Douglas A-20G Havoc
WWII Twin-engine attack bomber, United States

Archive Photos 1

Douglas A-20G Havoc (AF 43-22200) on display (5/20/2001) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio (Photos by John Shupek)

Overview 2

The Douglas A-20 Havoc (company designation DB-7) is an American medium bomber, attack aircraft, night intruder, night fighter, and reconnaissance aircraft of World War II.

It served with several Allied air forces, principally the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), the Soviet Air Forces (VVS), Soviet Naval Aviation (AVMF), and the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the United Kingdom. A total of 7,478 aircraft were built, of which more than a third served with Soviet units.

It was also used by the air forces of Australia, South Africa, France, and the Netherlands during the war, and by Brazil afterwards.

In most British Commonwealth air forces, the bomber variants were named Boston, while the night fighter and intruder variants were named Havoc. The exception was the Royal Australian Air Force, which used the name Boston for all variants. The USAAF used the P-70 designation to refer to the night fighter variants.

Design and Development 2

In March 1937, a design team headed by Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop, and Ed Heinemann produced a proposal for a bomber powered by a pair of 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior radial engines mounted on a shoulder wing. It was estimated to be capable of 250 mph (400 kph) with a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb load. Reports of aircraft performance from the Spanish Civil War indicated that this design would be seriously underpowered, and it was canceled.

Later the same year, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) issued its own specification for an attack aircraft. The Douglas team, now headed by Heinemann, took the Model 7A design, upgraded with 1,100 hp (820 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, and submitted the design as the Model 7B. It faced competition from the North American NA-40, Stearman X-100, and Martin 167F. The Model 7B was maneuverable and fast, but did not attract any US orders.

The model attracted the attention of a French Purchasing Commission visiting the United States seeking aircraft for the modernization of the Armée de l’Air in the wake of the Munich Crisis. The French discreetly participated in the flight trials, so as not to attract criticism from American isolationists. The Air Corps controlled the aircraft’s development but it had been excluded from negotiations between the French, the Production Division, and the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics. It was then directed by the White House on 19 January 1939 to release the DB-7 for assessment in contradiction of its own regulations. The secret was revealed when the Model 7B crashed on 23 January while demonstrating single-engine performance. The French were still impressed enough to order 100 production aircraft. The order was increased to 270 when the war began. Sixteen of those had been ordered by Belgium for its Belgian Air Force.

In a report to the British Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (AAEE) at RAF Boscombe Down, test pilots summed it up as: has no vices and is very easy to take off and land … The aeroplane represents a definite advantage in the design of flying controls … extremely pleasant to fly and maneuver. Ex-pilots often consider it their favorite aircraft of the war due to the ability to toss it around like a fighter. The Douglas bomber/night fighter was found to be extremely adaptable and found a role in every combat theater of the war, and excelled as a true pilot’s aeroplane.

When DB-7 series production finally ended on 20 September 1944, a total of 7,098 had been built by Douglas and a further 380 by Boeing. Douglas redesigned its Santa Monica plant to create a mechanized production line to produce A-20 Havocs. The assembly line was over a mile long (6,100 feet), but by looping back and forth, fitted into a building that was only 700 feet long. Man-hours were reduced by 50% for some operations while production tripled.

Operational History 2


The French order called for substantial modifications to meet French standards, resulting in the DB-7 (for Douglas Bomber 7) variant. It had a narrower, deeper fuselage, 1,000 hp (750 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3-G radials, French-built guns, and metric instruments. Midway through the delivery phase, engines were switched to 1,100 hp (820 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4-G. The French designation was DB-7 B-3 (the B-3 signifying three-seat bomber).

The DB-7s were shipped in sections to Casablanca for assembly and service in France and French North Africa. When the Germans attacked France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940, the 64 available DB-7s were deployed against the advancing Germans. Before the armistice surviving planes were evacuated to North Africa to avoid capture. Here, they came under the control of the Vichy government and briefly engaged the Allies during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942.

After French forces in North Africa had joined the Allies, DB-7s were used as trainers and were replaced in front line escadrilles with Martin B-26 Marauders. Free French I/120 Lorraine, under RAF control, was based in England and re-equipped in 1943 with Boston IIIAs, later with Boston IVs. It was part of Second Tactical Air Force and carried out numerous raids against targets in mainland Europe.

In early 1945, a few DB-7s were moved to mainland France, where they saw action against the remaining isolated German pockets on the western coast.

