Officer - Brigadier General
Joined: Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:33 pm
Location: Ocala, FL
Wildcats, Hellcats & Corsairs In Europe
I found this saved as a text file on one of my drives and I thought it would be interesting to share. I can't remember the exact source of the article however I believe it was posted on a PC wargame board. Anyhow, read up about F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair action in North Africa, The Med and Europe as flown by the US and UK. This is something you rarely hear about! You may want to copy and paste it to notepad or Word for later reading!
The names Wildcat, Hellcat and Corsair conjure for most visions of the Pacific Theater, the big carrier battles – Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, and Philippine Sea; tropical island battles – Guadalcanal and the long march up the Solomons; and desperate battles against the Kamikazes off Okinawa and the coast of Japan. These were the fighter planes of the US Navy and Marine Corps through their battles and campaigns of the Pacific. There is, however, another side to their story. Wildcats, Hellcats, and Corsairs were also in other theaters, notably Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean and US naval aviators flew other fighters in Europe beyond these mainstays.
Employment of US designed and built carrier fighters by both the Americans and the British in the European and African Theaters pertains to three aircraft types. The navies of both countries fought using the F4F (or, its later variant, the FM-2) and the F6F. The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm also employed the F4U in the European waters (operating off carriers some eight months before the Americans made a practice of it), but the US Navy did not, sending all their F4U's to the Pacific. There were numerous aerial clashes between the British and American US built carrier fighters and their German, Italian, and Vichy opponents, but very few fighter-to-fighter duels, especially against the Luftwaffe.
US Navy F4F aerial actions, and where most fighter-to-fighter duels took place, were concentrated in Operation Torch against Vichy aircraft. There were some 109 Wildcats assigned to four carriers: VF-41 (Lieut. Comdr. CT Booth, USN) and VF-9 (Lieut. Comdr. JA Raby, USN), USS Ranger; VGF-27 (Lieut. Comdr. TK Wright, USN), VGF-28 (Lieut. Comdr. JI Bandy, USN), and VGS-30 (Lieut. Comdr. MP Bagdanovitch, USN – a scouting squadron that, curiously, flew F4Fs), USS Suwannee; VGF-26 (Lieut. Comdr. WE Ellis, USN), USS Sangamon; and VGF-29 (Lieut. Comdr. JT Blackburn, USN, later of VF-17 fame), USS Santee.
On 8 November, over Cazes, VF-41 brought down 13 Vichy aircraft: four Dewoitine D.520's, eight Hawk 75A's (export version of the Curtis P-36), and one Douglas DB-7. Lieut.(j.g.) Shields accounted for a D.520, two 75A's (plus one damaged) and the DB- 7; Lieut. August brought down three of the 75A's; and the CO, Booth, also scored a 75A. It wasn't all VF-41's way however, of 18 Wildcats engaged, six were lost, mostly to ground fire, including Shields and August. Five pilots were captured and one recovered from off shore.
Near Port Lyautey, VF-9’s skipper, Raby, knocked down a Potez 63. VGF-26 pilots found themselves later that morning also over Port Lyautey, where the ran up against several twin engine bombers and five fighters. They accounted for one D.520 and three Martin 167's with no losses. VGF-27 pilots, unfortunately, intercepted and shot down a RAF Hudson, mistakenly identified as Vichy. Only one member of the four man crew survived.
On 9 November, VF-9 went into action again and claim d five 75A's, including one fro Raby (plus one probable) though French records only recorded four losses, at a cost of one F4F (pilot captured). VF-41 claimed the shoot down an 'intruder' over the invasion beaches as darkness fell, but this may have been a photo-recon Spitfire that turned up missing that night. French and German records did not indicate any aircraft in the area at the time.
10 November found a last contact with VF-29’s Ens. Jacques shooting down what he reported was a Bloch 174, but was later confirmed as a Potez 63, near Safi.
Overall, US F4F losses were fairly heavy, over 20%. There were 11 combat related losses (5 losses in aerial combat) and 14 operational losses. US pilots claimed 22 victories, not including the Hudson and the probable Spitfire. The French reported losing 25 aircraft in combat.
On 4 October 1943, Ranger participated in Operation Leader, a strike on the harbor at Bodø in Norway. During this action VF-4 (Lieut. Comdr. CL Moore, USN), the redesignated VF-41, pilots Lieut. (j.g.)'s Mayhew and Laird together shot down a Ju-88 and Laird followed up with an He-115 on his own. With five later victories over Japanese opponents, Laird was the only confirmed USN ace with German and Japanese Theater victories. This was the last US F4F aerial action in the African-Atlantic-European theaters.
