Improvising and Adapting in the Air
At war’s end, VMF-312, VMF-323, and VMF-224 Corsairs were flying from Okinawa and battling Japanese kamikaze attacks- even going so far as to hack the tail off an attacking Japanese plane with its propeller. The pilot who performed this feat, Marine Lieutenant Robert R. Klingman of VMF-312, landed safely despite having lost 5 inches of his propeller blades in the attack. Buzzsaw Bob was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts. Corsairs were also flying from Navy fast carriers and escort carriers.
Advice From the Lone Eagle
The F4U also fulfilled the role of fighter-bomber in the Pacific. By early 1944, Marine pilots were flying close support missions during amphibious landings. Noted aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh flew Corsairs with the Marines as a civilian “technical advisor” in order to determine how best to increase the Corsair’s payload and range in the attack role. Lindbergh coaxed a Corsair into the air while lugging 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of bombs- only slightly less than the standard payload of the four engine B-17 bomber. Naturally and perhaps inevitably, Lindbergh flew strike missions against the Japanese during the Marshall Islands campaign.
In the Groove Again
Despite the initial decision to issue the F4U only to Marine Corps units, two Navy units, VF-12 (October 1942) and later VF-17 (April 1943) were equipped with the F4U. Both units ended up flying their first missions while shore-based. In November 1943, VF-17 reinstalled the tail hooks so its F4Us could land and refuel while flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) for the Navy task force participating in the raid on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul. The squadron’s pilots landed, refueled, and took off from the U.S. carriers Bunker Hill and Essex on 11 November 1943.
Better Late Than Never
The U.S. Navy did not get into combat with the F4U until September 1943. The work done by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm meant that the British qualified the type for carrier operations first. Only after the revised landing gear strut was introduced in April 1944 did the U.S. Navy finally accept the F4U for shipboard operations. The first US Corsair unit to be based effectively on a carrier was the Marine Corps squadron VMF-124, which joined the Essex air group accompanied by VMF-213.
Built to Beat the Vaunted Zero
The Corsair was able to outperform the Japanese A6M Zero. While the Zero could turn better than the F4U at low speeds, the Corsair was faster and could both out climb and out dive the A6M. This performance advantage, combined with the ability to take severe punishment, meant that an F4U pilot flew a more forgiving aircraft that would protect him better and take more punishment than his opponent. Having 2300 rounds of ammunition for his guns never hurt either.
By the (Impressive) Numbers
Between the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps the Corsair flew 64,051 operational sorties during the war, which was 44% of total fighter sorties. Only 9,581 of those sorties (15%) were flown from carrier decks. Corsair pilots claimed 2,140 air combat victories against 189 losses to enemy aircraft, for an overall kill ratio of better than 11:1. The Corsair also performed the fighter-bomber mission effectively, delivering 15,621 tons of bombs during the war, which amounted to 70% of total bombs dropped by U.S. fighters.