At the time of her introduction 1937, she was a marvel of modern engineering, and revelation in the field of naval aviation. By the time of her withdrawal from combat in 1942 (just five years later), she was maligned for being "obsolete" and "a deathtrap."
By the end of World War II, the scant few surviving aircraft were either scrapped, or lying forgotten in sacred graves at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Not one of the 130 examples built survive today. The TBD Devastator, it seemed, was lost to history.
For historians interested in the TBD's pivotal and sometimes controversial role in the early days of the War in the Pacific, resources have always been relatively thin. Compared to the vast reams of material available to P-51 Mustang, Corsair, or Spitfire aficionados, documentation regarding the TBD Devastator is somewhat limited. The same (relatively few) several hundred or so photographs and technical drawings are republished again and again, with new material a rarity. For scale modelers, aviation artists, movie productions wishing to make history whole again. Some texts, offering new material in relatively low publishing numbers, fetch prices as ridiculously high as Eight Hundred Sixty Four Dollars! (Though we found the same book for $38 at an airshow, also admit it's probably one of the most inclusive texts on the subject)
On March 4th, 2018, the underwater exploration team of the RV Petrel, funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, located and explored the wreckage of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington. In a shock to Pacific War historians both amateur and professional, the crew of RV petrel found over a dozen US Navy aircraft, present on the deck of Lexington during her sinking, in the debris field close by the wreck of the carrier. Among the rare early-model Wildcats and Dauntlesses were seven TBD Devastators. The aircraft were impossibly well preserved, with intact blue grey camouflage, still bright red, white and blue national insignia, squadron mascots, and in some cases, small Japanese flags denoting aerial victories.
We see an aircraft no longer limited to the black and white pages of forgotten history. The RV Petrel's stunning discovery brought the TBD Devastator smashing back into the collective American consciousness in vivid color.
77 Years after the Battle of the Coral Sea, and as longtime fans of this underdog airplane, we are pleased to have her rumble down our humble digital decks. Stay tuned.