Grumman F6F Hellcat Combat Record

The Grumman F6F Hellcat was the most successful American naval fighter of the Second World War. By the end of the war, the Hellcat was credited with shooting down 5,156 enemy aircraft, 75% of the entire total for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Although it was not a direct development from the earlier F4F Wildcat, there were many similarities, from the basic shape to the type of folding wing used.

Formation of Grumman F6F Hellcats (1 of 2)
Formation of
Grumman F6F
Hellcats (1 of 2)

The Hellcat was a rugged aircraft that the Japanese found very hard to shoot down. Most Japanese aircraft, including the Zero, gained their great manoeuvrability at the expense of armour and resilience. Hellcat pilots reported that most Japanese aircraft they shot down either exploded or caught fire, while the Hellcat could take a great deal of damage and still stay in the air. Navy and Marine Corps Hellcats were credited with 5,156 enemy aircraft shot down (4,947 by carrier based aircraft), 75% of the Navy’s total. This gave them the outstanding kill to lose ratio of 19 to 1 in air to air combat (more were lost to anti-aircraft fire and accidents). The Hellcat shot down more Japanese aircraft, at less cost, that the F4U Corsair, despite that aircrafts slightly superior performance.

The Hellcat entered combat on 31 August 1943, when aircraft from the U.S.S. Essex and U.S.S. Independence took part in a raid against Marcus Island. Two Hellcats were lost to anti-aircraft fire, but no Japanese aircraft managed to get airborne, and several were destroyed on the ground. Over the next eighteen months the Hellcat became the standard fighter on American fleet carriers, before being joined by the Corsair at the end of 1944. The Wildcat was soon relegated to escort carriers, whose smaller decks were not well suited to the Hellcat.

The Hellcat compared well to the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. It was faster at all altitudes and could out climb it above 10,000 feet. At slow speeds the Zero was still more manoeuvrable (although not at higher speeds), giving it a slight chance if the Hellcat was forced to fly slowly on escort duties, but as only around 270 Hellcats were shot down in air to air combat against all types of Japanese aircraft that advantage was of little use. The Hellcat was much more survivable, capable of withstanding damage that would have seen the Zero shot down in flames. Later Japanese aircraft were more capable to dealing with the Hellcat, but they never appeared in great enough numbers to pose a real threat. Over the next year the Hellcat won air superiority over the Pacific islands. It fought over the Solomon Islands, the Marshal Islands and the Mariana Islands, as the Japanese defensive perimeter was slowly forced back towards the home islands.

The Hellcat’s moment of glory came during the Battle of the Philippine Sea of June 1944. 480 F6F Hellcats on fifteen American fighters shot down over 400 Japanese aircraft. On 19 June inexperienced Japanese pilots launched a series of doomed attacks on the American fleet. In the first attack 42 out of 69 aircraft were shot down. A second larger raid of 128 lost over 100 aircraft. During the day the Japanese carrier force lost 240 aircraft out of 370 that had taken part in operation, and another 30 had suffered non-combat damage. Japanese naval aviation never recovered from this blow, soon known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”. A combination of the quality of the Hellcat and the inexperience of the Japanese pilots, hastily thrown into combat after their experienced predecessors had been lost at Midway or over the Solomon Islands, resulted in the one of the most one-sided aerial battles of the Second World War. Never again would the Japanese navy be able to attack the Americans with any hope of success. The losses inflicted by the Hellcat soon forced the Japanese into an act of desperation – the Kamikaze.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (31 March 2007), Grumman F6F Hellcat Combat Record, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_F6F_combat.html

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