Vought SB2U Vindicator History

The Vought SB2U "Vindicator" became the first monoplane dive bomber adopted by the United States Navy when it was first taken on in 1937 - signaling a "changing of the guard" over outgoing biplane types. Despite the Vindicator's more advanced design, the aircraft itself was regarded as obsolete by the time of the American involvement in World War 2 (1939-1945) come 1942 and, as such, the Vought product was only used in a frontline role up to 1943 to which then it was relegated to training squadrons. Some 260 of the type were produced in all and these saw service with the USN, the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the French Navy and the British Royal Navy (Fleet Air Arm).

The Vindicator was born through a 1934 USN requirement calling for a new carrier-based bomb delivery platform in either monoplane or biplane form - the latter used as a failsafe should the more advanced monoplane offering fail in development. The Vought submission, becoming "XSB2U-1" (XSB3U was the biplane prototype) faced off against competing submissions from Brewster, Curtiss, Great Lakes Aircraft Company, Grumman and Northrop with the Brewster, Curtiss, Northrop and Vought forms earning production contracts. The Brewster model would become the Naval Aircraft Factory SBN while the Curtiss model became the storied "Helldiver". Northrop's design evolved to become the Northrop BT.

The Vought XSB2U-1 product was given a conventional monoplane arrangement of the period with a tubular fuselage (housing the long cockpit under a greenhouse-style canopy), low-mounted metal mainplanes and an empennage consisting of a single, large-area vertical tail fin with low-set horizontal tailplanes. Power was served through a single Pratt & Whitney R1535 "Twin Wasp Junior" driving a two-bladed propeller at a fixed speed. The crew numbered two and were seated back-to-back in tandem with the pilot at front and his tail gunner aft. The undercarriage was typical for the time with two single-wheeled main legs (retractable) under the main wings and a tail wheel at rear (the tail wheel did not retract). Primary armament was just a single 0.30 caliber M1919 Browning machine gun in the right wing and a similar installation in a flexible mount for the rear gunner. The Bombload was limited to a single 500lb or 1,000lb bomb under fuselage centerline.

The XSB2U-1 prototype was ordered on October 15th, 1934 and a first flight was recorded on January 4th, 1936. In July of that year, the design was formally accepted for trials by the USN and the prototype crashed the following month. Nevertheless, continued evaluation revealed a promising design and the aircraft was introduced by the USN as the SB2U "Vindicator" in 1937.

From late 1937 into the Fall of 1942, the Vindicator stocked several American carrier groups and were in supply when America entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Additional Vindicator squadrons were formed through the USMC from March 1941 onwards and some would be present at the pivotal "Battle of Midway" in June of 1942 - resulting in a decisive American victory. While they provided much needed service at a most critical time for the country, many pilots held mixed opinions of their Vindicator mounts. To that end, Vindicators were eventually relieved of frontline service as newer and better dive bombers emerged from development.

Vindicator service during World War 2 did not end with the Americans for the type was also taken on by the navies of France and Britain (with applicable equipment installed to suit local requirements). French mounts were operated as trainers from the carrier Bearn but were not used in the ultimate defense of France due to the carrier's age. French Vindicators were, instead, operated from land bases during the German invasion and many lost in action.

The British Royal Navy took on stocks of Vindicators that were initially intended for France until their Channel neighbors were overrun by Germany. Desperate for any and all war-making material, the British utilized the Vindicator under the name of "Chesapeake" and installed British-centric equipment for better standardization including additional machine guns (4 x 0.30 caliber replacing the single 8mm French Darne type) and better armor protection. British Vindicators operated during 1941 but were quickly seen for their performance limitations resulting in a rather short service life. Again, the type became a trainer until finally withdrawn from service.

There proved several major marks of the Vindicator line beginning with the XSB2U-1 prototype and its R-1535-78 series engine of 750 horsepower. Only a single prototype was completed before the SB2U-1 production model arrived, this powered by the R-1535-86 engine of 825 horsepower. Fifty-four of the type were produced. Then came the SB2U-2 which was more or less a slightly revised form (primarily in equipment) of the SB2U-1 and 58 were added. These were powered by the R-1535-96 "Twin Wasp Junior" radial piston engine of 825 horsepower and reached speeds of 250 miles per hour with a range out to 630 miles.

XSB2U-3 was a "one-off" prototype based on the SB2U-1 with floats added. The SB2U-3 followed the SB2U-2 but installed the R-1535-102 series engine, additional armor protection and 2 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns (again in the right wing and on the flexible mount at rear). Some 57 of this mark were produced in all. The French Navy export model - which numbered 40 - was designated as V-156F-3. The British SB2U-3 export designation became V-156B-1 (Chesapeake Mk.I). These fitted the R-1535-SB4-G engine of 750 horsepower and 50 of the type were produced.

Vought SB2U Vindicator Specification


Retired, Out-of-Service


[ 260 Units ]:
Vought - USA


- Ground Attack

- Anti-Ship

- Navy / Maritime

- Training



33.99 ft (10.36 m)


41.99 ft (12.8 m)


10.24 ft (3.12 m)


Empty Weight:

4,713 lb (2,138 kg)


7,333 lb (3,326 kg)

(Diff: +2,619lb)


1 x Pratt & Whitney R-1535-96 "Twin Wasp Jr" radial piston engine of 825 horsepower.


Maximum Speed:

251 mph (404 kph; 218 kts)

Service Ceiling:

27,500 feet (8,382 m; 5.21 miles)

Maximum Range:

630 miles (1,014 km; 548 nm)


1,340 ft/min (408 m/min)



1 x 7.62mm M1919 Browning air-cooled machine gun in right wing.

1 x 7.62mm machine gun on flexible mount in rear gunner's position.


1 x 12.7mm M2 Browning air-cooled machine gun in right wing.

1 x 12.7mm machine gun on flexible mount in rear gunners position.


1 x 500lb bomb OR 1 x 1,000lb bomb


XSB2U-1 - One-Off Prototype

SB2U-1 - Intitial Production Model; 54 examples produced.

SB2U-2 - 58 examples produced.

XSB2U-3 - One-Off Prototype; improved range; based on the SB2U-1 production models.

SB2U-3 - 57 examples produced.

V-156B - Export Model built for the French Navy; 24 examples produced.

V-156B-1 - Export Model built for the Royal Navy; 50 examples produced.

Chesapeake Mk.I - British Designation of V-156B-1 export models; 50 examples acquired.

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