Russian Aces over Korea

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagot pilots

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Yevgeni Pepelyayev

Nikolai Sutyagin

Lev Shchukin

Sergei Kramarenko

Nikolai Ivanov

Semion Fedorets

Main photo: Yevgeni Pepelyayev (right). Smaller pics: Sergei Kramarenko (above) and Semen Fedorets (below)
MiG-15bis flown by Nikolai Sutyagin
by Diego Zampini

June 17 1951. One of many duels between Sabres and MiGs was raging at 10,000 meters (about 30,000 feet) over the southern shore of the Yalu River over North Korea, and the experienced CO of the American 336th FIS, Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, was getting closer to an unaware MiG, ready for his 3rd MiG kill. (Hinton had shot down the very first MiG credited to a Sabre pilot in the Korean War six months earlier.) Suddenly he saw a Sabre crossing in front of him followed by a MiG-15, which was beating up the F-86 with its terrible 37 mm cannon. Hinton even saw big pieces of debris coming off of the stricken Sabre. Shell strikes were setting the F-86 on fire.Without hesitation, Hinton flew to help his comrade, faithful to the #1 Rule of the 4th FIW: "No MiG is worth of the loss of an F-86 pilot."

However, he could not surprise the MiG-15 pilot, who saw him coming, forgot the beaten F-86 and performed a head-on pass against Hinton, like a joust of medieval knights. The MiG passed so close to Hinton's Sabre, that he wondered how they avoided a mid-air collision (the MiG driver missed Hinton's aircraft by less than 15 yards). In the ensuing fight, Hinton needed all his expertise to get a little advantage. Hinton's wingman confessed later that he couldn't follow the maneuvers of his leader, blacking out several times despite his g-suit. But after one circle and two low yo-yos, Hinton was able to shoot two short bursts, hitting the MiG. Smart enough so to know when he should quit, the skillful MiG-15 pilot disengaged and crossed the Yalu before Hinton could catch him.

Hinton escorted the badly hit F-86 (BuNo 49-1281) back to Suwon, where it belly landed and was written off. Only then did Lt. Col. Hinton realize that he had saved the life of his dear friend Glenn T. Eagleston, CO of the 4th Fighter Wing. Eagleston was a WW2 ace with 18.5 kills against German planes, and he had scored two MiG kills in the previous six months. So, the adversary able to beat up such an excellent pilot had to be a first class opponent. Hinton referred to that MiG-15 pilot with the following words:

"This MiG driver had been good, VERY GOOD. He had been waiting above the engagements between the MiGs and the F-86s. It was a well-known tactic that was commonly used by a single MiG pilot, that we referred to as CASEY JONES*. Ol' Casey was an exceptional pilot, and definitely not an Oriental. His normal procedure was to hit fast from a high perch, diving down on any F-86 that was isolated from the on-going air battle, quite similar to a tactic used by von Richthofen in The Great War."

(*) For non-American readers: Casey Jones was a legendary locomotive engineer in the US railroads' golden age. He used to sit atop the locomotive cabin to see any problem on the rails in enough time. The US pilots compared this attitude with the one of their best adversaries (loitering above the combat waiting for an unaware prey) and so they gave to these MiG-15 pilots the nickname "Casey Jones".

Do we know today who "Casey Jones" was? YES, and Hinton's suspicions about his identity were right; he was not an Oriental. He was Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko, a member of the 176th GIAP (Guards Fighter Regiment) of the 324th IAD (Fighter Division) of the Voyenno Vozdushnye Sily, the Soviet Air Force. Actually Eagleston became the third aerial victory of Kapetan Sergei Kramarenko, who had shot down one F-80C on April 12 1951 and one F-86 on June 2. The score of that outstanding Russian pilot kept on rising, to 13 kills. On July 11 shot down the F-86A of Conrad Allard (KIA, despite the USAF sources credit the loss to "disorientation during a ferry flight") and on July 29 1951 bagged the F-86A BuNo 49-1098, which made him the First Ace of the Korean War and the First Jet-vs-Jet Ace of the History.

During the time that the "Honchos" (the nickname given by the Sabre pilots to excellent MiG pilots) were in Korea, between April 1951 and January 1952, they shot down or damaged beyond repair 158 UN aircraft against 68 losses, an overall 2:1 kill ratio. Their most successful month was October 1951, when the Soviet MiG-15s bagged 8 F-86s, 6 F-84Es, 2 RF-80As and one F-80C, one Meteor and 10 B-29As -25 victories- and suffered only 8 MiGs lost, achieving a 3:1 kill-to-losses ratio. During that period over 30 Soviet MiG-15 pilots became aces, among them Nikolai Sutyagin (21 kills); and also Yevgeni Pepelyayev (19), Lev Shchukin (17), the already mentioned Sergei Kramarenko (13), Mikhail Ponomaryev (11), Dmitri Samoylov (10), etc.

