Designed in 1938, the Vought F4U-1 ‘Corsair’ would become the greatest American-built carrier fighter of World War II. It would also have the longest production run of any piston-engine fighter in history.
The first Corsair was built in 1940, and by the time the last Corsair came off the production line in December 1952, a total of 12,571 examples of the type had been built. F4U stands for “fighter, 4th in series from Vought,” and the ‘U’ was the letter assigned by the U.S. Navy to all aircraft built by Vought. The distinctive “bent-wing” design would forever characterize the Corsair, making it one of the most easily-recognizable airplanes of all time.
Almost all of the early Corsairs were given to U.S. Marine Corps squadrons, who flew them from narrow landing strips on islands scattered across the Pacific. Thanks to Baa Baa Black Sheep, a television series that aired in the mid-1970’s, the most well-known of these squadrons was VMF-214, the ‘Black Sheep Squadron’.
In order to simplify the logistics pipeline in the fleet, the U.S. Navy did not use the Corsair widely on its carriers until late 1944. However, four F4U-2 night fighter Corsairs of VF(N)-101 were aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Flintlock in late January 1944.
Following Operation Flintlock, several Corsair squadrons were assigned to Kwajalein Atoll until the end of the war, operating from both Roi Island and Kwajalein Island.
The Corsairs were tasked with the defense of Kwajalein Atoll, and attacking other atolls and islands which had been bypassed by the Americans but still held Japanese garrisons. They also served as escorts for bombers attacking the same bypassed atolls and islands.
The aircraft graveyard off Mellu Island has the wreck of one Corsair, and it is BuNo 56267. The framework on the canopy is what we usually associate as a “F4U-1A” version of the Corsair.
In June 1945 the plane was transferred to Combat Aircraft Service Unit (Forward) #20, or CASU-F-20, which was based on Roi Island. This plane was stricken by CASU-F-20, and it was dumped into the lagoon near Mellu Island on June 30th. How and why it ended up at Roi for disposal, instead of being disposed of at Majuro Atoll, remains a tantalizing mystery.
(Text by Dan Farnham)
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