The Hellcat was the main shipboard fighter of the US Navy for the last
two years of the Pacific War. During the Gilbert and Marshall Operations,
the raid on Truk, in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and at Leyte Gulf,
the entire fighter complement of the Fast Carrier Force consisted of F6Fs
- at Philippine Sea Task Force 58 fielded some 450
fighters, all of them being F6F-3s, and at Leyte Gulf,
as Task Force 38, the Carrier Force was equipped with nearly 550
fighters, all of them Hellcats. This illustrates the astounding degree
of standardisation achieved in the American frontline forces, something
made possible only by the vast output of US industry (this standardisation
in its turn aiding efficiency in production).
The F6F was ordered for the US Navy after the
initial shock of Allied contact with superior Japanese fighters, particularly
the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, during the first few months of the Pacific War.
As a result of this experience of combat against higher-performance machines
the Hellcat's specification required the most powerful engine available.
The prototype X6F-1, a progression from the F4F Wildcat which was then
the standard fighter of the Navy, was provided with a 1700hp Wright R-2600
engine, but a month later - on 26 June1942 - it was re-engined with a 2000hp
Pratt and Whitney R-2800 (the birth of the F6F therefore coinciding almost
exactly with the great carrier Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942,
in which its predecessor - the Grumman F4F Wildcat - played
a critical role).
Production F6F-3s made their first combat flights on 31 August and
1 September1943, from the carriers Yorktown (CV10), Essex
(CV9) and the light carrier Independence. The Hellcat
immediately outclassed its opponents, having higher speed and rate-of-climb,
being rugged and well-armoured but at the same time very maneuverable for
such a large machine, and carrying a heavy and effective armament
of six 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns with a large ammunition supply. The
arrival of the F6Fs in late 1943, combined with the deployment of the new
Essex and Independence Class carriers, immediately gave the
US Pacific Fleet air supremacy wherever the Fast Carrier Force operated.
A total of 2,545 Hellcats were delivered in 1943, in 1944 no fewer
than 6,139, and in 1945 a further 3,578 - total production
was 12,272 units.
The Hellcat was eventually credited with destroying more than 6,000
Japanese aircraft - 4,947 of these by F6Fs of the USN carrier squadrons
(209 of the others by land-based Marine Corps F6Fs, and the remainder by
Hellcats of other Allied countries). The F6F's most spectacular exploit
was the destruction of more than 160 enemy aircraft in one day - 19 June
1944 - in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in the aerial massacre
usually known as "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot."
The F6F was also used extensively as a search aircraft and fighter-bomber,
playing a major and increasing part in strikes on Japanese warships and
mercantile shipping in 1944 and 1945. In this role, and for ground
attack, it could carry up to 2,000 lb. of bombs, or be armed with
six 5-inch rockets on underwing pylons.
Aircraft Engineering Corporation
shipborne fighter - also fighter-bomber and night fighter
Weight (F6F-3) Empty 9,042 lb (4,101 kg) / Loaded (clean) 12,186 lb (5,528 kg)
/ Loaded (maximum) 14,250 lb (6,443 kg)
Engine Early production - one 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10
Double Wasp two-row radial From Jan 1944 (final batch of F6F-3s)two-thirds
had a 2,200 hp R-2800-10W (water-injection rating)
Armament 6 x 0.5
inch Browning machine-guns with 400 rounds per gun ( Some F6F-5 and F6F-5N Hellcats had 2 x
20 mm cannon plus 4 x
0.5 inch machine-guns) Underwing attachments for six rockets Centre-section pylons for up to 2,000 lb of bombs
Performance Maximum speed (clean) 376 mph Initial climb (typical) 3,240 feet per minute Service ceiling 37,500 feet Range 1,090 miles
I have gone to some trouble to illustrate
this site with profile drawings of a high standard, but please be warned
that (for several reasons) there is no consistency at all - at least as
between one page and another of the site - as regards the scale
of these drawings.
source for the above data is - Bill Gunston's "Combat Aircraft
of World War II" (Salamander, London 1978) The F6F profile drawing is
reproduced, with thanks, from - "Jane's War at Sea 1897-1997
Centennial Edition" (London 1997)