CAPT David S. McCampbell
U.S. Navy WW-II Top Fighter Ace

CDR David McCampbell

CAPT David McCampbell

January 16, 1910 - June 30, 1996
SMA - Class of 1928
USNA - Class of 1933

David McCampbell was born on January 16, 1910, in Bessemer, Alabama to Andrew Jackson (A.J.) and E. La Valle (Perry) McCampbell. At thirteen he left home to attend the Staunton Military Academy in Staunton, Virginia, and later Georgia Tech in Atlanta, before being appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929 by Senator P. Trammell of Florida. While at the Naval Academy, McCampbell excelled in athletics, becoming A.A.U. Diving Champion - Mid-Atlantic States in 1931 and Eastern Intercollegiate Diving Champion in 1932. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1933 with a B.S. degree in Marine Engineering. The same day, he was honorably discharged from the Navy due to Congressional legislation limiting officer commissions and was recommissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. For the next year, McCampbell worked for a construction company in Alabama and as an assembly mechanic with Douglas Aircraft Corporation.

On June 14, 1934, McCampbell was transferred from the Naval Reserve to the U.S. Navy. His first assignment was aboard the cruiser USS Portland. In July, 1936, he was assigned as Aircraft Gunnery Observer with Scouting Squadron 11. In 1937, McCampbell's flying career finally got off the ground at Pensacola Naval Air Station where he reported for flight training. A year later, he was designated a Naval Aviator and received his first flying assignment with Fighting Squadron 4 aboard the USS Ranger where he served two years. In 1940, he was transferred to the USS Wasp’s Air Group in the Atlantic Ocean to serve as Landing Signal Officer. The work of a Landing Signal Officer on a carrier was extremely exacting, for the safety and lives of the pilots and crewmen rested upon him. He served as Landing Signal Officer until the Wasp was sunk on September 15, 1942 by a Japanese submarine while on routine patrol south of Guadalcanal.

Next, McCampbell returned home for a rest and promotion to Lt. Commander while he served as an instructor of Landing Signal Officers in Melbourne, Florida. But the war was heating up and the Navy needed experienced men to command fighter squadrons. In August of 1943, McCampbell became commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 15 where he served from September 1943 until February 1944, when he assumed command of Air Group Fifteen, which came to call itself the “Fabled Fifteen.”

In the spring of 1944, the Fabled Fifteen went to war aboard the USS Essex. McCampbell was given command of the entire Essex air group -- bombers, fighters, and torpedo planes. He was thirty-four years old and he was finally going to war the way he wanted it, with a fighter plane in his hands! The Fabled Fifteen, led by McCampbell, slashed a devastating path through the sky all the way to the Philippines before the exhausted fliers went home. During their tour of approximately seven months and more than 20,000 hours of operations, this group destroyed more enemy planes (318 airborne and 348 on the ground) and sank more enemy ships (296,500 tons sunk, and more than a half million tons damaged and/or probably sunk) than any other air group in the Pacific war. Among the major combat ships sunk was the Japanese battleship MUSASHI, three carriers and a heavy cruiser. The Fabled Fifteen became one of the most highly decorated air groups of the war.

Despite the impressive record of the Fabled Fifteen, McCampbell's personal record is even more unprecedented. He entered combat on May 19, 1944, leading a fighter sweep over Marcus Island. He shot down his first Japanese plane on the 11th of June, 1944 during air strikes against Japanese positions on Saipan. In the first and second Battles of the Philippine Sea, McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of eighty Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on the U.S. Fleet on June 19, 1944. McCampbell personally destroyed seven hostile planes and two probable during this single engagement in which the larger enemy attack force was routed and virtually annihilated. Fighter pilots remember the battle as the famous “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” By September 1944, McCampbell had shot down nineteen Japanese planes and the side of his Hellcat was cluttered with miniature Japanese flags. In October, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, McCampbell, assisted by only one other plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of sixty hostile enemy aircraft approaching American forces. Together they accounted for fifteen downed enemy planes with McCampbell personally shooting down nine enemy planes and two probables, a feat unequaled in the annals of combat aviation. He also completely disorganized the enemy group, forcing the remainder to abandon the attack before a single aircraft could reach the U.S. Fleet.

