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Marine Fighting Squadron 221
VMF-221 Insignia
Active July 1941 - June 1945
Country United States
Branch USMC
Type Fighter squadron
Role Air interdiction
Nickname(s) “Fighting Falcons”
Engagements World War II
* Battle of Midway
* Battle of Guadalcanal
* Battle of New Georgia
Floyd B. Parks

Marine Fighting Squadron 221 (VMF-221) was a fighter squadron of the United States Marine Corps in World War II. During the war, they flew the Brewster F2A-3 and, after reconstitution in 1943, the F4U Corsair. The squadron, also known as the “Fighting Falcons,” is most notable for its actions on June 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway, which resulted in 23 members of the squadron, many posthumously, being awarded the Navy Cross for their actions in combat. VMF-221 ended WWII with 185 air to air victories, the second most of any Marine Fighting Squadron in the war.

History[edit | edit source]

VMF-221 was formed in July 1941 in San Diego, California. In December of that year, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, they moved to Marine Corps Air Station Ewa in Hawaii. On December 25, 1941, fourteen Brewster F2A-3s landed on Midway Island after launching from the USS Saratoga. They were originally part of a relief force bound for Wake Island, but were diverted to Midway instead after the force was controversially recalled on 22 December 1941; Wake Island fell on the following day.[1] On March 1, 1942, VMF-221, VMF-222, VMSB-241 and their headquarters units formed Marine Aircraft Group 22 commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ira B. Kimes.

A VMF-221 F2A-3 in flight over NAS North Island, October 1941.

The squadron’s first taste of combat came on March 10, 1942 when four of its pilots recorded the first aerial victory flying F2A-3s, downing an enemy Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat.

By late May, the squadron had been augmented with the arrival of additional aircraft. VMF-221 had 21 F2A-3s and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, all of which were essentially worn out "hand-me-downs" from the Navy. Leadership of the squadron was passed to Major Floyd B. Parks, with Kimes taking command of Marine Air Group 22. Much has been written of the inferiority of the Brewster fighter, particularly with regard to the Midway engagement. Many of Parks' pilots, fresh from flight training Stateside, had very little operational experience. This fact, combined with the overwhelming size and disposition of the Japanese force posed against the atoll's defenses, would have more bearing on the outcome than the operational capabilities of the F2A.

On June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway, the pilots of VMF-221 were alerted to intercept the incoming formation of Japanese bombers and the 36 escorting Zero fighters that were headed towards the island. Parks led his squadron against the inbound Japanese armada, which combined air groups from Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu. In the lead were the level bombers, a "vee of vees" made up of Nakajima B5N "Kates," followed by the dive bomber formation of Aichi D3A "Vals" at a slightly higher altitude. The fighter escort was "stepped up" behind the dive bombers; this disposition gave the pilots of VMF-221 a clear shot at the bombers for the first few passes. Once the Zeros were able to engage the Marine fighters, the tables were effectively turned.

When the smoke of the battle cleared, fourteen of the squadron's aviators, including Parks, had been killed in action; four more had been wounded. Only two of VMF-221's remaining 13 aircraft were serviceable, effectively eliminating the squadron as a viable combat unit. Four of the squadron's ordnancemen were also killed when a Japanese bomb stuck the ammunition area near the airstrip at Midway. For their actions during the Battle, the squadron, as a component of MAG-22, also received a Presidential Unit Citation:

"For conspicuous courage and heroism in combat at Midway Island during June, 1942. Outnumbered five to one, Marine Aircraft Group Twenty-Two boldly intercepted a heavily escorted enemy bombing force, disrupting their attack and preventing serious damage to island installations. Operating with half of their dive-bombers obsolete and in poor mechanical conditions, which necessitated vulnerable glide bombing tactics, they succeeded in inflicting heavy damage on Japanese surface units of a large enemy task force. The skill and gallant perseverance of flight and ground personnel of Marine Aircraft Group Twenty-Two, fighting under tremendously adverse and dangerous conditions were essential factors in the unyielding defense of Midway."

Two VMF-221 aviators would later become aces during the course of the war. 2nd Lt Charles M. Kunz, who had flown an F2A in Capt Kirk Armistead's division, was later assigned to VMF-224; he would end the war with 8 confirmed aerial victories. Capt Marion E. Carl, who piloted an F4F at Midway, would later fly with VMF-223, running his score to 18.5 "kills."

Following the Battle of Midway, the squadron was transferred back to Ewa and was one of three Marine fighting squadrons that made up Marine Air Group 21. As new pilots arrived in Hawaii and additional aircraft became available, the squadron was slowly rebuilt. In January, MAG-21 was notified for deployment and the three squadrons were loaded aboard the U.S.S. Nassau and transported to Espiritu Santo. Upon arrival, VMF-214 and VMF-221 sent detachments to Guadalcanal, but VMF-213 was held back and selected to become one of the first squadrons to be equipped with the F4U Corsair. Most of VMF-221's tour at Guadalcanal consisted of combat air patrols over Guadalcanal, but the large raid on April 1, 1943, resulted in Lt James Swett's Medal of Honor action.

After transition to the F4U-1, VMF-221 supported operations during the Battle of Guadalcanal, while also striking Japanese shipping in the vicinity of Bougainville. During the landings on the first day of the Battle of New Georgia, VMF-221 pilots got credit for shooting down 16 Japanese aircraft[2] In December 1943, they were sent back to the states for another reorganization.

Their final combat deployment was from January 24, 1945, to June 6, 1945, aboard the USS Bunker Hill.

Squadron aces[edit | edit source]

1st Lt. James E. Swett, with other members of his VMF-221 squadron, describing his Medal of Honor actions.

The following members of VMF-221 were credited with at least 5 enemy aircraft shot down:

  • Frank B. Baldwin
  • Donald Luther Balch
  • Dean Caswell
  • Eugene Dillow
  • Albert C. Hacking
  • Jack Pittman Jr.
  • Nathan T. Post
  • Harold E. Segal
  • William N. Snider
  • James E. Swett

Other notable members[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Condon, John Pomeroy (1998). Corsairs and Flattops - Marine Carrier Air Warfare, 1944-45. Annapolis Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-127-0. 
  • Crowder, Michael J. (2000). United States Marine Corps Aviation Squadron Lineage, Insignia & History - Volume One - The Fighter Squadrons. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company. ISBN 1-56311-926-9. 
  • Rottman, Gordon L. (2002). U.S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle - Ground and Air Units in the Pacific War, 1939 - 1945.’’. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-31906-5. 
  • Sherrod, Robert (1952). History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Combat Forces Press. 

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