"Thach weave" and the "iron works"



When Lieutenant Commander John S. Thach’s fighter group received their new Grumman Wildcats the summer of 1941,Thach also received intelligence about the faster, more maneuverable Zero. He found that by moving the wingman abreast of his partner, and they flew far enough apart to watch each other’s tail they made an effective team. When either saw a bandit closing on his mate from behind, he turned toward his partner. This served to warn him of the danger approaching, who also turned. Both had a shot if the bandit continued closing. This “Thach weave” made our Wildcats more effective against the faster, more maneuverable Zero, and was used by most Wildcat pilots.

Here was one Japanese reaction after facing the Thach Weave over Guadalcanal: For the first time Lt. Commander Tadashi Nakajima encountered what was to become a famous double-team maneuver on the part of the enemy. Two Wildcats jumped on the commander’s plane. He had no trouble in getting on the tail of an enemy fighter, but never had a chance to fire before the Grumman’s team-mate roared at him from the side. Nakajima was raging when he got back to Rabaul; he had been forced to dive and run for safety.

The Thach weave was adopted by Marine and Air Force fighter pilots and was used as late as Viet Nam.

The Zero lacked armor and self-sealing fuel tanks so an accurate gun burst was often effective. The Wildcat was so tough structurally plus armor for the pilot and self-sealing tanks, it could take punishment yet bring the pilot back. Their pilots referred to the Grumman’s factory as “the iron works.” 

Craig L. Symonds writes, "The decision to minimize the importance of armor derived from a Japanese worldview that valued attack over protection. As a result, Japanese airplanes carried heavy armament but little armor; they could fly long distances on a single tank of fuel, but those fuel tanks were not self-sealing, which meant that a single bullet could ignite an explosion."