Grumman F4F- 4 Wildcat


Model review

Tamiya 1/48 TAM61034

Box cover and painting guide

This time I wanted to built my model "quickly" (which means for me under a half a year :) and without any major modifications. I also succeeded quite well, I overran my time line only one week! Because I didn't have any US Navy /Marines plane on my shelf I chose the Tamiya's Wildcat which has been waiting a long time to be picked up on my pile of unfinished model kits. According to the web articles I had read I knew the Tamiya's F4F-4 would be exellent starting point to make a good model of this plane, even out of the box. And they were right, fit of the parts is good and need of putty was minor. When the detailing of the kit is very good, also the cocpit, it is hard to find any complaints. However there are few small imperfections which needs to be corrected and next a few words about them.

The most visible fault is the riveting of the model. Tamiya has made rivets far to big. I sanded off all the rivets. On the pictures of the real plane it is hard to see any rivets, exept on close-up photos. Cockpit floor is made closed, it should be open on the sides. Wildcats had open floor which allowed straight visibility out from the belly windows (see the small photos underneath). I added also seat belts which were made of painted tape with buckles from my spare box. The cocpit canopy is clear and fits well, although the sliding part is too thick to be lefted in open position. The problem can be solved by using Falcons vacuformed canopy instead that of the kit.

Rear part of the engine gowling didn't fit well to the upper surface of the nose. I raised it a little with putty and then sanded it to proper shape (see the small photos underneath). Putty was also needed to remove attachment point holes of the drop tank racks. The ability to use drop tanks came not until at the beginning of 1943. Exhaust pipes are moulded enclosed, they should be drilled out like the machine gun barrels too.

Inside areas of the fuselage have to be painted light grey instead of white. Unlike other American aircraft manufacturers Grumman didn't use Zinc Chromate as primer and protective paint but used instead its own primer, so called Grumman Grey which was the same color as the undersides light grey (FS 36440). I painted the cocpit of my model with US Interior Green according to Tamiyas instructions and one of my source. This color was also used in the cocpits of late production F4F-4's according to some sources. Better color would have been Bronce Green (FS 24050 tai 24052) which was officially used by Grumman as the cocpit color of the F4F-3s and F4F-4s. The color is darker green and has shade of blue when compared to the US Interior Green. I figured this out just after I had completed the fuselage from IPMS Stockholms website. FM-1 and FM-2 built by General Motors had their cocpits painted with the US Interior Green.

For the first time I used acrylic paints on my model. The paints were Life-Colors acrylics which I diluted with stillatitious water. I tried to dilute them with alcohol but it didn't work, the paint settled down and became unusable. The paints worked well in airbrush, you only need to learn the right degree of dilution. I didn't lighten the Blue Gray and Light Grey as they seemed to me ecact right straight from the bottle. For the first time I used "Future", in Finnish "Johnsonin Kirkas Muovivaha" instead of clear varnish. I sprayed the hole model with it before applying decals. It worked well diluted with water. I also brushed the canopy with it to make it clear and to protect it against the fumes of syanoacrylate glue.

The decal sheet has markings for three planes which flew from the US Navy carriers and for one plane of the US Marines Corps. Three of the planes have the two tone Blue Grey and Light Grey paint scheme which was used in the initial stage of the war. One plane has the three tone Semi-Gloss Sea Blue, Non Specural Intermediate Blue and Non Specular Insignia White paint scheme which was introduced in 1943.

I wanted to model a plane of an Guadalcanal ace so I purchased the Cutting Edges decal sheet which has markings for four different planes which all flew on Guadalcanal in 1942. From the sheet I chose the VMF-121 Commander's Capt. Joe Foss plane (more about Foss in history section). When I applied the first national insignia I noticed that it was broken and it didn't react with Micro Set at all. I decided to use the kits national insignias instead, they are good but a little thick. I had also problems with national insignias on the fuselage. It was a little difficult to settle them down because the Wildcat's fuselage is very round and it also narrows strongly towards the tail but I think I succeeded quite well. Other markings come from the Cutting Edges sheet.


History

Grumman F4F Wildcat was the main fighter type of the US Navy and Marine Corps in WW 2 throughout the first one and a half year. It played important role in many battles, the famous carrier battles at Midway, Coral Sea and Easter Salomons in 1942 and the battle for Guadalcanal. It was also used in Operation Torch, allied landings in French Marocco in March of 1942. The type was also used by British Fleet Air Arm which had totally 1172 Martlets in use, the name British gave to Wildcat. The main tasks Wildcats had in the Atlantic was air cover for the convoys and submarine patrols. The type was one of the main fighter types of the Fleet Air Arm until the end of 1942. F4F Wildcat was the only US Navy fighter that was in use from the start to the end of the war.

