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TBDs locatable but recoverable?

21 September 2020

Douglas TBD Devastators aren’t rare birds in the World’s museums—as none exist—not even a single one. Overall it was an unremarkable aircraft and outdated by the time it flew into combat during World War II, but flew it did, and by remarkably dedicated naval aviators who ventured into their personal maelstroms without edge or advantage through flak and against fighters. Entering into this combat because the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had to be put back on its heels.

Desperately so.

Others would follow on with knock out punches—probably—hopefully.

Who knows the thoughts in their minds at the time?

More than likely they may have simply thought it time to just get it done, as people tend to think when taking part in events of immense import.

Dismiss the events and concentrate on the mission.

It is sad none of these aircraft surviving this battle, as well as the Battle of Midway, were kept. That story has too often been repeated with other aircraft, as well, instead becoming other aircraft if not, ignobly, pots and pans.

But some have been found in Davy Jones’s Locker and in conditions more than worthy of recovery. Two have been located by A and T Recovery where Taras Lyssenko* has used his marathon endurance and drive, in concert with the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation for the National Naval Aviation Museum, against the perpetually stymying efforts of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Many posts have been written about this dilemma in this blog—the search window will guide you to them.

Paul Allen (who passed on October 2018) organized and funded the search which located the USS Lexington (CV-2) . Recall, the Lexington was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea during May of 1942 along with the USS Yorktown. This battle is the first capital ship fight not involving battleships miles apart, instead aviators attacking one another’s flat tops separated by hundreds of miles. When she sank she did so on an even keel taking much of her aircraft compliment with her—both on the flight deck as well as the hangar deck.

Mickeen Hogan has been reviewing material, comparing records, and asking questions regarding the Lexington’s aircraft which have been video recorded by Paul Allen’s crew of the R/V Petrel. Mickeen has developed an intriguing idea based upon the preserved status of these aircraft—providentially, 3000 meters of cold, oxygen deprived water does wonders keeping the aircrafts’ metal and paint intact.

His idea, as you have guessed, is to recover them. These are aircraft which would not only be rare displays but are historic gems as well (either by flying into this significant battle or having been flown by famed aviators). For example:

  • Douglas TBD Devastator BuNo 0345: flown by Squadron Commander James Brett (TS 2) scoring a hit on the carrier IJN Shoho—video indicated the aircraft to be intriguingly intact.
  • A Grumman F4F Wildcat flown by naval ace Butch O’Hare for a famous photo shoot.

These are only two specific aircraft that Mickeen has identified amongst several. There are many more strewn about the ship and her resting place about 500 miles off Australia, with most in excellent condition, which together could yield a mighty handful of museum displays.

It is obvious that this is rich ground for historical as well as rare aircraft recovery. The Navy cannot do it but Mickeen has ideas, so fingers crossed for him. Having a few Devastators in prime museums would be the most fantastic way to honor those brave aviators flying unescorted into harm’s way, too low and too slow making history possible—the crippling and sinking of IJN aircraft carriers which had, until then, had the run of the Pacific Ocean.

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*Taras Lyssenko has an exciting book about his aircraft recoveries, tales of humanity as well as working with and against bureaucracies in a book the publisher has difficulties in keeping with its demand. The book’s title is, The Great Navy Birds of Lake Michigan: the True Story of the Privateers of Lake Michigan and the Aircraft They Rescued. Read about how former boys from Chicago’s dubious south side systematically found and recovered dozens of World War II aircraft (some Class I historic). These aircraft are now on display in dozens of museums and other public places across the globe. They even found a World War I German submarine!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick Veronico permalink
    21 September 2020 00:52

    This report is intriguing. Would love to see some of these historic aircraft recovered, restored, and displayed. Would be nice to see one in the air, too!
    Thanks for these details.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      21 September 2020 09:57

      You’re welcome. They are sitting there in great condition–just waiting…

  2. 30 September 2020 11:32

    Given the historical value of the aircraft, it is surprising that the USN does not take more interest in recovering those for preservation. Costly, but the long term value and experience their recovery would provide exceeds the financial loss. Fingers are very crossed that they take action rather than let these aircraft disintegrate.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      1 October 2020 08:42

      That would be in the Underwater Archeology Branch (UAB) of the Naval History and Heritage Command‘S house. They are infamous for inaction and stopping action. They’ve been addressed in a few of my blog posts. Otherwise I agree entirely with you.

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