An “ace in a day” feat that earned 2Lt Jefferson DeBlanc, a USMC F4F Wildcat pilot from VMF-112, the Medal of Honor.
Ruggedly built and well-armed, the F4F’s performance was inferior to the Japanese Zero-sen, yet in the air battles between the US Navy/USMC and the IJN the Wildcat pilots more than held their own against some of the finest naval aviators in the world.
A claim confirmed by the action on Jan. 31, 1943 that saw 2Lt Jefferson DeBlanc, a USMC pilot from VMF-112, claiming two Type 0 Observation seaplanes and three Zero-sens shot down over Vella Gulf while protecting a flight of SBD dive-bombers.
An “ace in a day” feat that earned him the Medal of Honor.
As explained by Edward M. Young in his book F4F Wildcat South Pacific 1942–43, at 1500 hrs on that day, VMF-112 sent off two divisions of Wildcats to escort SBDs and TBFs on a mission to bomb Japanese shipping in Vella Gulf, between Vella Lavella and Kolombangara Islands north of Guadalcanal. Two F4Fs had to turn back, and the remaining six split into two flights, with two aircraft climbing to provide high cover while DeBlanc led four on as close escort.
As the dive-bombers finished their runs and regrouped for the return flight, they came under attack from Type 0 Observation seaplanes. DeBlanc saw two “Petes,” flying in trail, closing in on the SBDs. With his wingman, SSgt James Feliton, providing cover, DeBlanc attacked the trailing floatplane, coming in from the “six o’clock” position and setting it on fire. DeBlanc then went after the lead “Pete,” again from behind. He saw flames trailing from his target following his first burst, after which the floatplane made a slow climbing turn to the right and then exploded.
Despite being low on fuel, DeBlanc and Feliton remained with the SBDs, fending off attacks from Zero-sens. DeBlanc claimed three of the fighters shot down before he was forced to bail out of his badly damaged fighter. Feliton also had to take to his parachute. With aid from coastwatchers and the Solomon Islands police force, both DeBlanc and Feliton returned to Guadalcanal 13 days later. For his actions, DeBlanc was awarded the Medal of Honor.
F4F Wildcat South Pacific 1942–43 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Gareth Hector via Osprey and NARA