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Aces of Aviation

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat of Edward O'Hare

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat of Edward O'Hare

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat from the 3rd Fighter Group of the US Navy, piloted by Lieutenant Edward O'Hare in February 1942.

Wingspan: 11.58 meters.

Length: 8.76 meters.

Height: 2.81 meters.

Engine[s]: Pratt and Whitney R-1830 of 1200 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 531 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 11430 meters.

Range: 1360 kilometers.

Armament: Four Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine guns; two 45-kilogram bombs.

During the first months of the war in the Pacific, the United States Pacific Fleet found that its aircraft carriers were left too scattered in the attempt of cutting the progressive advance of the Japanese in the conquest of the islands. After the event of Pearl Harbor, to the Pacific Fleet were assigned only three aircraft carriers: the USS Enterprise, the USS Lexington and the USS Saratoga. In the mid 1942 the Japanese were jumping from island to island on the Bismarck Archipelago and it was assigned to Admiral Wilson Brown, in command of the 11th Task Force, the attempt of performing a raid upon Rabaul, which had fallen in enemy hands the 23rd January and which had been turned by the Japanese into an aeronaval base of prime importance. This force comprised the USS Lexington, four heavy cruisers and nine destroyers.

It was expected that the 11th Task Force could get close enough to the target before being detected, so the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat onboard the USS Lexington could escort the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers in their attacks. The fighters sighted and destroyed two Japanese seaplanes in the morning of the 20th February, but a third one escaped and was able to indicate the position of the ships commanded by Wilson Brown. At 15:42 o'clock of that same day, the radar of the USS Lexington detected the approximation of Japanese aircraft and about half an hour later nine Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo bombers attacked the aircraft carrier. Five of them were downed by the anti-aircraft cannons, while the Wildcat pilots attacked a second wave of another nine Kate, destroying three of them.

This action put all but two of the Wildcat in a bad situation to engage yet another incoming wave of attackers, this time nine Mitsubishi G4M Betty twin-engine bombers. While those two largely outnumbered aircraft turned around to face this new threat against the USS Lexington, the machine guns of one of them jammed and the pilot of the other aircraft was left alone to attack the enemy formation. But in less than three minutes this pilot, Lieutenant Edward "Butch" O'Hare from the VF-3 Naval Fighter Squadron, destroyed five Japanese bombers and damaged a sixth one. To honor this very risky action and the prodigal skill and valor shown on it, "Butch" O'Hare was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He had become the first ace of the United States Navy when achieving the five victories required in a single action.

Later, circa November 1943, O'Hare was promoted to the rank of Commander, leading a group of Grumman F6F Hellcat onboard the USS Enterprise. During the operations of this aircraft carrier in the Tarawa Atoll, the Japanese took the habit of sending raiders while the American aircraft returned during sunset time. To face this danger, the USS Enterprise put on guard a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber fitted with a radar device and two Hellcat to escort it. This was the procedure used in the night of the 26th November, when raiders approaching the aircraft carrier were detected by the radar. O'Hare was one of the Hellcat pilots who took off to intercept them. After the Avenger had downed one of the intruders a general confusion happened, because the Japanese began to shoot each other in the darkness, and in that moment the gunner onboard the Avenger opened fire against what he believed to be a Japanese aircraft without lights. Later it became clear that his target was the Hellcat piloted by O'Hare, for this remarkable aviator was never seen again.