The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) is an American torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air and naval aviation services around the world.
The Avenger entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. Despite the loss of five of the six Avengers on its combat debut, it survived in service to become one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II. Greatly modified after the war, it remained in use until the 1960s.
The Douglas' TBD Devastator, the U.S. Navy's main torpedo bomber introduced in 1935, was obsolete by 1939. Bids were accepted from several companies, but Grumman's TBF design was selected as the replacement for the TBD and in April 1940 two prototypes were ordered by the Navy. Designed by Leroy Grumman, the first prototype was called the XTBF-1. It was first flown on 7 August 1941. Although one of the first two prototypes crashed near Brentwood, New York, rapid production continued.
Grumman's first torpedo bomber was the heaviest single-engined aircraft of World War II, and only the USAAF's P-47 Thunderbolt came close to equalling it in maximum loaded weight among all single-engined fighters, being only some 400 lb (181 kg) lighter than the TBF, by the end of World War II. To ease carrier storage concerns, simultaneously with the F4F-4 model of its Wildcat carrier fighter, Grumman designed the Avenger to also use the new Sto-Wing patented "compound angle" wing-folding mechanism, intended to maximize storage space on an aircraft carrier; in addition to the Wildcat and Avenger, the Wildcat's replacement, the F6F Hellcat also employed this mechanism as well. The engine used was the powerful, twin-row Wright R-2600-20 Twin Cyclone fourteen-cylinder radial engine, which produced 1,900 hp/1,417 kW. The aircraft took 25 gallons of oil and used one gallon per minute at start-up.
There were three crew members: pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/ventral gunner. A single synchronized .30 caliber machine gun was mounted in the nose, a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) gun was mounted right next to the turret gunner's head in a rear-facing electrically powered turret, and a single .30 caliber hand-fired machine gun flexibly-mounted ventrally (under the tail), which was used to defend against enemy fighters attacking from below and to the rear. This gun was fired by the radioman/bombardier while standing up and bending over in the belly of the tail section, though he usually sat on a folding bench facing forward to operate the radio and to sight in bombing runs. Later models of the TBF/TBM omitted the cowl-mount synchronized .30-calibre gun; for twin Browning AN/M2 light-barrel .50 caliber guns, one per each wing outboard of the propeller arc per pilots' requests, for better forward firepower and increased strafing ability. There was only one set of controls on the aircraft, and no direct access to the pilot's position existed from the rest of the aircraft's interior. The radio equipment was massive, especially by today's standards, and filled the length of the well-framed "greenhouse" canopy to the rear of the pilot. The radios were accessible for repair through a "tunnel" along the right hand side. Any Avengers that are still flying today usually have an additional rear-mounted seat in place of the radios, allowing for a fourth passenger.
The Avenger had a large bomb bay, allowing for one Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo, a single 2,000 pound (907 kg) bomb, or up to four 500 pound (227 kg) bombs. The aircraft had overall ruggedness and stability, and pilots say it flew like a truck, for better or worse. With its good radio facilities, docile handling, and long range, the Grumman Avenger also made an ideal command aircraft for Commanders, Air Group (CAGs). With a 30,000 ft (10,000 m) ceiling and a fully loaded range of 1,000 mi (1,610 km), it was better than any previous American torpedo bomber, and better than its Japanese counterpart, the obsolete Nakajima B5N "Kate". Later Avenger models carried radar equipment for the ASW and AEW roles.
On the afternoon of 7 December 1941, Grumman held a ceremony to open a new manufacturing plant and display the new TBF to the public. Coincidentally, on that day, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, as Grumman soon found out. After the ceremony was over, the plant was quickly sealed off to guard against possible sabotage. By early June 1942, a shipment of more than 100 aircraft was sent to the Navy, arriving only a few hours after the three carriers quickly departed from Pearl Harbor, so most of them were too late to participate in the pivotal Battle of Midway.
Six TBF-1s were present on Midway Island — as part of VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron 8) — while the rest of the squadron flew Devastators from the aircraft carrier Hornet. Both types of torpedo bombers suffered heavy casualties. Out of the six Avengers, five were shot down and the other returned heavily damaged with one of its gunners killed, and the other gunner and the pilot injured. Nonetheless, the US torpedo bombers were credited with drawing away the Japanese combat air patrols so the American dive bombers could successfully hit the Japanese carriers.
