F6F Hellcat – Philippines 1944, Edward M. Young

F6F Hellcat – Philippines 1944, Edward M. Young

The battles over the Philippines were the most intense fought by the US Navy during the Pacific War, with around one thousand US carrier aircraft facing a similar number of Japanese Navy and Army aircraft, while at the same time having to fight off the first major kamikaze attacks. This book looks at the main US fighter of the campaign – the Grumman F6F Hellcat.

We start with a series of battle narratives, each told from the American perspective, and largely showing US units achieving a significant number of victories at limited cost. We then move onto the background to the campaign. This chapter starts with a brief overview of the war to that point, the Japanese need to defend the Philippines and the American decision to attack. Next comes a look at the state of the competing air forces. This is where we begin to see the advantages held by the Americans. Although the Japanese would be operating from land bases while the Americans relied on carriers at least at first, the Japanese had suffered crippling losses in early battles – the Navy losing massive numbers of experienced airmen at the battle of the Philippine Sea, while the Army had suffered similar losses on New Guinea. The Japanese were thus forced into an emergency training programme, bringing men to the front before they were really ready, while the Americans were able to give their pilots much more extensive training. The newly trained American aviator of 1944-45 was much better trained than their Japanese equivalents (although the eyewitness accounts tend to agree that the Japanese were skilful and determined pilots, but poor shots – perhaps demonstrating where their training was most rushed). However this was fortunate – one early surprise here was that most of the US naval fighter squadrons fighting over the Philippines were either novices or inexperienced, an inevitable consequence of the massive increase in size of the US carrier fleet.

Chapter Four looks at the development of the F6F, an aircraft that had originally only been ordered in case the F4U Corsair didn’t live up to expectations. This was fortunate, as the early Corsair wasn’t really suitable for carrier operations. The prototype F6F was given a more powerful engine, and became a very effective naval fighter – a candidate for the best of the war.

The Art of War chapter looks at the aerial tactics used by the US Navy. This included doctrine for the missions fighters were expected to perform (combat air patrol, escort and offensive sweeps), how to attack from the side (weaving in using an ‘S’ shaped path), above, front or stern, how to recognise enemy aircraft and use that to decide where to aim,

The final chapter looks at the combat over the Philippines. This fell into two very different categories. The first was the conventional air combat over the Philippines, where the Japanese put up unexpectedly fierce resistance. October 1944 was the US Navy’s most intense period of aerial combat of the entire war, but it was still the sort of fighting they had trained for. The second category was the defence against the kamikaze, with the first attack coming on 25 October. This forced the US Navy to react to an entirely new form of attack, and one that proved to be far more effective than conventional attacks on the US fleet.

I like the balance of this book. Some aircraft in combat type books get bogged down in chapter after chapter of eyewitness accounts of individual battles, but here we get far more background information, including some fascinating material on the US Navy training. However we still get a sizable combat chapter, covering the fighting over the Philippines, the massive battle of Leyte Gulf, and the defensive battles against the Kamikaze.

1 – In Battle
2 – Setting the Scene
3 – Path to Combat
4 – Weapon of War
5 – Art of War
6 – Combat

Author: Edward M. Young
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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