Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 (VMFA-312) is a United States Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet squadron. Also known as the “Checkerboards”, the squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 31 (MAG-31) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW).
Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) was commissioned on June 1, 1943, at Page Field, Parris Island, South Carolina. Originally it was part of MAG-31, 1st MAW. As first aircraft the squadron received 10 SNJ-4 Texans and one F4U-1D Corsair. As their unit crest the squadron members choose a satan-like bulldog wearing a flying helmet and carrying -at that time- six .50 caliber machineguns (the armament of the Corsair) drawn by Technical Sergeant James R. Wroble. In honor of their commanding officer, Major Richard M. Day, the men nicknamed their squadron “Day’s Knights”. Also at this time, the Checkerboards emblem began to appear on both the cowling and rudder of the aircraft.
After being transferred in August 1943 to MAG-32, 3rd MAW, the squadron relocated to San Diego, California, and departed Parris Island on January 2, 1944, and headed for Miramar. They departed MCAS Miramar on February 28, 1944 and headed for Marine Corps Air Station Ewa on Hawai. VMF-312 trained at Ewa for 3 months and then headed out for Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides to become part of MAG-11, 2nd MAW.
Assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 on June 25, 1944, the squadron was transported to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, where they received 24 FG-1 Corsairs. VMF-312’s first combat action came on April 12, 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa as part of Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), when four squadron aircraft intercepted 20 Japanese Zeros and achieved eight kills without a loss. VMF-312 continued to operate from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa until the cessation of hostilities. By war’s end, the squadron had accounted for 59.5 air combat kills in the Pacific Theater.
Between September 1945 and February 1946 VMF-312 participated in the occupation force stationed on Okinawa.
Returning to the United States in February 1946 best looking water bottle, the squadron began operations at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro still as part of MAG-33, where the squadron completed a transition to F7F-3 Tigercats, a single seat day fighter variant of the two seat Tigercat night fighter. Although the night fighters continued in service for several years, the day fighter version proved unsuitable, and VMF-312 transitioned back to Corsairs, this time F4U-4s, a higher performance model.
The squadron transferred to Marine Aircraft Group 12, MCAS El Toro in July 1950 and was alerted for deployment and service in the Korean War. The first VMF-312 aircraft flew in Korea on September 19, 1950. Flying out of Wonson Air Base, the Checkerboards flew missions in support of the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Redeployed in March 1951 aboard the light carrier USS Bataan (CVL-29), the Checkerboards were assigned escort and blockade missions. Leaving the ship in June 1951, the squadron amassed 4,945 accident-free hours of carrier operations while logging 1 youth football uniforms packages,920 carrier landings. After a short period of ground based close air support operations, the squadron returned to sea, first with Bairoko, then with Bataan, and later with Sicily.
While aboard Bataan, the Checkerboards became the first piston engine squadron to shoot down a jet aircraft, when Captain Jesse Folmar shot down a MiG-15 jet fighter with 20 mm cannon fire. On June 8, 1953, the Checkerboards were relieved by VMF-332, and returned to the United States in anticipation of transitioning to F9F Panthers at Marine Corps Air Station Miami, Florida.
The Panthers were replaced with FJ-2 Furies (the naval version of the F-86 Sabre) and later FJ-3 Furies, while they in their turn were being replaced in mid-1959 by F8U-1 Crusaders. Concurrent with the reassignment in February 1966 to MCAS Beaufort was the transition to yet another aircraft, the F-4B Phantom II, and redesignation as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-312). Crewed with a pilot and Radar Intercept Officer, and capable of speeds of up to mach 2, the Phantom served as a formidable combat weapon with the Checkerboards for over 20 years.
During the Vietnam War, the Checkerboards performed the vital mission of training combat aircrews prior to their deployment to Southeast Asia. In 1973, the squadron received the newer F-4J aircraft, with its much improved radar and avionics, as well as improved aerodynamic design.
In 1979, the Checkerboards became the first 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing fighter squadron to deploy to the Western Pacific under the Unit Deployment Program (UDP). Since joining the UDP cycle, VMFA-312 has made five six-month deployments to the Western Pacific as well as participated in numerous training deployments around the United States. Upon completion of the first six-month UDP rotation, the Checkerboards became the first squadron to receive the F-4S variant of the Phantom, which incorporated leading edge slats as well as advanced radar. In July 1987, VMFA-312 retired its F-4 aircraft and transitioned to the F/A-18A Hornet.
In 1993, VMFA-312 participated in Operation Provide Promise and Operation Deny Flight over Yugoslavia. They also flew missions over Iraq in support of Operation Southern Watch while operating from the Red Sea.
In March 1995, the squadron deployed once again with Carrier Air Wing 8 aboard Theodore Roosevelt for its second consecutive Mediterranean deployment. During the cruise, VMFA-312 participated in Operations Southern Watch from the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, then Operation Sharp Guard and Operation Deny Flight from the Adriatic Sea.
In late August and September 1995, the Checkerboards conducted their first direct combat sorties since Vietnam in support of the United Nations resolutions in Operation Deliberate Force. NATO’s decision to conduct immediate air strikes against Bosnian-Serb ammunition bunkers, communication and control facilities, and logistical storage buildings heavily tasked both the air wing and the Checkerboards.
The Checkerboards along with CVW-3 began missions in support of Operation Southern Watch, on November 27, 1998. The mission would change as the order came down to commence Operation Desert Fox, December 16, 1998. The air campaign lasted four nights and would end with the following: (1) 100% sortie completion rate, (2) 44 combat night sorties, (3) 120.2 combat hours, (4) 74% of assigned targets destroyed, (5) 27 HARM fired, 53 LGB’s dropped, the first combat deployment of the AGM-154 JSOW and (6) over 95,500 lb of ordnance loaded. In the four nights of operations, the “Checkerboards” had zero injuries or casualties.
Carrier Air Wing Three entered the North Persian Gulf and began Operation Southern Watch missions on January 3, 2001. Nearly two weeks later, the Checkerboards were proud to christen Harry S. Truman with her first combat engagement. On January 20, a VMFA-312 jet destroyed an anti-aircraft artillery site, which was threatening coalition aircraft in Southern Iraq. On February 16, five VMFA-312 aircraft participated in a large force strike against numerous targets in the vicinity of Baghdad.
The Checkerboards deployed aboard Enterprise in August 2003. They arrived in the Persian Gulf in October and began support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). In November, VMFA-312 became the first squadron in the carrier air-wing to release ordnance in support of OIF. The Checkerboards remained in their area of operations until the end of January before transiting towards home.