SBD Dauntless Colors & Markings

Text and Artwork © 2007-2014 David H. Klaus
No part of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission.

Ever since building the ancient Monogram 1/48 SBD as a kid (and adding bullet holes with hot pins–lots and lots . . . and lots . . . of bullet holes!), the Dauntless has been one of my favorite airplanes. Even much later it was fun to crawl all over the SBD about to undergo restoration at Chino Field (maybe in the Tallichet Collection; can’t remember now) and the feeling of actually touching real history was overpowering.

Anyway, thought you might like to see a deep analysis of a sample of some interesting SBDs’ camo & markings. Ah–and you thought SBD markings were pretty generic, didn’t you? Not so fast, grasshopper! I think you’ll enjoy these analyses.


SBD-1 2-MB-1, BuNo 1597
Squadron Commander’s Aircraft
VMB-2
MCAS Quantico, Virginia, 1940

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

2-MB-1 was marked in full "red section" leader markings, with a 12" cowl band and 20" fuselage band in Insignia Red. The other two aircraft in the section carried only "half bands" on their cowls (either top or bottom) and lacked the fuselage band.

 


The Marine Corps logo painted on these Dauntlesses conformed to the 1936 version of the USMC insignia, which is still in use today. As on the Marine uniform, the "globe and eagle" insignia were "handed," with the eagle’s head always facing forward. (Note what a HORRIBLE job Trumpeter did on this insignia in their SBD-1 release!!)

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

Note the angle of the wing chevron.   This is often portrayed as something different in published artwork and model kit decals.  Also note the black wing walk extends forward almost to the leading edge of the wing.

BuNo 1597 was the only SBD-1 verified to have carried LSO stripes on the fin. This bird underwent acceptance testing at both NAS Anacostia and NAS Dahlgren; the double red stripes applied only to the left side of the fin were almost certainly applied at Dahlgren. Two notes of caution: first, there are a number of photos that were taken of this aircraft BEFORE the stripes were applied, which means you wouldn’t have to apply them on a model depicting the aircraft in its very early career. Second, a later SBD-1, BuNo 1611, was numbered 2-MB-1, but it has never been documented as carrying LSO stripes.

 


SBD-3 "White 2-S-9," BuNo 4628
VS-2, USS Lexington
NRAB Oakland, California, 30 September 1941

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

Included here as an example of US Navy camouflage test schemes, this plane was only the latest in a long line of experimental schemes the Navy tested just prior to entering WW II. It may, in fact, have been the only SBD to receive a test camouflage scheme, although various dark green colors were tested on patrol and observation aircraft. Other than the green camouflage over the Light Gray undersides, the standard Navy markings of the day were applied in white.

History is indebted to Peter M. Bowers, who photographed this bird on black & white film and recalled decades later that the color was a "pretty dark green."

It is possible this color was similar to a dark green tested by the Navy in January 1940. That color was composed of 420 lbs. Of Bakelite #3962, 112 lbs. of dark chrome green (Krebbs G-392-D), 112 lbs. of Dicalite white filler, 8.4 lbs. of carbon black (Disney & Smith Neo-Spectra Mark II), and liquid thinners and carriers. The color card originally attached to the specification is lost to history

I can’t WAIT to see a modeler get those materials and mix up a BIG batch of paint! Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with Pete Bowers’ memory that it was darkish green.

 


SBD-2 "White 2-B-6," BuNo 4628
VMSB-232
Ewa Mooring Mast Field, Territory of Hawaii
7 December 1941

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup


The first SBD squadron, VMB-2 was redesignated VMSB-232 in July 1941. On 7 December 1941 they were based at the Ewa ("eh’-vah") Mooring Mast Field, Territory of Hawaii, as part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Nearly all of their original SBD-1s, by that time having been repainted in the overall Light Gray scheme, were destroyed in the Japanese attack.

