A much-maligned aircraft, the Helldiver made a major contribution to the successful outcome of the Pacific War and fought hard against the Communists in Indo-China with the French Navy. The SB2C was the US Navy's major dive bomber of the 1944-48 period.
Although the "Big Tailed Beast" proved quite a handful for the Curtiss team to tame and ready for combat, when she did eventually join the fleet for the final drive on Japan the SB2C proved her worth, starting with the attack on Rabaul, she fought at the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, helped destroy the Yamato and Musashi, the most powerful battleships ever built, and then took the war to the Inland Sea and the Tokyo Plain to finish off the Japanese Navy. Post-war she continued to serve as the only bomber in the fleet until replaced by the Douglas Skyraider, but she also saw much more action with the French Navy at Dien Bien Phu where her accuracy was legendary.
The Curtiss Helldiver, despite a reputation for being difficult to handle at low speeds, was responsible for the destruction of more Japanese targets than any other aircraft. The Curtiss SB2C single-engine dive-bomber joined the fleet late in 1943, joining the Douglas Dauntless as the primary attack/bombing planes for the US Navy. The two-man Helldiver had a top speed of 295 mph and good range, making it an essential tool in the far reaches of the Pacific war.
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With underwing and bomb attachments, the Helldiver could carry 1,000 pounds of bombs or an internal torpedo; later improvements included an upgraded Wright Cyclone engine and rocket hardpoints. It carried two fixed forward 20mm cannon and machine guns in the rear cockpit.
Only 26 of the 7,000 Helldivers built found their way to the other services; the plane was so valuable in the Pacific theater that the Navy absorbed nearly every plane. Postwar, the Helldiver found further use with the French, Italian, Greek and Portuguese Navies and the Royal Thai Air Force. Only one airworthy Helldiver remains -- with the Commemorative Air Force in Texas -- but at least one more is under restoration to airworthy status. Nickname: Son-of-a-Bitch Second Class.
The Curtiss SB2C was the last of a line of aircraft developed for the U.S. Navy specifically for the role of dive-bombing. That tactic was first used by a Marine aviator, Lieutenant (later Brig. Gen.) Lawson H.M. Sanderson, during operations in Haiti in 1919. Up until that time, aircraft had dropped their bombs from a level attitude. Marine fliers found that they could achieve a far greater degree of precision by releasing their bombs while aiming their planes directly at their targets in a steep dive of 70 degrees or more. Dive-bombing was officially adopted by the Navy as a regular part of its operational repertoire in 1928.
The U.S. Army Air Corps was convinced that it could hit any target from high altitude by means of level bombing, using precision optical bombsights. That belief seemed to be justified by Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell's highly publicized bombing of captured German warships in June 1921. Those targets, however, had been immobile. The Navy believed that a relatively small moving target, like a warship taking evasive action, would be virtually impossible to hit by level bombing. Naval aviators felt that pinpoint dive-bombing attacks, delivered simultaneously with coordinated low-level torpedo-plane attacks, would be the most effective method of dealing with an enemy fleet. By the same token, the Marines believed that dive-bombing afforded the best available way to provide close air support without endangering their own ground troops.
To the American public, the term "helldiver" was associated with breathtaking power dives and dazzling displays of airmanship. Curtiss thought it only fitting that the name be applied to its purpose-built dive bomber, although it was not officially used by the Navy.
The Canadian Car and Foundry Company building program totalled 894 Curtiss SB2C Helldivers of various models (called SBW instead of SB2C when earmarked for the British Fleet Air Arm); 450 were supposed to go to the UK but only 46 did; the rest went along with other production to the U.S. Navy instead.