The Missouri Wings TBM-3E Avenger came off the production line in May of 1945 at the Eastern Aircraft / General Motors Corporation's Trenton, New Jersey Plant.
On May 19, 1945 the initial inspection was completed and the transfer order for TBM-3E aircraft number 53353 was finalized. For the next few years she would see service on the west coast from San Diego - SO NAS Pearl Harbor - NAF Tillamook - NAF Litchfield - NAS Norfolk.
During the years leading to the Korean War, TBM Avengers were mustered for training and active duty. TBM-3E #53353 was assigned to VS-27 which was an Air Anti-Submarine Squadron.
Designated as a trainer during the Korean War, #53353 and assigned to VS-27 whose aircraft had seen action off the carriers USS Kula Gulf, USS Siboney and USS Boxer Island. All three carriers from WWII were reactivated for use as trainers for pilots heading to the Korean Peninsula.
#53353 stayed in service until 1961 when it was transferred from Davis, CA to the Georgia Forestry Commission.
In 1977 our TBM-3E found its first private owner and remained in Florida until 1988.
2000 brought the aircraft to the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force where she still flies today.
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 enemy action. By early June of 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 while the other returned heavily damaged with one of its two gunners killed. 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.
On 24 August 1942, the next major naval battle occurred at the Eastern Solomans. Based on the carriers Saratoga and Enterprise, the 24 TBFs present were able to sink the Japanese light carrier Ryujo and claim one dive bomber, at the cost of seven aircraft.
The first major "prize" for the TBFs (which had been assigned the name "Avenger" in October 1941, before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) was at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942, when Marine Corps and Navy Avengers helped sink the battleship Hiei.
After hundreds of the original TBF-1 models were built, the TBF-1C began production. The allotment of space for specialized internal and wing-mounted fuel tanks doubled the Avenger's range. By 1943, Grumman began to slowly phase out production of the Avenger in order to produce F6F Hellcat fighters, and the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors started production of the TBM. The Eastern Aircraft plant was located in North Tarrytown (re-named Sleepy Hollow in 1996), NY. Starting in mid-1944, the TBM-3 began production (with a more powerful powerplant and wing hardpoints for drop tanks and rockets). The dash-3 was the most numerous of the Avengers (with about 4,600 produced). However, most of the Avengers in service were dash-1s until near the end of the war (in 1945).
Besides the traditional surface role (torpedoing surface ships), Avengers claimed about 30 submarine kills, including the cargo submarine I-52. They were one of the most effective sub-killers in the Pacific Theatre, as well as in the Atlantic, when escort carriers were finally available to escort Allied convoys. There, the Avengers contributed in warding off German U-Boats while providing air cover for the convoys.
In June 1943, future-President George H. W. Bush became the youngest naval aviator at the time. While flying a TBM with VT-51 (from the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)), his TBM was shot down on 2 September 1944 over the Pacific island of Chichi Jima. Both of his crewmates died. However, he released his payload and hit the target before being forced to bail out; he received the Distinguished Flying Cross..
Another famous Avenger aviator was Paul Newman, who flew as a rear gunner. He had hoped to be accepted for pilot training, but did not qualify because of being color blind. Newman was on board the escort carrier Hollandia roughly 500 mi (800 km) from Japan when the B-29, "Enola Gay", dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The Avenger was the type of torpedo bomber used during the sinking of the two Japanese "super battleships": the Musashi and the Yamato.
The postwar disappearance of a flight of four American Avengers, known as Flight 19, was later added to the Bermuda Triangle legend.