Revell 1/48 SB2C-3 Helldiver

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $29.95 SRP
DECALS: Two Options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: 'Big Ed' photo etch set


             The Curtiss Helldiver was the most problematic American naval aircraft to see production and operational use during the Second World War.  Planned as the replacement of the Douglas SBD Dauntless shipboard dive bomber, the SB2C promised higher performance in speed, range and payload; in the end, it failed to meet its designated performance parameters on any of these points, yet force majeure saw it remain in production throughout the war (one can consider the SB2C the great-grandfather of those current boondoggles, the F/A-18 and the F-35B/C, which have also failed to meet their original performance parameters and have still been placed into production).

             Over 800 separate changes in three major modification programs were required to get one squadron of SB2C-1 Helldivers onto a carrier deck over 18 months later than originally expected.  The SB2C-1 was underpowered due to the decision to use the R-2600 radial engine.  This problem would remain with the design through the SB2C-1C and the early and mid-production SB2C-3 sub-types, with the late production SB2C-3 and SB2C-4 utilizing an uprated R-2600 that provided sufficient power so that every carrier takeoff didn’t feel like a potential crash to the crew.  Additionally, the poor design of the dive brakes meant that the airplane was never as accurate a dive bomber as the airplane it replaced, the SBD, until the late production SB2C-3 and the subsequent SB2C-4 were given perforated dive flaps along the line of those originally utiized by the SBD.

            The later versions of the SB2C-3, which first arrived in fleet squadrons in the summer of 1944, and the SB2C-4 that appeared on operations shortly after the battle of Leyte Gulf, were the Helldiver the Navy had originally hoped for in terms of performance and reliability.  Their careers aboard the fast carriers were shortened by the fact the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair could carry the same bomb load as the SB2C, and could easily revert to their fighter role; this became crucial with the appearance of the Kamikaze.  By the time of the Okinawa campaign, most fast carriers had completely replaced SB2Cs with the F6F and F4U in the fighter-bomber role.

John D. Bridgers - Helldiver Pilot:

War arrived for America on Sunday, December 7, 1941. InGreenville, North Carolina, recently-commissioned Ensign John D. Bridgers was home on leave awaiting orders to a fleet squadron, having just graduated as a Naval Aviator after joining the Navy’s Aviation Cadet program in February, 1941. A 1940 graduate of East Carolina Teacher’s College, Bridgers had hoped to go on to medical school. However, he knew he had to go to work since his family was still dealing with the aftereffects of the Depression. As he recalled, “In North Carolina, a beginning teacher received a monthly salary of $96.50. From this salary one was expected to house, clothe and feed one’s self as well as suffer pension withholdings and pay taxes. While contemplating that, I learned I could make $105.00 per month in the Navy as an Aviation Cadet with board, lodging and clothing furnished. In a year, if successful in flight training, I would be commissioned an Ensign in the Naval Reserve with a $250.00 per month salary, again with lodging provided and an allowance for food, and with a half-month’s bonus for flight pay. Further, for foregoing four formative years one typically spent on temporary employment, the reserve aviator would receive $1000.00 per year bonus at discharge - $4,000. To a son of the Depression, these seemed princely arrangements, and the flight bonus would provide a nest egg if I needed more college before medical school.”

The week after Pearl Harbor, Bridgers found his expected assignment to the Atlantic Fleet had been changed when he received orders sending him to Pearl Harbor to join Bombing Squadron Three at the Ford Island Naval Air Station. After traveling to San Francisco by train just before Christmas, Bridgers went aboard the SS President Hoover along with 2,000 construction workers, headed for Pearl Harbor. His group of Naval Aviators found themselves bunking in what had been the ship’s cocktail lounge. After a week at sea, they sighted Diamond Head. “As we pulled into Pearl Harbor, I recalled having seen a newsreel by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, maintaining that little substantial damage had been done to the Pacific Fleet by the Pearl Harbor attack. We looked out and saw that the waters were still uniformly oil-covered; we passed the still-grounded battleship USS Nevada in the channel. In the harbor itself were more derelicts including the capsized U.S.S. Oklahoma, the sunken USS West Virginia, and the remains of the blasted USS Arizona. It was evident there had been grievous hurt inflicted by the enemy. I made a promise to myself as I viewed this destruction that I would repay the investment the Navy had made in me one day by doing something to avenge this.”

