News for May 2009
Caught in the Weave 4
The Third Preview of the Wings of War WWII Miniatures
Wings of War | Published 05 May 2009

Fantasy Flight Games is proud to present the third article in our series of previews of the Wing of War miniatures, coming this Summer for Wings of War: The Dawn of World War II.

In Wings of War, players take on the roles of some of the greatest flying aces of history and recreate the exciting aerial combat that made those aces famous through easy-to-learn rules and innovative game mechanics. With the Wings of War miniatures, not only does the game achieve a new visual dimension, it also allows more players to participate as each miniature comes with its own maneuver deck. Relive on your tabletop the epic battles of World War II with Wings of War!

In each of these preview articles, we have looked at one of the planes from the first wave of World War II miniatures for Wings of War, and at an historic battle that the plane was featured in. To read the previous articles in the series, just follow the links provided. In our first article, we looked at the Supermarine Spitfire and its role in the Battle of Britain. In our second article, we looked at the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the bombing of Guernica. In this article, we will explore the Grumman F4F Wildcat (FFG Product Code WW17g-i) and the role it played in the Battle of Midway.

“I can vouch as a matter of personal experience, this Grumman fighter was one of the finest shipboard aeroplanes ever created”
- Eric M. Brown, British Test Pilot

The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation was the first company to develop for the United States Navy a biplane with the modern design of retractable landing gear in the form of the FF-1. Retractable landing gear would become a major advancement for aircraft technology as it would make planes more aerodynamic and therefore faster and more maneuverable. Over the course of the 1930's, the Grumman corporation would continue refine the design of its planes (to the F2F, F3F, and F4F-1, a biplane), but the plane that would become the F4F would be passed over by the US Navy in favor of the Brewster Buffalo, which would be the first monoplane (an aircraft with one main set of wing surfaces) put into service by the Navy in 1939. Although the F4F's experimental prototype was faster than the Buffalo, the Buffalo was initially considered superior and was put into service by the US Navy first, while the F4F Wildcat would first be put into service by the Royal Navy (of the United Kingdom) after the fall of France in 1940. In fact, France had ordered the Wildcats, but fell to Nazi invasion and the planes could not be delivered. In the service of the Royal Navy, the Wildcats would be renamed Martlets.

Despite the establishment of the Buffalo as the US Navy's first fighter plane, the F4F Wildcat would become the Navy's primary fighter in the early period of World War II. The Brewster Buffalo was the first modern plane used by the US Navy in combat, however, even as the war was just getting started, it was not able to contend against the German and Japanese aircraft of the time. The Buffalo lacked pilot armor, had poor high-altitude performance and engine overheating, as well as a number of other issues, however, at the outset of the war, the demand for modern fighter craft, even the Brewster Buffalo was high. This was especially true in the Pacific Theater. Both the Buffalo and the Wildcat were carrier-based fighters, that is, planes that could take off and land on aircraft carriers, and were thus able to engage in attacks against enemy craft where land-based aircraft could not be used. Given the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, what little land that could be found would be hotly fought over and where there was no land, aircraft carriers would make up the strategic difference.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 was the event that would draw the United States into World War II. The damage to the US Navy, as well as the air superiority of the Imperial Japanese Navy, would swing the advantage in the early stages of the war to the Japanese. Six months after Pearl Harbor, at the Battle of Midway, the balance of the war in the Pacific would begin to shift. In this battle, the Buffalo and Wildcat fighter planes would be seriously outmatched by the Imperial Japanese Navy's Mitsubishi A6M2 planes, known by the Allies as the "Zero". However, because Allied code-breakers managed to intercept information about the Japanese attack on Midway before it could happen, the US Navy managed to turn a potential Pacific disaster into a decisive victory.

Left: Midway Atoll. Note the aircraft landing strips.

