The Grumman TBF Avenger: The Bomber That Changed the War
In 1935, the US Navy introduced a torpedo bomber that within just a few years would be obsolete. The Douglas TBD Devastator flew in the Battle of Midway and performed so poorly that, immediately after the battle had concluded, it was pulled from frontline service and replaced with a model introduced in August of 1941.
With six of 41 Devastators returning from Midway and zero torpedo hits credited among those that flew during the battle, it was clear that something else needed to take its place. About a year prior to the battle, Grumman—the aircraft company responsible for the F4F Wildcat carrier-based fighter—and General Motors began production on a torpedo bomber that would become a vital part of not just the US Navy but of other Allied navies as well.
Introducing the Avenger
On December 7th, 1941, the day Japan launched its surprise assault on the Pearl Harbor naval base, Grumman hosted a ceremony to honor a new manufacturing plant and to display the TBF to the public. The ceremony went on as planned, though the plant was immediately sealed to avoid the potential for sabotage.
The first prototype of the Avenger took to the air on August 7th, 1941, exactly four months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t until June of 1942, during the Battle of Midway, that the bomber saw its first combat. More than 100 Avengers arrived on the morning the three aircraft carriers left Pearl Harbor for Midway. While some made it aboard the ships, many were left behind and therefore were unable to take part in the Battle of Midway.
Of the six that made it to Midway, five were shot down.
On August 24th, 1942, Grumman’s new bomber was given another chance to prove itself, this time in the waters off the Eastern Solomons. Twenty-four Avengers were deployed, and they sank the Japanese light carrier Ryujo. Three months later, they took part in the Battle of Guadalcanal and were responsible for sinking the Japanese battleship Hiei.
The Avenger was the first torpedo bomber supplied by Grumman and the second of its aircraft to be outfitted with the Sto-Wing wing-folding mechanism for optimal storage on aircraft carriers. With the TBF-1C model, the second to be manufactured, the craft received an increase in space for wing-mounted fuel tanks which nearly doubled the range of the bomber.
When Grumman shifted focus to the F6F Hellcat fighter, General Motors took over manufacturing the Avenger. Under a new designation, TBM-3, General Motors altered the wing hardpoints and provided a stronger powerplant.
Additional Information About the Avenger
During the war, the Avenger was credited with 30 submarine kills, including the I-52 cargo sub, and were dubbed the most effective sub-killers in all theaters. Well-known pilots who served aboard the Avenger included future President George H.W. Bush and Paul Newman.
During the war, the Avenger was also used by the British Royal Navy, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Navy.