"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
"Slow, But Deadly"
             The Douglas SBD Dauntless
Above: This Marine pilot is about to enplane for a training hop in 1944. The scope of the ASV radar set is mounted ahead of the radioman / gunner's compartment. 

Below:  White 35, an SBD-5 from USS Lexington's VB-16, gets a closeup from the cameraman. The squadron insignia, applied as a decal, is forward of the radio mast. Six bombs are painted on the cockpit coaming, but they are credited to the plane, not the crew, although the names of a pilot and gunner appear by their stations. Pilots and crew were told which plane they were assigned for a flight while in the ready room before takeoff and did not have a "personal" aircraft. "OK", chalked on the access door, signifies that the port .50 cal. is loaded.
Above: The production line at the Douglas plant in El Segundo, California, Summer of 1943. The row of SBD-5s stretches as far as we can see inside the huge building and their newly painted camouflage is flawless, at least for the time being.

Below:  Three photos of the Dauntless aboard a Stateside training carrier. 

First, we see the plane captain (brown helmet and jersey) grounding his plane. This served two purposes. During flight, the plane could accumulate a positive electric charge. After returning to the carrier, it was insulated from the deck by its rubber tires, so could discharge upon human contact. The act of fueling the plane could also generate a static charge, which had the potential of generating a spark and igniting fumes from the aviation gas. Grounding protected against both these occurrences.

While the plane captain supervises from the cockpit, this SBD, is being refueled. Red helmets and jerseys were worn by firefighters, who also fueled the planes. The swab (yarn mop) is to catch any spills of 100 octane aviation gas and the fire extinguisher is a precaution in case of an accident.

On the same training carrier, we see handlers (blue helmets and jerseys) lashing down an SBD with lines from the wing's tie-down rings to the deck cleats after the wheels have been chocked.
The Douglas SBD Dauntless scout / dive bomber, a.k.a. "Slow, But Deadly", "Speedy D", or "Clunk", may not have been fast, but the damage it inflicted on the enemy attests to its effectiveness as a weapon of naval air warfare. While sinking 300,000 tons of shipping, including 18 warships (six were carriers), she also had the lowest loss rate of any U.S. Navy aircraft. First delivered in June 1940, its pre-war vintage performance was quickly exceeded by newer types, but she was a key participant in all the battles fought during the crucial first six months of the Pacific war. Despite her lack of a folding wing, and less than adequate speed, she soldiered on in some fleet units until July 1944 and was still flying with a few land based Marine squadrons on VJ-Day. 

Background: SBDs from VB-12, lugging 1000 pound bombs, are looking for trouble as they head out on an early morning strike in November 1943.
Above:  The patchwork look of the camouflage on these SBDs is increased as a result of the heavy shadows cast by the island superstructure of their carrier. Renumbering, repairs to metal and fabric, engine oil and exhaust, as well as the baking of the sun are all to blame for their unkempt appearance.

Below:  Ordnancemen finish loading a 1000 bomb on this SBD-5's cradle. Note the underwing Yagi antenna for the ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) radar and the two fake gunports painted on the leading edge of the port wing. The two real, cowl mounted, .50 cal. guns and the ring mounted twin .30 cal. guns of the SBDs are credited with shooting down 138 enemy planes. Not too shabby for an old, slow, dive bomber.
Above:  In a screen capture from John Ford's Hollywood documentary "The Battle of Midway", we see SBD-3s, from USS Hornet's Air Group 8, searching for the warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy's fleet. Their first flight, on the morning of June 4th, was made at 14,000 feet and the crews were on oxygen, but no mask is visible on the gunner here in B-11 from VB-8. No contact was made after a lengthy search, and low on gas, they turned back for the carrier, with some of the aircraft proceeding on to Midway Island to land. In the afternoon, a second attempt was made, this time without VT-8, which had been decimated that morning, after separating from the group formation and following its own course to destiny. The target now was IJN Hiryu, the sole surviving Japanese carrier, and the strike was composed of 12 SBDs from VS-8 and VB-8 with no fighter escort. Hiryu was found and the attack pressed home, but no hits were scored by VB-8.

Below:  Following the successful defense of Midway, refurbished Marine squadron VMSB-241 remained on the island to guard against any further aggression from the Japanese. Life photographer Frank Scherschel documented their activities in the Fall of 1942, using both black and white and color film, resulting in photos that are some of the most vivid taken of the SBD during the war. Viewed from the rear seat of one of their aircraft, while on a training flight over the waters near Midway, we can see the extreme wear and tear wrought by the climate and long hours of operation. Note the contrast between the sun-bleached Blue Gray upper surfaces and the fresh Blue Gray paint applied when new numbers were added to the cowling and fuselage of aircraft 2 and 4. The rear guns of both planes are stowed and a practice bomb container can be seen under the starboard wing of number 2, so no enemy contact is anticipated.
Below: Half a world away, in the Atlantic Ocean, we see another well-worn SBD-3 from VSG-29 aboard USS Santee, having just come up on deck via the ship's elevator. The date is not recorded, but would have been sometime between her shakedown cruise, in September 1942, and her participation in Operation Torch in early November, when yellow surrounds were added to the fuselage roundels. When originally published as a full page color photo in the February 1943 "U.S. Naval Aviation At War" special issue of Flying magazine, this image was reversed.
Above:  Two SBD-5s are returning home. Their green spinners tell us to where, but we will give you more information about that on the next page.
Above:  SBD-5s of VMS-3, the "Devilbirds", patrol the Caribbean from their base on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The Atlantic "ASW Scheme 2" camouflage of Dark Gull Gray over Insignia White is dramatically different from the blue tones we are used to seeing from the Pacific Theater and was adopted in June 1944.

Below:  Part of the rationale behind the gray and white Atlantic Anti Submarine Warfare camouflage was to help an aircraft approach a surfaced U-Boat at low level, without being observed, for as long as possible. To this end, and unlike other Navy paint schemes of the era, the engine gearcase and the inner diameter of the propeller, including the hub, were also painted white. This angle gives us a better view of that practice. The Navy's Aviation Supply Office began stocking colored baseball-type caps for issue to ground personal by May of 1945. Available colors were blue, green and red, one of which we see here, being worn by a member of an unknown unit servicing this SBD.