Bombing-Three had been left behind in Hawaii when USS Saratoga returned to the west coast for repairs after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in late December, 1941. New naval aviators were assigned to the unit to complete their advanced training, and it was here that Bridgers made the acquaintance of the SBD Dauntless. After six weeks’ training, the unit was sent aboard USS Enterprise for a special mission. Bridgers, who had yet to qualify as a carrier pilot, was surprised to find himself included. At sea a day later, they made rendezvous with USS Hornet, which presented a strange sight with sixteen Army bombers tied down on her flight deck.  Bridgers’ introduction to war was to participate in the Doolittle Raid. As the ships headed back to Hawaii after launching the raiders, Ensign Bridgers was able to make the three carrier landings that qualified him fully as a Naval Aviator.

Upon return from this mission, Bombing Three had ten days before they were alerted they would go aboard USS Yorktown for a mission of utmost importance upon her arrival back in Pearl Harbor from the Battle of the Coral Sea. The pilots were awestruck when they saw the condition of the badly-damaged Yorktown, which set out to sea after three days in port with construction workers still aboard making her fit to see combat. Bridgers’ participation in the Battle of Midway was limited to searches flown on the way out; he and other inexperienced young pilots were held in reserve on June 4. Later that day, he survived the two Japanese air attacks on Yorktown. When the ship was torpedoed and sunk by I-26, Bridgers was among the survivors picked up by escorting destroyers.

Within a week of his return to Hawaii, Ensign Bridgers was assigned to Scouting Six, which went aboard the newly-returned Saratoga; after two more weeks of training, the ship was underway for the South Pacific. Bridgers flew his first combat mission on August 7, 1942, providing air support for the invasion of Guadalcanal. For the next three months he was intimately involved with that fateful struggle, participating in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, and later being among the pilots sent to the island itself following Saratoga’s second torpedoing. Newly promoted to Lieutenant (j.g.), Bridgers went back aboard Saratoga with Scouting Six now redesignated Bombing Thirteen, and participated in the central Solomons campaign in early 1943, when Saratoga operated in concert with HMS Victorious.

In June, 1943, then-Lieutenant Bridgers was separated from Bombing Thirteen and returned to San Francisco aboard Victorious. After a month’s leave, he received his new orders to report to Norfolk Naval Station to commission a new squadron, Bombing-Fifteen. Here, Bridgers and two of his fellow Saratoga veterans formed a core of experience deeply appreciated by squadron commander Lieutenant Commander James Mini, and Bridgers became Squadron Engineering Officer. At first, the unit flew the SBD Dauntless, but in early November, the first of their new SB2C-1C Helldivers arrived. As Engineering Officer, Bridgers was at the forefront of the struggle to get the new airplane operational. “I was to come to know well the mechanical intricacies of The Beast, and particularly appreciated the aphorism that the SB2C had three less engines and one more hydraulic fitting than the B-17." By January 1944 Bombing-Fifteen, along with Fighting-Fifteen and Torpedo-Fifteen, were ready to go aboard their carrier, the new USS Hornet.

Along with the rest of Air Group Fifteen, Bridgers ran into the “hornet’s nest” that was Hornet’s captain, Miles Browning. The Air Group was put ashore in Hawaii, excoriated by Browning as being unready for combat. The Air Group Commander was replaced by the commander of Fighting-Fifteen, LCDR David McCampbell. Bridgers particularly missed the 36 SB2C-1Cs they had left aboard Hornet, which he had been responsible for working on so they were finally combat-ready. After a six week marathon of training, during which Bridgers and the engineering section worked every minute not spent flying to make another 36 Helldivers combat-ready, the air group passed their Operational Readiness Inspection and went aboard USS Essex at the end of April, 1944. They departed for the Western Pacific on May 3. Bridgers was leader of the second division of Bombing Fifteen, which the members named “The Silent Second.”

A month later, he and the rest of the squadron flew their first big mission against the airfields on Saipan as part of the invasion of the Marianas. Fortunately for Bombing-Fifteen, Task Group 58.4 was too far to the east to take part in the strikes against the Japanese fleet in the “Mission Beyond Darkness” that saw half the fleet’s Helldivers that participated lost due to running out of fuel on the return flight to the fleet. Bombing Fifteen spent the next six weeks providing support for the invasions of Tinian and Guam with two side trips back to Eniwetok to replenish supplies and replace shot-up aircraft.

