The Army Chooses a Dive Bomber German success with dive bombers in Poland and France convinced the U.S. Army to acquire its own dive bombers, and in 1941 the Army Air Corps ordered the Douglas Dauntless, which was already in production for the U.S. Navy. Designated the A-24, it came without the tail hook used for carrier landings, and a pneumatic line replaced the solid tail wheel on some of them. First assigned to the 27th Bombardment Group (Light) at Hunter Field, Ga., A-24s participated in the Louisiana maneuvers during September 1941.
Shipped to the Southwest Pacific As war with Japan seemed imminent in the fall of 1941, the Army rushed the personnel of the 27th to the Philippine Islands to bolster American defenses, and 52 of their crated A-24s followed on another ship. However, the Japanese attacked before the airplanes arrived, and the A-24s were diverted to Australia for assembly. Most of the 27th's pilots were flown back to Australia to fly the A-24s back to the Philippines, where the enlisted mechanics waited to service them.
Assembling the A-24s in Australia The 27th Bombardment Group's A-24s arrived in Brisbane, Australia, in poor condition. Used heavily during the Louisiana maneuvers, many had been crated for shipment with worn out tires in and mud still caked on their wheels. In addition, they lacked the trigger motors and solenoids need to fire the forward guns, and their rear gun mounts broke easily. Australian mechanics machined the necessary solenoids or fixed firing handles for the forward guns, strengthened the rear gun mounts, and replaced worn out tires with truck tires. However, by this time the Japanese had almost conquered the Philippines, where the 27th's enlisted men remained trapped. Put into the 1st Provisional Air Corps Regiment, these men fought the Japanese on the ground, and the survivors were subjected to the Bataan Death March.
Attacking the Japanese in Java The pilots in Australia separated into the 16th, 17th and 91st Bombardment Squadrons and prepared to defend Java, but only the 91st had aircraft ready to fly there. Departing for Java with just 15 repaired A-24s, they arrived on Feb. 17, 1942, but accidents and need of repairs left only seven aircraft ready for combat. Without fighter protection, the 91st flew heroically against Japan's best aircraft, but their A-24s had worn-out engines, no armor plating, and no self sealing fuel tanks. Referring to themselves as "Blue Rock Clay Pigeons," the 91st attacked the enemy harbor and airbase at Bali and damaged or sunk numerous ships around Java. After the Japanese shot down two A-24s and damaged three so badly they could no longer fly, the 91st received orders to evacuate Java in early March, ending a brief but valiant effort.
Disaster in New Guinea The A-24s left in Australia were assigned to the 8th Bombardment Squadron, 3rd Bombardment Group, to defend New Guinea against a Japanese attack. On July 26, 1942, seven A-24s attacked a convoy off Buna, but only one survived: the Japanese shot down five of them and damaged the sixth so badly that it did not make it back to base. Regarded by many pilots as too slow, too short-ranged and too poorly armed, the remaining A-24s were relegated to non-combat missions.
In the United States, the A-24s became training aircraft or towed targets for aerial gunnery training. The more powerful A-24B was used later against the Japanese forces in the Gilbert Islands.
Crew: Two Armament: Two .50-cal. fixed machine guns in the nose and twin .30-cal. flexible machine guns in rear cockpit; 1,200-lb. bombs (in Java, A-24s one Dutch 600-lb. bomb on the centerline and one 110-lb. bomb on each wing) Engine:Wright R-1820-52 of 1,000 hp Maximum speed: 250 mph/217 knots Cruising speed: 173 mph/150 knots Range: 950 miles with 1,200 lbs. of bombs Ceiling: 26,000 ft. Span: 41 ft. 6 in. Length: 33 ft. Height: 12 ft. 11 in. Weight: 10,200 lbs. maximum
Suggested Reading Doomed at the Start by William H. Bartsch They Fought With What They Had by Walter D. Edmonds General Kenney Reports by George C. Kenney