Squadron History

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.

Wikipedia

More About the Squadron...

The 'VMF' in the squadron's designation is an acronym that means "Marine Fighter Squadron" (US Marine Corps).

  • The squadron at Guadalcanal was comprised of 49 pilots and 155 crew members
  • First echelon landed at Henderson Field, Guadlacanal on Nov. 3, 1942
  • VMF-112 was credited with downing 140 enemy aircraft - third highest in Marine Corps aviation history
  • VMF-112 Pilots included 12 WWII aces
  • The squadron served three combat tours at Guadalcanal
  • Transitioned from the F4F Wildcat to the Vought F4U Corsair by May 19, 1943

Commanding Officers

Aces

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".

Today, the VMFA-112 is a reserve United States Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet squadron. The squadron is based at NASJRB Fort Worth, Texas and is attached to Marine Aircraft Group 41 (MAG-41), 4th Marine Aircraft Wing (4th MAW).

VMF112 Patch
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 of Australia. 


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 uncontested.

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 dreadnought. 

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.

Book Excerpts

Official Squadron War Diary

Awards and Citations

Newsclippings

Collection of Stories, Reflections, and Events - submitted by WWII survivors and their families. Web Sites of Interest

A Tribute to the Cactus Airforce:

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

Marine Corps Aces of WWII:

Vought F4U Corsair Links:

F4F WIldcat Links:

Acrobat ReaderĀ® is required to view the PDF documents available here. Click HERE to download and install this free software from Adobe's website.