How could they do this, when all the American aces in that same period (Ralph Gibson, Dick Becker, etc) could only score 5-6 MiG kills? (except for the intrepid Major George A. Davis, who was credited with 14 kills) As a group, were the Russians 2-3 times better fighter pilots than their American opponents, as the claimed scores of 15 vs. 5 might imply? Not at all. Despite the secrecy surrounding Soviet operations in Korea and the lack of need to inflate the tally for propaganda purposes, several factors helped overstate Russian scores:

  1. Many Soviet medium and high-ranking officers wanted to gain favour with the Soviet dictator Josif Stalin (well known for killing or deporting Soviet generals who failed in accomplish his wishes), and one way to do so was to inflate the score of the MiG regiments in Korea.
  2. The Soviet pilots earn 1,500 additional rubles for every air victory they were credited with. It is quite likely that there were many false claims, just for the money.
  3. The gun camera images of the MiG-15 were of such poor quality, that the Russian guncamera analysts decided that if a US plane appeared in a pic, then they would credit a "kill," even when they did not notice shell strikes, smoke, or an ejection.

If we add to such factors the usual overclaiming -in good faith, but overclaiming in the end- of any war, then we can understand why the Soviet 64th IAK claimed the unbelievable figure of 1,106 UN aircraft destroyed in the Korean War. (532 of them in the "Honcho Period," when only 142 Allied aircraft were actually downed by the Soviet MiG-15 pilots). So, many of those scores must be seen with a lot of skepticism, e.g: Mikhail Ponomaryev was credited with 11 kills, but when we analyze the dates of his claims, only 2 matched with admitted US losses! And he is not the only one.

However, most of the claims of the four top scoring aces -Sutyagin, Pepelyayev, Shchukin and Kramarenko- proved to be very reliable, as did the claims of several other aces, e.g. Aleksandr Smorchkov, Stepan Bahayev and Dmitri Samoylov. Further, the overall 2:1 kill ratio of the "Honcho Period" clearly shows that the Russian Aces at that time gained at least a slight edge against their skillful American counterparts. 

So, why did the Russian pilots in Korea scored so high? It is an interesting question, and it has more than a possible answer. One of them is because -at least in 1951- they were using better tactics:

Experience was also a key factor, and the Russian pilots had a great deal of it. Most of the regimental and squadron commanders in 1951 were WW2 aces, e.g. Georgii Lobov (19 victories), Aleksandr Vasko (15 kills), Aleksandr Kumanichkin (30), Grigorii Ohay (6). So, the Russian pilots were as experienced as the best American WW2 Aces of the 4th and 51st Wings, like Francis Gabreski, Glenn Eagleston, Walker Mahurin, Robert Thyng, George Davis and many others.

The small, agile and lethal MiG-15 Fagot was the classic opponent of the F-86 Sabre in Korea

Did differences in equipment explain the disparity? Probably not. Esentially the technological contest between the Soviet MiG-15 and the American F-86 Sabre was an even match. The MiG-15 Fagot was better than the F-86 in many aspects (superior climb rate, faster acceleration, more powerful weaponry) but the F-86 Sabre compensated that with more stable diving, a better gunsight, and a g-suit for their pilots, allowing them to resist the tremendous g-forces involved in dogfights. So, the edge were the men in the cockpits, and in the "Honcho Period" the Soviets had such slight edge. Quoting Chuck Yeager: "It's the man, not the machine".

Additionally, Korea was for the Russian MiG-15 pilots a "target-rich environment." In April-May 1951 there were only two regiments of MiG-15s in Manchuria, with a total of only 72 MiGs (despite the fantastic US reports which talked about 200 MiGs in China at that time). These six dozen MiGs faced about 700 UN aircraft, odds of 10 to 1. The arrival of the 3 regiments of the 303rd IAD reduced the odds to 4 to 1 by October 1951, but the Soviets actually never enjoyed the numerical superiority so often mentioned in US sources. By July 1953 the Russians had about 300 MiG-15s in the theater (plus a similar number of Chinese MiGs) against 1,000 UN aircraft (297 of them F-86E/Fs, plus a similar number of F-84s). Taking into account such figures, it is clear that the Russians always found the Korean skies full of American aircraft, and that's why scores of 15, 10 or 8 were not uncommon.

All these factors created opportunities for the Russian pilots to pile up bigger scores than their American counterparts in 1951. Officially, there were 51 Soviet aces in Korea, but many of them achieved such scores by including "group victories." The following list shows only the aces with 5 or more 'full' kills. The number in parenthesis indicates the kills confirmed by UN sources, and gives a good idea of the huge overclaiming of some aces. The list includes all aces with scores of 8 or higher, and some noted aces with lower scores.