After almost seven months of service in the Pacific, McCampbell had destroyed 34 airborne enemy planes, the greatest number of enemy planes ever shot down by an American pilot during a single tour of combat duty, as well as 20 planes on the ground. David McCampbell became the top scoring Naval fighter pilot of World War II. As a result of these incredible feats, McCampbell received numerous honors and decorations including the Congressional Medal of Honor which was personally presented to him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. McCampbell also received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After returning home, McCampbell served from March 1945 to January 1947 at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia as Chief of Staff to Commander Fleet Air and as Commander of Carrier Air Groups. He was next assigned to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, first as a student and then as a member of the staff in the Intelligence Division. Later, he was assigned to Buenos Aires, Argentina where he served as the Senior Naval Aviation Advisor to the Argentine Navy from 1948 to January 1951. In February of 1951, McCampbell joined the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt as Executive Officer. From March 1952 until July 1953, he was the Planning Officer on the Staff of Commander Aircraft Atlantic. In the summer of 1953 he assumed command of the Naval Air Technical Training Center at Jacksonville, Florida and a year later became Flight Test Coordinator at the Naval Air Test Center in Maryland. In the years following, he commanded the USS Severn and USS Bon Homme Richard until he was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. in 1960. In September, 1962 he became the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to the Commander in Chief of Continental Air Defense Command. He remained there until he retired from the Navy in 1964. David McCampbell died in Florida after a lengthy illness on June 30, 1996.

McCampbell is the Navy's top ace with 34 confirmed aerial victories and recipient of the Medal of Honor while serving as commander, Air Group 15, USS Essex (CV 9) during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19, 1944) and the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 24, 1944). During the first encounter, McCampbell's force "virtually annihilated" an attacking force of 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft, of which he personally shot down seven. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf, he daringly attacked a formation of at least 60 Japanese land-based aircraft. McCampbell shot down at least nine of these aircraft, forcing the remainder to abandon the attack.

The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to David McCampbell for the flight of nine and the earlier mission of seven victories.

Battle of Leyte Gulf
October 24, 1944
painter Tony Weddel
Marianas Turkey Shoot
June 19, 1944
painter Roy Grinnell

The action scenes above portray the F6F-5 Hellcat fighter, Minsi III, flown by the Air Group Commander of VF-15 (Fabled Fifteen) off the carrier USS Essex (CV-9).

The picture on the left depicts the day of October 24,1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Commander McCampbell with only his wingman, Lt. Roy W. Rushing, accounted for fifteen enemy aircraft destroyed of an attacking Japanese force of sixty planes - McCampbell and Rushing attacking a force of forty fighters while the rest of a flight of five Hellcats, the only available air defense of the American Fleet, attacked the remaining force of twenty bombers. McCampbell personally destroyed nine enemy aircraft plus two probables in the scrap in which the enemy was forced to abandon their attack before reaching the fleet. This is the greatest number of aircraft shot down by an American pilot in a single engagement.

The picture on the right depicts Commader McCampbell during an engagement in which he led his fighters against a force of eighty Japanese carrier-based aircraft on June 19, 1944, that were approaching the American Fleet, during the Battles of the Phillipine Sea - He personally destroyed seven enemy aircraft plus two probables as the Americans virtually annihilated the attacking force in what became the legendary "Marianas Turkey Shoot".

Because of his accomplishments, McCampbell was awarded the Medal of Honor which was presented to him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, among his many decorations and awards.

McCampbell is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Pacific Champions - Air Group 15 of USS Essex
Battle of the Philippine Sea
Splash Nine


Chief Petty Officer Owens (McCampbell's Plane Captain) standing on the wing of Minsi III along with CDR McCampbell in cockpit.
Note 34 meatballs representing number of enemy aircraft killed.



Credited with 34 E/A Kills

Victories - 19 June 1944:
- 7 Aerial Destroyed, Plus 2 Probables

Victories - 24 October 1944:
- 9 Aerial Destroyed, Plus 2 Probables
20 Strafing Destroyed

Author: Barrett Tillman
Cover depects CDR McCampbell in his
F6F Hellcat "Minsi III"
during the Battle of Leyte Gulf

This book provides a detailed operational history of the Hellcat, from its development, early missions in 1943 with the first Essex-class carriers. Tillman surveys every major carrier of the Pacific, and describes the actions of the individual Fighting Squadrons and pilots. Frequent mentions of Fred Bardshar, William Dean, Pat Fleming, Herb Houck, David McCampbell, Ed O'Hare, and Alex Vraciu.

