News | June 22, 2023

F4U Corsair vs A6M Zero-sen, Rabaul and the Solomons 1943-44

By Michael John Claringbould, Osprey Publishing, Ltd.

Review by Cmdr. Peter Mersky, USNR (Ret.)

During World War II, certain pairings developed—the Battle of Britain, Spitfire vs. the Bf-109, 1944-45, the Mustang vs. the Me-262 jet, and in the Pacific, on the Solomon Island Chains, 1943-44, the F4U Corsair and the Zero. The big-crank-winged Corsair, the new aircraft in the American approach to the naval fighter, quickly established itself against the veteran Mitsubishi Zero that had opposed Allied carrier fighters from the beginning starting with Pearl Harbor.

By 1943, starting with the later Guadalcanal campaign, Lae and Bougainville, the U.S. squadrons, especially the growing cadre of Marine Corps, began bringing the new F4Us into the arena to fly against the still-dangerous Zero models then in use, namely the A6M2 and A6M3 (with clipped wings to enhance maneuverability), especially when flown by still-competent Japanese aviators who had survived the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway in May and June, respectively.

This new book, No. 119 in Osprey’s popular “Duel” series from Australian researcher and artist Michael John Claringbould, places these two widely differing fighters in sharp focus with photos and meticulous profiles supporting fact-filled text that altogether create an encyclopedic look at the rapidly developing air war in the Pacific.

As noted in my earlier column in the Winter 2022 issue of Naval Aviation News, this author’s Pacific Profiles No. 4 and 5 deal with the mostly Marine squadrons that flew F4U-1/1A Corsairs in the roughly two years that included the Solomons campaign, along with a single Navy unit, Fighter Squadron (VF) 17, that flew from shore bases in the wide-ranging campaign.

The F4U-1 was easily identified by its characteristic “bird cage” cockpit canopy, while the F4U-1A featured a “bubble-shaped” canopy that was clear of most of the earlier frames, affording better visibility. The Navy took a year to get comfortable with its big blue and powerful gull-winged fighter around a carrier. Its long nose made the approach to the ship’s flight deck and following landing difficult for new aviators. Its companion F6F Hellcat was much more forgiving to less-experienced pilots.

And as I noted, for those readers who wonder about the difference between the Pacific Profile books and Osprey’s books, the first two books offer more details of individual aircraft color schemes and markings, while the Osprey series gives more attention to the details of engagements and the fighting that took place.