This day in history, October 24, 1944, Medal of Honor Recipient and “Ace of Aces” David McCampbell and one other fighter faced 60 planes approaching U.S. forces. He shot down 9 “Zekes” and with his comrade, they managed to scatter the remaining 51 planes at the battle of Leyte Gulf.
“All available fighter pilots! Man your planes!” boomed the squawk box in Essex’ ready room. The ship’s radar had detected three large groups of Japanese planes coming in. David McCampbell, the CAG 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 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 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.
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 Vee.
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.
Still the enemy planes didn’t turn and mix it up. McCampbell realized he could relax and take his time and 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