December 7th 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”, was the start of the second world war for the United States and coincidently the public unveiling of the Grumman TBF Avenger. The Avenger, aptly named given the timing of it’s release, is known as the standard torpedo bomber of World War II.
Up until 1939, the Douglas Devastator had been the Navy’s standard torpedo bomber. However, with the quick development of new aircraft capabilities, the Devastator was already outdated by the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. To better defend the Pacific, the Navy needed a new aircraft with a top speed of 300 mph, a range of 1,000 miles (fully loaded), an internal weapons bay, 2,000 lbs. payload, and a ceiling of 30,000 feet.
The American Grumman TBF Avenger first entered service in the U.S. Navy at the Battle of Midway. It was not a promising start for the aircraft. Five out of the six in service were easily shot down during the battle by the Mitsubishi Zero fighters. Throughout the war the slow-flying torpedo bombers were used in a variety of other roles like: air support glide bombing, light transport, cargo transport, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine support.
Perhaps the most famous man to fly an Avenger in WWII is the late former President of the United States George H.W. Bush. He was the youngest naval aviator in the war and flew thousands of combat hours in the Avenger. September 2nd 1944 he was shot down when performing a dive bombing mission over Chichi Jima. He narrowly survived the event, while his two crewmen were never found.
Because it could hold such a heavy payload, after the war the Avenger was converted into a fire bomber. The military equipment and guns were replaced with a large tank in the weapons bay that could hold water or flame retardant.