War in the Air
"Combat Episodes of the Korean War:
Three out of One Thousand"
Mir Aviatsiya 1-97 pp.38-44
- Leonid Krylov, Yuriy Tepsurkayev, Moscow
IT was interesting to compare our claims of victory with the numbers from the other side. We found many aerial victories which needed recounting...
Harold E. Fisher
Veteran of the 8th and 51st Wings, USAF
For the last seven years we have attempted to find the information in our archives and recollections of the Soviet participants in the war in Korea and compare that with the data from Western researchers. This has led to the opening of many interesting pages in the history of that war, and the finding of new facts which had previously been undisturbed. In this article we will provide several of the pieces of the picture of the war in Korean skies.
First we will give a few of the generally disseminated opinions which have been accepted:
- - the first jet versus jet air battle took place on 8 November 1950;
- - the first jet versus jet victory in the history of air warfare was scored by an F-80 of the 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Wing, flown by 1st Lt. Russell J. Brown who shot down a MiG-15 on 8 November 1950;
- - the first jet ace of the war was an F-86 pilot from the 334th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, USAF, Captain James. J. Jabara.
THE FIRST JET BATTLE
All foreign researchers hold the opinion that the first MiG-15 entered the skies of North Korea on 1 November 1950, when a group of MiGs attacked a group of Mustangs without result.
On that day, pilots of the 72nd Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (GIAP) opened the 33 month long epoch of the participation
of Soviet pilots in the Korean War. Their first combat mission took place from 1350 hours to 1446 hours.(1) The group consisted of five MiG-15 aircraft headed by Major Stroykov, and it did attack the American Mustangs. Per the Soviet archives, one of the Mustangs was shot down by Lieutenant Chizh. Western publications are singularly lacking on the fact of the loss of this Mustang. Of what happened, or of any other battle fought on that same day, not one single publication has set out any information. But at the same time, the combat reports of the 72nd GIAP from 1 November describe what they call the second battle of the regiment's pilots:
"...during the period 1412-1531 (1512-1631) hours a group of four MiG-15s lead by Major Bordun, and consisting of pilots Lieutenant Khominich, Lieutenant Sukhov, and Lieutenant Yesyunin, took off to intercept enemy aircraft in the vicinity of Antung. 25 minutes after the aircraft arrived in the Antung area, there were no enemy aircraft, and the group received the order to return to their airfield. After 2-3 minutes, the group received an order by radio to return to the Antung area and drive off an enemy air raid. Three MiG-15s (Lieutenant Yesyulin returned to the airfield early, as he ran short of fuel and had no drop tanks) and Major Bordun led them back to Antung. As they returned on a course of 160-170 degrees, Lieutenant Khominich spotted ten F-80 Shooting Star aircraft in front of them and which were flying at an altitude of 4,500 meters in combat column order: in the lead were four F-80s, with another pair 800-1000 meters behind them and 100 meters higher; the rear four F-80s were 800-1000 meters behind them and flying in pairs. The first four and the pair were flying in a combat "arrowhead" formation to the right, with 50-70 meters between each aircraft. Lieutenant Khominich, transmitting the information about the enemy over the radio, made a left climbing turn, and came down on a firing bearing of 2/4 where he attacked the leading four F-80s from out of the sun. As a result of his attack, one F-80 was shot down. He opened fire at 800 meters, and ceased firing at 200 meters after firing a long, three second burst. Exiting his attack, Lieutenant Khominich made a sharp climb to gain altitude with a subsequent turn to the left. The pair of Major Bordun attacked the remaining four F-80s which were attempting to attack Lieutenant Khominich as he exited his attack, but without any effect. As a result of their attacks, the American formation broke apart into singles and pairs, and they left combat..."(2).
