Elias Clark Productions

An imgur album with images of the scale model and reference aircraft is available here.

Admiral/AZ Model 1:72 TBD-1
Admiral/AZ Model TBD-1 Devastator, 1:72 Scale.
A Brief History of the TBD

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of aviation in the 1930s and 1940s was the rapidity with which technological advancements were made. Airplanes considered top-of-the-line one year would find themselves hopelessly outdated merely a few years later. One such victim of the advancement of aviation was the Douglas TBD Devastator.

When the Devastator first flew in Spring 1935, it was a revolutionary design - not only was it was the first all-metal naval aircraft, it was also the first monoplane to be widely used on aircraft carriers. Further, its hydraulic folding wing mechanism and completely enclosed cockpit were at the forefront of naval aviation. Even its main armament, the Mk XIII torpedo, was the first American torpedo specifically designed for use by aircraft (unfortunately, the Mk XIII and immediate sucessors had significant shortcomings).

Despite being a very large carrier aircraft for its time in theory the Devastator should have been quite maneuverable, based on a quick calculation of its wing loading. In a nutshell, wing loading measures the ratio between the weight and wing area of anything with a wing, from an aircraft to a bird to a butterfly. Higher numbers indicate more mass per unit area of the wing which in turn can lead to to less maneuverability. For instance, assuming the loaded weight of the TBD is approximately 9300 pounds with a wing area of 422 square feet, we calculate a wing loading of approximately 22 lb/ft^2. For comparison, the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, known for its maneuverability, has a wing loading of about 25.5 lb/ft^2 (loaded weight, 6164 lbs, wing area, 241.5 square feet) and the General Dynamics F-16's wing loading is about 141.1 lb/ft^2. However, it is critical to note that there are many factors other than wing loading that go into determining the overall maneuverability of an aircraft. In contrast to the calculations just made, the Devastator was notoriously un-maneuverable, perhaps in part because of low engine power. To its credit, the Devestator had a very low landing speed of only around 63mph (good for carrier operations!), and its semi-rectractable landing gear would mitigate potential damage to the airframe should they not extend during landing.

Barclay Scheme No. 7, View 1
TBD-1 in Barclay Scheme No. 7.
Taken 22 August 1940.

When the US Navy put out a contract for a new carrier-based bomber in Summer 1934, the TBD competed against the Great Lakes XTBG and the Hall Aluminum XPTBH[1]. The Navy deemed Douglas' entry the superior aircraft and began testing in mid-1935. In late November 1935, carrier qualification tests were performed from the USS Lexington and by Summer 1937, the TBD was ordered into full production. Testing was still performed of certain configurations, including one (BuNo 0268) that was converted into a TBD-1A through the replacement of landing gear with floats[2]. This TBD-1A was also used to improve the dysfunctional Mk XIII torpedo.

While the Devastator is best known for its performance in the Pacific Theater of Operations, some served with the Atlantic Fleet, starting with Neutrality Patrols and later expanding to anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic and North Sea coasts.

Within a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Devastators from Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers (the Lexington, Saratoga, Yorktown, and Enterprise) were attacking Japanese targets in the Pacific, starting with islands in the Marshall and Gilbert chains (including Kwajalein, which is currently part of a US missile test site and assists with operation of GPS navigation systems). Attacks were then launched on Wake Island, Marcus Island, and targets on New Guinea[2].

Admiral/AZ Model TBD-1
Another view of the scale model.
Apologies for the cockpit fit...

In early May 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea occurred. This battle was the first naval battle fought where neither side's ships directly fired upon or spotted each other, and the first battle between aircraft carriers; that is to say, aircraft squadrons served as the offensive arms of their respective navies. While considered a tactical victory for the Japanese due to the losses inflicted upon the USN (including the sinking of the USS Lexington), it served as a strategic victory for the Allies; the Japanese fleet and invasion force was turned back from New Guinea and their goal of separating Australia from US supply lines was not achieved. The achievements of the US Navy also boosted morale, as it showed that the US could hold their own against the purportedly invincible Japanese Navy.

At the Battle of the Coral Sea, the USS Yorktown (one of the USN's fleet carriers) was heavily damaged, with an estimated repair time of three months. However, workers at Pearl Harbor were able to put her back in fighting condition in an astoundingly short 48 hours, causing the Japanese much confusion during the Battle of Midway. This decisive naval battle, which occurred in early June 1942, was a turning point in the Pacific Theater of Operations and would be the last front-line combat action the Devastator would see. By this point in the war the TBD was obviously outclassed, and out of over 40 Devastators in the US fleet only around 6 survived. However, they proved critical to the sinking of 4 of the Japanese fleet carriers; the nearly continual attacks by USN aircraft prevented the IJN from being able to organize a strong, coherent defense.

