Thach Weave

Thach Weave

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The Thach Weave or Beam Defense Position is an aerial combat tactic developed by naval aviator John S. Thach of the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 soon after the United States' entry into World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

Thach had heard, from a report published in the 22 September 1941 Fleet Air Tactical Unit Intelligence Bulletin, of the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero
A6M Zero
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the , and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the...

's extraordinary maneuverability and climb rate. Before even experiencing it for himself, he began to devise tactics meant to give the slower-turning American F4F Wildcat
F4F Wildcat
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy in 1940...

 fighters a chance in combat. Every evening while he was based in San Diego, he would think of different tactics that could overcome the Zero's maneuverability, and tested them in flight the following day.

Working at night with matchsticks on the table, he eventually came up with what he called "Beam Defense Position", but which soon became known as the "Thach Weave". It was executed either by two fighter aircraft side-by-side or (as illustrated) by two pairs of fighters flying together. When an enemy aircraft chose one fighter as his target (the "bait" fighter; his wingman being the "hook"), the two wingmen turned in towards each other. After crossing paths, and once their separation was great enough, they would then repeat the exercise, again turning in towards each other, bringing the enemy plane into the hook's sights. A correctly-executed Thach Weave (assuming the bait was taken and followed) left little chance of escape to even the most maneuverable opponent.

Thach called on Ensign
Ensign (rank)
Ensign is a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank itself acquired the name....

 Edward "Butch" O'Hare
Edward O'Hare
Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare was an Irish-American naval aviator of the United States Navy who on February 20, 1942 became the U.S. Navy's first flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient in World War II. Butch O’Hare’s final action took place on the night of November 26, 1943,...

, who led the second section in Thach's division, to test the idea. Thach took off with three other Wildcats in the role of defenders, Butch O'Hare meanwhile led four Wildcats in the role of attackers. Trying a series of simulated attacks, Butch found that in every instance Thach's fighters had either ruined his attack or actually maneuvered into position to shoot back. After landing, Butch excitedly congratulated Thach: "Skipper, it really worked. I couldn't make any attack without seeing the nose of one of your airplanes pointed at me."

The tactic was first tested in combat by Thach during the Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea and six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy decisively defeated...

, when his flight of four Wildcats was attacked by a squadron of Zeroes. Thach's wingman, Ensign R. A. M. Dibb, was attacked by a Japanese pilot and turned towards Thach, who dived under his wingman and fired at the incoming enemy aircraft's belly until its engine ignited.

Soon enough, the maneuver had become standard among US Navy pilots, and USAAF
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 pilots also adopted it.

Marines flying Wildcats from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

 also adopted the Thach Weave. The Japanese Zero pilots flying out of Rabaul
Rabaul
Rabaul is a township in East New Britain province, Papua New Guinea. The town was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash of a volcanic eruption. During the eruption, ash was sent thousands of metres into the air and the...

 were initially confounded by the tactic.

Saburō Sakai
Saburo Sakai
Sub-Lieutenant was a Japanese naval aviator and flying ace of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Sakai was the Imperial Navy's fourth-ranking ace and Japan's second leading fighter pilot to survive the war ....

, the famous Japanese ace, relates their reaction to the Thach Weave when they encountered Guadalcanal Wildcats using it:
The maneuver was so effective that it was used by American pilots during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, and is still an applicable tactic today.

Further reading

. It has an extended discussion of fighter tactics of the time, including an in-depth discussion of the development of the Thach Weave.. It contains an account by John Thach about the development of the Weave and another about its use in Midway.

External links