The Top Russian MiG-15 Aces of Korean War:

Top Russian Aces Kills (*) Comments Medal (**) Unit
Nikolai V. Sutyagin 21 (13) 7 F-86A/Es, 3 F-84Es, 2 Meteors and one F-80C. HSU 17 IAP, 303 IAD
Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev 19 (12) shot down the F-86A #49-1319, which was brought to USSR HSU 196 IAP, 324 IAD
Lev Kirilovich Shchukin 17 (10) shot-up the F-86E of Francis Gabreski, downed 2 times.  HSU 18 GIAP, 303 IAD
Sergei M. Kramarenko 13 (7) shot down 5 F-86s, 1 F-80C, 1 F-84E and 1 Meteor, downed once HSU 176 GIAP, 324 IAD
Ivan V. Suchkov 12 (3) 2 B-29As and 1 F-80C - 176 GIAP, 324 IAD
Stepan A. Bahayev 11 (5) 1 F-80C, 1 B-29A, 1 F-86E, 1 F-84E and 1 RB-29A in 1950 in a incident of the Cold War. HSU 523 IAP, 303 IAD
Konstantin N. Sheberstov 11 (6) 1 B-29A, 3 F-80Cs, 1 F-86E and 1 F-51D - 176 GIAP, 324 IAD
Grigorii U. Ohay 11 (4) 2 Meteor F.8s, 1 F-80C and 1 F-86E HSU 523 IAP, 303 IAD
Mikhail S. Ponomaryev 11 (5) 3 F-84Es, 1 F-80C and 1 USN F2H Banshee HSU 17 IAP, 303 IAD
Dmitri A. Samoylov 10 (5) 2 F-86s, 1 B-29A and 2 F-84Es conf. by USAF HSU 523 IAP, 303 IAD
Pavel S. Milaushkin 10 (5) 3 F-86s, 1 B-29A sand F-84E conf. by USAF - 176 GIAP, 324 IAD
Dmitri P. Oskin 9 (4) 2 B-29As on Oct 23 '51, 1 F-84E on Nov 4 '51 and 1 F-86E on Feb 7 '52 HSU 523 IAP, 303 IAD
Mikhail I. Mihin 9 (7) 5 F-86A/E/Fs + 2 F-84Es HSU 518 IAP, 216 IAD
Nikolai M. Zameskin 9 (6) 5 F-86E/Fs, 1 F-84G HSU 878 IAP, 216 IAD
Aleksandr P. Smorchkov 8 (4) 3 B-29As on October 1951 and 1 F-86E on Jan 15 '52 HSU 18 GIAP, 303 IAD
Grigorii I. Pulov 8 (6) 2 F-86As, 1 RF-80A, 1 F-80C, 1 F-84E and 1 Meteor F.8 HSU CO of 17 IAP, 303 IAD
Serafim P. Subbotin 8 (5) 1 F-86A, 1 B-29A, 1 F-80C, 1 F-84E and 1 Meteor F.8 HSU 176 GIAP, 324 IAD
Semen A. Fedorets 8 (7) he and Joseph McConnell shot down each other April 12 '53 LO 913 IAP, 32 IAD
Vladimir I. Alfeyev 7 (4) on May 20 1951 shot-up the F-86A of James Jabara RB 196 IAP, 324 IAD
Fiodor A. Shebanov 6 (3) 2 F-86As and 1 B-29A, 2 F-86s damaged. KIA Oct 26 '51 HSU 196 IAP, 324 IAD
Grigorii I. Ges 6 (4) 1 B-29A, 1 B-26B, 1 F-80C and 1 F-51D HSU 176 GIAP, 324 IAD
Anatoly M. Karelin 6 (6) 1 B-26B and 5 B-29As, all during the night HSU 351 IAP
Arkadii S. Boitsov 6 (4) 3 F-86A/Es, 1 F-80C conf. by USAF - 16 IAP, 97 IAD
Nikolai I. Ivanov 6 (4) 3 F-86Es, 1 RF-86A LO 726 IAP, 133 IAD
Stepan I. Naumenko 6 (4) 1 B-29A, 1 F-80C, 1 F-86A and 1 F-84E HSU 29 GIAP, 50 IAD
Boris S. Abakumov 5 (2) 1 B-29A, 1 Phanter HSU 196 IAP, 324 IAD
Grigorii N. Berelidze 5 (5) shot down Harold Fischer on April 7 1953 RB 224 IAP, 32 IAD
(*) The number between parenthesis indicate how many of his claims match with UN losses so far.
(**) Key: HSU = Hero of the Soviet Union, LO = Lenin's Order, RB = Red Banner.

Summarizing, the Russian aces dominated the struggle for air superiority over "MiG Alley" in the April 1951-January 1952 period, and earned the respect of their Americans adversaries (the nicknames "Honcho" and "Casey Jones"). From February 1952, when the crack pilots of the 303rd and 324th IAD were largely replaced by rookies, the Sabre pilots ruled over "MiG Alley," and the well-trained US pilots kept the edge until the end of the war. It during this later phase that the tallies of the greatest US Aces -Joseph McConnell, James Jabara and Manuel Fernández Jr.- began to rise quickly. But even then, there were Russian MiG-15 pilots who proved to be dangerous adversaries, like Nikolai Ivanov and Semen Fedorets.

Russian Sabre Killers

Russian MiG-15 Aces in Korea, from left to right: Aleksandr P. Smorchkov (8 kills), Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov (6), Semen Alexeievich Fedorets (8), Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev (19) and Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko (13).

