Jump to content

Douglas TBD-1A in ML-KNIL service 1940 to 1944


Recommended Posts

Inspired by the builds and back stories on here I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring.


With war clouds gathering over Europe in 1938 the Dutch Government realised that they needed to strengthen their forces to enforce their Neutralist policy in the event of a European war. The Dutch East Indies (NEI) were ordered to participate in a Dutch Purchasing mission in the USA as their extensive US purchases had made then the US aircraft industries biggest export customer (just ahead of Japan!).

One early requirement was for a coastal patrol aircraft and Douglas were approached with a view to buying Devastators as follow on to the USN version in production. The Dutch made a series of flights in the first prototype 0268 and were impressed enough to pay for an option on 100 aircraft to be re-engined with Wright Cyclones that were familiar to their mechanics. An amendment to 40 aircraft as float-planes was accepted by Douglas who arranged for 0268 to be fitted with EDO floats. Apart from requesting an enlarged tail surface the Dutch found the plane handled very well for a modest loss of speed.

The Dutch established a project office at the Douglas plant with the NEI team concentrating on the float-plane version and the Dutch the land based plane. In reality the NEI team were most enthusiastic and made many suggestions that made servicing and operation much simpler. The wing fold, floatation bags and wing bomb racks were deleted, the oil cooler was relocated back into the starboard wing root, the radio equipment was moved into the second cockpit whose occupant was responsible for navigation and bomb aiming the flying controls (but not instruments) removed. The RDF loop was mounted on the rear fuselage. On the float-plane the wing fuel tanks were enlarged and most of the hydraulics were omitted along with much other equipment the NEI regarded as unneeded. The NEI team were very proud that the floatplane with the Cyclone matched the land plane's performance and weighed only 20 Kg more.


With the Netherlands falling to the Germans in May 1940 after paying half the contract price the USN took over the production slots for the land planes compensating the NEI but allowed the 40 float plane NEI order to stand. These had all been delivered by November 1940 by US carrier. After more than a year in service 37 remained to oppose the Japanese invasion with the 22 survivors arriving in Darwin where they mounted coastal patrols under Australian direction. Despite several attacks on IJN submarines no certain victories were recorded but it is now known that a submarine lost in May 1942 was most likely lost to a Devastator.

After Midway the Dutch planes continued to operate until reinforcements from the USAAF and USN and ANZAC expansion took over. Recognising the flying ability of the Douglas and it's crews they were offered the task of supporting the coast watcher organisation and courier work for the NEI Special Branch. The Douglas was finally withdrawn in November 1944 although flying operations had ceased two months earlier as the Dutch transferred to the Catalina.

The Model

GWH released the TBD-1A as originally converted as a 48th kit a couple of years ago which made this project possible. A lot of information came from 'Orange over the Rising Sun- NEI Aviation in the PTO' by General-Pilot E. van der Valk published in English in 1955 and relatively available second hand. The Squadron Signal Devastator in Action barely mentions Dutch involvement but does have a side view drawing which was very helpful for the tail modifications. Steve Ginter's Naval Fighters Volume has even less about the Dutch but has much information enabling me to work out the detail changes resulting from vd Valk's general notes.

More to follow...

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks for the interest people!



I've assembled the wings and filled the bomb rack and wing fold areas as these were not present on the 'Cloggies'. It was easier to replace the stiffeners with Plastruct 0.3mm square rod rather than make good at the wing join and so on. Took two attempts to get right but it looks OK now. The inboard struts are mounted too close together so the original holes are filled and new ones cut outboard. As the Dutch machines could carry bombs this was an unwanted but needed bit of work. The bomb racks were always fitted according to my references and are in the kit although unmarked on the parts drawing. Bonus!




Here are the cockpit and front end parts. The Wright Cyclone is from a Monogram B-17G donated by my friend Alan Matthews. The prop is bent but I have a plan... The crawl-way was extended into the rear compartment when the aircraft were modified to agent support late summer 1943, the armament was removed completely and the rear area was used for carrying agents or supplies, the bomb sight was removed as parachute drops were from 200 feet (or less!) and markings on the window proved completely adequate. Note that the interior was silver as on every Dauntless except...


for the side consoles which were modified in service and replacement panels arrived in green. The far side shows the manual pump handle was detachable being stowed out of the way until needed. The only major system on the RH console is the flap lever. Note that the oxygen bottles appear to have been retained even though these aircraft rarely exceeded 2500 feet on operations. This is strange considering the weight reduction efforts elsewhere.



Finally a general overview. The control surfaces were metal on  the Dutch aircraft and tended to droop when moored, so they are being separated and cleaned up ready. The red bottle lid holds the radio equipment and black boxes which will be added just before the fuselage is joined. 


After a lot of digging I've found that when the aircraft were re-tasked the upper surfaces remained in the Dutch green but the underside white was replaced by black, initially a matt finish which wasn't very durable then a satin which was much better. Many also had a thin coat of dark grey over the black giving a streaky appearance which was very effective apparently, despite the orange triangles being retained. Bomb racks carried parachute supply containers with a fastening added to deploy a small chute which was adequate for the task if the containers were only part filled. They were dropped singly according to van der Valk, if the first attempt was successful the aircraft became a flying spare for another mission locally. I have been unable to find a clear photo of the starboard side of the plane in this configuration but have decided to fit a rear cockpit access ladder on each side. The handling rope between the float struts is certainly on both sides. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 years later...
  • 11 months later...
18 hours ago, 2996 Victor said:

Has there been any progress on this project?



Hi Mark


Unfortunately no. It has been a long while since I finished anything but now I've wrestled control back from the black dog of depression that's changing. This is 3rd in the resurrection pile about three feet away, I seem to have lost a float though...not sure how that's happened TBH


Thanks for the interest, it may get bumped up a little higher.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, SleeperService said:

Hi Mark


Unfortunately no. It has been a long while since I finished anything but now I've wrestled control back from the black dog of depression that's changing. This is 3rd in the resurrection pile about three feet away, I seem to have lost a float though...not sure how that's happened TBH


Thanks for the interest, it may get bumped up a little higher.


Good that its back on the cards for completion - looking forward to seeing it progress in due course. Pity about the float, though I'm sure you'll be able to sort that out!


Also, I'm glad to hear you're feeling more like getting back into things. I know a bit about depression, too, so you have my greatest admiration in coming through it. Well done! Its tough but it sounds like you're beating it, and before long it'll be behind you. And if you ever need to talk.....well, you know!


Stay safe and stay well.


Kind regards,



  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...