Wearing the latest Navy camouflage, carrying a tremendous bombload, the Curtiss Helldiver shook hands with the enemy, made her official debut on November 11 at Rabaul Island.
A squadron of Helldivers, which made the decisive raid, is credited with sinking a cruiser and a destroyer, probably sinking another cruiser, heavily damaging another cruiser and probably damaging a second destroyer.
After the attack, in which more than 28,000 pounds of bombs were dropped, the Helldivers sped back to their carrier, utilizing all available clouds and rain squall cover. As they pulled out of their dives, the dive bombers' most vulnerable moment, the enemy fighters attacked again. Many Helldivers escaped without being engaged at all. The remainder had to fight their way out and accomplished this without loss, destroying three Zeros and damaging one in the process. Stanley E Wallace, USNR, Aviation Radioman Third Class, rearseatman in one Helldiver, shot down two enemy fighters with one machine gun. W O Haynes, Aviation Radioman First Class, USN, another rearseatman, shot down one plane.
Only two Helldivers were lost out of the attacking group and these were forced to make water landings near their carrier because of exhaustion of their gasoline supply. All personnel was saved.
The attack on Rabaul a powerful Jap stronghold second only to Truk in the Pacific marked part of the current American offensive directed at that base which the Tokyo radio admitted would decide immediately "the victor and the vanquished in the South Pacific battle."
Designed by Curtiss-Wright engineers in response to the Navy's demand for a super dive bomber that would carry a greater bombload faster and farther than any similar aircraft type in the world, the Helldiver is a two-place, all-metal, low-mid-wing monoplane. Powered with a high-output Wright Cyclone engine, equipped with a three-bladed Curtiss electric "full-feathering" prop, it possesses plenty of striking power.
The Helldiver incorporates all the advances, combat lessons learned about dive bombing in the current conflict. In the words of a current Navy announcement, the ship "gives the Navy the speed and range it has been seeking for its aerial Sunday punch." Possessing maximum striking power at extreme range, it is fast enough to keep up with the Navy's speed new fighter escorts and thus hit the enemy with a maximum of surprise.
Commenting on how Curtiss-Wright had worked closely with Navy experts in developing the new Helldiver, Guy Vaughan, president of Curtiss-Wright Curtiss recalled how Curtiss engineers had designed the first Navy plane to be built specifically for dive bombing and carrier service when the Navy was evolving this novel attack technique between 1927 and 1930. The original dive bomber, designated the Curtiss F8C and called Helldiver (after a small quick-diving bird also known as the Dabchick), was a biplane, had a 425-hp engine, carried one 500-pound bomb and had a speed of 151 mph.
The US Navy pioneered dive bombing, but it took the Germans and the Japs to copy and to demonstrate how destructive this technique of attack really is. Our own American dive bombers, however, have more than held their own by demonstrating their prowess in this war, in the Coral Sea, at Midway, at Guadalcanal, at Munda and in the latest Rabaul attack.
The initial design of the new Helldiver was completed just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As a result of combat experience, the Navy suggested changes to make it a greater fighting machine. Curtiss completely redesigned combat equipment and combat loading feature; 150 pounds of armor plate were added behind the pilot and around the gunner; self-sealing fuel tanks and protected fuel and oil lines were installed.
Production of the new Helldiver was pushed at full speed but revisions in its construction continued as a result of combat experience on various war fronts. Exhaustive tests and improvements which normally would have required a period of two or three years were crowded into one year on production models. Final changes had to be made even while the plane was in service. Between June, 194, when the first production model was tested, and November, 1943, 889 major design changes were made which in turn brought thousands of minor changes.
Curtiss engineers introduced a startling innovation in dive-bomber design by housing the bomb load entirely within the belly of the fuselage, thereby making the lines of the fuselage bottom as aerodynamically clean as possible.
The Helldiver completes the Navy's new aerial attack team of Vought Corsair, Grumman Hellcat fighter and Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber. All four planes incorporate the lessons of modern warfare taught by battle experience since Pearl Harbor, will play increasingly important roles as we intensify our drive on Japan.
This article was originally published in the March, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 2, pp 26-27, 69.
The original article includes 4 photos.
Photos credited to Curtiss-Wright, Acme.