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!
Awesome… very informative and I did not know that, I learned a little something. Very cool that US Hellcats scored against the Luftwaffe… do we know the type of kills by chance, example HE-111s or ME-109s… something like that? I knew that Britain’s Royal Navy had the F6F, and it fared very well, even the French would receive the Mighty ‘Cat’, replacing Seafires, (post war)… but, did not know that there were US Navy aerial victories… WoW!!! What about the F4U, in British service. Is it known to have mixed it up with the Luftwaffe, as well?
Just real quick, is your model an F6F-5, or an F6F-3? I ask due to the additional cockpit windows aft of the pilot seat. Thank you for sharing! Always interesting and well researched!
Ha-Ha… I read the text, but not the last pic description… that answered my question pretty quick. That’s on me!
Think the Hellcat was a tremendous fighter, irreplaceable in the Pacific! Was researching a little while back regarding the Hellcat and came across some great, but very sad, pics of old F6F-5Ks (in a red drone paint scheme) sitting derelict out at NAS China Lake… OH, to have had an opportunity to acquire one… what a fun dream! If unknown, read about the Battle of Palmdale, what a riot!!! Enjoy 😉
Wow, a big Hellcat fan! We are a rare breed. This kit was actually a F6F-5K special edition! Obviously I didn’t use those decals.
The rear cockpit windows was just a guess. They actually were phased out during F6F-5 production. I didn’t have a good photo of this subject, so I just figured being mid-’44 it had to be a pretty early -5.
I don’t believe the Corsair ever did see combat against the Luftwaffe. The closest would have been some of the anti-shipping strikes the FAA flew in Norway, but I’m pretty sure those were all whiffs with no aircraft encountered.
Thank you, Dave! And, gotcha about the early production -5 Hellcat… makes sense.
The above reader says it all Plane Dave. Fascinating stuff.
I read a lot of WW II history but did not know this. Thanks Dave!
It is fun doing some of the lesser known subjects!
Another high quality model! For what it’s worth I’ve never heard of the Corsair flying against the Luftwaffe, who became very scarce as a defensive fighter force over any country except Germany itself.
Like the Wehrmacht quip about the Luftwaffe having invisible planes…
There was a single fighter group in Norway to the end of the War, Hitler was always worried about the Allies invading Norway. But yeah, they never intercepted any of the FAA raids late in the War.
Although Eric Brown’s book “Duels in the Sky” has a painting of Fw 190 and a Corsair against each other on the cover! The whole book was comparing and contrasting the abilities of different types.
Glad I returned to catch up and read other comments posted… more interesting things to learn. And, I will definitely be looking for that book, as (the late), Mr. Eric Brown, would definitely know, being a subject matter expert!
Wouldn’t that have been something to see, Corsair V Focke Wulf!
All the best,
It’s been a while since I read it, but I believe he felt they were a good match. Both are powerful and capable (mostly) low altitude fighters.
The book was from Naval Institute Press in 1988. At least in the US. Looks like it is available at Amazon.
Really interesting post Dave, and an excellent model to boot!
Interesting account. It seems Churchill never did give up on the idea that going through the “soft underbelly of Europe” (which turned out to NOT be Italy) was the path to conquering Germany/Austria&Germany, etc. I just never realized that the allies felt they had to plan another invasion to prevent him from another Balkan misadventure.
The idea of “Empire” was never far from Churchill’s mind! That and he was particularly worried about what would happen to Greece if it was bypassed. And it did sink into civil war when the Germans withdrew in late ’44. And that was ultimately one of Churchill’s last great successes in the later part of the War; he got Stalin to agree to stop supporting Communist resistance/revolutionary groups (in exchange for Churchill leaving Eastern Europe alone) in Greece.
But whether it was Greece or Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia Churchill was always looking to get involved in the region.
After Dragoon, much of the amphibious shipping (especially the LSTs!) was relocated to the Pacific. Churchill came to hate LSTs.
While I admit I was half joking when I posted, but you do raise some interesting points about Churchill’s Empire and Mediterranean obsession.
Churchill was keenly aware that Britain would emerge from the war weakened to face a much stronger Russia, and had seen the American propensity for returning to isolationism. Combine that with a British obsession about Russian power in the Mediterranean that dates back to the Crimean war (not to mention the Suez Canal) and you can see why Churchill was convinced there needed to be the right kind of Allied presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
I think really he was right about all of that too.
Well Churchill was right about a lot of things when it came to Germany and Russia and the British people’s ultimate ability to be “a people” when necessary. And one might suspect, much as he wished to preserve it, that the end of Empire was on it’s way/
Great work! I love the Hellcat, I’d build more myself but there are only so many schemes for them. The Germans did demolish some of the port facilities at Marseille before they withdrew, it was two weeks before they could even remove the blockships: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2019/11/20/the-liberation-of-marseille-france-september-1944-a-veterans-photographs/
Oh good catch! I’ll fix that to “comparatively miner”.