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SBD 2106—Combat Experienced

4 September 2019

The most historical aircraft in the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM) is their Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless from Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 241—aircraft Bureau Number 2106. No replica, it is a survivor of the Battle of Midway, and not by much, receiving 200+ bullet and cannon holes when attacking the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu. On that momentous mission the flight crew was 1st Lt Daniel Iverson, Jr (pilot) and PFC Wallace J Reid (radio/gunner). Their flight plan underscored how desperate the initial Battle of Midway actions were. VMSB 241 received their SBDs only two weeks prior, transitioning from Vought SB2U Vindicators, and their repainting from pre war neutrality colors was incomplete, as well. Yellow and red paint bleed-through was present but not enough to ruin the camouflage’s effectiveness. In order to save weight, paint is usually removed when changing livery but time would not permit a through procedure. Iverson and Reid then flew into harm’s way, with their mates, having no dive bomb training in the Dauntless. The order of the day would have to be attack by glide bombing, not the steep 70º dive bombing flight profiles well within the Dauntless’s capability—this would soon have ramifications.

VMSB 241, led my Major Lofton Henderson, found the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) aircraft carrier Hiryu and attacked directly. Without fighter escort they were immediately, ferociously, set upon by the Hiryu’s CAP fighters, Mitsubishi A6M Zeros—each possessing twin 7.7mm machine guns and a pair of 20mm cannon. Major Henderson was killed in this action shortly after his Dauntless’s left wing was set ablaze—SBD-2 models had no self-sealing fuel tanks nor armor save the seat backs. Aflame, he continued to lead the attack, knowing the strategic and tactical importance of disabling, or killing, this aircraft carrier. Henderson Field on Guadalcanal would later be named in his honor for his selfless deed.

The lack of fighter escort and the shallow dive bombing angles gave the Hiryu’s fighters what must have been an eternity of time to attack the Marine Dauntlesses. 2106 had a pair of Zeros alternately firing upon them during the attack run-in and dive with no less than four during their egress. Somehow, none of the 200+ rounds found the fuel tanks, crew or engine. Iverson returned to Midway with a forced one main wheel landing due to a single bullet lodging itself, jamming solid the left main gear mechanism. Incredibly, both Iverson and Reid were only slightly wounded and flew the next day on the strike against the IJN cruisers Mogami and Mikuma. 2106 was nicknamed “Midway Madness” after the action. Iverson would not survive the war, lost to a midair collision during training over Vero Beach FL while Reid would survive World War II to be killed in action leading an assault on Hill 342 in the fighting along the Pusan Perimeter early in the Korean War.

The recovery and restoration honors these two men, those combatants in the Battle of Midway and all those in the U.S. Navy in the best of traditions. It is there to be seen and to be felt…the very machine, the sole surviving machine, which was flown well into harm’s way during the defense of the United States in a most perilous time.

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 on Midway after its forced landing due to damage sustained during the attack (most in the photo likely from 7.7mm machine gun fire) on the IJN Hiryu (note the open hatch of the life raft compartment)—USN image

More evidence of 2106’s damage (note the larger holes likely from 20mm cannon fire)—USN image

The aircraft was cycled back to the U.S. where it was used in the aircraft carrier qualifications of pilots on Lake Michigan. It was lost to the lake in a non-casualty mishap on 11 June 1943 when the pilot missed the approach and clipped the left wing on the water. 2106 sat serenely on the bottom for decades until A and T Recovery brought her to the surface in 1994 to be restored by the NNAM.

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” in the National Naval Aviation Museum (note the remaining pre-war neutrality paint on the starboard wing root)—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” in the National Naval Aviation Museum, spectacularly, in better than new condition—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” in the National Naval Aviation Museum, spectacularly, in better than new condition—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” in the National Naval Aviation Museum—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” in the National Naval Aviation Museum (note the pre-war neutrality paint on vertical stabilizer and red stripes bleed-through on the rudder)—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” in the National Naval Aviation Museum (note the pre-war neutrality paint on vertical stabilizer and red stripes bleed-through on the rudder)—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless 2106 “Midway Madness” with her iconic split dive flaps deployed in the National Naval Aviation Museum—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Mickeen Hogan builds intricate and emotive yet almost impossibly small (1:700 scale) aircraft models and he’s produce this excellent example which fits nicely on a quarter. It is his interpretation of 2106 after returning from the Hiryu attack to Midway well holed and with bent left wing due to its forced landing. He uses Starfighter Decals for accuracy as well as to bring more life to the presentation. Poetically, he completed the battle damaged presentation of SBD 2106 on the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway—4 June 2017.

As SBD 2106 would have looked on the flight deck of the USS Lexington (CV-2) prior to transfer to Midway and in pre World War II neutrality colors—in 1:700 scale—©2019 Mickeen Hogan image

Neatly on a 25 cent piece sits a model of SBD 2106 in 1:700 scale—©2019 Mickeen Hogan image

Detail of the battle damage interpretation—©2019 Mickeen Hogan

Representation of 2106’s bent left wing after its force landing upon return to Midway—Mickeen Hogan

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References

Dauntless in Peace and War: A Preliminary Archeological and Historical Documentation of Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless BuNo 2106, Midway Madness by Richard K. Wills, 1997, Naval Historical Center (now Naval Heritage and History Command)/Underwater Archeology Branch, Washington DC

The Great Navy Birds of Lake Michigan: The True Story of the Privateers of Lake Michigan and the Aircraft they Rescued, Taras C. Lyssenko, 2019, ISBN, 978-1-63499-143-8, 160 pp.

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