The Grumman F4F Wildcat was the most modern fighter available to the US Navy and Marine Corps for the first eighteen months of the war in the Pacific. It was replacing the Brewster F2A in Navy service when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor pitched the United States into the Second World War. Like every other allied aircraft in the Pacific, the Wildcat found itself outclassed and initially outnumbered by the Mitsubishi Zero, a faster, more manoeuvrable aircraft.
Despite this, the Wildcat continued in service for the entire war, ending up with a kill to loss ratio of around 6 to 1 in its favour. Not every Japanese aircraft was a Zero, and it was the torpedo bombers that posed the real threat to American aircraft carriers at Midway or in the Coral Sea. At every carrier battle between Pearl Harbor and the middle of 1943, including the battles off Guadalcanal, the battle of the Coral Sea and the battle of Midway, the F4F Wildcat was the only fighter available to the U.S. Navy. It also played a crucial part in the battle of Guadalcanal, operating from Henderson Field during the heat of the fighting.
The Wildcat also served in the Royal Navy, as the Martlet. Here it helped fill the need for a fast modern fighter. Later in the war the Wildcat in British and American service played an important role on the escort carriers that helped win the battle of the Atlantic by making the seas too dangerous for the U-boats. In all nearly 8,000 Wildcats and Martlets were produced before production ended in 1945.