"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
"Slow, But Deadly"
       The Douglas SBD Dauntless
Below*: Two views of  VB-5's LT (j.g.) Arthur W. Smith from USS Yorktown in October 1943. Newer items added to his survival equipment are the .38 "Victory" revolver with holster, QAS parachute harness and a dye marker for his life vest. The markers were issued singly at first, but when supplies became adequate, two were routinely carried. He still uses a pre-war vintage life vest, but it has been improved with the addition of a crotch strap. One detail, lost in the color image, becomes apparent when we view a higher resolution black and white image of Smith. He has added a section of leather at the nose area of his goggle pad. This was sometimes done in an effort to better integrate the fit of the goggles with the oxygen mask, when worn, and / or protect the bridge of the nose from chaffing and sun damage. Unique in his modification is the use of leather from a summer flying glove, as indicated by the stamped diamond-shape surrounding the number "9", which was how the size was marked. "7 1/2" was the smallest size available, so we know it was not a "6".     
Above and Background:  This Marine 1st Lt., a Dauntless pilot with VMSB-241, is all smiles as he poses in the cockpit of  "Lone Star Express".  Seen on Midway Island, in the fall of 1942, the pivotal battle of the previous summer is still fresh in the memories of those who were participants, but activity at this forward outpost has now settled down to a routine of long scouting missions and anti-submarine patrols. Personal extravagances, such as growing the facial hair of a swashbuckler or applying names and nose art to their aircraft might be tolerated to a degree that would not be possible if based closer to "civilization" and those in authority who went strictly by "the book".

Our pilot's headgear is comprised of an NAF-1092 Intermediate helmet, modified with TC-66 earphone holders that have been installed by simply removing a circle of leather and attaching the ear cups by hand stitching directly through the layers of rubber and leather. A similar installation is seen at left, below.
Above:  After returning from the conflict, he was photographed with fellow Marine aviators and Guadalcanal heroes, Maj. John L. Smith (L), and Capt. Marion C. Carl (R) at NAS Anacostia, Washington D.C., on November 10, 1942. All three wear Intermediate helmets, jackets and gloves.

Below, left*:  CDR William O. Burch, Jr., seen here at NAS Jacksonville, Fla. in September 1943, participated in both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway as CO of USS Yorktown's VS-5. He was awarded two Navy Crosses for his valor and leadership while an SBD pilot. His third Navy Cross was awarded for his actions as Executive Officer of USS Ticonderoga after a Kamikaze hit on January 21, 1945. A Naval Academy graduate, class of 1927, he set an example for the scores of Reserve Officers commissioned by the Navy during the course of the war and after a long Navy career, he retired in 1962 with the rank of Admiral.

Below, right:  A pre-war vintage white deck helmet, converted to a flight helmet, similar to the one worn by CDR Burch.
Above*:  LT(j.g.) Bond, of VB-12, aboard USS Saratoga in February 1944. He has chosen to fit his Summer flight helmet with the fleece-lined chin cup from an NAF-1092W, Winter helmet.  

Below*:  LT Donald Kirkpatrick, of VB-16. aboard USS Lexington, December 11, 1943. Sporting an M-450 flight helmet with the same modifications as his VB-12 counterpart above (and the same style of mustache),  he wears it over an issue blue wool baseball-type cap. Also of note is the custom headrest fitted to this SBD, featuring extra padding and a cloth cover. The rising sun flag could represent an enemy ship sunk, but more than  likely is for shooting down a plane. Typically, for a ship, a silhouette was added to denote the type.
Above:  LT David R. Berry (squadron unknown), stands by the tail of an SBD-5, which is camouflaged in the standard Navy three-tone scheme. At the time, all Navy aircraft were marked at the factory with the Bureau Number (equivalent to a USAAF serial number) on the fin and the aircraft type designation on the rudder. Control surfaces, including the rudder, elevators and ailerons, were fabric-covered on most Navy planes, including the Dauntless.