For that reason, the first jet versus jet air battle in history took place on the first day of November 1950. It was an honor to achieve victory over a powerful enemy. And it was a hundred times more honorable to defeat him in the first battle. And this means, therefore, that in the impartiality of history it is nearly inevitable there will be interference with the question of prestige. To us it seems that because 8 November was the first day that an American pilot was the first to score a victory, this was the day set in the West for the "first all-jet combat in history". Is there any more clarifying thing than the fact that on 1 November the F-80 pilots were not able to strike back at the MiGs?
THE FIRST "JET" VICTORY
As is clear from the battle described above, which was fought by the pilots of the 72nd GIAP on 1 November, saw Lieutenant Khominich record a victory over an F-80 jet. Nevertheless, we are not able to call its pilot the first jet pilot in history to score a victory over a jet aircraft.
The American side, effectively, did announce the loss of a Shooting Star on that date, but according to their data, one F-80 was lost on a morning raid by a group of fighter-bombers against the Sinuiju airfield as it was shot down by Chinese antiaircraft fire over the banks of the Yalu River. The unsuccessful results of the raid forced the Americans to repeat their attack with another force of F-80s. At that time, as the second strike group arrived in the area of the target, several kilometers away a group of F-51 Mustangs was under attack by MiG-15s. Recalling that the sortie by Lieutenant Khominich followed the one in which the 72nd GIAP met up with the Mustangs, we can arrive at the conclusion that the F-80 which was scored by Lieutenant Khominich was not the one which was admitted to be lost by the Americans. We believe that a second F-80 was lost on that day, about which the USAF has remained silent for some reason, but as of now there is no documentation to support this claim nor to refute the American side, other than the belief in the veracity of Lieutenant Khominich as the pilot who scored the first jet victory in history, alas, we cannot. Moreover, the archives which describe the battle do not provide substantive evidence of the aircraft which Khominich claimed to have shot down. Did it crash, or did it even fall out of the sky? Did it blow up in midair, or simply head south streaming smoke? But if there is no evidence of his victory, then at least we can reliably state that the one claimed by Brown did not happen either.
* * *
Western sources have various descriptions of the battle which took place on 8 November 1950. We repeat one of their observations here: "On that day, a mass strike was planned to be delivered upon the city of Sinuiju and the bridges over the Yalu River by a force of 17 B-29 Superfortresses. Half an hour prior to the strike by the B-29s Mustangs from the 8th FBG and Shooting Stars from the 18th and 49th FBG unleashed a hail of rockets and gunfire on the antiaircraft gun positions in the region of the target. Top cover was provided by F-80s from the 51st FIG, which were flying at 6,000 meters. The low-lever assault group, after expending its rockets, was headed back to strafe the positions with machine gun fire when the escorts spotted six MiG-15 fighters flying from the direction of Antung. The MiGs, which were at 9,000 meters, crossed the river and moved to attack a flight of Shooting Stars from the 16th FIS. The USAF pilots turned to attack and broke up the formation, and then, using a descending maneuver, tried to catch the MiGs at low altitude where the F-80 was superior to the MiG-15 in horizontal maneuver. The MiGs did not accept combat on these conditions, and turned around to head back to their base and climbed away from the battle; all, save one that turned back in a dive. Lieutenant Russell Brown spotted the MiG, which was below his F-80, and turned after it to dive to attack the aircraft. The F-80 was heavier than its opponent, and quickly picked up speed in the dive. When the MiG pilot realized his error, Brown already had him in his sights, put his finger on the trigger, and...his six machine guns fired as one. But at the same time, his five-second burst seriously ripped up the fuselage of the MiG - fragments flew off it, and, trailing a thick cloud of smoke, the MiG went into an irrecoverable dive until it exploded when it hit the ground. So ended the battle, in which 1st Lieutentant Russell Brown became the first to score a jet victory."
