Fabled Fifteen

The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

The astonishing saga of Air Group's momentous six-month combat tour in the Pacific War.
Date Published :
October 2020
Publisher :
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612002576
Pages : 264
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612009292
Pages : 264
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock


The record of Carrier Air Group 15 in World War II is astonishing by any measure: it scored 312 enemy aircraft destroyed, 33 probably destroyed, and 65 damaged in aerial combat, plus 348 destroyed, 161 probably destroyed, and 129 damaged in ground attacks. Twenty-six Fighting 15 pilots became aces, including their leader, Commander David McCampbell, who became the U.S. Navy’s “Ace of Aces.” Twenty-one squadron pilots were killed in action and one in an operational accident aboard the carrier Essex.

The fighter squadron’s partners, Bombing Squadron 15 and Torpedo Squadron 15, scored 174,300 tons of enemy shipping, including 37 cargo vessels sunk, 10 probably sunk, and 39 damaged. As well, Musashi, the world’s largest battleship, was sunk, along with a light aircraft carrier, a destroyer, destroyer escort, two minesweepers and other craft—plus the Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack. Incredibly, every pilot of Torpedo 15 was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest award for bravery after the Medal of Honor.

All of this took place between May and November, 1944. No other American combat unit in any service came close to a similar score in such a short time period. Air Group 15 participated in the two greatest naval battles in history, the Philippine Sea—also known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot—and Leyte Gulf, which saw the end of Japanese naval power. On June 19, 1944, Fighting 15 shot down 68.5 attacking Japanese aircraft, a one-day record unmatched by any other U.S. fighter squadron.

In documenting the saga of Air Group 15’s momentous six months at war, the author provides an intimate and insightful view of the group’s fabled combat tour, including details of daily life and human interactions aboard the fleet carrier USS Essex during the busiest phase of the Pacific War.



1 — “All Fighter Pilots! Man Your Planes!”
2 — Creating The Navy’s Sunday Punch
3 — Coming Aboard
4 — Off To War
5 — The Marianas Turkey Shoot
6 — Pacific High Tide: June–September 1944
7 — Pacific Crescendo: September–October 1944
8 — The Battles Of Leyte Gulf: October 17–29, 1944
9 — “I Fear They’ve Saved The Worst Of All This For Last”: October 26–November 15, 1944
10 — And Then . . .



"Cleaver's book is a splendid effort that is eminently readable, detailed, and action‑packed. Buttressed by years of research, the book is not just a dry recounting of dates and missions; rather, it examines the men and their lives through interviews with surviving members, diaries and contemporary letters. Cleaver uses it all to transform words on a page into real and empathetic men."

- LCOL Jay A. Stout USMC (Ret), author, “Fighter Group”

Few authors cover aviation and war with the authenticity that Thomas McKelvey Cleaver brings to "Fabled Fifteen." The carrier‑based naval aviators who fought in the Pacific in World War II had a difficult, demanding, exciting job and Cleaver captures their experience, from a well‑known Medal of Honor ace to an obscure, lowly ensign. This is a fast‑paced, character‑driven narrative that will grab you and hold you.

- Robert F. Dorr, author “Mission To Tokyo”

"Cleaver provides a very clear sequence of both naval strategy and tactics of both sides of the two greatest naval battles in history, the Marianas Turkey Shoot and the Battles of Leyte Gulf."

- CDR Jack D. Woodul, USN (Ret)

"Cleaver does a magnificent job in telling the human side of the story of Carrier Air Group 15, perhaps the most successful of its type. The author gives the human story of the heroism of the fighter, dive bomber and torpedo plane pilots who inflicted tremendous losses on the Japanese. But he also places Air Group 15’s exploits in the context of the larger events of the war."

- Col Walter J. Boyne, USAF (Ret), retired curator, National Air And Space Museum, author “The Wild Blue.”

"Thomas McKelvey Cleaver's FABLED FIFTEEN, The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15 is a great bit of history mixing factual research and the personal touch through letters and interviews. The sagas of USS Enterprise, Air Wing 15 and its CAG, David McCampbell, have each been told before, but, until now, not together in a comprehensible and readable whole. This book is on the top of my reference stack."

- CDR Robert R. “Boom” Powell, USN (Ret)

"Previous accounts of Air Group 15’s activities have mostly been a summary of flight records with little other detail, so we have learned little of the men who actually flew and maintained the planes during that time. They all have fascinating stories to tell that the author has captured for our enjoyment."

- CDR David P. McCampbell, USN (Ret)

"...strives to put a more human face on a topic that is often presented as a simple series of basic chronological facts... presents the history of the CVG-15 from the perspective of those who made the history. This is much more important that just facts and figures...packed with vivid accounts of the men who fought the war...highly recommend it. You cannot distill human history down to a chart."

- Logbook

"a truly outstanding book about this famous unit, a unit whose record has never been equaled and probably never will. You need to buy this one."

- Modeling Madness

"... does an excellent job of weaving the stories of the air men- from day to day affairs to a grueling succession of air battles- within the context of the Pacific offensive... nicely balanced history"

- Aviation History

"The author specializes in detailed histories of naval aviation units in World War II and gives the reader a close-up look at the men and machines that drove the Japanese from the skies over the Pacific. The Fabled Fifteen chronicles the actions of USS Essex’s Carrier Air Group 15, led by CDR David McCampbell, who became the Navy’s top ace of all time. In six months of action in 1944, the group’s three squadrons flew in the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, shooting dow n 312 aircraft — nearly 70 in one day — destroying 348 on the ground and sinking more than 44 ships, including a battleship and two carriers. Every pilot in its torpedo squadron was awarded the Navy Cross. In the VF-2 book, the author takes a similar approach in describing the exploits of the “Flying Chiefs of Fighting Squadron Two,” whose enlisted pilots shot down 17 enemy aircraft in the Battle of the Coral Sea, and those of the aces of a subsequent VF-2, the “Rippers,” a squadron that shot down 245 aircraft and produced 28 aces. This monograph is generously illustrated with aircraft profiles and photos of the aces"

- Seapower

"This book is action-packed, but it’s made all the more intriguing because Cleaver’s research and interviews provide insights into what daily life aboard the Essex was like not just the pilots but even the lowest-ranking sailors."

- Toy Solder & Model Figure

"A most interesting and important book."

- Baird Maritime

"This is an action-packed book that, once started, is difficult to put down."

- Flightline

"This is a fascinating story of the CAG15 war in some of the key battles of the Pacific theatre. It is strongly recommended for both the general reader and the expert alike."

- Miniature Wargames

"I highly recommend this book to historians, enthusiasts, and anyone with an interest in US carrier aviation in the Pacific during the Second World War. It is a fitting tribute to the men of Carrier Air Group 15."

- Military Enthusiast Book Club

"..an interesting read for improving your history knowledge and your next model build."

- DetailScaleView

"The vivid description gives the reader a real feel for the time, showing just how gruelling and frustrating life at sea as a pilot or enlisted air crewman could be in 1944 as they tried to follow a key rule of combat flying, 'Never get to like a guy so well you can't see him die."

- Classic Wings

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