The Douglas A-20 Havoc: The Ultimate Look – From Drawing Board to Peerless Allied Light Bomber

Title – The Douglas A-20 Havoc: The Ultimate Look – From Drawing Board to Peerless Allied Light Bomber

Author – William Wolf


This very indepth and extensively detailed book covering the history of the A-20 Havoc from design to combat by William Wolf using a multitude of original sources, technical manuals and photographs is perhaps the best book produced on the Douglas A-20 to date.

With over 520 pages the book covers in detail how the Douglas company came to design the bomber, flight testing, early production and then expanded orders and into combat service around the globe. The book has 58 chapters covering topics like the Douglas history and actions that lead to the intiial DB-7 design and then the A-20 development,  sections explaining how each A-20 variant differed along with broad coverage of operational history. William also examines the aircraft in detail, camouflage and markings used during WW2, flying aspects and post war disposal and survivors.

First flying on 23 January 1939 in prototype form as the DB-7, the A-20 series would go on to be produced from 1939–1944 with 7,478 built in a large range of types fulfilling roles such as a light bomber, night intruder aircraft to torpedo bomber. The A-20 Havoc / Boston was used by a number of key air forces during WW2 – United States Army Air Forces, Soviet Army and Navy Air Forces, Royal Air Force, Royal South African Air Force, Royal  Australian Air Force,  the Vichy and Free French Air Forces. It was also used in lesser numbers by the Brazillian, Candian and Netherland Air Forces. Under the lend lease program of WW2, the Soviet military received around a third of all A-20s made with 2,908 aircraft acquired.The A-20 during its brief service life was known under 2 names – Havoc given to the night fighter and intruder variants and Boston for the bomber/attack variants used by the British Commonwealth air forces. The Royal  Australian Air Force referred to all variants it used under the name of Boston.


So how did such a light bomber become so well known and used globally?

Back in  1937 a aircraft design team lead by Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop and Ed Heinemann produced a proposal for a light bomber titled DB-7 (for Douglas Bomber 7), powered by 2x  450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior radial engines mounted on a shoulder wing. It was estimated that it could carry a 1,000 lb (454 kg) bomb load at 250 mph (400 km/h). Due to reviews of the design it was found that such a aircraft would not be adequate and not proceeded with. Later in 1937 the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) issued specifications for a light attack aircraft but it wasnt ready to proceed with at the time but it did show they were interested in a future light bomber role to be filled.

The Douglas team, now headed by Ed Heinemann used the previous Model 7A design and went ahead with upgrading the design with more powerful engines of 1,100 hp (820 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines.They submitted the faster, more manoeuvrable and more capable design as the Model 7B but it did not attract any US orders.The model did however, attract the attention of a French Purchasing Commission visiting the United States at the time. Flight trials for the French were discreetly undertaken to assess its suitability. The French were impressed enough to order 100 production aircraft. This order expanded to 270 when WW2 started in 1939. Belgium was to receive 16 of these aircraft from the French order.

With World War 2 under way, the USAAC again showed interest in the DB-7B series and put in orders for the capable light bomber. The USAAC named it as the A-20 and placed orders for 143 A-20As, which entered service in the spring of 1941. From here on the A-20 design quickly expanded in capabilities which resulted in a range of variants ending up with the final model being the A-20K by 1944.

The A-20 series served across the world from the Pacific, Russian, Europe to the North African theatres as a highly effective light bomber. Some colour film showing A-20 Bostons in operation and bombing during WW2 can be seen at  and

William’s large book also brings you inside the A-20 with many colour photos showing the aircraft and detailed technical explanations highlighting areas like the cockpit, engines, airframe sections, internal fittings and much much more.

As a tough, dependable combat aircraft, the A-20 developed a reputation for good handling characteristics such as being steady at low level, high speed along with good manoeuvrability, which enabled it to be flown skilfully by its pilots. Douglas A-20G Havoc.jpgThese qualities made the A-20 become well liked by pilots and aircrew. Insights to RAF testing notes revealed the Boston “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 manoeuvre.”


The aircraft was also the mount of some very brave pilots, with one being RAAF pilot William Newton, who was awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest medal in combat able to be awarded by Commonwealth Forces at the time) while flying in 1943 on a mission in an RAAF 22 SQN A-20 Boston over Papua New Guinea. His aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed into the ocean but Newton was able to swim ashore with another crew member but Newton was captured and sadly killed, after being beheaded by Japanese forces.

A short USAAF film on learning to fly the A-20 shows how pre flight checks and some flying was conducted – . The A-20 Havoc/Boston was the predecessor to the very similar Douglas A-26 Invader which was in all essence, an enlarged A-20 but was faster and more capable with a larger range and weapons load.


This book by William Wolf is an exceptionally well researched look at the development, testing and operational history of one of the most widely used and loved light bombers that saw action during World War 2 and beyond. Highly recommended for all A-20 enthusiasts and WW2 aviation enthusiasts.

Book detail

ISBN13: 9780764348334

Size: 8 1/2″ x 11″ | 780 b/w and colour photos, drawings

Pages: 520 pp

Binding: hard cover

Available direct from Schifferbooks at for $79.99 US plus postage.