GRUMMAN F4F-3 WILDCAT
By: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
Saves USS Lexington
Edward H. „Butch“ O‘Hare graduated from
the U.S. Naval Academy in 1937. After two
years of sea duty aboard the U.S.S. New
Mexico, he was sent to Pensacola in 1939,
becoming a Naval Aviator in May, 1940.
He was assigned to VF-3, which was then
aboard Saratoga, where Lt John Thach,
Executive Officer of VF -3, took O‘Hare
The task force was 400 miles out when
radar spotted a bogey 35 miles away.
Squadron CO Thach led the first division to intercept, with Squadron XO Lt Cdr
Don Lovelace’s four orbited the task force.
Vectored in and out of clouds and squall
lines, Thach finally found an H6K “Mavis”
in a rain squall. Thach made a starboard
overhead pass as his wingman closed
On February 20, 1942, Lexington approa- with a portside high overhead pass. Under
ched New Ireland from the north to strike their combined fire the „Mavis“ spun into
Rabaul, recently taken by the Japanese. the ocean. A second was shot down 50
minutes later; it was clear the task force had been discovered. Lexington was
about to find out if a carrier task force
could stand up to a determined land based bombing attack.
as his wingman. Thach emphasized gunnery training (as did every USN Fighter
Squadron XO unlike their Army Air Corps
compatriots). At the fleet gunnery competition in November 1940, eight of 16 VF-3
pilots qualified for the covered „Gunnery
E“, and O‘Hare won the fleet trophy for
At 1630 hours, 17 G4M1s of the 4th Kōkūtai
closed on the fleet in two formations: one
nine-plane formation from starboard, one
eight-plane formation from port. The nine
were 25 miles distant when radar spotted
them. Their timing could not have been
worse, with Lovelace‘s division ready to
land just after Lt Noel Gaylor’s relief CAP
was launched. The bombers overflew the
ships and turned to attack from astern.
Lovelace‘s division broke off from landing
and attacked, disrupting their bomb run.
Gaylor‘s division lost two Wildcats to the
bombers’ then-unknown 20mm tail stingers. Thach was launched with six F4Fs,
including O’Hare, who was ordered to orbit the ship with his wingman Lt.(jg) MaLt. Cdr. John Thach (near airplane) and Lt.
Edward “Butch” O’Hare of VF-3 in their F4F-3