F4F Wildcat

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Airman 1st Class
Nov 8, 2005
I have wondered why the Wildcat stayed in production until the end of the war, though it was outclassed pretty badly by 1944. Was it just because of the Wildcat's suitability for use on the escort carriers?
According to my docs, while the Wildcat was used essentially as a defensive fighter/submarine attacker (neither of which roles necessitated a "modern" fighter), it had been virtually phased out, by the RN at least, by the end of the war in the East.

Good question.
Politics and finance underlie 95% of the decisions on who produces what -
keeping all General Motors production lines active was an important factor
driving FM2 production through the war, coupled with the low cost of the
bird and the need to have a ready supply to hand off to our allies, given that
nobody knew at the time how long the war was going to last. It was a bonus
that the Wildcat worked out so well with CVE and anit-submarine ops.

We like to think that someone makes smart decisions based solely on need
and matching the best hardware to fit the requirements. In fact, it almost
always boils down to the financials and friendly connections between
industry and DOD.
Agreed! I love the robust and feisty lines of the F4F, it has real
personality. My Dad flew the F4F-4 in the Pacific before getting the
Hellcat, and he said you could pull the snot out of it without worrying
something would break. He had two so shot up they were pushed
over the deck, and yet he never had a scratch.
I read that the Wildcat was used because it had a low stall speed (compared to the Hellcat) which was desirable on the shorter CVE carriers.
I also think that the Wildcat was smaller; this would allow for more aircraft on the carriers. The FM2 would be suitable enough for the task of hunting U-boats. I don't know if they faced the FW Condors or JU-88 / JU188s like the catapulted Hurricanes did...
CVE´s don´t need to be equipped with newest generation fighters, they do ususally have low or no opposition. They just need an outfit to be servicable and something very reliable. That´s exactly what the F-4F (and to a lesser degree the Hurricane) was. I like the compact design anyway.
The CVE situation makes sense. Didn't some Royal Navy Martlets score FW-200 kills?
I also think that the Wildcat was smaller; this would allow for more aircraft on the carriers. The FM2 would be suitable enough for the task of hunting U-boats. I don't know if they faced the FW Condors or JU-88 / JU188s like the catapulted Hurricanes did...
Yes they did. They shot down a lot of Junkers 88s in the arctic convoys. Rugged machines. They were there to break up the torpedo runs of the 88's and they did a great job of it.
Had a 7:1 kill ratio if I'm not mistaken. An unsung hero along with the P-40.
Comparing Japanese and US accounts, the F4F had around a 1:1 ratio v the Zero itself in 1942, roughly 3:1 overall (bomber, floatplane, etc). In 1943 F4F's mainly met A6M's while flying from land bases in the Solomons, supported by higher performance types like the F4U and P-38, so, it's harder to compare head to head performance there, but the overall ratio didn't turn drastically against JNAF fighters until after the F4F was phased out. But, 1:1 v the A6M in 1942 was best among Allied fighter types which saw significant action that year, significantly better than the P-40's 1942 record v the A6M; again measuring by recorded losses of each side, which is generally possible in 1942.

FM-2's entered combat in 1944 and eventually did see some action against real Japanese fighters, though most of their targets were bombers and later on kamikazes (some of which were fighter types, but not really acting as fighters). The FM-2's overall claimed kill ratio was remarkable. According to Naval Aviation Combat Statistics (USN's official doc), Table 28, from Sep 1 1944-Aug 15 1945, FM-2's claimed 377 enemy a/c for 9 air combat losses. Against Japanese fighter types they claimed 183 for 7 losses. There's no way, AFAIK, in that phase of the war to add up Japanese recorded losses in all those combats, but here's an interesting example for which accounts are available from both sides:

Lingayen Gulf (Luzon, Philippines) invasion, January 1945. The invasion convoy was supported only by CVE's, the fast carriers were off striking elsewhere. The Japanese managed to mount serious air attacks, and the FM-2showed its main weakness at that stage: too slow as an interceptor. That was even a weakness of the considerably faster F6F by 1945. Kamikazes scored a number of hits after getting past the fighter CVE's CAP. But against Japanese fighters supporting the kamikazes January 8, the FM's claimed 3 'Tojo's', a 'Zeke' and 5 'Tony's' without loss. Their radial opponents were not in fact Tojo's and Zekes, but more capable Ki-84 Franks of the 73rd Sentai JAAF, along with Tony's of the 19th Sentai. 8 of their fighters failed to return per Japanese accounts, including the 73rd's CO.

Another remarkable FM-2 fighter combat occurred in the ETO. March 26 1945 FAA FM-2's (Wildcat VI's) encountered Bf109G's of JG/5 off Norway. They claimed 4 w/o loss. German records say 3 Bf109's failed to return.

In those 1945 cases, declining Axis pilot quality was surely a factor, but the FM-2 was small, highly maneuverable, had good low altitude climb, and the excellent gunnery characteristics of the basic Wildcat (esp the low nose for easy high deflection tracking). It proved a capable dogfighter against its actual opposition in 1945, in verified incidents.


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