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Capt. Jimmy Flatley led VF-10 to Guadalcanal after the USS Enterprise was severely damaged in the Battle of Santa Cruz.

King’s victory, the Wildcats withdrew.

Altogether, the Marines claimed 20

confirmed victories: 12 Kates, a nonexistent “Betty,” and seven Zeros. However,

the Japanese lost only four Kates,

including the one that crash-landed, and

three Zeros, including the one Brannon

and Fincher had blown up. Marion Carl

was credited with four victories, including

the phantom Betty, and was immediately

recognized as the first Marine Corps ace.

In fact, he was actually two kills shy, but

would make up the difference two days

later. The Marines had won the first big air

battle. There would be many more.

The End For VMF-223

By October 2, the surviving fliers of

VMF-223 were exhausted from near-daily

battles and the terrible living conditions on

Guadalcanal. That day, the enemy returned

with another fighter sweep; the skies were

clearer and the coastwatchers radioed

their warning in time for the Wildcats to

get off the field and grab sufficient altitude.

to meet the 27 Zeros in a hard-fought

April 2023

fighter-versus-fighter battle. Leading six

VMF-223 F4Fs, Marion Carl scored what

would turn out to be his last victory,

bringing his score to 16.5 before his guns

jammed. His wingman Ken Frazier was

able to shoot down two before the others

turned on him and shot up his Wildcat

badly enough that he was forced to bail

out. His score of 12 put him in third-place in

VMF-223's “ace race,” behind Smith and

Carl. Newly arrived VMF-121 pilot 1st

Lieutenant Floyd Lynch dropped one

enemy fighter, but the top score of the

day went to “Coach” Bauer, whose four

victories made him an ace in only two

sorties. This time, Japanese records

confirmed the nine Zeros claimed by the

Marines was accurate.

VMF-223's exhausted fliers took off for

what turned out to be their last mission

from Henderson Field on October 10.

Squadron leader John Smith led seven

Wildcats to escort SBDs and TBFs to New

Georgia where more enemy ships had been

spotted. Halfway there Smith happened

to look back and saw 15 Rufe and Pete

floatplanes closing on his formation. He

called a warning and reversed course; the

other six followed. Spotting the oncoming

Americans, the enemy formation turned to

flee, but the Wildcats caught up and shot

down six Petes and three Rufes. Smith’s

Rufe was his final victory, giving him

a total of 19 to make him the leading Marine

ace to that point in the war.

October 12, 1942, saw the survivors of

VMF-223 climb aboard an R4D headed

for Espiritu Santo. Over their nine-week

tour, the squadron claimed 110 victories,

including 47 Zeros and 47 Bettys. John

L. Smith was credited with ten Bettys

while Marion Carl claimed eight, to give

both pilots more Japanese bombers in

their scores than any other Marine pilots

during the war. Nineteen pilots had landed

at Henderson Field on August 20; ten paid

the ultimate price.

Adapted from “The Cactus Air Force: Air

War Over Guadalcanal,” by Eric Hammel

and Thomas McKelvey Cleaver; Osprey

Publishing (2022).

INFO Eduard