USS Makin Island (CVE-93) sailing in the South Pacific.
deck, where at least nine or ten Avengers had
to be accommodated as part of the composite
squadron. This left little space for fighters,
and the large Hellcats were not suitable for
these carriers. The Navy demanded a small
and lightweight fighter that could operate from
these ships, but there was no time to develop
an entirely new type. Although the development
of the Bearcat, which was to meet all the
requirements, began in 1943, it did not reach
combat in time. Therefore, the only option was
to continue producing Wildcats, preferably in
a more powerful version. Grumman thus prepared
two prototypes of the XF4F-8, the precursor to
the following FM-2 production version.
Lightened, Strengthened, and Ready
The FM-2 version of the Wildcat is often
overlooked among its counterparts, as the
F4F-3 and F4F-4 versions gained greater
fame due to the heroic performances of their
pilots during the battles in the Coral Sea, at
the Midway or Guadalcanal. These successful
operations produced a whole series of famous
fighter aces from both the Marine Corps and
the Navy. However, the purpose and operational
deployment of the FM-2 were different; it was no
more the Navy’s main fighter type. Nevertheless,
at least five more pilots achieved ace status
with the FM-2 (compared to 54 aces flying
earlier versions), and the most successful of
all squadrons flying the FM-2, VC-27 “Saints,”
eventually became the second most successful
unit operating Wildcats, regardless of the combat
area or period. Its pilots managed to shoot down
a total of 61.5 enemy aircraft during the fourmonth battle for the Philippines. Only VF-5 with
79 kills surpassed them. In this respect, the FM-2
ultimately made its mark.
The increase in the Wildcat’s performance was
mainly achieved by installing a more powerful yet
230 lb lighter Wright R-1820-56 engine instead of
the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86. Along with other
modifications, the FM-2 was “slimmed down” by
500 lb and gained a power improvement of 150
hp compared to the F4F-4 version. As the new
engine was supercharged by a single-stage, dualspeed compressor, the FM-2 lost its performance
advantage at higher altitudes. However, this was
not an issue since these aircraft were primarily
intended for anti-submarine operations, convoy
protection from low-level air threats, and attacks
against ground or surface targets. High-altitude
combat was not considered part of their combat
activities. Additionally, most of the FM-2s were
equipped with engines in versions 56W or 56WA,
featuring water injection to temporarily boost the
engine output for up to ten minutes.
The cooling system underwent a fundamental
change. The two protruding radiators on the
lower wing were removed, and their function was
taken over by a compact radiators located in the
lower and upper part of the fuselage behind the
engine. The wing openings were covered with
shaped metal panels.
58 gallons volume). Starting with aircraft BuNo.
57044, the fuselage tank was slightly enlarged
to 126 gallons.
The glass windows under the cockpit were
covered, and a new universal tailwheel with
a larger tire was developed for the FM-2. But the
most noticeable change compared to all previous
versions was the taller vertical tail fin and
rudder to eliminate the increased torque from
the propeller driven by more powerful engine.
However, even with more power and more
efficient propeller, the flight decks of escort
aircraft carriers were too short for a conventional
takeoff, and catapults had to do most of the job.
Nevertheless, the FM-2’s dimensions were very
advantageous. With folded wings, it was only 14
ft wide, allowing an entire composite squadron
to be accommodated on a single ship’s deck.
While up to 12 Avengers could be carried, the
number of FM-2s typically ranged from 12 to 14.
Aces on FM-2
Lt. Ralph E. Elliott, jr.
USS Savo Island
Lt. Cdr. Harold. N. Funk
Lt. Kenneth G. Hippe
USS Kalinin Bay
Ens. Joseph D. McGraw
USS Gambier Bay/
Lt. Thomas B. Sedaker
USS Makin Island
*Some sources report 4.83 victories.
The engine change and cooling system
redesign necessitated alterations to the nose
cowlings. The exhaust outlets were not combined
for the new engine; instead, each cylinder had
its individual exhaust. Three exhausts ended on
the right side, two on the left, and two pairs on
the bottom of the fuselage. The second fuselage
tank was removed, leaving the FM-2 with only
one 117 gallons volume. Due to this, FM-2 aircraft
often flew with additional drop tanks (each of
The Wildcat aircraft modified into the FM-2
version quickly won the favor of pilots. It was
a nimble and reasonably fast aircraft that
retained one of its typical characteristics –
the ability to withstand significant damage in
combat. Additionally, the pilot was protected by
a new armor plate behind their back (though not
all aircraft were equipped with it). No wonder the
new version earned the nickname Wilder Wildcat.