The completion and utilization of this airfield by the Japanese
would enable them to threaten the supply lines that stretched
across the Pacific from the United States to Australia and
New Zealand. Should the enemy succeed in severing this
lifeline, any allied counterstrike in the South Pacific would
be delayed indefinitely and would open the way for an assault
against Australia itself. Indeed, the Imperial Japanese
Navy pressed for just such an assault, but the Army resisted
the Navy's plan, pleading insufficient manpower. Until
the final days of the war, the Japanese Army would place a
higher priority on operations in China and the presumed threat
of its long-time enemy Russia than against the greater threat
posed by the American offensives in the South and Central
Pacific. The assault in the southern Solomons marked
the opening of the protracted and bitter campaign for the
island group that lay across the Coral Sea to the northeast
The struggle for Guadalcanal quickly became a question of
which side would be able to reinforce its strength on the
island as the Japanese tried to build sufficient forces to
drive the invaders into the sea, and the Americans clung stubbornly
to their perimeter around the vital airfield. It was imperative
for the Americans to complete the airfield and then to get
enough aircraft on the island to defend against the daily
Japanese air raids and to cut the seaborne lines of communication
that allowed the enemy to land his reinforcements virtually
The first American squadrons to reach Henderson Field were
VMF-223 and VMSB-232. The airfield was named in honor
of Major Lofton R. Henderson, the commanding officer of VMSB-241
who fell while leading his squadron at Midway,. These
squadrons arrived on 20 August and were followed ten days
later by VMF-224 and VMSB-231. The constant grind of
combat, the appalling living conditions and a host of exotic
tropical maladies quickly sapped the strength of the squadrons
on the island, but the Americans were determined to hold Guadalcanal.
As a result, a constant stream of groups and squadrons were
dispatched to the South Pacific, including MAG-11, of which
VMF-112 was a component. Despite the relatively brief
training period of virtually all the squadrons of the group,
events in the Solomons required its dispatch into the combat
area. All things considered, its combat readiness would
have to have been considered hardly more than marginal at
best, but the Japanese were not disposed to give the allies
a respite. MAG-11, minus aircraft, sailed from San Diego on
15 October 1942 aboard S.S. Lurline, bound for Noumea.
As MAG-11 arrived at its destination, the former luxury
liner was unloaded, and in place of the men of the newly arrived
group, the tired survivors of the ordeal of Guadalcanal rapidly
took their places as the ship prepared to return them to San
Diego. The first elements of the squadron, ten aviators
led by Major Fontana, arrived at Henderson Field on 2 November.
Expecting to see combat at any moment, Fontana and his men
were granted nine days to become somewhat acclimated to their
new, strange surroundings before they were committed to action.
Despite their initial grace period, their arrival proved to
be timely because they were in place for the climactic, three-day
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal fought on 13, 14 and 15 November.
They were a welcome addition to the hard-pressed "Cactus
Air Force," as the aviation units based on the island
were collectively known. The coming engagement was a
battle that involved all elements of the forces of their respective
nations. While the action is remembered primarily for
thunderous, bloody and confused naval engagements during the
nights of the 13th and the 15th, it was the power of the Cactus
Air Force that smashed the largest enemy convoy to attempt
to bring reinforcements and supplies to the island.
It was these same aircraft that administered the coupe de
grace to H.I.J.M.S. Hiei, the first Japanese battleship to
be sunk by American forces in World War II.
Their first combat did not go well for VMF-112. Some
of its members were among those scrambled from Henderson Field
to intercept an enemy air raid against the supply ships that
arrived at Guadalcanal shortly after dawn on 11 November,
loaded with much-needed supplies and Marine aviation technical
personnel. Heavy cloud cover caused the intercepting WILDCATs
to miss the Japanese aircraft. Unfortunately, these
same clouds afforded the escorting enemy fighters an opportunity
to ambush a portion of the American fighter force, and the
Japanese made the most of it. They shot down a half-dozen,
killing four pilots, including Master Technical Sergeant William
H. Cochran, Jr., of VMF-112.
Cochran's death would be avenged that same afternoon, however.