After the F4F came the F6F as the mainstay of USN carrier fighter operations. For the USN F6Fs the only action over Europe transpired during the invasion of southern France in August 1944. USS Tulagi with VOF-1 (Lieut. Comdr. WF Bringle, USN) and USS Kasaan Bay embarking VF-74 (Lieut. Comdr. HB Bass, USN), both squadrons, operating F6F-5s, provided coverage for the landings. VF-74 also operated a 7-plane F6F-3N night fighter detachment from Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. On the day of the invasion, 15 August, VF-74 flew 60 sorties, VOF-1, 40 sorties, all ground support missions.
On the morning of 19 August, the first German aircraft, three He-111's, were spotted by a four-plane division of VOF-1 pilots. The Americans were too short on fuel and could not attack. Two of the Americans were forced to land on HMS Emperor due to their fuel state. Later that day, two He-111's were spotted by another VOF-1 division and were promptly shot down, this occurring near the village of Vienne. Lieut. Poucel and Ens. Wood teamed up to bring down one and Ens. Robinson brought down the second. Soon thereafter, in the same vicinity, a third He-111 was shot down by Ens. Wood. That same morning, a division of VF-74 pilots led by Lieut. Comdr. Bass brought down an Ju-88 and in the afternoon another division attacked a Do-217 with split credits to going to Lieut. (j.g.) Castanedo and Ens. Hullard.
On 21 August, pilots from VOF-1 shot down three Ju-52 transports north of Marseille. Two were credited to Lieut. (j.g.) Olszewski; one went to Ens. Yenter. Operating for two weeks in support of the invasion, these two squadrons were credited with destroying 825 trucks and vehicles, damaging 334 more and destroying or otherwise immobilizing 84 locomotives. German aircraft shot down: VOF-1: 6, VF-74: 2.
Although the two navy squadrons lost some 17 aircraft, combined, all were to ground fire or operational accidents. None were shot down by German aircraft. Among the 7 pilots lost (2 from VOF-1 and 5 from VF-74) was the CO of VF-74, Lieut. Comdr. H. Brinkley Bass, awarded 2 Navy Crosses from early actions in the Pacific, killed by antiaircraft fire while strafing near Chamelet on 20 August.
The Royal Navy was to employ the F4F in combat long before the US Navy. FAA Marlets (export F4F's, model G-36A's, originally earmarked for France but transferred to the Royal Navy after the collapse of France) were active almost a year be fore Pearl Harbor. First air-to-air victory was on 25 December 1940; flying out of Hatson, Lieut. Carter and Sub-Lieut. Parke from 804 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. BHM Kendall, RN, commanding) intercepted a Ju-88 over Scapa Flow and shot it down near Loch Skail.
Later land based victories were scored in the Mediterranean Theater. On 28 September 1941, Sub-Lieut. Walsh, 805 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. AF Black, RN), operating out of Sidi Haneish shot down an Italian Fiat G-50. Walsh and Sub-Lieut. Routley claimed a probable victory over a Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 on 11 November. By 28 December, 805 was operating out of Tobruk. On that day Sub-Lieut. Griffin attacked four SM.79s that were conducting a torpedo attack. He forced two of them to jettison their payloads and evade, shot down a third and was, in turn, shot down by the gunner of the fourth. 805 Squadron later accounted for a Ju-88 in February 1942 and two more SM.79s in July.
At sea, 802 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. JM Wintour, RN), specialized in FW-200's. Operating off HMS Audacity escorting Convoy OG-74, the first encounter was early on 21 September 1941, when one was brought down under the combined attack of Sub-Lieut.'s Patterson and Fletcher. Later, in the early afternoon, a Ju-88 was driven off with damage. Shortly thereafter another section chased down a radar contact only to find the Lisbon to Azores Boeing 314 Clipper … they let it go. On 8 November, now escorting Convoy OG-76, Lieut. Comdr. Wintour and Sub-Lieut. Hutchinson attacked and shot down another 200, but, in the process, Wintour was killed by return fire. Later that day, Sub-Lieut. Brown shot down a second FW-200 in a head-on pass and Sub-Lieut. Lamb drove off a third.
At sea again with still another convoy, HG-76, 802 was now commanded by Lieut. DCEF Gibson, DSC, RN. On 14 December, Sub-Lieut. Fletcher was shot down and killed strafing surfaced U-131. His action, however, enabled three escorts to close range and take the submarine under fire until her crew was forced to abandon ship. On 19 December, in another head-on pass, Brown brought down his second FW-200, Lieut. Comdr. Sleigh, using Brown’s proven head-on method, shot down another, and Lamb, again, drove off a third with damage. Audacity was torpedoed by U-751 on 21 December and sank with heavy losses, including many pilots.
