On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, it only seems appropriate to honor the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Inarguably the turning point of the Pacific War, the Battle of Midway saw the U.S. break the back of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Never again would Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto’s “Kido Butai” carrier force dominate the Pacific as aircraft from the American carriers Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet sank four Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Soryu, Kaga, and Hiryu. The fatal strikes were delivered with bombs dropped by Dauntless bombers diving out of the sky at a nearly vertical trajectory amid heavy anti-aircraft fire. Three of the Japanese carriers were fatally hit by Dauntless’s in just 6 minutes of action. The pilots used the huge Rising Sun painted on the carrier decks as a target to line up their strikes.

By the war’s end, the plucky Dauntless had sunk more Japanese shipping than any other aircraft.

The Douglas SBD Dauntless, which first flew in 1940, carried its primary bomb under the fuselage attached to a cradle that swung the 1000lb ordinance beyond the arc of the propellor as the aircraft dove at its target. A Dauntless pilot would start his dive and deploy dive brake flaps on the wings to slow his descent and allow him to line up the target. Above, you can see the y-shaped cradle beneath the fuselage. The Dauntless flew with a crew of two, a pilot and a rear gunner. Though slow compared to some of its contemporaries, the Dauntless made up for its performance drawbacks by being tough and reliable.


Note the perforated dive flaps on wings of the Dauntless in the photo above. This Dauntless is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, National Mall, Washington, D.C.

The Dauntless served with distinction in the U.S. Navy until 1944 and will always be remembered as the key aircraft of the Midway campaign. Dauntless squadron leaders Max Leslie (Yorktown) and Wade McCluskey (Enterprise) led the planes that scored the fatal blows and were awarded the Navy Cross for their efforts.

Douglas SBD Dauntless

Speed: 255 mph
Ceiling: 25,530 ft
Armament: 2 × .50 in machine guns (firing forward) and 2 x 0.30 in machine guns in rear, 2,250lbs of bombs
Crew: 2