort to re-supply Japanese forces on the island by sea, mostly at night.
Often confused with the smaller Grumman F4F Wildcat, since it looked like a scaled-up or, in the words of one aviator, “a pregnant F4F,” the Avenger did incorporate many of the Wildcat’s external features: a deep fuselage with a big radial engine in a tapered cowling, and a mid-mounted, square-tipped, equal-taper wing with similar tail surfaces. The Avenger also copied the Wildcat’s “Sto-Wing,” designed by Roy Grumman, who engineered wings that would fold backwards along the fuselage.
Grumman Aircraft built over 7500 Avengers by the end of the war, but it served on with private companies and with the U.S. Forest Service as an aerial tanker, converted to a single-seater and modified to operate as a fire-bomber carrying heavy loads of flame retardant. By the 1970’s, the Avenger had been replaced in this role by more advanced multi-engine tankers. Over 100 examples survive to present day.
Released in 2005, Accurate Miniatures TBM-3 Avenger is injection molded in grey and consists of 99 parts with a separate sprue of clear plastic containing an additional 25 parts for a total of 124. There are engraved panel lines and flush riveting detail throughout. There is a wealth of engraved detail in the cockpit as well as in the torpedo bay/bomb bay. AM lives up to its reputation as the iron works of injected molded modeling with super-accurate components reflecting the construction of the actual aircraft, right down to the wing spar in what Step 2 of the instructions call the “Fuselage Center.” The kit features highly detailed landing gear and Mk. XIII torpedo, as well as a fairing for the ASD radar for the night bomber version. There are detailed, boxed-in wheel wells, a separate rudder, detailed .50 caliber machine gun assembly for the rear turret, and an option to have the torpedo bay doors open or closed.
The instructions feature a paint reference chart for no fewer than 7 brands, including Model Master, Gunze Sangyo, Tamiya, Humbrol and Polly S, with matching Federal Standard identification numbers. The decals appear to be of high quality, both glossy and thin, and provide markings for two U.S. Navy versions. One is for the wartime Night Torpedo Bomber Squadron VT(N)-90, the “Batmen” of USS Enterprise (CV-6), March 1945; the other for the Flight Leader’s aircraft of TBM-3 Squadron 79M, NAS Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the infamous Flight 19 that vanished in the Bermuda Triangle on 5 December 1945. Also included among the markings seat strap decals and a full set of stencils for both the airframe and the armament.
The best kit of the Avenger in 1/48 scale — highly recommended.
- U.S. Navy Carrier Bombers of World War II, Copyright 1987 by Squadron Signal Publications, Ltd.; Carrollton, Texas
- Accurate Miniatures TBM-3D instruction sheet