The air war in the Pacific was one of bloody attrition through the first year of the war. But early in 1943 a new generation of high performance fighters were deployed by the Allies against Japan. This meant kill ratios started to change dramatically.
After the jump, a look at one of the first of these improved types.
Four new fighters were introduced to the Pacific in late 1942/early 1943. They were the P-38 Lightning for the Army Air Force, the F4U Corsair for the US Marines, F6F Hellcat on carriers and Supermarine Spitfire for the British Commonwealth. All of these types spelled bad news for Japan, but the Corsair made a particularly strong statement in the on-going Solomons campaign.
The Corsair was clearly better than the Japanese Navy types, including the Zero, that it faced. It had all the advantages American aircraft had always had (rugged construction, pilot armor, self sealing fuel tanks, heavy fire power, good radios and flight instruments). It added advantages one would expect from having twice the horsepower of a Zero; speed, rate of climb and dive speed. Basically it totally dominated in the area of kinetic energy. The Zero would always have an advantage for pure maneuverability, especially in close or slow. But the fast and powerful Corsair could determine when and if a fight was going to occur.
Corsairs established an 11:1 kill ratio over the Japanese, which is considered the best of any widely used type in the entire war. And throughout 1943, they completely changed the tide of the Solomons Campaign. In doing so, they eliminated the vast majority of Japan’s remaining elite naval aviators.
I just finished Dana Bell’s excellent guide book to the early F4U-1 Corsair, which I would recommend highly to any modeler. He makes a heroic effort sorting out the early production paint schemes and primer colors, including the obscure “Salmon” primer and “Candy Apple Green”. This was far more random than I would have imagined. I’m thinking the best rule on any early Corsair may be that you can’t really know what colors were used without a good color photograph.
Corsair designations are also an interesting issue covered by the book. The “-1”, “-1A” and “-1D” designations we so often use were apparently never “official”. At least not according to the Navy. Vought may have used the letter sub-types to keep track of production changes, but the Navy referred to them all as F4U-1. The earliest “-1″s, what we sometimes call “bird cage” Corsairs (as seen here) were referred to as the “low cockpit” version in government documents, but not otherwise distinguished from later aircraft. Those 300 bird cage Corsairs modified as night fighters were officially redesignated “F4U-2”, and a much redesigned F4U-4 did enter service just before the end of the War.
He also talks at length about the whole issue of Corsairs on carriers. There is no doubt that the pilots of VF-17, the Navy squadron assigned to carrier qualification testing, felt strongly that the Corsair would make an excellent carrier fighter. And it would seem the main issue was just that the Navy only wanted to support a single fighter type in the fleet. But I think Mr. Bell does soft sell the type’s deficiencies as a carrier aircraft. Vought spent much time and effort making the Corsair better as a carrier aircraft; from raising the pilot’s seat and tail wheel for better visibility over the nose, to softening the “bounce” of the main gear, to adding a spoiler to the right wing that improved low speed handling.
Perhaps it is true that the Corsair’s “deficiencies” as a carrier fighter were never as pronounced as some would have us believe. But it does seem that in late 1942 the Hellcat was a better choice for the fleet. That difference was less evident with later model Corsairs.
This example is the Tamiya kit with Superscale decals. This aircraft is a late bird cage Corsair (a late early model?), and was operational with VMF-215 summer of ’43 in the Solomons.
Vought F-4U-1D Corsair
~ Up Next: Messerschmitt Bf110G