What did the Soviet veterans think about their American adversaries? In general terms, they felt sadness for being fighting against their old Allies against Hitler, and they respected very much their skills in combat. But let us read the Russian ace Aleksandr Pavlovich Smorchkov's own words :

"Our attitude towards the American pilots was complicated. During the Second World War, we had been allies against Hitler. Therefore, in Korea, we did not view the Americans as enemies, but only as opponents. Our motto in the air was 'Competition - with whomever.' ... My opinions about the relative abilities of Soviet and American aircraft and pilots were as follows: I thought the American pilots were very good. This opinion was shared by other Soviet pilots including my friends Vladimir Voistinnych and Piotr Chourkin."

The respect that those men felt for our brave countrymen should be reciprocal, and a way to show respect for those honourable Russian airmen is to account their deeds, which also deserve recognition. What follow is a short biography of some of those MiG-15 pilots who bravely fought against our countrymen 50 years ago, in a long and bitter war that should have never happened.

Nikolai Vasilievich Sutyagin

Nikolai Sutyagin was born on May 5 1923 in the village of Smagino Buturlinsk, in a peasant family. He started his military career in 1941, and the following year he graduated from the Air Military School in Chernigov; in August 1945 participated in the short Soviet-Japanese war, which ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan.

Nikolai Sutyagin

Photo of Captain Nikolai Vasilievich Sutyagin wearing Chinese uniform, taken in 1951 shortly after his arrival to Manchuria (courtesy of his son,Yury Nikolaievich Sutyagin).

Sutyagin served in the 17th IAP of the 303rd IAD when the Korean War began, and in May 1951 the Division was sent to Manchuria to reinforce the 324th IAD. He flew his first combat sortie on early June 1951, and his score began to rise:

After the war Sutyagin graduated from the Air Academy in 1956 and the Military Academy "Genchtaba" in 1964. Promoted to Mayora-General and retired in 1978. He died on November 12 1986.

Lev Kirilovich Shchukin

He flew 212 combat sorties, participated in 17 aerial battles and was credited with 17 air victories (in simple words, he scored every time he engaged UN aircraft, 100% effectiveness), but he was also downed twice.

Lev Shchukin honoured his first name -'Lion' in Russian- chasing the US aircraft like a lion hunts an impala in the Kalahari. In his very first combat sortie on June 1 1951, he and his three comrades found a group of Mustangs and Shchukin bagged one. His victim that day was the F-51D of Harry C. Moore (KIA). A few days later (June 6) scored his second victory, the F-80C #49-737.

On June 17 1951 he participated in a big melée between 25 Sabres and 30 MiG-15s of his unit (18th GIAP of the 303rd IAD), while shooting down one F-86, but he was also downed. In his own words:

"We took off with the order to engage the Sabres and cut them off from our main attacking group. Our squadron was specialized in the dogfighting role. The other two squadrons would engage the bombers and strike aircraft. There were a few more Sabres than MiGs; and I saw that they started the attack. I looked back and I saw the nose of a Sabre, and I saw it firing against me. I dove steeply and I could only shout to my wingman Anatoli Ostapovsky: 'Ostap, hold on!' The American tried to dive after me, but then gave up and disengaged. So, I turned towards him and hit him with all three cannons. I saw part of his wing rip off and a white smoke trail appeared."

Shchukin saw how the unfortunate F-86 crashed into the East China Sea near Sonchon. But the hunter would not survive the prey for much longer; on his return to Antung, Shchukin was suddenly attacked by other Sabres, as himself accounted:

"Because Ostapovsky lost track of me during this hot combat, I went home alone. Suddenly I felt hits in my plane and I knew they were bullets. The canopy's glass broke, my blood spattered all over the instrumental panel, the control stick was useless and I got a terrible wound in my nose. I bailed out and opened the parachute, and while I was hanging there, 4 Sabres fired at me, each of them twice."

The American pilot who shot Shchukin down was Captain Samuel Pesacreta, and Shchukin would stay in a hospital for about a month. He flew again on August 29, and on that day his flight surprised a group of Australian Meteors of No. 77 Sqdn; Shchukin had no problem shoting-up down one of them. The pilot of this Meteor was no other than the Squadron leader R. Wilson (CO of the Australian unit) and he managed to return to Kimpo, but his aircraft was written off. That day was a full victory for the MiG-15 drivers, because one of the comrades of Shchukin, Starshii Leitenant Nikolai V. Babonin, shot down another Meteor, which pilot -Warrant Officer Ronald Guthrie- become a POW.

But Shchukin's most important victory happened on October 2 1951. During an intense dogfight he ran to help one of his buddies, Capt. Morozov, because a Sabre was beating him up. Shchukin could not save his comrade -who bailed out-, but he could catch the excellent Sabre pilot by surprise and riddled him at short range with the three cannons of his MiG-15bis Fagot. Badly shot-up, the F-86 disengaged, leaving a thick black smoke trail. Actually Lev Shchukin had damaged the F-86E "Lady Frances" of Colonel Francis S. Gabreski, XO of the 4th FIW. this aircraft could be hardly repaired.