British Commonwealth

After the fall of France, there were still a substantial number of DB-7s which had not yet been delivered to the Armee de l’Air. The remainder of the order which was to have been delivered to France was instead taken up by the UK via the British Purchasing Commission. In the course of the war, 24 squadrons operated the Boston. They saw action in Mediterranean and North Africa.

The French had originally intended to use the DB-7 as a short-range tactical attack aircraft, but its range was too short for the RAF to be able to use them as light bombers against German targets in Europe. But RAF was in desperate need of any aircraft suitable for night fighting and intruder duties. The type saw its first active operations with the RAF in early 1941, when 181 Boston IIs began to be deployed in night fighter and intruder roles. There were two basic versions of the Havoc I, an Intruder version (glazed nose, five 0.30-inch machine guns and 2,400 pounds of bombs) and a Night Fighter version (AI Mk.IV radar and eight 0.30-inch machine guns).

Some Havocs were converted to Turbinlite aircraft which replaced the nose position with a powerful searchlight. The Turbinlite aircraft would be brought onto an enemy fighter by ground radar control. The onboard radar operator would then direct the pilot until he could illuminate the enemy. At that point a Hawker Hurricane fighter accompanying the Turbinlite aircraft would make the attack. The Turbinlite squadrons were disbanded in early 1943.

All the French DB-7As, improved DB-7 version, were delivered to the RAF, where they were given the name Havoc II and converted to night fighter role. Eventually British Purchasing Commission ordered a British version that was designated DB-7B, RAF named it Boston III. The Boston III was the first to operate with the RAF as a light bomber. They were supplied to Squadrons in the United Kingdom and Middle East (later moved to bases in Italy) replacing Bristol Blenheims. Their first raid took place on February 1942. Many Boston IIIs were modified to Turbinlite or Intruder planes.

Soviet Union

Through Lend-Lease, Soviet forces received more than two-thirds of the A-20B variant manufactured and a significant portion of A-20G and A-20H variants. The A-20 was the most numerous foreign aircraft in the Soviet bomber inventory. The Soviet Air Force had more A-20s than the USAAF.

They were delivered via the ALSIB (Alaska-Siberia) air ferry route. The aircraft had its baptism of fire at the end of June 1942. The Soviets were dissatisfied with the four .30-caliber Browning machine guns, capable of 600 rpg/min, and replaced them with the faster-firing, 7.62 mm (0.300 in) caliber ShKAS, capable of up to 1,800 rpg/min. During the summer of 1942, the Bostons flew ultra-low-level raids against German convoys heavily protected by flak. Attacks were made from altitudes as low as 33 ft (10 m) and the air regiments suffered heavy losses. By mid-1943 Soviet pilots were familiar with the A-20B and A-20C. The general opinion was that the aircraft was overpowered and therefore fast and agile. It could make steep turns of up to 65° of bank angle, while the tricycle landing gear made for easier take-offs and landings. The type could be flown even by crews with minimal training. The engines were reliable but sensitive to low temperatures, so the Soviet engineers developed special covers for keeping propeller hubs from freezing up.

Some of these aircraft were armed with fixed-forward cannons and found some success in the ground attack role.

By the end of the war, 3,414 A-20s had been delivered to the USSR, 2,771 of which were used by the Soviet Air Force.


In October 1941 the Netherlands government in exile ordered 48 DB-7C planes for use in the Dutch East Indies. Delivery had been scheduled for May 1942 but because of the desperate situation US government agreed to divert 32 DB-7B Boston III aircraft to the Dutch East Indies in advance.

The first 6 were delivered by ship in February 1942. Only one aircraft was assembled in time to take part in the action. The Japanese captured the remaining aircraft of the delivery, and at least one was repaired and later tested by the Japanese Army.


The next 22 DB-7Bs to be delivered to East Indias were diverted to the Royal Australian Air Force. They served with No. 22 Squadron RAAF and fought in the East Indies from September 1942. RAAF Bostons took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea and in attacks on a large Japanese convoy headed toward Lae.

Some A-20A/C/G planes arrived from the US from September 1943. By November 1944, No 22 Squadron was going to be assigned to the Philippines. 13 Bostons were destroyed on the ground during a Japanese raid on Morotai. The squadron was withdrawn to Noemfoor, where it was re-equipped with Beaufighters before it returned to action. Surviving Bostons were relegated to transport, mail delivery and communications.

United States

In 1940, the US military’s indifference to the type was overcome by improvements made for the French and British Commonwealth air forces.

