Military Aviation

The Dogfight that led to the birth of the “Thach Weave” maneuver, the defensive counter employed during WWII by all US Navy and USMC fighter pilots when dealing with the Zero´s superior maneuverability

One of the pivotal events in the development of US Navy fighter tactics in World War II took place on Jun. 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway.

One of the pivotal events in the development of US Navy fighter tactics in World War II took place on Jun. 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway.

As told by Edward M. Young in his book F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen Pacific Theater 1942, that morning lieutenant commander (LCDR) John Thach, commanding VF-3 embarked in Yorktown, took off with five other F4F-4s as escort to VT-3´s TBD Devastators on their way to attack the Japanese carrier force. Approaching their targets, the formation ran into the Zero-sen combat air patrol, which immediately dove to attack the US Navy formation, shooting down one Wildcat from Thach´s division of four.

Thrown onto the defensive, Thach led his two remaining Wildcats in a series of evasive maneuvers as the Zero-sens swarmed around them. He decided to try out the Beam Defense tactic he had worked out before the war began and that he and his wingman, ENS Robert “Ram” Dibb, had practiced.

Sending Dibb out to his right, and with LT Brainard Macomber clinging closely onto his wing, Thach waited for his opportunity.

As Thach recalled years later, “I got a shot at one or two of them and burned them. One of them made a pass at my wingman, pulled out to the right and then came back. We were weaving continuously, and I got a head-on shot at him. Just about the time I saw this guy coming, “Ram” said “There´s a Zero on my tail”. He didn´t have to look back because the Zero wasn´t directly astern, but at about 45 degrees, beginning to follow him around. This gave me the head-on approach I desired. I was mad because, here, this poor little wingman who´d never been in combat before – in fact he had had very little gunnery training – and was experiencing his first time aboard a carrier, was about to have a Zero chew him to pieces. I probably should have decided to duck under this Zero, but I lost my temper a little bit and I decided I´m going to keep my fire going into him and he´s going to pull out, which he did. He just missed me by a few feet, and I saw flames coming out of the bottom of his airplane”.

Thach´s maneuver worked as well as he had hoped. Dubbed the “Thach Weave” by LCDR James Flately, who successfully employed the tactic during the Battle of Santa Cruz, Thach´s maneuver became the standard defensive counter employed by all US Navy and US Marine Corps fighter pilots when dealing with the Zero-sen´s superior maneuverability.

F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen Pacific Theater 1942 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Gareth Hector via Osprey

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.

Recent Posts

Legendary F-14 pilot Joe “Hoser” Satrapa tells the story of the gun kill on an F-15 that almost sold Tomcats to Japan

Joe “Hoser” Satrapa No dissertation on present-day section tactics, or on naval aviation in general,… Read More

18 hours ago

Marine Infantry Rifleman tells why (except the VH-60 White Hawks flown by HMX-1) the USMC doesn’t use the Black Hawk Multirole Helicopter

The Black Hawk Multirole Helicopter The Black Hawk is the military's most versatile helicopter, suited… Read More

18 hours ago

USAF reveals AGM-183A ARRW with live warhead in Guam during hypersonic weapon training

AGM-183A ARRW with live warhead in Guam Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) on Feb. 27,… Read More

2 days ago

Operation Tamouré: the only time a French Air Force Mirage IV strategic bomber dropped a live nuclear bomb

The Mirage IV The Suez crisis in October 1956 prompted France to look into setting… Read More

2 days ago

Video features former Viggen pilot explaining how JA-37 fighter jocks could achieve radar lock on SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy planes

JA-37 Viggen fighter jocks achieving radar lock on SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy planes The… Read More

3 days ago