.: Chris Cooper's 1/144 Sweet Brand "Two Wildcats"
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based night fighter that began service with both the United States Navy and the Fleet Air Arm in 1940. Although first used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat would become the primary carrier fighter for the first year and a half of the United States Navy's involvement in World War II in the Pacific Theater.
The FM Wildcat, built by General Motors, remained in service throughout the remainder of the war on escort carriers, where larger and heavier fighters could not be used.
Design and Development
The F4F-1 began as an unbuilt biplane design entered in a U.S. Navy competition, being beaten by the monoplane Brewster F2A-1 design. This resulted in its complete remodeling into the monoplane XF4F-2. This was evaluated against the Buffalo, but although the XF4F-2 was marginally faster, the Buffalo was otherwise superior and was chosen for production. Grumman's prototype was then rebuilt as the XF4F-3 with new wings and tail and a supercharged version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radial engine.
Testing of the XF4F-3 led to an order for F4F-3 production models, the first of which was completed in February 1940. France also ordered the type, powered by Wright R-1820 "Cyclone 9" radial engines, but France fell before they could be delivered and they ultimately went to the British Royal Navy, which named them "Martlet I"s. Both the British aircraft and the U.S. Navy's F4F-3 with an armament of four .50 caliber Browning machine guns, joined active units in 1940.
All versions of the Wildcat used fuselage mounted, hand-cranked landing gear with a relatively narrow track, making landing accidents, where the landing gear were not fully locked into place, distressingly common.
The name "Wildcat" was officially adopted on 1 October 1941.
Operational History Royal Navy
The F4F was taken on by the British Fleet Air Arm as part of an interim replacement for the Fairey Fulmar; navalised Supermarine Spitfires not being available because of the greater need of the Royal Air Force. In the European theater, the Wildcat scored its first combat victory on Christmas Day 1940, when a land-based Martlet (as the type was then known in British service) destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber over the Scapa Flow naval base. This was the first combat victory by a US-built fighter in British service in World War II. The type also pioneered combat operations from the smaller escort carriers.
Six Martlets went to sea aboard the converted ex-German merchant vessel HMS Audacity in mid-1941 and shot down several Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor bombers during highly effective convoy escort operations. These were the first of many Wildcats to see shipboard combat. The Fleet Air Arm was later to abandon the practice of using its own unique names for US-provided aircraft in British naval service, and began to use the U.S. Navy's aircraft names instead.
The MK.III variant was not equipped with folding wings and was only used for land-based operations.
U.S. Navy and Marines
The Wildcat was outperformed by the Mitsubishi Zero, its major opponent in the early part of the Pacific Theater, but held its own partly because of its ability to absorb far more damage. With relatively heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the Grumman airframe could survive far more damage than its lightweight, unarmored Japanese rival. Many U.S. Navy fighter pilots also were saved by the F4F's ZB homing device, which allowed them to find their carriers in poor visibility, provided they could get within the 30-mile (48 km) range of the homing beacon.
In the hands of an "expert pilot" using tactical advantage, the Wildcat could prove to be a difficult foe even against the formidable Zero.
Four U.S. Marine Corps Wildcats played a prominent role in the defence of Wake Island in December 1941. USN and USMC aircraft were the fleet's primary air defence during the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway and, land-based Wildcats played a major role during the Guadalcanal Campaign of 1942-43. It was not until 1943 that more advanced naval fighters capable of taking on the Zero on more even terms, the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair, reached the South Pacific theatre.
Grumman's Wildcat production ceased in early 1943 to make way for the newer F6F Hellcat, but General Motors continued producing Wildcats for both U.S. Navy and Fleet Air Arm use. From 1943 onward, Wildcats were primarily assigned to escort carriers ("jeep carriers") as larger fighters such as the Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair were needed aboard fleet carriers, and the Wildcat's slower landing speed made it more suitable for shorter flight decks.
At first, GM produced the FM-1 (identical to the F4F-4, but with four guns). Production later switched to the improved FM-2 (based on Grumman's XF4F-8 prototype) optimized for small-carrier operations, with a more powerful engine, and a taller tail to cope with the torque.
In all, 7,860 Wildcats were built. The British received 300 Eastern Aircraft FM-1s as the Martlet V in 1942/43 and 340 FM-2s as the Wildcat VI. In total nearly 1,200 Wildcats would serve with the FAA. By January 1944, the Martlet name was dropped and the type was identified as "Wildcat."
During the course of the war, Navy and Marine F4Fs and FMs flew 15,553 combat sorties (14,027 of these from aircraft carriers), destroying 1,327 enemy aircraft at a cost of 191 Wildcats (an overall kill-to-loss ratio of 6.9:1). True to their escort fighter role, Wildcats dropped only 154 tons of bombs during the war.