Tag Archives: Douglas TBD-1 Devastator

A Field of Devastators

13 September 1941, 81 years ago today: Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft of Torpedo Squadron Five (VT-5) parked at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia. Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlesses of Bombing Squadron Five (VB-5) are beyond the TBDs, with Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters and Curtiss SB2U Vindicator scout bombers further in the left background.

U.S. Navy photo # 80-CF-55215-7
U.S. Navy photo # 80-CF-55215-7

The TBDs have recently been repainted in the new blue-gray and light gray color scheme, while the other planes are still in the earlier overall light gray. VT-5 and VB-5 were assigned to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5), which left Norfolk on the following day for operations in the North Atlantic.

In late May 1942, VS-5 and VT-5, badly depleted at Coral Sea, were both replaced in Yorktown’s airwing with Bombing Three (VB-3) and Torpedo Three (VT-3), drawn from the sidelined USS Saratoga which was on the West Coast undergoing a repair from a Japanese torpedo, meaning they missed the battle of Midway.

Where are the Carriers, Dec 6, 1941 edition

A common refrain for the past half-century, when it comes to American diplomacy, is “Where are the carriers?”

The day before they were the most capital ship in the Navy, here is the rundown, via the NHHC and DANFS:

On 6 December 1941, the three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga (CV-3). By sheer luck, while most of the Pacific fleet’s battleships and cruisers and about half of its destroyers and submarines were at Pearl on 7 December, there were no flattops. 

USS Enterprise (CV-6) Operating in the Pacific, circa late June 1941. She is turning into the wind to recover aircraft. Note her natural wood flight deck stain and dark Measure One camouflage paint scheme. The flight deck was stained blue in July 1941, during camouflage experiments that gave her a unique deck stripe pattern. 80-G-K-14254

Enterprise: On 28 November 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel sent TF-8, consisting of Enterprise, the heavy cruisers Northampton(CA-26), Chester (CA-27), and Salt Lake City (CA-24) and nine destroyers under Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., to ferry 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211 to Wake Island. Upon completion of the mission on 4 December, TF-8 set a course to return to Pearl Harbor. Dawn on 7 December 1941 found TF-8 about 215 miles west of Oahu.

USS Lexington (CV-2) leaving San Diego, California, 14 October 1941. Planes parked on her flight deck include F2A-1 fighters (parked forward), SBD scout-bombers (amidships), and TBD-1 torpedo planes (aft). Note the false bow wave painted on her hull, forward, and badly chalked condition of the hull’s camouflage paint. 80-G-416362

Lexington: On 5 December 1941, TF-12, formed around Lexington, under the command of Rear Admiral John H. Newton, sailed from Pearl to ferry 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 231 to Midway Island. Dawn on 7 December 1941 found Lexington, heavy cruisers Chicago (CA-29), Portland (CA-33), and Astoria (CA-34), and five destroyers about 500 miles southeast of Midway. The outbreak of hostilities resulted in the cancellation of the mission and VMSB-231 was retained on board [they would ultimately fly to Midway from Hickam Field on 21 December].

USS Saratoga (CV-3) flight deck scene, circa fall of 1941. Grumman F4F-3 “Wildcats” of VF-3 “Felix the Cat” are in the foreground (one wearing the two-toned gray scheme approved in October 1941); Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” and Douglas TBD-1 “Devastator” aircraft are parked beyond. NH 92500

Saratoga: The Saratoga, having recently completed an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, reached NAS San Diego [North Island] late in the forenoon watch on 7 December. She was to embark her air group, as well as Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 221 and a cargo of miscellaneous airplanes to ferry to Pearl Harbor.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic…

Yorktown (CV-5), Ranger (CV-4), and Wasp (CV-7), along with the aircraft escort vessel Long Island (AVG-1), were in the Atlantic Fleet; Hornet (CV-8), commissioned in late October 1941, had yet to carry out her shakedown. Yorktown would be the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to be transferred to the Pacific, sailing on 16 December 1941.

