Book Review
Wildcat & Hellcat Aces of VF-2
F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-2
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Osprey Publishing Ltd. has offered Aeroscale this First Look at a new book, F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-2, due to be released on 17 February 2015.

F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-2 is Osprey Publishing LTD's 125th Aircraft of the Aces book. Author Thomas McKelvey Cleaver fills 96 pages with a history from records, diaries and interviews, as well as original artwork by illustrators Jim Laurier and Mark Postlethwaite.
    The first VF-2 was a prewar unit that had been dubbed the ‘hottest outfit afloat' due to the skill of their non-commissioned pilots. This first unit only saw combat at the Battle of the Coral Sea, although VF-2 pilots flying Grumman F4F Wildcats were able to rack up 17 claims there during the bitter 48-hour period of fighting. The second ‘Fighting Two' was armed with the new Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter. Arriving in Hawaii in October 1943, the squadron so impressed Cdr Edward H ‘Butch' O'Hare, the Medal of Honor-winning first US Navy ace of World War 2, that he requested the squadron replace VF-6 in his CAG-6 aboard USS Enterprise. No unit US Navy unit created more aces than VF-2, whose pilots went into action over the Carolines, Marianas, Guam, Iwo Jima and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Using exquisite photographs and first-hand accounts from the elite fliers themselves, this volume tells the story of the ace pilots who comprised the original VF-2 and the second. - Osprey Publishing

F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-2 is narrated through 96 pages of seven chapters, an introduction, and appendices;
    1. 19 June 1944
    2. The 'Flying Chiefs'
    3. Ramsey's Lambsies'
    4. 'The Rippers'
    5. WESTPAC
    6. 'Hey Rube!'
    7. Pacific High Tide
      Colour Plate Commentary

The breath of those chapters include the following;

    Prewar activity and Battle of the Coral Sea, which gives the original unit its first, and only, taste of combat.

    Overview of the formation and training in the United States of the second ‘Fighting Two', and its first experience of combat in the Gilberts Invasion.

    Development of nightfighters, VF-2 working with ‘Butch' O'Hare to create the US Navy's first nightfighter capability, and the loss of O'Hare in combat.

    Operation Forager and the Battle of the Philippine Sea - the ‘Marianas Turkey Shoot' and the Mission Beyond Darkness.

    The Bonins Campaign - air battles over Iwo Jima in July 1944 and completion of the Marianas Campaign.

    Task Force 38 and the Philippines Campaign. Air battles throughout the Philippine Islands in September 1944 that brought about the later invasion of Leyte Gulf.

VF-2 was USN's premier fighter squadron, unique in being manned with Chief Petty Officers due to expansion of US Naval aviation. Author Thomas McKelvey Cleaver presents this history in a well organized format. It is clearly written and interesting to read. Obviously a great deal of research was made to prepare the story. He explains the then USN practice of striking an air unit from the record when it was disbanded (due to attrition or, in VF-2's case, the loss of the home ship) and the reassignment of the squadron number when it was reconstituted.

There are many first-person narratives in this book, an aspect which greatly enhances the book.
    'I climbed back up for altitude to 5000 ft and saw a "Zeke" above me at 8000ft, making an overhead run on a Hellcat at 6000 ft. I followed it down to the water. It went into its run and pulled through faster than I did, so I went into a wing-over. Two more Hellcats closed, and the "Zeke" turned inside of them. Before they could bring their guns to bear, I pulled up in a high wing-over and shot it down from "eight o'clock", above, 100 ft off the water.'

Another pilot reported
    'Many of us took assignments to search 380 miles out from the carriers, with a 50-mile cross leg. This was an unusually long search for fighters. We had to trust that the Hornet would be able to continue on its anticipated course, and that we would notice any change in the force or direction of wave caps to enable us to plot more accurately out navigation back to the fleet. Most of the search flights wound up being five hours or more in length, with a maximum fuel supply for just six hours. This meant we required the most accurate navigation, for we might still have to wait for the carrier to respot aircraft on the flightdeck before bringing us aboard. It was our best effort, but none of us was able to report a sighting of the Japanese fleet.'

