TIGHAR was able to determine the probable identity of the
shallow aircraft as U.S. Navy TBD-1 Bureau Number 0298, assigned to Torpedo
Squadron 5 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5), and
crewed on the morning of February 1, 1942 by pilot Lt. Harlan T. Johnson,
bombardier ACMM Charles E. Fosha, and radioman/rear gunner RM1c James W.
Dalzell. Fosha and Dalzell are still alive and have been interviewed by
|Left to right: Pilot Lt. Harlan T. Johnson, bombardier
ACMM Charles E. Fosha, and radioman/rear gunner RM1c James W. Dalzell.
from That Gallant Ship – USS Yorktown
(CV-5) by Robert Cressman, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company,
Missoula, MT. 1985. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The identification of the aircraft
was accomplished without disturbing the site. U.S. Navy records show that
the two TBDs that landed in Jaluit lagoon were Bureau Number 0298 (Yorktown’s aircraft
5-T-7, radio call 77V44) and Bureau Number 1515 (Yorktown’s aircraft
5-T-6, radio call 76V44).¹ By fortunate
coincidence, Bu. No. 1515 was part of a late production batch of 15 airplanes
(Bu. Nos. 1505 through 1519) ordered in August 1938 which differed from
earlier TBDs in a few minor details.² Most
notably, a small “bomber’s compartment window” on each
side of the fuselage just above the leading edge of the wing root was omitted
in the later aircraft.
According to the 1997 report:
The aircraft is intact other than the propeller and engine
cowling that is [sic] separated and lying approximately 15 feet from
the main body of the aircraft. The glass canopy is still intact however
the forward pilot’s window is broken.
found that the aircraft is intact in that no major structural components
are missing. The doped cotton covering of the control surfaces is
gone, as are all traces of paint or markings on the aircraft.
There is a large growth of Pocillopora Sp. coral
on top of the fuselage in front of the pilot’s cockpit, and smaller
coral lumps and sheets elsewhere, but the condition of the aircraft’s
aluminum skin appears to be remarkably free of corrosion. Rivet
heads look tight and sound. The bare metal corrugated aluminum
surface of the wings is shiny. As noted, the engine is separated
from the airframe and lies just forward of the port wing. The propeller
hub is 13. 5 feet from the center of the fuselage nose section.
|Photo credits: upper left, vertical fin; TIGHAR photo
by R. Barrel. Above, photo courtesy T. Praster. Directly below, photo
courtesy T. Praster.
engine appears to have been knocked off when the nose struck a coral
ledge just before the airplane came to rest. As the fuselage settled
onto an underwater hillside it slid backward a short distance until
the port wing wedged against and somewhat under a large coral outcropping
and the starboard wingtip jammed against a smaller coral boulder.
The aircraft now lies in roughly a 30° bank, starboard wing low
and nose high, on the reef slope (see illustration).
There is minor structural damage to the wingtips
and underside of the fuselage caused by the short rearward slide.
Nothing in the suggested scenario explains the broken windshield.
Photos courtesy T. Praster.
It appears that the pilot’s
Mark III Model 2 telescopic gun sight and Mark XXIV, Model 3 torpedo
director have been removed. Photographs taken during the 1997 survey
reveal that these items were missing at that time. The gun sight
and torpedo director were incorporated in a single unit – a tube
roughly 2.5 feet long and 3 inches in diameter – that was mounted
on the centerline of the aircraft on top of the instrument panel
in front of the pilot and projecting out through the windshield.
The loss of these items is almost certainly associated with the broken
Right, broken windshield and missing
gunsight. Photo courtesy T. Praster.
Right, installed gunsight.
U.S. Navy photo.
According to the 1997 report:
There was no sign of any weapons – these may
already have been removed. The plane was in such a position that
it was impossible to see if a torpedo was still present.
Above, rear gun installation. U.S. Navy photo.
armament for the Douglas torpedo bomber was a fixed, forward-firing
Browning M2 .30 caliber (in some cases .50 caliber) machine gun mounted
in the starboard side of the forward fuselage and firing through
the propeller arc; and for rear defense, another M2 .30 caliber machine
gun on a flexible mount aft of the radioman/gunner's position. Contrary
to the 1997 report, the forward-firing .30 caliber machine gun on
this aircraft is, in fact, present (left). Several panels on the
starboard side of the nose are missing, possibly blown off by water
pressure during the ditching.
Above, nose gun on shallow airplane. Photo courtesy
Right, nose gun installation. U.S. Navy Photo.
