"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
Background:  Lt. Colonel Marion Milton "Black Mac" Magruder, USMC, Skipper of VMF(N)-533 (front row, 8th from right), with his pilots and ground officers in March 1944, prior to their departure from MCAS Cherry Point in route to the Pacific, via San Diego and Hawaii. Out front are their mascots, "Scrapper 0" and "Scrapper 00". "Scrapper" became the squadron's call sign.

Right:  The squadron's insignia, designed by the XO, Major Hutchinson, depicts a devilish elf shining a flashlight into the dark night (representing the radar on the plane's right wing) and holding a six-barreled pistol (representing the .50 cal. armament of the Hellcat). "Black Mac" was the nickname the British gave Magruder while he was learning night fighter tactics from the RAF by doing "on the job training" in England during the previous year, 1943.

Below:  Then Captain Magruder in 1940 (left), and in 1941 (right), while serving as assistant material officer, Division of Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington D.C., as America prepared to join the fight.
Above:  After the Marines landed on Guadalcanal in August 1942, it quickly became apparent that the Cactus Air Force had no appropriate means to counter the threat posed by Japanese night intruder aircraft. The Marine Corps brass in Washington, D.C., chose to send six officers to Great Britain for a crash course in radar controlled night fighting from the RAF, in hopes that they could then expedite the organization and training of a Marine night fighter force for deployment against the Japanese in the Pacific. Then Major Magruder was one of the six, along with his future XO, Captain Homer G. Hutchinson, Jr., Lt. Colonel Edward W. Montgomery, Major Guy Morrow, Major Pete Lambrecht and Captain Edward Hicks. By February 1943, they were in England, in the thick of things, absorbing all they could as quickly as possible. By April 1st, they had been assigned to RAF Night Fighter Squadron 256 and spent the month doing night combat air patrols in radar-equipped Bristol Beaufighters, and eventually flying night intruder missions over France and Belgium.

Above, left:  Major Lambrecht, left, and Captain Hutchinson, right, with RAF Wing Commander L.N. Hayes, CO of Night Fighter Squadron 256 at RAF Station Ford in Sussex.

Above, right:  Captain Hutchinson, attired in RAF battle dress, with one of the squadron's Beaufighters.
Above:  On November 15, 1943, Magruder was promoted to Lt. Colonel. At the time, the squadron had 30 officers and 177 enlisted men.

Clem Wilhide, one of the squadron's plane captains, said of Magruder in 2007, "He was the strictest guy I ever knew...but also the fairest...highly respected...he was an honored man. There wasn't a man in the outfit that wouldn't follow him to hell---if that's what he wanted".
Above and below:  Captain Ralph W. Zabel and Major Hutchinson both flew in the RAF helmets as well, at least for a time.
Above:  The majority of squadron pilots used conventional Navy flight gear, as we see here with 1st Lt. Charles S. Stitt, Jr., who wears a B-G Inc. M-450 summer helmet, with TC-66 / ANB-H-1 ear phones, CFS AN-6530 goggles and an A-14 oxygen mask.
A unique feature found only on the VMF(N)-533 Hellcats was the use of black paint for the stenciled identification markings below the cockpit. Navy / Marine doctrine, practiced by the other night fighter squadrons in service, called for this letter / number combination to be done using white paint. By mandate of the Skipper, the lower visibility color was used on all squadron aircraft.

Below:  Taken at the same time as our background photo, this is the full squadron complement of men and planes (and dogs).
Below:  After six months of hard work and preparation, the squadron was declared "ready for combat". On March 27, 1944 they started the move westward by air and rail, to San Diego. Once there, a brief leave was granted before boarding the transport carrier U.S.S. Long Island, which was bound for Hawaii. After a four day stop for fuel and supplies, the ship sailed from Pearl Harbor on April 27th, arriving off the shore of Eniwetok Atoll on May 6th. The ground element was allowed to unload first, with the 15 Hellcats being catapulted off the Long Island on the 10th.

This is Lt. Colonel Magruder, in "Little Mac", first off the Long Island's catapult, for the short flight to the squadron's new home on Eniwetok Island.
Above and below, left:  After returning to the U.S.A., and several months spent helping formulate the Corp's doctrine for its infant night fighter organization, Black Mac was given command of newly formed VMF(N)-533 on October 1, 1943. Training began in earnest once the first F6F-3s arrived on the 7th.  Magruder is seen sporting an RAF type C flight helmet, (fitted with ANB-H-1 ear phones), modified with buckles for a chin cup from a Navy NAF-1092L, paired with CFS Mk-II goggles.