Author Gordon Prange posited in Miracle at Midway that the outdated Devastators (and lack of new aircraft) contributed somewhat to the lack of a complete victory at Midway (the four Japanese fleet carriers were sunk directly by dive bombers instead). Others pointed out that the inexperienced American pilots and lack of fighter cover were responsible for poor showing of US torpedo bombers, regardless of type. Later in the war, with growing American air superiority, better attack coordination and more veteran pilots, Avengers were able to play vital roles in the subsequent battles against Japanese surface forces.
On 24 August 1942, the next major naval aircraft carrier battle occurred at the Eastern Solomons. Based on the carriers Saratoga and Enterprise, the 24 TBFs present were able to sink the Japanese light carrier Ryūjō and claim one dive bomber, at the cost of seven aircraft.
The first major "prize" for the TBFs (which had been assigned the name "Avenger" in October 1941, before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) was at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942, when Marine Corps and Navy Avengers helped sink the Japanese battleship Hiei, which had already been crippled the night before.
After hundreds of the original TBF-1 models were built, the TBF-1C began production. The allotment of space for specialized internal and wing-mounted fuel tanks doubled the Avenger's range. By 1943, Grumman began to slowly phase out production of the Avenger to produce F6F Hellcat fighters, and the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors took over production, with these aircraft being designated TBM. The Eastern Aircraft plant was located in Ewing, New Jersey. Grumman delivered a TBF-1, held together with sheet metal screws, so that the automotive engineers could disassemble it, a part at a time, and redesign the aircraft for automotive style production. This aircraft was known as the "P-K Avenger" (P-K = Parker-Kalon, manufacturer of sheet metal screws). Starting in mid-1944, the TBM-3 began production (with a more powerful powerplant and wing hardpoints for drop tanks and rockets). The dash-3 was the most numerous of the Avengers (with about 4,600 produced). However, most of the Avengers in service were dash-1s until near the end of the war in 1945.
Besides the traditional surface role (torpedoing surface ships), Avengers claimed about 30 submarine kills, including the cargo submarine I-52. They were one of the most effective sub-killers in the Pacific theatre, as well as in the Atlantic, when escort carriers were finally available to escort Allied convoys. There, the Avengers contributed to the warding off of German U-Boats while providing air cover for the convoys.
After the "Marianas Turkey Shoot", in which more than 250 Japanese aircraft were downed, Admiral Marc Mitscher ordered a 220-aircraft mission to find the Japanese task force. At the extreme end of their range (300 nmi (560 km) out), the group of Hellcats, TBF/TBMs, and dive bombers took many casualties. However, Avengers from the Independence-class light aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) torpedoed the light carrier Hiyō as their only major prize. Mitscher's gamble did not pay off as well as he had hoped.
In June 1943, future-President George H. W. Bush was commissioned as the youngest naval aviator at the time. Later, while flying a TBM with VT-51 (from San Jacinto), his Avenger was shot down on 2 September 1944 over the Pacific island of Chichi Jima. However, he released his payload and hit the radio tower target before being forced to bail out over water. Both of his crewmates died. He was rescued at sea by the American submarine Finback. He later received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Another famous Avenger aviator was Paul Newman, who flew as a rear gunner. He had hoped to be accepted for pilot training, but did not qualify because he was color blind. Newman was on board the escort carrier Hollandia roughly 500 mi (800 km) from Japan when the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The postwar disappearance on 5 December 1945 of a flight of five American Avengers, known as Flight 19, was later added to the Bermuda Triangle legend, first written about in a 16 September 1950 Associated Press article published in The Miami Herald by Edward Van Winkle Jones.
During World War II, the US aeronautical research arm NACA used a complete Avenger in a comprehensive drag-reduction study in their large Langley wind tunnel. The resulting NACA Technical Report shows the impressive results available if practical aircraft did not have to be "practical".
The Avenger was also used by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, where it was initially known as the "Tarpon". However, this name was later discontinued and the Avenger name used instead, as part of the process of the Fleet Air Arm universally adopting the U.S. Navy's names for American naval aircraft. The first 402 aircraft were known as Avenger Mk 1, 334 TBM-1s from Grumman were the Avenger Mk II and 334 TBM-3 the Mark III. An interesting kill by a Royal Navy Avenger was the destruction of a V-1 flying bomb on 9 July 1944. The much faster V-1 was overtaking the Avenger when the Telegraphist Air Gunner in the dorsal turret, Leading Aircraftman Fred Shirmer, fired at it from 700 yards. For this achievement, Shirmer was Mentioned in Dispatches, later being awarded the DSM for the 1945 Operation Meridian action at Palembang. In the January 1945 British carrier raid on the Soengei Gerong oil refinery during Operation Meridian, a Fleet Air Arm Avenger shot down a Nakajima Ki-44 in a low level combat over the jungle.