Although F4F wasn't as good in performance as its main opponent Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero it could still fight successfully against it. F4F was very robust machine which was equipped with good armour protection, strong armament and reliable engine. It was so sturdy that Grumman didn't announce any speed limit even in vertical dive !! Success of the type greatly based on for suitable tactics created for the type and the good ability to stand hits. Lt. Cmdr. John F. "Jimmy" Thach created the so called "Thach Weave" tactics which allowed Americans to fight succesfully against faster and more nimble Zero. Till the end of the war types kill /loss ratio was 6,9: 1 though majority of the kills were multiengined bomber and transport planes. There is no doubt that F4F was anything but a succesfull fighter type even though it had some teething troubles at the start !

The US Navy announced a competition in 1935 to design a new carrier fighter to replace the old Grumman F3F biplane fighter. First Grumman designed a biplane XF4F-1 but the performance figures for the XF4F-1 were calculated to be only marginally better than Grumman's existing F3F biplane that was already in service so the plan was cancelled. Navy made a contract with Grumman to develop a new monoplane design as a competitor to the Brewster XF2A. Grumman completed its new prototype XF4F-2 in September 1937. The final evaluation of the competitors took place at Anacostia Maryland in March 1938. The planes to be evaluated were Brewster XF2A-1, Grumman XF4F-2 and Seversky XNF-1. Grumman XF4F-2 was faster than its rivals but it suffered of some stability and engine problems. Due to these shortcomings the Brewster XF2A-1 was chosen to be the Navy's first operational monoplane fighter. The Navy didn't gave up with Grummans plan but instead it issued a contract in October 1938 to develop an improved version of the design, it had its own suspicions about Brewster.

Grumman carried out modifications to the next prototype XF4F-3. New improved and more powerful Pratt & Whitney XR-1830-76 engine which developed 1000 hp (746 kW) up to the altitude of 5790 metres was installed. Wing area and span was increased, tail surfaces were redesigned and the machine gun installations were changed. The changes helped to eliminate the stability problems and performance also increased. The first flight of the XF4F-3 took place on February 1939. After testing by both Grumman and the Navy the second prototype had to undergo more modifications, the tail section was totally reworked, tailplane was relocated higher and fin and rudder was reshaped. The handling characteristics and maneuvreability improved, top speed increased to 539 km/h at 6490 metres. XF4F-3 was now better than Brewster in all categories and the Navy didn't hesitate when it ordered 78 F4F-3 serial production planes on August 1939. The type had now grown to the shape that would remain standard for all Wildcats, exept some minor changes, not until to the end of the production in 1945.

F4F-3

Following the US Navys order in August 1939 French ordered 81 G-36A's, the export version of the type, in October 1939 to be used on its two aircraft carriers which were to be built. The French machines had Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine which developed 1000 hp. Soon after the French order Germans occupied France and the planes were taken to United Kingdom where they were renamed as Martlet I's. Also Greece ordered 30 G-36A's, they were fitted with R-1830-90 engine with one stage supercharger. But when Axis occupied Greece the planes were taken to UK as Martlet III's and the rest went to the US Navy designated as F4F-3A. By the end of 1941 the US Navy and Marine Corps had 181 F4F-3's and F4F-3A's in service.

At the beginning F4F-3 had P&W R-1830-76 engine with two stage supercharger. The Navy didn't trust to the complex two stage supercharger and ordered 95 planes designated as F4F-3A and fitted with R-1830-90 engine which had one stage supercharger. Later Pratt&Whitney developed more reliable two stage supercharger which was used on late production F4F-3 planes (engine designation -86). Totally 560 F4F-3's were built.


F4F-4

British war experiences with Martlets were took into account when developing the next production version the F4F-4. On the British demand the armament was increased with two machine guns. Other significant changes compared to the earlier model was the wing folding mechanism, self sealing fuel tanks and pilot's armour protection. Deliveries of the serial production planes started in November 1941. At the same time the type was named as Wildcat. Equipped with the same P&W R-1830-86 engine the F4F-4 weighted much more than the F-3 which caused significant loss of performance and agility. This caused much criticism against the plane by the US Navy pilots who rather would have taken four machine guns. The firepower of the type increased though the ammunition capasity per gun decreased. Very important was that much more planes could be taken to the carriers now due to the folding wings. Production of F4F-4 ended at Grumman plant in the spring of 1943 when the company started to produce the new F6F Hellcat. Totally 1169 F4F-4 -series planes were produced.