The enemy was desperate to smash the American reinforcement
convoy. The morning attack had scored some near misses against
the transports but had failed to inflict serious damage, but
more attacks would follow. The afternoon strike was
composed of torpedo-armed land attack aircraft and their fighter
escorts. Provided with ample warning by the coast watchers
and by radar, the Americans prepared to receive the enemy.
Sixteen American fighters waited at high altitude, and Major
Fontana led half that number at a lower altitude. The
same clouds that had so badly hampered the effectiveness of
the intercepting fighters earlier in the day again allowed
the enemy to approach their targets unseen. However,
when they emerged from their milky shield at 500 feet, they
were some distance from their intended victims.
The F4Fs led by the commander of VMF-112 were the first
to get at the enemy aircraft, but those from high altitude
were able to gain tremendous speed in their dives and engaged
shortly after those under Fontana. The clouds had forced
the escorting enemy fighters to remain close to the strike
aircraft, thereby depriving them of any altitude advantage.
At altitudes that ranged from 50 to 500 feet, the American
fighters inflicted grievous wounds on the enemy. Amid
the black bursts from the ships' heavy anti-aircraft batteries
and glowing tracers from their lighter automatic weapons,
the fighters sent one Japanese aircraft after another splashing
headlong into Sealark Channel, leaving only scattered flotsam
and streaks of flaming gasoline to mark their graves.
The defending fighters quickly ran out of targets and claimed
two-dozen enemy aircraft destroyed. In addition, the
ships' wildly optimistic gunners claimed a whopping forty-three
enemy aircraft shot down. Actual enemy losses were nowhere
near that high, and most of those that fell were victims of
the American fighters. Despite the wildly enthusiastic
claims, the enemy had, in fact, suffered crippling losses.
Of the sixteen torpedo bombers that had attacked the ships,
eleven were shot down or ditched as they attempted to stagger
back to their base. Of the five that did manage to return,
many carried dead or wounded crewmen and none ever flew again.
At least one of their escorting fighters was shot down also.
These losses were so severe that the enemy's potent torpedo
armed land attack aircraft were reduced to mere spectators
in the climactic battle to come. Among the squadron's
pilots that led the early scoring were Major Fontana with
three kills in two days and Lieutenant Jefferson J. DeBlanc,
whose victories mounted at a steady pace.
The naval battle opened during the early morning hours of
the 13th, when an outnumbered American surface force collided
headlong with a Japanese force centered around two battleships.
The result was one of the most confused and bloody surface
engagements of the war. In exchange for a Japanese battleship
crippled, a destroyer sunk and several other ships damaged,
the Americans lost four destroyers sunk, a light cruiser scuttled
and a two heavy cruisers heavily damaged. Another damaged
American light cruiser fell victim to a submarine as she attempted
to withdraw from the battle area the following day.
This high price purchased a night free from a Japanese bombardment
of the vital airfield, and the coming of dawn would prove
how costly their failure would be to the enemy.
During the second day of the battle, the fighters of the
Cactus Air Force were heavily engaged in the swirling combats
above the Japanese convoy as it continued southeastward down
the Slot toward the island despite crippling losses it suffered
at the hands of the strike aircraft that swarmed over it.
VMF-112's first mission of what would prove to be a long,
hectic day was an early morning combat air patrol led by Second
Lieutenant Archie G. Donahue, sent aloft in response to a
radar contact. The aircraft detected by the American radar
was an enemy fighter patrol dispatched to cover the battered
Hiei as she struggled to clear the area. Initially,
the Americans were unaware to the serious plight of the enemy
Fearing another attempt to bombard the airfield into impotence,
the wounded battleship received more attention from the Americans
than was warranted. Far from attempting to bring the airfield
under her guns, she was desperately attempting to escape.
