Text: Richard Plos
When Operation Watchtower was launched
on August 7, 1942, a “green hell” was waiting
for the men of the 1st Marine Division
under the command of Maj. Gen. Alexander
Vandegrift on Guadalcanal. Though only 2,000
Japanese stood against 6,000 Marines, their
fanatical determination did not waver even
after fighting for 36 hours, when American
forces had captured most of the island,
including the airfield under construction. The
landing was strongly supported by naval and
air forces, with the USS Enterprise’s pilots
making 237 combat sorties that day, others
added by the pilots from the USS Saratoga.
After the Enterprise withdrew from the area,
the aerial support weakened and the Marines
on the island suffered intense bombing.
No wonder they were eagerly awaiting the
arrival of the fighters. Those arrived on
August 20, when VMF-223 Wildcats landed
at Henderson Field.
Air combat and on-site accidents quickly
reduced the numbers of aircraft and just
ten days after arrival there were only five
of the 19 Wildcats left. Even later, after the
arrival of reinforcements, the numbers of
airworthy Wildcats were rapidly decreasing.
The pilots had no choice and no Wildcat from
Guadalcanal can be attributed to a particular
pilot. In the case of the GUADALCANAL
Limited kit, we solved this in a jokey way:
Where possible, we assigned a specific pilot
to the aircraft he flew in a known event.
The third most successful fighter of the
campaign, Capt. Marion Carl, would certainly
Illustration: Adam Tooby
Graphic design: Jan Zdiarsky
deserve “his” marking in the kit. But
concerning the Wildcat often attributed to
him, it’s complicated.
The aircraft with the number 2 on the
fuselage and nineteen kill marks under the
cockpit (marking F) was most likely one he
ever flew with. According to the testimony
of historians who spoke with the famous
ace, Carl said that this aircraft in the wellknown photographs was in fact an “hangar
queen” pulled out of the hangar at Espiritu
Santo to be photographed with the hero by
the media. For this purpose, the nineteen kill
mark stickers were applied. The media then
reportedly took a lot of pictures of Marion
Carl at “his” Wildcat. But ...
No matter how much you are searching,
you won’t find a proof photo of Carl with this
aircraft. Which is strange. In one famous
photograph, a man is squatting on the wing,
half undressed, wearing a crumpled cap.
It’s said to be Marion Carl. But would a pilot,
an officer, present himself to the media like
that? Hardly ... In several other photos, sitting
in the cockpit or standing on the wing is Tech
Sgt R. W. Greenwood. The photo of him in the
cockpit was published in Stars and Stripes
magazine during the war. Firstly with the
caption “unknown soldier in the cockpit of
a Wildcat on Guadalcanal”. When the editors
found out who it was through a letter from a
sergeant’s fellow, they published the photo
again, this time with his name. The mention
of Guadalcanal remained and according to
the sergeant’s son, his father never disputed
that fact. But historians say this Wildcat
never made it to Guadalcanal! But the picture
with Greenwood shows the kill marks were
worn out and the surroundings on the photo
of the whole aircraft looks like Henderson
field rather than Espiritu Santo airfield.
What’s more, even the official US Navy
archive dates the photo to February 2, 1943.
At this time Carl was gone from Guadalcanal
for some four months! So, there are many
questions regarding this aircraft. It is
sometimes also attributed to the CO of
VMF-223, Maj. John L.Smith, because he
achieved nineteen kills, which corresponds
to the number of kill marks. But he was also
no longer on Guadalcanal in February.
We may never know the full truth about the
Wildcat with number 2, but that uncertainty
makes it an attractive option as well. We
have, however, chosen other Wildcats for
the boxart. The one in the background was
“Swede” Vejtasa’s personal mount (marking
A). For the foreground we have chosen an
aircraft that was only marginally related
to Guadalcanal, as it was used by 1/Lt. S.
B. Folsom shortly after he left the island
(marking H). But there are not many Wildcats
with such a nice nose art, so it was an
obvious choice. The author of the Wildcats on
the boxart of the kit 11170 is Adam Tooby and
he did a great job, which is supported by the
graphics by Jan Zdiarsky. Twelve markings
and two complete kits are what is waiting for
the modeler inside the box ...