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Book Review
Hellcat Aces of VF-9
F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-9, Aircraft of the Aces * 119
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

OSPREY PUBLISHING continues their AIRCRAFT OF THE ACES series with F6F HELLCAT ACES OF VF-9. The detailed text is authored by Edward M. Young with Jim Laurier as illustrator of the color plates. You can acquire the book in softcover, PDF, and ePub formats.

With the expansion of the US Navy carrier force, new numbered air groups were formed to fill the decks. Carrier Air Group (CAG) Nine was the first, in March 1942, to equip the new Essex class fleet carrier USS Essex, CV-9. This book is about the pilots of the fighter group, Fighting Squadron Nine (VF-9). VF-9 would be the first to receive the new Grumman F6F Hellcat, in which the pilots became the second most successful Hellcat squadron of the war. VF-9's Lt(jg) McWhorter became the first VF-9 ace, the first Hellcat ace (same fight), and the first Hellcat double-ace.

But before the Hellcat and the new state-of-the-art Essex ravaged the Japanese, VF-9 cut their teeth against the Axis in a little-known fight against France, over North Africa, flying the old F4F Wildcat. Flying off the old small carrier USS Ranger, VF-9 pilots fought Vichy French army, naval, and air forces in a short, sharp campaign, pitting Wildcats against the best French fighter, the Dewoitine D.520, and France's most successful fighter, the Curtiss Hawk 75 (American P-36 version specifically built for France).

VF-9 quickly returned to America to meet the Essex and the Hellcat, training hard before taking the fight to Japan in the summer of 1943. For almost two years CAG-9 ranged from the Solomons through the central Pacific and to the shores of Japan. VF-9 racked up kills over the feared Japanese strongholds of Rabual and Truk. It missed the two biggest carrier clashes of the war but was ready for the waves of Kamikaze off Okinawa and taking the fight to Japan.

VF-9 created 20 aces; perhaps the best know is Lt. Eugene Valencia, who used his experience from the first Pacific combat cruise to hone his division - becoming known as "Valencia's Flying Circus" - into a killing machine. The four pilots accounting for 50 kills by the time they rotated home. They were the most successful USN fighter team of the war.

F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-9 is brought to us through 96 pages of three chapters and three supplementary sections:
    1. Organization, Training and First Combat Cruise
    2. Second Combat Cruise
    3. Third Combat Cruise
      Color Plate Commentary

Mr. Young presents VF-9's history in a clear and well organized text. It appears much of the story is gleaned from squadron and Navy records, with some accounts from pilot logs and journals. Especially appreciated are quotes from pilots.

While this is an administrative account, it is mainly a combat story. It reveals how a VF-9 pilot "shot down" a Japanese attacker with his drop tank! We can glean very interesting "gee whiz" trivia, such as the Yokosuka P1Y "Frances" bomber was as fast as the F6F at sea level. How Hellcats could, using flaps at certain speeds, turn with the Zero; Hellcats could follow Zeros through loops! Ace Mike Hadden wrote about why some squadrons and pilots became high-scoring and others did not; it is certainly worth cogitating when trying to claim history's 'best' fighter simply by kills. (The great debate of F4U Corsair verses F6F Hellcat comes to mind.)

Although lacking in detailed 1st-person 'yank-and-bank' stories, the author condensed or paraphrased the action into an engaging narrative in the 2nd- and 3rd-person. There are a few direct quotes, such as a Squadron Leader recalling he wanted to jump overboard when learning he would be in the first strike against Truk! One of the few combat quotes is from Bill Bonneau about that first fighter sweep over Truk;
    We were jumped and I got separated, and every aeroplane I saw had a big red dot on its side. After one knocked my hydraulic system out, I got rid of them by using the navy's oldest tactical maneuver - "Get the Hell out of there"!

During that raid, one section (4 F6Fs) successfully fought off 50 "Zekes" for 30 minutes.

Considering the Hellcat's eventual kill-to-loss ratio of 20-to-1, it is easy to think that our F6F pilots thought themselves invulnerable. Not so according to ace Eugene Valencia following his - and the F6F's - (highly successful) first combat tour;
    When people here [At NAS Pasco in the USA.] say the Japanese fighters are inferior, we get mad. People can say what they want, but we know the Jap Zero is still the best and the fastest aeroplane in the air. Those Japs know they are flying tinder boxes, and they've learned how to handle them...and they are darn good pilots.

It was there that Valencia developed his "mowing machine" tactics that made his section the highest-scoring in USN history. His tactics became known as the "fluid four" fighter tactic. VF-9 missed the two big aerial battles at the Marianas and the Philippine Sea. They missed several of the biggest kamikaze raids. Yet they were in the first attack on Tokyo, attacked Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and fended off kamikaze raids until rotating home two months before the war ended.

The text is fun and very interesting to read. Once I started, I was annoyed with myself that I had not started it earlier! It is not perfect as there are typos: the text erroneously identifies the Ki-46 "Dinah" as a Nakajima; the book heralds VF-9 as both the second- and third-ranking USN fighter squadron of all time.

Photographs, artwork, graphics
USN had many trained camera men equipped with quality cameras and film aboard their ships. This book is full of dozens of high quality black-and-white photographs. There are a few amateur shots and some that are less than studio quality but all are good, useful, and relevant. There is even a full-color image of a Hellcat with the red bordered national insignia just before the Marcus Island raid.

Artist Jim Laurier created 31 color profiles of VF-9 Hellcats, Wildcats, and a Brewster Buffalo. Each profile has a textual narrative in the back of the book.

The sole table is F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-9, listing all 20 VF-9 aces, by name, final rank, Score with VF-9, and Wartime total.

F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-9 was very enjoyable to read. It is full of great facts and data. Mr. Young did a fine job of taking all of the accounts and writing it in an easily read and engaging text. Like I wrote earlier, I am annoyed with myself that I did not start it earlier!

No, it is not perfect as there are typos, but I do not think they should detract from the rest of the book.

Historians, modelers, and enthusiasts of USN naval air, the F6F Hellcat, the Pacific War, and CAG-9 should find this a worthy book for their collection. I certainly recommend it.

We thank Osprey Publishing Ltd. for generously providing this book for review. Please tell them and retailers that you saw it here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: It is full of great facts and data; Mr. Young did a fine job of taking all of the accounts and writing in in an easily read and engaging text. Thirty-one color plates and many great photographs reinforce the text.
Lows: It is not perfect as there are typos.
Verdict: Historians, modelers, and enthusiasts of USN naval air, the F6F Hellcat, the Pacific War, and CAG-9 should find this a worthy book for their collection.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781782003359
  PUBLISHED: Aug 11, 2014
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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