The Grumman Cats  [@ RAF Duxford]

In March 1936, the Grumman Aircraft Corporation was awarded a development contract to build an all-metal biplane fighter, the XF4F.l, for the US Navy.  However, the biplane configuration was quickly shelved in favour of a monoplane design, the XF4F.2.  This flew on the 2nd September 1937, powered by a 1050 hp Pratt & Whitney R1830-66 Twin Wasp radial engine.  The US Navy decided to develop the aircraft still further by installing a supercharged XR-1830-76 engine in a much redesigned airframe, the revamped machine, designated XF4F.3, flying for the first time on the 12th February 1939. 

In August, the US Navy issued its first production contract for 53 Grumman F4F.3 Wildcats, as the fighter had been named.  The first production aircraft flew in February 1940, but deliveries were slow and by the end of 1940 only 22 Wildcats had been handed over to Navy fighter squadrons, these units embarking on the USS Ranger and USS Wasp respectively.  Meanwhile France [1939], which had one aircraft carrier in commission and two more under construction, had expressed an interest in acquiring 100 Wildcats.  As the Twin Wasp engine was in short supply, the French machines were to be powered by the 1200hp R1820-G205A Cyclone.  The order was later reduced to 81, and flight testing of the first of these aircraft was still in progress when France was overrun, so the order was taken over by the British Purchasing Commission on behalf of the Royal Navy, in whose service the F4F.3 was named the  Martlet I.

Martlet I (AL246)Martlet I (AL246)

Martlet I (AL246)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

The first of these aircraft was delivered to the Royal Navy on the 27th July 1940, a month before the US Navy received its first Wildcat.  In August/September of 1940 804 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) began re-arming with the Martlet at Hatson, in the Orkney Islands, (quickly followed by 778, 759, and 803 FAA Squadrons) and scored an early success when two of its aircraft shot down a Junkers Ju 88 over the naval base at Scapa Flow.  In April 1941 30 G.36As ordered by Greece were also diverted to Britain as Martlet IIIs, these aircraft having been offloaded at Gibraltar when the Germans invaded the Balkans.  Neither the F4F.3 nor the Martlet I had folding wings, but these were incorporated in all but 10 of an order for 100 Martlet IIs (G.36As) placed by Britain in 1940 and started arriving in December 1941.  The Martlet Is and IIIs only operated from land bases but the Martlet II, the majority of which were sent to the Far East, joined the Hawker Sea Hurricane on board FAA carriers.

Although originally allocated to the French Navy AL246 but never delivered AL246 was instead allocated to 802 Squadron of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in December 1940.  In July 1941 AL246 was transferred to 882 Squadron and then from March 1942 to January 1944 with 768 Squadron.  From 1945 AL246 was at the Loughborough College of Technology, the forerunner of Loughborough University, and was probably used for practical flying instruction. Transferred to RNAS Yeovilton during 1961 AL246 entered the FAA Museum in 1965.

FM.2 Wildcat (86711)FM.2 Wildcat (86711)

FM.2 Wildcat (86711)  [@ RAF Duxford]

The total number of Martlets of all marks supplied to Britain eventually reached 1191, the total including 220 Martlet IVs (F4F.4Bs with Cyclone engines), 311 as Martlet Vs and 370 Wildcat VIs, the American name having by then been adopted by the Fleet Air Arm from January 1944.  This was the British equivalent of the F4F.8, with a l200hp R1820-56 Cyclone engine and taller fin and rudder.

Robust and capable of absorbing a large amount of battle damage, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm started re-equipping with either the larger Grumman Hellcat or the Chance-Vought Corsair during 1943 but the type was used for Escort Carrier duties throughout the war.

Unfortunately the history of 86711 is rather patchy, however, it is the only example of its type flying today in Europe.  Although displayed in FAA livery 86711 did not arrive in the UK until April 1993.

F6F.5K Hellcat (80141)F6F.5K Hellcat (80141)

  F6F.5K Hellcat (80141)  [@ RAF Duxford]

Another product from the Gumman "ironworks" was the Hellcat which was designed and placed into active service in a very short period of time in order to counteract the Mitsubishi A6M Zero during 1943.  The type soon became the main shipboard fighter of the US Navy for the last two years of the Pacific War.  A strong all-round fighter, the Hellcat was effective at any altitude and must be considered to be one of the most successful carrier based aircraft of all time.  The Royal Navy operated the type in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific aboard both Assault Carriers and Fleet Carriers.

80141 appears to have led a "sheltered" WW2 life.  Built in 1943, it is the only one flying outside of America and in the photograph appears in the colours of US Navy ace Lt Alex Vraciu who flew this particular aircraft as part of the Navy Fighting squadron VF-6, accounting for nine enemy aircraft in the process.  With only 115.7 hours of flying time on the clock, the aircraft was retired from service with VF-6, and was despatched to the newly formed VF-18 who were training at Hilo in the Hawiian Islands, wearing the same markings as she can be seen in today.  Another two hundred hours were put on her with VF-18 in the hands of many pilots who were later to become Navy Air aces.  For some inexplicable reason she was retired with only 318 flying hours and transferred to the Naval Air Technical Training College in Chicago on the 29th August 1944 where she remained until the end of the war.  Passing into a number of private hands, 80141 suffered a number of flying accidents which finally resulted in a rebuild using the centre sections of 08831 during 1985-1888.  With a successful Test Flight in July 1989, 80141 was shipped to the UK on 1st August 1990.

