F4F Wildcat Photo Page


While not forming a complete history, these photos from the National Archives and USMC Archives illustrate an interesting cross-section of US Navy and USMC Wildcat employment in the early part of the war. I hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane!

(Click any image below to enlarge)

F4F Tail Art Of Jim Swett

As we’ve included this subject in our 1/48 & 1/32 Wildcat decal sets (see below), I thought you might like to see this wonderful color pic of Jim Swett’s F4F on Henderson Field. He told us this artwork was only applied to #77 for a few days before he was ordered to remove it. He didn’t think the art was also applied to the starboard side of the fin.

F4F Lineup Testing Machine Guns On Ranger Deck Edge

What could be more fun than lining up a bunch of Wildcats pointing outboard along the USS Ranger’s flight deck and machine-gunning the crap out of the fish? It’s easy to see the US national insignia on top of both wings do not include the broad yellow surround as on the fuselage and underwing stars.

F4F Gun Testing Off Deck Of Enterprise

Also a pic of gun testing, this photo of a VF-6 Wildcat was taken on the USS Enterprise in April 1942, days before the Battle of the Coral Sea. Note the much darker, fresh Blue Gray paint on the rudder used to camouflage the red and white stripes. As you can see, the squadron number (in this case “6”) was not always removed at this time.

F4F Being Assembled On Hangar Deck Of USS Enterprise

I just love this pic taken in October 1941 in the USS Enterprise’s hangar deck. Note the TBDs and WINGLESS SBDs handing from the overhead! Notice the aircraft number painted in white ("14") on top of the wing. I’ve always wondered whether this number was partially intended to help reassemble planes to ensure they got the correct parts? Great way to pack in a whole passel of airplanes, but not that quick to deploy . . .


I received this email from Mike Koubek with additional commentary soon after this page was first posted:

Hi Dave,

I love your Wildcat photo page.

I have seen your two photos of the F4F-3 in the carrier hangar deck. They are attributed to the Enterprise, but I can not find anything that confirms that VF-3, VS-2 and VT-3 were all on the Enterprise in late 1941.

The time frame has to be late 1941 as the carrier aircraft did not start with the blue gray paint until October. Note that VT-3’s TBDs have been repainted, but that VS-2’s are still in the overall light gray. In late November 1941, VF-3 was with the refitting Saratoga on the west coast, the Lexington and Enterprise were delivering Marine aircraft to Midway and Wake, respectively (I am trying to confirm if all these carriers had all their nominally assigned squadrons with them). These shots were probably taken on the Saratoga. It could be that VS-2 with it’s non-folding wings was moved to the Saratoga temporarily to make room for the Marine Vindicators that were being delivered to Midway on the Lexington.

This is the first I have seen of an image of any of the VMF-211 F4F-3s that were left behind at Ewa (see photo below–Dave). It confirms they were the late model -3s fresh from the factory (note the absence of an external carburator scoop at the 12 o’clock position on the cowl ring) and still in their delivered overall light gray scheme applied by Grumman. The detachment that went to Wake got their blue-gray paint job while on the Enterprise. Grumman did not start with the blue-gray at the factory until production of the F4F-4 was already under way. One interesting note, the Navy squadron painters gave the Wildcats "211-F-xx" instead of "211-MF-xx" which was appropriate to Marine fighters. Probably a rush job, but possibly also a way to for the Navy to break Marine Corps chops.

Thanks for the great images!

All the best,
Mike Koubek

F4F Maintenance On Enterprise Hangar Deck

Complementing the photo above, here is another study of a Wildcat undergoing maintenance on the Enterprise’s hangar deck. Note the many spare props hanging from the overheads.


This pic shows one of the USMC Wildcats that was, as I recall, one of the VMF-211 leave-behinds at Ewa Field on Oahu the day after the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian Islands on 7 December 1941. This bird will never fly again! The original print that I scanned was of truly horrible quality and I cleaned it up in Photoshop as much as I can—hope you can see the airframe damage.

