• The F7F Story

    The Grumman F7F-3N "Tigercat" Story Part 1: Some History

    By Joe Thompson

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    PREFACE

    The Korean War has been called by many, "The Forgotten War." Unlike the two World Wars that preceded it and those that followed, the Korean War is little known or understood by many Americans. At the time it was simply referred to as a police action and tagged with the name "The Korean Conflict." This semantics exercise, in the eyes of some, more clearly defined American participation since the U.S. Congress had never passed a formal declaration of war committing U.S. forces to the fight. And yet it was the first Cold War clash that involved armed conflict and pitted the opposing ideologies of western democracy against communism. And it was the first war that involved a heavy mix of propeller and jet airplanes in the fight.

    My father fought in World War II as a Marine tail gunner & radio operator in the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. And, as many veterans did after that war, he left the service and returned to his civilian roots and family. However with the outbreak of the conflict on the Korean Peninsula in 1950 he was recalled to active duty and found himself once again flying into harms way. The difference was he was now flying as a radar operator in the Douglas F3D Skyknight and Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat.

    He spent his entire Korean War deployment flying out of Kunsan Air Base, known as K-8 (King 8) on the southwestern coast of Korea. Kunsan lies 100 miles south of Incheon, the port where General Douglas McArthur made his historical landing in September 1950 to outflank the North Korean Army. My father was attached to Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513 known as the "The Flying Nightmares" and this story is about what that experience may have been like. I say "may have" because I never talked much with my father about his war time experiences; I guess I wasn't that interested at the time and he never seemed to be interested in reliving his wars; he eventually flew and fought in Viet Nam too. Either way it was only years after his early death in 1981 that I realized that a huge portion of oral history covering these great conflicts was being lost with the passing of each veteran, my father included. The pace at which veterans of World War II and Korea are passing away now is alarming and with each day we lose more personal insight into the history of the world. Historians can write history but the telling of it by those who lived it is unrivaled for a true perspective of what it was actually like.

    In August 2006 I wrote "A Tale of a Whale," a story about a cross-country trip my father made in a Douglas F3D Skyknight just prior to his deployment to Korea in 1952. (See this article.) Since I covered many details regarding the Skyknight in that article I decided to cover the other aircraft my father also flew in Korea, the Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat.

    Though little is known by most people, including aviation enthusiasts, about the F3D Skyknight even less is known about the Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat. I felt therefore it was appropriate to cover its role in the Korean War. This story is a compilation of fact and fiction. I've tried to use accurate data when available but due to the scarcity of first-hand aircrew accounts regarding the Tigercat I've used a certain degree of 'writer's license' in the construction of this story. All aircrew characters are fictitious and any similarity in name or otherwise to anyone living or deceased is purely coincidental. I'd like to apologize beforehand to the purist in my reading audience because if I strayed too far a field it was totally unintentional. My goal was and is to try to provide a sense of what it must have been like to fly this aircraft in the Korean War. I hope I got somewhere close to that goal.

    THE PATH TO WAR

    From the 7th until the 19th century Korea had existed as a unified country. That all changed though when Japan defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). With their victory Japan occupied the Korean Peninsula and ten years later, Japan then defeated the Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). In 1910 Japan annexed Korea and Japanese forces remained in strategic locations throughout the Korean Peninsula until their eventual defeat in World War Two.

    At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 Stalin, as a prerequisite to Russia declaring war on Japan, insisted on buffer zones in Europe and Asia. On the 10th of August 1945 Russian forces entered the Korean Peninsula and a few weeks later U.S. forces entered also, ironically through the port of Incheon which would later play a pivotal role in the U.S. participation in the war. Stalin also agreed to stop at the 38th Parallel on the Korean Peninsula with any offensive push against the Japanese. So on August 6, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and two days later began an attack on the northern part of the Korean peninsula. By the 26th of August Russian troops had pushed south to the 38th Parallel and per the agreement halted their advance. Then on the 9th of September 1945 U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Hodges formally accepted the surrender of all Japanese forces south of the 38th Parallel. With hostilities ended on the peninsula the Soviet Union and the United States both occupied the Korean Peninsula under the terms of the armistice.