All of the descriptions of the outcome of the battle - with one exception - are more or less based on all Western data. The exclusion is one which states that five out of six guns in Brown's aircraft were jammed. This information was only found in the R. Dorr, J. Lake, and W. Thompson book Korean War Aces.(3) If that information is true, then the story of the victory scored by Brown was still done to a large extent prior to obtaining access to our archives. Sabre pilots reported that when they attacked MiGs they "took it all", e.g. the entire load carried by all six machine guns and still got home. Taking the "Entire ammunition load" would seem to be supernatural, but the MiG-15 had a high degree of resistance to damage by 12.7mm machine guns. Therefore it is difficult to accept that a MiG could be shot down with only one machine gun. It is difficult, but still it is possible. But the fact of the matter is that Russell Brown did not shoot down a MiG-15 after we examined our archives.
No losses were reported among Soviet units on 8 November. On that day, the 28th, 72nd, and 139th GIAP were all involved in combat. The 139th GIAP did not encounter any F-80 type aircraft in their combat.(4) The 28th GIAP, covering the city and the Antung airfield, fought an inconclusive battle with six F-51s at 4,000 meters. As they fought, a patrol of F-80s was noted at 4,800 meters, but they did not join in the combat.(5)
The 72nd GIAP also fought with the Mustangs, but the flight led by Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov was attacked by ten F-80s which came out of the sun, as well as four F-84s on a collision course. The reference to the F-84s is probably an error, as they were not noted making their first flight in Korea until 7 December 1950. The flight of Captain Afonin was attacked by two flights of F-80s, but the 72nd GIAP took no losses in these fights.(6) No major significance can be attached to the errors in numbers and identification made, as they were quite common throughout the entire time of the war. The main conclusion is that the Soviet forces suffered no losses on 8 November 1950. At that point in time, only our pilots were involved in combat with UN forces, so Brown could not have scored over a Korean or Chinese pilot. It is completely understandable to ask the following question: where there any reasons which would permit Brown to claim the MiG he attacked as shot down? In our view, there are.
At that time, as the pilots of Captain Afonin's flight exited combat by turning towards their territory and climbing to altitude, Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov, who was attacked by a F-80, went into a dive. In the dive, he blew off his drop tanks, after which he arrived over his own territory at low altitude. We suggest that since he was the one attacked by Lieutenant Brown, the status of his exit from combat caused Brown to consider him as an enemy aircraft shot down.
For every pilot in every country, there is an inviolate rule that you have to blow off your drop tanks prior to getting involved in maneuver combat. In Korea, our pilots were told to only blow their tanks after they had conducted a bit of combat first - for there was an initial shortage of drop tanks, and they played a significant role in combat. Perhaps Lieutenant Brown did not realize that his opponent entered combat with tanks under his wings, and due to the speed of the action, did not notice that were still in place. Is this what he saw flying off the tail of the enemy? After his attack, pieces flew off the enemy aircraft (the separation of the tanks) and the aircraft began to smoke (a stream of fuel trailed behind the tanks when the aircraft flew in a dive for a period of time, which would seem to be coming from underneath the wings of the MiG) and hit the ground (they were at low altitude) and break apart (the fuel tanks hit the ground and the place where they struck was splattered with kerosine and marked by dirt and mud thrown up from the impact, but the MiG avoided hitting the ground and safely returned home.) We do not think that Russell Brown felt that his victory slipped through his fingers. In a hot battle, every pilot in the world makes mistakes and some are much more serious.
