David McCampbell: The US Navy Ace of Aces

David McCampbell started active duty with the US Navy in 1934 serving aboard the cruiser USS Portland. He graduated flying school and served on the carriers USS Ranger and USS Wasp (CV-7) where he was a Landing Signal Officer (LSO). After the Wasp was sunk in 1942 near Guadalcanal, McCampbell went back to the US to train and command the newly formed Fighter Squadron 15 (VF-15), one of the first squadrons equipped with the new F6F Hellcat fighter.

david mccampbell

David McCampbell

By early 1944, VF-15 was stationed aboard the carrier USS Essex. McCambell’s leadership skill were recognized and he was soon promoted to command Air Group 15, which included the group’s fighter, dive bomber and torpedo planes. Air Group 15 went into combat on May 19th, 1944 and David McCambell got his first kill three weeks later when he spotted a Zero coming out of the clouds near Saipan. On June 19th McCambell became an “ace in a day” when he scored 7 kills in what would later be known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, where Japanese Naval Air Power suffered an overwhelming defeat by planes of the US Navy.

McCambell led from the front, going on as many missions as he could. Under his leadership, Air Group 15 became known as the “Fabled 15”. After seven months of combat duty it destroyed 312 airplanes in the air, 348 airplanes on the ground and sunk more than 296,500 tons including 3 aircraft carriers, a heavy cruiser and the famed super-battleship Musashi.

david mccampbell

F6F Hellcats in flight

Fighter Group 15 (VF-15) became a squadron of aces. On October 24th, 1944, over Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, David McCambell, with his wingman Roy Rushing, attacked a group of 60 Japanese planes including 40 fighters. In the dogfight, McCambell shot down 9 planes becoming the only American airman to become an “ace in a day” twice. Rushing shot down another 6 planes in the encounter. When David McCampbell landed back on the Essex had only 2 rounds of ammunition left, and his airplane had to be manually taken off the carrier’s arresting wire because of lack of fuel.

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David McCampbell as a Landing Signals Officer on the USS Wasp

In January 1945, David McCambell was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions over Leyte Gulf. With 34 kills, he was the US Navy’s highest scoring ace, and the 3rd highest scoring American Ace in history. Among his other awards are the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. He went on to serve in the US Navy until 1964 and to this day remains the US Navy’s Ace of Aces.

For More about David McCampbell and Air Group 15 Check out:

Fabled 15: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15

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