F4F Hoisted Onto Aircraft Carrier

This photo shows a Marine (no kidding!) F4F-4 being hoisted onto an unidentified aircraft carrier sometime fairly early in the war. Wish I had more info about the unit and ship, but there you go. I just think it’s a cool picture; it’s not very common to see the Marines “branding” one of their aircraft (you know how those Navy guys will steal anything!) LOL.

F4F Taxiis Out For Takeoff At Cactus (Henderson Field)

This very cool scene shows living conditions and aircraft parking at Cactus (Henderson Field), Guadalcanal, in 1942. Note the tent along the ridgeline and the open weather aircraft maintenance underway. Also note how closely together the aircraft are parked, and lack of any sort of revetments between the planes.

F4F Taxiis Out For Takeoff At Cactus (Henderson Field)

One of the Henderson Field Wildcats taxies out for another mission. The field is flatter and smoother than you might think.

F4Fs & TBF Parking lineup at Cactus (Henderson Field)

More open parking at Henderson Field in 1942. Note the TBF (not TBM) Avenger in the rough revetment at the center right behind the first Wildcat. The Avenger is almost certainly from the Navy’s VT-8; guess which service’s planes got the best protection? ( :D)

F4F Wrecks At Wake Island

This captured Japanese photo is of remarkably good quality, under the circumstances, and shows the aircraft graveyard on Wake Island after its capture. At least seven Wildcat hulks are visible. The markings are extremely clear in this pic, and illustrate the single over-wing national insignia and tiny fuselage star.

F4F on fire at Cactus (Henderson Field)

What do you do when your Wildcat at Henderson Field catches fire? Shovel coral sand on it, throw buckets of water on it, and as the last resort, stand around watching! Note the partially completed Japanese hangar in the background.


In yet another US Navy photo that Lofe Magazine is attempting to claim as its own, here is a beautiful study of an F4F in flight wearing the three-tone camo scheme. The national insignia style mark this photo as being taken sometime after September 1943.

F4F Taxis On Deck in color

Another USN photo being passed off by Lofe Magazine as one of their own, this photo gets us into the ballpark of the actual shade of the Navy’s Blue Gray color. It’s a bit too yellow in this photo, but given the generally poor quality of the photo, it’s actually fairly helpful.

F4F Nosed Over During Operation TORCH

Our friends from Lofe Magazine pass this USN photo off as their own, but it’s a nice study of one of the Operation TORCH F4Fs in North Africa. The Army guys look more like they’re on a grade school outing than making any attempt to help, but what the hey. It’s a Navy plane, after all!

F4F Taxis Into Position For Takeoff On The Ranger Color

Taxiing into position for takeoff ahead of the USS Ranger’s island, this Wildcat clearly shows the US national insignia under both wings as well as the broad yellow surrounds to the underwing and fuselage stars.

F4Fs Flown By Jimmy Thach and Butch O'Hare

Although well known, this is a truly historical photo! These two F4F-3s of VF-3 are being flown by Lt Commander John "Jimmy" Thach and Lt Edward H. "Butch" O’Hare in April 1942, just days before the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Ace Butch O'Hare In The Cockpit Of His F4F Wildcat

This is another famous photo, but worth reproducing here. This is Lt Butch O’Hare in his personal F4F in 1942, not long after winning the Medal of Honor for shooting down five (later evidence indicated only three) of eight Japanese G4M Betty bombers attacking the USS Lexington on 20 February 1942. Note the blanked-out VF-3 squadron insignia—a requirement of the military censor.

Ace Marion Carl's F4F On Guadalcanal

Wonderful study of Capt Marion Carl’s VMF-223 Wildcat at Henderson Field in February 1943. We created decals in 1/32 & 1/48 for this bird (see below).

