The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter had been previously flown by LT Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare, LCDR John Smith ‘Jimmy’ Thach, LT Noel A. Gayler, and LT Albert ‘Scoop’ Vorse, all Aces and revered naval aviators.
A and T Recovery, a US company that specializes in recovering WWII aircraft, launched a project to recover at least four WWII ‘historically significant’ American aircraft from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
According to USS Lexington Aircraft Recovery Project “The team seeks to recover and present to the American population at least four (potentially more) Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo-bombers and a singularly historic Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter, which had all been on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) that was lost at the Battle of the Coral Sea (8 May 1942).”
The ship was purposely scuttled after being bombed by Japanese aircraft.
The proposal continues;
“During the Battle of the Coral Sea, the USS Lexington (CV-2) was a casualty on the side of the United States of America. She went to sea floor with many historic aircraft on her deck, including a number of Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo-bombers and a significant Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter, which had been previously flown by LT Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare, LCDR John Smith ‘Jimmy’ Thach, LT Noel A. Gayler, and LT Albert ‘Scoop’ Vorse, all Aces and revered naval aviators. O’Hare became the Navy’s first Ace of World War II and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Thach, Gayler and Vorse all survived World War II and all became Admirals. These aircraft were at the forward position of the flight deck, and unmanned, when the ship was scuttled by the destroyer USS Phelps (DD-360). Upon the sinking, these aircraft drifted to the bottom, after detaching from the flight deck of the Lexington (CV-2), finally settling well removed from the main section (hull) of the Lexington (CV-2).
“According to the classification system of the National Air And Space Museum (NASM) of the Smithsonian Institution all of these aircraft are Category I—aircraft which are historically significant by their use in a specific event of note.”
According to Flyer website, A and T Recovery was successful in recovering 40 aircraft from Lake Michigan lost during aircraft carrier qualification flights for new pilots conducted on the lake. That mission was funded by the US National Naval Aviation Museum.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that the enemy’s seemingly relentless advance into the Pacific was checked. It was also the first major US Navy fleet action against Japan and the first naval engagement in history in which the participating ships never sighted or fired directly at each other.
First flown in February 1939, the rugged and heavily armed F4F Wildcat became the Navy/Marine Corps premier fighter until late 1942.
By the time the US entered World War II, the enemy already had felt the Wildcat’s bite; on Christmas Day 1940, two British Martlet Is (the Royal Navy’s designation for the exported F4F-3) downed a German Ju-88 near Scapa Flow, and on Sep. 21, 1941, two Martlet IIs (equivalent of the F4F-4) from HMS Audacity downed a giant Focke Wolf Fw-200 bomber. For the Navy and Marine Corps the Wildcat became a mainstay during the first year of the war. By the end of 1942, Navy and Marine F4F pilots had amassed a 9:1 kill ratio over the Japanese, despite the reputation of the vaunted Mitsubishi A6M Zero. By war’s end the stubby Grumman design had accounted for 1,006 enemy aircraft, and listed 58 aces among its pilots.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy