Hobby Master HA1202 USN Grumman Avenger TBM-3 Torpedo-Bomber - "Flight 19: The Missing Squadron", Bermuda Triangle, December 1945 (1:72 Scale)
"Causes or reasons unknown".
- Navy's report on the loss of Flight 19
The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) was an American torpedo bomber, developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps and used by a large number of air forces around the world. It entered service in 1942, and began major use during the Battle of Midway.
The Avenger had a large bomb bay, allowing for one Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo, a single 2000 lb (900 kg) bomb, or up to four 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. Torpedoes were generally abandoned after Midway and were not carried again regularly until after June of 1944, when improvements mandated their use again. By that time, it was rare for American aircraft to encounter enemy shipping at sea and the Avenger was primarily employed as a ground support weapon. The plane had overall ruggedness and stability, and pilots say it flew like a truck, for better or worse. With a 30,000 foot (10,000 m) ceiling and a fully-loaded range of 1,000 miles (1,600 km), it was better than any previous American torpedo plane, and better than its chief opponent, the then obsolete Japanese Nakajima B5N "Kate".
Pictured here is a 1:72 scale replica of a TBM-1C Avenger which was part of "Flight 19: The Missing Squadron", lost somewhere over the Bermuda Triangle on December 5th, 1945.
Wingspan: 10 inches
Length: 8 inches
Release Date: March 2007
Historical Account: "The Triangle" - One of the best known, and probably the most famous Bermuda Triangle incidents concerns the loss of Flight 19, a squadron of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo bombers on a training flight out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 5, 1945. According to Berlitz, the flight consisted of expert naval aviators who, after reporting a number of odd visual effects, simply disappeared, an account which isn't entirely true. Furthermore, Berlitz claims that because the TBM Avenger bombers were built to float for long periods, they should have been found the next day considering what were reported as calm seas and a clear sky. However, not only were they never found, a Navy search and rescue seaplane that went after them was also lost. Adding to the intrigue is that the Navy's report of the accident was ascribed to "causes or reasons unknown".
While the basic facts of Berlitz's version of the story are essentially accurate, some important details are missing. The image of a squadron of seasoned combat aviators disappearing on a sunny afternoon is inaccurate. By the time the last radio transmission was received from Flight 19, stormy weather had moved in. Only the Flight Leader, Lt. Charles Carroll Taylor, had combat experience and any significant flying time, but at the same time he had very little flight experience in that particular area, less than the trainee's serving under him, and a history of getting lost in flight, having done so twice previously in the Pacific theater and being forced to ditch both planes. Lt. Taylor also has since been depicted as a cool, calm and confident leader. Instead, radio transmissions from Flight 19 revealed Taylor to be disoriented, lacking confidence in his decisions, and completely lost.
Flight 19 was, rather, a squadron of lost, inexperienced flight trainees forced to ditch their out-of-fuel aircraft into unknown stormy waters in the dark of night, and led by an officer with a history of getting lost. Also, exaggerated claims stated that all the planes were having compass problems, however later naval reports and written recordings of the conversations between Lt. Taylor and the other pilots of Flight 19 do not indicate this. As for the Navy's report, it is claimed that the original report blamed the accident on the flight commander's confusion. Lt. Taylor had previously abandoned his aircraft twice in the Pacific after getting lost, returning to his carrier. However the wording was changed in deference to the wishes of his family.
Another factor to consider is that the TBM Avenger Aircraft were never designed for crash-landing into water, contrary to Berlitz's claims. Wartime experience in the Pacific showed that an Avenger aircraft would sink very quickly if landed on the water. Especially with novice pilots at the helm, an Avenger would be very difficult to land on calm water, let alone the perilous rough seas in the Bermuda Triangle.
However, the fact that no wreckage has ever been discovered does lead way to a mystery, and in itself that is unusual. On a recent History Channel special documenting the event, it was noted that a pilot can easily mistake his location if he allows his imagination to get the best of him. The most likely scenario, by that documentary, is that Flight Leader Lt. Charles Taylor became confused and disoriented, and was indecisive in his ultimate analogy of the flights situation, incorrectly believing he was off the far to the south-west Florida Keys, and turned the flight hard to the right believing they would hit land. Instead, they were located exactly where they should have been, off the Bahamas, and turning right in fact took them deep out to sea in the Atlantic. This also could account for why the planes have yet to be found, since very few searches have concentrated on the vast open ocean areas.
Therefore, the most likely consensus among both naval and civilian enthusiasts who have thoroughly researched the incident do indicate that Lt. Charles Taylor became confused and disoriented, ultimately leading his flight out to sea where they ran out of gas and ditched in stormy night time waters. And, although his student-pilots believed he was mistaken as to their location, he was the Flight Leader, and he was in command. By the time he took one of the trainee pilots advice to fly west, they were too far out to ever make landfall. The official US Navy stance on the incident does not reflect any mystery whatsoever as to what happened to Flight 19, residing to the fact that the blame lies completely with Lt. Charles Taylor. The only mystery to the US Navy is where did the planes of Flight 19 ditch.
Another theory in that same documentary stated that the planes may have actually been where Taylor believed they were, and that they crashed in the Georgia swamplands. However that theory has mostly been greeted with skepticism.
A PBM Mariner rescue aircraft also disappeared without a trace during the search for Flight 19, as Berlitz stated in his book. This added to speculation of supernatural involvement and the Bermuda Triangle, and although Berlitz alluded to the incident in his book about the Bermuda Triangle, it is worded in a way that points to it also being mysterious and unknown, when in fact it was not. The SS Gaines Mill reported an over-water explosion shortly after the PBM Mariner took off, in the location where it should have been. An oil slick was spotted at that location, but bad weather prevented any debris recovery, and by the time the stormy weather had passed, all signs of any debris were gone. The most likely scenario is that a fuel leak caused an explosion which disintegrated the aircraft.