Serving with the United States Navy and the Fleet Air Arm, under the designation Martlet, the Wildcat would be the first US built fighter serving with British forces to
shoot down a German aircraft during the Second World War. The Grumman F4F Wildcat also played a pivotal role in the defence of Wake Island during Japanese attacks in December 1941.
During 1936 the US Navy required a new carrier-based fighter and despite ordering a prototype of Brewster's Model 39, designated XF2A-1, which would become the first monoplane
fighter of the US Navy, a prototype of Grumman's biplane was ordered, designated XF4F-1. However this prototype was cancelled after a earlier Grumman F3F biplane was performing
almost at the level predicted for the XF4F-1 and Brewster's design was showing good promise. Instead the US Navy ordered a monoplane prototype from Grumman on the 28th July 1936,
The XF4X-2 with a 1,050-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine flew on the 2nd September 1937, with a maximum speed of 290 mph and despite proving to be faster then Brewster's
aircraft, it wasn't as good in other areas and on the 11th June 1938 Brewster's XF2A-1 went into production, known as the Brewster F2A Buffalo. However instead of scrapping Grumman's
plane, it was returned to Grumman, and further development was ordered.
A new designation of XF4F-3 was given to the plane and with a more powerful Twin Wasp engine, featuring a two-stage supercharger, and other modifications including a bigger wing span,
the plane flew in March 1939. These changes were found to have improved the planes performance, and before the test programme had ended a second prototype with further changes had
been tested and achieved a maximum speed of 335 mph. As a result on the 8th August 1939 the US Navy ordered 78 production aircraft.
With the gathering storm clouds in Europe, Grumman offered their new plane to other nations, and received orders from both the French and Greek Governments. Flying on the 27th July
and powered by a 1,000-hp Wright R-1820 radial engine, these first Wildcats were to serve with the French Navy, but due to the fall of France by this time, the British Purchasing
Commission took over the order and asked for a small increase in the amount of plane to be supplied. This aircraft was named by the British as the Martlet I.
Serving with the Fleet Air Arm, and first equipping No. 804 Squadron, it was with this squadron that an US built fighter serving with the British Services would first destroy a
German aircraft during the Second World War. The Martlet, as it was known until 1944, when it was re-designated to it's original name of Wildcat, with over 1,000 aircraft serving within
the FAA would stay in service with the Fleet Air Arm throughout the whole of World War 2. During March 1945 the Grumman F4F Wildcat would score is last victories whilst with the FAA,
when four Messerschmitt BF 109s were shot down by a number of Grumman Wildcats.
The first F4F Wildcat to serve with the US Navy flew on the 20th August, these differed from the prototype by being powered by a R-1830-90 engine with a single stage supercharger,
not the two stage supercharger that had powered the prototype, and by December 1940 was equipping Navy Squadrons. Development of the plane progressed and in May 1941 the prototype
XF4F-4 flew, like the B-17 Flying Fortress, this plane benefited from combat experiences of Martlets serving with the Fleet Air Arm. These changes included more armour, self sealing
tanks, folding wings and an increase in armament to six guns from the original four .50 machine-guns. This new version was starting to be delivered during November 1941, and after the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour a number of US Navy and US Marine Corps squadrons were equipped with the Wildcat.
It was during the defence of Wake Island, which was attacked during December 1941, that the Wildcat would show it was a formidable opponent against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, it was also
able to take more damage than the unarmoured Zero. With eight aircraft destroyed on the ground, the remaining four Grumman F4F Wildcats put up a courageous defence of the Island.
Until 1943, when replaced by more advanced aircraft, the F4F Wildcat was involved in all signification action in the Pacific, seeing service in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway,
during operations in Guadalcanal and in North Africa. The F4F-7, a long range reconnaissance plane, with no armament and a bigger fuel tank, was to be the last production version, and by
the time production had ended over 7,500 Wildcats had been built. General Motors would build the majority of these designated as FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcats.
Also see General Motors FM Wildcat