In the early 1930s, as the threat of war loomed, the U.S. Government asked Grumman to build a weapon to counter the threat posed by the German Navy’s Heinkel He-111 bomber. Grumman responded by building a large number of TBF Avengers.

The Goshawk was a Grumman-designed aircraft developed during World War II. The aircraft was a replacement for the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, with a long range and a single seat with a larger payload. It was a fast, powerful aircraft that served a variety of roles, including a torpedo bomber and a scout. But what exactly does the Avenger have to do with the Grumman Goshawk?

“The Grumman TBF Avenger was an American aircraft that served during World War II. Its primary mission was to be a torpedo bomber used to carry out successful day or night attacks against enemy ships, primarily by aircraft carrier-based aircraft. It was also used for anti-submarine warfare.. Read more about avenger torpedo bomber crew and let us know what you think.

The Avenger torpedo bomber, built by Grumman, was the largest single-engine aircraft in World War II and the last of its kind. It helped the Allies win the war.

The torpedo bomber, like the barrage balloon and the assault glider, is a weapon that will never be seen again. Although the Exocet’s destiny had been determined almost four decades before, the 1982 Falklands War demonstrated that ship-killing missiles like the Exocet could do more than a whole air wing of World War II torpedo bombers. They’d be able to complete their job at near-supersonic speeds from a safe distance. Nobody needs aircraft that launch underwater motorboats while flying at the speed of a fast automobile anymore.

From 1940 until late 1942, the torpedo bomber was at its peak, torpedoing German capital ships and whole Italian fleets in the European theater while the Japanese lost their prized aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Despite this, the Grumman TBF Avenger, the best torpedo bomber ever flown in any conflict, had a long and illustrious career. As surface ship targets dwindled, Aven­gers began dropping more bombs than torpedoes, and the plane took on new roles as WWII progressed, including anti-submarine hunter-killer, convoy guardian, close air support attack aircraft, radar platform, airborne early-warning sentry, long-range reconnaissance patroller, and, finally, carrier onboard delivery truck. The huge Grumman was able to get away with it because of its large bomb bay, extremely roomy cabin, numerous seats, and superb performance.

This beast of an aircraft was a supersized version of the F4F Wildcat, but it may not have been apparent. Both were strong midwing, barrel-bodied hell for heavy aircraft with unexpected performance while being regarded as underpowered. Grumman’s unique Sto-Wing technology, which allows an aircraft to fold its wings across its body like a bird, was introduced to carrier aviation with the Avenger. Starting with the F4F-4 variant, Sto-Wings were rapidly installed on the Wildcat. They reduced the wingspan of the Avenger from 54 feet 2 inches to little over 18 feet, eliminating the requirement for more overhead space on a carrier’s hangar deck.

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber Left: Leroy Grumman demonstrates how he came up with the Avenger’s unique folding Sto-Wings with an eraser and paper clips. In mid-1943, an aircraft captain on board an escort carrier inspects the landing gear of a Grumman TBF-1. (Cradle of Aviation Museum on the left; Naval History and Heritage Command on the right)

The Sto-Wing was created by Leroy Grumman using a draftsman’s eraser to depict a fuselage and paper clips to mimic wings. He devised a skewed axis, a fixed pivot point on the wing root that enabled the Avenger’s wings to rotate and fold at the same time. Up to the E-2 Hawkeye, the Sto-Wing was a characteristic of numerous Grumman aircraft.

Though the Sto-creator Wing’s is obvious, identifying the Avenger’s designer is more challenging. Some claim Roy Grumman, while others cite William Schwendler, the company’s cofounder and principal engineer. Engineer Robert Hall, a former air racer and creator of the Granville Brothers Gee Bees, seems to have been the guy in the trenches. Hall was an all-rounder who flew the Avenger for the first time on August 7, 1941. 

