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Aces of Aviation

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless of John A. Leppla

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless of John A. Leppla

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless from the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron of the US Navy, piloted by John A. Leppla in May 1942.

Wingspan: 12.65 meters.

Length: 10.06 meters.

Height: 4.14 meters.

Engine[s]: Wright R-1820 of 1200 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 394 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 7410 meters.

Range: 1770 kilometers.

Armament: Two Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine guns; two Browning 7.62-millimeter machine guns; ordnance load of up to 726 kilograms under the fuselage; two 147-kilogram bombs under the wings.

The absence of aircraft carriers in the otherwise disaster of Pearl Harbor of 7th December 1941 was a strong blow for the hopes of the Japanese to achieve a quick victory on the war with United States. That an effective American aircraft force still existed was clearly seen during the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, when aircraft from the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown, which patrolled the area where it was thought that a Japanese invasion fleet in route to Papua New Guinea was located, attacked and damaged the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho. They destroyed so many aircraft that Vice Admiral Inouye, understanding that the number of remaining fighters was insufficient, gave counterorder to the invasion.

The Battle of Coral Sea was the first naval battle ever fought in which no ship opened fire against another ship. The squadrons VB-2 and VS-2 of the US Navy were embarked onboard the USS Lexington, while the USS Yorktown transported the VB-5 and VS-5. All of them were Douglas SBD Dauntless bombers, seventy-four of which were ready to enter action immediately. The 7th May on the morning, some of those aircraft attacked the aircraft carrier Shoho along with her escort, in the very line of fire of enemy fighters.

Among the Dauntless was one piloted by J. A. Leppla from the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron. During the first pass Leppla was attacked by two enemy fighters, one of which was downed by the gunner onboard his Dauntless, John Liska. Then Leppla saw another Zero fighter attacking a Dauntless. Without leaving his trajectory of dive, he maneuvered his aircraft to be able to open fire with the machine guns against the enemy fighter, which he managed to shoot down before releasing his bombs. When returning from the dive he found another Zero flying in his line of fire and managed to destroy it as well. Finally, while returning to the USS Lexington Leppla sighted an enemy reconnaissance aircraft and downed it.

The following day, the USS Lexington released her Dauntless bombers and Wildcat fighters in an attempt to defend herself against the enemy torpedo bombers; the VB-2 and VS-2 downed eleven of them, three of which were claimed by Leppla and Liska. Nonetheless, the aircraft carrier was severely damaged and had to leave the combat, only to be sunk by the very Americans. Her air wing and aircraft were accommodated onboard the USS Yorktown.

Reputed as excellent bomber, the Douglas SBD Dauntless demonstrated its effectiveness against the Japanese ships, being used with great success as well in the Battle of Midway, and became associated to the names of Leppla and Liska, whose record of seven victories in two consecutive days stood out brilliantly amidst the bitter war ambient unleashed upon the Pacific during the Second World War.