* * *
It is interesting that there is still one other comprehensive source for the battles on 8 November, which has emerged due to the research of Piotr Butowski and in truth has been joined in on by various CIS authors as well. In the opinion of Butowski, who wrote the book MiG Aircraft, the Americans lost one F-80 in combat.(7) That kind of support brings a burst of pride to our chests, if it does not shatter into fragments, but... It was warming (not surprisingly!) to your authors when they drew from the first edition of the fundamental book "Full Circle: The History of Aerial Combat" by Second World War British Ace James Edgar Johnson. The cited passage in this book is not misleading. We quote: "...the MiG-15 was not expected to enter combat operations in November 1950, when the leader of a flight of Shooting Stars spotted seven MiG-15s below his formation. The Americans went after them and the MiGs turned for their bases in Manchuria. As flights by UN pilots over that territory were forbidden, the American flight leader had to break off the action. But at the same time, the MiGs gained altitude and got sun up on them, where they broke into pairs, turned, and again crossed the river (the Yalu River was the border - the authors) and attacked the Shooting Stars. Since not a single aircraft had been damaged in this fast and furious combat, the Americans understood that the more aerodynamic MiGs were faster, could outclimb the F-80, and stay on their tails in tight turns.(8) Whether this was an error by the Polish author or a mistake in proofreading by the publisher we do not know, but as can be seen, the original did not provide a solid date for the battle, nor of the losses suffered by both sides. Based on the year of publication and the pages cited we do not feel that we have erred in the accuracy of the translation. Moreover, in the latest edition of "Full Circle" Johnson has withdrawn the traditional comprehensive source for the first battle, and taken back the victory of Russell Brown. The inquisitive and unsure reader may wish to verify that.
Thus the victory of Lieutenant Khominich on 1 November is not supported by documentation held by the American side (as we said, but they do not deny it) and Soviet archival materials show the claim of Lieutenant Russell Brown on 8 November is shown to be erroneous. Under such complex conditions, we suggest the correct first jet victory in history to be scored is one which was claimed by one side and supported by the other. This took place on 9 November 1950.
* * *
At 0600 hours on that day, one after the other pairs and flights of enemy aircraft arrived over Antung and Sinuiju, which were "targeted" against the bridges over the Yalu River and control of the air situation over those bridges. At 0940 hours, a strike force arrived under the cover of escorting fighters.
The command to launch MiGs was received as soon as the first strike aircraft headed for the bridges, and by 1000 hours 13 MiGs from the 151st and 28th IAD arrived in the Antung-Sinuiju area...
At 1000 hours, a "seven" led by Captain Grachev of the 139th GIAP received a message from the Antung VPU ((air command post)) which ordered them to begin a search faor the enemy. At 5,000 meters, the MiGs headed towards the bridges. After a minute, our pilots spotted the group, which was mistakenly identified as F-47 strike aircraft escorted by F-80s. In actuality, the aircraft were naval Skyraiders, Corsairs, and Panthers.
Around two kilometers ahead of the MiGs, two flights of Panthers popped out of the clouds and immediately headed on an intercept course with the MiGs. Two thousand meters below, the strike force - around 20 Skyraiders - began to dive on the bridge one after the other and drop their bombs. Captain Grachev made the decision to attack those aircraft as they were "recovering" from bombing the bridges. The MiGs went into a dive after the Skyraiders. The decision by the flight leader was not the best one he could have made - for it left the Panthers in an ideal attack position, above and behind them. The difficulty in which the pilots of the 139th found themselves, compounded by their poor formation flying - during a recent formation with the 28th IAD where they were attached to the 67th IAP, many of their flights and pairs became separated, and were not able to regain their formations. As a result the group led by Captain Grachev broke apart and conducted their fights in pairs and by single aircraft.
Flying into dense cloud cover, which obscured Antung and Sinuiju up to a height of 4,000 meters, the pilots found their visibility was cut off in the rear hemisphere, but the main problem the pilots found was the haze which limited horizontal visibility to less than two kilometers. From the very first minutes of the battle, a nearly mystical law took over: as is correct, as the dark muck swallowed up their aircraft, it turned up the feeling the enemy was there. But there was no one who could be seen in front of them. It was even worse behind them. Then, in the best case, you could see to turn away from the line of fire. In the worst case, there was nothing which could be done - for their fate was in someone else's hands...