F4F-7

The last Grumman built production version was the F4F-7 which was long range reconnaissance plane. It had increased fuel capacity and no armament. Camera equipments were fitted underside of the fuselage. Only 20 planes were built.

FM-1

When Grumman started to product F6F Hellcats in the spring of 1943 it had to find a companion who would continue the production of F4F Wildcats. In April of 1942 Grumman made a contract with General Motors Eastern Aircraft Divisionin to produce 1800 F4F-4 Wildcats designated as FM-1. GM's five plants started to found production lines to produce the fighter. FM-1 differed from the F4F-4 by its armament, it had four 12,7 mm machine guns in the wings and also 20 % bigger ammunition capacity. During the year 1943 General Motors built 1127 machines. In the year 1943 312 FM-1's went to the UK under the Lend-Lease agreement where they were renamed as Martlet V and in January 1944 Wildcat V.

FM-2

FM-2 based on the light-weight XF4F-8 prototype that Grumman had designed and which had been tested in December 1942. The main purpose was to decrease weight and increase engine power to get better performance and take off ability. The type was mainly used on small escort carriers which had short decks so good take off abilility was more than necessary. Engine was changed to Wright R-1820-56 Cyclone which was equipped with turbo supercharger and rated 1350 hp. Maximum speed increased to 535 km/h and climbing rate improved 50 %. To get better directional stability fin and rudder was raised. Late series planes were equipped with water-injection system to boost more power for short periods. The initial order from GM was 1256 FM-2's but till the end of the production in August 1945 in all 4777 planes had been completed. 370 planes went to UK where they renamed as Wildcat VI. In January 1944 the name practice was standardized with Americans and the Martlet was changed to Wildcat, serials of the planes stayed.


Guadalcanal, Henderson Field and Joe Foss

One of the most significant battles of the WW 2 took place at the eastern end of the Solomon Islands on Guadalcanal. The battles which started the first Allied offensive on the Pasific area lasted half a year on the ground, at the sea and in the air and they inflicted significant losses both the men and material to the Americans and the Japanese. All that started when one lost American scout plane spotted Japanese building an airfield on Guadalcanal island. In fact the the airfield was almost ready. The airfield was important because the Japanese planes were able to cut the essential sea route from the USA to Australia therefrom. At once the island had become so important to the USA and its Allied that it was absolutely necessary to capture it.

When the US Marine Corps come to the island on 7th of August 1942 there was no resistance. Japanese airfield builders had fled to the jungle because of the heavy artillery fire from the US ships. Japanese sent a request for help to Rabaul and 60 planes were sent from there to break the US fleet. Only few ships were hit during the attack due to heavy AA fire. Nine of the Wildcats that started from the US carriers to catch the Japanese bombers were shot down by the escorting Zeros in airbattle that occured. In returning flight six more planes were lost which raised the total to 15 planes lost in the first battle day ! In fact it wasn't a miracle, their oppenents were the best fighter pilots in Japan among them Saburo Sakai and Horijoshi Nishizava.

Next day the Japanese attacked with torpedo planes against Americans. That attack and the fighters which were lost a day before was too much to the Commander of the American forces. He decided to draw his ships out to the sea and leave the landing troops without fighter protection. During the next night a detachment of Japanese warships made a surprise attack against American warships that were protecting US cargo ships (The Battle of Savo Island). Four cruisers sank and a cruiser and two destroyers were badly damaged. The cargo ships were now without any protection like sitting ducks at the front of the Japanese guns! But a miracle happened, the Japanese Commander was so afraid of the morning and American planes that he decided to withdraw! The cargo ships had saved.

By the noon 17000 men and their equippements had got to the island. But then come kick-back. Navy announced that they won't sent ships to bring supplies to the island because of its defeat in previous night. The Marines had left alone. It was great danger that they might be sacrificed. But the men took the machines Japanese had left and started to restore the airstrip. Henderson field, which got its name after an American airman and Dauntless pilot Major Lofton Hendorson who lost his life in the Battle of Midway had born. On the 20th of August the first aeroplanes landed at Henderson field, they were Major John Smith's VMF-223 19 Wildcat fighters and VMSB-232's 12 Dauntless dive-bombers. This was the starting point of the bitter and bloody battles which lasted half a year on the earth, at the sea and in the air and in which the Americans finally took the victory.

