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F-86 Sabre jet
The pilots of the United States Air Force were heavily outnumbered and flew an airplane that in many ways was inferior to the MiG-15s flown by their Communist adversaries. Nor could they pursue the MiGs into their sanctuaries beyond the Yalu River. Nonetheless, they built up an impressive combat record.
They included old hands from World War Two like Gabby Gabreski, John Bolt, and Bud Mahurin; newcomers like Hal Fischer and Pete Fernandez; and future astronauts like John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, and Wally Schirra. Forty American fighter pilots achieved the coveted status of "ace" in Korea. While USAF pilots dominated the ranks of 'aces', Navy and Marine aviators also carried out much of the unglamorous, but deadly bombing and ground-attack missions of the conflict.
Their stories follow.
|Korean War Aces|
|Name (USAF, unless noted)||USAF
per Soviet data
|Capt. Joseph M. McConnell||16.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||13.0|
|Maj. James Jabara||15.0||1.5||4th FIW||F-86||13.0|
|Capt. Manuel J. "Pete" Fernandez||14.5||-||4th FIW||F-86||13.5|
|Maj. George A. Davis||14.0||7.0||4th FIW||F-86||10.0|
|Col. Royal N. Baker||13.0||3.5||4th FIW||F-86||11.0|
|Lt. Col. Vermont Garrison||10.0||7.3||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. Frederick C. "Boots" Blesse||10.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Harold E. Fischer||10.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Col. James K. Johnson||10.0||1.0||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Lonnie R. Moore||10.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Ralph S. Parr||10.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Cecil G. Foster||9.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|1st Lt. James F. Low||9.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. James P. Hagerstrom||8.5||6.0||67th FBS||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. Robinson Risner||8.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Lt. Col. George I. Ruddell||8.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|1st Lt. Henry Buttelman||7.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Clifford D. Jolley||7.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Leonard W. Lilley||7.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Col. Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski||6.5||28.0||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. Donald E. Adams||6.5||4.0||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Lt. Col. George L. Jones||6.5||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. Winton W. Marshall||6.5||-||4th FIW||F-86||5.0|
|Maj. John Bolt (USMC)||6.0||6.0||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|1st Lt. James H. Kasler||6.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||5.0|
|Capt. Robert J. Love||6.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. William T. Whisner||5.5||15.5||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Col. Harrison R. Thyng||5.0||5.0||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Col. Robert P. Baldwin||5.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Richard S. Becker||5.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||5.0|
|Maj. Stephen L. Bettinger||5.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Lt. Guy Bordelon (USN)||5.0||-||VC-3||F4U-5N||n.a.|
|Maj. Richard D. Creighton||5.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||3.0|
|Capt. Clyde A. Curtin||5.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Ralph D. "Hoot" Gibson||5.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||2.0|
|Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe||5.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Robert T. Latshaw||5.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Robert H. Moore||5.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Dolphin D. Overton||5.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. William Westcott||5.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|All aces with 5+ claims listed above; other notable Korean War fighter pilots below.|
|Maj. Felix Asla||4.0||-||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Col. John W. Mitchell||4.0||11.0||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Col. Walker M. "Bud" Mahurin||3.5||20.5||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Lt. Col. Edwin E. Heller||3.5||5.5||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Maj. John Glenn (USMC)||3.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Lt. Col. Glenn T. Eagleston||2.0||18.5||4th FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Capt. Philip DeLong (USMC)||2.0||11.0||VMA-312||F4U-4||n.a.|
|1st Lt. Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin||2.0||-||51st FIW||F-86||n.a.|
|Russian Aces of the Korean War
In early November, 1950 Soviet MiG-15s first ventured across the Yalu to engage the USAF, and on the 26th, half a million Chinese infantry attacked across the whole front, sweeping back MacArthur's troops. In the air, the MiG-15s similarly swept aside the out-classed American F-80s and assorted prop planes. In December, the USAF brought the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (4th FIW), equipped with North American F-86 Sabre jets into the conflict. The Sabre was a match for the MiG. On December 17, F-86s of the 336th FIS (Fighter Interceptor Squadron), 4th FIW ran their first fighter sweep along the Yalu, the area known as "MiG Alley." The Sabres engaged the MiG-15s on roughly equal terms, and soon scored aerial victories against the Russian jets.
By early 1951, the battle lines hardened and didn't change too much for the rest of the conflict. In April, MacArthur was sacked. Throughout the summer and early fall of 1951, the outnumbered Sabres (44 at one point) of the 4th FIW continued to seek battle with the 500+ MiGs near the Yalu. Jabara, Becker, and Gibson became the first Sabre aces. Following Col. Thyng's famous message to the Pentagon, the 51st FIW reinforced the beleaguered 4th in December 1951. For the next year and a half, the dual continued, in generally the same fashion. New, improved models of the F-86 appeared: the 'E' in early 1952 and the 'F', with its hard wing, in August. These later Sabres gave the UN pilots an increasing edge over the Communist MiG-15s.
Major George Davis, the leading MiG-killer at the time with 14 claims, was lost in action in February, 1952, on a mission that won him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only Sabre pilot to earn the nation's highest military decoration. In April, Iven (sic) Kincheloe became the 10th ace and in September Robbie Risner became the 20th. During 1952, some pilots were flying unauthorized 'Maple Special' missions, designed to lure MiGs into dogfights and then pursue them across the Yalu, where some were shot down.
In March of 1953, Major George Jones became the 30th American ace of the Korean war. By this time peace talks were starting, and when Ed Heller was shot down on the wrong side of the Yalu it created quite a furor. Heller, along with Fischer, Mahurin. and Bettinger became a POW; three other Korean aces (Risner, Low, & Kasler) later became POWs in Vietnam. In July, 1953, just days before the armistice, Guy Bordelon, flying a F4U-5N, became the 40th and final Korean ace. He was the only US Navy ace and the only propeller ace.
The adjusted claims shown here in no way detract from the heroic accomplishments of the aces. In any historical research, accuracy is all-important; without striving for accuracy (within the limits of resources, documents, archaelogical evidence, etc.) it is not history, it is merely story-telling.
The "Adjusted Claims" column represents a work in progress. As
no Chinese archives have been opened up at this time, only USAF claims
against Russian air forces have been reviewed. (In other words, the
claims against Chinese air forces are counted here, without any
challenge.) I hope to provide more documentation, identifying the dates
and circumstances of the reduced claims. The "n.a" simply means that I
have no information about any adjustments for that pilot; the USAF
number should stand.
Sources, Links, and Recommended Books:
- written by USAF Korean War fighter pilot, James Horowitz, pen
name James Salter
- more introspective, and less "shoot-em-up" than many war novels
- made into a movie starring Robert Wagner as a character based on Lt. James Low, nine-kill ace
"Where did we get such men?"
Pappy Boyington's last combat mission
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