F4F Damaged At Midway Island

Beautiful study of a damaged F4F at Midway immediately after the battle. This bird apparently bellied in; note the bent prop blade and twisted starboard main wheel. The coral sand is so white it almost looks like snow!

FM-2s Off the USS Charger

WAVE-OFF! WAVE-OFF, FOR GOD’S SAKE!! I didn’t really plan to include FM-2 Wildcats in this article, but this pic is pretty cool (it clearly shows the so-called "Atlantic Scheme") and included just because I like it. Taken much later in the war (May 1944) these FM-2 Wildcats flew from the USS Charger (CVE-30). Charger was a converted civilian cargo/passenger liner hull, and sister ship to the British carriers HMS Avenger, HMS Biter (which later became the French carrier Dixmude), and HMS Dasher, all delivered under Lend-Lease. She plied the Chesapeake Bay area of the Virginia coast, training pilots and ships’ crews in aircraft carrier operations.

F4F On Deck Of The USS Suwannee Color

Also taken on another training carrier (USS Suwannee, AVG-27), this photo shows a former Operation TORCH F4F with the broad yellow national insignia surround painted out with fresh Blue Gray paint. Suwannee had just participated in the North African invasion alongside the USS Ranger, and this photo was probably taken sometime during her return to Norfolk in late November 1942. The painted-out yellow surrounds are very similar to the ones on aircraft #8 on Guadalcanal included in my 1/32 & 1/48 decal sets (below). Although not widely known, several of the former TORCH Wildcats ended up flying combat from Guadalcanal.

This final photo is from the National Archives and was used on the cover of a recent issue of The Hook, the journal of the Tailhook Association. This pic was taken on the deck of the USS Wasp (CV-7) and shows Wildcats and SBD Dauntlesses in the Blue Gray camouflage scheme. Did you note the white (or very light colored) patched glued over the gun openings on the F4F wing leading edges? I love all these little details!

F4Fs & SBDs On The Deck Of The USS Wasp Color

I’ve been a life member for a long time (hey, even retired Air Force guys can appreciate naval aircraft!), and if you’d like to join, please visit them at http://www.tailhook.org/hookmag.htm

That’s it for today. I spend quite a bit of time putting these information and photo pages together for you, and hope you find them worthwhile. I hardly ever hear back from anyone them, so I never really know. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t do this at all if I didn’t enjoy it quite a bit. On the other hand if this stuff is not useful to you, let me know and I’ll just stop.

Also, if you have additional information about the photos here, or other Wildcat photos, let me know and I’ll add your information here. Contact me by clicking here.


We created this rather interesting F4F Wildcat decal set in both 1/32 and 1/48, of which I have a few of each left.

1/32 F4F Wildcat Decal Set


F4F Wildcat #1. Four killer schemes from the Marine contingent on Guadalcanal–produced from photos from the collections of the pilots involved! First is #77 flown by Lt Jim Swett, VMF-221, and featuring his personal "Ally Oop-style" tail art and a painted out diagonal tail strips. Next is Capt Marion Carl, VMF-223, displaying his 19 kill markings. Another Wildcat with "Indian Head" nose art was from an unknown Marine unit on Guadalcanal. The final bird was flown by Capt Joe Foss, VMF-121 (ace, Medal of Honor winner, and later governor of South Dakota).



1/48 F4F Wildcat Decal Set


F4F Wildcats #1 One of Cutting Edge’s most popular decal sets of all time, this set has four killer schemes from the Marine contingent on Guadalcanal–produced from photos from the collections of the pilots involved! Lt Jim Swett, VMF-221, with large cartoon caveman wearing a diaper on fin; Capt Marion Carl, VMF-223 (displaying 19 kills!); Indian Head from unknown Marine unit (documented as having participated in Operation TORCH in North Africa during November & December 1942; the large yellow surrounds pm on the fuselage and wings have been painted out with fresh paint); Capt Joe Foss, VMF-121.

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