    In the meantime, in anticipation of an eventual armistice and prior to the formal surrender many Korean political groups had organized in anticipation of gaining control of their country after decades of Japanese occupation. Unfortunately this was not going to be the case. One of General Hodges first directives in administration of the occupied South Korean area was to reinstate many of the vanquished Japanese officials into administrative positions they had held during the Japanese occupation of Korea. This infuriated the Koreans. Then to make matters even worse he refused to recognize the previously established Korean political organizations. General Hodge was attempting to establish a strong U.S. control over the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, instead he put into motion an atmosphere that lead to the establishment of insurrection and guerilla warfare in opposition to this heavy-handiness.

    The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to administer the country under the U.S.-Soviet Joint Commission and both agreed that Korea would govern itself independently after four years of international oversight. However both the U.S. and the Russians had final approval authority for the governments that would eventually lead their respective sectors for the four year period. Because the Koreans had been under the tyrannical rule of the Japanese for the previous 35 years they were not receptive to the prospect of having more foreign intervention in their country. This opposition led the U.S. to abandon the original accord with the Soviets. The U.S. was fearful of a communist backed government in South Korea and since the South Koreans outnumbered the people of North Korea two to one, the U.S. called for a country wide free election. Elections in South Korea were conducted in May of 1948 and a legislative body was elected to administer the southern portion of the occupied peninsula. In early April 1948 President Harry Truman ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Korea. This was followed in August of 1948 with the establishment of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the election of its first president, Syngman Rhee. Three weeks later, in response to this decree the North Korean administration declared that it alone, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), had jurisdiction over all of the Korean Peninsula.

    And it was in this climate of shared animosity north and south of the demarcation buffer zone that the last U.S. troops departed Korea on June 29th, 1949. What was left was a Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) that consisted of approximately 200 personnel.

    The two leaders that emerged to lead the North and South Korean regimes were U.S. educated Syngman Rhee in the south and Kim Il-Sung, a staunch communist, in the North. Both were intent on uniting the entire Korean Peninsula under their rule. Since the North Koreans had access to far greater numbers of large arms and tanks, they were able to escalate their border skirmishes with South Korean forces and these back-and-forth forays continued thru 1949 and into 1950. By early 1950 Rhee was gaining in popularity and the reunification of the two Korean sectors by insurgent action was deemed not achievable by the North Koreans. Kim Il-sung viewed an all-out invasion of the south as the only recourse to eventually reunify Korea. So in the early hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950, North Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel and pushed into South Korea. The Korean Conflict had begun.

    THE CONFLICT BEGINS

    With overwhelming numbers of combat troops and tanks the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) swiftly drove south. By June 29th, 1950, they had captured the South Korean capitol of Seoul and destroyed the bridges that crossed the major river in the area, the Han. This action trapped a significant number of South Korea's finest troops along with their equipment on the north side of the Han River. The next day the NKPA troops crossed the river and swiftly advanced south and on the same day President Truman committed U.S. forces to reinforce the U.N. demands that the NKPA cease their advance and return across the 38th Parallel.

    North Korean forces pushed steadily southward until they encircled an area in the southeastern corner of South Korea known as the Pusan Perimeter which was approximately 140 miles in length and corresponded to the Nakdong River. This was the southern most advance of the North Korean forces during the war. U.S. ground forces and the U.S. Air Force were now heavily involved in the fighting, but the NKPA maintained their stranglehold around Pusan, giving them control of virtually all of the Korean Peninsula except this small area.

    To relieve this stranglehold General McArthur planned and executed what military historians now consider one of the most brilliant amphibious flanking actions of any armed conflict - the Landing of Incheon. Incheon is located on the Yellow Sea on the west coast of Korea, 30 miles west of Seoul and just to the south of the 38th Parallel. This assault on 15 September, 1950 took the NKPA totally by surprise and with the alleviation of the pressure on the Pusan Perimeter, U.N. forces were finally able to break out and start to push northward.

    Now, the war headed back northward, up the Korean Peninsula. In late September ROK troops crossed the 38th Parallel and by the 9th of October U.S. troops had almost crossed the demarcation line in their push northward. Now it was the U.N. forces turn to capture a strategic city, this time the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang which fell to U.N. troops on the 19th of October 1950. By late October Marine and Army troops were landing on the east coast of Korea at Wonson (port where the U.S. intelligence ship USS Pueblo was taken after its seizure in January 1968 off the North Korean coast). By late November 1950 the Marines were engaged in fierce fighting near the Yalu River that separates Manchuria (China) with North Korea, in a spot know as the Chosin Reservoir. And in late December the famous MIG-15 entered action over the skies of North Korea.