According to original documentation and superb photos I found in the Marine Corps archives, there were 20 SBD-1s and three SBD-2s on Ewa at the time of the attack, all presumably belonging to VMSB-232.  As noted earlier, shore-based aircraft frequently did not receive the Blue Gray topsides camouflage until after Pearl Harbor, and these aircraft were still in the overall Light Gray scheme at the time of the attack. 

Not a single aircraft got off Ewa during the attack, and nine SBD-1s and one SBD-2 were completely destroyed.  Ten SBD-1s and two SBD-2s were so badly damaged they required major overhaul to return to service.

One aircraft, 2-S-6 (specifically identified in the after-action reports), was dragged off the runway and MTSgt Emil S. Peters climbed in to fire the flexible .30 machine gun in the rear cockpit.  Pvt William C. Turner repeatedly ran belted ammunition from the ordnance area to Peters’ SBD until he was seriously wounded.  Seeing Turner fall, TSgt William C. Turnage ran to take his place and continued to get more ammunition to the end of the attacks.  Turner dies of his wounds a few days later.  The photo above shows 2-S-6 right after the battle with many Japanese bullet holes in it.

According to Navy specifications in force at this time, 232’s SBDs SHOULD have been marked "232-MB-(aircraft in squadron number).  All previously published profiles of Ewa planes show this mechanism.  For the first time ever, we are able to prove through photos from the Marine Corps archives that, in fact, NONE of the VMSB-232 Dauntlesses were marked according to spec. 

With one exception*, all SBDs photographed immediately after the battle from the elevation of the Mooring Mast show the very unexpected marking "2-B-(aircraft in squadron number)!  This is an amazing find, as we would expect SBDs marked this way to be from the USS Enterprise’s VB-6.  (In fact, six Enterprise SBDs did actually land at Ewa during the attack but were immediately flown away to avoid destruction.  Photos taken during the attack prove the Enterprise SBDs were, as expected, painted Blue Gray over Light Grey, proving the SBDs pictured here did NOT belong to VB-6!)

Also unexpected on this SBD-2 is the red LSO stripe applied to the left fin only.

* Although space here does not permit a full explanation, the famous photo showing two SBDs being pushed off the runway during the attack that purportedly shows "232-MB-2" was in fact almost certainly "2-MB-2" and absolutely NOT "232-MB-2."  We will cover this interesting anomaly at length in a future venue. 

 


SBD-2 "Commander Enterprise Group" BuNo 2162
LCDR Howard L. Young & LCDR Bromfield B. Nichol
Air Group Commander, USS Enterprise
7 December 1941, Pearl Harbor, TH

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup


Eighteen-year Navy veteran LCDR Howard "Brigham" Young was 40 years old on Pearl Harbor day. With service on battleships, carriers, and the Navy airships Akron and Macon behind him, he was well prepared to lead the Enterprise’s air group when he took command. Flying very probably this same aircraft, only two months earlier he had flown Lord Louis Mountbatten in the rear cockpit to observe US Navy war games simulating bombing attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Fleet.

On 7 December, Young led 18 SBDs from the Enterprise to Ford Island, where they arrived in the middle of the Japanese attack, where some were attacked and by Zeros and "friendly fire," with five being shot down and the others landing safely. Young continued to lead the Enterprise Air Group on the hit and run attacks on Japanese-held islands in early 1942, including the first strike on Wake Island in February. He was killed in a crash shortly after that. BuNo 2162 later participated in the battle of Midway and eventually served with Marine squadrons before being struck off charge in April 1943.

During the September 1941 war games where Young flew Mountbatten, 2162 was finished in overall Light Gray. Less than a month later it was repainted with the Blue Gray topsides. Photos show the rudder in still Light Gray,* so it could have been a replacement or perhaps left in the original color when the plane was repainted. Photos also confirm the wing national insignia was carried on only the upper left and lower right, in accordance with the February 1941 BuAer instructions.  Planes from the Enterprise normally had Insignia Blue spinners, and we believe CEG did as well.