The Avenger was the largest single-engine aircraft built by any belligerent during WWII, with a maximum takeoff weight of 17,893 pounds. It lifted just over 400 pounds more than the heaviest P-47 Thunderbolt. A 2,000-pound torpedo or four 500-pound bombs were carried in the Avenger’s bomb bay.

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber In June 1944, a TBM-1 prepares to launch from the light carrier Monterey to strike objectives on Tinian. (Naval History and Heritage Command) (Naval History and Heritage Command) (Naval History and Heritage Command

The joke among pilots was that the Avenger was so hefty that it could fall quicker than it could fly. This was certainly true during takeoffs from escort carriers. The Avengers had to be launched, but the catapult aboard an escort carrier was just 45 feet long, and the ship’s highest wind speed was 19 knots. Turret gunner James Gander remembered, “We’d come off the catapult at 90 knots—barely flying speed.” “When we exited the deck, we would slow down until we got our speed up.” The plane’s sluggish performance in compared to the Wildcat earned it the moniker “Turkey” among escort carrier personnel.

The Avenger didn’t have any ammunition hardpoints beneath its wings, but it did receive launch rails for HVARs—high-velocity aircraft rockets—four per wing. They were powerful missiles, capable of delivering the firepower of a destroyer’s broadside to the aircraft. In reality, the rockets often carried hefty, solid-metal warheads that were intended to pierce a submarine’s hull using just the force of inertia. Despite the unguided nature of the rockets, Avenger pilots soon learned how to dig destructive HVARs deep into Japanese caves. 

The most prevalent misconception about the Avenger is that it initially appeared in public on December 7, 1941, and was given its retaliatory moniker on that day. In reality, the aircraft was called in early October, two months before any plans to avenge Pearl Harbor were announced. The first Avenger went into production on January 3, 1942, making it the first new American aircraft design to join the war.

Its first combat appearance was a flop. On June 4, 1942, six TBF-1s from torpedo squadron VT-8 attacked the Japanese fleet after being relayed from the carrier Hornet to Midway Atoll. Only one made it back, shot to bits, with the turret gunner killed and the radioman injured. The Navy started to have second thoughts about the new torpedo aircraft it had purchased.

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber On June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway, this TBF-1 was the only survivor of an assault by six Avengers from torpedo squadron VT-8. (Naval History and Heritage Command) (Naval History and Heritage Command) (Naval History and Heritage Command

The large Avenger, on the other hand, rapidly recovered as its pilots acquired expertise. Avengers destroyed the light carrier Ryujo and the battleship Hiei three months later in the Battles of the Eastern Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal. In the Pacific and Atlantic, Avengers were responsible for the sinking of 12 carriers, six battleships (including the superships Yamato and Musashi), 19 cruisers, 25 destroyers, and 30 submarines.

GM, not Grumman, produced the majority of the Avengers. GM has set up an Eastern Aircraft subsidiary with five vacant automobile plants in the Northeast. When Grumman became overburdened with the requirement to produce the new F6F Hellcat, it took over Avenger manufacturing. Grumman produced almost 3,000 TBFs, whereas General Motors produced 7,500 TBMs. (If you think M for Motors, you’ll never mix them up.)

In his book TBF/TBM Avenger, David Doyle stated, “What followed was the collision of two universes.” “GM began out thinking it would be a spectacle… Grumman figured out how to mass-produce aircraft. Grumman began with the belief that GM would be fortunate if it could build even one aircraft. GM was more incorrect than correct. Grumman was more correct than incorrect.” 

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber

Automobiles and aircraft are both complicated machinery, but their manufacturing needs are radically different. Cars could be mass-produced in the thousands on continuous manufacturing lines, while aircraft were built in a stop-and-go fashion. Weight wasn’t a big issue in pre-EPA automobiles, but it was critical in aircraft. Aircraft tolerances were stringent, while automobiles could cope with panel gaps of a quarter-inch. Aerial modifications were popular, while vehicle modifications were uncommon.

