BBI BBI99116 USMC Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat Fighter - Lt. James E. Swett, "White 77", VMF-221, Guadalcanal, 1943 (1:32 Scale)
"Why should we have a navy at all? There are no enemies for it to fight except apparently the Army Air Force."
- General Carl Spaatz, Commander of the US 8th Army Air Force, after WWII
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was the standard carrier-based fighter of the United States Navy for the first year and a half of World War II. An improved version built by General Motors (the General Motors FM Wildcat) remained in service throughout the war, on escort carriers where newer, larger and heavier fighters could not be used.
The Wildcat was outperformed by the Mitsubishi Zero, its major opponent in the Pacific war, but held its own by absorbing far more damage and wielding more firepower. With heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the Grumman airframe could survive far more than its lightweight, unarmored Japanese rival.
The original Grumman F4F-1 design was a biplane, which when proving inferior to rival designs was recast as the monoplane F4F-2. This was still not competitive with the Brewster F2A Buffalo which won initial US Navy orders, but when the F4F was fitted with a more powerful engine, the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, it showed its true merits and became the F4F-3. US Navy orders followed as did some (with Wright Cyclone engines) from France; these ended up with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm after the fall of France. In British service initially these were known as the Martlet I, but not all Marlets would be to the exact same specifications as US Navy aircraft. The F4F-3A would enter service as the Marlet III(B), the FM-1 as the Marlet V, and the FM-2 as the Martlet VI. The name Wildcat was still commonly used for these aircraft inspite of the official name change.
A new version, the F4F-4, entered service in 1942 with six guns and folding wings, allowing more to be crammed on a carrier; this was the definitive version and the one that saw the most combat service in the early war years including the Battle of Midway.
Grumman production ceased in early 1943 to make way for the newer F6F Hellcat, but General Motors continued producing them for both US Navy and Fleet Air Arm use, as larger fighters such as the Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair were too large for use on escort carriers. At first they produced the identical FM-1 model but then switched to the improved FM-2 (based on Grumman's F4F-8 prototype) with a more powerful engine and a taller tail to cope with the torque. In all, 7,251 Wildcats were built.
All versions of the Wildcat used hand-cranked landing gear with a relatively narrow track, making landing accidents where the landing gear were not fully locked into place distressingly common.
Pictured here is a 1:32 scale replica of an USN F4F-4 Wildcat fighter attached to VMF-221 and piloted by Lt. James E. Swett.
Wingspan: 7-1/2 inches
Length: 11 inches
Release Date: December 2008
Historical Account: "Swett Shop" - James Elms Swett was a United States Marine Corps fighter pilot and ace during World War II. He was awarded the United States' highest military decoration— the Medal of Honor — for actions while a division flight leader in VMF-221 over Guadalcanal on April 7th, 1943.
Subsequently he downed a total of 15.5 enemy aircraft during the war, earning eight Distinguished Flying Crosses and four Air Medals.
On April 7th, 1943, on his first combat mission, Swett both became an ace and acted with such "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" that he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
His first mission was as a division leader on a combat air patrol over the Russell Islands early on the morning of April 7th in expectation of a large Japanese air attack. Landing to refuel, the four plane division of F4F Wildcats he was leading was scrambled after other aircraft reported 150 planes approaching Ironbottom Sound, and intercepted a large formation of Japanese Aichi D3A dive bombers attacking Tulagi harbor.
When the fight became a general melee, Swett pursued three Vals diving on the harbor. After shooting down two, and while taken under fire from the rear gunner of the third, the left wing of his F4F was holed by U.S. antiaircraft fire directed at the Japanese. Despite this he shot down the third Val and turned toward a second formation of six Vals leaving the area.
Swett repeatly attacked the line of dive bombers, downing each in turn with short bursts. He brought down four and was attacking a fifth when his ammunition was depleted and he had his cockpit shot up by return fire. Wounded, he decided to ditch his damaged fighter off the coast of Florida Island. Though initially trapped in his cockpit, Swett extricated himself and was subsequently rescued in Tulagi harbor after crash-landing his Wildcat. This feat made the 22-year old Marine aviator an ace on his first combat mission.