The Imperial Japanese Navy's plan for its attack on Midway Atoll (a tiny collection of islands about midway between North America and Asia) would be to lure the US Navy aircraft carriers that remained after the attack on Pearl Harbor into an ambush and then eliminate them, and with them, the US influence in the Pacific. The US Navy had already been badly wounded from the attack on Pearl Harbor, with a large number of aircraft, cruisers, and battleships destroyed or damaged, along with the loss of more than 2000 military personnel, however, the aircraft carriers remained, and with them, the ability to mount an aggressive air assault on the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The attack on Midway would be played as a feint, with a small, light Japanese force making the initial strikes, with a widely dispersed and heavy supporting force lying in wait, ready to attack any US forces that would respond to the first attacks. The plan's flaw was that the supporting forces were, in fact, too dispersed to spring the trap effectively. Moreover, because the Allied code-breakers had already determined where the Japanese forces would be and when, the element of surprise was completely lost and the US Navy now had the chance to stage its own ambush. The Imperial Japanese forces did not know that their plan had been discovered and the fact that the scout planes were with the distant support forces deprived the attackers of any knowledge that the plan had been foiled in advance.

Although the combat objectives of the Battle of Midway mainly consisted of US Navy bombers striking at Imperial Japanese aircraft carriers, the Buffalos and Wildcats would play their role in defending the base at Midway Island itself. Prior to this confrontation, a tactic had been invented to counter the Zeros high speed and maneuverability, taking into account the limitations of the Wildcat. It would be tested for the first time at the Battle of Midway and would serve the US Navy well in future confrontations where the Wildcat would continue to be used.

The Wildcat had a top speed of 318 mph but a slow climb rate and it was not as nimble as the Zero. However, the Wildcat was heavily armored, compared to the Zero, with self-sealing fuel tanks and could thus withstand much more fire. To quote Japanese Ace Saburo Sakai:

[Even] after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. … A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now.

A new air combat tactic was therefore developed which could take advantage of the Wildcat's ruggedness and offset its lack of maneuverability, compared to the Zero. This tactic would be called the "Thach Weave" named after ace John S. "Jimmy" Thach, who would later become an admiral. Basically, two planes flying side by side would set a trap for an enemy plane: the enemy would pick one plane to target and follow it from behind; the two friendly planes would then turn toward each other, passing each other once and then turning again; on the second pass, the enemy fighter, focused on one plane, would itself be targeted from the side by the targeted plane's partner.

Right: an abstract illustration of the "Thach Weave" in action.

This "bait" and "hook" tactic was dangerous, but went a long way towards evening the playing field between Zeros and Wildcats. At Midway, the US Navy's air forces would endure heavy losses, but the "Thach Weave" would pass its initial test and soon become standard wartime practice.

Ultimately, with the element of surprise lost and its forces helplessly spread out, the Imperial Japanese Navy sustained heavy losses from combined attacks by ships, airplanes, and submarines, severely damaging the IJN's ability to field large numbers of fleet carriers (four aircraft carriers were brought to the battle and four were sunk), as well as well-trained pilots - many veteran pilots died at Midway and Japan was slow to replace them. This defeat would cost Japan the initiative in the Pacific theater. The US was pushing hard to achieve first parity then superiority in naval forces and with the Imperial Japanese Navy losing a number of its most-experienced fighters early in the war, as well as some of its strongest forces (carriers and aircraft), the tide would slowly begin to turn in favor of the US.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief look at the Grumman F4F Wildcat. We hope you will come back next time for our fourth and final preview for the first wave of Wings of War miniatures. This next preview will be on the Mitsubishi "Zero”. See you next time!

Wings of War is an innovative card game that realistically simulates aerial combat in both World War I and World War II. Wings of War miniatures are three-dimensional accessories for Wings of War that couple the same revolutionary game play with beautifully-sculpted and historically-accurate models.

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Comments (4)

Published: 7/5/2009 8:52:35 AM

I really hope to see the curtiss p-40 and north american p-51!!!

Published: 5/15/2009 3:54:32 PM

I like the other paint schemes available for this airplane as well.  It will be interesting to see what miniatures are in the next set...

Published: 5/8/2009 11:44:57 AM

Congratulations to the Fantasy Flight Games staff!

You set the highest standards in gaming support, and show that , above all,

you appreciate the intelligence of your customers.

Thank you

Published: 5/7/2009 10:31:30 AM

Great preview articles! Very informative, and a nice little piece of history with each one. My hat's off to the staff for putting these together!

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