The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air or naval arms around the world.
It entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. Despite losing five of the six Avengers on its debut, it survived in service to become one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II. Greatly modified after the war, it remained in use until the 1960s.
On the afternoon of 7 December 1941, Grumman held a ceremony to open a new manufacturing plant and display the new TBF to the public. Coincidentally, on that day, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, as Grumman soon found out. After the ceremony was over, the plant was quickly sealed off to guard against possible sabotage. By early June 1942, a shipment of more than 100 aircraft was sent to the Navy, ironically arriving only a few hours after the three carriers quickly departed from Pearl Harbor, so most of them were too late to participate in the pivotal Battle of Midway.
However, six TBF-1s were present on Midway Island, as part of VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron 8), while the rest of the squadron flew Devastators from the Hornet. Unfortunately, both types of torpedo bombers suffered heavy casualties. Out of the six Avengers, five were shot down and the other returning heavily damaged with one of its gunners killed, and the other gunner and the pilot injured. Nonetheless, the US torpedo bombers were credited with drawing away the Japanese combat air patrols so the American dive bombers could successfully hit the Japanese carriers.
Many Avengers have survived into the 21st century working as spray-applicators and water-bombers throughout North America, particularly in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
Forest Protection Limited (FPL) of Fredericton, NB once owned and operated the largest civilian fleet of Avengers in the world. FPL began operating Avengers in 1958 after purchasing 12 surplus TBM-3E aircraft from the Royal Canadian Navy. Use of the Avenger fleet at FPL peaked in 1971 when 43 aircraft were in use as both water bombers and spray aircraft. The company sold three Avengers in 2004 (C-GFPS, C-GFPM, and C-GLEJ) to museums or private collectors. The Central New Brunswick Woodsmen’s Museum has a former FPL Avenger on static display. An FPL Avenger that crashed in 1975 in southwestern New Brunswick was recovered and restored by a group of interested aviation enthusiasts and is currently on display. FPL was still operating three Avengers in 2010 configured as water-bombers, and stationed at Miramichi Airport. One of these crashed just after takeoff on April 23, 2010, killing the pilot. There are several other Avengers in private collections around the world today.