History Wars World War II

This plane survived Pearl Harbor and struck back at Midway

Pearl Harbor had to be avenged. On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo did exactly that. Less than two months later, one plane got its own revenge.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
(Robins Air Force Base History Office)

The Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, brought the United States fully into WWII. Although America adopted an official war policy of defeating the Axis in Europe first, Pearl Harbor had to be avenged. On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo did exactly that. Less than two months later, one plane got its own revenge after witnessing the devastation in Hawaii.

The XBT-1 (top) and XBT-2 (bottom) served as the bases of the SBD (U.S. Navy)

Introduced in 1940, the Douglas SBD Dauntless was a carrier scout plane and dive bomber that saw service with both the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Using a split flap/dive brake, the Dauntless could perform very steep and accurate dives of up to 70 degrees. Developed from the Northrop XBT-1 and XBT-2, Douglas introduced the SBD-1 and the SBD-2, which featured an increased fuel capacity and different guns. In April 1939, the Marines ordered 57 SBD-1s and the Navy ordered 87 SBD-2s. By the attack on Pearl Harbor, 584 SBD-3s were delivered to both services.

The SBD had a reputation as a slow but deadly bomber (U.S. Navy)

SBD-2, Bureau Number 2106, was built at Douglas’ El Segundo plant in December 1940. On December 31, it was delivered to the Navy, assigned to Bombing Squadron 2 (VB-2) at Naval Air Station San Diego, and embarked aboard the USS Lexington (CV-2). The plane took part in the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers, a series of major war games designed to test the U.S. military’s preparedness for war.

Damaged OS2U Kingfishers on Ford Island after the attack on Pearl Harbor (U.S. Navy)

In December 1941, BuNo 2106 was again loaded aboard Lexington and bound for Midway Atoll where it was to be assigned to a Marine squadron. However, the Dauntless was instead unloaded at Pearl Harbor to make room for other planes. It was placed in an aircraft pool at Luke Field on Ford Island. Although the island was bombed on December 7, including aircraft hangars, BuNo 2106 survived the attack.

An SBD-2 of VMSB-241 at Midway, June 4, 1942 (U.S. Navy)

After Pearl Harbor, the plane returned to VB-2 aboard the Lexington and took part in attacks on Japanese ships in New Guinea in early 1942. In May of that year, BuNo 2106 finally made it to Midway and was transferred to Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 241 (VMSB-241). During the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942, the plane was launched against the Japanese fleet. Braving heavy anti-aircraft fire and marauding A6M2 Zeros, BuNo 2106 attacked the Japanese carrier Hiryū, one of the ships that launched planes against Pearl Harbor. Of the 27 planes sent up from VMSB-241, only eight returned to Midway.

BuNo 2106 is raised from Lake Michigan (U.S. Navy)

With over 200 holes in it and only one operational landing gear, BuNo 2106 miraculously returned to Henderson Field. After it was repaired, the Dauntless was reassigned back to the Navy and assigned to a Carrier Qualification Training unit to train new aircrews. On July 11, 1943, during a training mission, BuNo 2106 ditched in Lake Michigan while attempting land aboard USS Sable (IX-81). The historic plane sat at the bottom of the lake until 1994, when it was raised and salvaged.

From Pearl Harbor, to Midway, to Pensacola (NNAM)

At the National Museum of Naval Aviation, now the National Naval Aviation Museum, the Dauntless underwent over 70,000 restoration hours at the hands of over 100 staff and volunteers. Their hard work paid off and BuNo 2106 is now proudly displayed in Pensacola, Florida. Impressively, over 90% of the static display is original period parts.