HISTORY OF THE TBF / TBM 'AVENGER' TYPE, AND MAAM'S TBM-3 'NUMBER 4'
The Avenger was Grumman's first torpedo aircraft, and its design had much in common with that of the Company's fighters - as its chunky and robust appearance testifies. The design and engineering team under W.T. Schwendler developed the aircraft very quickly - the order for two prototypes was placed on 8 April 1940 and the first Avengers went into service just over two years later.
The new plane first saw action on 4 June 1942 against the Japanese carrier striking force at the Battle of Midway - only six Avengers were involved, operating from Midway Island. They were forced to attack against overwhelming odds, and five of the six were shot down, the surviving plane returning to Midway severely damaged and with its gunner dead. However, the survival of this aircraft demonstrated the TBF's great toughness, and it was immediately apparent that its battle-worthiness justified its production in great numbers.
The Avenger rapidly displaced the obsolete Devastator aboard US carriers, and from the Guadalcanal landings in August 1942 until the end of the Pacific War it remained the only shipboard torpedo aircraft of the US Navy.
The US Navy's demands for Grumman production of the F6F Hellcat fighter led to manufacture of the Avenger being taken over by Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors - the GM-produced aircraft being designated the "TBM".
The Avenger took part in every carrier-versus-carrier battle and indeed almost all carrier operations from Midway onwards, working from every fast carrier and escort carrier of the Pacific Fleet. At Guadalcanal and in subsequent campaigns it was also active from land bases. For almost all of this time it operated as a bomber, and as a search and anti-submarine aircraft, rather than as a torpedo-plane. As a torpedo-plane it was initially hampered by the many serious defects in the American torpedoes. Moreover the crushing losses inflicted on their torpedo squadrons at the Battle of Midway left the United States Navy with little confidence in aerial torpedo attack, confidence which was only regained with the success of the Avengers at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Nonetheless, in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 1942, TBFs inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese battleship Hiei with torpedoes after she had been crippled by US surface forces. At Philippine Sea in June 1944, equipped with greatly improved torpedoes, Avengers hit the carrier Hiyo, which sank soon afterwards. In this respect they were more successful than the American dive-bombers at Philippine Sea, and this increased US Navy's emphasis on torpedo attack in subsequent operations.
In the Battle for Leyte Gulf the TBF / TBM achieved one of its most notable successes by sinking (with 19 torpedo hits) the Japanese battleship Musashi, which at 67,000 tons was one of the two largest warships in the world (the other being her sister ship Yamato). Later in the battle Avengers played an heroic and vital role in the desperate defense of the US escort carrier group "Taffy 3" which unexpectedly came under surface attack from the main Japanese force off Samar.
On 7 April 1945, during the Okinawa operation, Avengers of Task Force 58 played the main part in sinking the Yamato, formerly Admiral Yamamoto's flagship - hitting the huge battleship with ten or more torpedoes.
The Avenger's virtues, especially its ruggedness, reliability, and stability as a weapons platform, ensured it a remarkably long operational history. It in fact remained in service - as an anti-submarine and airborne early-warning aircraft - until 1954.
Jack Kosko was a Grumman TBM radio operator with torpedo squadron VT-23 aboard the USS Langley (CVL-27) fighting with Task Force 38 during the closing months of World War II.
Following the war Jack earned his pilot's certificate, met his wife, began a family and today heads up a successful business in the government contracting arena.
Like so many of his WW II counterparts, his service in the war left an indelible mark on him and the desire to someday own, restore and recreate "his" TBM, which was lost in a landing accident while coming aboard the Langley. That aircraft was subsequently pushed over the side, but today that airplane is as alive in Jack's mind as if it were just yesterday!
In 1996 Jack purchased a former Canadian Forrest Protection Service TBM "project" from an individual in Maine, transported the disassembled TBM to a farm in south central Pennsylvania, built a building in which to work and began the restoration of the former US Navy torpedo bomber.
Seven years later the big Grumman has come full circle and has completed its transition from C.F.P.S. tanker #9 back to US Navy Bureau No. 53638 and Jack's old tri-colored TBM #4 thanks to his determination and a crew of eighteen highly dedicated volunteers from the surrounding area.
Complete with original radios, tail hook, gun turret, diamond tread tires, "Stinger" gun and USS Langley markings, #4 is quite a sight to behold as Jack and his crew have spared nothing when it came to restoring the TBM to its original configuration.
Jack had previously approached the Mid Atlantic Air Museum to see if there was any interest in having the aircraft placed with the museum for display and to be flown to airshows. Later Jack made the decision to donate the aircraft to the museum rather than place it on long-term loan as originally proposed.
Weather permitting the TBM will be placed on a trailer and transported to the museum, most probably during February and then reassembled and avionics installed. Once the necessary FAA paperwork is accomplished an airworthiness certificate will be issued and the aircraft test flight program begun. It is hoped that the TBM will fly as early as sometime in May.
Somehow "Thank-you" just does not seem an adequate expression of the gratitude felt for a donation of as great a magnitude and significance as an aircraft like this one… however, thank you Jack, from the bottom of all of our museum member's hearts and THANK YOU for making the Mid Atlantic Air Museum's dream a part of yours!
On April 24th, 2003, Jack Kosko, who served aboard CVL-27, the carrier Langley, during WW II, as a radio operator gunner on Avenger torpedo bombers, saw a dream come full circle… a dream that we at the museum have come to share… when the TBM Avenger that Jack has been restoring for the past five years came to it's new Mid Atlantic Air Museum home.
Making the journey from Fawn Grove, PA, near the Pennsylvania / Maryland border, the TBM made the trip by trailer, getting stares from everyone it passed on its 80 mile journey. It is in the markings of Jack's aircraft, which was written off after a hard landing on the deck of the Langley.