* It’s been pointed out that if the rudder was turned slightly the different in light reflectivity might account for the apparent difference in color. I have another pic of this ship that I can’t lay my hands on right now and taken together were the basis for the statement above. A turned rudder might account for the color variation, but I do not believe this is the case here.

There are many contemporary photos of USN/USMC (and USAAF) aircraft that showed differences in color between the painted metal and the painted fabric surfaces. Significantly different types of paint were required for each surface and both the color and reflectivity (which affects the color we perceive with our eyes) could have been and often were visually different.

It could be argued that if one fabric covered surface was a different "color" the other fabric covered surfaces on the same plane would show the same color or tonal variation. This is true if–and only if–all the other fabric surfaces were painted at the same time from the same bucket of paint. If, for example, due to minor damage the rudder had to be re-covered and painted, the new paint was quite likely to look somewhat different from the other painted fabric surfaces, simply because it was newer paint and mixed by a different person from different base paints.

Modelers should remember that if they’re painting a model to portray both metal and fabric covered surfaces they should not use the same paint for the entire model. As noted above, the fabric surfaces were almost always a slightly different color–which makes the model look both more interesting and more accurate. One of the most extreme examples of this can be seen on early-midwar B-17s, where the fabric control surfaces were often a significantly different color from the main metal surfaces.

This color variation is MUCH less visible, or nonexistent, on modern rebuilt warbirds since modern paints have completely different chemical compositions from those used in the ’30s and ’40s–as well as different fabric used to cover the surfaces.

 


SBD-3 "Black 10," BuNo 4690
LTJG Stanley "Swede" Vejtasa & RM3 Frank B. Wood
VS-5, USS Yorktown
Coral Sea, 8 May 1942

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup


Early war US carriers simply did not carry enough fighter, a problem exacerbated by the non-folding wings of early F4F Wildcats. The carrier fighter squadrons were left with far too few planes to effectively carry out their assigned missions of escort, combat air patrol, inner air patrol, antisub search, etc. One early attempt to alleviate this problem was the use of SBDs as low altitude anti torpedo plane patrol during enemy attacks.

Swede Vejtasa ("vay-ta-za") found himself in such a tactical situation on 8 May 1942 while flying on of VS-5’s eight SBDs attempting to intercept Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo bombers attacking the Yorktown. Caught between two sections of Kates above and below them, Scouting Five simply could not catch the faster Japanese aircraft. They soon came under attack from the Kates’ Zero escorts and four of the SBDs were shot down. For the next 25 minutes Vejtasa and Wood fought for their lives, and although he was credited with three victories in the desperate air battle, the Japanese reported only one Zero lost.

Vejtasa later joined VF-10 and was credited with seven more air-to-air kills on 26 October 1942 at Santa Cruz, ending the war with 10.25 kills credited.

No photos of Vejtasa’s specific SBD are known to exist, but photos of other VS-5 birds taken at the time give clear indications of how his bird was probably marked. VS-5 SBDs carried modex numbers on the leading edges of the wings, but not on the front lip of the cowling. The large black "S" on the fin is confirmed in many photos, both of the time of Coral Sea and somewhat later.

 


SBD-3 "Black 17"
ENS Leif W. Larsen & ARM3c John F. Gardner
VS-5, USS Yorktown
Midway, June 1942

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

Damaged during the Coral Sea battle in early May, Yorktown was hurriedly repaired at Pearl Harbor for the coming engagement at Midway Island. Her air group was quickly thrown together by COMCARPAC (Commander, Carriers, Pacific Fleet) mostly from the replacement sections of the Saratoga’s air group.

However, for VB-5 (Bombing Squadron 5), they were forced to take the best available planes from Ford Island and other sources to make up the 19 birds needed in the squadron. To avoid confusion, COMCARPAC redesignated this cobbled together unit as VS-5 (Scouting Squadron 5). This confused everyone.

The replacement aircraft were quickly brought up to combat standard, including twin .30 guns in the rear cockpit.

