Aviation History

Here’s why an Imperial Japanese fighter pilot’s first encounter with the F6F Hellcat was usually his last

Outperforming the famous Japanese A6M Zero, the F6F Hellcat achieved an amazing 19:1 kill ratio, downing 5,156 enemy aircraft in just two years, accounting for 75 percent of the Navy’s aerial victories during the war.

One of the top fighters of World War II, Grumman’s F6F Hellcat went from the experimental stage to operational employment in less than 18 months. Its combat operations began in August 1943 in an attack on Marcus Island by Fighting Squadron (VF) 5 aboard USS Yorktown (CV-10). Outperforming the famous Japanese A6M Zero, the F6F achieved an amazing 19:1 kill ratio, downing 5,156 enemy aircraft in just two years, accounting for 75 percent of the Navy’s aerial victories during the war.

But what was the first encounter between an Imperial Japanese fighter pilot and the legendary Hellcat?

‘Ensign Robert Duncan was deployed on the USS Yorktown in Fighting Squadron 5 in the fall of 1943. This rookie naval aviator was the first to secure a victory against the vaunted A6M Zero in a F6F Hellcat,’ says Maryellen Reilly, a WWII expert, on Quora.

‘Duncan’s second chance at aerial combat involved a A6M Zero flown by Japanese Ace Warrant officer Toshiuki Sueda with nine victories.

‘Sueda was very good at luring F4F Wildcats into a climbing loop and when the Wildcat stalled and fell away, Sueda would wing over and destroy the Wildcat.

‘Misidentification is a bitch, and Sueda assuming his opponent was a Wildcat went into his climbing loop and Duncan with his spanking new F6F Hellcat with a 2000 HP P&W R-2800 engine followed Sueda into his climb and blew him out of the sky.

‘With it’s speed, armament and armoured protection the Grumman F6F Hellcat was a rude awakening for the Imperial Japanese pilots.’

Reilly concludes;

‘The question was about their first encounter…. It was usually their last encounter.’

Late in the war the Navy conducted evaluations of Allied and captured Axis fighters. The Hellcat ranked at the top in most categories, making it one of the best fighters in the war, an amazing accomplishment considering the very short design-to-production period. In just 30 months, 12,275 Hellcats were produced by Grumman at its Bethpage Plant Number 3, much of the factory still being constructed as some of the first F6Fs were being built inside.

Ensign Robert Duncan of Fighting Squadron 5 became the first ace of the USS Yorktown on February 16 of 1944 when he shot down his fifth Japanese plane. Duncan would go on to shoot down two more before the war’s end.

Photo credit: Osvaldo 201 via Live War Thunder and Marion Illinois History Preservation

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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