When Grachev and his wingmen, Captain Bochkov and Senior Lieutenant Stulov, began to make a left combat turn to bring them around for a headon attack on the Skyraiders, out of the haze surrounding the sun came a flight of Panthers who got on the tail of Grachev and Bochkov. Stulov managed to break away from a Panther attack, and he managed to turn around and get on the enemy's tail. But when he attempted to close, the enemy had already dodged back into the muck. Captain Bochkov also lost sight of his leader - Grachev, who, having completed more than half of his planned combat turn, suddenly flipped his aircraft back into a sharp right bank and, continuing a half-turn, dodged into the clouds. Bochkov was not able to repeat the maneuver that his commander made, and he was left with nothing else to do other than complete his combat turn.
As a result of the ultimate battle with the escort fighters, Lieutenant Komonayev and Senior Lieutenants Sannikov and Stulov claimed one F-80 shot down, but the American side states they suffered no losses on 9 November. Captain Mikhail Fedorovich Grachev did not return to base after this fight.(9) We find the information about his last minutes in Western publications:
"On 9 November 1950...during a mission from the USS Philippine Sea, two MiGs attacked the strike aircraft group. The propeller driven aircraft turned into the enemy and broke up their attack. The leader of the covering group, VF-111 commander Lieutenant Commander William Amen, spotted one MiG climbing from 4,000 to 15,000 feet (1,200 to 4,570 meters), where he spotted a returning aircraft and began to head "earthward" for the aircraft lining up on their attacks. But at the same time, the Panthers got on his tail, where they gave him several bursts of 20mm fire and saw several strikes appear on his aircraft. The MiG went over into a dive, but Amen did not break off and continued to fire into the MiG, making some good hits. At low altitude the Panther became hard to control due to rudder reversal as it approached its critical Mach number. At 3,000 feet (915 meters) the MiG, still totally committed to its dive, rolled over on its back. "He was either pyscho or could not leave the aircraft," thought Amen, and, pulling out his dive at 200 feet, began to gain altitude. Amen's wingman reported that the MiG struck the ground on the wooded slope of a hill and burned at once." (10)
For that reason, the honor of the first jet victory in history which both sides confirm belongs to US Naval aviator William T. Amen.
Turning to the question of aces, we would to place our attention on the question of those achievements which are found in our sources of information. As is known, any sort of validated statistics, which lay out the results of the combat work of Soviet pilots in Korea has not been published up until the present time. On the other hand, the success of our American rivals has been widely published in the mass information media of both that time and in the latest works on the history of the conflict. But at the same time, as to this information, which sharply differs from our own, alas, we have not been able to correct the accounting or, at the very least, find any which is more correct that what we present in the following recounting. At that time, documents in our archives on Soviet aviation units were only permitted access for the internal use of the VVS, whereas the Far Eastern Air Force of the USAF controlled the data which was released for public use. But the public at that time was only interested in the valor shown over "Mig Alley" in what was otherwise a completely unpopular war. In this, the attempts of journalists to wipe the smoke of minimizing the losses and maximizing the victory claims from the eyes of the public was simply inevitable. Remember that this was the epoch of the "Cold War" and it was completely natural that papers publish the achievements of simple American buddies who were protecting the ideals of freedom in the face of the "Red Menace"and racked up one victory after another - this was what they got even if the reality was taking losses. The creator of the classic work "The US Air Force in Korea 1950-53", Robert Futrell, sets the number of Sabre losses in air combat in Korea as around 58. This number is found and frequently cited to us in the pages of the translation of the anthology by James Stewart, "Air Power - The Decisive Force in Korea".(11) (12) Several years later, a new figure appeared - 78. Now many Western researchers, drawing from the document "Sabre Measures (Charlie)", published by the USAF in 1970, were advised that 103 Sabres were lost in aerial combat in Korea. But even that number is wrong! In accordance with the document, the 103 Sabres lost were lost between June 1951 and July 1953. But why not for the entire war? And why do the researchers, reading from one and the same primary sources, determine a new figure every ten or fifteen years? For that reason, we can frequently not speak about the victory claimed by a Soviet pilot without having the losses admitted by the American side on the same day the claim was made. Perhaps we will find out - in another ten years.
