The record of Carrier Air Group 15 in World War II is astonishing by any measure: it scored 312 enemy aircraft destroyed, 33 probably destroyed, and 65 damaged in aerial combat, plus 348 destroyed, 161 probably destroyed, and 129 damaged in ground attacks. Twenty-six Fighting 15 pilots became aces, including their leader, Commander David McCampbell, who became the U.S. Navy’s “Ace of Aces.” Twenty-one squadron pilots were killed in action and one in an operational accident aboard the carrier Essex.
The fighter squadron’s partners, Bombing Squadron 15 and Torpedo Squadron 15, scored 174,300 tons of enemy shipping, including 37 cargo vessels sunk, 10 probably sunk, and 39 damaged. As well, Musashi, the world’s largest battleship, was sunk, along with a light aircraft carrier, a destroyer, destroyer escort, two minesweepers and other craft – plus the Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack. Incredibly, every pilot of Torpedo 15 was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest award for bravery after the Medal of Honor.
All of this took place between May and November, 1944. No other American combat unit in any service came close to a similar score in such a short time period. Air Group 15 participated in the two greatest naval battles in history, the Philippine Sea – also known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot – and Leyte Gulf, which saw the end of Japanese naval power. On June 19, 1944, Fighting 15 shot down 68.5 attacking Japanese aircraft, a one-day record unmatched by any other U.S. fighter squadron.
In documenting the saga of Air Group 15’s momentous six months at war, the author provides an intimate and insightful view of the group’s fabled combat tour, including details of daily life and human interactions aboard the fleet carrier USS Essex during the busiest phase of the Pacific War.
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