Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Guadalcanal: The Beginning of the Long Road Back
Combat in October
A New Crew at Cactus
The Battle for Guadalcanal
Cactus Victory
Post-Guadalcanal Operations
The Marine Corsair Aces of Bougainville and the Central Pacific
The First Corsair Ace
The One and Only 'Pappy'
Other Marine Aces
Marine Corps Aviators Who Received the Medial of Honor
Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger
Special Subjects
'CUB One' at Guadalcanal
The Aircraft in the Conflict
Main Types of Fighters
Japanese Pilots in the Solomons Air War
Researching the Aces' Scores

TIME OF THE ACES: Marine Pilots in the Solomons
by Commander Peter B. Mersky, U.S. Naval Reserve

The morale of the men of the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal soared dramatically in the late afternoon of 20 August 1942. That was when 19 Grumann F4F Wildcats of Captain John L. Smith's Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 223 and 12 Douglas Dauntless SBDs of Major Richard C. Mangrum's Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron (VMSB) 232 landed on yet-uncompleted Henderson Field. Ever since the assault landing on Guadalcanal on 7 August, and subject to unchallenged Japanese air raids from that time, the ground troops wondered, "Where are our planes?" Like so many other soldiers in so many other campaigns, they had little knowledge of the progress of the war elsewhere in the Pacific.

sketch of aircraft
"Fogerty's Fate — 22 Oct 1942." TSgt John Fogerty, an enlisted Marine pilot, was killed this date. Watercolor by Col Albert M. Leahy, USMCR (Ret), in the Marine Corps Art Collection.

From the very beginning of World War II, with the Japanese attack on Wake Island, Marine aircraft, pilots, and crews became immediately and personally involved in the fighting. On Wake, Marine Wildcat pilots of VMF-211 gave a good account of themselves, even after the number of the squadron's flyable planes was reduced to four, and when those planes were damaged beyond repair, all aviation personnel became riflemen. And in the Battle of Midway, Marine pilots for the first time at first hand apprehended the nature of the war in the air as they flew against combat-experienced Japanese aircrews. But by the time of the landings on Guadalcanal and when the war was nearly a year old, only a relatively small number of Marine pilots had seen combat. A few had shot down several Japanese aircraft, although none had scored a fifth kill which would entitle him to be designated an ace. The leading Marine scorer at Midway was Captain Marion Carl, who had downed two Mitsubishi Type "O" Carrier Fighters. The Americans would later call them "Zeros" or "Zekes" and would shoot them down regularly despite the early reputation they received for being a highly maneuverable and deadly adversary in the air. Before he left the Pacific, Captain Carl would add considerably to his score, as would some of the other fighter pilots who landed on Guadalcanal with him on the 20th.

(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division