The USAAC was impressed enough by the A-20A’s high power to weight ratio and easy handling characteristics. Two variants were ordered, in a tranche of more than 200 aircraft: the A-20 for high-altitude daylight bombing and the A-20A for low-altitude and medium-altitude missions. It was intended that the high-altitude variant would be fitted with turbo-supercharged Wright R-2600-7 engines; after a prototype suffered technical problems, the USAAC changed its order and an initial shipment of 123 A-20As (with less-powerful R-2600-3 engines) and 20 A-20s (R-2600-11) entered service in early 1941. A further 59 aircraft from this first order were received as P-70 night fighters, with two-stage supercharged R-2600-11 engines.

The A-20B, another high-altitude bomber variant, lacking heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, received a significant order from the USAAC: 999 aircraft (although two-thirds of these were exported to the USSR). With the lessons of the Pacific in mind USAAF ordered A-20G in June 1942.


A major shipment of DB-73s originally destined for France was retained by the US government and converted to A-20C/G attack configuration. The USAAF received 356, most of which were operated by the 5th Air Force in the South West Pacific theater. When the war started 27th Bombardment Group (minus its A-20As) was in the process of being sent to the Philippines where it was to have been re-established as an A-20 unit, but the first operational unit in actual combat was the 89th Bombardment Squadron which began operations in New Guinea on August 31, 1942.

In early 1944, 312th and 417th Bombardment Groups were sent to New Guinea, equipped with A-20Gs. Most sorties were flown at low level, as Japanese flak was not as deadly as German flak, and it was soon found that there was little need for a bomb aimer. Consequently, the bomb aimer was replaced by additional machine guns mounted in a faired-over nose. A-20Gs were an ideal weapon for pinpoint strikes against aircraft, hangars, and supply dumps. When operating in formation their heavy forward firepower could overwhelm shipboard antiaircraft defenses and at low level they could skip their bombs into the sides of transports and destroyers with deadly effect.

With the end of the New Guinea campaign the A-20s squadrons moved to the Philippines and in 1944 three full four-squadron A-20 groups were active in the campaign that led to the invasion of Luzon. After the Philippines were secured, A-20s started attacks on Japanese targets in Formosa.

The first night fighter squadron that used its P-70 in combat was based at Henderson Field to intercept high-flying Japanese night raiders. The 418th and 421st Night Fighter Squadrons flew P-70s in New Guinea for a brief time. The P-70s scored only two kills during the entire Pacific war as its performance was not good enough to intercept Japanese night raiders, and were replaced by Northrop P-61 Black Widows as soon as possible.

Europe and Mediterranean

In Europe it was decided USAAF A-20 crews would fly their first combat missions attached to RAF units. On 4 July 1942, 12 crews from the 15th Bombardment Squadron became the first members of the 8th Air Force to enter combat, operating Bostons belonging to No. 226 Squadron RAF, from bases in England, attacking enemy airfields in the Netherlands.

USAAF A-20s were assigned to North Africa and flew their first combat mission from Youks-les-Bains, Algeria, in December 1942. They provided valuable tactical support to allied ground troops, especially during and following the Battle of Kasserine Pass. During the North African campaign, many of the A-20s were fitted with additional forward-firing machine guns. Following the German surrender in Tunisia, the A-20s moved to bases in Italy, Corsica, France, and then back to Italy in January 1945.

Four P-70 night fighter squadrons were sent to North Africa in 1943. When they arrived they operated Bristol Beaufighter night fighters. Later the 427th Night Fighter Squadron was deployed to Italy, but the squadron exchanged its P-70s for Northrop P-61 Black Widows and so no night fighter squadron used their P-70s in combat in Europe.

Meanwhile, in England, three A-20 equipped Bombardment Groups were assigned to the 9th Air Force and became operational in 1944. They started using the same low-level tactics that had been so successful in the Pacific, but due to heavy German flak, losses were too high and the tactics were changed to medium-level raids. After supporting advancing Allied forces into France until the end of 1944, all units transitioned to the Douglas A-26 Invader.

Reconnaissance Havocs joined the 9th Air Force in 1944. Its 155th Photographic Squadron (Night) was issued F-3As for night photographic operations.

Variants 2

Operators 2

Douglas A-20G-20-DO Havoc Specifications 2

General Characteristics




  1. Shupek, John. The Skytamer Photo Archive, photos by John Shupek, copyright © 2005 Skytamer Images (
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Douglas A-20 Havoc


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