Welcome back from the weekend, FighterSweep fans! For this week’s Milestone Monday, we take a look at the Grumman Avenger, a United States Navy veteran and the biggest single-engine aircraft to operate off the deck of a US aircraft carrier during World War II.
On April 8, 1940, the US Navy, in hustled fashion, signed a contract for a pair of Grumman XTBF-1 prototypes. Designed by Grumman, the aircraft was intended to replace the Navy’s outdated fleet of Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers. The Grumman design was their first torpedo bomber undertaking, and in typical Grumman “Iron Works” fashion, it was overbuilt.
The Avenger, as it came to be known following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was no small aircraft – in fact it was the heaviest single engine aircraft of WWII. With a huge fifty-four foot wingspan and late models fitted with a powerful 1900 horsepower Wright R-2600-20 radial engine, the Avenger is a massive aircraft, even by today’s standards.
It had to be large to accommodate a crew of three and the internal torpedo/bomb bay that could hold a 2000 pound torpedo. Even with the wings folded back – a key feature of carrier-based aircraft to this day – it still sports a rather imposing stance on any ramp. It may not be the prettiest WWII design, as it earned nicknames like the “Turkey,” but it did eventually prove its worth in combat.
The Avenger made its first foray into combat during the decisive Battle of Midway in June 1942, but suffered catastrophic losses when 5 out of the first 6 failed to return. The one that actually did make it back to the US base on Midway Island was heavily damaged. It didn’t take long for the Avenger to reverse the early defeat, after helping sink the Japanese super-battleship Hiei at the Battle of Guadalcanal.
While production of the TBF wound down in 1943 because Grumman was focused on mass-producing their F6F Hellcat fighter, General Motors dedicated several of their east coast factories to manufacture Avengers. These models became known as the TBM, and produced almost three times as many Avengers as their designer did. A total of 9,837 Avengers were produced, with almost 400 rolling off the line even in 1945.
A number of Avengers survived after WWII, serving in post-war roles with several militaries around the world. The United Kingdom, Brazil, Uruguay, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, France, and even Cuba operated Avengers in various roles during the 1950s and 60s.
Ironically, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force even employed the type in the 1950s. Several found their way to civilian use with fire-bombing and aerial application companies, but nowadays the remaining Avengers are relegated to museum or even better, warbird duty, where we are very fortunate to see and celebrate the heritage of the Avenger and their brave crewmembers.