Don’t hold your breath for more great wreck finds from R/V Petrel

In the past few years, the research vessel R/V Petrel has been combing the Pacific to find and document the most famous lost warships of WWII. This included the carriers USS Hornet, Wasp, and Lexington as well as the mighty USS Indianapolis and the first destroyer to fire a shot at Pearl Harbor, USS Ward. Added to this were the Japanese Asagumo, Fuso, Michishio, Yamagumo, and Yamashiro along with the doomed carriers Kaga and Akagi.

Well, that long series of discoveries is hitting the pause button, if not the full-stop.

From the vessel’s social media:

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has changed the world for the long term in ways that we never could have imagined.

As a result of operational challenges from the pandemic, R/V Petrel will be placed into long-term moorage and she will not be deployed for the foreseeable future.

We were tasked with a monumental mission – discover, educate, and honor – and we’re hopeful we will eventually be back in service.

Lady Lex still has one of the most amazing airwings in the world

Paul Allen keeps doing it. This time, his research ship, Petrel, has located the final resting place of USS Lexington (CV-2), the nation’s first real fleet carrier.

“On March 5th 2018, the research vessel RV Petrel, led by billionaire Paul Allen, discovered the wreck of Lexington during an expedition to the Coral Sea. She lies at nearly 2 miles below the surface and 500 miles off the coast of Eastern Australia. An ROV confirmed the identity of the wreck by finding her nameplate on her stern. She lies in three sections. The main section lies upright. A mile to the west, the bow and stern sections lie across from each other, with the bridge lying by itself between the three sections. Further to the west, a concentration of aircraft consisting of seven Douglas TBD-1 Devastators, three Douglas SBD Dauntlesses, and a single Grumman F4F Wildcat was also located.”

Note the lifeboat panel behind the cockpit has popped free


The F4F-3 of Ens. Dale W. Peterson and later Lt Albert Butch Vorse. Fox-5 was a VF-2 ship, transferred in from VF-3, and the deck crews did not have time to over-paint Felix during the Battle of the Coral Sea..

More on the importance of this particular F4F from NHHC here.

TBD Tare-3 of Vt-2 flown by Ensign N. A. Sterrie USNR who claimed a hit on the carrier Shoho during second attack. Tare-4 flown by Lt. R. F. Farrington USN who claimed a hit during first attack. This is amazing as there are only four known TBDs in existance anywhere in the world– all crashed. Only 130 were made and 35 lost at Midway alone

TBD Tare-5. Dig the meatball.

Here are a list of the Aircraft that went down with Lexington:

TBD-1 271 VT-2
TBD-1 273 VT-2
TBD-1 275 VT-2
TBD-1 290 VT-2
TBD-1 291 VT-2
TBD-1 300 VT-2
TBD-1 313 VT-2
TBD-1 320 VT-2
TBD-1 339 VT-2
TBD-1 346 VT-2
TBD-1 1514 VT-2
TBD-1 1516 VT-2
SBD-2 2104 VB-2
SBD-2 2113 VB-2
SBD-2 2115 VB-2
SBD-2 2116 VB-2
SBD-2 2121 VB-2
SBD-2 2127 VB-2
SBD-2 2143 VB-2
SBD-2 2157 VB-2
SBD-2 2163 VB-2
SBD-2 2176 VB-2
SBD-2 2186 VB-2
SBD-2 2188 VB-2
F4F-3A 3964 VF-3
F4F-3 3976 VF-3
F4F-3 3978 VF-3
F4F-3 3979 VF-3
F4F-3 3981 VF-3
F4F-3 3982 VF-3
F4F-3 3986 VF-3
F4F-3 3987 VF-3
F4F-3 3993 VF-3
F4F-3 4003 VF-3
F4F-3 4005 VF-3
F4F-3 4016 VF-3
F4F-3 4021 VF-3
F4F-3 4035 VF-3
SBD-3 4534 VS-2
SBD-3 4537 VS-2
SBD-3 4557 VS-2
SBD-3 4623 VS-2
SBD-3 4631 VS-2
SBD-3 4632 VS-2
SBD-3 4633 VS-2
SBD-3 4638 VS-2
SBD-3 4641 VS-2
SBD-3 4655 VB-2

Update, four years later, by Mickeen Hogan (thanks, Mickeen!)

