Curtiss SBW-1B Helldiver 
(Curtiss SB2C Helldiver) 


The SB2C Helldiver was an American carrier-based dive bomber. The prototype first flew on 18 December 1940. However, due to stability problems and a series of prototype accidents, it was not until June 1942 that the first of over 5,500 production models rolled off the assembly line. Carrier trials in early 1943 were unsuccessful with many aircraft crashing into the flight deck barriers because of landing gear failures and a bounce characteristic that prevented tail-hook engagement with the cross-deck cable.

The SB2C designated as Curtiss SBW-1B Helldiver for the Royal Navy was built to combine a powerful engine and a large weapons load in a small airframe, as required for carrier operations. The SB2C was compact and dense, and its fuselage was inordinately small compared with the large wings and tail. The bad handling characteristics earned this dive bomber uncomplimentary nicknames. Its performance was little better than that of the older SBD Dauntless which it had been designed to replace.

Despite its initial lacklustre showing the SB2C served as the sole shipborne dive-bomber of the US Navy from late 1944 until the end of the war, and inflicted huge damage on enemy shipping and installations.

Original warime colour photograph of the Helldiver prototype XSB2C-1 BuNo1758 on its maiden flight 18 December1940

The Fleet Air Arm ordered 26 Helldivers under Lend-Lease Contract No. NXs-LL139 requisition No. N-5. This British version of the Helldiver, serialed JW100-125, was given the designation SBW-1B. This particular model were built by the Canadian Car & Foundry Factory for the Royal Navy. The first, JW120, was delivered to the RN in December 1943. The main operational Helldiver unit, 1820 squadron, started receiving its Helldivers in April 1944 at Brunswick, USA.

The 'Son of a Bitch Second Class' (SB2C-1C) Helldiver I was regarded as the ugly duckling of the Fleet Air Arm. Although, some would say that the Fairey Barracuda could claim that title. Needless to say, the Royal Navy was not impressed with 'The Beast' and the aircraft,  never saw active combat with the FAA.The last Helldiver, JW115, to serve with the Fleet Air Arm was payed off in December 1945 with 700 squadron at MiddleWallop.

Fleet Air Arm history
    Total FAA 1939-1945:        26
    First delivered to RN:         1943
    First squadron 1939-1945:   1820 sqdn 4.1944 Brunswick
    Operational squadron:          1820 sqdn 4.1944 Brunswick
    Last served with RN            12.1945

Fleet Air Arm Helldiver of 1820 squadron 1944/45

Aircraft Type:
Curtiss SBW-1B Helldiver 
(Curtiss SB2C Helldiver) 
Primary Role:
Carrier Borne Dive bomber
First Flight: 
18 December 1940
Date operating with FAA squadrons:
Curtiss-Wright Corporation.
Canadian Car & Foundry Factory
One 1,877 hp Wright R-2600-20 engine
 Wing Span: Length: Height: Wing Area: 
Wingspan 49.7 ft (15.16 m) 
Length 36.7 ft  (11.18 m) 
Height  13.1 ft (4.01 m) 
Wingarea 422 sq ft (39.20 sq m)
Empty Weight: Max.Weight:
Weight empty 10,547 lb (4,784 kg) 
max.16,616 lb (7,537 kg)



Speed 295 mph (475 km/h) 
Ceiling 2,9200 ft (8,900 m) 
Range 1,926 miles (3,100 km)
1,000 lb bomb load in internal bay (later versions also having provision for bombs under wings) 
Two fixed forward-firing 20mm cannon or four fixed forward firing 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns in wings 
Twin manually-aimed 0.3-inch or 0.5-inch Browning machine guns in rear cockpit 
Battle honours:
None with FAA
Additional references and notes:

Battle Honours and Operational History

The career of the Helldiver was a series of successes and failures. In the Fleet Air Arm it equiiped one operational squadron but never saw action. However, the US navy used it and inflicted huge damage on enemy shipping and installations. In a raid on Rabaul a carrier-based squadron of "Beasts" sank two cruisers and a destroyer. During carrier raids on Truk, the same squadron sank 176,000 tons of Japanese shipping in 36 hours with the loss of only one plane to enemy action. Conversely, only five of fifty SB2Cs returned safely from an attack against the Japanese Fleet during the first Battle of the Phillipine Sea with the majority ditching for lack of fuel. Of the SBDs launched on the same attack, only two failed to return safely - one to enemy fire and the other crashed on landing.

US Helldiver SB2C No22

Surviving aircraft and relics
Three helldivers are known to be preserved in museums around the world, and only one in airworthy. None of the Fleet Air Arm Helldivers have survived. The survivors are at the Hellenic Air Force Museum (Greece), the National Naval Aviation Museum (USA) and the Confederate Air Force Ghost Squadron (USA). The National Naval Aviation Museum's SB2C-5 (BuNo 83479) has been on loan from the National Air and Space Museum since 1976.

Preserved CAF Ghost squadron Helldiver of the USN Marking No 5 revving up for take off

Helldiver SB2C-5 BuNo 83479 preserved at the NNAM (USA)

Helldiver SB2C-5 preserved in Greece

Associations and reunions
No information
Warbird Alley and the Curtiss SB2C helldiver Details and specs of the Curtiss SB2C helldiver
Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War Details Curtiss SB2C Helldiver US history in the Pacific
Warbird alley Details and specs of the Helldiver including re the survivors
Olivier warbirds, Le site sur l'aviation de la Seconde guerre mondiale The helldiver in detail [in French]
 Sturtivant, R. & Burrow, M (1995)   'Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945'  Published by Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1995 ISBN: 0 85130 232 7 
Created 3-4-1999, Modified 3-4-2000


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