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                                         Aces Corsair F4U                 

The STORY                                                                                                                          


The first Marine ace was a World War II pilot, Captain Marion E. Carl of Marine Fighter Squadron 223 (VMF-223). Carl would  shoot down 18.5 Japanese aircraft.As a member of the VMF-221, Carl was in the thick of the action during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the first strategic defeat for the Japanese. In several aerial engagements, Carl managed to shoot down a Japanese Zero--the enemy's premier fighter--and win the first of two Navy Crosses.

Two months after Midway, on Aug. 7, 1942, Marines stormed ashore in the Solomons during the first Allied offensive of the war. The six-month campaign for Guadalcanal became a contest to take the islands airfield, which the Marines named Henderson Field for a pilot killed at Midway.

The codename for Guadalcanal was Cactus; thus the collection of squadrons, American and Allied, that rose from Henderson Field to do battle each day was called the Cactus Air Force. While the story of the Cactus Air Force is a tale of interservice cooperation and dependency, the stars of the struggling group were the Marine fighter and dive- and torpedo-bomber squadrons. VMF-223 and VMF-224 were the first fighter squadrons to arrive, flying the F4F-4 Wildcat.


Fighting from August to November, the pilots of these and other units that followed eventually turned back the Japanese bombing offensive. Several of these Marine fighter pilots became aces, and nine Marine aviators received the Medal of Honor for their service or for specific missions during the Solomons campaign.

Among the standouts during this period were such men as Major John L. Smith, commanding officer of VMF-223; Major Robert E. Galer, commanding officer of VMF-224; Captain Joseph J. Foss of VMF-121; and Lieutenant Colonel Harold Bauer, commanding officer of VMF-212. All these men received the Medal of Honor for their service at Guadalcanal.Several of these aces were shot down, parachuting from their stricken fighters or ditching them in the waters.

Jungle diseases were constant companions, from malaria to dysentery, and often the pilots took off suffering from these illnesses.

As the campaign moved into 1943, the Japanese tried once more to push the Allies off Guadalcanal. In this second phase of the campaign, aces 1st Lieutenant Jefferson J. DeBlanc and 1st Lieutenant James E. Swett received Medals of Honor for breaking up Japanese formations and shooting down large numbers of aircraft in single missions.

A New Fighter and a New Campaign : The Corsair F4U

By February 1943, the new Chance Vought F4U Corsair had arrived with VMF-124. The squadrons first missions were not as successful as hoped,  but the big, gull-winged fighter  became the mainstay of the shore-based Marine Corps fighter organization. 

The first Corsair Marine ace was 1st Lieutenant Kenneth A. Walsh, a former enlisted pilot. This VMF-124 pilot scored twice on April 1, 1943, shooting down two Zeros, and then gained three more kills on May 13. By August, he had doubled his score to 10.  In the summer of 1943, on Aug. 30, Walsh fought an incredible battle against 50 Japanese aircraft, shooting down four enemy fighters before he had to ditch his damaged Corsair. It was his third water landing in six months. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this mission.

By mid-1943, Guadalcanal was secured, and attention turned to the island-hopping campaign that would bring the Allies to Japans doorstep. Nov. 1 brought an assault on Bougainville, largest of the Solomon Islands, which yielded an important airfield from which to support Allied bombing raids.

This period was truly the heyday of Marine aces.

The most well-known of the aces of this middle period was Major Gregory R. Boyington, commanding officer of VMF-214. Stories of Pappy Boyington are legion, many founded in fact, including how he formed the legendary Black Sheep squadron, and how he served in China as a member of the American Volunteer Group, the famed Flying Tigers.

When he returned to the United States following the disbanding of AVG, Boyington claimed to have shot down six Japanese fighters, which would have made him one of the first American aces of the war. From AVG records, which were loosely kept, the most kills that can be confirmed is 3.5. He maintained until his death in 1988 that he did, in fact, have six kills, and the Marine Corps officially credits him with those kills.

Boyington finally secured command of VMF-122 for a combat tour. It was not until he was ordered to form a new squadron, VMF-214, and move to the Solomons that his scores began to mount. During an intense period from November 1943 to early January 1944, Boyington destroyed 22 Japanese aircraft.On Jan. 3, 1944 he was captured. He spent the next 18 months as a prisoner of war. When he was repatriated, he found he had been awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

VMF-214s five-month tour of combat created eight aces, including 1st Lieutenant John Bolt, who shot down six Japanese aircraft. Remaining in the service after the war, Bolt served an exchange tour with the U.S. Air Force in Korea flying the F-86 Sabrejet. During a three-month period there, Bolt shot down six Russian-built MiG-15s, becoming the Marine Corps first and only jet ace, and one of a very select group of pilots who became aces in two wars.