Black 17 had a very weathered finish, with its individual number on the leading edges of the wings and almost certainly under the nose, as can be seen in the photo. It did NOT have the number on the sides of the cowling, as frequently depicted in profile paintings. The underside Light Gray wraps around the front of the cowl, which seems to be unusual but is more common than expected.

 


SBD-3 "Black B1" BuNo 4687
LT Richard H. Best & ACRM(PA) James F. Murray
VB-6, USS Enterprise
Midway, 4 June 1942

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

LT Dick Best, one of the most experienced dive bomber pilots in the Navy, made a decision in the heat of this battle that changed the course of the Pacific war.

Superb dead reckoning by the Enterprise Air Group Commander CDR Wade McClusky led Enterprise’s VB-6 and VS-6 dive bombers to the Japanese carriers. Approaching the Kaga and Akagi, LT Best prepared attack the nearest carrier, the Kaga, according to doctrine. Unfortunately, fighter pilot McClusky had only recently transferred to dive bombers and ordered Best’s squadron to attack the Akagi, while VS-6 attacked the Kaga. Simultaneously radioing their intentions to each other and thereby jamming each other, both squadrons attacked the Kaga and literally blew her to pieces.

At the last moment, Best realized the mistake broke off the attack. Seeing the results of the massed attack on Kaga, Best diverted for the unscathed Akagi. Without time to form an in-line attack formation, the two SBDs who accompanied Best dived on Akagi in a "V" formation, Best in the lead. The two trailing Dauntlesses hit ahead of and behind the Akagi, while Best put his 1000 lb. bomb into Admiral Nagano’s flagship at the aft edge of the middle elevator. His bomb exploded among the armed torpedo aircraft parked on the hangar deck, leading to major secondary explosions that doomed the Akagi. Loss of the Akagi in addition to Kaga greatly effected not only the battle of Midway, but also the battles to come as well as the outcome of the Pacific war.

Ironically, Midway was Dick Best’s last combat, as earlier that same day he had inadvertently inhaled caustic soda while testing his oxygen bottle, which activated latent tuberculosis. Eventually he was invalided out of the Navy.

There are no known photos of Best’s SBD, although the BuNo and modex are recorded. It can be expected that his markings that day were typical of other VB-6 aircraft of the period. Our profile of this bird is based on definitive information of ENS George Goldsmith’s "Black B15," discussions with Mr Best himself, and information provided by his family. Like other SBDs in the battle, the plane carried twin .30 rear guns. The white double LSO stripes on each side of the fin, typical of Enterprise SBDs of that period, are confirmed in many photos. Mr Goldsmith confirmed his plane had Enterprise’s standard dark blue spinner color, and presumably B1 did as well. Note Best’s VB-6 carried 1000 lb. bombs while the Enterprise’s VS-6 carried 500 lb. bombs at Midway.

 


SBD-3 "Black 41-S-16"
VS-41, USS Ranger
Operation Torch, November 1942

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

Trading its aging Vindicators for SBDs just prior to the Ranger sailing to North Africa, VS-41 provided air support for the Anglo-American landings in Vichy French occupied Morocco and Algeria. They attacked French ground installations and ships and were credited with damaging a destroyer, a cruiser, and the battleship Jean Bart.

VS-41 began North African combat operations with 17 SBD-3s and four SBD-4s. Many of her aircraft carried their famous "High Hat" squadron insignia, which dated back to 1927, on one or both sides under the cockpit. 41-S-16 was a replacement aircraft, as the painted-out codes aft of the fuselage stars show, and certainly did not have this unit insignia on the right side, although it could easily have been applied to the left side.

This bird also wears the wide yellow surround to the fuselage and underwing national insignia applied to American aircraft for Operation Torch per Allied Force Headquarters Operations Memorandum No. 9 of 25 September 1942. Intended for quick air-to-air and ground-to-air recognition, the stars on the wing tops did not have yellow outlines. You’ll note the hand-applied yellow rings varied widely from aircraft to aircraft.

