Grumman F7F Tigercat

Operational History - Military

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The F7F Tigercat continued the cat-named series of fighters by the Grumman company. The F7F was developed during the Second World War but would be cleared for service to late to take part in that conflict, opening the door for full operational use in the forthcoming Korean War. In the end, the system would prove successful, particularly as a nightfighter, and provide American forces with a capable land-based or carrier based piston-alternative.

The twin-engine Tigercat was being developed by Grumman as early as 1941 with the intention of it becoming the hardest hitting fighter-bomber available to all carrier groups. With reinforced substructures and folding wings, the system was primed for storage and operations aboard the Midway-class carriers, though in the end, the aircraft would become the heaviest of all carrier aircraft ever utilized. Power came from the two Pratt & Whitney radials and provided the aircraft with 2,100 horsepower at speeds in excess of 435 miles per hour. Initial systems were armed with the popular array of 4 x 20mm cannon while later variants could be seen pulling multirole duties with the use of rockets and bombs.

The United States Marine Corps would be the only branch of American service to utilize the F7F Tigercat in its production history. Despite missing action in the Second World War, F7F Tigercats would be one of the few Marine units stationed in Japan when fighting broke out on the Korean Peninsula. The F7F would prove its worth from land and sea operations throughout the war, fitting the role of nightfighter to good effect.

In the nightfighting role, the Tigercat was beginning to be armed with the latest in the line of powerful nightfighting radars in the nose. As such, this added another crewmember along with the radar housing and cost te airframe some fuel capacity, shrinking the combat range of the aircraft down a bit. Nose-mounted armaments were also removed. With other variants, the series saw improvements in the way of powerplants and subtle aerodynamic redesigns that assisted in making the craft ever more the consummate fighter. Reconnaissance and electronic warfare variants followed later on.

In the end, the powerful Tigercat might have made a difference in Pacific operations in the Second World War. As luck would have it, the system would be delayed long enough for it to miss that conflict altogether. With the war in Korea a short six years away, the F7F Tigercat would not have to wait too long to see combat action in the hands of the United States Marines. To this day, the Tigercat is considered a classic warbird - most likely due to its power and handling capabilities.

Tigercats in Korea

During the early 1940's, there were a large number of outstanding aircraft designs that made it to operational status. However, there were some that could have made a difference, but were produced too late to fly in World War II. One of those twin engine fighter types was the Grumman F7F Tigercat. The F7F saw post-war duty in the all-weather business but was to be denied the opportunity of fighting in combat. During the early stages of the Korean War, the tigercat contributed heavily to the defeat of North Korean military forces.

During July 1950, VMF (N)-542, based out of MCAS El Toro, was alerted that they would be sent over to the Far East to support Marine and other UN forces in Korea. This triggered an increase in the training regimen among the aircrews in an effort to be ready for combat as soon as they hit Japan. At the time, squadron records show that F7F-3N squadron strength was set at 21 aircraft. However, there were some adjustments to be made. From Aug. 12th to Aug. 25th, some of the high-time Tigercats were transferred out and newer ones brought in. When the dust settled, the squadron was up to full strength with twenty-four F7F-3Ns.

On Aug. 26th the squadron loaded aboard the USS CAPE ESPERANCE for the voyage to Japan. The trip was fast because of the urgent need for the squadron in Korea. The carrier docked at Piedmont Pier, Yokosuka Navy Yard on September 11th, and tension mounted as the aircraft were off-loaded and prepared to be ferried to Itami AB. The Marine amphibious assault at Inchon look place on Sept. 15th and four days later, six Tigercats arrived at the newly liberated Kimpo Air Field. They had launched from Itami and performed a reconnaissance mission north of Seoul before landing at Kimpo, and there was no doubt they were ready to fly combat missions.

The F7F-3Ns were not alone when they arrived in Japan. About the same time, a small detachment of six FTF-3Ps arrived to shoulder some of the responsibility of photo reconnaissance for the Marines. However, there had already been a small group of F4U-5P's (two aircraft and four pilots) that arrived with the first Marine units in July (Marine Air Group 33). Due to major cutbacks in funding, the photo recce business all but went away in the Corps, and each major Air Wing had only a small detachment with them that did not carry a squadron designation. The two recce Corsairs did most of the photo mapping for the Inchon Landing, having flown very long missions out of Itami AB escorted by F-82G Twin Mustangs, to carefully photograph the various levels of the tides at certain hours of the day. The results of this mission had a lot to do with the Marine's success at Inchon.

After the Korean war a new use for Tigercats surfaced. The -2Ns had been used for drone control, and all remaining -2Ns were redesignated -2Ds, modified with an F8F-type canopy over the rear cockpit for the drone control pilot. Marine land-based squadrons continued to operate Tigercatsin diminishing numbers, with VMF(N)s 513 and 542 flying night interdiction and fighter missions in the early months of the Korean conflict. As they were withdrawn from the war, Tigercats were gradually phased out, with the -2Ds serving into the mid-1950s.