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Havoc file photo [3460]

A-20 Havoc

CountryUnited States
ManufacturerDouglas Aircraft Company
Primary RoleMedium Bomber
Maiden Flight23 January 1938


ww2dbaseIn the fall of 1937, the United States Army Air Corps issued a request for an attack aircraft. Douglas Aircraft Company's response to the request did not win the contract, but did attract attention from France. With French interest, the prototype took flight early 1938, and eventually won a French contract for 100 aircraft on 15 Feb 1939; the order was increased by 170 in Oct 1939, which also called for more powerful engines though the request was not fulfilled due to engine shortages. The aircraft sold to France were designated DB-7, and they were being shipped to France in sections to Casablanca for re-assembly either in North Africa or in France. The French Armée de l'Air deployed them to active squadrons in Jan 1940. By the time Germany invaded France in May 1940, 64 DB-7 bombers were completed, and the first sortie was flown on 31 May 1940 when 12 DB-7 bombers attacked German columns near Saint-Quentin. Nevertheless, actual combat missions using DB-7 bombers were very few, and had extremely limited effect on the German invasion. When France surrendered, at least eight were lost in combat. The rest were evacuated to North Africa and continued to serve under Vichy France. Some of them bombed the British base at Gibraltar on 3 Jul 1940 as retaliation for the British attack on the French fleet during the Battle of Mers-el-Kébir in French Algeria, but did not cause any damage.

ww2dbaseAfter the fall of France, there were many DB-7 bombers still in production. They were completed and sold to Britain beginning in Jun 1940 under the designation of Boston. Some of them were converted for different uses, including a night fighter versions with the nickname Havoc. The first aircraft arrived in Britain in Aug 1940, joining a very small number of DB-7 bombers that were evacuated to British by the Free French. At RAF Boscombe Down at Amesbury in County Wiltshire, England, United Kingdom, British test pilots gave favorable reviews, commenting that they were easy to take off and land, and "extremely pleasant to fly and manoeuvre." British experience with Boston bombers showed that when conducting low altitude raids, these bombers were difficult to intercept due to their speed, while still carrying enough bomb load to potentially cause significant damage. After the British take over of the original French contract was complete, more units arrived under Lend-Lease agreements; these units carried the American designation of A-20.

ww2dbaseThe US Army operated a number of A-20 bombers as well beginning in mid-1941. The first combat situation they saw, unfortunately, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the US Territory of Hawaii where two A-20 bombers were destroyed on the ground at Hickam Field. The American A-20 bombers were nicknamed Havoc following British naming scheme shortly after US entered WW2. The first operation involving A-20 Havoc bombers did not take place until 31 Aug 1942, when several of them engaged in an attack from Port Moresby against Japanese positions further north in Australian Papua on the island of New Guinea. By Sep 1944, 370 A-20 Havoc bombers were in active duty with the Fifth Air Force, most of them based in New Guinea, where they operated both as effective low altitude bombers as well as ground attack aircraft. These aircraft followed the progress of the Allied campaign across South Pacific, attacking ground targets as far as the Philippine Islands and Taiwan until they were replaced by their successors. The ground attack variant of the A-20 design began as a field modification generally attributed to Paul "Pappy" Gunn who replaced the 0.30-caliber guns with 0.50-caliber guns and added four more 0.50-caliber guns in the nose (by eliminating the bombardier position). He also locked the rear turret, which contained two 0.50-caliber guns, in the forward position to add a bit more firepower. He would sometimes add two 900-gallon fuel tanks in the foward bomb bays of his modified A-20 bombers to increase range.

ww2dbaseIn Europe, the Americans did not operate a significant number of A-20 bombers, although some American ground and air crews worked alongside those from the British Royal Air Force with Boston and A-20 bombers.

ww2dbaseThe Soviet Union also operated a great number of these bombers, acquired through the Lend-Lease program after Jun 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. 2,901 aircraft of this line served in the Soviet air force, making the Soviet Union the single largest consumer of this Douglas design. Most of them were delivered through the US Territory of Alaska or through Iran. Playing a versatile role as medium bombers, ground attack aircraft, torpedo bombers, among others, many argued that they contributed greatly to the success of the Soviet air force during WW2.

ww2dbaseVichy France operated a number of DB-7 bombers after 1940, survivors of the German invasion. When the Americans planned Operation Torch landings, these bombers posed a certain threat. To eliminate that threat, as the Allied forces landed, US Navy carrier-based fighters attacked French bases and successfully damaged or destroyed many DB-7 bombers on the ground before they could be used to oppose Allied operations. After the French forces in North Africa switched sides to support the Allies, DB-7 bombers were mainly used for training purposes by the local French forces. By that time, a number of American A-20 bombers were operating in North Africa. Though small in quantity, they played a role in the eventual Allied victory in the Desert War. When the Desert War concluded, some of the French DB-7 bombers were relocated to Britain and operated in raids against German coastal garrisons, including sorties during the Jun 1944 Normandy campaign. Meanwhile, most the American A-20 bombers went on to participate in the Sicily campaign in Italy. These American A-20 bombers were superseded by later models shortly after the campaign on continental Italy began. The Desert War provided an example of one of the very few models of aircraft that fought for both sides of WW2 in a significant manner.

ww2dbaseWhen the production ended for the A-20 design, a total of 7,478 were built under various designations. Beyond the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, other nations such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand also operated them. 380 of the total number were license built by the Boeing Company.