 


SBD-4 "Sister"
VMSB-233
Guadalcanal, Spring 1943

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

VMSB-233 arrived on Guadalcanal in late 1942 to relieve VMSB-132. Although little is known about the history and crew of "Sister," it is remarkable as an early example of nose art found on Marine planes.

The nose art on this bird is a great example of how careful research can help you. The first photo shows the official USMC photo that has been oft published. Note the general shape and outline of the name and artwork visible in this iteration.

I was able to find an original 8" x 10" print during my research in the USMC photo archives at Quantico. By greatly enlarging the section showing "Sister," we are able to identify many details that simply can’t be seen in the original version.

 


A-24B-1-DO (SBD-5) 42-54298 "Bar Fly"
407th Bomb Group (Dive)
Amchitka, Territory of Alaska
July-August 1943

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

The Army’s use of the A-24 Banshee is little documented, but it is known that the 3rd Bomb Group flew a very few combat missions in New Guinea in early 1942 and the 407th flew combat missions in Alaska for a short time in the summer of 1943.

Note the lack of arrestor hook, larger tail wheel (generally similar to land-based Marine SBDs), and the obviously well-worn 41 Olive Drab over 43 Neutral Gray finish. The short-lived star-and-bar outlined in red is in the standard four positions. Note the very large size of these insignia, which were converted from the simple star-and-circle originally applied to these aircraft by Douglas Aircraft.

Close examination of good prints of this photo show earlier two-digit aircraft numbers painted out on the fuselage just after the star insignia. While most unit aircraft had the number painted over with a rough rectangle, this aircraft shows very careful overpainting of the number "84" in fresh olive drab paint. Also noteworthy is the aircraft serial number block stenciled in black on the fin with the words "U. S. Army" over "A 24B – 1 – DO."

 


SBD-5 "White 1"
Maj. Elmer G. Glidden & MSgt James Boyle
VMSB-231 Commander
Majuro, Marshall Islands
Spring, 1944

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

Commander of VMSB-231 from September 1942 to September 1944, Glidden had the Marines’ highest number of combat dive bombing missions, and perhaps the record for all U.S. fliers, with an amazing 104 combat dives. MSgt Boyle made all of Glidden’s 77 combat dives in the Marshalls.

Note the bomb tallies were applied with a stencil that contained five bomb symbols in a row, and the rows were not precisely aligned. The unit’s ace of spades insignia was applied to both sides of the nose in front of the cockpit.

 


SBD-5 "White B-5"
VMSB-331 Doodlebugs
Majuro, Marshall Islands
Spring 1944


F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup
Although extremely poor quality, these photos are plenty clear enough to show B-5 and another squadron aircraft’s marking styles.


At the time of this illustration until the end of the Pacific war, the Doodlebugs attacked Japanese positions on islands that had been bypassed in the "island hopping" campaigns.

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

The squadron’s SBDs were painted in the standard three-tone scheme of this time period. Their unit emblem was typically carried on both sides of the nose just forward of the cockpit, although not all planes had them. The modex was applied in white to the fuselage sides, but interestingly somewhat later in the war a black center stroke was added to the white as shown in the photo of B-17.  It was presumably added to B-5 as well, as shown in the scrap view.

 


SBD-5 "Gray S-1" "Barbara Jean"
Maj. Christian C. Lee
Commander, VMS-3
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Spring 1944

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

F-14B San Antonio Rose Artwork Closeup

VMS-3 performed search, patrol, and convoy escort duties in the Caribbean area until disbandment in the Spring of 1944. They had been based in that area since 1937, originally as VMO-3.

Because the standard Navy three-tone scheme was deemed ineffective for the environment, Commander, Aircraft, Atlantic, issued orders on 19 July 1943 that specified two new schemes for aircraft under his control. However, the SBDs of VMS-3 were camouflaged in a scheme of Dark Gull Gray over Insignia White that did not match either of the two standardized antisub schemes! Photos clearly show the modex was in fact NOT black as previously shown in published profiles, but rather the same Dark Gull Gray as the topside camouflage.