Below:  A surviving section of SBD-5 rudder fabric, removed during the war by a VC-68 pilot as a souvenir, gives us a good look at the 1" tall characters applied, as well as the Non-specular Intermediate Blue paint used on the fuselage sides and vertical tail surfaces.
Above * and Below:  Here is another opportunity to compare a black and white image with one in color. Taken only seconds apart, on the deck of USS Yorktown in October 1943, we see another VB-5 pilot, LT (j.g.) James S. Pope, standing in the cockpit of an SBD-5. The method of wearing his shoulder holster is similar to that of his squadron mate, LT Smith, seen previously, but may have just been adopted for this photo session. If worn this way on an actual flight, it would impede both the removal of his parachute harness, in the case of a ditching or a bail out, and then restrict the inflation of his life vest. In the event of a water landing, his pistol would not be one of the first things he'd need, so was typically worn next to the body, over the clothes and under the more important life saving equipment. 
Above*:  Just back from a strike mission, and headed down to his ready room, another VB-5 pilot is seen aboard USS Yorktown in October 1943. From this side, we can see his "original" backpad kit, which has replaced the parachute harness' issue backpad of canvas with horsehair filler. A common personal touch is the addition of a seat cushion, attached directly to the QAS harness, rather than remaining part of the pararaft-parachute pack which stayed behind in the cockpit.

On page two of this article, we mentioned the carrying case, fabricated from white sail canvas, used by some deck personnel to facilitate their mobility while retaining their life belts close at hand. A plane director (yellow shirt and helmet), at left above, wears one of many possible variations of this shipboard-made item of equipment. A surviving example, in a horizontal format, can be seen below.
Below:  Another VMSB-241 member receives help from his rear-seater, who is connecting the pilot's radio lead. Both fliers display the minimal survival gear that was common in the first year of the war, comprised of a life vest, seat parachute,  personal side arm and possibly a sheath knife, canteen and first aid packet carried on a web pistol belt. Dye markers, backpad survival kits, life jacket lights, pararafts and a host of other personal survival aides were being developed, or were "on the way", but yet to reach the front lines.

The pilot is using a pre-war vintage Navy flight helmet made of greenish-tan jungle cloth. Unlined, chamois-lined and alpaca-lined versions were available for the different seasons. Above, right, is an example of the "Intermediate", chamois-lined version.
Above*:  Pilots of VB-6, in USS Intrepid's ready room #4, update their chartboards before a strike on Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands on February 1, 1944. The unlimited variety of headgear and personal equipment on display here is an appealing, and challenging, factor to those of us who collect these artifacts. What looks like a bunch of grapes hanging from the overhead is the cluster of steel helmets kept readily available should an enemy air attack develop. Navy gas masks, in their gray fabric carriers, were often similarly stowed. 

If there was such a thing as "celebrities" within the wartime community of SBD pilots, the three men featured below would certainly qualify as members of that club. First, we show Lt.Col. Richard C. Mangrum, USMC. As commanding officer of VMSB-232, the first squadron to land on Guadalcanal's Henderson Field, his leadership and initiative resulted in the award of a Navy Cross and DFC. Before retiring in 1967, he had reached the position of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. 

Below, left* and right: Col. Mangrum, at Anacostia, wears his Intermediate flight clothing in the colder climate of the East Coast.
Above:  From the collection of reader "Goz", a nice pair of AN-6530 goggles that were modified using chamois leather for the same purpose. Unfortunately, the name stamp is not fully readable.

Below*:  Another example of this practice is seen on the goggles being worn by  LT (j.g.) Henry McKinnon of VB-3 from USS Saratoga in March 1944. The image's original caption tells us he is showing off his belated Christmas gifts, sent by his wife. Although none too practical for his job of dive bombing, they appear to have served for some much needed comic relief and no doubt, were a welcome reminder of more peaceful times in his homeland far away. Note how the edge tape around his M-450 helmet has been reinforced in some way as well.
Below*:  After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1938, Norman Jack "Dusty" Kleiss, won his wings in April 1941. Assigned to USS Enterprise's VS-6, his squadron was in the air on December 7, 1941 and encountered Japanese aircraft around Pearl Harbor. As a participant in the Navy's first, tentative, offensive actions against enemy forces at Kwajalein Atoll, then Wake and Marcus Islands in February and March 1942, he was awarded a DFC by Admiral Nimitz for hitting the cruiser Katori. The peak of his short, but very intense, combat career was reached during the first day of the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. In the first strike of the day, he scored a direct hit on the Japanese carrier Kaga. On the afternoon strike, he again scored, putting his bomb into the carrier Hiryu. He finished his heroic performance on June 6th with a third hit, this time on the cruiser Mikuma. Kleiss was the only pilot to score three hits during this decisive battle.