    With the start of 1951 the war reversed course again and the main lines of battle began to be pushed southward again. By the 3rd of January 1951 Seoul was lost to the NKPA again and the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) stabilized somewhat around the 37th Parallel by the 19th of January. By March Seoul had been retaken again by U.N. forces. By mid June 1951 the MLR had established itself again along the 38th Parallel. This MLR ran through places later to find their way into history books with names like The Punchbowl, Heartbreak Ridge, and Porkchop Hill. By late 1951 the war was mired in stalemate along this MLR. In the interim aerial combat was ramped up over North Korea and in mid-Jun 1952 major air strikes were initiated against North Korean hydroelectric plants. Then in late August over 1,400 U.N. aircraft struck the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang in the largest air strike of the war.

    It is at this juncture with the war stalemated along the 38th Parallel in the later part of 1952 that we enter our story with Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513, At this point in the conflict they were deployed at the USAF air base at Kunsan, known as King-8 (K-8). Since many of the cities and towns across Korea had names that were difficult to pronounce or were remarkably similar in spelling, it was decided to assign simple names to airfields that would be easy for ground controllers to use when directing flights to and from the various bases. Each airfield used by allied forces was assigned a letter-number combination in this effort. Airfields were assigned the letter "K," which in the phonetic alphabet of the 1950's was known as "King." Then the letter was followed by a number, for Kunsan AB it was "8," therefore the base was referred to as "King 8" or simply "K-8."

    "THE FLYING NIGHTMARES"

    Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513 "The Flying Nightmares" didn't start out with that nickname, in fact they didn't even start out as a night fighter squadron. They were first commissioned on February 15, 1944, at Marine Corps Auxiliary Airfield (MCAAF) Oak Grove, N.C. as Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-513. At that time they flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat. Eventually the squadron made its way across the U.S. with brief stops at MCAAFs located in Arkansas and Mojave, California where their squadron designation changed once again, this time to VMF(CVS)-513. This signified they were now a Marine Fighter Squadron that was carrier based and at this time they transitioned into the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair. In June 1945 they left San Diego on a carrier and participated in the western Pacific operation at Ewa, Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa.

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    The squadron returned stateside after World War II and was stationed out of Marine Corp Air Station (MCAS) El Toro, in southern California. They became a night fighter squadron with the designation VMF(N)-513 on 1 Aug, 1947. At this point they transitioned into the night fighter version of the Corsair, which at the time was the F4U-5N.

    With the North Korean invasion in June 1950, Marine aviation started to spool up for war once again. In El Toro '513' raced to get ready and on 12, July 1950 the squadron departed San Diego, CA embarked aboard the USS General A. E. Anderson for Japan. They arrived on 31 July and the squadron was shifted to the Itami Air Base (AB) - originally the Osaka Airport - outside Osaka on the 3rd of August and placed under the operational control of the U.S. 5th Air Force. Then, almost immediately, the entire squadron was shifted to Itazuke AB outside Fukuoka, Japan on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu less than 200 miles from Pusan, South Korea. It was from this base that VMF(N)-513 would start flying combat missions over Korea. The movement of squadron was erratic and seemingly constant from then until our story joins them in mid 1952 at Kunsan AB - King 8. Here's what the squadron movement looked like during this period:

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    DATE

    SQUADRON ACTION

    MAP #

    12 Jul 1950

    Departed San Diego

    31 Jul 1950

    Arrived Japan

    1

    03 Aug 1950

    Moved to Itami AB, Osaka, Japan

    2

    07 Aug 1950

    Moved to Itazuke AB, Fukuoka, Japan

    3

    08 Oct 1950

    Moved back to Itami AB, Osaka

    4

    12 Oct 1950

    Moved to Kimpo AB (K-14) just NW of Seoul

    5

    16 Oct 1950

    Moved to Wonson AB (K-25) on the eastern coast of North Korea due east of Pyongyang

    6

    01 Dec 1950

    Moved to Yonpo AB (K-27) just south of Hamhung, North Korea

    7

    15 Dec 1950

    Moved back to Itami AB, Japan as Chinese forces pushed southward into the Korean peninsula. While at Itami this time the squadron flew Close Air Support (CAS) missions over Korea in support of allied forces on the ground

    8

    18 Jan 1951

    Moved to Pusan East AB (K-9).