October was a good month for this Russian Lion, because -besides having shot-up Gabreski- he blasted out of the sky four more UN aircraft: one F-80C on October 22 (Louis Esposito, KIA), one F-84E on October 23 (John Shewmaker, MIA), one RAAF Meteor the following day (Harold Foster, written off), and one RF-80A on October 30 (Grant Madsen, KIA). After such awesome performance, it was no surprise when on November 13 1951 Mayora Lev Shchukin also became Hero of the Soviet Union.

However, in an incredible twist of fate, Colonel Francis Gabreski and Lev Shchukin met each other for a second time, on January 11 1952, and this time the surprised one was the Soviet Ace: Gabreski forced him to eject, and Shchukin was severely wounded in the backbone when he landed. After a long rehabilitation he could walk again, but sadly was prohibited from flying. Promoted to Polkovnik (Colonel), he also graduated from the Air Academy in 1956 and became an aviation advisor in Egypt and Vietnam in the 1960's. Retired in 1977, today he lives in Minsk, Byelorussia.

Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko

Sergei Kramarenko born on April 10 1923 in Ukranie, and like many other future aces, he felt atracted by aviation since his very early years of childhood. Separated of his father when he and his two brothers were kids, his mother (Nadyezhda Grigorievna Galkovskaya) encouraged him to learn to fly. Sergei was only 18 years old and barely entered in the Borisoglebsk flight school when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22 1941. The Belikaya Otchyestva Boyna (Great Patriotic War) had began.

Recruited into the VVS rows and after a long period of learning, Starshii Leitenant Sergei Kramarenko finally saw action on February 23 1943 while flying a La-5FN of the 523rd IAP (later renamed 176th GIAP) when he shot down the FW-190A of Feldwebel Kurt Heise (5./JG 51, KIA). More than 2 years later he scored his 2nd victory during WW2: another FW-190A over Kustryn on 16 April 1945, this time flying a La-7. Few days later, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies.

The fourth high scoring MiG-15 ace, Kapetan Sergei Kramarenko, began his Korean War career  participating in the huge aerial battle over the bridges across the Yalu River on April 12 1951, between the 44 MiG-15s of the 324th IAD and almost 150 US combat aircraft (B-29s, F-86s, F-84s and F-80s), when he shot down the F-80C BuNo 49-1842 (36th FBS/8th FBW). On June 2 1951 Sergei bagged one F-86A -probably 2nd Lt. Thomas C. Hanson's- officially reported as "accidentally" lost by the USAF.

But his most interesting victory against the Sabres happened on June 17 1951: during an engagement over the "MiG Alley," Kramarenko accidentally separated from the rest of his unit and was jumped by three Sabres, let's read how he recalled the battle:

"There I was, alone, and with three Sabres chasing me. I could have initiated a dive, but I have been told that the Sabre was heavier than the MiG, so it should dive better. Because of that, to dive wasn't an option. Then I saw right in front of me a cluster of saving clouds. My only choice was to led my aircraft towards one of them. Once inside the cloud, I made a very sharp turn of 90º to the left, I got out of the clouds and performed a right turn. I suposed that the lead Sabre would thought that my MiG kept on diving on straight after getting out of the cloud. And that was exactly what happened. Now, bellow me, there were these three Sabres, which were looking for me downwards. Without losing nt even a second, I jumped them. I have turned the wits. Now it was my turn to attack.

But somehow they spotted me and immediately they split: the wingmen performed a diving turn to the left, and the leader a climbing right turn. This tactic allow them to neutralize my attack and to transform me into their prey: it was a trap. [...]

It is true that they were 3, but it didn't matter to me: I was very self-confident in my skills and my MiG. But now, I should decide fast who I shall to attack. Should I attack the pair which was diving, or the Sabre which was climbing? If I would jumped the first ones, the latter would dive after me and he would shoot me down. That's why I choose the later, because it was closer and was making a climbing turn to the right. So, I dived and soon I put myself behind him, I aimed, and at a distance of about 600 meters, I opened up. To slow down and to hold my fire until to be closer it was impossible, because the two remaining Sabres could catch me. My shells struck the Sabre. Evidently, some of the projectiles should hit it close to the engine, because the aircraft began to leave a trail of dark-gray smoke. The Sabre began to descend, and later entered in a steep dive. I could not see all the fall, because when I looked back, I saw a couple of Sabres at 500 meters. A little bit more, and both would open fire with their 12,7 mm (0,50") machineguns."

Kramarenko had no way to know it then, but he had shot-up the F-86A BuNo 49-1281 flown by the WW2 ace Glenn T. Eagleston. Furthermore, he thought the 2 F-86s that were jumping him now were the same ones that dived and turned to the left. However, they were 2 new F-86s, the ones flown by the CO of the 336th FIS Bruce H. Hinton and his wingman, who ran to help Eagleston. Kramarenko reversed and performed a head-on pass against Hinton's Sabre.

