Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 3: Chance Vought F4U Corsair and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair

Chance Vought F4U and Goodyear FG-1D Corsairs flown by Canadians serving in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm

Data current to 27 Dec 2020.

 (RN Photo)

Chance Vought F4U Corsair, RN.  

Designed and initially manufactured by Chance Vought, the Corsair was operated as a carrier-based aircraft, and entered service in large numbers with the USN and RN in late 1944 and early 1945.  Additional production contracts were given to Goodyear, whose Corsairs were designated FG, and Brewster, whose Corsairs were designated F3A.


From the first prototype delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1940, to final delivery in 1953 to the French, 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured in 16 separate models.  Its 1942–1953 production run was the longest of any American piston-engined fighter.

In the early days of the Second World War, Royal Navy fighter requirements had been based on cumbersome two-seat designs, such as the Blackburn Skua (and its turreted derivative the Blackburn Roc) and the Fairey Fulmar, since it was expected that they would encounter only long-range bombers or flying boats and that navigation over featureless seas required the assistance of a radio operator/navigator.  The Royal Navy hurriedly adopted higher-performance single-seat aircraft such as the Hawker Sea Hurricane and the less robust Supermarine Seafire, but neither aircraft had sufficient range to operate at a distance from a carrier task force.  The Corsair was welcomed as a more robust and versatile alternative.

In November 1943, the Royal Navy received its first batch of 95 Vought F4U-1s, which were given the designation of "Corsair I". The first squadrons were assembled and trained on the American East Coast and then shipped across the Atlantic.  The Royal Navy put the Corsair into carrier operations immediately.  They found its landing characteristics dangerous, suffering a number of fatal crashes, but considered the Corsair to be the best option they had.

In Royal Navy service, because of the limited hangar deck height in several classes of British carriers, many Corsairs had their outer wings "clipped" by 8 in (200 mm) to clear the deckhead.  The change in span brought about the added benefit of improving the fighter's sink rate, reducing the F4U's propensity to "float" in the final stages of landing.  Despite the clipped wings and the shorter decks of British carriers, Royal Navy aviators found landing accidents less of a problem than they had been to USN aviators, thanks to the curved approach they used: British units solved the landing visibility problem by approaching the carrier in a medium left-hand turn, which allowed the pilot to keep the carrier's deck in view over the anhedreal in the left wing root.  This technique was later adopted by USN and Marine fliers for carrier use of the Corsair.

The Royal Navy developed a number of modifications to the Corsair that made carrier landings more practical.  Among these were a bulged canopy (similar to the Malcolm Hood), raising the pilot's seat 7 in (180 mm), and wiring shut the cowl flaps across the top of the engine compartment, diverting oil and hydraulic fluid spray around the sides of the fuselage.

The Royal Navy initially received 95 "birdcage" F4U-1s from Vought which were designated Corsair Mk. I in Fleet Air Arm service.  Next from Vought came 510 "blown-canopy" F4U-1A/-1Ds, which were designated Corsair Mk. II (the final 150 equivalent to the F4U-1D, but not separately designated in British use).  430 Brewster Corsairs (334 F3A-1 and 96 F3A-1D), more than half of Brewster's total production, were delivered to Britain as the Corsair Mk. III.  857 Goodyear Corsairs (400 FG-1/-1A and 457 FG-1D) were delivered and designated Corsair Mk. IV.  The Mk. IIs and Mk. IVs were the only versions to be used in combat.

The Royal Navy cleared the F4U for carrier operations well before the USN and showed that the Corsair Mk. II could be operated with reasonable success even from escort carriers.  It was not without problems; one was excessive wear of the arrester wires, due both to the weight of the Corsair and the understandable tendency of the pilots to stay well above the stalling speed.  A total of 2,012 Corsairs were supplied to the United Kingdom.

Fleet Air Arm (FAA) units were created and equipped in the United States, at Quonset Poiint, Rhode Island, or Brunswick, Maine, and then shipped to war theatres aboard escort carriers.  The first FAA Corsair unit was 1830 NAS, created on the first of June 1943, and soon operating from HMS Illustrious.  At the end of the war, 18 FAA squadrons were operating the Corsair.  British Corsairs served both in Europe and in the Pacific.  The first, and also most important, European operations were the series of attacks (Operation Tungsten) in April, July, and August 1944 on the German battleship Tirpitz, for which Corsairs from HMS Victorious and HMS Formidable provided fighter cover.  It appears the Corsairs did not encounter aerial opposition on these raids.

From April 1944, Corsairs from the British Pacific Fleet took part in a several major air raids in South East Asia beginning with Operation Cockpit, an attack on Japanese targets at Sabang island, in the Dutch East Indies.

In July and August 1945, Corsair naval squadrons 1834, 1836, 1841, and 1842 took part in a series of strikes on the Japanese mainland, near Tokyo.  These squadrons operated from HMS Victorious and HMS Formidable.  On 9 August 1945, days before the end of the war, Corsairs from HMS Formidable attacked Shiogama harbour on the northeast coast of Japan. Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve pilot, Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, of 1841 Squadron was hit by flak but pressed home his attack on a Japanese destroyer, sinking it with a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb but crashing into the sea.  He was posthumously awarded Canada's last Victoria Cross, becoming the second fighter pilot of the war to earn a Victoria Cross as well as the final Canadian casualty of the Second World War.  (Wikipedia)

 (RCN Photo)

Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray.

