June 1944 would prove unforgettable for the land and carrier-based pilots of America and Japan. The scene is set in the tropical heat of the Pacific Ocean for a confrontation between them. Two accounts by pilots, one from each side, reveal how similar emotions went through their minds. Commander David McCampbell was Commander of Air Group 15, the three fighting squadrons of the US carrier Essex which took part in the battle against the Japanese Combined Fleet. He later became the most celebrated of us naval airmen and was awarded the Medal of Honor. June 12, 1944, Admiral Raymond Spruance had led the 5th US Fleet to the Philippine Sea, preparing to invade Saipan and the other major islands of the Marianas chain, which were needed as air bases for the B-29 bombers to strike Japan. My carrier, the USS Essex, was part of the fleet's Task Group 58.4, which comprised three carriers, three cruisers and twelve destroyers. The other carriers were the Langley and the Cowpens. Rear Admiral W K Harrill was the officer in command. Altogether there were 15 carriers now with the 5th Fleet. Our first task was to soften up the air defences of Saipan and the smaller island of Pagan which was important because it housed an airfield with one small runway, and a number of barracks and shops. Saipan was the first objective. The job … destroy enemy aircraft. On board the carrier USS Essex, F6F Hellcats of Commander David McCampbell's Air Group 15 is prepared for action, May 1944. Just before one o'clock on the afternoon of 11 June, we had the order to launch the planes. I led the air strike, which consisted of 15 fighters from the Essex and two dive-bombers along with a dozen fighters from the Cowpens and a dozen from the Langley. The two dive-bombers were rescue planes, equipped with extra life-rafts and other survival gear to drop to downed pilots. Later an amphibian or a submarine or a destroyer would pick the pilots up. Seven of our F6F fighters carried 350-pound demolition bombs, and they dived from 12,000 feet and bombed at 2,500 feet, and then formed a strafing line and strafed the island from east to west. The other eight fighters stayed above flying cover until the bombing runs ended, and then they went down to strafe. For an hour and a half they concentrated on strafing runs on Saipan's airfields and seaplane bases. The Japanese drew first blood. On the way in over Tanapag Harbour, Lieutenant Kenney's fighter was hit by flak. He was diving but he just continued to dive straight down to the water and splashed. Lieutenant Commander Brewer led the fighter attack on the harbour seaplane ramp. I saw his bomb strike in the middle of three seaplanes parked neatly on the ramp, and destroy all three. Brewer then strafed, came around and headed out to sea. Five miles out at sea, northwest of Marpi Point, Brewer and Ensign R E Fowler Junior spotted a dark green Kawanishi flying boat called an Emily, with the dull red circles. They attacked. As they came up, several other fighters were shooting at the Emily. Brewer attacked from above on the side of the plane he said he saw his bullets hit the Emily's number two engine and the port wing. Ensign Fowler reported that he attacked the cockpit and noticed that the plane was smoking. Twenty seconds later the flying boat turned over on one wing, dropped with engine aflame and smoke coming from the fuselage, and struck the water. It exploded in a geyser of smoke, water and flame. A group of US bomber pilots wait for the call to action, tension showing clearly on their faces as Captain Stuart Ingersol (left) prepares his men for the assault on Saipan. Lieutenant-Commander Brewer turned west of the town of Garapan and saw three Zero fighters, but by the time he arrived on the scene, they had all been shot down by other American fighters. This was our first encounter as an air group with enemy aircraft. We had heard a great deal about the Zero fighter. I was pleased to note that the F6F could stay with the Zero in turns, climbs and dives, particularly at altitudes above 12,000 feet, where most of the air action took place. I noted two deficiencies of the Zero, its lack of armour and its unprotected gas tanks. All but one of the Zeros I saw shot down that day went down in flames. At about 2.30 I was flying 'mattress' (low air cover) and observing the attack. Suddenly a Zero came down from above our fighters and pulled up in a high wingover on my port beam. I turned into the Zero and gave it a short burst from close up, not more than 250 yards. The Zero turned over on its left wing. I followed and got in another short burst, got on the tail and gave the Zero another burst. The pilot made another wingover, but he was already going down. The plane fell off on the right wing and spiralled toward the sea. Another F6F followed the Zero down, firing. I remained in position. The Zero hit the water without burning and sank. No head appeared. On 19 June Admiral Ozawa launched his first strike against the American fleet, beginning from Guam. At 10 o'clock our radar picked up a large force of 'bogies' approaching, distance 150 miles. At that point Commander Brewer was already in the air, in command of the combat air patrol, and he was ordered to take his planes up to 24,000 feet. We heard Brewer shout Tallyho' 24 rats, 16 hawks, no fish at 18,000' (24 fighters, 16 dive-bombers and no torpedo planes at 18,000 feet). He then spotted 15 Judys (Aichi dive-bombers) at 18,000 in tight formation with four Zeros on each flank, and 1,000 feet above and behind, 16 more Zeros. Brewer selected the leading dive-bomber and came up to 800 feet from the plane. The Judy exploded so quickly it was unbelievable. He flew through the debris and attacked another. This one blew up too, half the wing fell off and the plane cart wheeled into the sea. Two minutes after Brewer's Tallyho', my fighter was launched, and I led 12 fighters to join in fighting off the attackers, but by the time my fighters were organised, the fighter controller announced that another raid was coming in, 50 planes travelling 150 knots, 45 miles to the east. I was to intercept and stop them. Vital in softening up attacks on the island of Saipan, TBF Avenger Torpedo Bombers warm up for action on the deck of a US Carrier. I took them up to 25,000. Two were affected by the altitude and their engines began to cut out, so I ordered them to orbit over the carrier. We had altitude and speed and when we reached the enemy formation, were able to make a high speed run, leaving four planes above for protection. My first target was a Judy (dive-bomber) on the left flank and approximately halfway back in the formation. It was my intention after completing the run on the plane, to pass under it, retire across the formation and take under fire a plane on the right flank with a low side attack. The plans became upset when the first plane I fired at blew up practically in my face, and caused a pullout above the entire formation. I remember being unable to get to the other side fast enough, feeling as though every rear gunner had his fire directed at me. My second attack was made on a Judy on the right flank of the formation, which burned favourably on one pass and fell away from the formation out of control, a rather long burst from above rear to tail position. Retirement was made below and ahead. My efforts were directed to retaining as much speed as possible and working myself ahead into position for an attack on the leader. A third pass was made from below rear on a Judy which was hit and smoking as he pulled out and down from the formation. After my first pass on the leader with no visible damage observed, pullout was made below and to the left. Deciding that it would be easier to concentrate on the port wingman than on the leader, my next pass was an above rear from seven o'clock, causing the wingman to explode in an envelope of flames. Breaking away down and to the left placed me in a position for a below rear run on the leader from six o'clock, after which I worked on his tail and continued to fire until he burned furiously and spiralled down out of control. During the last bursts on the leader, gun stoppages occurred. Both port and starboard guns were charged in an attempt to clear before firing again. I decided I must be out of ammunition and started back for the carrier.