Kramarenko admitts that then he made a mistake: instead to climb and to drag Hinton and wingman to an altitude where the MiG-15 would prevail, he entered into a horizontal Luftberry, where the Sabres had the advantage. Anyway, Kramarenko proved to be a hard target, because it took to Lt.Col. Hinton three low yo-yos at high-G to finally get into a firing position. After being hit by Hinton's machineguns, Kramarenko dove towards the hydroelectric dam of Suiho, knowing it was protected by heavy flak guns. As he thought, when the 85 and 100 mm shells began to explode around the three planes, the American pilots gave up the chase, leaving Kramarenko to land in Antung airbase without further trouble (according to Bruce Hinton, that was unnecessary, he was so worried about the fate of Eagleston, that let him alone). That day luck favoured the bold and brave.

On July 11 he blasted another F-86 out of the sky, observing (together with all his three buddies and dozens of Chinese troops) how it plunged earthwards in flames and crashed in the Yellow Sea, not far of the Simni-do island [USAF admitted that loss, the F-86A BuNo 48-297 flown by Conrad Allard, but credited it to "disorientation" and asserts that it happened during a ferry flight between Japan and South Korea]. Two weeks later, on July 29 1951, Kramarenko led an attack against a flight of Sabres from the high perch, and shot off the rudders of the elevators F-86A BuNo 49-1098 with 37 and 23 mm fire. The unknown US flier managed to bring his aircraft near his home base in South Korea, but then was forced to bail out. Without knowing it, Kramarenko became both THE FIRST ACE OF THE KOREAN WAR and THE FIRST JET-VS-JET ACE IN HISTORY (No other American or Russian pilot scored five confirmed victories before him, and due to all his victories were F-86s and F-80s, indeed he was the first jet-vs-jet ace).

On September 23 he claimed one more Sabre kill, actually he severely damaged the F-86A BuNo 49-1158, but this aircraft could return to South Korea and was repaired. On October 30 he blasted an F-84E, #51-615 (49th FBW) out of the sky, and was also involved in the major ambush that the 176th GIAP prepared against the Australian Meteors of No.77 Sqdn on December 1 1951. During the ensuing battle the Russian MiG-15 Fagots slaughtered the RAAF formation claiming 10 Meteors (two of them were credited to Kramarenko). Actually only three Meteors were shot down and three more were damaged; Kramarenko most likely shot down the Meteor of F/Sgt Vance Drummond (POW) and damaged the aircraft of F/Sgt Middlemiss.

On January 12 1952 Kramarenko claimed two Sabres, and one of them (F-86E BuNo 50-615) is confirmed (although the cause of loss was officially an "engine explosion"). A few days later, he shot down his 13th and last victim, the F-86E of Daniel Peterson (25th FIS/51st FIW), who was taken prisoner. But immediately after that, Sergei paid the price, because he was downed by another F-86E Sabre pilot, probably Lt.Col. James B. Raebel (334th FIS/4th FIW, who would score three MiG kills in Korea). Kramarenko bailed out safe and sound, and was kindly looked after by North Korean farmers until the rescue parties arrived.

After such a brilliant performance (104 combat sorties, he engaged the enemy in 42 of them and downed 13 UN planes), it was not a surpriese when on April 22 1952 Sergei Kramarenko was awarded with the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, together with Yevgeni Pepelyayev, Nikolai Dokashenko y Grigorii Pulov.

Now Majora Kramarenko was assigned to several staff and training duties. Married with Yulia Alekseievna, they had 2 childrens, Aleksandr and Nadya. In 1970 he served as an aviation advisor in Iraq, and later was sent to Algeria. He retired of active duty with the rank of General Majora Aviatsiy (Major-General of the Air Force). In 1993 together with Yevgeny Pepelyayev and Dmitrii Oskin went to North Korea to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the end of the war. In 2001 he went to USA and in San Antonio (Texas) he met several of his former adversaries in Korean, this time in a friendly way. In 2004 it was published his autobiography, the book "V Nyebye Dbukh Boyn" ("In the Sky of Two Wars"). Today he lives in Moscow, is the vicepresident of the Veterans Association and enjoys the love of all his family, including his four grandchildren.

Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov

Nikolai Ivanov was one of many Russian WW2 veterans who also fought in Korea. He was actually an "Ace of Two Wars," because in 1944-45 he shot down 6 German planes (4 FW-190s and 2 He-111s).

When his unit -the 726th IAP, 133rd IAD- arrived to Korea in June 1952, it was a hard time for the Soviet pilots in Korea. The experienced "Honchos" who fought so well during 1951 had been replaced by rookies of the 97th and 190th IAD, and they were being beaten up by the well-trained American pilots.

MiG-15bis of Nikolai Ivanov

MiG-15bis Fagot '502' flown by Nikolai Ivanov as it looked on August 1 1952.

