'Holy Grail' of Warbirds Found off San Diego
Lyssenko said the TBD wreckage was discovered about 15 years ago but its location was kept secret. “We’ve located a lot of airplanes; we have a bagful of secrets,” he said, hinting at a considerable number of yet-to-be disclosed finds. “We haven’t gone out looking for aircraft since 1996.”
Sonar located the wreckage and a dive confirmed it was a Devastator. A&T declined to give its precise location, but generally described it as being in federal waters, between 3 and 12 miles out, in 600 feet of water. The report indicated the crash took place 5 miles west of Mission Beach.
Second option from ‘the bag’
Resurrecting a submerged warbird always seems overwhelming, Lyssenko said, but it takes more than just dollars to accomplish a project such as this. “Multiple entities can find an aircraft, but it’s more about preserving the history of the greatest generation,” he said. “The people who underwrite these recoveries understand that these machines protected our freedoms.”
Honoring TBD pilots’ sacrifices
“TBDs were slow torpedo bombers that had to fly low, straight, and level at a fixed speed to drop their torpedoes,” Ellis explained. During the Battle of Midway in June 1942, 43 unescorted TBDs went on the attack against Japanese carriers, but 39 were destroyed without inflicting any damage by the superior Zeros. However, because the Zeros were drawn out of position to deal with the TBDs, two late-arriving squadrons of American SBD Dauntless dive bombers were able to successfully attack and destroy three carriers. This is widely considered the most important naval battle of the Pacific campaign.
“There are no aircraft on display anywhere to honor those brave men who did their duties,” Ellis said. “Nobody thought to save any of those airplanes.”
The museum is looking for sponsors to help with the estimated $300,000 needed to raise and ship the plane back to Florida, where museum staff and volunteers will be tasked with restoring to plane for static display.
“That is the focus of our efforts,” Ellis said. For more information about the project, send Ellis an e-mail.
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