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Watch: VMFA-211 is One of the Oldest, Now Flying the Very Newest

The Wake Island Defenders Now Operate the F-35B Lightning II But They Have Rich History

VMFA-211 F-35B. Image via US Navy

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) has been operating the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II from amphibious assault ship decks for some time now. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron TWO ONE ONE (VMFA-211) Wake Island Avengers have been flying the new short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) attack jet since 2016. VMFA-211 was the second Leatherneck squadron to gain operational capability with the F-35B after VMFA-121 Green Knights. This video, recently shot aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) gives us a glimpse of the power and the noise associated with STOVL F-35B ops. The clip was uploaded to YouTube by Gung Ho Vids.

VMFA-211, also known as the Bastion Defenders, is normally based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma in southwestern Arizona. VMFA-211 is a part of Marine Aircraft Group ONE THREE (MAG-31) of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). While assigned to the Essex the Avengers are part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). VMFA-211 can trace its history clear back to 1937 when Marine Fighting Squadron 4 (VF-4M) was activated at Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego. Known through the years before World War II as VF-8M and VMF-2, the squadron moved to MCAS Ewa in Hawaii and was designated Marine Fighter Squadron 211 on I July 1941.

VMFA-211 F-35B. Image via US Navy

During those months in Hawaii before the war began VMF-211 pilots included some future Medal of Honor winners like Henry Elrod, Robert Galer, and Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. In November of 1941 VMF-211 sent half of their F4F-3 Wildcat fighters and just under half of their pilots to Wake Island to bolster the meager defenses there. We all know how things turned out at Wake, but VMF-211 took as many Japanese ships and planes from the enemy as possible. While half of VMF-211 was fighting at Wake, the remainder of the squadron lost all but one of its Wildcats at Ewa on December 7th 1941.

VMFA-211 F-35B. Image via US Navy

When the squadron was reformed (with aircraft this time) the Avengers first flew the obsolete Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo. They quickly re-equipped with F4F-4 Wildcats and once they transitioned to the Vought F4U Corsair they flew them for the rest of the war while fighting in the Treasury-Bougainville Campaign, Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Northern Solomons, Battle of Leyte Gulf, and Southern Philippine campaigns. After the war ended the Avengers pulled China duty until 1948 when they returned stateside and began flying the Douglas AD-4N Skyraider as VMA-211.

VMA-211 A-4M. Image via US Navy

The aircraft perhaps most often associated with VMA-211 was the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk which the Avengers began flying in 1957. They flew every major version of the diminutive attack jet, many of them in combat during the Vietnam War, between 1957 and 1989. VMA-211 brought home the last overseas-deployed Leatherneck A-4s and transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Night Attack Harrier in 1990. VMA-211 was named the Marine Corps Aviation Association “Attack Squadron of the Year” three times while flying Harrier jump jets. Since then the Avengers have been in the thick of the action wherever Marine Corps attack pilots have been called to serve.

VMA-211 AV-8B. Image via US Navy

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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