FAA Corsairs originally fought in a camouflage scheme with a Dark Slate Grey/Extra Dark Sea Grey disruptive pattern on top and Sky undersides, but were later painted overall dark blue.  As it had become imperative for all Allied aircraft in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War to abandon all use of any "red devices" in their national insignia, in order to prevent any chance of misidentification with Japanese military aircraft, all of which bore the circular, all-red Hinomaru insignia (nicknamed a "meatball" by Allied aircrew) that is still in use present day, the Americans removed all areas of red color (specifically removing the red center to the roundel) and removed any sort of national fin/rudder markings by 6 May 1942.  The British did the same, starting with a simple paintover with white paint, of their "Type C" roundel's red center.  Later, a shade of slate gray center colour replaced the white colour on the earlier roundel.  When the Americans starting using the added white bars to either side of their blue/white star roundel on 28 June 1943; SEAC British Corsairs, most all of which still used the earlier blue/white Type C roundel with the red center removed, added similar white bars to either side of their blue-white roundels to emulate the Americans.

In all, out of 18 carrier-based squadrons, eight saw combat, flying intensive ground attack/interdiction operations and claiming 47.5 aircraft shot down.  At the end of the Second World War, under the terms of the Lend-Lease agreement, the aircraft had to be paid for or to be returned to the Americans.  As the UK did not have the means to pay for them, the Royal Navy Corsairs were pushed overboard into the sea in Moreton Bay off Brisbane, Australia.

 (USN Photo)

Royal Navy Vought Corsair Mk. I fighters at Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine (USA), where Royal Navy pilots were trained on the Corsair, in 1943.

 (RN Photo)

Royal Navy Chance Vought Corsair Mk. I fighter oof the Fleet Air Arm cover its American base in New England, USA during a training mission.

 (RN Photo)

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair flown by RCN and RCNVR pilots in service with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy.

 (IWM Photo, A20999)

Chance-Vought Corsair taxi-ing away from the deck landing area of HMS Illustrious.

 (USN, IWM Photo, A19777)

Chance-Vought Corsair of the Royal Navy taxis in at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York.

 (USN Photo)

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm aircraft in Hangar 3 at Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, in 1944.  British pilots were trained at NAS Brunswick from 1943 to 1945. Visible are Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers and Vought F4U-1 Corsair fighters.

 (IWM Photo, A20024)

Chance-Vought Corsair, (Frame No. JT 104) at RAF Wittering in the UK, in service with the Fleet Air Arm.

 (IWM Photo, A25436)

Fairey Barracuda and Chance-Vought Corsair aircraft on board HMS Formidable during the Operation Goodwood attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz in August 1944.  The escort cruiser HMS Berwick is in the background.

 (IWM Photo, A24787)

Fleet Air Arm Chance-Vought Corsair fighters, with Fairey Barracuda torpedo bombers behind, ranged on the flight deck of HMS Formidable, off Norway.

 (RN Photo)

Chance-Vought Corsair taking off from the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in Japanese waters.

 (IWM Photo, A20025)

Chance-Vought Corsair, (Frame No. JT 104) at RAF Wittering in the UK, in service with the Fleet Air Arm.

 (IWM Photo, A20026)

Chance-Vought Corsair, (Frame No. JT 104) at RAF Wittering in the UK, in service with the Fleet Air Arm.

 (RN Photo)

A Royal Navy Vought Corsair from 1831 Naval Air Squadron being wheeled on the elevator of the aircraft carrier HMS Glory (R62) at sea off Rabaul, New Britain, 6 September 1945. The Corsairs circled overhead during the surrender ceremony between Lieutenant General V.A.H. Sturdee, general officer commanding First Army, General H. Imamura, commander Japanese Eighth Area Army, and Vice Admiral J. Kusaka, commander Japanese South East Area Fleet.

 (IWM Photo A26734)

 (IWM Photo A26728)

Formation of six Royal Navy Airmen in training over the Maine countryside in American built Chance-Vought Corsairs, with RN markings.  These pilots were based in Lewiston and later proceeded to Norfolk for deck landing exercises.

 (IWM Photo, A25750)

Chance Vought Corsairs of 1834 and 1836 Squadrons, Fleet Air Arm, fitted with extra petrol tanks and ranged ready for attack on the carrier's flight deck on board HMS Victorious during the carrier-borne air attack against the Japanese repair and maintenance centre at Sigli, Sumatra.

 (Alan Wilson Photo)

Goodyear built FG-1D Corsair.  Allocated US Navy (BuNo. 14862), c/n 1871.  It has beemn painted to represent a Corsair Mk. IV and is on display in the FAA Museum Yeovilton, United Kingdom. 

 (Author Photo)

 (Author Photo)

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, USN (Bu. No. 92106), (Serial No. 3367), C-GVWC.  Vintage Wings of Canada, Gatineau, Quebec, painted as Royal Navy (Serial No. KD658).

 (Boris Spremo, Toronto Star Archives Photo)

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, USN (Bu. No. 92436), painted as Royal Navy (Serial No. KD658), flown by Peter Gutowski.  She flew with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum from 1973 to 1998, and is currenly with the Olympic Flight Museum in Washington.  She is shown here accompanied by a North American P-51D Mustang RCAF (Serial No. 9567) coded BA-U, flown by Dennis Bradley, president of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Inc., and a General Motors (Grumman) TBM-3E Avenger (Serial No. 91450), coded ABG (lost in a fire at the CWHM, 5 Feb 1993), flown by Don McNail at the 1982 Toronto International Airshow.