The rear gunner’s weapon is missing (left)
but Mr. James Dalzell, who was the radioman and rear gunner on Bu.
No. 0298, has told us that after the aircraft landed in the lagoon
he dismounted the machine gun thinking to take it ashore for defense
against the Japanese but, upon realizing that the crew of the other
TBD had accidentally punctured their inflatable rubber boat and that
his plane’s boat would have to accommodate the crews of both aircraft,
he dropped the gun over the side. If his recollections are accurate,
the gun should be on the lagoon bottom somewhere between the two
Left, missing rear gun. Photo
courtesy T. Praster.
records indicate that for the February 1, 1942 raid all of USS Yorktown’s
TBDs were armed with 500 pound bombs, not torpedos. In the case of
Bu. Nos. 0298 and 1515, due to low cloud and poor visibility the
target was never located and the bombs were reportedly (and sensibly)
jettisoned prior to ditching in the lagoon.³ A
limited visual inspection of the underside of the aircraft revealed
no sign of ordnance.
The tail wheel is missing but this is believed to
be damage that occurred during the ditching rather than due to
theft. The deep airplane, which exhibits no sign of looting, is
also missing its tail wheel.
This TBD, Bu.No. 0358, was ditched in Pensacola
Bay, Florida on August 15, 1938. Note the nose-high attitude
and extended flaps. U.S. Navy photo.
In accordance with recommended procedure,
both aircraft apparently touched down nose high with wing flaps extended
(observable on both wrecks) and carrying little or no power, as evidenced
by a lack of any bending of the propeller blades on either aircraft
(photo at left).
In such a landing the tail wheel is the first component
of the aircraft to make contact with the water and, naturally,
does so at a higher speed than any other surface. Because the structure
was designed to absorb compression rather than tension, separation
of the wheel assembly from the spindle due to failure of the attaching
pin (Douglas Part No. AC386-4-21) seems probable (see illustration
below). This hypothesis is supported by the appearance of the remaining
portion of the strut (photo below left) but confirmation would
involve removal of the coral that presently covers the spindle.
Left, photo courtesy T. Praster.
TIGHAR photo by R. Barrel.
On both TBDs, the panels that covered
the wing bays in which the flotation airbags were housed are missing.
This is consistent with the bags having been inflated after the ditching
to keep the aircraft afloat while the crews deployed their rubber
boats. According to Mr. Dalzell the bags were then shot with sidearms
and slashed with a knife blade to prevent the aircraft being retrieved
by the Japanese.
Flotation bags inflated on TBD. U.S. Navy photo.
The 1997 survey reported that “coral-encrusted dials,” the
pilot’s “joystick” [sic], and “foot peddles” [sic]
were still in place. Given our commitment not to disturb the wreck,
subsequent increased coral growth made it impossible for us to confirm
whether instruments, control stick or rudder pedals are still present.
We were similarly unable to ascertain whether or not the Norden bombsight
is still mounted in the belly compartment, but it would be surprising
if the device is in the aircraft.
Mr. Charles Fosha, the bombardier on Bu. No. 0298, has said that the
then-Top Secret bombsight was thrown over the side while the aircraft
was still in flight. Mr. Dalzell, who was sitting behind Fosha, independently
corroborates that recollection and adds that the bombsight was actually
passed aft to him so that he could throw it clear of the wing.
The empty bays where the flotation bags were housed on #0298. TIGHAR
photo by R. Barrel.
Another item of equipment that remains
in question is the direction-finding loop antenna for the Bendix
RDF-1 radio receiver that was normally mounted inside the canopy
between the center and rear cockpits (illustration at left).
|Below, possible radio on seat. Photo courtesy
No loop antenna is present on the aircraft now and
photos taken in 1997 indicate that no antenna was present at that
time either. However, historical photos suggest that not all TBDs
carried this equipment and, according to Radioman Dalzell, by 1942
new technology had made the RDF obsolete. It is possible that the
aircraft never had a loop antenna but there is an object laying
in the pan of the rear gunner’s seat which looks very much
like a broken radio. If so, it could be debris left behind when
someone forcibly removed the loop antenna.
|In summary, the aircraft has not
been looted to the degree initially believed but it appears that
at least one and perhaps two components were removed at some time
prior to the 1997 survey. No further damage since then is apparent.
Although the aircraft rests in relatively shallow water, its position – securely
wedged into the eastern face of a reef on the western side of the
atoll – has served well to protect it from storms but would
also make any attempt to raise the aircraft extremely problematic.