On August 26, 1944, Essex arrived at Eniwetok to replenish. Bombing Fifteen was re-equipped with mid/late SB2C-3 Helldivers. These were distinguished from the previous SB2C-3s that had equipped the squadron by their 4-bladed prop, and an additional 250 horsepower. Bridgers recorded that the new Helldiver made takeoffs far less “adventurous” than they had been in the earlier models. Bombing Fifteen was reduced from 36 aircraft to 26, while ten pilots were moved to Fighting Fifteen to fly additional Hellcats added to the squadron.

Air Group Fifteen next provided support for the Marines in the invasion of Peleliu. This was followed by operations across the central and northern Philippines. The most spectacular single mission for Air Group Fifteen happened off the east coast of Luzon, when an enemy convoy of 42 ships was sighted. The Helldivers and Avengers sank 18, left five burning fiercely, nine dead in the water and trailing oil, seven hit, and three damaged but under way; several ammunition ships made spectacular sights when hit. Overall, the Philippines strikes by Task Force 38 - combined with the strikes on Okinawa and Formosa that denied reinforcements to the Philippines - were so successful that the invasion schedule for Leyte was moved up to October 20, 1944.

The Japanese responded to the Leyte invasion with all of their available fleet. On October 24, 1944, the strongest Japanese surface fleet to ever put to sea was spotted in the Sibuyan Sea, headed toward San Bernardino Strait and the invasion forces in Leyte Gulf. By now promoted to Lieutenant Commander, Bridgers took part in the strikes against the Japanese Fleet. The attack by Bombing Fifteen and Torpedo Fifteen against the Japanese battleship Musashi was later judged to have resulted in the major bomb and torpedo hits that led to her sinking later that evening. In two missions against the Center Force, Bombing Fifteen hit Musashi with ten bombs and the battleship Nagato with three.

Late that afternoon, search planes finally found the Japanese carriers Halsey was seeking, not knowing that the four carriers located off Luzon’s Cape Engano were there as bait to bring Halsey away from the invasion forces and open them to attack by Admiral Kurita’s center force that had been attacked the day before. That night, Halsey took no notice of a report sighting the Center Force moving through San Bernardino Strait, and three task groups of Task Force 38 headed north to get the Japanese carriers.

October 25, 1944, found Bridgers at the head of the Essex strike force headed for the Japanese fleet, CDR Mini having been shot up the day before over the Japanese Center Force and forced to ditch near a US destroyer.

Arriving overhead, he looked down and recognized the Japanese carrier Zuikaku, the last survivor of the six carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor nearly three years earlier. The Essex strike was so successful, the bombers were given full credit for the sinking of Zuikaku, as they made eight direct hits on the ship. In a mission later that afternoon they sank the light carrier Chitose with six more hits. In these attacks, Bombing Fifteen sent 71 sorties that scored 30 direct hits on Japanese warships, the best record of any mission flown by any Navy bombing squadron. Bridgers was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts in this action.

After Leyte Gulf, Air Group Fifteen was scheduled to return to the United States, but two different attempts to leave were scuttled as they were needed in combat over the Philippines, which involved several strikes against Manila and strikes against light Japanese naval forces in the centralPhilippines. When the air group was finally relieved in late November, Bombing Fifteen had only 14 Helldivers left aboard.

Between May and November, 1944, Bombing Fifteen and Torpedo Fifteen sank 37 cargo vessels, probably sank 10 more, and damaged 39, for a total score of 174,300 tons of merchant shipping definitely sunk. Additionally, Musashi, the world’s largest battleship was sunk, along with Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, one light aircraft carrier, one destroyer, one destroyer escort, two minesweepers, five escort ships, and two motor torpedo boats. Of 36 pilots originally assigned to Bombing Fifteen, twelve were killed during the tour. Air Group Fifteen’s record was unmatched by any other naval air group in the war.

After the war, John Bridgers returned home and went to medical school on the G.I. Bill. In 1951, he took an assignment as a Naval Aviation flight surgeon, and saw duty with Task Force 77 off Korea. He returned to his civilian career in 1955; he was instrumental in the establishment of the East Carolina University Medical School; he retired from private practice in 1984 and joined The Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals, with which he traveled nationwide. Following the death of his wife, he eventually retired to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he died in May 2007.


