History: Fleet Air Arm Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins
At the start of the Second World War the British Navy was desperately in need of a powerful single seat monoplane fighter. The new American made Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter fitted this requirement. Initially named the Martlet by the Royal Navy they were re-named Wildcats in 1944 to align with combined US and British operations. 1,123 Fleet Air Arm Martlets operated in all theatres of war including Norway, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Far East. However, Martlets distinguished themselves in the Battle of Atlantic and on Arctic Convoys providing effective fighter support from escort carriers and working effectively with Fairey Swordfish in the hunt for German U Boats. In October 1940 two Martlets of 804 Naval Air Squadron, based on Orkney, forced down a German Junkers 88A that was attempting to bomb the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. This was the first victory credited to an American Built fighter in British service.
Grumman Martlet l, AL246, is the only surviving F4F-4 (G-36A). Originally ordered by the French Navy, these aircraft were diverted to Britain with the fall of France in May 1940. AL246 spent most of its service life in Scotland at Donibristle and Machrihanish. From 1944 it was used as an instructional airframe at Loughborough Aeronautical College and transferred to Yeovilton in the late 1950s.
In English heraldry a Martlet is a stylised bird with small or ineffective legs similar to a House Marten or Swallow. The Martlet aircraft is renowned for having a small and precarious undercarriage that could make take off and landings difficult. Intentionally or not, there is clearly a link between the heraldic bird and the Martlet aircraft.