Out to build a first-rate striking force, our serious-minded skipper launched a relentless combat training syllabus that included dive bombing, low-level skip bombing, both fixed and free gunnery, close air-ground support, navigation, night flying and anti-sub patrol, in addition to the latest torpedo tactics.
The squadron operated seven days a week with officers and enlisted men alike divided into alternating port and starboard liberty sections. Half the squadron took liberty Thursday afternoons through Friday. The other half took liberty Saturday afternoons through Sunday.
Navy and Marine Corps top brass had an odd name for dive-bombing without the perforated “Swiss cheese” dive brakes or flaps of an SBD. They called this technique “glide bombing.” But any Marine TBF pilot in the middle of a 65-degree dive on target, approaching redline speed, knew damned well it was anything but a “glide.”
Out on the Salton Sea, the Navy had constructed targets in a large U.S. gunnery range that stretched for miles. We practiced dive bombing, or “glide bombing,” low level bombing and skip bombing on that Salton Sea range, hour after hour, day after day.
The TBF was a surprisingly accurate plane for dive bombing without a cockpit bomb sight. We would fly in echelon formation at about 7,000 feet with each plane peeling off into a steep dive at five-to-six-second intervals. We’d sight the target carefully alongside the nose during the dive. Then, when the target disappeared under the wing-root, we’d release the dummy bomb at 1,500-2,500 feet and pull out fast in a climbing, high-G turn.
By the end of the combat training syllabus, several of us could place a bomb within a 40-foot target area, consistently. That was considered exceptional accuracy.
On simulated low-level attacks or on skip bombing runs, we would go into a shallow 35-degree dive at full throttle and follow that angle all the way to the release point. Or, we would level off and make a final run on the target at close to water level or ground level, depending upon the situation. We could achieve almost pin point accuracy with these low-level maneuvers. But we had to recognize that in combat, such low-level tactics were more vulnerable to AA fire.