First Lieutenant Robert M. Hanson was one of those lights that burns intensely for a short time and then goes out. The son of missionaries, Hanson joined VMF-215 in time to cover the Bougainville landings. The most successful Corsair pilot in the Navy or Marine Corps, he shot down 25 Japanese planes often in clumps of three, four and five during two combat tours. 

Besides Hanson, VMF-215 also boasted two high-scoring aces, Captain Donald N. Aldrich and Captain Harold L. Spears, senior flight leaders of the squadron. Aldrich had been turned down by American recruiters before Pearl Harbor because he was married. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and got his wings in November 1941. When the United States entered the war, Aldrich was able to return home, where he eventually got his wings of gold as a Marine aviator. Spears graduated from flight training in August 1942 and went out to the Pacific with VMF-215.

Nightfighters and the End of the War:

Like other military services, the Marine Corps established a nightfighter arm, equipping several squadrons with variants of such aircraft as the  Vought F4U Corsair.

Major Bruce Porter, commander of VMF(N)-542, had three kills in the Solomons flying Corsairs with VMF-121 in 1943. On June 15, 1945, Porter used his special Hellcat to shoot down two Japanese aircraft, becoming the only Marine aviator to score kills in both the Corsair and the Hellcat, and ending the war with a total of five kills.

One of the most accomplished Marine fighter aces was 1st Lieutenant Wilbur J. Thomas of VMF-213, who shot down four Japanese Zeros on June 30, 1944. By the time his squadron left for the States in December, Thomas had scored 16.5 kills in just five engagements. He scored two more kills during a tour aboard the carrier Essex (CV-9) during a mission over Tokyo on Feb. 16, 1945.

Marines had flown from carriers since the 1930s, but had never been permanent members of the air groups, for various political and occasionally tactical reasons. By 1944, however, Marine fighter squadrons were flying from several ships, especially the small escort carriers. By this time, the F4U Corsair had been cleared to operate from American flattops; the British Fleet Air Arm had been flying their Corsairs from their carriers for a year before the U.S. Navy approved carrier operations.

Leatherneck squadrons went to sea, taking with them the experienced aces of the Solomons campaign, as well as untried, but highly motivated and capable young pilots. By February 1945, eight Marine Corps Corsair squadrons were embarked in four Navy aircraft carriers.

The invasion of Okinawa began on April 1, 1945, and carrier-borne Marine Corps fighters were in the thick of the action protecting Navy ships from kamikaze suicide attacks. A few aces added to their scores. Walsh got one Japanese aircraft off Okinawa in June 1945 while shore based with VMF-222 on the newly secured island. Carl took command of his old squadron, VMF-223, when it transitioned to Corsairs, and shot down two more Japanese fighters in December 1943. But to a large extent, the heyday of Marine aces had passed.

Marine Corps pilots and air crewmen shot down 2345 Japanese aircraft during the war. The 125 official Marine aces accounted for 976 enemy aircraft, or 42 percent of the Marine aerial victories.



NAME  ACES                                        CORSAIR   WITH   NAMES                                


Aldrich, D. N.


Alley Jr., S. C.


Axtell Jr., G. C.


Balch, D. L.


Baldwin, F. B.


Blackburn, J. T.


Bolt Jr., J. F.


Bordelon, G P.


Boyington, G.


Braun, R. L.


Brown Jr., W. P.


Burris, H. M.


Carl, M. E.


Carlton, W. A.


Case, W. N.


Caswell, D.


Chambers, C. J.


Chandler, C.


Chenoweth, O


Clarke, W. E.


Conant, A. R.


Cordray, P.


Crowe, W. E.


Cunningham, D. G.


Cupp, J. N.


Davenport, M. W.




DeLong, P. C.


Dillard, J. V.


Dillow, E.


Donahue, A. G.


Dorroh, J. D.


Drake, C. W.


Durnford, D. F.


Eldridge, W. W.


Elwood, H.


Everton, L. D.


Farmer, C. D.


Farrel, W.


Finn, H. J.


Fisher, D. E.


Freeman, D. C.


Ford, K. M.


Gutt, F. E.


Hacking , A.E.


Hall, S. O.


Hansen Jr., H.


Hanson, R. M.


Hay , Ronnie C.


Hedrick, R. R.