Built by the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors in Trenton, New Jersey, the TBM, designed by Grumman Aviation, is a true "Mid-Atlantic" airplane. The addition of this warbird to our flying fleet is a real milestone. We are indeed indebted to Jack for his vision and generosity. We will be proud to honor those who served aboard the Langley, as well as those who designed, built and flew this magnificent aircraft by displaying and flying it in the years to come.
JACK KOSKO'S WARTIME DIARY
Click on the link (title, above) to read a segment from the diary kept by Jack Kosko, our Avenger's "Daddy", during the closing months of the war in the Pacific. Jack was a radio operator/gunner with Air Group 23 (Avengers and Hellcats) which relieved Air Group 44 aboard the light fleet carrier USS Langley (CVL-27) of Task Group 58.4. This was originally printed in the Letters To The Editor column of Air Classics Magazine in May, 2003.
History’s Youngest Naval Aviator: George H. W. Bush
The following article is extracted from APPROACH magazine, the Naval Aviation Safety Review, May 1990 in a special edition entitled “Reflections --Outstanding Naval Aviators Look Back."
An Interview with President George H. W. Bush
Many of America's presidents have served in the military; several have seen combat. However, George Bush is the first aviator to become president. His status is unique because, at the time he flew Grumman Avengers in 1944, he was one of the youngest Naval Aviators [history now records he was the youngest ever]. Twenty-year-old Lt jg. Bush flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific as a member of VT51 in USS San Jacinto (CVL30). During a strike against the Japanese held island of ChiChi Jima, he and his crew were shot down by flak and had to bail out. Lt jg. Bush was the only one to survive from his three-man crew. He was eventually rescued by the submarine USS Finback (SS230), but he did not return to VT51 until October 30, eight weeks after being shot down.
After rescuing Lt jg. Bush, and two other pilots and two air crewmen, Finback continued its war patrol. As an unexpected member of the submarine's crew, Bush experienced the claustrophobic existence of the Silent Service. Finback attacked Japanese shipping, and was also depth-charged by Japanese surface ships. He also helped out by censoring outgoing mail and standing night watches while the sub ran on the surface to recharge its batteries.
Lt jg. Bush received the DFC for attacking the target on ChiChi Jima through heavy flak just before he was shot down. He also accumulated three Air Medals during his combat tour.
President Bush was no stranger to aviation mishaps. His TBF's landing gear collapsed on landing during FCLPs in November 1943. Before being shot down, he ditched his TBM on June 19,1944, in the middle of the great air battle that became known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot." San Jacinto was operating near Guam as part of the invasion force against Japanese bases in the Marianas, and his aircraft was on the cat. A Japanese raid turned the carrier's attention away from launching aircraft. The ship's guns fired at the enemy aircraft while Bush and his crew sat on the cat, their aircraft's engine running.
As the attack passed, the VT51 "Turkey" (the 1944 nickname for the TBM) Bush saw that he had no oil pressure, perhaps as a result of damage from fire by the Japanese raiders or from one of the carrier's flak guns. Before he could signal to abort the launch, the catapult fired, sending the heavily loaded bomber into the air. As he lost power, Mr. Bush warned his crewmen to prepare for ditching and made a smooth landing ahead of his carrier. The three men left their sinking aircraft and got into their rafts. An accompanying destroyer picked them up.
President Bush took time from his hectic schedule to jot down personal responses to our questions about the part safety played in his wartime flying career.
In His Own Words...
Approach: You flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific during World War II. On September 2,1944, you were shot down during a strike. Could you describe what training, both at Pensacola and in your squadron, might have helped you to survive the bailout and while you were in the water?
President Bush: Our preflight training taught us certain underwater procedures and gave us familiarity with the water, itself. Actually, I never trained at Pensacola; I got my wings at Corpus Christi. Bailout procedures from the TBF(1) were taught at Fort Lauderdale before I got to VTS1 in June 1943. There were no simulators in those days, just verbal instructions.
Approach: During your combat tour, did you think about safety much, as much as we do today?
President Bush: We thought about safety a great deal. There were a lot of safety posters around, especially for brand new pilots. The posters related to taxiing, care of aircraft, and a lot of elementary areas. We didn't pack our own parachutes, but we did learn about caring for our chutes. We received a lot of instruction about safety during a bailout. I remember being hit and I instinctively turned my aircraft to the right to release the air stream pressure from the door leading into the ventral gunner's compartment.
Approach: As the highest ranking government official, you've had several opportunities to see today's Navy aircrews in action. Has the basic sequence on the carrier flight deck changed in the 40 years since you flew from the San Jacinto?
President Bush: I've seen carrier crews in action and the basic sequence has changed dramatically. Things seem much more efficient and more complex than they were in my day.
Approach: Today's naval aircraft rely heavily on so called "systems" to fly and perform their missions, and part of today's safety awareness is thorough knowledge of aircraft and weapons systems. How did you train in the Avenger regarding its operation and mission?
President Bush: Our planes did not rely on “systems.” They were “needle-ball” and “airspeed” and slightly more. We had an automatic pilot but it was not particularly reliable, and I did not use mine very much. The weapons systems were simple by today's standards. We dropped bombs and torpedoes but in a very unscientific manner. We had a .50-caliber machine gun in the dorsal turret, but there was no complex electronics suite or anything of that nature.
Approach: Did you train by fighting with different types of aircraft in what we would call today similar aircraft air combat training?
President Bush: The way I trained in the TBM at Fort Lauderdale was to climb in and put the throttle forward and take off. We had Link trainers for instrument training but there were no special simulators for the TBM. We didn't train by fighting different types of aircraft. We did a lot of low-level flying but none of the simulated attack flying that I have seen today. The bottom line is: It was a lot different then--a lot different.