Dear LastStandZombieIsland,

I really like all you do for the military. However, I believe there are some errors in your post about the Lexington Aircraft. Here is the information I have:

  1. F-5 that was found near Lexington was not the plane Dale Peterson flew on Feb 20 1942. The Wildcat Peterson flew on Feb 20 1942 is BuNo. 4009 F-5 on Feb 20 1942, that was Onia “Burt” Stanley’s assigned aircraft (info via Stanley’s Logbook). On March 14, 1942 BuNo 4009 was “sold” to VF-42 on USS Yorktown. However, it had an engine failure and ditched on the way to Yorktown, pilot Walt Haas was ok. Burt Stanley thought the accident was caused by the plane being “offended” by the VF-42 pilot (source Capt. Stanley’s Diary).

The Wildcat labeled F-5 is Albert “Scoop” Vorse’s assigned plane, but has Noel Gayler’s name on it, it means this was formerly Gayler’s assigned plane, BuNo. 3986 side number “F-13” when VF-3 was aboard Lexington in Feb 1942 (it was flown by John Thach on Feb 20 1942). When VF-2 came back aboard Lexington in Mid-April VF-3 transferred 3986 to VF-2 and VF-2 renumbered it from F-13 to F-5, note the overpainted 13 is faintly visible. They didn’t have time to personalize it for Vorse or overpaint Felix. This info is in John Lundstrom’s First Team. A lot of people also incorrectly said its former number was F-1 because Gayler flew F-1, however F-1 was Thach’s assigned plane not Gayler’s, meaning F-1 would have Thach’s name on it. Since this plane has Gayler’s name on it, it would be the former F-13.

  1. Of the 8 VF-2 Wildcats that sank the deck of Lexington, the only known one is 3986 “F-5”. Of the 21 Wildcats, 1 was lost May 7 in aerial combat, another 5 were lost in aerial combat on May 8, and another one disappeared on May 8, all of these crews (Baker, Rinehart, Mason, Peterson, Clark, Rowell, and Bull) were KIA or MIA. Six of the Wildcats (one BuNo 4031 the aircraft Butch O’Hare flew on his Bomber a Minute Mission) landed on Yorktown and survived. It is unknown (aside from 3986) which BuNos sank with Lexington. All of the BuNos lost in the air are unknown. A better idea to arrange it would be to put F4F 3986 “F-5” as confirmed and put the rest as having possibly sank with Lexington.

A Yorktown Wildcat (BuNo 2531) also sank with Lexington.

TBD 0345, not 0346 is in VT-2 for Coral Sea. See history card for 0345 received by VT-2 October 3 1941.TBD 0273 “T10” ditched (see below in document). Its crew Thornhill, Heldoorn and Glover got into their raft but are still MIA. The TBD T4 is on is T9 not T3. It fooled me until I looked closely.

SBD-2 2188 “B-13” crashed overboard at 1133 hours, log from the Air Operation officer included below. Go to “Report Of Air Operations Officer Dated May 13 1942”.  https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/logs/CV/cv2-Coral.html#pageC1

For Scouting 2 I included a document I made below, the people who gave me this information used the actual Scouting 2 report. One error though does appear to be in the report, it says Ault and Butler disappeared in SBD-3 4531 “S-11”, the discovery of the Lexington showed SBD 4531 as sunk with Lexington.

Reason why a lot of the internet says things like SBD 2188 sank with Lexington is a book that used the Master’s USN Overseas Loss document, this document is full of errors and cannot be trusted. I have a Fold3 account and can pull some records if you want some.

All the best,