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What was the role of the USMC 4th Fighter Squadron (4FU) Corsairs in the Battle of Tarawa in Kiribati in 1944?

The USMC 4th Fighter Squadron (4FU) flew the formidable Vought F4U Corsair, a powerful fighter-bomber that became known as the "Whistling Death" to Japanese pilots.

On January 25, 1944, three Corsairs from 4FU, with bureau numbers 17833, 18024, and 17990, went missing in action while flying from Tarawa Airfield to Nanumea Airfield.

Their fate remained unknown for decades.

The 4FU Corsairs provided critical air support during the fierce Battle of Tarawa in November 1943, strafing and bombing Japanese defenses on the tiny island of Betio to aid the amphibious assault.

A colorized photo from 1944 shows USMC Corsairs of the 4FU preparing to take off from Tarawa Airfield, their distinctive gull-wing design and gleaming camouflage paint visible.

The Corsair's superior speed, firepower, and maneuverability made it a formidable match for the Japanese Zero fighters, and USMC pilots were credited with shooting down over 2,140 enemy aircraft during the war.

After the battle for Tarawa, the 4FU Corsairs continued to operate from the newly captured airfield, providing air cover and ground support for further operations in the Gilbert Islands.

In late 1943, the 4FU Corsairs assisted in the Philippine campaign, relocating from the Solomons to provide air support on Leyte and Samar as the U.S.

advanced towards Japan.

The Corsair's distinctive sound, described as a "whistling" or "wailing" noise from its powerful engine, struck fear in the hearts of Japanese pilots and earned it the nickname "Whistling Death."

Despite its impressive capabilities, the Corsair had a challenging landing profile due to its long, narrow wings, which required significant pilot skill to bring the aircraft safely aboard aircraft carriers.


In 2015, the remains of two decorated U.S.

Marines were uncovered at the site of the Battle of Tarawa, a testament to the fierce fighting that took place on the island.

The Corsair's gull-wing design, which provided excellent visibility and maneuverability, was a result of the aircraft's unique development process, which involved extensive wind tunnel testing and design iterations.

The 4FU Corsairs faced challenging weather conditions during their 700-mile ferry flight from Tarawa to Funafuti, with the squadron becoming disoriented and nearly running out of fuel before reaching their destination.

The Corsair's powerful radial engine and distinctive propeller design allowed it to outperform many of its contemporaries, making it a favorite among USMC and U.S.

Navy pilots throughout the Pacific Theater.

The 4FU Corsairs' participation in the Battle of Tarawa was a crucial component of the U.S.

invasion of the Gilbert Islands, known as Operation Galvanic, which was a major step in the Pacific campaign to defeat Japan.

The Corsair's long range and heavy bomb load made it an invaluable asset for ground attack missions, allowing the 4FU pilots to provide sustained support to the Marines fighting on the beaches of Tarawa.

The 4FU Corsairs' ability to operate from the limited runway space on Tarawa Airfield, even in the face of heavy Japanese resistance, demonstrated the aircraft's versatility and the skill of its pilots.

The loss of the three Corsairs with bureau numbers 17833, 18024, and 17990 on January 25, 1944 was a tragic reminder of the dangers faced by USMC aviators during the Pacific campaign.

The 4FU Corsairs' actions at Tarawa were part of a broader effort by USMC and U.S.

Navy air forces to establish air superiority in the Central Pacific, paving the way for further advances towards Japan.

The Corsair's enduring legacy as a legendary fighter-bomber of World War II is in no small part due to the skill and bravery of the pilots of the 4FU, who played a crucial role in the Battle of Tarawa and other Pacific campaigns.

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