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Capt. David E. McCafferty, GRC, Coll #3208, PC 615, Box 2, Folder: McCafferty, David E., WWII Photos - Aviation-Guadalcanal This picture from the Special Collections of the Archives Branch of the Marine Corps History Division shows VMSB-232’s “MB-26” on Guadalcanal shortly after the squadron arrived on August 20, 1942. This image was key in the restoration of the NMMC’s SBD-3 Dauntless, which is marked as “MB-21.”

Photo by Photo by Capt. David E. McCafferty

Flying a dive bomber in WWII

9 Mar 2016 | Ben Kristy; Aviation Curator, NMMC Marine Corps Base Quantico

The heroic actions of the commanding officer of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 232 and his observer/gunner over Guadalcanal in August 1942 are now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

On Aug. 20, 1942, VMSB-232, flying Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers, became the first Marine scout/bombing squadron to land on the recently captured Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal. VMSB-232, along with Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 223, formed the nucleus for the famed “Cactus Air Force” and its men and aircraft fought under the most austere conditions imaginable until they were relieved in October 1942.

In the early hours of Aug. 25, 1942, word of an approaching Japanese troop convoy bringing reinforcements to the island reached Henderson Field. Maj. Richard C. Mangrum, VMSB-232’s commanding officer, led a mixed flight of eight USMC and US Navy SBDs (which transferred to Guadalcanal from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which had recently been severely damaged) to intercept the enemy vessels. After an extended search, Mangrum located the Japanese convoy, comprised of a cruiser, 11 destroyers, and four transports.

Mangrum made the first dive, targeting the cruiser, but the 1,000 pound armor-piercing bomb failed to release from his aircraft. After the other SBDs had completed their attacks and cleared the area, Mangrum elected to turn back toward the Japanese convoy and made a second solo attack — hitting the Japanese transport Boston Maru. As a result of the combined attacks, the enemy convoy reversed course, delaying the delivery of Japanese troop reinforcements to Guadalcanal during a crucial time for the Marines fighting to hold the island. For his actions, Maj. Mangrum received the Navy Cross.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps’ Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless has been marked to represent the aircraft, “MB-21”, flown by Maj. Mangrum and his observer/gunner Cpl. Dennis E. Byrd on Aug. 25, 1942. The Museum’s restoration team used original photographs of VMSB-232 aircraft on Guadalcanal found in the Archives Branch of the Marine Corps History Division to guide their efforts, painstakingly recreating the hurriedly hand-taped (and non-regulation) squadron numbers on the leading edge of the wing. Their seven year, 62,000 man-hour restoration effort has culminated in the dynamic display of one of the most complete and faithfully restored Douglas SBD aircraft in the country.

Marine Corps Base Quantico