Due to her proximity to Henderson Field and the belief that
she was attempting to shell the field, she was the target
of many of the early strikes. Donahue's three F4Fs divided
their time between searching for the enemy aircraft detected
by radar and attempting to provide cover for the strike aircraft
swarming after Hiei. As a result, they failed to notice enemy
aircraft above them until it was almost too late. The
Marines were bounced by five ZEROs, but the enemy's first
pass missed their intended victims, and a fierce fight quickly
developed at low altitude. The enemy paid for the failure
to take advantage of their initially favorable tactical position,
and Donahue and Second Lieutenant Howard W. Bollman each claimed
a ZERO. Emerging from that fight, Donahue's trio joined
with other Marine fighters covering a torpedo strike against
the wounded battleship. Jumped by Japanese fighters
as they made their runs, the torpedo bombers screamed for
help. As the Japanese fighters scattered to hunt the
strike aircraft, they were ambushed by the Marine fighters.
Donahue, Bollman and Second Lieutenant Wayne W. Laird received
credit for a ZERO apiece, with Laird and a pilot from VMF-122
sharing credit for a fourth enemy fighter. Marine claims
amounted to nine in this brief fight. Again, the Japanese
paid a stiff price for their failure to make the most of an
initially advantageous tactical position. Hiei received
more damage from torpedo hits, and her fate was sealed.
As these strikes were taking place, reports were received
from the scouts dispatched northwestward up the Slot to search
for the enemy reinforcement convoy. Correctly determining
the convoy represented a far greater danger to the American
positions on Guadalcanal than the damaged battleship, the
first of several attacks against the transport group was prepared.
At 1100, the first aircraft of a 38-plane strike climbed
into the air above Henderson Field. It circled as the
remainder of the strike aircraft joined into formation and
set off after the enemy. Included in the total were a dozen
fighters, including eight F4Fs of VMF-112 led by Captain Robert
B. Fraser. As the strike force reached the convoy and prepared
to attack, it was attacked from above by the enemy combat
air patrol of a half-dozen ZEROs. The oncoming enemy
fighters were sighted by Second Lieutenant James G Percy,
who alerted Fraser to the danger from above. The Marines
broke upwards into the enemy, setting up a head-on firing
pass for both groups of fighters. The comparatively
lightly armed and armored ZEROs were badly overmatched by
the rugged construction and heavy battery of six 50-caliber
guns of the WILDCATs, and as the formations passed through
each other, several of the enemy were destroyed or damaged.
Throughout the day, the Americans hammered the convoy as
it doggedly continued toward its objective despite the mauling
it received. While some among the Americans may have
questioned the enemy's tactics, none could question the courage
or tenacity of the Japanese. Each strike inflicted more
and more damage. Ships were torn apart by bomb and torpedo
hits, drifted dead in the water with dead men manning their
engineering spaces or limped northwestward back toward their
bases, damaged too heavily to continue. When no enemy
fighters were present to challenge the strike aircraft, which
was most frequently the case, the American fighter escorts
covered the strike aircraft by thoroughly strafing the enemy
to kill or distract the ships' anti-aircraft gunners.
One of the last and heaviest strikes of the day faced some
of the heaviest opposition by enemy fighters. An estimated
sixteen enemy aircraft, equally divided between ZEROs and
float planes were engaged by eight fighters from VMF-112,
again led by Major Fontana, in the vicinity of the convoy.
Staff Sergeant Thomas C Hurst met one of the float planes
in a head-on pass. The sergeant's aim was on target, and his
victim began to emit a trail of smoke. As the two aircraft
neared each other, the enemy aircraft pulled up to deliberately
collide with Hurst's fighter. The impact tore a wing
off Hurst's F4F, but he was able to bail out of the stricken
WILDCAT and was rescued by friendly natives after spending
47 hours in the water. As Hurst dangled beneath his
parachute, he saw the remains of his opponent crash. The remainder
of the Japanese and American aircraft engaged in what Major
Fontana described as "one mass dogfight" in which
the enemy emerged on the short end by a large margin.
VMF-112 claimed six of the float planes and a pair of ZEROs
in exchange for Hurst's F4F.
