Butch wears non-standard cowboy leather belt in this

color photograph.

Alone against eight

While most VF-3 fighters battled the first

group of the enemy bombers, at 16:49 another one appeared on Lexington’s radar.

Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

John “Jimmy” Thach heavily focused on the

air gunnery training. Under Thach’s leadership most VF-3 pilots, including Butch, became excellent marksmen.

O’Hare’s first flight in the new Grumman

F4F Wildcat fighter took place on July 21,

1941. Flying it off Saratoga he entered the

WWII battles. In the beginning of 1942, the

ship patrolled between Midway Island and

Pearl Harbor where she was hit by a torpedo fired from the Japanese submarine

I-6. She had to return for repairs and VF-3

transferred to Lexington. And that is where

Butch’s star rose. Lexington was a core unit

of the Task Force 11 under the command of

Rear Admiral Wilson Brown. On January 31,

1942, she set sail together with two heavy

cruisers and seven destroyers. Her own fighter unit, VF-2 was left behind to convert

to Wildcats. Besides 18 fighters from VF-3

there were 37 Douglass SBD Dauntless

dive bombers and 13 Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers aboard Lexington.

Later two more heavy cruisers and four

destroyers joined TF 11. This formation was

getting ready to attack Rabaul. The American ships were located 450 miles north-east of the target when on February 20,

1942, they were spotted by Japanese Kawanishi H6K Mavis flying boat. It was promptly shot down by Jimmy Thach and his

wingman Ens. Edward Sellstrom. Later

the Lexington fighter pilots added another

H6K to their score. The formation’s position

however was discovered and all available

17 Mitsubishi G4M1 Betty bombers from

4. Kōkūtai were dispatched against it from

Rabaul. Each aircraft was armed with two

250 kg bombs since the air torpedoes were

not available in Rabaul at that time.

The Japanese split into two formations to

increase the chance of finding the Americans. At 16:25 Lexington’s radar detected

the first group of nine G4M1 47 miles away.

16 out of 18 Wildcats were sent to combat.

O’Hare and his wingman Lt.(jg) Marion Dufilho were also airborne. This pair however

was ordered to circle around the ship. Fist

nine Bettys were annihilated. Only four

made it to Lexington but failed to score any

bomb hit on the wildly maneuvering ship

and were shot down on their return flight

– two of them even by Dauntlesses. Not

a single crew member from this G4M1

group survived. The American losses were

two Wildcats and a pilot. They were shot

down by Bettys’ rear gunners with their 20

mm cannons when they approached straight from behind without any maneuvering.

During the photo shoot in Hawaii in April 1942 kill

markings were painted on both sides of the fuselage.

December 2022

Butch O’Hare at the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat’s tail.

Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command


Butch O’Hare and Jimmy Thach at Kaneohe base,

April 10, 1942. Note details of the propeller in the


This time eight G4M1 approached from the

opposite side, 30 miles away but coming in

fast. Butch and Dufilho were sent against

them-no one else was available at that moment. Soon it turned out that O’Hare would

remain alone. Dufilho’s guns jammed, and

he could not fire a single shot. O’Hare did

not attack fast flying bombers from rear

but from above and astern. His four 12.7

mm caliber machine guns had 450 rounds

each. He performed deflection shooting

and took full advantage of his thorough air

gunnery training. His bursts hit the Japanese bombers with such accuracy that he

shot off the engine out of one of them! He

attacked the Japanese formation four times

until he ran out of the ammunition. Thanks

to his actions only four bombers made it to

Lexington. One of them, heavily damaged,

attempted a suicidal attack. It did not hit the

ship however, neither did the bombs from

the other Bettys.

O’Hare was convinced that he had hit seven

bombers, six of them shot down. Officially

he was credited with five kills which corresponds to the actual records. Four aircraft

were destroyed immediately, fifth one made

emergency landing on the water on its return flight. Butch damaged another two there were the only two out of 17 dispatched

that made it home. The Japanese reported

one cruiser or destroyer sunk and setting

the aircraft carrier on fire. They claimed

eight Wildcats shot down. Gunners of the

second group of bombers for example reported several kills during the repeated

Butch’s attacks-even though he attacked

alone. His Wildcat was hit by a single Japanese bullet in the fuselage-another one,

into the port wing came from his own AA

defense. O’Hare piloted F4F-3 BuNo. 4031

marked F-15. After the return to the port

this aircraft was transferred to VF-2 and

remained on board of Lexington. During the

Battle of the Coral Sea, it landed on USS

INFO Eduard