In 1939 the Bureau of Aeronautics specified requirements for a new US Navy carrier-borne torpedo bomber.
In April 1940 two competing designs were accepted for further development – XTBF-1 by Grumman and XTBU-1 by Vought. Shortly afterwards, two prototypes of each of the two designs were ordered. Since the XTBF‑1 was slightly lighter, had better range and a smaller span with folded wings, it was duly proclaimed the winner of the contest and in December 1940 the first order for serial production was placed.
The XTBF-1 prototype was first flown on 7th August 1941. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the new aircraft was christened “Avenger”. The first serial TBF-1s were delivered to the US Navy in January 1942. The new bomber made its debut in small numbers during the famous Battle of Midway in June 1942. The production figures quickly soared and soon the already out-dated Douglas TBD-1 “Devastator” was phased out in favour of the new design.
In 1942 an agreement was struck with the Eastern Aircraft Division of the General Motors Company to enable the company to build the Avenger under license. The GM production Avengers were designated TBM. Apart from TBF/TBM-1 and -1C sub-variants, one more version, TBM-3, was pressed into service by the end of the WWII. More specialized variants followed afterwards. All in all, 9839 Avengers of all sub-types were built, including as many as 7546 manufactured by General Motors.
From mid-1942 on, TBF/TBM Avenger was the primary carrier-borne US Navy bomber in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. It also played a vital role in hunting the German U-boats in the Atlantic. The aircraft was also successfully deployed in neutralizing ground targets during the American amphibious operations. Initially the aircraft mainly served as a bomber as the American torpedoes of that time proved very faulty.
Not before the mid-1944 – after introducing substantial improvements in torpedo designs – was this weapon re-deployed in the battlefield. By then, the Avenger ordnance also featured depth charges and rocket missiles.
Avenger was one of the best carrier torpedo bombers of World War II. It was the first American carrier-based bomber fitted with a bomb bay and the first American aircraft sporting the electrically-driven gun turret. Throughout the war Avenger served with US Navy, US Marine Corps, the British Fleet Air Arm and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. It stayed with US Navy until 1954. After the war Avengers were also used by Canada, France, Netherlands, Uruguay, Brazil, and… Japan.