World War II: Naval Aircraft

World War II American dive bombers
Figure 1.--The out-gunned U.S. Pacific Fleet, even before new advanced aircraft types arrived, managed to cut the heart out of the Imperial Japanese First Air Fleet, sinking four of their six first-line carriers at Midway (June 1942). (The other two were put out of action at the Coral Sea.) These are the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers thant sank the Japanese carriers at Midway. We are not sure what carrier air group this was.

For the first time in naval warfare, aircraft played an important role. A major aspect of the War was that the carrier replaced the battleships as the key capital ship. And the carrier was nothing more than a floating airfield capable of moving aircraft in range of enemy fleet formations and land targets. Only three countries (America, Britain, and Japan) built and deployed carriers. The Germans had plans to do so, but military reverses precented them from doing so. The Japanese began the War with the most effective carrier aircraft, especially the elegant, but lightly armored A6M Mitsubishi Zero (1941). The Japanese did not design aircraft specifically for carrier use, but rather adapted aircraft for multiple uses. The Japanese because of their limited industrial capacity did not introduce new advance aircraft types. Their pilots were still using the Zero when the climatic naval battles were fought (1944). Britain began the War still using the venerable Fairey Swordfish biplane. It was the United States which created a remarkable series of aircraft specifically designed for carriers. These planes combined with new fast carriers suceeded within only 3 years swept the Japanese from the skies over the Pacific. The Pacific Fleet began the War with the rugged, but slow F4F Wildcat fighter. It was vulnerable to the faster Zero, but tactics were developed which reduced the Japanese advantage. It was the F6F Hellcat that transformed the Pacific War. American aviators in Hellcats destoyed over 5,000 Japanese planes. The Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers ravaged the Japanese carriers at Midway. The Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber played a major role in the crucial Battle of the Philippine Sea. [Sears] The fork-winged Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair was another powerful fighter, but took time to develop carrier usage.


Sears, David. Pacific Air: How fearless Flyboys, Peeerless Aircraft, and Fast Flattops Conquered the Skies in the War with Japan.


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Created: 7:53 AM 8/5/2011
Last updated: 7:53 AM 8/5/2011