Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat

David McCampbell

The US Navy’s top ace of World War II, David McCampbell has several interesting claims to fame.

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After the jump, a brief look at the ace and his most successful mount.

David McCampbell joined the Navy and became a carrier pilot before World War II.  When the war broke out he was serving as the Landing Signals Officer on the USS Wasp.  As such he was in the Atlantic and Mediterranean for the early months of the war.  He was still LSO on the Wasp when it transferred to the Pacific until it was sunk in September of 1942.

Color photography, thanks to Kodachrome, also was an exciting new technology in World War II. This is actually David McCampbell working as the Landing Signals Officer on the USS Wasp in 1942.

 

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CAG on the tail means “Commander, Air Group”; while the white stripe itself denotes “USS Essex”.

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A year later he was given command of Fighting Fifteen (VF-15) that was working up for assignment on the new USS Essex.  He had been made Group Commander (that means he was in charge of the Fighting, Bombing and Torpedo Squadrons on the same ship) during that ship’s first war cruise.  Although most group commanders flew with their torpedo squadrons (longer range aircraft with extra crew for radio and navigation help) Commander McCampbell continued to lead his Fighting Squadron personally.

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During the Mariana’s Turkey Shoot he scored seven kills on two sorties. Four months later he had the best day of any American Fighter pilot.  Cmdr McCampbell and his wingman intercepted 60 Japanese aircraft and destroyed 15 of them.  That was 9 kills on one mission for McCampbell, an American record.  He landed with only two rounds of ammunition remaining.  David McCampbell was the only American ace to have two “Ace in a Day” missions (five kills or more on a single mission).  And his Air Group Fifteen destroyed over 650 enemy aircraft, a record for a single tour.

Rockets became a very common load out in the last year of the war.

Rockets became a very common load out in the last year of the war.

This is the Hasegawa kit of “Minsi III”.  This is the plane Cmdr McCampbell flew in the later part of his tour and in which he had his 9 kill mission.  There are few external clues to distinguish an F6F-5 from an F6F-3; the biggest differences were the addition of water-ethanol boost to the engine and spring tabs on the ailerons for improved maneuverability.  There were several other minor detail differences; but I find it amusing that the most significant change to the viewer is just the color.  The Navy coincidentally changed their camouflage order from a three tone scheme to over-all Navy Blue at the same time Grumman was switching from -3 to -5 production.  So the color of the paint is literally the first indicator of what version Hellcat we’re looking at.

Commander McCampbell in the Minsi III. This was his fourth Hellcat. His first was an F6F-3 named Monsoon Maiden which was damaged by AAA. Then he flew another F6F-3 the “Minsi”, named for his wife to score his first 10 kills. His first F6F-5, the “Minsi II” was apparently a bit of a lemon. After a short tenure it was replaced by the “Minsi III” that he flew for the rest of his tour.

 

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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15 Responses to Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat

  1. Theresa says:

    Quite an entertaining look at America’s combat aircraft and the pilots who flew them off the carrier’s deck then retrieved them.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    The Turkey Shoot was in my opinion the period on the sentence started at Coral Sea. The Japanese navy simply couldn’t absorb the grinding extended campaigns and the losses they entailed. By the Turkey Shoot the US was quite simply facing a different navy than the one they encountered at Pearl Harbor or Coral Sea, or Midway.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah absolutely. The very rigorous Japanese training program produced some amazing pilots, but it was never built to withstand the attrition of a hard war.
      Although Japanese pilot losses were perhaps “sustainable” through Coral Sea and Midway (at least the Japanese claim they were), the grinding Guadalcanal/Solomons campaign that followed was not. And by early 1943 the Japanese first team had been spent.
      They did make some significant efforts to adjust. Training was simplified, production increased, new designs came into service. In June 1944, at the Battle of the Philippine Sea the Japanese had their largest carrier fleet ever; nine carriers with over 600 aircraft. They also had a significant range advantage and felt they could attack the US fleet from out of our range. By most counts, they went into that battle expecting to win it.
      But the difference in pilot quality was just amazing. Apparently most pilots could only play follow the leader and literally did not know how to navigate or use any combat tactics beyond a defensive circle.
      American pilots, even the greenest, typically had 350 or more flight hours. And of course the Japanese had no answer for a radar directed fighter net. We won that battle before we ever flew an offensive mission, Japanese air power was pulverized.

      • atcDave says:

        I do want to add on Japanese losses above; I think the Japanese claims of sustainable losses are sort of misleading. Between Coral Sea and Midway they lost five flight decks. Apparently pilot losses in those battles were not horrendous (maybe less than 100).
        But that meant going into the Guadalcanal campaign they still had seven or so carriers (depends on what combination of light and auxiliary units we might want to count) that all had full air groups loaded with highly proficient pilots. Plus a number of highly capable land based units. So although they had suffered losses, they still had a very tough core that was more experienced and dangerous than ours.
        But I think what many historians (especially Japanese apologists) fail to account for is that the depth of experience, the ability to train replacement groups, was already diminishing. Perhaps if we had let up the pressure after Midway they could have made a pretty full recovery. And many of the “Europe First” crowd (US General Marshall; British Lord Alan Brooke) wanted us to do exactly that. But Admirals King and Nimitz were determined to keep the pressure up. And Roosevelt was wise enough to know that thanks to Pearl Harbor he had to support at least some offensive operations against the Japanese.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        The very fact that it took them over a year to “rebuild” their naval air power should have told them that seeking a decisive battle with the US fleet was a bad idea. Especially based on how their last “decisive battle” turned out. Strategic considerations aside, they were sending a green and untested force against a battle hardened one. Never a good idea.

