Blast up off the pitching deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier in the rugged F4F Wildcat! Protect the fleet from marauding Zeroes and Kates!
Despite a rocky development process that led to aircraft designs being scrapped and redrawn several times, the F4F Wildcat proved to be an incredibly successful naval fighter. In the hands of an experienced pilot, it could pose a threat to superior aircraft like the A6M Zero or Bf 109.
Competition with the Brewster Buffalo forced Grumman to add successively powerful engines to its monoplane design, eventually settling on the configuration that would become the Wildcat in early 1940. Before it was adopted by the US Navy, it was purchased by the French – these would be delivered to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm instead, where it was christened the Martlet.
In Royal Navy service, the Martlet would be used aboard escort carriers, accompanying supply convoys back and forth across the Atlantic, where it exacted a heavy toll against the Luftwaffe’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft. The Wildcats would see service right through the war, often in conjunction with navalised versions of the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane.
In the Far East, the US Navy and Marine Corps Wildcats tussled with Japanese A6M Zeroes and Ki-47 Oscars – nimble dogfighters in the hands of experienced pilots that were able to exploit the Wildcat’s weaknesses.
The Wildcat was noted for its reliability and rugged construction, well-armoured and equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks which allowed it to absorb an extraordinary amount of punishment before being shot down. This gave it an edge against more fragile Japanese aircraft, giving it the survivability to survive the initial ambush before turning the tables and bringing its battery of .50 calibre machine guns to bear.
Eventually, the Wildcat would be replaced by the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair, but it continued to see service for the majority of the war. Modifications were made to add two additional machine guns, giving it a battery of six, along with hardpoints for two 100lb bombs.