Darkness finally brought and end to the convoy's ordeal.
By that time, only four transports remained of the eleven
that had sailed so confidently from the Shortlands only a
few days earlier. These four were ordered beached north
of the American positions on Guadalcanal in a final effort
to deliver a portion of the supplies and reinforcements so
badly needed by the Japanese ashore. The following day,
these four were mercilessly bombed, strafed and shelled until
they were little more than gutted wrecks whose remains are
visible today, more than fifty years after the great battle.
In addition to the ships themselves, most of their supplies
were destroyed by the incessant American attacks.
After their November defeat, the Japanese never again made
a serious attempt to drive the American forces from the island.
Instead, they tacitly admitted defeat and began planning to
withdraw their surviving forces from "Starvation Island,"
as Guadalcanal become known among the Japanese. In recognition
of its valor and its contributions to victory during its service
on Guadalcanal, VMF-112 was awarded the Presidential Unit
Citation for the period 7 August through 9 December 1942.
In addition, Major Fontana received a well-deserved Navy Cross
for his outstanding leadership and personal courage during
the critical Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Shortly after the turn of the New Year of 1943, the Americans
began to strike northwestward at the enemy bases and shipping
further to the north in the island chain. On 31 January,
a strike was launched against enemy shipping off the island
of Kolombangara in the Central Solomons. Escorting the
strike was a six-plane division of VMF-112 led by the previously
mentioned Lieutenant DeBlanc. Japanese fighters attempted
to intercept the bombers but were engaged by VMF-112 before
they could intercept the strike aircraft. During the ensuing
fight, two ZEROs were claimed while the remainder was prevented
from interfering with the bombers. As the strike aircraft
recovered from their attacks, they were beset by a number
of RUFEs, the nimble, float-equipped version of the ZERO.
Responding to the calls for help from the strike aircraft,
DeBlanc disengaged from the fight with the ZEROs and, rolling
his aircraft into a dive, attacked the float planes.
The sudden appearance of the WILDCAT in their midst distracted
the RUFEs and allowed the strike aircraft to withdraw without
being molested any further. At this point, DeBlanc could have
joined the bombers as they rapidly departed for Guadalcanal.
Instead, he calculated the odds and elected to stay and fight.
He soon added the scalps of three RUFEs to the three kills,
with which he was credited during the previous two months,
but his aircraft sustained moderate damage in the process,
and he broke off the engagement to set a course for home.
Almost as soon as he was settled on a course for Guadalcanal,
he was jumped by two ZEROs, perhaps survivors of the earlier
melee at higher altitude. DeBlanc flamed the two enemy aircraft,
but his F4F was fatally damaged in return. He bailed
out of his rapidly disintegrating fighter at low altitude
and landed in the water near the Japanese-held island of Kolombangara.
He reached the shore safely and was rescued by friendly natives
who turned DeBlanc and another downed Marine aviator over
to an allied coastwatcher on nearby Vella Lavella. The
two were rescued and returned to Guadalcanal. For his
actions that day, DeBlanc was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The following day, VMF-112 was involved in another stiff
fight when an enemy force of five dive-bombers and thirty
fighters struck American shipping that lay off Savo Island.
The raid cost the Navy U.S.S. DeHaven (DD-469), but in return,
the defending fighters claimed twenty-one of the enemy.
Captain Robert B. Fraser and Lieutenant Gilbert Percy of -112
claimed three and four kills respectively. Both would
become aces with six kills, and Captain Fraser later would
command the squadron.
Within a few days, VMF-112 was withdrawn from Guadalcanal
to Espiritu Santo for a brief respite from the rigors combat
in the Solomons. There it began to transition from the Grumman
F4F-4 WILDCAT that had served it so well during its combat
tour on Guadalcanal to the new Vought F4U-1 CORSAIR, the aircraft
that it would fly for the remainder of its World War II service.
It should be noted that while it is somewhat unusual for a
squadron to transition to a new aircraft in a forward area,
the press of combat over rode the normal course of events.
