This Battling Beast Is Back From the East

A Helldiver from the Battling Beasts Squadron is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center on March 14.

By Robby Osborne

Photo courtesy of US Navy/Robert L. Lawson Photograph Collection, National Naval Aviation Museum.

The Curtiss SB2C-5 is technically the third dive-bomber to be given the name “Helldiver,” but the naval aircrews had another name for it: The Beast. The SB2C-5 was not given this name for its ferocity in combat, but for its awkward size, poor handling, and minimal visibility while landing. The fully-restored 212, and not the 215 pictured above, will be the latest aircraft to be exhibited at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on March 14.

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Dive-bombers were utilized in World War II as a way to increase the accuracy of bombing runs by having planes that could hit their targets while diving at steep angles. At the war’s height, Helldivers comprised 30 squadrons operating on 13 separate carriers after making their debut on Nov. 11, 1943.

The 212 was placed into the bombing squadron VB-92, “The Battling Beasts,” in the Pacific theater in July 1945, just ahead of the war’s finale, and never saw combat. While aboard the U.S.S Lexington from September-December 1945, the 212 flew only a few patrol runs.

Dive-bombers were an instrumental part of the war, and of aeronautical history. While this “Beast” never had any death-defying descents of its own (unless you count landing the plane), it was part of a group of planes that inspired a generation. Since its return to the Smithsonian Institute in 2003, it has sat, disassembled, until December 2012. 

Dr. Jeremy Kinney, along with a team of fourteen, began to reconstruct the Helldiver to restore it to the condition of its first deployment, including the non-official cosmetic changes. With help from the veterans and family members of “The Battling Beasts,” Kinney confirmed the diagonal white-stripe on the tail fin, and the proper coloring for the the boxing lion, the Battling Beasts’ insignia.

“Making these discoveries and connections with the history, people, and technology of naval aviation during World War II through the Helldiver has been a great experience,” said Kinney. “I hope visitors will enjoy seeing the artifact on display this spring.”

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway Chantilly, 20151
10 a.m.-5.30 p.m. Admission is Free