Barclay Scheme No. 7, View 2
TBD-1 in Barclay Scheme No. 7.
Taken 22 August 1940.

After the Battle of Midway, the Devastator was relegated to being a training aircraft, with the last one in use scrapped in November 1944. All remaining Devastators exist only with underwater wrecks (though some of them are remarkably well preserved!). Overall, when introduced it was a technological marvel, but by the time World War 2 began it was outdated and crippled by faulty equipment, unclear strategy, and an exceptionally difficult mission.

TBD Bureau Number 0320

Originally, TBD Devastator Bureau Number (BuNo) 0320 was assigned to VT-5 (number 5-T-5) on the USS Yorktown. However, in August 1940 it was part of a test of experimental camouflage schemes. These camouflages, which were painted by illustrator and Naval Reserve officer McClelland Barclay, used water-soluble paints and were a confusing assortment of curves and angles, much like the dazzle camouflage tested on USAAC aircraft and on British and American ships. Keep in mind that up to this point, USN aircraft were painted a silver lacquer with yellow wings, using other bright colors to indicate squadron. It was realized by 1940 that this was a suboptimal camouflage, and thus, Barclay's work was to help determine the best choice for USN liveries. To this end, art deco-like schemes were tested on 2 Douglas TBD Devastators (BuNo 0320, as modeled, and BuNo 0339), 2 Brewster F2A Buffalos (Here and here), 2 Vought SBU Vindicators(BuNo 0738 and BuNo 1352), 2 Northrop BT-1 trainer aircraft (BuNo 0633 and another unknown BuNo), and (perhaps on) 1 Vought O3U Corsair (no, not that Vought Corsair). While these complex camouflages were never implemented, some important lessons were learned: (1) flat paint finishes were preferable to gloss ones, and (2), differences in colors on an aircraft (i.e. gray and blue) tended to stand out against the ocean and sky, making a multi-color camouflage undesirable for Navy use.

Devastators on the USS Yorktown
TBD-1 Devastators of VT-5, from the USS Yorktown.
Tail Number 5-T-5 in this photo might be BuNo 0320.
Taken June 1940.

TBD BuNo 0320 was painted in Barclay Scheme No. 7, and another one (BuNo 0339) was given Scheme No. 8. I'm not entirely sure what happened to BuNo 0320 immediately after this testing, but at some point it was assigned to the USS Lexington as part of VT-2 and went down with the Lexington when she was scuttled during the Battle of the Coral Sea. In early March 2018, an expedition funded by Paul Allen discovered the wreck of the Lexington and with it at least 7 Devastators. It is quite likely that one of these is BuNo 0320, though I have been unable to determine which numerical markings were used by BuNo 0320 while with VT-2.

The Scale Model

This kit, while very well detailed out-of-box, is hard to unequivocally recommend due to significant fit and placement issues that cannot be completely blamed on builder ineptitude. A significant amount of putty was needed to fill a sizable gap between the upper wing parts and fuselage, and the lower wing part was much flatter than the bottom of the fuselage to where it was supposed to attach. Furthermore, the landing gear struts did not set nicely within the wings; rather than attaching against the inside of the upper wing, they were supposed to have been glued to the side of a hole in the lower wing surface. I ended up scratch-building a sort of pylon to bridge the gap between the upper wing and landing gear strut.

Despite these shortcomings, it's a decent kit (if you're patient and have putty). I also took this opportunity to try out some masking and airbrushing techniques. The cockpit masking technique was adapted from this video, using Tamiya masking tape. The airbrushed camouflage was masked using silly putty, as premade masks do not exist for Barclay scheme No. 7 (though there is one available in 1/48 scale for scheme No. 8) and I'm not quite ready to freehand airbrush camouflage. An imgur album of the scale model and reference photo is available here.

[1] Doll, Thomas E. The Douglas TBD Devastator, Aircraft in Profile Number 171. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1967.
[2] Adcock, Al. TBD Devastator in Action, Aircraft Number 97. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1989.
[3] Tillman, Barrett. TBD Devastator Units of the U.S. Navy, Combat Aircraft Vol. 20. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2000.
[4] The Internet

May 2018

Douglas TBD-1 Devastator BuNo 0320