    9

    26 Feb 1951

    Moved to Pusan West AB (K-1). In March the squadron received the F7F Tigercat aircraft and support personnel from Marine squadron VMF(N)-542.  They now were operating two distinctively different types of night fighting aircraft

    10

    09 Dec 1951

    Moved to Kangnung (K-18) on the NE coast of South Korea

    11

    11 Apr 1952

    Moved to Kunsan AB (K-8) on the SW coast of South Korea and 115 miles from Seoul. [When they first arrived at Kunsan AB the Air Force had the single runway closed for modifications and the Marines actually operated off the taxiway].

    12

    So we've finally gotten the squadron in place at Kunsan AB to start our story. But first we should have a look at a couple important historical elements to our story. Let's look at the history of Kunsan Air Base, Marine Corp night fighter aviation and the Grumman F7F Tigercat.

    THE HISTORY OF KUNSAN AIR BASE

    Kunsan AB (Air Base) was built by occupying Japanese troops in 1938, three years before Pearl Harbor, for their fighter-interceptor aircraft. The original Japanese strip was 2,800 feet in length and constructed of sod that ran in a NNE-SSW orientation. No U.S. use of the field was noted until 1945 and then only on a small scale. Between 1945 and 1950 small detachments of Army and Air Force personnel occupied the field using liaison type aircraft. When the U.S. pulled all its forces out of Korea in 1949, leaving a small Military Assistance Group in South Korea the previous minimal activity at Kunsan became almost non-existent.

    On 25 June 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the south, Kunsan Air Base still had no United States flying unit assigned. And it took the North Koreans only 3 weeks to capture the field, which they did on 13 July 1950.

    After the Invasion of Incheon, Kunsan, a port city on the Kum River estuary, fell to U.N. forces without opposition on 30 September 1950. The development of a runway at Kunsan AB (K-8) became a major priority upon its capture. When the Fifth Air Force took control of Kunsan AB in October 1950 they immediately started plans for constructing a concrete runway. The need for air bases with developed runways in Korea was a prime concern since the Lockheed F-80 'Shooting Star' and Republic F-84 'Thunderjet' had insufficient fuel capacity to sustain combat operations in Korean airspace for very long when flying from bases in Japan.

    The air base was originally an island with most of its land reclaimed from the adjacent Yellow Sea's tidal flats and rice paddies. The choice of the runway location was a fairly simple decision. They would have to use the existing Japanese sod strip but the trick was to lengthen the hardened runway (initially to 6,300 ft.) to accommodate fighters and bombers. This would pose a tricky engineering problem due to the location of the rice fields on the east and west and the hills on the north and south. It was finally decided that the only solution was to realign the runway to a NE-SW (Rwy 06-24) direction to accommodate the increased length.

    United States forces first operated in significant numbers from the base in 1951. The first Air Force unit assigned to the base, the 27th Air Base Group, arrived on 1 April 1951 and oversaw construction. The Army's 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion built a 5,000-foot runway to replace the sod runway constructed by Japanese. By August, construction had progressed to the point that the Air Force assigned the 3rd Bombardment Wing to Kunsan.

    So during the timeframe of our story - the mid part of 1952, the Air Force's Far East Air Force (FEAF) command, who controlled almost all air assets within Korea, including Marine shore based squadrons, had Martin B-26 Marauders attached to the 8th, 13th and 90th Bombardment Squadrons and F-84 Thunderjet's assigned to the 428th, 429th and 430th Fighter Bomber Squadrons. The Marine Corps "The Flying Nightmares" of VMF(N)-513, joined the established Air Force units at K-8 on 11 April 1952.

