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The dogfight that gave rise to the “Thach Weave” maneuver

by Till Daisd
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On June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway, one of the crucial moments in the evolution of US Navy fighter tactics during World War II occurred

During the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, one of the key moments in the evolution of US Navy fighter tactics during World War II occurred.

Lieutenant commander (LCDR) John Thach, commanding VF-3 embarked in Yorktown and took off that morning with five other F4F-4s as escort to VT-3’s TBD Devastators on their way to attack the Japanese carrier force, as described by Edward M. Young in his book F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen Pacific Theater 1942. The Zero-sen combat air patrol shot down one Wildcat from Thach’s division of four as they instantly dove to attack the US Navy formation as they approached their targets.

As the Zero-sens surrounded them, Thach, who had been put on the defensive, guided his two remaining Wildcats through a series of evasive actions. He made the decision to use the Beam Defense strategy that he and his wingman, ENS Robert “Ram” Dibb, had practiced before the war started.

Thach waited for his chance while directing Dibb to his right and keeping LT Brainard Macomber tightly grasped to his wing.

As Thach remembered years later, “I got a shot at one or two of them and burned them. One of them passed at my wingman, pulled out to the right, and then came back. We were weaving continuously, and I got a head-on shot at him. Just about the time I saw this guy coming, “Ram” said, “There´s a Zero on my tail”. He didn´t have to look back because the Zero wasn´t directly astern, but at about 45 degrees, beginning to follow him around. This gave me the head-on approach I desired. I was mad because, here, this poor little wingman who´d never been in combat before – in fact he had had very little gunnery training – and was experiencing his first time aboard a carrier, was about to have a Zero chew him to pieces. I probably should have decided to duck under this Zero, but I lost my temper a little bit and I decided I´m going to keep my fire going into him and he was going to pull out, which he did. He just missed me by a few feet, and I saw flames coming out of the bottom of his airplane”.

The tactic Thach used went as well as he had intended. Thach’s maneuver, which was effectively used by LCDR James Flately during the Battle of Santa Cruz and was given the nickname “Thach Weave,” became the common defensive counter used by all US Navy and US Marine Corps fighter pilots when dealing with the Zero-greater sen’s maneuverability.

The Dogfight that led to the birth of the “Thach Weave” maneuver, the defensive counter employed during WWII by all US Navy and USMC fighter pilots when dealing with the Zero´s superior maneuverability

F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen Pacific Theater 1942 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo by Gareth Hector via Osprey

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