On the 30th June 1941, less than six months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy placed an order with Grumman for a prototype shipboard fighter to be designated XF6F.1.  Early combat experience against the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter led to some important changes being made to the basic concept and it was as the XF6F.3 that the definitive prototype was rolled out to make its first flight on the 26th June 1942.  First deliveries of the Grumman F6F.3 Hellcat, as the fighter was now known, were made to VF-9 aboard the USS Essex on the 16th January 1943, and the aircraft saw its first combat over Marcus, one of the Caroline Islands, on the 31st August.

Hellcat II (KE209)Hellcat II (KE209)

  Hellcat II (KE209)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

The first Hellcat Mark Is were delivered to the Fleet Air Arm from the 13th March 1943.  Two hundred and fifty two F6F.3s were received as Hellcat Is under the terms of Lend-Lease with the first examples entering FAA service with 800 Squadron in July 1943.  During the following December whilst operating from the light escort carrier HMS Emperor the squadron carried out anti-shipping operations off the Norwegian coast.  In addition, the Royal Navy took delivery of 930 F6F.5s as Hellcat IIs from May 1944, and two FAA squadrons, 891 and 892, were armed with the night fighter version.

Hellcat II (KE209)

  Hellcat II (KE209)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

After delivery in April 1945 and flight testing in the USA during May 1945 KE209 was taken on charge by the FAA on the 13th June 1945.  First flown in the UK on the 5th July 1945 KE209 was dispatched to RNAS Anthorn on the 30th July.  Placed into storage, KE209 in June 1946 became the personal aircraft of the Lossiemouth Station Flight Commanding Officer until 1952.

F7F.3P Tigercat (80425)F7F.3P Tigercat (80425)

  F7F.3P Tigercat (80425)  [@ RAF Duxford]

Although it appeared too late to see operational service in World War II, the Grumman F7F Tigercat was significant in that it was the first twin-engine carrier-borne aircraft with a tricycle undercarriage to enter series production.  In reality, very few operated from anything other than terra firma.  The prototype XF7F.1 flew on 3 November 1943 and 34 series aircraft were produced with the designation F7F.1D, these being intended for long-range escort and tactical support.  The F7F.2N (64 built) was a night fighter version, while the F7F.3 was the major production version, 189 being built.  The F7F.3N was another night fighter, while the F7F.3E carried ECM equipment.

80425 is the only Tigercat of its kind outside of America and the only one of twelve that is still in existence.  Clearly, survivors are few and far between, although operations as fire bombers may have saved a number of them, which would otherwise have been destroyed.  80425 history is rather patchy, however, 80425 was rebuilt in the late 1980's and early 1990's with a Test Flight in March 1991.  It as since been fully refurbished and was shipped to the UK in June 1996.  In the photograph it is in the colours of the US Marines based in Okinawa during August 1945.

F8F.2P Bearcat (121714)

 F8F.2P Bearcat (121714)  [@ RAF Duxford]

The F7F.3P was a photoreconnaissance version, and the F7F.4N was the last night fighter variant, appearing in June 1946.  The F7F.3P included a number of modifications to enable it to operate as a camera platform.  They flew a few operations for the US Marine Corps towards the end of WWII, but other F7F.3N machines went on to see service on night interdiction missions in Korea with limited success.  Their last function was as night time target designation aircraft for B.29 bombing raids.  Production of the F7.F ended with the 364th aircraft. 

F8F.2P Bearcat (121714)

 F8F.2P Bearcat (121714)  [@ RAF Duxford]

Designed to replace the F6F Hellcat, the F8F was the last of Grumman’s ‘cats’ and, like the Tigercat, came too late to see operational service in World War II.  The prototype flew on the 21st August 1944 and the first of 765 F8F.ls was delivered to the US Navy in May 1945, followed in 1946 by 100 F8F.lBs and 36 F8F.1F night fighters.  In 1948 the more powerful F8F.2 made its appearance; production of this variant totalled 305, of which 12 were F8F.2N night fighters and 30 F8F.2P photo-reconnaissance aircraft.  One hundred Bearcats were supplied to France for service in Indo-China, where it was used to great effect in combat, (they were subsequently handed over to the embryo South Vietnamese Air Force) and about 100 were also delivered to the Royal Thai Air Force.  With a Pratt & Whitney R2800 18 cylinder 2300hp radial engine, the Bearcat is considered to be a challenging aircraft to fly.  It is capable of outperforming most of the early jet fighters and the type accounted for a number of jets in the limited confrontations in which it been operated.  The Bearcat is extremely powerful and incredibly agile due to its very short dimensions and outstanding power to weight ratio.  Production ended in May 1949, by which time Grumman had built 1266 Bearcats.

121714 entered service with the United States Navy in 1945 and operated with the Navy for about ten years.  Passing into private hands after retirement, 121714 underwent a complete rebuild in 1977 and was shipped to the UK in early 1982.