Aviation History

The story of Jefferson DeBlanc, the USMC F4F pilot that with his Wildcat low on fuel escorted SBDs and TBFs and shot down 5 Japanese aircraft before bailing out of his stricken F4F

The F4F Wildcat

The US Navy and US Marine Corps (USMC) went to war in December 1941 with the tubby Wildcat, the first of Grumman’s famed ‘cats’, as its principal carrier fighter.

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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.

Jefferson DeBlanc, USMC F4F Wildcat “ace in a day” pilot

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.

Medal of Honor

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

In early November 1942 VMF-112 arrived on Guadalcanal from Nouméa. One of the young aviators in the squadron was 2Lt Jefferson DeBlanc, who went into combat with fewer than the normal 40 hours of flying time considered necessary for a pilot to become
familiar with the Wildcat. Unfazed by this, DeBlanc claimed two “Betty” bombers
shot down on Nov. 12 on only his second combat mission. On Jan. 31 he would claim
five aircraft destroyed while defending USMC SBDs and TBFs. The latter feat earned DeBlanc the Medal of Honor. (DM-SD-03-09572, NARA)
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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