Nikolai Ivanov bagged his first Sabre on July 16 1952: it was the F-86E of Richard Drezen, who unfortunatelly was KIA. Two weeks later, on August 1, he was envolved in his toughest engagement when his squadron -12 aircraft- was attacked by Sabres of the 336th FIS: while trying to chase a Sabre, he stalled. When he recovered, realized that the American plane was jumping him. So, in an attempt for getting that Sabre out of his tail, he stalled again, but this time inttentionally! This unusual evasive maneuver worked quite well and forced the F-86 to overshoot, as Ivanov himself accounted:

"I learned to stall frequently, and teached my pilots how to recovery a stall, so I knew what it was. I didn't expect, certainly, that my plane would fall, but I didn't lose control of the situation. I began to recover, and I saw that the Sabre was attached on me, and I  stalled again, this time intentionally. There was a lot of rage in me, but I thought what I did. We were not at high altitude, and as I recovered from the stall, one of the Sabres jump out forward of me. I did not look around anymore -there was nobody else who could shoot me- so I went directly behind him. I aimed, shoot once, twice, and I saw that I got him.

I just began to level, when the second Sabre appeared. Probably he shot at me , but missed, and when I executed a manouver, he had jumped out in front of me. ... I did not see where the first Sabre fell, and the second one started to smoke after a couple of bursts, and I saw its left wing seriously damaged. I shot again. The plane exploded into flames, leaving a trace of smoke behind it. It had smoothly gone to the left, downwards."

In a matter of minutes Ivanov bagged two F-86 kills, and actually his second victim is fully confirmed by US records: the F-86E of Major Felix Asla Jr, an outstanding Sabre pilots with 4 confirmed MiG kills in his scoreboard, one probable and four damaged. Unfortunatelly, Asla couldn't bail out and got killed in the cockpit of his Sabre.

A few weeks later -August 20- Nikolai Ivanov headed his MiG-15bis Fagot '502' to help one of his buddies, who was under the attack of a F-86E piloted by Norman Schmidt. After a few bursts at short range, Ivanov piled up Schmidt to his scoreboard; the American pilot ejected and would be rescued later. 

His fifth kill came soon. On September 5 1952 Ivanov was taking off from Antung when he was suddenly warned by the control tower that two Sabres were strafing the airfield (such unannounced visits of the American planes were very normal at that time). He barely evaded the tracers of the enemy planes, and when they overshoot, he managed to enter in a low cloud cover. When he got out of the clouds, suddenly found a lone unaware F-86 ahead, and he took the chance: he send it downwards in flames to the Gulf of Korea waters. Actually his victim was the RF-86A of William C. Sney, who succesfully bailed out and was picked up by a rescue helicopter. For his bravery that day, Kapetan Ivanov was awarded with Lenin's Order and promoted to the rank of Mayora.

Nikolai Ivanov was forced then to a long lay-off in a hospital in the USSR due to an old wound in action during WW2, and returned to Korea only in the last month of war. On July 16 1953 he and his buddies were doing a CAP when found several Sabres, and Ivanov hit twice one of them, which escaped leaving a trail of black smoke. That possible kill was also his last one; a few days later -July 27- the war was over. At the moment of writing these lines (November 2002), he is an 80-years old widower (his wife died 7 years ago) and lives in the city of Yaroslav, north to Moskow.

Semen Alexeivich Fedorets

The impressive war career of this Russian Asov included 98 missions, 8 aerial victories (all F-86E/Fs), being downed once, and being awarded with Lenin's Order, the second highest Soviet military decoration. 

He flew his first combat sortie over North Korea in September 1952, and on December 17 he opened his score claiming an F-86. On February 19 1953 he was flying his MiG-15bis Fagot '93' in a fighter sweep of the 913th IAP, 32nd IAD, at 14,000 meters, when he saw a Sabre formation at 8,000 meters below. With the advantage of altitude, the Russians engaged the Americans. One of the Sabres jumped his buddy Valentin Shorin, and his leader Yevgeni Aseyev ran to help Shorin. Fedorets was covering Aseyev when he ran out of ammunition and called him to finish the Sabre off, as Fedorets remembered:

"Suddenly Aseyev told me '25 (that was my callsign), get closer, I ran out of ammo, and disengaged to my right. I immediately dove, ended up behind the Sabre, shot a burst at him at 300-400 meters, and I hit it. The pilot of the Sabre, seeing himself in danger reversed and dove. I exactly repeated his manouver, and upside down at 80-100 meters I put it in my gunsight and I gave him a short burst. I perfectly saw how a huge orange ball of fire emerged from the fuselage behind the cockpit, caused by the burst of the cannon N-37. The sun reflected in the expelled canopy, the Sabre's fuselage tore apart and fell to the ground." 

His victim that day was 2nd Lt. Edward G. Izbicky, who became a POW. Two days later, during another fighter sweep in Ansiu area, the 913th IAP was surprised by Sabres of the 335th FIS. One of them, piloted by 1st Lt. Vincent Stacy, shot-up the MiG of Fedorets' squadron leader, S. I. Babich. Fedorets ran to assist Babich and bagged Stacy's F-86F, who ejected and was taken prisoner. However, Babich's MiG was so damaged that the Russian pilot had to bail out. In the hospital, Babich chose Fedorets as the new Komesk (squadron leader); and in this new role Fedorets claimed another F-86 on March 3.

