The decade of the 1930’s saw many changes in aviation. In particular, most air arms began the decade with frontline aircraft that were basically of the same design that fought in World War One. As the decade progressed, the open cockpit, cloth covered and wooden framed designs of the past were supplanted by all metal, closed canopy designs capable of higher speeds and load carrying ability.

       By 1939, the US Navy had the Grumman Wildcat, Brewster Buffalo, Douglas Dauntless and Douglas Devastator as its frontline aircraft. Even though they were surpassed by later designs, the Wildcat and Dauntless would see service throughout the air battles of World War Two. The Devastator and Buffalo would not fare as well against their enemies' aircraft, both were dropped from the Navy’s frontline inventory after the Battle of Midway in June of 1942.

       The deficiencies of the Devastator as a torpedo bomber were recognized by November 1939 when the Navy asked for proposals from several manufactures for a replacement torpedo bomber. Very specific requirements were issued which included 300 miles per hour top speed and a range of 3,000 miles when serving as a scout. Another requirement was an internal bomb bay that was capable of either carrying a 2,000 Lb. torpedo or the same weight in conventional bombs. Self-sealing fuels tanks and armor protection for the 3 man crew and vital systems were also necessary.

       Although many companies showed interest, only two designs were deemed worthy of proceeding. On April 8, 1940, contracts, for 2 prototypes each, were issued one to Grumman for the XTBF-1 Avenger and the other to Vought for the XTBU-1 Sea Wolf. Due to the stringent design requirements, both prototypes would be very similar in appearance. Both designs met the expectations of the Navy, however the XTBF-1 was lighter, faster and had greater range than the Vought design and more importantly, Grumman could begin production almost immediately. Vought was having problems getting their XF4U Corsair program up and running. Even before the first XTBF-1 flew on August 7, 1941, in December of 1940 the Navy issued a production contract for 288 examples.

       The Avenger, like many aircraft of the day, was more an evolution of an earlier company airplane than a completely new design. Many similarities exist between Grumman’s first Torpedo bomber and the F4F Wildcat fighter. The “tubby” fuselage and the mid fuselage location of the wing made identification during combat hard. Even Saburo Saki, one of the Japanese Empire’s top pilots, made identification mistakes. He attacked a flight of Avengers from below, thinking they were Wildcats, and was seriously injured by the lower “stinger” gun position that did not exist on the Wildcat.

       The Avenger was the heaviest single engined aircraft of World War II. Although it was designed as a Torpedo bomber, most of its missions were flown carrying bombs, not torpedoes. The internal bomb bay could carry up to 2,000 Lbs. of munitions. The original design had a 30 caliber machine gun mounted to fire thru the propeller arc. Another 30 caliber machine gun was in a flexible “stinger” mount, which was manned by the radio operator, in lower rear of the fuselage. A Grumman designed, electrically operated 50 caliber turret completed the Avengers armament at least on the early versions. Eventually, the fixed 30 caliber in the fuselage was replaced by two 50 caliber guns in wing mounted positions outside the propeller arc. Eight wing positions were also added for HVAR rockets. In a weight saving measure, the -3E version saw the stinger position eliminated and faired over.

       The Grumman TBF (Torpedo Bomber F was the US Navy designator for Grumman) went into full scale production just as World War II was beginning. Another design, the F6F Hellcat, was also being produced by Grumman. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, US auto makers were told by the government to stop production of automobiles which left huge facilities idle. General Motors retooled their factories in New Jersey and Maryland and formed the Eastern Aircraft Division which took over production of the Avenger by 1943. These Avengers would be designated TBM (Torpedo Bomber M was the US Navy designator for GM - Eastern). Production of the F4F Wildcat was also shifted to these facilities. These Wildcats were designated FM Wildcats.

       Starting with the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the Avenger would have participated in every battle in the Pacific Theater of Operations. In the North Atlantic, the battle against Nazi submarines was greatly aided by the participation of CVEs (Escort Carriers) with Avengers onboard. The Royal Navy and the New Zealand Armed Forces also flew Avengers.

       In the 1950s surplus US Navy avengers were transferred to both the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. Many of the Canadian Avengers ended up in the forest fire fighting role, while some of the British Avengers were transferred to the Aéronavale (French Naval Air Arm). One of these is the subject of this model build. TBM-3E #135 of Flotille 4F served at the French Naval Base at Karouba during the time of the Algerian war of Independence against the French.

