Designed in 1938, the SBD ‘Dauntless’ became one of the best-known US naval aircraft of World War II. Considered obsolete when American entered World War II in late 1941, the SBD ended up sinking more enemy ships in the Pacific than any other Allied plane.
A total of 5,936 SBD’s were built by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation before the end of World War II, and the SBD would become the standard by which all other carrier-borne dive bombers would be judged.
The action that would cement the SBD’s place in history took place on June 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway when SBD’s from the USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise, and USS Hornet sank four of the largest and best aircraft carriers in the Japanese fleet, wiping out a large part of the cream of Japanese naval aviation.
It was a blow from which the Japanese Navy would never recover.
SBD’s took part in several attacks on Kwajalein Atoll during the war. The first one was on February 1, 1942, just under two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
SBD’s from the USS Enterprise (CV-6) attacked the airbase at Roi Island and shipping in the anchorage at Kwajalein Island.The second attack was on December 4, 1943 when a large carrier task force again struck Kwajalein Atoll, in a softening-up attack ahead of Operation Flintlock the following month. SBD’s were responsible for sinking a number of the vessels that now lie on the lagoon bottom.
Following Operation Flintlock, and until the end of the war, several squadrons operated SBD’s from both Kwajalein Island and Roi Island. They were responsible for striking targets on several islands and atolls which had been bypassed by American forces and still held Japanese garrisons.
Research shows dozens of SBD’s were stricken in February, March, April and June of 1945 by Combat Aircraft Service Unit (Forward) #20, which was the aircraft servicing unit stationed on Roi. Many of them were loaded onto barges and take out into the lagoon, and unceremoniously shoved into the water to take their place among other planes and war relics no longer needed.
The ‘aircraft graveyard’ near Mellu Island contains the wrecks of many SBD’s, by far the most of any aircraft type in the area. Some of the SBD’s are missing their wings, and all of are missing their engines. Several of them have propellers, engine cowling sections, and other spare parts and debris dumped in the cockpits.
The fact that so many SBD’s can be seen on the lagoon bottom, mixed in with other types of U.S. naval aircraft, means that Kwajalein Atoll offers a rare glimpse into World War II naval aviation which is not seen in any other dive location in the world.
Text by Dan Farnham
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