The superiority of the CORSAIR over the WILDCAT and its Japanese
opponents was so great that virtually all the Marine F4F-equipped
squadrons that remained in the Solomons transitioned to their
new aircraft in the New Hebrides.
During the late spring and early summer, a policy of rotation
of squadron commanders was instituted within Solomons Fighter
Command. As a result, Major Fontana stepped down from
the leadership of VMF-112 on 27 March, and Captain Robert
B. Fraser assumed command the following day. In turn, Major
Herman W. Hansen relieved Captain Fraser on 9 July. After
slightly more than two weeks at the helm of the squadron,
Major Gregory Boyington relieved Hansen on 26 July. Hansen
then relieved Boyington on 12 August and would remain in command
of VMF-112 for more than two years.
Its transition to the CORSAIR completed in May 1943, VMF-112
returned to Henderson Field. Despite the fact that Guadalcanal
was firmly in American hands, the Japanese made several attempts
to crush allied air power there. The first of these major
enemy blows fell in early April while the squadron was in
the process of re-equipping with its new aircraft, but the
enemy attempted several heavy raids during the next few weeks.
These attacks were dealt with severely by the aircraft of
the Solomons Fighter Command, and VMF-112 continued the impressive
string of victories it had begun the previous November.
A major Japanese attack against Guadalcanal occurred on 13
May. It was intercepted near the Russells by fifteen
CORSAIRs of VMF-112 and -124. In the fight that followed,
fifteen Japanese aircraft were destroyed in exchange for the
loss of three American fighters. The high scorer of
the engagement was Captain Archie Donahue of the Wolfpack,
who destroyed four ZEROs. Added to the single kill he
recorded the previous November, Donahue became the squadron's
first CORSAIR ace.
On 7 June, several allied squadrons, including VMF-112,
which claimed seven of the 23 enemy aircraft shot down, intercepted
an enemy raid of 112 aircraft. During this engagement, Lieutenant
Sam Logan went to the rescue of a New Zealand P-40, which
had been surrounded by a number of enemy aircraft. The
Lieutenant was successful in his rescue attempt, but his F4U
was set ablaze by the ZEROs' fire, and he bailed out. Logan
was riding a good 'chute toward a water landing when one of
the ZERO's initiated a firing pass at the helpless American
who presented an inviting target as he dangled beneath the
canopy of his parachute. The enemy missed on this first and
several subsequent firing passes, then changed tactics. He
attempted to slice Logan apart with his propeller. He
succeeded in removing parts of both the Lieutenant's feet
before Logan was rescued by another New Zealander whose fire
drove off the ZERO. Logan made it to the water with
no further adventures and was rescued by a J2F amphibian.
He survived his harrowing experience, but his days in combat
In the same engagement, the previously mentioned Lieutenant
Percy was forced to abandon his damaged CORSAIR while making
350 knots at an altitude of 2,000 feet. Although he successfully
exited from the cockpit, his parachute failed to open, and
he fell toward a virtually certain death. He struck
the water feet first, his useless parachute trailing above
him. Miraculously, he survived his fall, despite a fractured
pelvis, two sprained ankles, numerous wounds from enemy fire
and a three-hour swim. After a year in the hospital, the rugged
Lieutenant returned to duty.
In the late summer of 1943, the squadron completed its service
in the Solomons and returned to the United States for rest
and reorganization. It arrived at MCAS, Miramar, near San
Diego, on 5 September 1943. When the squadron completed its
period of rest, it was ordered to carrier qualification and
was subsequently redesignated a carrier squadron, VMF(CVS)-112,
on 5 November 1944. [Despite the redesignation, VMF-112 and
the other Marine squadrons that were carrier qualified, the
(CVS) portion of the designation was seldom used. Apparently,
it was merely a "paper" change in designation to
indicate carrier qualification.]
