“I don’t know how many Wildcats there were, but they seemed to come out of the sun in an endless stream. We never had a chance….Every time we went out we lost more and more planes. Guadalcanal was completely under the enemy’s control….Of all the men who returned with me, only Captain Aito, [Lt. Cmdr. Tadashi] Nakajima and less than six of the other pilots who were in our original group of 80 men survived.”
—Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Lieutenant Junior Grade, Tainan Air Group.
Maneuverability – Of all the planes in the game, only the A6M2 Zero and the Spitfire Mk.Ia are markedly superior to the F4F-3 Wildcat in terms of maneuverability.
Speed – Although not as slow as the A6M2 Zero or Hurricane IA, the F4F-3 Wildcat is not going to run away from or catch contemporary planes like the Bf-109E, I-16, Yak-1b and P-40C.
In 1936 the US Navy began looking for a successor to Grumman’s F3F carrier-based biplane fighter. They commissioned prototypes of a biplane from Grumman and a monoplane from the Brewster company, playing it safe in case the new monoplane design couldn’t stand up to the rigors of carrier operations. Grumman’s new design was designated the F4F Wildcat and retained much of the F3F’s design features, including the Wright Cyclone 9-cylinder radial engine and the distinctive fuselage-mounted, retractable landing gear. However, after a design review revealed that the new plane would be only marginally superior to the existing F3F, the Navy asked Grumman to build a monoplane instead.
The new plane, designated XF4F-2, was first flown on September 2, 1937 and proved inferior to Brewster’s XF2A-1 Buffalo, which won the contract in June 1938 for the new Navy fighter. However, three months later, Grumman received permission to begin work on a second prototype, the XF4F-3, which was redesigned around the new Pratt & Whitney 14-cylinder “Double Wasp” radial engine equipped with a two-speed supercharger. The first flight proved the superiority of the reworked Wildcat fighter over the Buffalo and after extensive evaluation, the Navy finally awarded Grumman a contract for 54 Wildcats.
Prior to delivery of the first batch of Wildcats to the US Navy in December 1940, the British Royal Navy took over a French Navy order for 81 of the new planes. Designated the Martlet, they were put into action over Scapa Flow on Christmas Day 1940, downing a Junkers Ju-88. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack a year later, the US Navy and Marine Corps had a total of 248 F4F-3s in service.
The Wildcat’s main claim to fame was earned on Wake Island, when four VMF-211 F4F-3s repulsed Japanese air attacks for two weeks – and even managed to sink a cruiser and a submarine with 100 lb. bombs. The last two Wildcats were destroyed on December 22, 1941, the day the Japanese finally managed to land on the island and overcome its meager defenses.