High mark of the Hellcats’ success was the battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 when the Grummans smashed the Japanese attack with very small losses to themselves, in the famous “Turkey Shoot.” Each Essex-class carrier carried 36 Hellcats, 36 dive-bombers and 18 torpedo bombers at first, but the fighter number increased to 72 at the expense of the bombers as the war went on. Night fighters operated as detachments with regular carriers, as a squadron on special night-carriers, or as land-based Marine squadrons.
By the war’s end, Hellcats were credited with 5,156 of the total of 9,282 enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat by Navy and Marine planes, although only 270 Hellcats were lost to enemy aircraft in combat. Leading Hellcat ace, and top Navy ace, is Captain David McCampbell with 34 victories, including nine confirmed on one mission from the Essex. The Navy’s second-ranking ace, Commander Cecil E. Harris, scored 23 victories in his Hellcat, and Commander Eugene Valencia got 23. After the war, Hellcats were widely used by reserve squadrons, and in Korea a guided missile unit attacked bridges with six F6F-5K drones, beginning August 26, 1952.
Britain’s Royal Navy was given 251 F6F-3s as the Hellcat I, 848 F6F-5s as the Hellcat II, and 78 F6F-5Ns as the Hellcat NF. II. Delivery began in May 1943, and 12 squadrons formed from July 1943 to June 1945 served aboard British carriers from the North Sea to the Pacific.
French Army and Navy squadrons received 179 surplus Navy Hellcats flying their last combat actions in Indochina from 1950 to 1954. Argentina and Uruguay each received ten F5F-5s in 1952.
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