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Fabled Fifteen, The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15.

Fabled Fifteen, The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15. By Thomas McKelvey Cleaver. Philadelphia and Oxford: Casemate, 2014. Index. Glossary. Photographs. Bibliography. Pp. 240. $32.95 ISBN: 978-1-61200-257-6

Thomas Cleaver has done a splendid job of bringing into focus the remarkable exploits of the pilots and aircrew of Carrier Air Group 15.

Each air group represented the total aircraft complement of an aircraft carrier. It was usually composed of at least three squadrons, including fighters, scout (dive) bombers, and torpedo bombers. The scout bombers flew long range reconnaissance from the carrier, each aircraft searching out a small arc of the threat axis. On this duty they normally carried a 500-pound armor-piercing bomb to use in the event they discovered a suitable naval target. However, their first duty was to report by radio the enemy contact and location to the home carrier or carrier group.

When an enemy naval force was located, the entire air group would be launched. Fighters provided cover for the dive bombers and the torpedo planes. Torpedo bombers normally carried one aerial torpedo each. They were ship killers if they could achieve several hits using an "anvil" attack with small groups of torpedo bombers coming in on opposite bows of the target ship. Whichever way the target might turn, it was difficult to dodge all the torpedoes. That said, the torpedoes had to be delivered at low altitudes (100-150 feet) off the water, at low speed (100-125 knots), and at close range (1,000 yards or less) to ensure a hit. Flying a torpedo plane against a battleship or aircraft carrier was no task for the faint-hearted. Three torpedo squadrons were almost completely destroyed during the Battle of Midway in early June 1942. Torpedo bombers also served as medium-or high-altitude bombers and were equipped with the Navy Norden bombsight.

Dive bombers sacrificed range for a heavier load of ordnance during a planned attack, carrying a 1,000 pound armor-piercing bomb. Their attacks were delivered in a dive from 12-14,000 feet at a 70degree dive angle, releasing at about 2,000 feet. Harking back to Midway again, three dive bomber squadrons set three Japanese fleet carriers on fire in a ten-minute period, and all three carriers were lost along with their air groups. A fourth carrier was also sunk later that day by U.S. dive bombers, gutting Japanese carrier-based naval aviation.

Air Group 15 participated in two major battles that helped decide the final stages of the Pacific War: the "Marianas Turkey Shoot", the aerial subset of the Battle of The Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944) in which the rebuilt carrier portion of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Arm was destroyed; and the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 17-29, 1944) that finished off the remaining major Japanese Navy surface and air assets.

The book splendidly describes the strategic and operational uses of air power at sea, and the details of air combat as experienced by fighters, dive bombers and torpedo bombers in the three extraordinary squadrons that comprised Air Group 15.

Captain John F. O'Connell, USN (Ret), Docent, National Air and Space Museum

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Author:O'Connell, John F.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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