FM-2 Wildcat fighter on combat air patrol
during the Leyte Invasion.
By THOMAS McKELVEY CLEAVER
By the fall of 1942, production of the F4F Wildcat, which
was seen as a useful aircraft for the composite squadrons
operating from escort carriers that would provide antisubmarine cover and close air support for coming
invasions, was transferred to General Motors Eastern
Aircraft Division. However, Grumman was not completely
through with the Wildcat. The possibility of developing
a lighter version specifically for operation from escort
carriers had been considered before production was
taken over by General Motors.
The main difference of the new version of
Wildcat was substitution of the 1,200 h.p. R-183086 with a 1,350 h.p. Wright R-1820-56 Cyclone
that was 230 lbs. lighter. The XF4F-8 had four
guns like the FM-1; it was visually distinguished
an enlarged rudder and vertical stabilizer to
counteract the increased torque of the more
powerful engine. The airplane was 530 lbs. lighter
than the F4F-4. Initial climb rate was nearly
doubled, service ceiling was boosted to 36,400
ft. All in all, this was a “wilder” Wildcat. It went
into production in early 1943; between then and
August 1945 4,437 FM-2s were delivered, making
it the most numerous Wildcat of all.
In the Pacific, the FM-2 showed up in the new
Composite Squadrons (VC) in the fall of 1943.
During the invasions of the Marshalls, Carolines,
Marianas, and the Philippines, ten more Wildcat
pilots became aces.
The U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour
The FM-2’s most memorable day came on
October 25, 1944. Task Group 77.4, composed of
three Task Units 77.1, 77.2, and 77.3 known as
Taffy One, Two and Three for their radio callsign
“Taffy,” were operating off the island of Samar to
provide air support to the invasion of Leyte; each
Task Unit was composed of six escort carriers,
with two or three destroyers and four or five
destroyer escorts for support. Each TU had 48
TBM-1C Avengers and around 100 FM-2 Wildcats
between the six carriers.
The previous day, October 24, the Wildcats
defended the fleet against the many Japanese air
attacks. The Wildcats of VC-10 aboard the carrier
USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73) – part of “Taffy Three”
– were the most successful squadron in the
entire Task Group. VC-10’s Wildcat pilots, who had