The Corsair made a huge impact from its earliest appearance in the Pacific.
Let’s take a look at one of those first combatants.
VMF-124 was the first squadron to see combat with the Corsair. They first equipped with the type in October of 1942 and were in the War zone in January. This was the tail end of the Guadalcanal campaign and American forces were starting to lean up the Solomons chain. On February 12, 1943 VMF-124 flew from Espiritu Santo up to Guadalcanal. Among those pilots was 2nd Lt Ken Walsh.
There would be no rest or local familiarization. They arrived at noon, and found they were scheduled to fly a mission at 1300. This, the Corsair’s first combat mission, was a Dumbo mission; escorting a Catalina to rescue two Wildcat pilots shot down earlier.
VMF-124 did have a couple interesting quirks. Squadron Commander Major William Gise required all pilots with a regular assigned aircraft (24 planes in the squadron, 29 pilots) to perform maintenance with their crew chief. Lt Walsh, while insisting he was NOT superstitious, always claimed number “13” for his own. The ground crews decided their planes should all look fearsome, so they painted FOUR machine gun ports on each wing. This stuck with the squadron all through the Solomons Campaign.
Bringing in the Corsair made an immediate impact on the campaign. It was far more powerful and longer ranged than any other single engine fighter. Only the P-38 could fly further, and there would only ever be a single group of Lightnings in the South Pacific. So Marine Corsairs quickly became the long-range choice; that meant fighter sweeps at distant Japanese airfields and escorting longer range types including PBYs and B-24s (and PB4Ys). In combat the Corsair had the same sorts of advantages as other Allied types, but always more. It could fly fast and high, setting the terms of battle and able to break off at will.
If the Guadalcanal Campaign wore down the cadre of the best Japanese fighter pilots, the Solomons Campaign spearheaded by the new Corsairs broke their back. They did take heavy losses doing it, the IJN still had a number of veteran pilots and the Zero was deadly if treated lightly. But by the end of 1943 the Japanese could not seriously contest any airspace the allies wanted.
Lt Walsh claimed his first kill on April 1, 1943. He was finishing a combat air patrol, his flight was relieved by six P-38s. When turning for home he saw Zeros drop on the newly arrived Lightnings. Walsh turned his flight back into combat and a general melee ensued, he claimed one kill. He became the first Corsair Ace on May 13 with a three kill mission.
On a bomber escort mission in August he suffered a supercharger failure and made a forced landing at a forward base. He borrowed a Corsair from another squadron (VMF-215) and caught up to his charges again over their target, where he waded into a battle involving an estimated 50 Zeros. Racing back towards friendly space with several Zeros on his tail he was forced into the water and rescued by PT Boat.
During four combat tours he scored 21 kills, 17 of them Zeros. The last kill was a Kamikaze on June 22, 1945 while flying an F4U-4 (which was also a “White 13”). Ken Walsh lost 5 Corsairs, was shot down three times and shot up a dozen more. He claimed most damage came from planes he never saw, and was sure most of his kills were over victims who never saw him. Ken Walsh finished the War as a Captain, the number 4 Marine Ace, and a Medal of Honor winner. He retired as a Lt Col in 1962.
This is the Tamiya kit with Aeromaster decals. In many ways it is a typical, excellent Tamiya kit, but there are a couple of rough spots. The wings can be posed folded for a carrier deck, but that seam can be tricky. I should have filled and sanded more, I’ve had better looking builds of this kit before.
A great account of my second favourite American plane, after the Mustang.
You sir, have fine taste!
Very interesting as always.
I have learned something new here.
Fake fourth gun ports…
Kind of funny!
Thanks, Dave…really great posts; I enjoy them.
You’re welcome David. It’s always great to hear that!
I never knew about the fake gun ports, I wonder if the Japanese ever got close enough to tell and survive!
I doubt it! I think it was mostly for photos sent home!
For people of my age one of the most important aspects of the Corsair was that it was the plane flown by the “Black Sheep Squadron”, a TV show based on an actual group of pilots in WWII. While liberties were taken it was a bit more serious about it’s subject than McHale’s Navy or Hogan’s Heroes. They used actual Corsairs that they actually flew off the California coast (that’s technically the Pacific Ocean even if a bit off.). Most of the “Zeros” were recycled from “Tora Tora Tora”. I think the series eventually got too expensive as it remained popular throughout it’s limited run.
Yeah I think that was a formative part of my interest in all things WWII.
Of course though, those Corsairs were all later versions. Mostly -4, -5 and -7. During Boyington’s time with the Black Sheep they were flying mostly F4U-1 (like shown here) and a small number of F4U-1a. They also flew a mix of blue-grey and later tri-colors.
But those were the limitations of filming prior to this age of digital modeling.
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