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"Fabled Fifteen": A Brief History of VF-15

The Navy's most successful squadron of WWII

by Bill Coombes

Copyright 1998 by the Confederate Air Force and Bill Coombes. All rights reserved.

Originally published in The Dispatch magazine, Volume 23, Number 3, Fall, 1998 edition. If you are interested in subscribing to The Dispatch please write to The Commemorative Air Force, ATTN: Dispatch Editor, PO Box 62000, Midland, TX 79711-2000 or call (432) 563-1000. Reproduced with permission.

The Navy's most successful squadron, and perhaps the most famous, VF-15, was established on Sept. 1, 1943, with Cmdr. David McCampbell as the first commanding officer.

Initial carrier work-ups were done on the USS Hornet, with the entire air group (VF, VT and VB-15) then going aboard the USS Essex for combat deployment beginning in May 1944. Cmdr. McCampbell had fleeted up to command of the air group, and Cmdr. Charles Brewer followed McCampbell as skipper of VF-15.

"Fabled Fifteen" participated in all the fast carrier fleet offensives of the second half of 1944 including the Mariannas Turkey Shoot, where the squadron was credited (by most recent sources) with 68.5 kills, the most victories in one day of any Navy squadron.

Unfortunately, Cmdr. Brewer was killed in action, one of 20 aviators in VF-15 lost during the tour, and was succeeded by Lt. Cmdr. James Rigg. Under strong leadership, the men of VF-15 finished their only war-time cruise in November 1944 with 310 victories in the air, the most of any single-tour Navy squadron. Twenty-six aviators, led by Cmdr. McCampbell with 34 victories, achieved the status of ace.

VF-15 reformed for a second tour in January 1945 with Lt. Cmdr. Gordon Firebaugh as C.O. but the war ended with the "new" squadron at Barber's Point, Hawaii, awaiting assignment to a carrier. VF-15 was disestablished on Oct. 20, 1945.

The author would like to acknowledge the following men for their assistance in preparation of these articles: Barret Tillman, Jay Miller, Edward Hoyt, Edward Sims and David Anderson.

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