The Grumman F-4 Wildcat was an carrier based fighter first used by the Royal Navy (called the Martlet) and the United States Navy in 1940.
The Wildcat was the only effective fighter in the Pacific Theater used by USN and USMC (United Marine Corp) in 1941 and 1942. It replaced the Brewster Buffalo which was considered obsolete.
Although the F-4F was outperformed by the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, in speed (318 F-4F vs 331 kts – Zero) and maneuverability , the Wildcat pilots developed superior tactics such as the “Thatch Weave”.
The F-4F had a kill ratio of 5.9 to 1 in the early stage of the war (1941-42) and an overall kill ratio of 6.9 to 1 for the remainder of the war.
Design and Development
As with many aircraft or “finished product”, the Wildcat development began with a series of biplanes, first with the Grumman FF biplane with retracting land gear.
The USN in the mid-thirties wanted a mono-wing design. However Grumman continued with a series of bi-planes such the F2F and F3F, both twin seated aircraft. The USN selected the Brewster Buffalo as their first choice of aircraft carrier based fighter.
Grumman was told it could develop a single seat, mono-fighter as a back up ins case the Buffalo was unsatisfactory. Thus came the the XF-4F-2 which would become the single seat F-4F-2.
However the XF-4F-2 prototype was found to be inferior to the Buffalo and USN awarded the contract to Brewster.
Grumman was determined to stay in the race for the best fighter of the day. They completely redesigned the wings and tail and put a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 “Twin Wasp” radial engine in the new design.
The new design led to an order from USN as the F-4F-3. The first one came off the production line in February 1940.
The French also ordered the F-4F-3 with Wright R-1820 “Cyclone 9” engines. France fell to the Germans before they could be delivered.
The undelivered F-4Fs were then purchased by the Royal Navy and named the “Martlet”. The USN officially adopted the F-4F-3 on 01 October 1941 and named it the “Wildcat”.
The F-4F was used primarily in the Pacific Theater in the early years of the war. They were used in the Atlantic but saw duty on smaller “escort” aircraft carriers.
Battle of Wake Island
The Pan-American Airline Company 1935 started to build a Hotel, seaplane ramp, hotel employee quarters and other guest facilities on Wake Island.
Then in January 1941 government contractor Morrison-Knudsen started work on various defense facilities such as bunkers, gun emplacements, airfield runways, command posts, military hospital, fuel dumps and other facilities on the island.
On 19 August 450 men of the 1st Marine Defense Detachment arrived on Wake. As the Detachment built up their strengths thru training and practice Admiral Husband CINCPAC (Commander of USN Pacific) decided to fortify Wake by sending a squadron of Wildcats.
In late fall of November 1941, the Enterprise sailed from Pearl Harbor and USMC VMF 211 flew from Maui and rendezvoused with Enterprise. In late November 1941, VMF 211 arrived on Wake Island led by USMC Major Paul Putman.
On 08 December 1941, thirty-six Japanese Mitsubishi “Bettys” attacked Wake Island (the same day as Pearl Harbor- Wake is across the International Dateline) and 8 of the the F-4F Wildcats were destroyed on the ground.
The USMC maintenance team for 211 managed to keep the 4 Wildcats flying, using parts from the destroyed aircraft. This was a real credit to that team.
Over the course of the next several days, Elrod and the rest of the Wildcats shot down 8 enemy aircraft and damaged 20 other.
Captain Elrod was post-humorously awarded the Medal of Honor (the first Aviator of WWII) for his gallant efforts in attacking the Japanese aircraft, totally out number by a supposedly a superior enemy aircraft.
He was also the first man to be single handily credited with sinking of the Japanese Destroyer Kisaragi as he dropped a small bomb on the destroyer’s fantail, setting off the dept charge rack.
When all of the F-4Fs were destroyed by superior Japaneses numbers, Elrod was mortally wounded protecting some fellow Marines carrying ammo to a gun placement.
Captain Henry Elrod was posthumously promoted to Major in 1946 and initially buried on Wake Island. Later he was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery in October 1947.
Major Putman was a POW in a prisoner camp in China. At the end of the war he was awarded the Navy Cross and promoted to full Colonel. He later retired as a Bridger General.
The Japanese Commander of the invasion force later said the failed invasion of Wake Island (the only failed amphibious assault of World War II) was one of Japan’s most humiliating defeats of the war.
A couple of weeks later a much larger invasion force took Wake on 26 December 1941. It remained in Japanese hands until the end of the war.
Japanese losses: (most of these were from shore batteries and ground fighting).
1. 2 destroyers sunk
2. 2 transports sunk
3. 2 Patrol Boats sunk
4. 1 submarine sunk
Over 1,100 Japanese casualties (820 dead; 333 wounded)
Other Wildcat Activities:
In 1942-43 USN and USMC F-4F Wildcats were involved in the Battle of the Coral Sea (1942), the Defense of Midway (1942), and The Guadalcanal Campaign (1942-43).
The Wildcat was USN primarily aircraft carrier fighter escort from 1941-1943. By 1943 came the Grumman F-6 Hellcat and a little later the Vought F4U Corsair.
But this stubby little fighter had an amazing record against superior fighter aircraft.
There were 7,860 F-4Fs built, 1,328 aerial victories with 178 losses and 15,553 sorties flown.
Aircraft on Display
F4F-3 at Lewis Air Legends in San Antonio TX
F4F-3 at National Naval Aviation Museum Pensacola FL
F4F-3 at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson AZ. This aircraft was restored after being at the bottom of Lake Michigan for nearly 50 years. The Wildcat over shot the practice ship Wolverine, a converted lake excursion boat used to train USN/USMC on carrier landings during the early years of the war. Fleet aircraft carriers could not be spared for training purposes.
F4F-3 Pacific Aviation Museum, Ford Island HI
F4F-3 at Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City NY
F4F-3 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in Chicago IL. (This aircraft as a memorial to Medal of Honor recipient LCDR Edward O’Hare)
Tech Specs For F4F Wildcat
Wing Span: 38 ft
Length: 28 ft 11 in
Height: 9 ft 1 in
Weight: 8,271 lbs (MTOW)
Max Speed: 332 mph
Ceiling: 34,700 ft
Range: 900 miles
Engine: 1 Wright R-1820-56 radial 1,350 hp
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