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A-20 Havoc

Attack aircraft development during the pre-WWII period reflected the doctrine trends inthe need for increased fire power, accuracy, and range. In 1936, the Northrop A-17, a single-engine, two-seat, monoplane became the standard attack plane, replacing the Curtiss A-12. However, the twin-engine attack designs introduced in the late 1930s were more in accord with indirect support doctrine. The Douglas A-20, Havoc, attack-bomber was a two-engine, three-seat, monoplane with a range of 1200 miles and a load of over 2000 pounds of bombs.

During World War II the primary mission of attack aircraft was to support ground forces in battle and aircraft were designed with this in mind. The attack aircraft provided support and operated primarily at low altitudes. Also considered a light bomber, the attack planes were known for their high speed, maneuverability and weapons. They carried both machine guns and bombs. The A-20, A-24 and A-26 were the attack aircraft most used by the AAF during the war.

Prewar doctrine acknowledged that attack aviation was supposed to be down and dirty. The A-20 had this mission in mind from its very inception. Although the Havoc was not designed as an antishipping weapon, logic demanded that it attack those ships on the deck if the need arose. Kenneys genius lay in pushing the design envelope of every bomber platform. If a bomber did not have enough firepower to strafe, he added guns. And even if a bomber were designed to approach, bomb, and egress a target from over 25,000 feet, nothing guaranteed that it would stay at that altitude under his command.

Having developed from oversized fighters, attack aircraft would come to fruition in the Douglas A-20 (design work started in 1936, and production aircraft began rolling off the line in 1939). With the arrival of the A-20, the Air Corps gained a solid aircraft-essentially a light bomber. Its dual role was exemplified by the fact that units flying this attack aircraft were designated as bombardment, albeit light bombardment, squadrons.

Light bomber development was influenced by the need for attack aviationto support the air superiority mission of the GHQ Air Force. More range and payload was required of the new light bomber. The twin-engine Douglas A-20 Havoc was the first attack-bomber to enter the inventory.

Since the end of the Great War, Air Corps theory dictated the destruction of enemy airpower on the ground and en masse. To this end, Kenney made a conscious decision to target Japanese airdromes, the key to the enemys chance for air superiority; indeed, this mission became a specialty of Fifth Air Force. It is impossible to divorce the Fifth from Gen. George Kenney. Without question, his background and personality shaped the air war in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). Kenneys tactics relied on the creation of attack aircraft that were little more than flying gunships. A-20s in particular had been designed to conduct ground attack in direct support of troops, but neither the A-20 nor the B-25 had sufficient forward firepower in their original configurations.

Paul Pappy Gunn, one of Kenneys most important lieutenants, essentially redesigned the medium bombers and light attack aircraft in the SWPA, giving them the forward firepower that transformed these planes into strafing machines. Strafing tactics became an integral part of Fifth Air Forces repertoire. The secret of forward firepower lay in replacing prewar glass noses armed with only a single .30- or .50-caliber gun with metal or painted-over noses that incorporated multiple .50-caliber machine guns.

Pappy managed to get hold of some 50-caliber machine guns, designed a package mount of four of them, and, by rebuilding the entire nose of an A-20, had installed them. He tested the installation himself by conducting a one man raid at treetop level on a Jap airdrome on the north coast of New Guinea in July 1942. He had done a good job, too. A couple of Jap airplanes that had just landed had gone up in smoke, a gasoline dump was left ablaze, and from all the explosions after Pappy had finished his strafing run, it looked as though he had also hit an ammunition dump.

The addition of two 450-gallon fuel tanks in the forward weapons bay changed the A-20 from a short-range ground support / interdiction aircraft to a medium-range attack platform. Distant airdromes became easier to hit, and the Havoc became an integral part of Fifth Air Forces campaign for control of the air. By August 1942, improved A-20s from the 89th BS were strafing airdromes in Lae, New Guinea. The extended range and firepower of these planes late in 1942 facilitated the Army/AAF drive up New Guinea, establishing new airdromes within range of the enemys major bases and supply lines.

Flown by the Allies in the Pacific, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Russia, the versatile A-20 went through many variants. The A-20G, which reached combat in 1943, was produced in larger numbers than any other model. By the time production ended in September 1944, American factories had built 2,850 "solid nose" A-20G models. Attacking with forward-firing .50-cal. machine guns and bombs, the A-20G lived up to its name by creating havoc and destruction on low-level strafing attacks, especially against Japanese shipping and airfields across the Southwest Pacific.


The P-70, as the modified Douglas A-20 was designated, proved to be a highly unsatisfactory night interceptor, but it was far better than nothing. This fighter, a converted A-20 attack bomber, was adequately armed, but was deficient in many other respects. The radar with which the plane was originally equipped, SCR-540, had a forward range equal to not more than five miles, with an average vertical range 3,000 feet below or above that altitude, and a lateral range slightly less than the vertical. It was reported from Guadalcanal that the P-70 required 45 minutes to reach a service ceiling of 22,000 feet, that Japanese medium bombers easily outran it at that altitude, and that the enemy bombers almost always came in higher than that anyway. Later models of the P-70 were equipped with SCR-720 radar, which had considerably more range than its predecessor, but the performance of the airplane was still so unsatisfactory that by August 1944 only 12 were still on combat operations. These 12 were used almost entirely or intruder work.

Armament Eight .50-cal. machine guns; 4,000 lbs. of bombs
Engines Two Wright R-2600s of 1,600 hp each
Maximum speed 317 mph
Cruising speed 230 mph
Range 1,025 statute miles
Ceiling 25,000 ft.
Span 61 ft. 4 in.
Length 48 ft.
Height 17 ft. 7 in.
Weight 26,580 lbs. loaded

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