ASN logo
ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 78074
Last updated: 22 December 2019
This information is added by users of ASN. Neither ASN nor the Flight Safety Foundation are responsible for the completeness or correctness of this information. If you feel this information is incomplete or incorrect, you can submit corrected information.

Type:Silhouette image of generic WCAT model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat
Owner/operator:VF-3, US Navy
Registration: 3985
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: -   Pacific Ocean
Phase: Initial climb
Departure airport:USS Saratoga
Destination airport:
At 1200 hrs on 16 December 1941 TF 14 left Pearl Harbor to assist Wake Island, two thousand miles to the west. The formation consisted of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, with 81 aircraft aboard (the 13 F4F Wildcats, 43 SBD-3 and 11 TBD-1 of the carrier Air Group, plus the 13 F2A-3 Buffaloes of VMF-221), three heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, a seaplane tender crammed with Marines and the fleet oiler Neches, one of the oldest and slowest in the fleet, only able to do 12 knots. On 21 December 1941 Wake Island was attacked by Japanese carrier aircraft and TF 14’s commander, Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, was warned that he might possibly have to fight a major battle just to get to Wake.

On the morning of 22 Decembers, the ships had closed to about 520 miles northeast of Wake. Rough seas washed over the Saratoga’s plunging bow and greatly hindered the oiler’s efforts to refuel the destroyers. 6 F4Fs of VF-3 flew the early-morning combat air patrol (CAP). At 1021 hrs six other F4Fs took off to relieve them. Taking off into a stiff wind, the division climbed toward patrol altitude, but suddenly Lt.(jg) Victor M Gadrow, the skipper’s wingman, experienced engine trouble. The division leader, Lt Cdr John Thach, turned the lead over to another pilot and, to maintain radio silence, raced back to the Saratoga to give the emergency deferred forced landing signal (wheels up, tail hook down) to warm her that one of his planes needed to land back on board immediately. Gadrow followed in his failing Wildcat but barely got within a mile of the carrier before he stalled and went down. His F4F-3 Buno 3985 sank immediately in the turbulent seas. Racing to the scene, the destroyer Selfridge, acting as plane guard, found nothing.

Gadrow was VF-3’s first wartime loss. Although he graduated from Annapolis in 1935, he was a latecomer to aviation, having earned his wings in the spring of 1941. He had married only a few months before the war broke out.


"Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O’Hara", by Steve Ewing and John Lundstrom. ISBN 978-1-59114-249-2
"The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway", by John B. Lundstrom. ISBN 978-1-61251-166-5

Revision history:

22-Dec-2015 18:39 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Total fatalities, Total occupants, Country, Source, Narrative]
22-Nov-2018 09:49 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Time, Operator, Phase, Departure airport]

Corrections or additions? ... Edit this accident description