The Grumman F4F "Wildcat" was the United States Navy and Marine Corps's primary single seat fighter craft during the early years of the United States of America's involvement in World War II. It is often described as being 'stubby', and posessing a somewhat dated look when compared to the hotrods of the Axis powers, such as Japan's Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

The Wildcat saw a great deal of action during the first 1.5 years of the Pacific Campaign. In December of 1941, the Empire of Japan began it's Pacific-wide attack on U.S. assets, including the base on Wake Island. Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-21 1 lost eight of its twelve F4F-3 Wildcats on the opening day of battle. The four remaining fighters were flown constantly during the battle, for two weeks. In the battle, they broke up air raids on the base, and even sunk a Japanese cruiser and submarine using their 100-pound bombs. The last two Wildcats of VMF-21 were destroyed on 22 December 1941, the day of the Japanese landings.

Wildcats also flew at the Battle of Coral Sea, as well as the Battle of Midway, flying off of the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers. The Wildcat also served with distinction during the Solomon Islands campaign and at Guadalcanal (flying off Henderson Field. During those battles, the Wildcat pilots found that they could not out-turn their Japanese counterparts flying the Mitsubishi Zeros. Thus the saying, "Never get in a turning fight with a Zero". Overall, the Zero posessed a heavier gun load, was faster, and was more maneaverable than the Wildcat. However, the Wildcat did have a few advantages.

The Wildcat's main strength was it's rugged construction. Originally designed to be a biplane, Grumman decided to make the F4F a monoplane while still on the drawing board. The Wildcat was also very reliable mechanically speaking, and was a very stable platform from which to fire it's moderate armament of four (later six) .5-inch Browning machine guns. The Wildcat also had superior armor, and self-sealing fuel tanks.

As the Navy and Marines began replacing their Wildcats with the newer F6F Hellcats, the Wildcats were relegated to escort carrier duty. Even then, Wildcats played an important role in the Pacific campaign. In the Battle of Samar (a smaller battle in the Battle of Leyte Gulf), Wildcats flew off of escort carriers against the Japanese fleet of battleships and cruisers which had surprised the U.S. Seventh Fleet off of the Philippines.

Data (for F4F-4)

Type: Single-seat shipboard fighter

  • Span: 38' 0" (11.58 meters)
  • Length: 28' 9" - 28' 11" (8.76 meters)
  • Height: 11' 11" (3.63 meters)
  • Empty: 4,649 lb (2109 kilograms)
  • Loaded: 6,100 lb (2767 kilograms)
  • One 1,200 hp Wright R-1830-86 radial
  • Six 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns in outer wings
  • 2 x 250 lb bombs on underwing racks.
  • Maximum Speed: 318 mph (512 kilometers per hour)
  • Initial Climb: approx 1,900 feet (576 meters) per minute
  • Service Ceiling: approx 35,000 feet (10668 meters)
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