Grumman aided the process by sending the “P-K aircraft” to Eastern, a TBF built completely with Parker-Kalon sheet-metal screws, allowing the plane to be dismantled and reassembled until GM’s operators got it right.

The Avenger was unusual in because it had a Grumman-designed electrically powered gun turret rather than one purchased from Sperry, Bendix, Erco, or other experts. These turrets were either mechanically or hydraulically driven, and their movement was less than accurate. Oscar Olsen, the company’s only electrical engineer, came up with the concept of utilizing amplidynes—electromechanical amplifiers typically employed to spin large naval gun turrets—to build the Grumman turret. Amplidynes, which GE miniaturized at Olsen’s request, proved to be effective at delivering fast and constant movement for the Avenger’s large “goldfish bowl,” as gunners dubbed it. When Olsen informed Bill Schwendler about his concept, Schwendler expressed his optimism that it would work since otherwise the aircraft would have a four-foot hole in it with nothing to put into it.

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber During operations in the central Pacific, a TBF-1C of VT-6 snags a wire onboard the Intrepid. (PF-[Aircraft]/Alamy)

Behind a set of spade handles, an Avenger turret gunner didn’t pound away at the adversary as in a comic book. He sat next to his.50-caliber machine gun, its breech close to his left ear, using a pistol-grip handle to control the turret’s motion and the gun’s firing. 

Paul Newman, who entered the Navy with the intention of becoming a pilot but failed the pre-flight medical due to color blindness, ended up playing a radioman and gunner in the Avengers. Flight doctors have never been able to explain how Newman went on to gain worldwide renown as a car racer in a sport that largely relies on colorful signal lights and flags. Newman, although being referred to as a turret gunner, was in charge of the single ventral.30-caliber stinger mount from his rear fuselage position.

The stinger gunner is said to have shot from a standing, kneeling, or prone posture, according to different accounts. We invited the curator of the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, which is 10 minutes away from the original TBF plant, to get inside the museum’s rebuilt Avenger and tell us what he thought. Joshua Stoff responded, “The gunner would have sat with his legs straddling the cannon, or perhaps kneeling.” “He couldn’t have stood, and I don’t see how he could have raised and depressed the pistol if he was laying down. In any case, the gunner’s sight was limited—only down and to the rear. Even with all the radio equipment installed, the belly is fairly spacious for one person.”

Yes, there’s plenty of space. Some Avengers were flown between naval air bases and neighboring party towns as squadron hacks. Wellington Smith, a “designated driver,” holds the record for packing 17 pilots and himself into a TBM for a trip from Holtville, Calif., to adjacent Naval Air Facility El Centro.

As the Avengers began to strike ground targets later in the war, radiomen/gunners were removed from flying crews. They were exposed to even rifle fire from the ground, trapped in the unarmored belly, and the death and injury rate for radiomen skyrocketed. 

The gunner entered the turret from below, climbing into the fishbowl from the radioman’s compartment while looking forward, then wriggling about in the seat to face aft while navigating a hefty piece of armor. Bailing out included the gunner locating his parachute in the compartment below and attaching it to his harness, pushing the large entrance door open against the slipstream, and leaping out alongside the radioman. Neither crew member had enough room to wear a chute, but the pilot did. Pilots, predictably, typically survived a bailout whereas crewmembers perished with the ship. Many Avenger crew members claim they have never heard of a turret gunner jumping off successfully. 

Early Avengers featured a seat between the cockpit and the turret, with a few of them equipped with rudimentary flying controls, although it was seldom used in battle unless accompanied by a photographer or observer. The area was quickly taken up by heavy 1940s radios and radar equipment, but most restored Avengers now use the third seat for passengers.

George H.W. Bush, the future president, was the most renowned Avenger pilot in history. The 6-foot-2 Bush, who was just 18 and a high school graduate (he would attend Yale until after the war), was one of the Navy’s tallest pilots and for a long time thought to be its youngest aviator, a distinction that really went to Charles Downey.

