Considered by many to be the best carrier based fighter-bomber of World War II, today we honor the May 29, 1940 first flight of the F4U Corsair on Warbirds.
Despite early issues with getting Corsair squadrons qualified for carrier landings, the Marine Corps had no reservations about using her as a land-based fighter beginning in 1942. The navy restricted the planes from carrier landings until early 1944. Despite the Corsair’s superior performance in almost all categories, veteran Navy pilots preferred the F-6 Hellcat as it was easier to land having less tendency to bounce. Many naval aviators disparagingly called the F4U “hog”, hognose”, or even “bent-wing widow maker”.
The F-4 Corsair’s combat debut in 1943 was as part of the fiasco near Kahili known as the “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre”. 4 P-38s, 2 P-40s, 2 B-24s, and 2 F4Us were lost with no more than 4 Zeros downed. Despite this rocky first encounter, Marine pilots soon learned to take advantage of the Corsair’s superior capabilities and six .50 caliber machineguns versus Japanese fighters. These ground based squadrons would operate in some of the Pacific theater’s hottest zones like Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Philippines, Marshall Islands, Palaus, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
The F4U has had a star-studded cast of pilots. Charles Lindbergh served as a test pilot and evaluator while Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams was a flight instructor for the F4U at Pensacola. Among Marine Corps Corsair pilots there were 15 confirmed aces and 4 Medal of Honor recipients. The first Corsair Ace was Second Lieutenant Kenneth A. Walsh while the most famous was probably Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington f the Blacksheep Squadron (VMF-214).
Having seen service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Royal New Zealand Airforce, and the U.K. Royal Navy Fleet Arm, the end of WWII did not spell the end of the Corsair’s career. The F4U would serve with Argentinian, El Salvadoran, French, and Honduran militaries. Combat roles would include the First Indochina War, the Suez Crisis, the Algerian War, and War of Tunisian Independence. But, the Corsair would truly shine as close support aircraft and night fighter during the Korean War. Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the U.S. Navy’s 1st African-American naval aviator, flew Corsairs on combat missions from the USS Leyte (CV-32). He was shot down on December 4, 1950 and became the first U.S. Navy officer killed during the Korean War.
F4U Corsairs feature prominently in media. John Wayne starred in a film about Marine Corps aviators called Flying Leathernecks. The made for television movie and follow-up series Baa Baa Black Sheep fictionally portrays the actions of Greg “Pappy” Boyington and the Black Sheep Squadron (VMF-214)
You can view a very thorough history of the Vought F4U Corsair on YouTube in this 5-part series.
(If you have suggestions of other aircraft to cover in upcoming Warbirds posts, please put them in the comments. Thanks.)