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David McCampbell

Posted by admin on February 9, 2008

Captain David McCampbell. "All available fighter pilots! Man your planes!" boomed the squawk box in Essex' ready room on October 24, 1944.  The ship's radar had detected three large groups of Japanese planes coming in.
David McCampbell, the Commander, Air Group (CAG) 15, a.k.a. the “Fabled Fifteen,” and the Navy's most famous living aviator, considered this announcement. Earlier that morning, Admiral Sherman himself had forbidden McCampbell from joining a dawn sortie.  Given his responsibilities as Commander of Essex' Air Group and his public prominence as a top ace, McCampbell was too valuable.  He decided that he was indeed "available" and headed for his airplane, Minsi III.  His plane crew hurried to fuel Minsi III, which had not been scheduled to fly that day.  With the Hellcat only partially fueled, the Flight Deck Officer ordered it off the flight deck - either into the air or below to the hangar deck.  McCampbell went up, leading Essex's last seven fighters toward the Jap strike force.
He and ENS Roy Rushing got out in front of the other Hellcats, putting on all speed to intercept the Japs, then only 22 miles away.  He directed the other F6F's to get the bombers, while he and Rushing tackled the fighters.  Surprisingly, the enemy fighters turned, allowing McCampbell and Rushing to gain altitude and a position behind them. 

F6F Hellcat
Photo by Guilherme Bystronski

Seeing over 40 Japanese fighters, McCampbell radioed back to the carrier for help, "Sorry, none available." The enemy planes spread out in a typical formation of three V's.  McCampbell picked out a Zero on the extreme right and flamed it. Rushing also got one on this first pass. Incredibly, there was no reaction from the Japs as they climbed back up to regain altitude.  The two Hellcat pilots dived back down on their quarry for another pass; McCampbell blew up a second Zero.  Now the gaggle of Zeros, Tonys, Hamps, and Oscars reacted - by going into a Lufbery! McCampbell made a couple of head-on passes against the formation, but without results.
A strange interlude ensued as McCampbell and Rushing climbed back up and circled, while the Japanese fighters continued to circle below.  McCampbell radioed again for help; one of the Hellcats that had been going after the bombers headed his way.  The Lufbery broke up and the planes headed toward Luzon in a wide V. The two American fliers closed in again on the formation.  McCampbell opened up at 900 feet, and exploded his third plane of the morning. Rushing shot down his second one.

Apparently low on fuel, the Japanese planes doggedly flew on, maintaining formation.  On his next firing pass, gunfire coming from behind forced McCampbell to break off his attack and pull up.  It was another Hellcat shooting too close to him. A few choice words straightened things out. Still the enemy planes didn't turn and mix it up.

McCampbell realized he could relax and take his time.  This was practically gunnery exercise.  He could focus on identifying his targets carefully.  The next one was an Oscar.  Again his six fifties roared and blasted the Oscar's wing root.  It flamed for number four.  Rushing had scored his third by this time.  This continued for several more passes until McCampbell had downed 7 and Rushing 6.  Rushing radioed that he was out of ammo, but he would stay on McCampbell's wing while the CAG used up his remaining bullets. 

Two more passes and two more kills.  As the Jap planes approached the security of their bases on Luzon, the two Americans' low fuel finally ended the slaughter.  The Hellcats broke off and headed for Essex.  In one morning sortie, McCampbell had shot down nine enemy planes and Rushing six, an unparalleled achievement in American fighter aviation.

During the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” on June 19, 1944, McCampbell shot down 7 Japanese aircraft to become an “ace in a day.” He repeated this monumental feat during the aforementioned mission by shooting down 9 enemy aircraft setting a single mission combat record. He landed on the aircraft carrier with only two rounds and 10 minutes of fuel remaining in his Hellcat. That’s shit hot!

McCampbell formed and led VF-15 prior to assuming command of Air Group 15. The “Fabled Fifteen” participated in six months of continuous combat amassing 20,000 combat hours against the Japs in the Marianas, Iwo Jima, Taiwan, and Okinawa. The air group destroyed more planes (314 in the air and 348 on the ground) and sank more enemy shipping than any other air group in the Pacific. This is completely shit hot!

Captain McCampbell was awarded the following decorations for his valor, bravery and brilliant performance in combat: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit with Combat Distinguishing Device (“V”), Distinguished Flying Cross with two gold stars in lieu of second and third awards, and Air Medal.

Captain McCampbell retired from active duty in 1964. He died in 1996 and was interred in the Arlington National Cemetery…may he rest in peace.


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