Grumman Wildcat fighter plane could not compete on performance with the Japanese
Zero, but those shortcomings were more than made up by the flying skills of the
American pilots and the ruggedness of the airplane. The plane was fitted with
some armor lowering pilot casualty rates. Although built as a carrier aircraft,
most of its service in the Solomon Islands battles was off hastily prepared and
hastily repaired airfields. Japan was already feeling the effects of the loss
of many of its best pilots in the Battle of Midway while American forces still
had its pool of well-trained pilots in established Army, Navy and Marine squadrons.
The Wildcat operated from Henderson Field, which in 1942 was still under
attack from Japanese ground forces and medium range bombers coming down the ěslotî.
Make-do was the order of the day as the three flying services flew from Henderson
Field as units of the ěCactus Air Forceî. For the US Forces in the beginning,
mainly Marines, it was a do-or-die situation and they had to hold on until reinforcements
could be brought in. They fought for control of the skies over Henderson Field
as well as attacking Japanese ground positions, landPeliui ing craft, transport
ships, and combat vessels. Wildcats in their hands did the job.
in 1943 Gaudalcanal was secured and the US Armed Forces moved north up the Solomon
Islands chain continually pushing the Japanese back. Much war equipment was leftÝ
behind, especially those items needing repair and not immediately useful
in the campaign north. Deterioration of the abandoned equipment started quickly
in the hot, humid environment of these tropical islands. What the local natives
didnít take, turned to rust and dust and crumpled beyond salvage value. At the
end of the war, salvers of different nations arrived salvage everything of metal
that still existed. What could have been a real treasure trove of historical value,
was carted off or cut apart for easy transport. The British government had no
plan to memorialize the war by saving relics. A few private citizens gathered
some of the relics and placed them in crude outdoor museums. This badly emasculated
Wildcat has been saved in the Vilu War Museum and Village Cemetery approximately
15 miles northwest of Honiara.