Vultee Vengeance - development, overview and US Service

The Vultee Vengeance was a dive bomber originally purchased by the French, and that entered production for the RAF, but that didn't reach service until the concept of the dedicated dive-bomber had been discredited. The original French order was rather over-ambitious. It called for 300 aircraft, with deliveries to begin in October 1940, but the Vengeance didn’t make its maiden flight until March 1941. 

The dramatic German victories of May and June 1940 saw the Stuka dive bomber gain a fearsome reputation as it swooped over the battlefields of Belgium and France. With this in mind the British Purchasing Commission decided to look for a dive bomber in the United States, and found that the Vengeance was the only one available. The first control, for 200 aircraft, was placed on 3 July 1940, and was followed by a second order, for 100 aircraft, on 2 December 1940. A third order, for 400 aircraft, was placed in April 1942 and a fourth, for 200 aircraft, in June. On 28 June both of these orders became part of the lend-lease scheme, and the Vengeance was given the USAAF designation A-31.

The first prototype (RAF serial number AF745) was completed with twin fins and rudders, but after the taxing trials the test pilot refused to fly it in that configuration. It was then given a single fin and rudder, similar to that used on the Vultee Vanguard fighter, and that had already been installed on the second aircraft. AF745 made its maiden flight on 30 March 1941.

Deliveries of the Vengeance began early in 1942. By this date the Stuka had lost its fearsome reputation, and it had become clear that the dive-bomber was very vulnerable if it faced modern fighter aircraft - the Germans had soon been forced to withdraw the type from the Battle of Britain, and the Vengeance would have been very vulnerable against the Bf 109 or Fw 190.

Like many aircraft not needed in Britain the Vengeance was sent to the Far East, where it served with the RAF and Indian Air Force over Burma, and with the RAAF in New Guinea.

In February 1943 the Vengeance was described by Major General Davenport Johnson, Director of Military Requirements for the USAAF, as 'a shining example of the waste of material, man-power, and time in the production of an airplane which this office has tried to eliminate for several months'. Production of the Vengeance apparently only survived into 1943 because it contributed towards the production target of 107,000 military aircraft to be produced during the year. It had an awful reputation - most pilots found it difficult to fly and a poor dive-bomber, although more experienced pilots reported that it was viceless and fully aerobatic. 


The Vengeance was a tandem two-seater, carrying a pilot and rear gunner. The Model 72 was powered by a 1,600hp Wright GR-2600-A5B-5 Cyclone radial engine, and was armed with six .30in guns, two flexibly mounted guns in the rear cockpit and four fixed guns in the wings. It could carry two 500lb in the fuselage bomb bay as standard load, and another two 250lb bombs at overload weight.

The aircraft had a W-shaped wing. The wing centre panels had a swept back leading edge and straight trailing edge, while the outer panels had a straight leading edge and swept-forward trailing edge. The wings had slotted all-metal dive-brakes on the undersaide of the outer panels.

Overview of Variants

Production of the Vengeance fell into three main categories. Aircraft produced before lend-lease were designated as the V-72 in the United States and the Mk I (for aircraft produced by Northrop) and II (produced by Vultee) by the RAF.

Aircraft produced to the same standards after the start of lend-lease were given the USAAF designation A-31 and the RAF designations Mk IA (Northrop) and III (Vultee).

Aircraft produced with American equipment and 0.50in guns were given the American designation A-35 and the RAF designation Mk IV.

Production Totals





Mk I



1st and 2nd British orders

Mk IA/ A-31-NO



4th British order




1st, 2nd and 3rd British orders

Mk III (A-31C)




A-35A (V88)












United States Service V-72 Vengeance

The Vultee V-72 was the designation given to those pre-lend lease aircraft that were taken over from British orders by the USAAF after the American entry into the Second World War.

The four squadrons of the 312th Bombardment Group (386th, 387th, 388th and 389th Bombardment Squadrons) used the V-72 alongside the A-24 in 1942-43. Between December 1942 and February 1943 the group flew a number of anti-submarine patrols,

The 311th Bombardment Group (Dive) used the V-72 while it was training in the United States. Its three squadrons were then known as the 382nd, 383rd and 384th Bombardment Squadrons. The V-72s were replaced by A-36s and P-51s before the group moved to India. The group eventually became the 311th Fighter Group and its squadrons the 528th, 529th and 530th Fighter Squadrons.

The V-72 was also used during 1942 for training by the four squadrons of the 84th Fighter Group (then the 84th Bombardment Group). As with the 311th these squadrons were initially designated the 301st, 302nd, 303rd and 304th Bombardment Squadrons, but became the 496th, 497th, 498th and 491st Fighter Squadrons before entering combat).

The same was true of the 306th Bombardment (later 500th Fighter) and 308th (502nd Fighter) Squadrons, both part of the 85th Bombardment Group, and the 307th Bombardment (501st Fighter) Squadrons, part of the 345th Bombardment Group.

Vultee Vengeance Mk I (Model 72)
Engine: Wright GR-2600-A5B-5 Cyclone
Power: 1,700hp
Crew: 2
Wing span: 48ft
Length: 40ft
Height: 12ft 10in
Loaded Weight: 12,480lb
Max Speed: 279mph
Cruising Speed: 250mph
Service Ceiling: 24,300ft
Range: 1,200 miles
Armament: Four 0.30in guns in wings and two 0.30in flexibly mounted guns in rear cockpit
Bomb-load: 1,500lb

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 December 2009), Vultee Vengeance - development, overview and US Service ,

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