        Of course it didn’t help that while the Japanese navy was rebuilding their air power the US had deployed the proximity fuse on their anti-aircraft artillery.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        You can not discount the damage the grinding Guadalcanal/Solomons campaign did to the Japanese navy. It was a meat grinder for both sides, but the US could withstand it as our production and training was on the upswing.

        I understand the Germany first crowd. Nazi Germany, through it’s U-boat campaign if nothing else, demonstrated a threat to the country that absent Pearl Harbor, the Japanese never seemed to. To the average citizen it may not have seemed so, but the idea of Japan supporting a trans-pacific supply-line to America’s west coast probably didn’t seem a realistic prospect, even to the Japanese.

        Germany, on the other hand posed a very real threat to European western civilization.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah, on a strategic level they were out matched in almost every way. I think partly, they didn’t understand or believe just how dangerous the US carrier force had become.
        The change really was amazing. At the start of the war they schooled us. By the end of 1942 we were quite proficient at using our strengths against their weaknesses. By 1944 our fleet was a generation (or more) beyond the Japanese. Yamamoto had predicted that if the war went more than six months or a year Japan couldn’t win; he had it about exactly right.

        One of my favorite books on this is “Shattered Sword” by Parshall and Tully. The comparison between the Japanese and American fleets and a Katana and western long sword is almost perfect. The Katana is a hard, razor sharp weapon designed for first strike. It breaks easily if forced into a prolonged thrust and parry type duel like westerners fought. And that mirrors the Kido Butai perfectly.

      • atcDave says:

        Germany was certainly a more obvious, more dire threat.
        But Japan was often too lightly dismissed. They had just captured many of the resources they needed to build a more modern industrial empire (Oil, Rubber, Tin). If we had let up the pressure, maybe to focus more completely on Nazi Germany, Japan could have become more dangerous by many degrees.
        Just imagine if they’d had that fleet at Philippine Sea full of pilots who’d been trained by the hundreds of hard core veterans that they actually lost at Guadalcanal.
        At the start of that battle, the IJN actually had MORE aircraft than the US Fifth Fleet. If they’d been competently flown the results could have been very different.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’d say you captured the Japanese dilemma completely. They counted on their capture of resources at the beginning of the war to allow them to BUILD an industrial economy capable of sustaining that war.

        I don’t dismiss Japan. You are correct, absent constant pressure they could have been a far more formidable foe, but what they didn’t understand was that the very nature of the way the war began meant that they would NEVER be free from pressure. The public would demand engagement, and victory against japan.

      • atcDave says:

        One of the intriguing quotes from “Tora!Tora!Tora” is from Yamamoto about he feared that delivering the declaration of war some time after the Pearl Harbor attack he’d succeeded only in filling his enemy with “a terrible resolve”. I always wonder at that quote. If they’d delivered the declaration 45 minutes before the attack, as scheduled, did he really think we would have been okay with it then? It wasn’t particularly clear as declarations of war go anyway! (I mention the movie because it so clearly forces that interpretation; I don’t quite buy it)

        But as I understand Japanese war planning, they apparently really thought if they bloodied our nose for several months we’d back off and leave them alone while they built their infrastructure. Yamamoto’s “decisive battle” he was hoping for at Midway was all about bringing us into peace talks.
        I think it was a hopeless dream. If Japan had won at Midway, or inflicted more serious losses early, I think we would have just readjusted priorities a little. Maybe delayed Torch for a few months while more units transferred to the Pacific. It might have all resulted in Europe looking a little “Redder” for many years; but Japan and Germany were not going to win.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I actually wanted to mention your point about the swords. There is it seems to me a really weird western obsession to see eastern martial arts as somehow superior, almost magical as opposed to western martial arts.

        In truth there is ample documentary evidence that at their height, or at the appropriate era’s height western martial arts were every bit as sophisticated as those of the samurai or ninja. There are manuals on it.

        The difference is that the west embraced gunpowder weapons far sooner than the east, and the value of highly trained specialist warriors died out in the west several centuries before they did in the east. So when we re-encountered the notion of a highly trained warrior in the east, it seemed exotic and new.

        For anyone interested I’d recommend Reclaiming the Blade or The Viking Sword.

      • atcDave says:

        The mysticism of the East is interesting. I think it was the ’60s and ’70s when the martial arts movies first became popular here that a whole new mythology emerged. I’ve read a fair amount about the differences in weapons and tactics through the years and I think its safe to say in any era, the professionals generally know their business. Asymmetrical situations are interesting and the potential for a bloody shock is far greater; especially if two warriors or armies are not only dissimilar but wholly unfamiliar with each other.

        As near as I can tell, the eastern, especially Japanese way of war is all about a massive first strike that leaves the opponent incapable of an effective response. This holds true from sharp but brittle swords to surprise attacks on sleeping naval bases (and Pearl Harbor was not the first time they started a war that way [Port Arthur]). The western way is more often about endurance and being able to take a few hits (from thick plate armor and swords that would bend but not break; to ships with effective damage control and airplanes with pilot armor and self sealing fuel tanks).
        Japanese martial arts (and I mean that in the broadest sense of the term) can be very effective. Or not.

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