While the Grumman F4F Wildcat was one of the first American carrier-based fighter aircraft of WWII, it was first used by the British Royal Navy in the North Atlantic in 1940 - many months before it began operations with the US fleet.
The French and British Royal Navies had ordered the Wildcat in their own configuration - known as the Martlet, to equip their carrier fleets which had been unable to secure a marinised version of the British Spitfire due to the RAF’s requirements.
To everyones surprise, a land-based Marlet destroyed a Junkers JU 88 over the British Scarpa Flow naval base on Christmas Day 1940 - securing the first combat victory for a US-built fighter in British service. Another six Martlets were sent to sea aboard a converted German merchant vessel renamed HMS Audacity in September 1941 and shot down several Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor bombers - the first of many Martlet victories during their British Atlantic Convoy escort duties.
By the close of 1943, the Marlet name was dropped for the more generic ‘Wildcat’ and almost a 1000 Wildcats went on to serve in the British forces. The last air-raid of the war in Europe was carried about by the British Fleet Air Arm in May 1945, when 28 Wildcats along with a squadron of Avenger torpedo bombers took part in an attack on the U-boat depot in Harstad, Norway. Two German ships were sunk along with a U-boat for the loss of one Wildcat and one Avenger.
In the Pacific the US Fleet had been looking for a replacement for their ageing Brewster Buffalos and as soon as the Wildcat became available, all US carriers immediately changed over to the Wildcat, becoming their only effective fighter in the opening years of the war in the Pacific.
With a top speed of 318 mph the Wildcat was outperformed by the more manoeuvrable, and longer-ranged Mitsubishi A6M Zero, however its ability to absorb substantial punishment and still remain flying coupled with a change in USN combat tactics enabled the stocky fighter to claim an air combat kill-loss ratio of nearly 9:1 by the close of the war.
Four US Marine Corps Wildcats played a prominent role in the defence of Wake Island in December 1941, while USN and USMC aircraft formed the fleet’s primary air defence during the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, with land-based Wildcats played a major role during the Guadalcanal Campaign of 1942–43.
With the deployment of the faster F6F Hellcats as the primary carrier based USN fighter in early 1943, the Wildcat were reequipped with bomb racks and assigned to escort carriers for use against submarines and attacking ground targets. Given the smaller flight decks of the escort carriers, the slower and lighter Wildcats were a far better option than the heavier F4U Corsasir or Hellcat.
The redeployment decision proved its worth when in October 1945, escort carriers of Task Unit 77.4.3 and their escort of destroyers and destroyer escorts found themselves as the sole force standing between vulnerable troop transport and supply ships engaged in landings on the Philippine Island of Leyte and a powerful Japanese surface fleet of battleships and cruisers.
In desperation, the Task Unit’s lightly armed Avengers and FM-2 Wildcats resorted to tactics such as strafing ships, including the bridge of the Japanese battleship Yamato, while the destroyers and destroyer escorts charged the enemy. Confused by the fierce resistance and having suffered significant damage, the Japanese fleet eventually withdrew from the battle.
In all, 7,860 Wildcats were built during the course of the war with the Wildcat flying over 15,500 missions across all services.
All Grumman F4F Wildcat Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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