       I purchased the Accurate Miniatures TBM-3 Avenger kit 18 years ago and finally, 5 months ago, I started putting it together. About the same time that I purchased the kit, I also bought Lone Star Models' TBM Wingfold Conversion kit #1538. Once I started researching what I wanted to build, I opted to not use the kit supplied radome that mounts flush on the wing leading edge and instead I chose a -3E Avenger which had the APS-4 Radome mounted on a pylon below the wing. This choice also required a different set of markings and I purchased Berna Decals' Grumman Avenger Sheet # 48-09. Lastly E-Z Masks sheet #13, Scale Aircraft Conversion white metal main land gear #48029 and Eduard pre-painted photo-etched detail set ED49287 were sent for. Testors Model Master paints were used almost exclusively on this build. Dark Sea Blue FS 15042 was used for the exterior, Interior Green FS 34151 for the interior, Flat Black FS37038, Chrome Silver and Gun Metal were the Model Master paints along with Tamiya XF-58 Rubber Black.

       The instruction sheet from Accurate Miniatures is quite detailed. It not only has text that tells you when to assemble the various parts but also gives instructions as to when to paint. However, with Wingfold Conversion and the Eduard detail set, variations from the instructions were necessary.

       The first thing I did was to paint the inside of the fuselage halves and many of the parts with the Interior Green.

       Upon looking at the Lone Star resin wings, I saw that there were some holes in the resin that needed repair. The holes were filled with Tamiya White Putty and sanded smooth.

       The wing spar that is a piece of part #117 needs to be trimmed. The Eduard detail set comes with its own set of instructions and calls out the Accurate Miniatures part numbers on which the photo-etched pieces need to be applied. Other than the feeling that I was all thumbs at times, the detail set really enhanced the interior as you can see by the accompanying pictures.

      Once the interior was finished I assembled the two fuselage halves together. The two Lone Star resin wing stubs were then glued in place, the fit was excellent.

       The various parts of the turret were assembled and glued together. I then covered the areas that were to remain unpainted using the EZ Masks set. The next step was to paint the exterior of the turret, the interior was already painted. Once this paint was dry the turret was inserted into the fuselage assembly. The white metal landing gear was added along with the clear canopy pieces.

       The next step was to apply the EZ Masks to the canopy “greenhouse”. Once this was done, I used Tamiya Masking Tape to span the gaps in the glass between the windscreen and where the pilot’s sliding canopy would go, and also the gap between the end of the canopy glass and the turret. The lower “stinger” gun position had already been puttied and sanded as this position was non-existent of the -3E version of the Avenger. The other windows in the lower fuselage were also masked over. Lastly the tailplane and rudder were assembled to the fuselage.

       The exterior paint was applied to the fuselage assembly and the resin outer wing panels. I used Gloss Dark Sea Blue so there was no need to apply a gloss undercoat before applying the decals. The paint was given a couple of days to dry before the decals went on the model. On this model, I chose not to apply a final coat over the decals.

       After the decals had been given plenty of time to dry, I made up a brass antenna mast and strung some .006 fishing line for an antenna. Finally the pitot tube was added and the model was done.

Bibliography:

       Detail & Scale Volume 53, TBF/TBM Avenger, By Bert Kinzey,Squadron/Signal Publications

       Squadron/Signal Publications, Aircraft Number 82, TBM/TBF Avenger In Action, By Charles L. Scrivner,

                         Color By Don Greer, illustrated By Perry Manley

       Squadron/Signal Publications, Walk Around Number 25, TBF/TBM Avenger, By Lou Drendel, Color By Lou Drendel,

                        Don Greer and Richard Hudson, illustrated By Ernesto Cumpian and Andrew Probert

       Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger, by Terry C. Treadwell, published in the USA by Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2007-0

       Wikipedia Article on the Grumman Avenger

       Wikipedia Article about Saburo Sakai

       Pacific War Onlin Encyclopedia - TBF Avenger

       Thought Co - World War II Grumman TBF Avenger

       Warbird News - Not a Fighter: Explaining The TBF-3E Avenger

       NAS Ft Lauderdale Museum - Notes on the Avenger Torpedo Bomber

       Military Aircraft Factory - Grumman TBF Avenger

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