A-24 Douglas & A-25
The Army’s Dive Bombers
“Can the A-20 bomb from a dive?” asked General Henry Arnold on June 1, 1940. No, not from angles over 30°, but the Army might get Navy two-place dive bombers like the Douglas SBD. The Air Corps had to furnish two dive bomber groups to support the Army’s new armored divisions, and a July 2, 1940, directive ordered procurement of 78 from a Navy contract.
The first was delivered from El Segundo to Wright Field on June 18, 1941, and 78 designated A-24 (SBD-3A on Navy lists) were completed by October. With a 1,000-hp Wright R-1820-52 Cyclone, they were like the Navy models except for Army colors, a new tail wheel, and no deck-landing gear. Armament included a 500 or 1,000-pound bomb on the center yoke, or a pair of 100-pound bombs on under-wing racks, as well as two .50-caliber nose guns and a .30-caliber flexible gun. Armor protection and leak-proof tanks were standard, along with perforated flap dive brakes.
The A-24 two-seaters went to the principal Army light bomber station at Savannah, Georgia, where they equipped three of the four squadrons of the new 27th Bombardment Group (Light) and one squadron of the veteran 3rd Bombardment Group (Light). These groups’ other four squadrons had twin-engined A-20A level bombers.
The 27th Group’s dive-bomber squadrons were shipped to the Philippines Islands, but unfortunately the airmen arrived without their aircraft, the 52 A-24s sailing in convoy from Honolulu November 29, 1941, and then being diverted by the war to Australia, which they reached December 22.
Some pilots were evacuated to rejoin their aircraft whose operations were delayed by missing parts. Eleven A-24s flew up to Java to join a losing fight and the first two Army dive-bomber sorties were made February 19, 1942, but the remainder didn’t begin missions from Port Morseby with the 8th Bombardment Squadron until April 1. After five of seven were lost on the last mission on July 29, these dive-bombers were withdrawn from action as too slow, short-ranged, and ill-armed. This same type, of course, did excellent Navy work, but the Air Force was comparing it to land-based twin-engine types.
A new allocation of the Dauntless dive-bomber to the Army was made by an April 16, 1942, contract on which deliveries resumed July 2, 1942, with 90 more A-24s and 170 A-24A (SBD-4A) built by March 1943 at the Douglas El Segundo plant. Twin flexible guns and larger bomb sizes were provided on these aircraft along with a new 24-volt electrical system on the A-24A.
The new Douglas factory at Tulsa received a contract approved December 1, 1942, for 1,200 A-24B (SBD-5) powered by a 1,200-hp Wright R-1820-60. Deliveries began in March 1943, but cancellations on October 30 reduced the total to 615 A-24Bs completed by December 1943.
Thirteen new Army groups were designated as dive-bomber units from July 1942 to August 1943, and ten used A-24s during this period, but the only unit to take them into combat was the 58th Bomb Squadron (Dive) at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. This squadron went to the Gilbert Islands and, redesignated the 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadron, used its A-24s to pound Japanese installations in December 1943.
Earlier, the 407th Bomb Group flew an August 4, 1943, mission against Kiska, but the enemy had already fled that island. Most A-24Bs were relegated to non-combat utility and training work, or offered to other nations. Mexico received 28 from June to November 1943 to train pilots who later turned to P-47Ds, and Chile got 12. In September 1944, Free French A-24Bs of GC1/18 attacked German positions in France.
The A-25 Failure
The Air Force intended to follow the A-24 with a more powerful Navy dive-bomber, the Curtiss SB2C-l with an
R-2600-8 Double Cyclone (whose design is described more fully in chapter 21). Even before the prototype was flown, the Army was authorized on November 6, 1940, to buy 100 as the A-25, or SB2C-lA, from a Navy contract. By April 3, 1941, the A-25 specification promised a top speed of 313 mph and a service ceiling of 29,000 feet at a weight of 7,868 pounds empty and 10,982 pounds gross. After Pearl Harbor, the Navy would need the Curtiss Columbus factory’s full output, so a separate production line for the Army was set up in St. Louis to build the 3,100 A-25As ordered by February 18, 1942.