Hernan Jr., E. J.


Hood Jr., W. L.


Hundley, J. C.


Ireland, J. W.


Jensen, A. J.


Johnson, J.E.


Jones, C. D.


Kepford, I. C.


Kincaid, R. A.


Kirkwood, P. L.


Laney, W. G.


Lerch, A.


Long, H. H.


Lynch, J. P.


Maas Jr., J. B.


Maberry, L. A.


Magee, C. L.


March Jr., H. A.


May, E.


McCartney, H. A.


McClurg, R. W.


McManus, J.


Millington, W.A.


Mims, R.


Morgan, J. L.


Mullen, P. A.


O'Keefe, J. J.


Olander, E. L.


Overend, E. F.


Owen, D. C.


Owens Jr., R. G.


Percy, J. G.


Pierce Jr., F. E.


Pittman Jr., R.


Porter R. B.


Poske, G. H.


Post Jr., N. T.


Powell, E. A.


Quiel, N. R.


Reidy, T. H.


Reinburg, J. H.


Robbins, J. D.


Ruhsam, J. W.


Sapp, D. H.


Sargent, J. J.


Scarborough Jr., H. V.


Schiller, J. E.


See, R. B.


Segal , H.E..


Shaw, E. O.


Sheppard , D.J.


Shuman, P. L.


Sigler, W. E.


Smith, J. M.


Snider, W. N.


Spears, H. L.


Streig, F. J.


Swett, J. E.


Synar, S. T.


Terrill, F. A.


Thomas Jr., F. C.


Thomas, W. J.


Valentine, H. J.


Vedder, M. N.


Wade, R.


Walsh, K. A.


Warner, A. T.


Weissenberger, G.


Wells, A. P.


Williams, G.


Yost, D. K.


Yunck, M. R.

Aces Corsair Carrier Deployments                                                                                

HMS Victorious

No 1836 Sqn ( 07/1944 - 08/1945) - Sheppard

No 47 FW  Sqn ( 07/1944 - 08/1945) -   Hay.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

USS Essex ( CV - 9)

VMF - 124 ( 01/1945 - 03/1945) - Finn

VMF - 213 ( 01/1945 - 03/1945) - Thomas

VBF - 83 (03/1945 - 08/1945) - Godson , W H Harris , Kincaid , Reidy.


USS Intrepid ( CV - 11)

VF- 10 (03/1945 - 08/1945) - Clarke , Farmer , Gray , Heath , Kirkwood , Lerch , Quiel.


USS Franklin ( CV - 13 )

VF- 5 (02/1945 - 03/1945) - Schiller.


USS Bunker Hill ( CV - 17 )

VF- 84 (01/1945 - 06/1945) - Chambers , Freeman , Gildea , Hedrick , Laney , Marchant , Sargent , Smith.

VF- 221 (02/1945 - 03/1945) - Snider , Balch , Baldwin , Swett

VF- 451 (02/1945 - 05/1945) - Long , Donnahue.


USS Bennington ( CV - 20 )

VMF- 112 (01/1945 - 06/1945) - Hansen , Owen.


USS Shangri-La ( CV - 38)

VF - 85 ( 05/1945 - 08/1945 ) - Robbins.


USS Cape Gloucester ( CV - 109)

VMF - 351 ( 04/1945 - 08/1945 ) - Yost.


"Killer's Hash Wagon'', , was attached to VBF-83 aboard USS ESSEX during January of 1945


“GET EM BLUE DOG", side number 51, was attached to VMF-113 while the unit was in the Marshall Islands near Eniwetok in July of 1944.


Shirley June, was a F4U-2, side number 201 of VMF(N)-532 on Tarawa, during January of 1944. She was flown by Major Everett Vaughan.


CHOW HOUND of VBF-83 aboard USS ESSEX during January of 1945 carried an impressive menu of side orders.


High Pockets" was a F4U-1A (BuNo 50022) of VMF-217 on Guam during September of 1944. In the cockpit were the pilot Herb Pennfield (front) with Ed Stivers, the sqauadron engineering officer behind him.


THUNDERING HOG II was a F4U-1A, side number 20 flown by Lieutenant Jesse Folmar of VMF-422 on Engebi Island during 1944.


KATY DID was flown by Lieutenant Royce Watson of VMF­422 while on Engebi Island during 1944. The ground officer next to him is Lieutenant Hiddreth Moody.


GET EM BLUE DOG", side number 51, was attached to VMF-113 while the unit was in the Marshall Islands near Eniwetok in July of 1944.

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