The Grumman F6F Hellcat was the principal carrier-based fighter America had in the Pacific War. The Grumman F6F Hellcat helped to seriously damage Japan’s naval power at the Battle of the Philippines in June 1944 and proved to be a highly reliable and potent fighter.
The popularity of the Hellcat can be seen in the number ordered by the military and the number carried by carrier forces. Task Force 38, which fought at Leyte Gulf had 550 carrier-based fighters – nearly all were hellcats. Task Force 58 carried 450 fighters in total on board her carriers. They were all Hellcat F6F-3’s. By carrying such large numbers of the same plane, the carrier force could carry large quantities of spares – but for the same plane as opposed to a multitude of spares for a variety of planes.
America’s initial contact with the Zero had shown them that the Japanese possessed a high quality fighter plane that simply outclassed what they had then. Therefore, the military put in for an equivalent (or better) and the powerful X6F-1 was born. This was a plane that was developed from the F4F Wildcat, the standard fighter carried by the American Navy and a plane that had done so well at the Battle of Midway in 1942. The F6F Hellcat was powered by a 2000 hp Pratt and Whitney engine which gave it superior speed and a faster rate of climbing compared to any other plane carried at sea in the Pacific as the time. It was also a highly manoeuvrable plane and one that could take sustained punishment. It also carried six 0.5 inch Browning machine guns which gave it a powerful punch. The Hellcat could also be used to attack ships as it could be fitted with rockets if needed or it could carry up to 2,000 lbs of bombs.
The F6F Hellcat made its first combat flights on August 31st, 1943. Initially, the plane was based on the ‘Yorktown’, ‘Essex’ and the light carrier ‘Independence’. The Hellcat’s performance and its record of reliability was a great morale booster for the carrier fleet. In 1943, the US Navy received 2,545 Hellcats. In the following year, 6,139 were delivered and in 1945, 3,578 – a total of 12,262 planes.
In total, the Hellcat shot down over 6,000 Japanese aircraft. Thee bulk of these (4,947) were by carrier based Hellcats, the rest were by land based F6F’s or F6F’s flown by the pilots from other nations. It was the F6F Hellcat that participated in the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot‘ in June 1944.