During the British invasion of Madagascar, Martlets from 881 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. JC Cockburn, RN) off HMS Illustrious accounted for two French Potez 63's (one shared between Lieut. Waller and Sub-Lieut. Bird) and three Morane 406C's (one to Lieut. Tompkins, one shared between Waller and Sub-Lieut. Lyon, and one shared between Waller and Tompkins) between 5 and 7 May 1942 with the loss of one of their own. On 7 August 1942, Sub-Lieuts. Scott and Ballard, from 888 Squadron (Capt. FDG Bird, RM) off HMS Formidable splashed a Kawanishi H6K 'Mavis' flying boat in the Bay of Bengal.
May was also a busy month the Mediterranean. On the 12th, during Operation Pedestal, six Martlets from 806 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. JN Garnett, RN) on HMS Furious were part of a force rounded out with 30 Sea Hurricanes and 18 Fulmars which took on a mixed force of German and Italian attackers, numbering about 100, going after a Malta bound convoy. The Grummans pilots accounted for two SM.79s, one Ju-88 and one Reggianne Re-2000. One Martlet was lost.
In November 1942 came Operation Torch. 888 Squadron and 893 Squadron (Lieut. RG French, RNVR) with a total of 24 F4F's were deployed on Formidable. Illustrious carried 882 Squadron (Lieut. ILF Lowe, DSC, RN) with 18 F4F's.
On 6 November, Lieut. Jeram, 888 Squadron, shot down a Bloch 174. On 9 November, Jeram shared another Ju-88 with Sub-Lieut Astin; meanwhile, a division of 882 Squadron brought down a He-111 and drove off, with damage, a Ju-88. With Jeram's victories, 888 Squadron was the only Allied squadron able to claim kills on German, Italian, Japanese, and Vichy opponents. Unfortunately, on the 11th, a four-plane division from 893 made the same identification error as did VGF-27 on the 9th and shot down another RAF Hudson that they mis-identified as an Italian SM.84.
In July 1943, 881 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. RA Bird, RN) and 890 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. JW Sleigh, DSC, RN), while operating off Furious, shot down 3 Blohm and Voss BV-138 seaplanes.
September 9th during Operation Avalanche saw 888 off Formidable score again, bringing down a Cantieri Z.506B float-plane. 842 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. LR Tivy, RN), HMS Fencer, scored an FW-200, splashed by Sub-Lieut. Fleishman-Allen, on 1 December to round out 1943.
1944 saw FAA F4F scores at about the same rate. On 12 February Convoy OS-67/KMS-41, protected by 881 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. DRB Cosh, RCNVR) and 896 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. LA Hordern, DSC, RNVR), HMS Pursuer, was attacked by seven He-177s from II.KG-40 carrying the Henshel Hs-293 guided missile. Defending F4Fs shot down an He-177, a snooping FW-200 and drove off the remaining He-177s.
Lieuts. Dimes and Erickson, 811 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. EB Morgan, RANVR), HMS Biter, shot down a Ju-290 on 16 February.
Providing escort for Convoy JW-58 were 819 Squadron (Lieut. OAG Oxley, RN), HMS Activity, and 846 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. RD Head, DSC, RN), HMS Tracker. 819’s Lieut. Large and Sub-Lieut Yeo shared a Ju-88 on 30 March and between 31 March and 4 April the two squadrons together brought down three BV-138's and three FW-200's with no losses.
On 3 April some 40 Martlets from Pursuer and Searcher flew flak suppression for Operation Tungsten, the raid on the Tirpitz. These included: from Pursuer, 881 Squadron and 896 Squadron and from HMS Searcher, 882 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. EA Shaw, RN) and 898 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. GR Henderson, DSC, RNVR).
While escorting Convoy RA-59 from Activity, following vectors for a nearby Swordfish, the team of Lieut. Large and Sub-Lieut. Yeo, 819 Squadron, on 1 May, scored again, bringing down BV-138 that was snooping their convoy.
The Pursuer and Searcher squadrons also supported Operation Anvil/Dragoon in August, but their activities are confined to patrolling, strikes, and air-to-ground support.
In November and December, new FM-2's off HMS Nairana, 835 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. FV Jones RNVR), and HMS Campania, 813 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. SG Cooke, RNVR), were on Arctic convoy escort with Convoy JW-61A. On 3 November, Lieut. Leamon and Sub-Lieut. Buxton brought down a BV-138. A second BV-138 was shot down by 813 Sub-Lieuts. Machin and Davis on the 13th. On the return trip, Sub-Lieut. Gordon, of 835, bagged still another BV-138 on 12 December.
