The Hellcat is best known for its central role in devastating Japanese air power in the last two years of the Pacific War. But it also served, if briefly, against the more land locked opponent.
Let’s take a look at a Hellcat that flew against the Nazis.
I’ll start by mentioning what should be obvious from looking at the pictures, I’m still talking about US Hellcats. The plane also served the British, but we’ll save those stories for other posts.
This involves the strange story of Operation Anvil-Dragoon. Technically either of those names could apply, but not really both. This was the invasion of southern France, that was meant to coincide with the Normandy invasion to catch German forces in a giant pincer movement. At the time, this was called “Operation Anvil”. Fitting enough. But as it turned out, there wasn’t enough shipping, especially LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) to do both operations simultaneously. So Anvil was rescheduled for two months after Overlord. Winston Churchill came to suspect the whole operation was intended to keep naval resources pinned down so he couldn’t launch other diversionary attacks. In short, he felt “dragooned” into the whole operation and arranged to change its name accordingly.
He wasn’t wrong. The US Chiefs-of-Staff were very concerned about Churchill constantly wanting to invade Greek, or other Mediterranean Islands, and forced the issue to keep things on target. Specifically, most of the American and all of the Free French troops fighting in Italy were relocated to Southern France.
Some writers have even suggested that blocking Churchill was the operation’s only or primary function. I think that’s a little too cynical on two counts. First it wasn’t entirely clear how weak the German presence in the area was until the operation was underway. Second, and most importantly, French ports on the northern coast would never, to the end of the War, provide the kind of capacity needed for the Allied armies. Repairs on damaged facilities would ultimately take until after the War. But the southern French ports of Marseille and Toulon could and did provide much needed capacity. The ports were not destroyed and damage was comparatively miner, they became particularly important once the northern and southern forces linked up in September.
This all led to an odd sort of naval campaign for World War II. Because the US took the lead there was a much stronger US Navy presence than was normal in the Mediterranean. The bombardment battleships are indicative; The American Nevada, Texas and Arkansas; British Ramillies; and French Lorraine. Air support was provided by nine escort carriers, a fairly large assembly of the little ships. The air groups were all fighters, but many had been specially trained in calling gunfire for the big ships in addition to close support duty. They were broken into two task forces, one of five RN carriers with 48 Seafires, 48 Wildcats and 24 Hellcats. The other had two US and two British carriers, with 48 Hellcats and 48 Seafires.
Admiral Troubridge, commander of the all British Task Force 88, commented “the US aircraft, especially the Hellcats, proved their superiority. The Seafire is a magnificent machine, but too frail for operations from escort carriers.” The Hellcat also had more than twice the operational range.
The two US carriers were Tulagi and Kasaan Bay. They carried VOF-1 (“Observing-Fighting 1”) and VF-74 (“Fighting 74”). On the few occasions when the Luftwaffe did put in an appearance over the beaches the Hellcats claimed a clean sweep of 8 kills. Six of those kills went to VOF-1, even more remarkable this particular airplane got credit for four with two different pilots. Ensign Edward W Olszewski and Ensign Alfred R Wood each had two (Ens Wood’s were actually “shared” claims). Later, after the squadron was redesignated VOC-1 (“Observing Composite 1”) and re-equipped with FM-2 Wildcats both pilots scored again against the Japanese. Ens Olszewski with two solo kills is considered the top USN pilot against the Luftwaffe.
Overall, Operation Dragoon was considered the most perfectly executed amphibious operation of the War in Europe.
This is the Hasegawa kit with Superscale decals. An easy and fun build with good quality products!