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber On the light carrier San Jacinto, Lieutenant (j.g.) George H.W. Bush sits in the cockpit of his TBM-1C Barbara III, named for his future wife, Barbara Pierce. (Presidential Library and Museum of George W. Bush)

Bush was a fantastic pilot, according to all reports. On the short-decked light carrier San Jacinto, he accumulated 1,228 hours of Avenger experience, flew 58 combat missions, and set 126 successful traps. Because all WWII carriers had straight decks, once an Avenger pilot decided to land, he either snagged a wire—of which there were only three aboard San Jacinto—or crashed into the crash barrier at the bow. Using the heavy-duty net often resulted in collisions with airplanes parked just beyond it. A bolter, or go-around, was not available, as it is on a contemporary, angled-deck carrier.

The safest method for picking up the no. 2 wire on small carriers was to slam an Avenger down onto the aft elevator, which “tilted the elevator forward and resulted in a four- or five-inch ‘curb’ for the wheels to hit,” according to author Barrett Tillman. A blown tire or two was often the consequence.

Barbara, Barbara II, and Barbara III were Bush’s three TBMs. After losing oil pressure during a catapult launch and being refused permission to re-land by a landing signal officer busy collecting other Avengers, he safely abandoned the first one. He jumped out when the Barbara II’s engine was damaged and caught fire on September 2, 1944, while bombing a well-defended radio station on the small island of Chichi Jima. He lost his crew this time, a truth that would haunt him for the rest of his life. 

Early in 1943, the British Fleet Air Arm eagerly embraced the Aven­ger, allowing renowned Royal Navy test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown the chance to fly it regularly. Brown discovered that the Avenger’s only aeronautical flaw was that it spun quickly and dangerously if anti-spin controls weren’t used promptly. (Intentional spins were prohibited on the aircraft.)

A steep glide-bomb approach was needed when bombing with an Avenger. Brown described the withdrawal as a “two-handed, somewhat frenzied operation,” with one hand tugging “with all its might” and the other furiously retrimming. The Avenger, on the other hand, “stabilized nearly instantly, a feature that was essential if a clean and precise drop was to be achieved.” “Extremely simple…about as easy as that tough art is ever going to be,” Brown said of carrier landings from a very steady 78-knot approach with excellent sight over the nose.

Many Avengers were equipped with Norden bombsights, which were quickly shown to be ineffective. The Norden was designed for high-altitude, level bombing, and it couldn’t handle the slant ranges it was given. The Navy continued to equip Avengers with dead-weight Nordens because to bureaucracy and inertia, and three-quarters of Norden manufacturing went to the maritime service. The bombsights were connected to a Stabilized Bombing Approach Equipment autopilot system, which Avenger pilots discovered they could utilize on extended flights to avoid the uncomfortably heavy flying controls.

The multitasking radioman/ventral gunner on an Avenger was also supposed to be the plane’s bombardier. A tiny, slanted window at the front end of his tight cabin looked into the dark bomb bay. The window offered a view down and forward, between the bomb racks, when the bay doors opened. If a torpedo was deployed, all that could be seen was the top of the tin fish. As a result, torpedo drops were controlled by the pilot, who used a “torpedo director”—a reflector gunsight—atop the instrument panel to keep track of his direction, velocity, altitude, and distance to the target.

Although the crewman in the belly compartment had in-flight access to the bomb bay and could alter the torpedo’s depth setting, only the pilot could manage torpedo release. The bomb-bay doors could be opened manually or electrically by either the pilot or the bombardier. The release switch for the torpedo was located on top of the pilot’s joystick. A manual T-handle emergency release was also available.

The bombardier and his magical Norden, seeing via that aslant window, were meant to be in charge of the bombing. The bombardier was also in charge of arming the explosives before to their detonation and programming the intervalometer, which regulated the time of the four bombs’ detonation. They could all be dropped at the same time, but spacing them out provided better coverage and a higher probability of at least one bomb striking a tiny target.