In Arctic convoy escort duty in January and February 1945, flying from Nairana, 835 Squadron, and from HMS Vindex, 813 Squadron, FM-2's accounted at least five more scores and probably nine in total. On the 6th, an 813 section shot down a Ju-88. On the 10th, another 813 section intercepted three more Ju-88's, claiming one probable and two damaged. On the 20th, 835's Sub-Lieut. Gordon struck again, teaming with Sub-Lieut. Blanco for a Ju-88. Another section on the other side of the convoy formation claimed a probable on another Ju-88. At least one German source reports six Ju-88s lost in these attacks. In addition to these, three BV-138 snoopers were splashed in the same period.
On 26 March 1945, in a last action, FM-2's from 882 Squadron Lieut Comdr. GAM Flood, RNVR) off Searcher, escorting a flight of Avengers along the coast of Norway, was attacked by a flight of eight III Gruppe JG 5 Me-109Gs. The Wildcats (now called “Wildcat” instead of “Martlet” as the FAA adopts the USN names for carrier aircraft in January) shot down four of the Me-109Gs at a cost of one Wildcat damaged. A fifth 109 was claimed as damaged. As near as can be determined from available Luftwaffe loss lists, there were three 109’s lost and one other 109 crashed on landing, however the information available does not indicate if the crash was due to pilot error or from battle damage. Available Luftwaffe credit lists show no claims from this action.
The FAA also employed the F6F and the F4U. The only fighter-to-fighter FAA F6F action took place in May 1944. On 8 May, F6F's from the Fleet Air Arm's No. 800 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. SJ Hall, DSC, RN), off HMS Emperor, while escorting a flight of Barracudas was attacked by a mixed group of Me-109's and FW-190's. Two F6F's were lost, one, reportedly, to anti-aircraft fire. The F6F pilots claimed 2 Me-109's and one FW-190. The FW-190 was claimed by Sub-Lieut. Ritchie. Available Luftwaffe loss listings show three Me-109Gs lost in this action. German claims were three F6Fs.
On 14 May, 800 Squadron's leading scorer, Sub-Lieut. Ritchie (now with 4.5 victories) added an He-115 to his tally and the shared another He-115 with the CO of 804 Squadron, Lieut. Comdr. Orr, giving him a total of 6 victories for the war.
Prior to these actions, FAA F6F's were used for anti-aircraft suppression on raids against Tirpitz on 3 April 44 (Operation Tungsten). These included - from Emperor - 800 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. Hall) and 804 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. SG Orr, DSC, RNVR).
FAA F4U's also participated in Operation Tungsten with 1834 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. PN Charlton, DFC, RN) and 1836 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. CC Tomkinson, RNVR) off Victorious, flying high cover for the raid. This was a role the FAA Corsairs of 1841 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. RL Bigg-Wither, DCS & bar, RN) would repeat, flying off Formidable in Operation Mascot on 17 July and with 1841 joined by 1842 Squadron (Lieut. Comdr. AMcD Garland, RN) in Operation Goodwood in late August. No contact was made with any German aircraft. Indeed, the FAA F4U's never did tangle with any German aircraft, though not for lack of trying. After the summer of 1944, FAA F4U's were largely operating in the Indian and Pacific Oceans . . . pretty far away from the Germans.
In summary, outside of the Pacific Theater, there were a total of 93 aircraft shot down by F4Fs, or F6Fs flying in either USN or FAA service, versus 8 losses, a ratio of about 11.6 to 1.
In USN service, F4F pilots were credited with bringing down 25 to 5 losses (5 to 1): 12 Curtis 75A's; 5 D.520's; 3 Martin 167's; 2 Potez 63, and 1 each DB-7, Ju-88, and He-115. The USN F6F pilots's were credited with bringing down 8 enemy aircraft, 3 He-111; 3 Ju-52; and 1 each Ju-88 and Do-217 with no air combat losses.
In Fleet Air Arm service, F4F and FM pilots were credited with bringing down 55 aircraft to 4 losses (13.8 to 1): 11 Ju-88, 13 BV-138; 10 Fw-200; 4 SM.79, 4 Me-109G; 3 Morane 406C; 2 Potez 63; and 1 each G.50, Z.506B, Re.2000, Bloch 174, He-111, He-115, He-177, Ju-290, and Kawanishi H6K. The FAA F6F pilots were credited with bringing down 5 aircraft to 1 loss (5 to 1): 2 He-115; 2 Me-109G; and 1 FW-190. The F6F loss was in the 8 May 1944 FW-190/Me-109 engagement. FAA F4F/FM's and F6F's, together then, had a score of 62 aircraft shot down with 5 losses (12.4 to 1).
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