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During the restoration of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s (CWHM’s) Grumman TBM Avenger, all the paint was stripped from the fuselage. Underneath, workers discovered the etched outline of a squadron insignia on an instrument access panel. The insignia, depicting a cat’s head with a torpedo in its mouth, belonged to the U.S. Navy Attack Squadron VA-55, nicknamed the “Torpcats.”
The museum’s Avenger is Bu.53858, built in 1945 as a TBM-3E. It joined VA-55 in June 1945.
Earlier that year, on March 19, 1945, the USS Franklin, an Essex-class aircraft carrier carrying VA-55, had been heavily damaged from a Japanese attack which destroyed all the aircraft on board and killed over 700 crew members. The squadron returned to the United States and Bu.53858 joined it in June, so the aircraft likely did not see any activity against the Japanese.
VA-55 was formed in 1943 as the Torpcats, and in 1948 its name changed to the Warhorses. The squadron disbanded in 1991, having fought in the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The Royal Canadian Navy operated Avengers from 1950 to 1956 with VS 880 and VS 881 anti-submarine squadrons.
In civilian life Bu.53858 became an air tanker and served in the United States and Canada in that role from 1963 to 1992. In 2009, the CWHM took possession of the airframe and is currently nearing the end of its restoration to flying status.
The Avenger is being restored as an AS3 variant and will wear the markings of RCN 86180. The aircraft is slated to make its first post-restoration flight this year.