Thus, for this analysis we have the archival materials of the 64th IAK and open source Western publications. As well as that, we have no other sources of information about UN aviation, but we are attempting to find them. There are two conditions we set about the difficult subject of discussing the aces. First: we will look at the statistics of first one side and then the other with the same degree of acceptance, and count USSR claims as no less verified than those of the USAF, and vice versa. Second: we accept the claim of a victory not as an act of the actual destruction of an unconfirmed aircraft, but of an attack on that aircraft under conditions which would lead the pilot to consider it shot down, and the command agreed with his opinion and assigned the claim to his score.
Now we turn immediately to the aces. At the present time, it is considered that the first ace of the Korean War was an F-86 pilot from the 334th Fighter Squadron, James Jabara. On 20 March 1951, Captain (later Major) Jabara shot down his fifth and sixth MiGs. The press gave him the simultaneous titles of the first American ace of the Korean conflict as well as the first jet ace in history.
By studying our documents, we found that on 24 December 1950, a pilot from the 29th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment, Captain Stepan Naumenko, was credited with his fifth victory. For that reason, the first pilot in that war to become an ace was Captain Naumenko. His count included one B-29, two F-84s, and two F-86s. Who were the first pilots from the opposing sides to achieve five victories against jet aircraft?
In a nearly unbelievable claim, the first Soviet pilot to achieve his fifth jet kill in combat did so in the same battle as Captain Jabara, on 20 May 1951! Senior Lieutenant Fedor Shebanov from the 196th IAP at that time had four F-86s and one B-29 to his score, so he was already an ace but was one victory short of being a "jet" ace. Comparing the written data on the battle of 20 May 1951 as reported by James Jabara and the records of the 196th IAP, we can present the following reasonably accurate picture of the battle. Since several tens of pilots participated in the battle, we, in the main, have confined our tracking to the actions of Senior Lieutenant Shebanov and Captain Jabara.
On that day, two groups of pilots from the 4th Fighter Wing flew to establish a fighter screen along the Yalu River. The first group of Sabres spotted a superior force of MiGs and immediately called for reinforcements. Jabara was part of the second group...
Captain Jabara: "The group climbed to 35,000 feet (10,670 meters) and blew their tanks - all of them but me. One of my tanks hung up. Per standing orders, a pilot who could not drop his tanks had to immediately head for home. But I did not want to lose my last chance to become an ace. I called my wingman Kemp and told him that we were joining in the battle.
"An aircraft with only one wing tank is very unresponsive to fly, but here came the MiGs. A pair of Sabres broke up the enemy formation, and we went after a group of three. As soon as I prepared to fire, we were attacked by three more MiGs. I turned into them, and they flew past me. Two MiGs turned away, but I clung to the third one. He tried every thing in his inventory, but he could not get me off his tail. I closed to 1500 feet (460 meters) and fired three good bursts. I saw the armor-piercing tracers rip into his fuselage and left wing. He made a couple of rolls, and hit his brakes. At 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) as Kemp and I circled around him the pilot bailed out. It was just as well that he didn't stick around in his cockpit any longer - for his MiG blew up a few seconds later. Then, as Kemp covered me, I shot several more frames of the explosion with my gun camera.
"The next few minutes were pure hell for the 28 Sabres who were fighting with nearly 50 MiGs, which swarmed around like angry bees. I again climbed to 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) and ran into six more MiGs. I was in a good position to attack, so I selected one of them and closed in, firing two bursts. One hit his fuselage, the other went over him. And his tailpipe immediately began to smoke. I hit him in the fuselage with one more burst - and he began to burn.
