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Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat Early Missions

Eight weeks after Pearl Harbor, on 1 Feb 1942, the USN launched its first offensive action against Japanese positions in the Pacific.

Before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese controlled Taiwan (Formosa), the Kurile Islands, Korea, a big chunk of China, the Marianas, Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands and Bonin Islands. By 1 Feb, they had captured the American bases in Guam (Marianas) and Wake (Marshalls), plus the Gilbert Islands. This protected their eastern flank while they were dismantling British, French, Dutch, and American possessions to the West in a series of highly successful invasions.

Nimitz believed it necessary to start pushing back, and he planned a raid against the Marshall Islands from Samoa. The raid did not contemplate any invasion force. It was a minor counterattack where surface ships and aircraft from the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Lexington would strike enemy airfields and shipping on the islands.

The two American task forces succeeded in reaching their attacking spots undetected and within minutes dozens of Grumman F4F Wildcats fighters (picture -most with two 100 lb. bombs), Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers (one 500 and two 200 lb. bombs each), and Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers (each with three 500 lb. bombs - rather than the usual torpedo) took to the air and flew to their targets.

The Japanese were caught by surprise, and they defended only with anti-aircraft guns and older Mitsubishi A5M ‘Claude’ fighters which were fixed gear aircraft with 690 hp engines. This aircraft was no match against the Wildcats that were far superior in firepower, speed, climb, acceleration, and durability to damage. The flimsy ‘Claude’ was more maneuverable, but its two light machine guns failed to make an impression against the enemy’s fighters.

The Americans destroyed numerous installations and 9 planes on the ground plus 3 ‘Claudes’ in the air. They sank one transport and two smaller vessels, and damaged eight other ships. All this at a cost of five Dauntless and one Wildcat (lost in an operational accident during takeoff).

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