    Another Marine unit, Marine Ground Control Intercept Squadron One, (MCGIS-1), preceded '513' to K-8 by six months, having arrived at Kunsan in mid October 1951. This unit handled Ground Control Intercepts (GCI) of any potential enemy aircraft identified within the Kunsan sector with their mobile radar units. Besides MGCIS-1 located at Kunsan AB, there was a second site for a MGCIS-1 detachment. This detachment was located on the airfield on Cheju-do (K-40), the large island that lies off the southern tip of Korea. The job of this detachment was to guide the B-29 bombers from Okinawa up to Korea where they would be handed off to the Kunsan MGCIS-1 controllers. They, in turn, would hand the bombers off to other controllers as the bombers proceeded on their missions; e.g. the Air Force's Tactical Air Control Center (TACC) at Taegu, South Korea or the Air Force's 502nd Tactical Control Group (TCG) that was set up behind enemy lines on the island of Cho-do off North Korea in Korea Bay. [This later unit was to play a significant role in the control and vectoring of Marine night fighters over the skies of North Korea].

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    So what you had in Kunsan was an Air Force base that hosted two small Marine Corps units or, as one of the Marine aviators more appropriately described it "...like cats and dogs placed in the same cage." It was inevitable that friction would exist between the Airmen and the Marines and a peaceful co-existence probably never really settled over the base. The Marines were, quite naturally, assigned to the 'less desirable' areas of the base and this just added to the overall animosity between the two services.

    THE EVOLUTION OF MARINE NIGHT FIGHTERS

    Prior to the invention of radar, night fighter interception of enemy aircraft had been basically limited to visual acquisition of the target, normally which had been illuminated by a ground based searchlight. This was crude and proved ineffective starting with the Luftwaffe's London Blitz initiative. When the Germans switched to night bombing raids over London, an all out push ensued to expand the new radar technology to interceptor aircraft. And it was also acknowledged that in the newly emerging world of night radar interception ground based controller stations would play a key role in the overall mission.

    The U.S. Navy had been the leader in early burgeoning radar technology in the 1920's and 30's but in the 1940's the British took a decisive lead especially in the development of the Planed Position Indicator (PPI) and microwave tubes. The PPI, for those not familiar with radar, is nothing more than a 'scope' or 'screen' that displays the target.

    In 1941 U.S. military officers, including Marines, were sent to England to study the Royal Air Force's (RAF) night fighter technology. One attendee was Major Frank Schwable, who spent 3 months studying at the RAF Fighter Director School in Stanmore, a suburb of London. With the U.S. entry in the war after Pearl Harbor, Marine Corps night fighter capabilities were non-existent with the exception of the limited training a hand full of Marines had acquired with the RAF. The Marines were always looked upon as the 'step-child' of the Navy and therefore hand-me-down equipment eventually found its way to the Marines when the Navy decided it wouldn't suit their operational needs for whatever reason. This would hold true in night fighters too. The Marines had great difficulty in selecting their first night fighter airframe; they looked at the Army's Northrop P-61 Black Widow, Douglas A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader, the Navy's Curtis SB2C's Helldiver and Chance-Vought F4U Corsairs and even the RAF's Bristol Beaufighter and de Havilland Mosquito. However, assets were scarce and in great demand at the onslaught of the war and the Marines, as was usually the case, had to accept a lesser capable aircraft. And so the first Marine night fighter squadron was equipped with the twin engined, PV-1 Ventura, light patrol-bomber which was built by the Vega Division of Lockheed.

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    On 16 November 1942 the Marine Corps's first night fighter squadron, VMF(N)-531, was commissioned at Cherry Point MCAS, North Carolina. Its first commanding officer was none other than Frank Schwable, now a Lieutenant Colonel. In February 1943 as the Marines started to work-up in their training for deployment to the Pacific another batch of personnel was sent to England to study with the RAF. Additional personnel followed in March and then another group was sent to the General Electric Company in Syracuse to learn the intricacies of the newer type mobile, ground based radar that was going to be used by Marine ground controllers, the SCR-527A.

    The need for an effective night fighter force was aptly demonstrated by a dispatch that Admiral "Bull Halsey" sent from Noumea, New Caledonia in late December 1942. In it he stated:

    "Current night nuisance raids over CACTUS [code name for Guadalcanal] are lowering combat efficiency of our troops through a loss of sleep and increased exposure to malaria during hours of darkness spent in foxholes and dugouts. Recommend that a minimum of six night fighting aircraft with homing radars and personnel now undergoing night fighter training [VMF(N)-531 back at Cherry Point MCAS in North Carolina] plus ground equipment be dispatched CACTUS earliest time. Best available altitude determining interceptor radars with night fighters directing personnel should accompany"

    This communique demonstrated the far ranging impact an enemy aircraft at night had on troops. These nightly nuisance forays by Japanese aircraft were called several things during World War II but the most popular was "Piss-Call Charlie," so named because they seemed to always arrive at that time of the night when a guy had to relief himself at the local latrine. This moniker would be further 'refined' during the Korean War to "Bed-Check Charlie," a less harsh term to be used by war correspondents in their dispatches back to the states, however the original nickname was probably more frequently used by the troops.

