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The Vengeance was one of Tennessee’s contributions to the air war in WWII

Ned Jilton II • Jun 24, 2020 at 8:00 PM

There were many famous U.S. aircraft in WWII: the P-51 Mustang, the P-38 Lighting, the Hellcat, the Wildcat, the Corsair and the B-17 bomber to name a few. But have you ever heard of Tennessee’s contribution to the air war: a single-engine dive bomber called the Vultee Vengeance?

Vultee was Gerard Vultee, who joined with Vance Breese to start the Airplane Development Corporation, later known as Vultee Aircraft, in 1932. Together they created the model V-1, a single-engine, six-passenger aircraft that caught the attention of American Airlines.

Vultee improved the design to accommodate eight passengers and American Airlines bought 11. But Vultee’s design was soon surpass by Douglas Aircraft’s twin-engine DC-2 and DC-3, and production of his passenger plane ended in 1936. But with war looming on the horizon, Vultee took the knowledge he had gained from his single-engine passenger plane and began the design of a single-engine dive bomber.

The new design would be known as the V-72 Vengeance, a low-wing design that carried a crew of two in an enclosed cockpit along with 1,500 pounds of bombs. And in 1940, Vultee already had a customer: France.

The French ordered 300 of the aircraft in 1940. The British, impressed with the German Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber, placed an order for 200 V-72s in July of that same year and ordered another 100 in December. With so many orders coming in, and his California plant already producing the BT-13 Valiant training aircraft, Vultee needed a new plant to build his bomber.

Welcome to Nashville

Vultee set up shop in Nashville and began producing his V-72 in the Stinson factory located there. Vultee was very progressive, and his company was among the first to use women in production-line positions. In addition, he was also one of the first to build his aircraft on a powered assembly line.

Just as production got underway, however, Vultee suffered a setback. France fell to the Germans and that order was lost. But, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another door opens. Australia placed an order for 400 V-72 Vengeance aircraft, which would be built in Nashville.

While England and its territories fought through the Battle of Britain and the early North African campaign, production continued in Nashville. Then came Dec. 7, 1941. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States became interested in dive bombers.

The U.S. Army Air Corp begin testing the V-72, renumbered as the A-31 Vengeance. The aircraft was designed to dive verticall,y which made it an accurate bomber. But while flying level, it had a slight nose-up attitude. This drew complaints from pilots, as they couldn’t see straight ahead in flight or when landing.

Vultee redesigned the aircraft to solve the problem and added a more powerful engine. The new plane was designated the A-35 Vengeance, but by the time this was done, it had been decided the A-35 would not see action in the European Theater. Instead, it was sent to the Burma Theater to fight the Japanese.

Two squadrons of A-35s were assigned to the Indian Air Force and along with British RAF squadrons of A-35s flew close air support missions for troops on the ground and also attacked Japanese communications, supplies and troops in Burma. At the same time, A-35s with the Royal Australian Air Force were flying missions against Selaru Island in the Dutch East Indies and taking part in the New Guinea campaign.

Back on this side of the globe, 33 A-35s were sent to Brazil to carry out anti-submarine patrols.

When the war came to an end, the remaining A-35s were used to pull targets for gunnery practice.

Although the plane wasn’t produced in great numbers, the Nashville plant still did its part for the war by producing approximately 1,000 of the dive bombers. It was another of Tennessee’s contributions toward victory in WWII.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at [email protected]

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