MiG-15bis Fagot of Semen Fedorets

MiG-15bis Fagot '16' used by Semen Fedorets to score his two last F-86 kills (June-July 1953)

But his greatest deeds happened on April 12 1953. That day his unit learned of an attack against Suiho dam by dozens of USAF Thunderjets escorted by Sabres. The whole 224th, 535th and 913th Regiments scrambled to engage the raiders, Fedorets' squadron being the last one to take off, because it was assigned to cover the withdrawal of the other squadrons. While watching the huge air battle from above in his MiG-15bis Fagot '93', Fedorets heard one of his comrades crying for help, as he recounted:

"Suddenly I heard on the radio the anguished voice of one of our pilots crying for help. 'Help me! I got hit!' I looked down, and I saw on the right at 90 degrees and 1,500-2,000 meters below a MiG-15 leaving a black smoke trail going northwards, pursued by a Sabre which fired at him all the time. I didn't think twice and sharply broke right and descended, getting closer to the Sabre. I gave it two bursts at 100-300 meters. After the second one, the Sabre lost control, turned to the right and dove to the ground.

The pilot of that F-86E probably was Norman E. Green, a young pilot of the 335th FIS, who ejected and was rescued. However, as Fedorets was shooting down Green, a flight of four Sabres of the 39th FIS were closing in from behind. Even when Fedorets didn't know it then, that flight was led by an cce with 7 MiG kills in his score, and future leading American Ace of the Korean conflict, Captain Joseph McConnell:

My #3 and #4, Aleksandrov and Shorin, lost track of me during my sharp maneuvers, but my wingman V. Yefremov stayed with me. When I was closing to the Sabre I heard Yefremov saying 'A flight of Sabres behind.' He radioed such info and he went away to the left, leaving me alone without cover. As soon as I stopped looking through the gunsight and I turned my head, a short burst struck my cockpit from the right and above.

"I sharply broke to the right underneath the Sabre, getting out of the line of fire. The Sabre went forward, and ended up in front of me at my right. The American pilot turned his head, he saw me and engaged flaps, with the intent to slow down, to let me pass forward and to riddle me at short range. I realized his maneuver, and sharply broke left, while firing a burst at the Sabre without aiming. The burst struck the base of the right wing, close to the fuselage. A huge hole, about one square meter, appeared in the Sabre's wing of the Sabre. It broke to the right and fell downwards. That was my second enemy aircraft destroyed in that combat."

Fedorets was right in one thing: McConnell's Sabre was mortally wounded. But what Fedorets didn't know then was that, even with his F-86F badly shot-up, McConnell still could perform a barrel-roll which put him at 6 o'clock of the now unaware Fedorets. And then he took revenge for his defeat.

"As soon as I got my plane out of the attack, from below I was hit by a machine gun burst. I sharply pushed the stick, and tried to disengage. The cockpit filled of smoke and kerosene, the instrument panel was destroyed, and finally the new couple of Sabres [Fedorets did not know then that it was the same Sabre piloted by McConnell that he had knocked out before.] broke any control. Using the trimmer I leveled the plane, and decided to bail out. With a tremendous effort I was able to eject the canopy, and successfully bailed out of my damaged plane at 11,000 meters of altitude."

However, the Hunter did not survive his Prey for much longer. McConnell ejected out of his badly damaged F-86F over the East China Sea, and was immediately picked up by an H-19 rescue helicopter. Certainly a Clash of Titans happened that day: one excellent Russian Ace knocked out an American Ace and made him his 6th kill, but before to bail out this American Ace (future Top American scorer of the war) transformed his Russian defeater into his 8th victory. A Hollywood director could not have written a better script. That single combat legend today is a proof of the Top Class of the pilots who fought each other over North Korea 49 years ago.

That day ended up with a tied match: four MiGs downed by Sabres -2 Russians, 2 Chinese- but also four American fighters were lost due to Russian MiG-15 Fagots: besides Fedorets' bagging the F-86s of Green and McConnell, Starsii Leitenant Grigorii Berelidze (224th IAP) had shot down 1st Lt. Robert Niemann's F-86E (MIA); finally, another pilot of the 913th IAP, Kapetan Semenov, scored one F-84E down (James Wills, KIA).

After this combat, Kapetan Semen A. Fedorets scored two more F-86 kills (now flying a MiG-15bis with the number '16' onboard). The first one was the F-86F of Robert Coury on June 10 1953, downed during a raid of Sabre fighter-bombers against Dapu airbase in Manchuria; Fedorets shoot him down at such close range that when he returned to Dapu, found debris of the Sabre embedded into his MiG (officially USAF credits the loss to flak and barely N of the 38th Parallel, but the Soviet records leave no doubt where and when Coury was actually shot down and captured). His last victim was the F-86E, shot down on July 19 1953 -- the American pilot, Kenneth Polenske (336th FIS), perished (again, this loss is oficially credited to an "engine failure" in USAF records).

After the war Fedorets was promoted to the rank of Polkovnik, and when he retired from active duty, taught his knowledge and experience to their students in the Air School in Kharkov.

Diego Fernando Zampini  

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