SBD "Smokers"

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Conslaw, May 31, 2014.

  1. Conslaw

    Conslaw Member

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    I was browsing through Lundstrom's The First Team, Pearl Harbor to Midway, and he he makes brief mention of a strike launched December 7, 1941 by the Enterprise that failed to find the Japanese fleet. This particular strike featured 6 SBDs of VB6 escorting TBDs. The interesting thing is that these SBDs were "smokers" - that is - they had underwing smoke generators intended to screen the approach of the slow torpedo bombers. I've never seen any other mention of this tactic. If anyone else knows more, please post.

    I can see how it might be useful, though smoke might make it as hard for the torpedo planes to line up on their target as it is for the ships to see the planes to shoot them. Actually it seems more useful to me to have the TBDs carry the smoke generators, especially when lining up an "anvil" attack fro two sides. The first TBDs to the target could lay smoke, making the people on the ship worry about what's coming in behind the planes they can see. In the meantime, non-smokers on the other side are coming in with less attention.
     
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  2. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The early versions of the SBD were equipped with a smoke tank, but to the best of my knowledge, that feature was never used in combat.
     
  3. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    I remember and wondered this as well, as I'm just reaching the end of this wonderful book myself.
     
  4. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    The use of smoke in naval assault against ships is as old as naval warfare itself, but in terms of in use during an air attack, the British practised the concept and intended on using it during the proposed attack against the German High Seas Fleet using torpedo planes. The Sopwith Cuckoo and subsequent Fleet Air Arm torpedo bombers were fitted with smoke apparati for screening the attackers, but what use it would have been during a torpedo attack is debateable, since the early torpedo planes relied on line of sight to target an enemy warship. Attempting an attack through a shroud of smoke would make the manoeuvre very difficult. Not only that, but positioning the attackers against a wall of smoke behind them would make them an easy target to see by the enemy ship personnel.
     
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  5. Conslaw

    Conslaw Member

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    Smoke generators would have been useful defensively for screening ships in the Battle Off Samar. At Midway, if the TBD had had smoke generators, they could have drawn attention to the possibility of more aircraft that weren't actually there, keeping more eyes off of the plunging SBDs. On the exit from the target, the smoke could have made it harder to shoot down the slow, retiring torpedo bombers. (Yeah, I know, TBDs were hard-pressed to even lift their torpedo, so they had no remaining payload to hold a smoke generator and chemical tank. )
     
  6. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Most popular histories cite the TBDs as providing the sacrificial distraction that allowed the SBDs to score the fatal hits on three IJN carriers but the timing and technology in use don't support that contention. The TBDs began arriving and attacking well before the SBDs. VT-8 made its attack at between 0920 thru 0935, VT-6 arrived at about 0940 and completed its run at about 1010. Only VT-3 arrived and attacked roughly in concert with the VB-3 and VB/VS-6 SBDs which made their attacks at between about 1020 and 1035. Without Radar directed CAP, IJN defending fighters just wasn't very effective in countering dive bombing attacks. The SBDs pretty much always got thru without serious losses. Those significant losses to IIN CAP that were suffered by VB-6 and VS-6 SBDs at Midway occurred during their departure from the scene of battle.
     
  7. VBF-13

    VBF-13 Well-Known Member

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    The smoke would tip off the Japanese to more aircraft back there, right? Why smoke? That's maybe why the tactic wasn't used that much. Even the Surgeon General says, smoking is bad for your health, lol.
     
  8. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    It was a standard tactic to screen ships using smoke and to cover torpedo boat (steam)/destroyer attacks using smoke. The defender KNOWS something is there but often doesn't KNOW WHAT, HOW MANY or where to AIM. Firing blindly into a smoke screen doesn't offer much chance of a hit and ships only carry so much ammo. When the attackers come through the smoke the defender has much less time to fire before the attackers can reach a suitable firing position.
     
  9. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #9 oldcrowcv63, Jun 9, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
    Pre-WW2 theory and practice cast thee SBD in a role it was thought appropriate for its performance: Ersatz CAP and escort fighter. In practice, SBDs were used as anti-torpedo plane defensive CAP at Coral Sea and suffered severe losses. AFAIK, that practice was abandoned thereafter. As your initial posts suggests the SBDs were to deploy the screening smoke and act as escorts for the TBDs. Seems like deploying a TBD as a smoke layer would mean separating at lest one TBD from the rest of the squadron from its attack formation.

    The practice was apparently still in vogue in early 42 but I doubt was ever used after Coral Sea.

    From: USN Ships--USS Lexington (CV-2, originally CC-1)

    Caption of the photo below is

    Lexington steams through an aircraft-deployed smoke screen, 26 February 1929, shortly after that year's "Fleet Problem" exercises.

    Note the Lex's 8 inch rifles in the twin turrets forward of the Island…. The two big decks in her class retained the antiquated operational doctrinal role of fleet "cruiser scout" through early 1942 and apparently these ships were expected to close with and engaget enemy surface units with her big guns!
     

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  10. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    Looks like the smoke screen is intended more to engulf and blind the defenders on the intended target.

    Alternatively, would the defenders of the intended target(s) attempt to lay aerial smoke to hide?
     
  11. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Seems like smoke, like gas, may be a double edged sword, as problematic to the attacker as the defender. I can appreciate how a smoke screen would have helped an inferior force like Taffy Three in a battle for its survival off Samar during the battle of Leyte Gulf, but on a battle field governed by visual fire control, seems like it would be a handicap to the attacker unless it was a temporary measure executed in order to organize (or maneuver?) in preparation for an attack.
     
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