            The Monogram/Pro-Modeler SB2C-4 was first released in 1997.  It was re-released by Accurate Miniatures as a not very accurate SB2C-1 which I REVIEWED HERE.  This release by Revell is the first re-release of the original SB2C-4 kit in several years.  Eduard made a very good photoetch set for the SB2C-4 including the complete set of perforated dive brakes that I reviewed earlier.  The kit is very accurate and one of the best kits Monogram ever made.

             As I mentioned in my earlier SB2C-4 review, the Eduard “Big Ed” set will effectively turn your $29.95 kit into a $100 kit, but if you want a “definitive” Helldiver, it is worth the price, since it provides all the detail you could want in to cockpits and bomb bay, not to mention the ability to display the dive brakes right.  I used the Big Ed set for the SB2C-1 which had the non-perforated dive brakes; these are perfect for doing an SB2C-3 prior to the very last production batch that introduced the perforated dive brakes.  As far as choosing to do this, remember that in this crazy hobby “one man’s insanity is another’s seriousness of purpose.”


            I decided I would do a mid/late production SB2C-3, having done the SB2C-1, SB2C-1C, SB2C-4 and SB2C-5 over the years.  The mid/late SB2C-3 can have either the unperforated dive brakes of the earlier sub-types or the later perforated type provided in the kit, and the engine and 4-bladed prop of the later SB2C-4.  While earlier SB2C-3s have a window on either side immediately aft of the pilot’s sliding canopy, the mid/late production version is the first to get rid of that feature.  Thus, this is an easy conversion with a modeler only needing to modify the propeller hub by extending it about 1/8 inch.  I had the Eduard Big-Ed set to correct the Accurate Miniatures SB2C-1 release of this kit, which allowed me to do the unperforated dive brakes and open them up, which adds interest to the final look of the model.  I also used the interior upgrade set for the instrument panel and the other panel faces and radio faces, as well as additional detail for the rear gun turret.

           I cut off the dive brake interior detail from the plastic wing parts before assembling the wings. The best way to attach the wings for this model is to glue them to the fuselage halves prior to further assembly of the fuselage.  This allows you to work that joint from inside and out, and get it nice and tight without having to worry about filling any seams.

            I decided to close the bomb bay on this model, which involved cutting the bomb bay doors off the interior wall parts, and then gluing them in position on each fuselage half. I reinforced this with Evergreen strip along the inside of the door.

            The cockpit interior parts were painted Interior Green and assembled, with various parts replaced with the Eduard photoetched parts.  I also assembled the gun turret and set it aside.  With the interior installed, I glued the fuselage halves together and attached the horizontal stabilizers.

            Eduard’s set included masks for the extensive canopies, which made painting them easier.

            I painted the interior of the photoetch dive brakes Tamiya Flat Red, with the exterior done in the tri-color camouflage.


            After pre-shading the model, the lower surfaces were painted with Tamiya Flat White.  The outer undersides of the wings and the fuselage sides and vertical fin were painted with Gunze-Sangyo Intermediate Blue, while the upper surfaces were painted with a mix of Tamiya Sea Blue and Field Blue.  All of these upper colors were post-shaded to simulate sun-fading as would be experienced in the Central Pacific.

            I used decals out of the decal dungeon for the national insignia and plane-in-group number.  The kit decals were used for the very small stencils.

            I did exhaust and oil stains with Tamiya Smoke, then gave the model several coats of Xtracrylix Flat Varnish, with some Tamiya Flat Base mixed in to get a very flat sun-faded finish.

I unmasked the canopies and put them in position after fitting the gun turret in the rear cockpit, then finished off by attaching the prop, landing gear and radar antennas.


            The Beast may not have been a very good dive bomber, but it has always been an interesting-looking airplane, and Monogram’s kit catches its lines very well indeed.  No collection of US Navy Second World War carrier aircraft is complete without two or three done as the differing versions. I have now completed two of the three Air Group 15 models I plan to do.

With thanks to Commander Bridgers for writing one of the best personal memoirs of World War II naval air combat, “The Naval Years,” which you can read here:


Tom Cleaver

February 2012

Review kit courtesy of my wallet.  Eduard Big Ed set courtesy Eduard.   

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