During its second combat tour beginning in December 1944,
the squadron was assigned as a component of the Air Group
82 aboard U.S.S. Bennington (CV-20). Bennington, U.S.S. Hornet
(CV-12), U.S.S. Wasp (CV-18) and U.S.S. Belleau Wood (CVL-24)
made up Task Group 1 of Task Force 58 [T.G.-58.1], and there
were an even dozen additional carriers among the other four
task groups of the Fast Carrier Force, Task Force 58.
By this period of the war, Task Force 58 [or 38] represented
the largest grouping of carriers in history. But, it
was only one portion of the fleet, and the Fifth Fleet [or
Third Fleet, depending upon whether Admiral Spruance or Admiral
Halsey, respectively, was in command] was the largest and
most powerful fleet in the history of warfare at sea.
During the war, the "Wolfpack" was credited with
the destruction of 140 Japanese aircraft in aerial combat,
ranking it third among Marine Corps squadrons in terms of
enemy aircraft destroyed. VMF-112 returned to the United States
where it was deactivated on 10 September 1945. It's
time of inactivity was relatively short, however, as the United
States began to rebuild some small amount of the strength
that had served it so well during the war years. The
squadron was reactivated on 1 July 1946 as the Marine Air
Detachment, Marine Air Reserve Training Command, NAS, and
Dallas. As such, it was among the first of the wartime
squadrons to receive a new lease on life in the Reserves.
It began its reserve service equipped with the same aircraft
it had flown in the latter stages of World War II, the Vought
F4U-4 CORSAIR. When war erupted in Korea in June, 1950,
the squadron remained a component of the reserves and was
not recalled to active duty. However, many of the "Weekend
Warriors" of the squadron were ordered to the Far East
to fill the ranks of the squadrons committed to combat.
Its days in piston-engine aircraft came to close in the
1950's with the introduction of the Grumman F9F PANTHER. After
nearly a decade of operations with the products of the Grumman
stable, VMF-112 moved into the supersonic age of flight with
its transition to the Vought F8U-1 (F-8A) CRUSADER. VMF-112
and its sister squadron, VMF-111 were the first Marine Reserve
squadrons to acquire the F-8, probably due, in large measure,
to their proximity to the Vought plant in Grand Prairie, Texas
where the CRUSADER was manufactured. In 1964, VMF-112
absorbed the assets of its deactivated sister squadron, VMF-111,
and became one of the largest reserve squadrons in terms of
the number of aircraft assigned. When the squadron was
re-equipped with the first all-weather models of the CRUSADER,
the F-8D/E, it was redesignated VMF(AW)-112. It continued
to operate various models of the F-8 until these aircraft
were, in their turn, replaced by the McDonnell F-4 PHANTOM
II. When the squadron began to acquire the F-4, it was redesignated
VMFA-112 in 1983.
On 18 January 1992, VMFA-112 retired the last F-4 on active
service in the Navy and Marine Corps and began the process
of re-equipping with the latest product from the firm of McDonnell
Douglas, the F/A-18 HORNET. The squadron has completed
the process of re-equipping with its new aircraft and is again
a combat-ready squadron. NAS Dallas was among the military
installations to fall victim to the wave of base closings
during the middle years of this decade. As a result, VMFA-112,
along with most of the units from Dallas shifted their base
of operations westward to another installation that had been
affected by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the
former Carswell Air Force Base in Ft. Worth, Texas. Formerly
a Strategic Air Command base, Carswell is now home to reserve
units of all services. Known as the Joint Reserve Base,
NAS, Ft. Worth is among the largest of its kind in the United
For now, at least, the future seems secure for the squadron.
It appears the present administration has no immediate plans
for further reductions in the nation's military strength.
While the fearful shadow of a nuclear Armageddon no longer
lurks in the background, the world is, in many ways, a more
dangerous and unstable place than it was before the demise
of the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, however,
nothing can be taken for granted in an environment controlled
by political expediency instead of reasoned decision making.
Reprinted with permission
of Michael J. Crowder, author of "United States Marine
Corps Aviation Squadron Lineage, Insignia and History".
Copyright 2000, Golden Wings Enterprise. For more information