KITS 03/2023

BuNo. 12034, VMF-221, Henderson Field,

Guadalcanal, February 1943

This aircraft is usually attributed to 1/Lt. James E. Swett,

a member of VMF-221. The squadron was based at Marine

Corps Base Ewa on Oahu, Hawai in early 1943, from where

they moved to the island of Espiritu Santo aboard the USS

Nassau. Most probably during their stay at Espiritu Santo,

various arts were painted on the vertical fins of some of

the squadron’s Wildcats. In the case of No. 77, the painting

was probably inspired by “Hairless Joe” from Al Capp’s

strips made for L’il Abner satiric strips (it was painted

on the port side only). The squadron was moving to

Guadalcanal in stages from February 1943 and there the

“tail arts” became a thorn in the side of the commanding

officers. So, probably not long after arrival, an order

was issued to remove all the paintings. Lt. Swett was

a leader of one of flights of VMF-221. He took off for his

first combat flight on April 7 when the Japanese made

a massive raid, sending approximately 70 bombers

against Guadalcanal, covered by more than hundred

Zeros. More than a hundred of American naval and Army

fighters took off to defend the island, and the most

successful among them was Swett, who managed to

shoot down seven Val bombers before having to bail out

himself. This was his only encounter with enemy aircraft

in the cockpit of a Wildcat, as he subsequently switched

to the Corsair and achieved 15.5 kills during his 103 total

combat missions in WW II.

Sam Folsom had the Popeye painted on the engine cowl

when he was assigned to the unit as an instructor after

his combat tour at Guadalcanal. The aircraft is sometimes

portrayed with “winged” roundels, which is not correct.

At the time the photographs of the Popeye Wildcat were

shot, is still sported the original roundels. Folsom was

rather inexperienced pilot when he was thrown with

others of VFM-122 into the battle of the Solomon Islands,

but he was progressing rapidly. He stayed there for three

months and was wounded twice. He scored his first kill on

November 11, when he shot down a Zero. Just a day later,

he shot down a Mitsubishi Betty bomber and added another

one to finish the war with three victories.

1/Lt Samuel B. Folsom, VMF-121,

Samoa, spring 1943

Nose arts were rare on the Navy and Marines aircraft,

especially during the Guadalcanal campaign, where was

no time or resources to “play” with drawings. The Wildcat

with the painting of Popeye on the port side of the engine

cowling is one of rare exceptions, but it was not painted

on Guadalcanal. In fact, the aircraft was part of the

VMF-111 inventory, the unit which was operating on Samoa.

BuNo. 11985, Lt. (jg) William N. Leonard,

VF-11, Guadalcanal, June 1943

Bill Leonard took part in the battles at Coral Sea and

Midway, where he made himself an ace during his service

with VF-42 and VF-3. In August 1942 he joined new VF-11

squadron and became its Operations Officer. He served

at Guadalcanal in 1943 and added two more kills to his

tally. It happened on June 12, 1943, when he shot down

March 2023

two Zeros flying this aircraft and this achievement made

him the ace. After his three-month tour in Guadalcanal, he

was transferred to Samoa, ending his time with VMF-121.

Leonard’s Wildcat sported the Sun Downers symbol painted

on both sides as well as four kill marks (six after June

12). The panels with the VF-11 symbol and port side under

the cockpit were repainted, probably by fresh camouflage

color. The same pays to the area of the fuselage code.

INFO Eduard