    In the last two weeks of July 1943 the Marine's ground echelon unit, CGI unit, and the aircraft and crews themselves all departed the U.S. for deployment to the South Pacific. The overall results for the Marine PV-1 night fighters were less than impressive. Navy F4U Corsair night fighters arrived in the combat zone in September 1943, shortly after VMF(N)-531 did. However the Corsair had a significant drawback, one that plagued all single seat night fighters; it required that the pilot not only fly, navigate, and communicate but also serve as the radar operator during an aerial interdiction. The RAF, with their selection of the Beaufighter and Mosquito, and even the Germans with their premier night fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 110, realized that to be successful in night fighting you had to use a multi-crewed aircraft. The PV-1 did allow for a multi-crew setup but its overall performance fell far short of the task it was asked to perform. Eventually the F4U Corsair was joined by a night fighter variant of the F6F Hellcat but the lessons learned by the multi-crewed PV-1 proved invaluable for later development of Marine Corps's night fighter expertise. Unfortunately the development of the superbly efficient Grumman F7F Tigercat night fighter came too late in World War II to see the aircraft deployed in that capacity but it would prove its mettle throughout the Korean conflict.

    THE GRUMMAN F7F "TIGERCAT"

    Early reports from the European theatre prompted U.S. forces to revaluate their aircraft requirements. In this process the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company, of Bethpage, Long Island, N.Y. started work on two, twin engined fighter designs; the XF5F-1 Skyrocket and the P-50, which was based on the Skyrockets design elements. Neither aircraft saw production but they did lead to another project, the XF7F. In December 1940, the U.S. Navy invited Grumman to submit a proposal for a twin engined, tricycle geared carrier based aircraft. No carrier aircraft had ever been designed to this criterion before.

    Grumman submitted 'Design 51' which called for a twin engined, single seat airframe with retractable, tricycle gear powered by two 1,800 H.P. Wright Cyclone GR-2600 engines turning full-feathering, constant speed props. The aircraft was proposed to have a mid-wing, monoplane fuselage and the wing would have power folding outer-wing panels to facilitate stowage aboard carriers. Armament would consist of four .50 cal machine guns in the wing roots along with two .50 cal machine guns mounted in the forward fuselage and provisions for a 20 mm wing gun installation. Initial performance figures called for a top speed of 437 mph, service ceiling of 35,000 ft and a range of 1,000 miles. The Navy was so impressed with Grumman's proposal that they order two prototypes on 30 June 1941.

    Major glitches surfaced during the testing of the prototypes including problems with the "Y" shaped arresting hook, abnormal high speed control requirements with one engine inoperative, and an unusual spin characteristic that eventually lead to a flat spin. This lead to the prohibition of intentional spins for all production model aircraft. The vertical stabilizer had to be increased in size too along with other tweaks and minor modifications to various systems.

    The first F7F-1 fighter was delivered on 29 April 1944. In a little history within history the initial flight-test group informally dubbed the aircraft the "Tomcat" but when Grumman officials suggested that name to the Navy it was flatly rejected. The reason cited was, "The name 'Tomcat' is unacceptable. It denotes feline promiscuity." So due to 1940 moral attitudes the name was refused. However twenty-five years later, in a completely different cultural environment, the F-14's were christened "Tomcat's."

    The preliminary carrier qualification trials held on the aircraft resulted in an "...unsatisfactory for carrier landing' assessment, primary due to the "Y" shaped tail hook. Interestingly, while initial carrier landing test were being conducted by the Experimental Unit of the Philadelphia Naval Aircraft Factory, an impromptu performance comparison between the F7F-1 and a F4U Corsair was performed in August 1944 and the results were astounding. The Tigercat was definitely a hot aircraft to fly. A Grumman engineer reported that,

    "In level flight the F7F at 30" manifold pressure (MAP) pulled away from the F4U at 43" MAP. In sea level runs over the river [Delaware River] with both planes at 49" MAP, the Corsair indicated 250 kts and the Tigercat 330 kts. Checking acceleration in dives, the F4U pilot reported that the F7F '...pulled away so fast I felt like I was standing still!"

