The VMF-112 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest award a unit can receive, for its success during the Guadalcanal campaign. By the completion of World War II, 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. Following the surrender of Japan, VMF-112 returned to the United States where it was deactivated on September 10, 1945.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112 (VMFA-112) - The squadron left the combat zone in July, 1945, and relocated to MCAS El Centro, where it was deactivated on September 10, 1945. It was later recalled during the Korean Conflict in 1951 and returned to Dallas after its Korean tour of duty. On July 1, 1946, VMF-112 was resurrected as a reserve unit of NAS Dallas, located in Grand Prarie, Texas. The squadron was assigned to MAG-41 in February, 1965. On October 22, 1965, VMF-111 was deactivated with Devil Dog personnel and aircraft moving to VMF-112. In July, 1967, the unit changed its name to the "Cowboys" and designated the squadron to reflect the local Dallas Cowboys NFL team, and their designation as the "Wolfpack".
The squadron was activated as VMF-112
on 1 March 1942 at San Diego, California under the command of
Major Wilfred J. Huffman. Major Huffman's tenure of command,
however, was relatively brief. He was relieved on 11 May by
Major Paul J. Fontana. The squadron received aircraft
slowly and prepared to enter combat as best it could during
the hectic early months of the war.
Less than six months after the squadron's activation, the
United States began its first offensive against the Japanese
when the First Marine Division (Reinforced) landed on Guadalcanal
and other nearby islands in the southern Solomons on 7 August
1942. The primary objective of the assault was the capture
of an airfield the Japanese had begun to construct on the
island's northern shore.
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
Guadalcanal is part of the Solomon Islands
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.
Painting of the Sea Battle
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.
Excerpts, Clippings & Resources
Materials collected from the WWII era posted here re-visit many of the historic and heroic events during the battle for Guadalcanal.
I urge all of you to read "The Cactus Air Force" by Thomas G. Miller, Jr. I would be amazed if you were not deeply impressed by the feats of the men who fought in this campaign. It should be read by everyone who needs to be taught (or reminded) that victory and freedom do not come easily. Reading that book made me proud to be an American; and proud of the accomplishments of our armed forces. It is to their memory that I dedicate this site. David Hanson, webmaster