Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

John Thach and His Weave

Early in the Pacific War allied air forces were badly outmatched by the Japanese.  The Japanese Army and Navy were highly selective and trained to an excruciatingly high standard.  Plus, they’d been at war with both China and the Soviet Union in the proceeding years.


The US Navy was the only regular military service that was able to have a positive kill ratio in those first six months (add The Flying Tigers if we count irregular units!).  John Thach was one of the key reasons.  After the jump, I’ll look at an important tactician and his weapon.

John Thach was one of the old hands, the seasoned professionals of the US Navy before the war ever started.  As commander of VF-3 (“Fighting Three” based on the USS Lexington) he had taken a young Ensign Edward O’Hare under his wing as a favored protege.  In the months before the war Thach had heard rumors that the Japanese had a fighter that was faster and more maneuverable than anything the US was using.  These would typically be considered THE major elements in determining who has the upper hand, so LCDR Thach set about working on tactics for dealing with such a disadvantage.  He experimented with formations using match sticks on a table; and practiced by allowing half is squadron to use only 2/3s throttle, and trying to see what advantage they could gain in spite of that handicap.

Thach came up with something he called the “Beam Defense Maneuver”, but Fighting Two Commander Jimmy Flatly called “The Thach Weave”.  It involved two pairs (“sections”) flying side by side at a distance equal to half their turning radius.  Each section was responsible for watching the other’s tails.  If one section was jumped, the other would initiate a turn towards them, and the first section would respond the same way.  So both sections would be running at each other head on, and the one section could “clear the tails” of the other.

(diagram from


Leading up to The Battle of Midway, squadrons were frantically being re-arranged to deal with six months of hard combat, the loss of the USS Lexington, and an influx of new pilots.  LCDR Thach found himself commanding a reconstituted Fighting Three on the USS Yorktown.  In the organizational and administrative chaos there was no time to train all the new pilots on the Weave.

IMG_8075 IMG_8074

One June 4, 1942, the climactic day of the Battle of Midway, Thach found himself with only three other pilots to provide top cover for the Yorktown’s Torpedo Squadron (actually there were six Wildcats, but two were providing close escort).  They were quickly overwhelmed by more than a dozen Zeros and one young pilot was promptly shot down in flames.   That left three, and only Thach’s own wingman, Ens R.A.M. Dibb, knew the Weave.  So they adapted it for two. Thach and Dibb spaced themselves to start weaving towards each other.  The rookie stayed close behind Dibb.  In twenty minutes of combat all three scored kills, they were credited with six, plus two probables.  Thach was credited with three himself, then claims to have lost count.  Dibb believed Thach made ace on that single mission (five kills).  The remaining three pilots all returned to the Yorktown, and the “Thach Weave” was canonized as a highly effective defensive protocol that has been taught to Navy pilots ever since.

That's John Thach with his plane.  Really.  I promise.  Look reeeaaal close...

That’s John Thach with his plane. Really. I promise. Look reeeaaal close…

For more on John Thach, his weave, the Battle of Midway…   pretty much anything involving carrier operations in the first six months of the Pacific War I highly recommend The First Team by John Lundstrom.

This Wildcat is from the Tamiya kit.  The markings of John Thach’s mount on June 4, 1942 are by Superscale Decals.


The Wildcat was a reasonably compact airplane. The retractable landing gear used a hand crank. 29 turns of the hand crank.

LCDR John Thach


About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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24 Responses to Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

  1. Theresa says:

    Interesting bit of history and the tactics used by the pilots of these heavier planes than the Japanese Zeros You do know Mitsubishi manufactured those planes?

    • atcDave says:

      Oh yeah. Mitsubishi was a major supplier to the Japanese Navy. Although fun bit of trivia; Nakajima was actually a bigger company, and the IJN ordered Nakajima to also produce Zeros. Ultimately, most Zeros were built by Nakajima. This matters to me because the different manufacturers used slightly different colors, especially on the interiors.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    Fun blog and post Dave. I was very in to modeling and military history growing up, so this is a nice way to revisit past hobbies. It shouldn’t be left unsaid that the Wildcat (as well as its successor the Hellcat) were remarkably rugged planes, especially compared to the Zeros.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah definitely one of their biggest advantages. Most of the Wildcat’s advantages were those less obvious things, like pilot armor, self sealing tanks, heavy fire power, good diving speed, working radios. All the more impressive their ratio vs Zeros in those first six months was something like 28 kills to 26 lost (?). I’d have to double check Lundstrom to be exactly sure on the numbers, but it was a slight positive edge for an aircraft that was out performed in every traditional measure.

      I hope this will continue to be fun! I’m trying to focus on the highlights, and wet appetites more than write lengthy essays. Although sometimes it’s tricky to be concise and accurate at the same time!

      • Terry Brodin says:

        Another nicely done Wildcat.
        Sometimes it,s hard to be concise when you are sharing information. Personnally I always prefer an accurate essay to a “blurb” with no information. Follow your style — it works!

      • atcDave says:

        It’s especially tough to be concise when I get excited and everything comes out in a rush!

        Thanks for the encouragement, it’s great to hear when readers are having fun too.

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  5. Pierre Lagacé says:

    The second image can’t be seen Dave.

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    Easy to get addicted to Wildcats and Plane Dave’s blog isn’t?

  7. Pierre Lagacé says:

    The Tamiya kit looks beautifully crafted.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the Tamiya kit is a real beauty, I just wish they did more variants.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        Not cheap also. But then I haven’t bought a model kit since 2000.

      • atcDave says:

        It’s good to have a stash!

        Yeah Tamiya kits are never cheap, but have seen the Wildcat for a little over $20. That’s a long way from the $4 I used to pay for models as a kid, but in today’s economy it’s not horribly expensive either. Especially since I’ve seen the ’42 Ford from that same make sell for $30. Go figure. It’s a smaller kit with fewer parts, that often costs more than most of their single engine fighters.

  8. Ryan says:

    Great model!

  9. Ryan says:

    What source is where Dibb claims Thach made ace-in-a-day?

    • atcDave says:

      That was in Lundstrom’s book I believe? Sorry, its been a while.
      It seems to be a recurring theme with many of the very best pilots, their team-mates often felt they were better than they claimed for themselves. And obviously as Squadron commander and leader of the escort Thach would be focused on a lot of details other than just keeping score.

      • atcDave says:

        I can’t find it now, Lundstrom does make the comment that total claims for the battle; three for Thach, two for Cheek, one each for everyone else (includes damaged claims) match pretty closely with Japanese losses. So whatever enthusiasm Dibb may have had for their success, Thach’s claims were probably more accurate.

  10. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I have Lundstrom’s book as an e-book. I will try to find it.

  11. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I don’t have The First Team, but the one about Guadalcanal. The First Team e-book is quite expensive. I prefer buying model kits.

    • atcDave says:

      Both books are terrific. I think Lundstrom really changed the way military aviation history is written too.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        I had enjoyed parts of his second book when I had researched VF-5. Now since I am more knowledgeable I will read it completely in my spare time. So much history in the campaign. Played Avalon Hill’s Guadalcanal with my brother in the late 1960s.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah Guadalcanal is a fascinating epic.

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