    As the tactical situation in the Pacific changed over the course of the fighting and with continued problems with the carrier qualifications, the Navy decided to drastically cut back on the target production numbers of Tigercats. Eventually only 34 F7F-1's were produced.

    The F7F-2 & -2N variant called for a second cockpit to house a radar operator and called for the installation of the AN/APS-6 radars. Production records are incomplete to accurately determine how many of this variant was produced. They were fitted with Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22W engines. The service ceiling was bumped up to 40,600 ft. and the range increased to 1,790 miles on internal fuel. The aircraft was capable of a rate of climb (ROC) of 5,200 feet per minute (FPM). The -2N variant production run ran from October 1944 until the last delivery in early March 1945. Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-531 received this aircraft on 17 January 1945. This was the same squadron commanded by LtCol Schwable that had started Marine Corps night fighter operations back in November 1942. After their tour in the Pacific the unit had returned stateside to be deactivated in mid 1944. They had now been reactivated and assigned the new Tigercat. After training and a move across the U.S. from Cherry Point to El Centro, California via the MCAS Eagle Mt. Lake, Texas (23 miles NW of Ft. Worth) the unit left San Diego aboard a ship in July 1945 enroute to Guam. Ironically as their ship neared Guam the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. After landing at Guam they flew their aircraft to Okinawa via Iwo Jima and arrived the day before World War II came to a close in the Pacific.

    The F7F, which so many had foreseen as a huge leap forward in combat capability, had missed its chance to fight in the Pacific. But it did see limited combat in the post-World War II environment in Asia. On Okinawa the squadron was absorbed by the Marine F6F-5N night fighter unit VMF(N)-533. Then in early October 1945 a squadron detachment (DET) comprised of twelve F7F-2N was directed to Tientsin (Tianjin), China, a coastal city 75 miles SE of Beijing. Upon arrival in Tientsin they were instructed to continue to Peiping (Beijing) with a mission to "show the flag" along with providing armed reconnaissance patrols; helping to maintain communications between the various Marine garrisons within China that were supervising the disarmament and repatriation of Japanese troops after the war. These aircraft frequently came under heavy fire from Chinese Communist forces in their various operational areas. Meanwhile back stateside the core component of VMF(N)-533, which had returned to the U.S. after the war, was training in the new F7F-3N. On 1 August 1946 nineteen of these aircraft with aircrews and support personnel left San Diego to join the squadron DET that had been in China since the end of the World War II. In November 1946 the last of the older F7F-2N's were removed from China and the newer -3N models remained until they departed China for the last time in January 1947.

    The F7F-3N, the type featured in this story, was produced in greater numbers than any other Tigercat model. When its production finally ceased, 106 had rolled off the Grumman assembly line between 15 May 1945 and 20 June 1946. The -3N model was equipped with a new radar, the SCR-720. To accommodate the new antenna and its drive mechanism, a bulge or 'droop snoot' was fitted to the bottom of the radome on the forward fuselage. Naturally it had the rear cockpit for the radar operator and the .50 cal fuselage guns were removed, leaving the 20 mm wing mounted cannons. The aircraft had an empty weight of approximately 16,400 lbs with a combat weight of around 22,000 lbs. At sea level she would fly at 420 mph and push 450 mph at 21,500 ft. Her service ceiling was around 40,400 ft. and max ROC was a little over 6,000 FPM (4,000+ with combat stores loaded) and had a range around 1,200 miles.

    Description: C:/images/features/f7fstory/t\f7fsideview.jpg

    Description: C:/images/features/f7fstory/t\f7ffrontview.jpg

    Description: C:/images/features/f7fstory/t\f7ftopdown.jpg

    In Part 2 we'll meet the crew who will fly the Tigercat over the skies of North Korea. We'll tag along as they make their way to the mission brief and then don their flight gear for the night's flight. We'll then follow them out to the flightline to get the aircraft ready to launch. I'll meet you back at the base in the next part.

    Joe Thompson
    [email protected]

    Read Part 2
    Read Part 3


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