The Douglas TBD-1 was the Navy's first widely-used monoplane
shipboard plane. Designed to carry a heavy torpedo below the
fuselage, it was necessarily a large aircraft and its
900-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp"
radial engine could drive it to a maximum speed of slightly over
200 miles per hour. The XTBD-1 first flew in April 1935 and 129
production TBD-1s were delivered in 1937-39, rapidly replacing
biplanes in the Navy's carrier torpedo squadrons. The type gave
U.S. Fleet aviators valuable experience with what was, for the
time, a rather high-performance aircraft. "Normal"
operational attrition whittled away at the TBD inventory, which
peaked at about 120 in 1939 and had declined to barely more than
a hundred at the start of the Pacific War.
Though the new Grumman TBF "Avenger" was entering
production as its intended replacement, the TBD-1 was the
Pacific Fleet's sole torpedo plane for the first part of the war
against Japan. It seemingly did well in the raids of
February-March 1942 and in the Battle
of the Coral Sea in early May, serving in both the torpedo
attack and high-level bombing roles. However, in about an hour's
time on 4 June 1942, during the Battle
of Midway, the TBD entered the annals of Naval history as a
synonym for costly futility. Three squadrons of TBD-1s made
heroic torpedo attacks on the Japanese carrier force, losing all
but four of forty-one aircraft while achieving no hits. Old and
slow, with a weak defensive armament and without self-sealing
fuel tanks, the TBD had proven horribly vulnerable to enemy
fighters, though this vulnerability was to a great extent
typical of all torpedo attacks against well-defended ships.
At the end of the Midway battle, the Navy had just
thirty-nine TBDs left.