One hundred USN TBM-3Es were supplied to the Fleet Air Arm in 1953 under the US Mutual Defense Assistance Program. The aircraft were shipped from Norfolk, Virginia, many aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Perseus. The Avengers were fitted with British equipment by Scottish Aviation and delivered as the Avenger AS.4 to several FAA squadrons including No. 767, 814, 815, 820 and 824. The aircraft were replaced from 1954 by Fairey Gannets and were passed to squadrons of the Royal Naval Reserve including No. 1841 and 1844 until the RNR was disbanded.[when?] The survivors were transferred to the French Navy in 1957–1958.
The only other operator in World War II was the Royal New Zealand Air Force which used the type primarily as a bomber, operating from South Pacific Island bases. Some of these were transferred to the British Pacific Fleet.
In 1945, Avengers were involved in pioneering trials of aerial topdressing in New Zealand that led to the establishment of an industry which markedly increased food production and efficiency in farming worldwide. Pilots of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 42 Squadron spread fertilizer from Avengers beside runways at Ohakea air base and provided a demonstration for farmers at Hood aerodrome, Masterton, New Zealand.
One of the primary postwar users of the Avenger was the Royal Canadian Navy, which obtained 125 former US Navy TBM-3E Avengers from 1950 to 1952 to replace their venerable Fairey Fireflies. By the time the Avengers were delivered, the RCN was shifting its primary focus to anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and the aircraft was rapidly becoming obsolete as an attack platform. Consequently, 98 of the RCN Avengers were fitted with an extensive number of novel ASW modifications, including radar, electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment, and sonobuoys, and the upper ball turret was replaced with a sloping glass canopy that was better suited for observation duties. The modified Avengers were designated AS 3. A number of these aircraft were later fitted with a large magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) boom on the rear left side of the fuselage and were redesignated AS 3M. However, RCN leaders soon realized the Avenger's shortcomings as an ASW aircraft, and in 1954 they elected to replace the AS 3 with the Grumman S-2 Tracker, which offered longer range, greater load-carrying capacity for electronics and armament, and a second engine, a great safety benefit when flying long-range ASW patrols over frigid North Atlantic waters. As delivery of the new license-built CS2F Trackers began in 1957, the Avengers were shifted to training duties, and were officially retired in July 1960.
TBM Avengers were used in wartime research into counter-illumination camouflage. The torpedo bombers were fitted with Yehudi lights, a set of forward-pointing lights automatically adjusted to match the brightness of the sky. The planes therefore appeared as bright as the sky, rather than as dark shapes. The technology, a development of the Canadian navy's diffused lighting camouflage research, allowed an Avenger to advance to within 3,000 yards (2,700 m) before being seen.
Many Avengers have survived into the 21st century working as spray-applicators and water-bombers throughout North America, particularly in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
Forest Protection Limited (FPL) of Fredericton, NB once owned and operated the largest civilian fleet of Avengers in the world. FPL began operating Avengers in 1958 after purchasing 12 surplus TBM-3E aircraft from the Royal Canadian Navy. Use of the Avenger fleet at FPL peaked in 1971 when 43 aircraft were in use as both water bombers and spray aircraft. The company sold three Avengers in 2004 (C-GFPS, C-GFPM, and C-GLEJ) to museums or private collectors. The Central New Brunswick Woodsmen's Museum has a former FPL Avenger on static display. An FPL Avenger that crashed in 1975 in southwestern New Brunswick was recovered and restored by a group of interested aviation enthusiasts and is currently on display at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum. FPL was still operating three Avengers in 2010 configured as water-bombers, and stationed at Miramichi Airport. One of these crashed just after takeoff on April 23, 2010, killing the pilot. The last FPL Avenger was retired on 26 July 2012 and sold to the Shearwater Aviation Museum in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
There are several other Avengers, usually flying as warbirds in private collections around the world today. They are a popular airshow fixture in both flying and static displays. The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) flies a TBM Avenger with their Missouri Wing at St Charles Smartt Field. 
A famous incident involving the TBM / TBF Avenger aircraft was the disappearance of Flight 19, a training flight of five Avengers that originated from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale and was lost in December 1945 over the Bermuda Triangle.
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The F4F-4 was the first version of the Wildcat to feature a Grumman innovation, the Sto-Wing. The Sto-Wing used a novel approach using a compound angle folding-wing that was unique to Grumman...It was a successful design that was later used on the F6F Hellcat and TBF Avenger.
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