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Grumman F4F Wildcat

The “Peanut Special” – Grumman F4F Wildcat in Photos

Even though both the United States and Great Britain became fighter aircraft powerhouses by the late stages of World War II, the situation was quite the opposite during the early years of the war. The fearsome Luftwaffe was king of the skies above Europe as well as above the Atlantic Ocean.

Therefore, in order to counter the menace, in 1940 the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm together with the French Navy ordered a shipment of newly produced naval fighter aircraft, from Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in America.

The aircraft in question was the F4F Wildcat, and it was hastily purchased in hopes of turning the tide of the upcoming threat. Alas, for France it was too late.

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat of Fighting Squadron 71 (VF-71) and Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7), in 1942.

The fall of France in the summer of 1940 and the subsequent aerial battle above Great Britain caused the Wildcats to be put into action as soon as they arrived.

On Christmas Day, 1940, a Wildcat shot down a Junkers Ju 88 bomber over the Scapa Flow naval base in Scotland, becoming the first ever American-built aircraft to do so in the war.

That was the opening of a hunting season for Wildcat pilots, and F4Fs were further engaged in smaller escort-carrier actions. They were tasked with providing protection for supply convoys across the Atlantic.

Grumman XF4F-3 prototype (Bureau # 0383) photographed during flight testing, 21 July 1939.

Known as the Martlet among the British, the F4F basically pioneered this type of combat, proving very effective against Fw 200 Condor bombers harassing Allied ships.

While Great Britain was leading the Allied cause in Europe, by late 1941 the U.S. entered the war as well, focusing their campaign on the Pacific Theater.

The F4F, which was U.S. Navy’s weapon of choice, was generally considered to be inferior against the fearsome backbone of Japanese aviation ― the Mitsubishi Zero.

One of the main features of the F4F-4 were the Sto-Wing-design folding wings, a Grumman patented design

The Zero was considered at the time to be best in its category, but nevertheless, Wildcats had several significant advantages which still made them a formidable foe against the Japanese aircraft.

The Wildcat could sustain much more damage than the Zero, due to its heavy armor. Its self-sealing fuel tanks also ensured the aircraft wouldn’t lose fuel or catch fire if shot.

F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and SBD Dauntless dive bombers being prepared to launch from the flight deck of USS Hornet, off Midway, 4 June 1942.

Later on, a specific defense tactic known as the “Thach Weave” was adopted by American pilots, which put them on par with their Japanese opponents.

The F4F Wildcat served honorably until 1943, when it had to make way for the F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair. Both of those aircraft would raise the bar concerning aerial warfare in the Pacific and contribute to the complete downfall of the Japanese.

More photos!

Wildcat fighters flying in formation, circa mid-1943


An early F4F-3 with prop spinner and cowl guns


A Hornet Wildcat which had landed on Enterprise slides across the flight deck as Enterprise maneuvers violently under aerial attack on 26 October 1942. Two crewmen are in defensive posture on the deck and the ship appears to be burning.


A Fleet Air Arm Wildcat in 1944, showing “invasion stripes”


F4F-4s on Guadalcanal, 1942


F4F-3s of VF-5, 1941


The F4F-3S “Wildcatfish”, a floatplane version of the F4F-3. Edo Aircraft fitted one F4F-3 with twin floats.


F4F-3 Wildcat. Photo: D. Miller / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0


FM-2s from White Plains, in June 1944, with 58 gallon drop tanks


A Martlet II from HMS Formidable, 1942


Lt. John Thach’s Wildcat taking off from Saratoga, 1941.


Wrecked Wildcats of VMF-211 collected by Japanese, Wake, circa late December 1941.


Lieutenant Edward O’Hare in his F4F Wildcat, Spring 1942


F4F-3 Wildcats of Fighting Squadron 6 get ready for launch from USS Enterprise, May 12 1942 while on their way toward the Battle of the Coral Sea (which was over before Enterprise could get there).


Crewmen spotting F4F-4 Wildcat fighter in Long Island’s hangar deck, 17 June 1942


Damaged and partially disassembled F4F-3 Wildcat on Sand Island, Midway, circa 24-25 June 1942


Wildcat fighters testing their machine guns aboard Ranger off North Africa, November 1942


Martlet fighters aboard HMS Formidable off North Africa, November 1942


Wildcat ‘Rosenblatt’s Reply’ aboard USS Suwanee, 1942-43


One F4F Wildcat flies overhead as another makes a low altitude pass over the flight deck of the training aircraft carrier USS Wolverine as she lies at anchor on Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, United States, 1943.


A FM-2 Wildcat fighter prepared to launch from USS Charger while another flew overhead, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, United States, 8 May 1944


Deck crews aboard the training aircraft carrier USS Sable man lines to right an FM-2 Wildcat that had nosed completely over. Lake Michigan, United States, 1943-45


TBM-1C Avengers and an F4F Wildcat, probably with Marine squadrons, lined up at Dulag airstrip, Leyte, Philippines, c. 1944.

Read another story from us: 19 Facts About the Grumman F6F Hellcat with Photos

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat. Image: Kaboldy / CC-BY-SA 3.0

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War History Online and Nikola Budanovic