The book begins with the 19 June 1944 story of VF-2 pilot W. "Spider" Webb who attacked a formation of Japanese dive-bombers by himself, making ace-in-a-day. After the introductory summary, much of the action is the pilot's own narrative. The story then recounts into the history of the formation of the original VF-2 and "The Flying Chiefs". VF-2's role aboard USS Lexington in formulating carrier aviation tactics and strategy is told.

Next, World War II begins and thus VF-2's combat record. Following raids against Japanese bases in the central Pacific and New Guinea, VF-2 was in the first clash of aircraft carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea. It is an interesting chapter as it introduces Butch O'Hara, and recounts how SBD dive-bombers supplemented F4F Wildcats to protect the carriers from the Japanese.

This chapter claims that Wildcat pilots utilized the "Thatch Weave" over the Coral Sea to survive against the superior Zero fighters. While Lt Cdr Thach had been working up his Beam Defense Position - "The Thach Weave" - prior to Coral Sea, he was not present at Coral Sea and his tactic was first employed a month later at Midway; Lt Cdr James Flatley was present at Coral Sea and took on the Zeros with other tactics. Regardless, the original VF-2 ceased to be when USS Lexington was sunk.

The next chapter examines the reviving of VF-2, training, and prepping it for the raids and amphibious offensive in the central Pacific. While a new USS Lexington was eventually commissioned, VF-2 embarked upon USS Hornet, suffering under the unpopular command of Capt Miles Browning ('the worst man I ever met in the service'), until his subsequent removal. The book progresses with further action and the participation of Butch O'Hare in the formation of night fighting tactics. O'Hare's subsequent loss during a night interception is examined in detail. The book continues to the ‘Marianas Turkey Shoot' and the Mission Beyond Darkness during the invasion of the Marianas Island, where Japanese naval aviation was decimated. It is a detailed account of the battle, including key interventions by American submarines.

While VF-2 rotated home and missed the great Battle of Leyte Gulf, it did attack the Philippines and Iwo Jima several times. One attack encountered some 80 defending Zeros, two of which were flown by two of Japan's greatest aces, Saburo Sakai and Kaneyoshi Muto. Excerpts of Sakai's account are included.

Through after-action reports, unit diaries and pilot narratives, the story of the to VF-2s is revealed in this interesting and informative book. As strong as the text is, a couple of typos keep it from being perfect, i.e., 'Val' dive-bombers being misidentified as the D4Y1 on page 28.

photographs and art
Modelers and artists take note - this book is full of high quality photographs of various fighters flown by both VF-2s over the years. USN employed many photographers and whether aerial of ground shot, there are many excellent images to inspire modelers, artists and historians. One is a closeup of a unique ace's scoreboard - you may wonder why he has two French flags with small swastikas and ducks superimposed upon them? The caption explains why. There is a clear profile shot of a Hellcat with a broken back; another from '4 O'clock high of an F6F having its wings folded, a superb study of carrier aircraft weathering.

Twenty-seven original color profiles by artist Jim Laurier fill the middle of the book. Each one has a brief description near the plate and a detailed narrative in the appendices. Hellcats are not the only VF-2 fighters illustrated. Included are the F6C-1, F2B-2, F4B-4, F2F-1, F2A-2, and F4F Wildcats.

Finally, Aces of VF-2 are listed in table form in the appendices:
    Name and Final Rank with VF-2
    Score with VF-2
    Wartime Total

F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-2 is a concise and informative book. It is full of first-hand accounts and engaging combat narratives. The photographic support and artwork is first rate. The few minor typos do not detract from the overall text.

I think this is an excellent book for modelers, historians, and artists of VF-2, carrier aviation, USN fighters, and the Pacific carrier war. Happily recommended.

We thank Osprey Publishing for providing this book for review. Please tell them and retailers that you saw it here, on - Aeroscale.
Highs: A concise and informative book. It is full of first-hand accounts and engaging combat narratives. The photographic support and artwork is first rate.
Lows: Minor typos.
Verdict: I think this is an excellent book for modelers, historians, and artists of VF-2, carrier aviation, USN fighters, and the Pacific carrier war.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781472805584
  Suggested Retail: $22.95
  PUBLISHED: Feb 12, 2015
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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