Pirate of the Sky: F4U Corsair

Pirate of the Sky: F4U Corsair

The A6M Zero banked hard left trying to escape the wrath of the American pilot. In a bright flash, the fuel tank of the Japanese plane exploded as a burst of .50 caliber rounds ripped through the aluminum hull. Ripping the canopy open, the Japanese pilot bailed out of the destroyed Zero, watching as it spiraled towards the ocean below. Sweeping by the pilot soared a blue, US Marine Corps Vought F4U Corsair, one of the greatest aircraft the United States developed during World War II.

An F4U Corsair assigned to one of the squadrons of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 21 pictured on the ground at Guam, a mechanic on the wing, October 12, 1944

Originally designed as a carrier-based aircraft, the Corsair would serve most of its role in World War II with the US Marine Corps on airfields throughout the Pacific. The Corsair became famous as the fighter plane flown by the VMF-214 “Black Sheep” Squadron, led by Maj. “Pappy” Boyington. During World War II the Corsair established an air-to-air combat record of 2,140 victories, while only losing 189, a kill ratio of 11:1. The Corsair was also an excellent close air support platform, dropping over 15,000 tons of bombs (70% of all bombs dropped by US fighter aircraft in the war). The Corsair also saw service with other air forces during the war, primarily the Royal Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

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World War II was not the only conflict the Corsair took part in. During the Korean War, Corsairs provided close air support for US and Allied forces in that conflict. While jet aircraft were the primary means of air-to-air combat in the Korean War, the Corsair proved to be a testy foe for Soviet and North Korean pilots. On 10 September 1952, a MiG-15 engaged a Marine Corps Corsair in air-to-air combat. Despite being outmatched in technology the Corsair downed the MiG, proving the continued worth of the gull-winged fighter.

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The French used the Corsair in its colonial conflicts of the 1950’s. French Corsairs conducted operations in French-Indochina, Algeria, and Tunisia. French Corsairs also provided carrier support during the Suez Crisis in 1957, when French, British, and Israeli forces invaded the Sinai to gain control of the Suez Canal from Egypt. Corsairs flew their final combat missions during the 1969 “Football War” between Honduras and El Salvador. The war saw action between American made P-51 Mustangs, F4U Corsairs, and the C-47 Skytrains.

Look for more information regarding the history of the F4U Corsair during World War II in the future World at War issue #45 with the article “Pappy Boyington and the Black Sheep Squadron” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Senior Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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