Lest We Forget: Tip Merrill; VF-43

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired), Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The engagement devolved into three separate battles, and in the midst of what appeared to be complete chaos, the U.S. commanders—one of whom was future Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh Burke—performed superbly, exercising the initiative Merrill had called for and never losing sight of his their intended objectives. Without losing a single ship, the Americans succeeded in sinking a Japanese cruiser and one of the destroyers, and caused the remaining enemy ships to flee the bay, their mission a complete failure. By invoking the principle of commander's intent, Admiral Merrill reaped the benefits of subordinate initiative, allowing his commanders to make lemonade while the Japanese only had lemons.

 —Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)



Fighter Squadron 43 (VF-43) was established as VF-74A on 1 May 1945 at NAS Otis Field, Massachusetts, and was redesignated VF-74 on 1 August 1945, equipped with F4U-4 Corsair fighters. After three short cruises on board the USS Midway (CVB-41), the Skull & Bones was redesignated VF-1B on 15 November 1946.

VF-1B deployed with F4U-4B versions to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea on board the Midway in October 1947. VF-1B was redesignated VF-21 on 1 September 1948 and equipped with F4U-5s. The squadron deployed to the Mediterranean on board the USS Coral Sea (CVB-43) during the Berlin Blockade.

VF-21 converted to the F9F-2 Panther jet fighter in 1950 and deployed to the Mediterranean thrice with that type, on board the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), the Midway , and the USS Wasp (CVA-18), and once more on board the Midway after upgrading to the F9F-5. After conversion in 1954 to the F9F-6 Cougar, VF-21 deployed to the Mediterranean on board the USS Randolph (CVA-15). Switching to the FJ-3 Fury in 1955, VF-21 operated from the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) during her 1956 shakedown cruise. Upgrading to the FJ-3M, VF-21 made its only Western Pacific deployment in 1956-57 on board the USS Bennington (CVA-20).

In 1957, VF-21—now known as the Mach Knockers—became the first fighter squadron to take the F11F-1 Tiger fighter to sea. However, on 1 July 1959, VF-21 was redesignated Attack Squadron 43 (VA-43) and assigned duty as the replacement training squadron for the A4D (later A-4) Skyhawk, as well as the F11F.

As the VA-43 Challengers, the squadron operated all versions of the A-4 through A-4E in the training role at NAS Oceana, Virginia, and also operated the two-seat TA-4F/J versions. When the Skyhawk was phased out from Atlantic Fleet carriers, VA-43 became an instrument training squadron. In 1970 the squadron also began providing aerial combat adversary training to Fleet units.

By 1973 the adversary services became the primary role for the Challengers and the squadron was redesignated VF-43 on 1 June 1973. Over the next 20 years the squadron operated A-4E, TA-4J, T-38A, F-5E/F, F-21A, F-16N, and TF-16N aircraft in the adversary role, and taught spin recovery to Fleet pilots with T-2C trainers.

When the adversary role was shifted to reserve squadrons, VF-43 was disestablished on 1 July 1994.

—Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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