Bruce Gamble, Fortress Rabaul

Last Major Revision: Apr 2007

A-20 Havoc Timeline

23 Jan 1938 The A-20 Havoc/DB-7 aircraft took its first flight.
15 Feb 1939 France ordered 100 DB-7 medium bombers from the Douglas Aircraft Company of the United States.
31 May 1940 US-built DB-7 medium bombers of the French Air Force saw combat for the first time against German columns near Saint-Quentin in the Picardy Region of northeastern France.
31 Aug 1942 US Army Air Force A-20 Havoc bombers participated on their first offensive operation, attacking Japanese positions north of Port Moresby, Australian Papua.


MachineryTwo Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3-G air-cooled radial engines rated at 1,050hp each
Armament4x7.5mm machine guns at nose, 1x7.5mm machine gun in dorsal flexible mount, 1x7.5mm machine gun in flexible tunnel position, up to 940kg of bombs
Span18.69 m
Length14.63 m
Height4.80 m
Wing Area43.10 m²
Weight, Empty5,170 kg
Weight, Maximum7,725 kg
Speed, Maximum490 km/h
Speed, Cruising434 km/h
Rate of Climb10.20 m/s
Service Ceiling7,850 m
Range, Normal1,600 km

A-20 Havoc
MachineryTwo Wright R-2600-7 Double Cyclone air-cooled radial engines with turbo superchargers rated at 1,700hp each
Armament4x7.7mm forward machine guns, 2x2x7.7mm machine guns in an open dorsal position, 1x7.7mm machine gun at ventral tunnel, 2x7.7mm rear machine guns
Span18.69 m
Length14.63 m
Height4.80 m
Wing Area43.10 m²
Weight, Empty9,220 kg
Speed, Maximum544 km/h
Speed, Cruising350 km/h
Rate of Climb10.20 m/s
Service Ceiling9,600 m
Range, Normal1,200 km
Range, Maximum1,700 km

DB-7B Boston Mk III
MachineryTwo Wright R-2600-A5B 'Double Cyclone' radial engines rated at 1,600hp each
Armament4x7.7mm Browning machine guns in nose, 2x7.7mm dorsal Browning machine guns, 1x7.7mm ventral Vickers K machine gun, up to 900kg of bombs
Span18.69 m
Length14.63 m
Height5.40 m
Wing Area43.20 m²
Weight, Empty6,827 kg
Weight, Maximum9,215 kg
Speed, Maximum544 km/h
Rate of Climb10.20 m/s
Service Ceiling8,400 m
Range, Normal1,690 km


A-20A Havoc bomber of US 58th Bomb Squadron flying over Oahu, US Territory of Hawaii, 29 May 1941A-20 Havoc attack aircraft and B-25 Mitchell medium bombers at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico while in transit to the European Theater, 1942.
See all 66 photographs of A-20 Havoc Medium Bomber

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
13 Aug 2007 07:57:28 PM

my father was a crew chief in WW II for A-20, not sure what series. He talked about the quantity of 50 cal. machine guns in the nose. Enjoyed this article.
2. Commenter identity confirmed Hobilar says:
1 Sep 2007 11:25:06 AM

On the 4th July 1942, RAF Bostons attacked airfields in Holland. Six of these aircraft were manned by Anericann crews of the US Eighth Air Force, giving the Americans their first taste of battle in Europe.
3. Gem says:
14 Jan 2015 06:48:46 PM

Is there a problem showing US Armament and standard US measurements? I'm reading about the far East and the A-20's at the beginning of the war and they did not have 7.7mm guns, weights were not in Kg and lengths were not in meters. Did you miss the part where the Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company is in the US? and I absolutly know their plans for the plane were not in metric.
4. Anonymous says:
27 Jan 2018 07:45:51 AM

There was also a rear gun setup with one gun facing rear in each engine nacelle and trigger station also with the pilot. This plan is seldom mentioned, due to lack of installation I suppose. The A-20 is often an unheard of aircraft even though it was the most highly produced attack bomber during WWII.
5. DrDan66 says:
3 Jun 2020 09:31:38 AM

My parents worked at Douglas in Santa Monica in the late 30's and early 40's on the A-20 program. My mother was in foreign sales and worked with the Dutch who purchased two or three A-20s for delivery to Borneo in 1941. The planes were built, tested, disassembled and shipped to Sarawak. The freighter arrived at the port and as they were being off-loaded, the Japanese attacked by air, destroying the planes before they were even re-assembled.
6. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
20 Jun 2020 11:57:54 PM

One unique feature of the Douglas Boston III was the provision of a detachable control column in the rear compartment which allowed the wireless operator/air gunner to take control of the ailerons and elevators, but not the rudder, and he was supposed to hold the machine straight and level to allow the pilot to bale out in an emergency. The only escape hatch in the pilot’s cockpit was through the roof, and he had to climb through this and then dive off the trailing edge if the wing. This minimised the danger of hitting the tailplane, which was wide and set high. The Boston was the only aircraft in the RAF from which the captain was not expected to be the last crewman to bale out.

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A-20 Havoc Medium Bomber Photo Gallery
A-20A Havoc bomber of US 58th Bomb Squadron flying over Oahu, US Territory of Hawaii, 29 May 1941A-20 Havoc attack aircraft and B-25 Mitchell medium bombers at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico while in transit to the European Theater, 1942.
See all 66 photographs of A-20 Havoc Medium Bomber

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