The story of Mission 19, five TBMs that embarked on a basic bombing and navigation training flight over the Atlantic on December 5, 1945, was the Avenger’s most media-worthy moment. Take off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, fly straight east and drop some practice bombs, turn north and fly for a bit, turn due west till you reach the United States coast, turn south and land back at Fort Lauderdale. With the whole state of Florida to hit, three left turns are required.

Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber During a training flight from Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia, in 1942, an Avenger drops a Mark 13 with a plywood tail shroud. (Naval History and Heritage Command) (Naval History and Heritage Command) (Naval History and Heritage Command

The Grummans were flying over the Bahamas, as they should have been, but the pilots mistook the islands for the Florida Keys for unexplained reasons. It didn’t help that they were flying a simple time-speed-distance exercise, but the clocks had been stolen from each of Flight 19’s Avengers—a frequent act of pilferage by individuals with access to cockpits, since eight-day aircraft clocks were easily detachable and made good mementos.

Flight 19 ended up flying northwest from the Keys, which they mistook for the Florida Keys. The 13-man crew of a Martin PBM-5 Mariner went out to hunt for the five aircraft and 14 crewmen vanished forever into the Atlantic. The gas-heavy PBM was believed to have suffered the effects of a fuel leak when a truck passing in the region reported a big explosion in the distance. The Avengers’ disappearance has never been established conclusively, but they most likely ran out of fuel.

In a 1952 Florida magazine article on the disappearance of Flight 19, the author speculated that they were victims of the Bermuda Triangle, a mysterious plane-eating, ship-sinking stretch of water. As a result, the Avenger became associated with some of the world’s most famous conspiracy theories, alien abduction schemes, and tinfoil hat musings.

The Douglas A-1 Skyraider—the legendary Spad of the Vietnam War—was the Navy’s last torpedo bomber. Early in the Korean War, on May 2, 1951, eight Skyraiders launched the world’s last-ever surface torpedo assault on the Hwacheon Dam. The dam was struck by seven Mark 13 torpedoes, seven of which detonated, disabling the structure for the remainder of the war.

It was the end of an era for sure.  


Contributing editor Stephan Wilkinson suggests reading Avenger at War, TBF/TBM Avenger, David Doyle’s TBF/TBM Avenger, Joe Hyams’ Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War, and Looking Backward: Don Banks – One TBF Turret Gunner’s Story, by Stephen A. Banks.

This article first published in the September edition of Aviation History in 2023. Don’t miss a single issue by subscribing now!


Grumman’s TBF Avenger was the best — and the most versatile — American torpedo bomber of World War II. The aircraft was so formidable that it carried out bombing missions against targets all over the globe. The Avenger also served as the primary escort for the Avenger-escort squadrons that protected B-17s and B-24s over Europe and the Pacific.. Read more about grumman tbf avenger for sale and let us know what you think.

No, the TBF Avenger was not a dive bomber."}},{"@type":"Question","name":"What is the difference between a TBF Avenger and a TBM Avenger?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":" The TBF Avenger is a single-shot, break-open action shotgun that fires 12 gauge shells. The TBM Avenger is a pump-action shotgun that fires 20 gauge shells."}},{"@type":"Question","name":"Who made the TBF Avenger?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":" The TBF Avenger was made by the United States Navy."}}]}

Frequently Asked Questions

Was the TBF Avenger a dive bomber?

No, the TBF Avenger was not a dive bomber.

What is the difference between a TBF Avenger and a TBM Avenger?

The TBF Avenger is a single-shot, break-open action shotgun that fires 12 gauge shells. The TBM Avenger is a pump-action shotgun that fires 20 gauge shells.

Who made the TBF Avenger?

The TBF Avenger was made by the United States Navy.

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