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.
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.
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
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.