Decal Sets

I sure wish I’d had time to release these schemes in 1/48, and barely had time to release them in 1/32 scale before I shut Meteor down. In fact, I had two additional 1/32 SBD decal sets’ artwork completely ready to go but didn’t have time to get them printed before the shutdown (damn).

I have a few each of the remaining 1/32 decal sets below (no 1/48 or 1/72, sorry):

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SBD-1s, USMC, Quantico, Virginia, 1940-1. MULTIPLE SHEET SET. Why, you might ask, would we create a decal set that covers the same subjects as included in the Trumpeter kit? Simply put, Trumpeter is not known for adequate decal research, and their Marine SBD-1 decals are some of the most inaccurate they every produced. Unfortunately, it’s hardly too strong a statement to say Trumpeter did not get a single decal correct on their Marine SBD decals. Among many other glaring errors, the Trumpeter Marine eagle & globe markings are wrong in every respect. Since these birds were historically important (and they look VERY cool), I decided to provide you the opportunity to accurately model one of these early Dauntlesses with their colorful markings-since the Navy never flew any SBDs operationally in full color markings, these Marine babies are your only choices. This set covers four colorful subjects, and includes complete markings, including stencils, for Commander, VMB-2 (2-MB-1 with red nose, chevron, and fuselage band); 5th Section Leader, VMB-2 (2-MB-13 with Willow Green nose, chevrons and fuselage band); 2nd Section Leader, VMB-1 (1-MB-4 with white nose, chevrons and fuselage band); 3rd Section Leader, VMB-1 (True Blue nose, chevrons and fuselage bands).

$23.97
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SBD-3/4s Navy & Marines, Pacific Theater 1942-3. Complete markings, including stencils, to cover one of six aircraft. SBD-4 "Sister" (traditionally believed to have been painted in all white or all yellow; we found an excellent photo that confirms the name was red with a yellow pinstripe outline!), #16, VMSB-233, Guadalcanal, Spring 1943; SBD-3 White #0, CDR Don Felt, Commander, Saratoga Air Group, Guadalcanal Campaign, August 1942; SBD-3 Black 17, ENS Leif Larsen, VS-5, USS Yorktown, Battle of Midway, June 1942; SBD-3 Black B1, LT Dick Best, VB-6, USS Enterprise, Battle of Midway, June 1942; SBD-4 "Push Push" (both white and yellow versions are included since photos are not conclusive about the color), Maj Frank Hollar, VMSB-144, Solomon Islands, November 1943; SBD-3 Black GC, LCDR Wade McClusky, Commander, Enterprise Air Group, Battle of Midway, June 1942.

$23.97
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SBD-1/2/3s, Navy & Marines 1941-3.Complete markings, including stencils, to cover one of seven famous Dauntlesses. First is SBD-3 Black 10, LT Swede Vejtasa, VS-5, USS Yorktown, Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. Next is SBD-2, CDR Howard Young, Commander, Enterprise Air Group, Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. This is one of the birds that flew in to Pearl soon after the attack. Next is White S-8, Lt William Hall, VS-2, USS Lexington, Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. The very interestingly marked SBD-3 Black 41-S-16, VS-41, USS Ranger, Operation Torch, November 1942., is next. An improbably marked SBD-3 White 2-S-9, VS-3, NAS Oakland, September 1941 was painted in an experimental green over Light Gray scheme. The last two subjects were present at Ewa Mooring Mast Field, Territory of Hawaii on the morning of 7 December 1941 during the Japanese attack. First is SBD-2 White 2-B-6, of VMSB-232. This bird, although it did not take off, was manned by a couple of Marine sergeants who fired the aft flexible .30 machine gun at attacking Japanese Zeros. It was pretty badly shot up in the attacks. The final subject is SBD-1, White 2-MB-2, VMSB-232. The markings on these two planes were extremely unexpected and in violation of Marine markings directives of the time, a subject examined and discussed in the instruction sheet.

$23.97
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