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by Barrett Tillman
Osprey Publishing 1995
Aircraft & Ace Profiles
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|Wildcat Aces of World War II
The Pacific theater, the largest in area of WWII produced its own aces. From December 1941 to June 1942 the five frontline USN fighter units had a combined strength of only 138 aircrews and fought at Midway, Wake, carrier strikes. With an additional 136 USMC and other pilots added during the battle of Guadalcanal the first year of WWII Pacific was fought by 224 USN fighter pilots. It was the F-4F that they flew, fought and became aces the air. A total of 58 pilots were made aces in the Grumman Wildcat.
This superb book by Barrett Tillman details the Wildcat aces, begriming with the early pre-war development of the F-4F and the inauspicious start - begriming with the loss of six Wildcats flying to Ford Island on the evening of December 7, 1941, two were shot down by friendly fire in the aftermath of the surprise attack on the harbor.
Immediately, Pacific Wildcats were thrown into combat - Wake (where never more than four F-4F were operational) and first carrier strikes into Japanese occupied areas in the Gilberts, and reconnaissance on Rabaul. Even in these early actions the Wildcat pilots distinguished themselves in combat, like Butch O'Hare, who shot down five Betty bombers on February 20, 1942. At Midway, three new aces were crowned - Thach, McCuskey and Brassfield, all ferociously protecting dive bombers that produced the stunning victory over the Japanese strike force.
It was at Guadalcanal that the fame of the Wildcat was secured, as USN, USMC, and USSAF pilots fought from Henderson. A specific chapter deals with legendary ace Joe Foss, who scored a total of 26 victories and the Medal of Honor. After the island was declared secure in February 1943, Wildcats went on the offensive on offensive strikes to the Japanese bases in the vicinity.
The last chapters of the book deal with the Wildcat's smaller roles in Europe, during operation Torch and Leader and with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, both fascinating and lesser known aspects of the type's wartime service.
In 1943, Grumman stopped building Wildcats, and a new breed of fighter, the F6F Hellcat went into production. Although phased out before the end of the war, the Wildcat's contributions were vast and the exploits of their pilots legendary.
Interview with author Barrett Tillman
Review by Justin Taylan
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