"Dusty" is seen here in June 1943, during his time as an instructor at NAS Jacksonville, teaching young Navy pilots how to score hits with a dive bomber. Prior to his death at age 100 in 2016, he completed his memoir, titled "Never Call Me A Hero". We highly recommend reading this first hand account of his carrier and his personal experiences during this most historic battle.

This excerpt, taken from his book, is the best description we have read of what it was like to carry out a combat dive in the SBD. It recounts some of his actions as part of a 46-plane dawn strike against the Japanese airfield at Roi, in the Kwajalein Atoll, on February 1, 1942 :

   "Prepping an SBD for a diving attack required several steps. First, I called over the interphone to John Snowden (his rear-seater), letting him know that we were about to dive and that he should take his dose of ephedrine, a nasal spray that prevented an aviator's eardrums from bursting due to the sudden change in altitude. Second, I reached under my seat to pull out my bomb's arming pin (wires) so they would detonate after release. Third, I switched my plane to low blower and low prop pitch. Then, I engaged the full split flaps, which allowed me to zero in on my target. Next, I opened up the pilot's cockpit hatch in order to prevent the window from fogging up due to the change in temperature. Finally, I took my dose of ephedrine. When my plane was ready, I pushed over, throwing the stick forward and putting the plane's nose down.
   My plane screamed out of the atmosphere like a banshee, descending from 14,000 feet to 2,000 feet in about thirty seconds. As the cool air roared around my open cockpit, I peered through the Mark-3 bomb scope and surveyed the runway (his target). Fires already speckled the field. I sighted a parked plane. With my other eye, I glanced at my altimeter, watching it spin wildly and counting down the seconds to release altitude. All the while, Japanese antiaircraft gunners plied their work of death, filling the sky with puffs of shrapnel. At 2,000 feet I gripped the bomb release on the left side of the cockpit and wrenched the lever, releasing my two 100-pound wing bombs. When I was certain these bombs had dropped clear, I executed a snap pullout, and for a brief instant, the pressure of 8 or 9 g's squeezed my body. With long, heavy breaths, I kept the world in front of me as it tunneled because of all the blood rushing out of my head, and rolled out of my dive with another ninety-degree turn. Below and behind me the parked enemy plane disappeared in a ball of flame. As I leveled out, I opened up with my .50-caliber forward machine guns, strafing the airfield.
   I pulled hard on the stick to regain altitude. I knew I had to form up with my wingmen in order to survive."


 
Above left*:  "Dusty" is wearing a pre-war manufactured NAF-1092 Intermediate helmet made by H.L.B. Corporation. A distinctive feature is the use of Lift-the-Dot snaps on the rear goggle retaining straps. This feature was eliminated and replaced with a simpler strap, which was fixed in place at top and bottom with "box-x" stitching.

Above right:  A similar style helmet, displayed with MK-I goggles.

Below:  The radioman-gunners of VS-6 pose for a group photo aboard USS Enterprise, sometime before the Battle of Midway. Among them is Dusty's rear-seater, RM3c John Snowden, who is mentioned in the excerpt above, kneeling, front row, center.

* All photos on this page, marked with an asterisk, are from the National Archives collection, via Dustin Clingenpeel. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to him for his major contributions to this body of work and his willingness to share the fruits of his many long hours of searching through their files. Thank you sir!
Above:  CDR Burch with CDR Joe Taylor, CO of VB-5, aboard USS Yorktown. Both Skippers survived Coral Sea and Midway, no small feat. Although it appears to be coming loose, Burch has also had a chamois flap applied to his MK-II goggles for nose protection.

Below:  Another photo of the two CDRs, reportedly taken at NAS Ford Island , Hawaii, June 6th, 1942. We know that is incorrect, however, because Burch's VS-5 was still engaged in the Battle of Midway on that date. Returning from their afternoon search for units of the Japanese fleet on June 4th, they found USS Yorktown was too damaged to receive aircraft, so one flight preoceeded to land aboard USS Hornet and the remaining four flights landed on USS Enterprise. VS-5's participation in the Battle continued through June 6th. Note Burch's aviator's scarf, an issue item of flight gear. Not worn by all Navy fliers, but deemed useful by some, it was multi-functional. In addition to protecting the neck from the slipstream when flying with an open canopy, the 72 x 17 1/2 inch, two thickness, rayon fabric scarf could also offer some protect from a flash fire, clean a dirty goggle lens or fogged windscreen and even serve as an expedient tourniquet in an emergency. You can see one in use by the SBD pilot in the GIF provided at the bottom of Page One of this article.