To get more than Tillman offers in this book, one would have to go to the particular after-action reports. It is indispensable.


Commander David S. McCampbell
Congressional Medal of Honor Citation


Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, Air Group 15. Place and date: First and second battles of the Philippine Sea, 19 June 1944. Entered service at: Florida. Born: 16 January 1 910, Bessemer, Alabama. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Gold Stars, Air Medal. 


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commander, Air Group 15, during combat against enemy Japanese aerial forces in the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. An inspiring leader, fighting boldly in the face of terrific odds, Comdr. McCampbell led his fighter planes against a force of 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on our fleet on 19 June 1944. Striking fiercely in valiant defense of our surface force, he personally destroyed 7 hostile planes during this single engagement in which the outnumbering attack force was utterly routed and virtually annihilated. During a major fleet engagement with the enemy on 24 October, Comdr. McCampbell, assisted by but one plane, intercepted and daringly attacked a formation of 60 hostile land-based craft approaching our forces. Fighting desperately but with superb skill against such overwhelming airpower, he shot down 9 Japanese planes and, completely disorganizing the enemy group, forced the remainder to abandon the attack before a single aircraft could reach the fleet. His great personal valor and indomitable spirit of aggression under extremely perilous combat conditions reflect the highest credit upon Comdr. McCampbell and the U.S. Naval Service.


Military Awards Received by David S. McCampbell
Congressional Medal of Honor Navy Cross Silver Star Legion of Merit
with Combat "V"
Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Gold Stars Air Medal with 1 Gold Star


On the left, a unit patch from the USS MCCAMPBELL (DDG-85).

On the right, a pencil drawing honoring Captain David McCampbell.

On July 2, 2000, the U.S. Navy christened one of its newest Arleigh Burke class
guided-missile destroyers the USS MCCAMPBELL (DDG-85) in honor Captain David McCampbell.

USS MCCAMPBELL will be commissioned in August 2002 in San Francisco, California.
It will then be homeported at the Naval Station in San Diego, CA as part of the Pacific Fleet.

USS MCAMPBELL (DDG-85) is the 35th of 58 Arleigh Burke class destroyers authorized by Congress. These ships can conduct a variety of missions, from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection, in support of the National Military Strategy.

USS MCCAMPBELL has a crew of 389 officers, chiefs and enlisted personnel. The ship is 509.5 feet in length, and has a waterline beam of 59 feet. Four gas-turbine engines power the 9,195 ton ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots.

Equipped with the latest weapons, electronics, helicopter support facilities, and propulsion, auxiliary and survivability systems, these destroyers will carry out the Navy's missions well into the next century. State-of-the-art command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems provide their ships' crew with complete situational awareness.

USS MCCAMPBELL is equipped with the Navy's modern Aegis combat weapons system, the world's foremost naval weapon system. Space-age communications, radar and weapons technologies are combined in a single platform for unlimited mission flexibility. The systems include the AN/SPY-1D phased array radar; the MK 41 Vertical Launching System, which fires a combination of up to 96 Standard surface-to-air, and Tomahawk surface-to-surface missiles; and the AN/SQQ-89 Antisubmarine Warfare System, with a bow mounted AN/SQS-53C sonar.

USS MCCAMPBELL has six MK 46 torpedo tubes, as well as two MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems and a multi-mission 5"/62 caliber deck-mounted gun which can be used as an anti-ship weapon, close-in point defense or in naval gun fire support of forces ashore. The ship's aircraft handling and support facilities include dual aircraft hangers (port & starboard), a dual Recovery Assist, Securing and Traversing (RAST) System, and associated machinery systems providing significant enhanced helicopter launch and recovery, command and control and maintenance/repair capabilities.

The USS MCCAMPBELL also features the over-the-horizon LAMPS MK III Antisubmarine Warfare Control System, and will be assigned two SH-60B Seahawk Undersea Warfare helicopters.


Captain David S. McCampbell died on June 30, 1996 at the age of 86.
He is buried at Arlington National Cemetary