More planes were brought to Guadalcanal with aircraft carriers on every opportunity so the number of battle ready planes stayed just over the minimum. Also radar stations were built to the island. Now the interceptors had enough time to climb to the hights waiting for Japanise bombers to come. Earlier the so called beach-watchers who operated on occupied islands behind the enemy lines informed their observations by radio to Henderson.


Joe Foss

On the 9th of October 1942 VMF-121 took off from the deck of the escort carrier Copahee led by their commander Captain Joseph "Joe" Foss towards Guadalcanal to strengthen the air defence of the island which had shrunk small. From the beginning the squadron took part in heavy air battles and in nine days Foss became an ace! Japanese planned to capture the island on the 25th of October and gave an order to their fighters to go round over the island until the airfield is captured. But Zeros didn't land on Henderson that day. The Marine Corps held their lines as did the Cactus-airforce in the air. The best score of the day was redorded to Joe Foss who claimed five enemy aircrafts destroyed.

On the 7th of November Foss's F4F-4 was hit at the engine in an airbattle when Pete's rear gunner fired at his plane. The engine damaged and stopped so Foss had to ditch near an island named Malaita. When his plane sank into the sea he hardly managed to get out of it and come up. Rescuers from Malaita island found him and took him to the island. Next day he was get back to Guadalcanal by a PBY Catalina flying boat. On the 9th of November Admiral Halsey awarded Captain Joe Foss with DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), at a time he had 19 enemy aircrafts shot down.

On the 12th of November Americans brought more troops to the island with four cargo ships. The Japanese sent 16 Betty bombers and 30 Zero's as escorts to bomb the detachment. The Cactus-airforce was ready warned by the radar. Wildcats curved in the hights as topcover and Airacobras were lower receiving the bombers. In the hard battle that occured the defenders shot down with the AA all the bombers and almost all the Zeros. None of the cargo ships didn't get serious damage. Foss's saldo for the day was two Bettys and one Zero shot down. On the 15th of November Foss shot down a Jake when he was at sea searching his Commander LtCol Bauer who was never found.

Few days later Foss caught malaria and had to go to rest. When he got better he returned to Guadalcanal in newyearsday 1943. 15th of January he got his final kills when he shot down three of his opponents. Now he had 26 kills which he had achieved just in three months. In May 1943 president Roosevelt gave him the highest military honour of his country the Congressional Medal of Honour. When he returned to active duty he worked as specialist trainer at Marine Corps air station at Santa Barbara. Later he served as Commander of VMF-115 on the South Pasific. Joe Foss is the leading ace of the Marine Corps. He got all his 26 air victories with Wildcats.

Although the Japanese tried to capture Guadalcanal at all cost the Marines could hold their positions mainly because they had air superiority which was gained and held by the Wildcat squadrons. "The Cactus-airforce", name that the island's defenders had given to their planes, inflicted heavy loses with its dive- and torpedo bombers to the Japanese cargo- and warships and so prevented with the US Navy the maintenance of the Japanese troops by sea .

Photos from different stages
Hold the mouse cursor over thumbnail for a while before clicking !

Technical data of Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

Engine 1200 hv Pratt&Whithney R-1830-86 Twin Wasp 14-sylinder two-row radial engine
Dimensions Span 11,58 m; lenght 8,76 m; height 2,81m; wing area 24,15 m2
Weights Empty weight 2612 kg; maximum take off weight 3607 kg
Performance Max. speed 512 km/h (at 5915 m altitude); climb rate 594 m / min
Ceiling 12010 m
Range Internal fuel 1239 km; with drop tanks 2172 km
Armament 6 x 12,7 mm Browning machine guns; two 45 kg bombs
Production 1169 (7860 all models)

Sources

  • Pienoismalli magazine 5/1995, article Pertti Paasi
  • American Aircraft of World War II by David Mondey
  • Wildcat Aces of World War 2 by Barrett Tilman, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces
  • Acepilots.com: American Aces of World War Two WWII
  • Flightjournal.com: Grumman F4F Wildcat
  • IPMS Stockholm: Interior Colours of US Aircraft, 1941-45 Part III by Martin Waligorski
  • Siivet magazine 4/1997, article Tuomo Soiri
  • Internet

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