"I quickly chopped the throttle and hit my airbrakes, and followed the MiG down to 6,500 feet (1,980 meters) where I could verify that he broke up. All around me I suddenly heard a sound which seemed like a popcorn machine running right their in the cockpit. Whirling around, I spotted a pair of MiGs firing at me from a very advantageous position! Kemp had tried to keep up with me, but he had been attacked by another pair of MiGs and had his hands full. This was a terrible surprise!..."
Senior Lieutenant Alfeyev: "...in the air battle on 20 May 1951, between 1506-1550 (1606-1650) hours in the Tetsuzan area (now called Cholsan -- the authors) I shot down an enemy F-86 Sabre aircraft. I fired four bursts at a range of 600 to 300 meters fired on a firing bearing of 0/4. The enemy aircraft, which had only one drop tank, became hard to control..."(13)
Captain Jabara: "Rolling left, I hit the throttle and pulled in my airbrakes. I cut through the sky for two minutes with them chasing and firing at me, but as I dodged, I found out that the Sabre just was not responding right. Just then I heard the voices of two pairs of my group over the radio ,"There's a Sabre in trouble dead ahead of us!" I responded, "Roger - I know that only too well!!" "Well then, let us know if you need help" they transmitted. Since my fuel was running low, I responded, "Roger, I took your help for granted!"
"Two F-86s dropped out of the combat and headed down to lend a hand. Boy, did they look beautiful to me! One MiG, as he spotted the onrushing aid, gave up and headed for home. The second one continued firing at me. Gene Holley, the pilot of one of the F-86s coming to my assistance, got the MiG in his sights and opened fire..."
Senior Lieutenant Alfeyev: "...just as I was attacking, I in turn was attacked by an enemy F-86 aircraft, which opened fire on my wingman, Lieutenant Shebanov, and as I broke off the attack in a climbing turn to the right, I did not see the place of impact."(14)
Senior Lieutenant Shebanov: "...on 20 May 1951, as we fought with a group of enemy fighters north of the Tetzusan area, the pair led by Senior Lieutenant Alfeyev managed to get on the tail of a pair of enemy F-86 fighters. Senior Lieutenant Alfeyev fired on the wingman of the F-86 pair. As a result of that attack, our pair was attacked by a pair of enemy fighters. I made an attack on the enemy, and gave him three bursts at a range of 300 to 200 meters and on a firing bearing of 1/4 to 0/4. The enemy aircraft began to smoke and dropped out of the battle in a sharp dive..."(15)
Senior Lieutenant Soskovets: "... at the time we were in combat by flights with a group of enemy F-86 fighters, flying as part of a squadron north of the 3rd Region at 7,000 to 8,000 meters, we spotted Senior Lieutenant Shebanov repulse an attack on his wingman, Senior Lieutenant Alfeyev, by the enemy, and he himself attacked the F-86. At short range Shebanov poured several bursts into the enemy aircraft, after which the F-86 began to smoke and head down steeply. I think that the aircraft which was attacked by Senior Lieutenant Shebanov had to have been shot down..."(16)
Captain Jabara: "...we circled in turn after turn, as I dodged, the MiG fired at me, and Holley fired at the MiG, as Pitts, the second pilot of that pair, covered us. Soon the MiG began smoking and headed back towards the Yalu. Our tanks were nearly empty, and nobody wanted to go after him. I told Holley, "Thanks, I owe you one!" That was a pretty hairy twenty minutes..."(17)
For that reason, the first jet ace in history was Captain James Jabara, who made this achievement just minutes ahead of Senior Lieutenant Fedor Shebanov.
It is honorable to say this: the actual results of combat in the skies of Korea is a painful subject for us. And it is dangerous. Some have accused us of having a lack of patriotism. But at the same time, should not patriotism be considered to be on the side of those who search with the overall idea of determining the success of operations by the 64th IAK? Shouldn't that include an overall assessment of the actual combat achievements of the Soviet pilots? We are attempting to discuss their operational successes, as opposed to the opinions of their success - and the latter, unfortunately, is not a small thing - and their actual operational damage inflicted. This is not meant to criticize the veterans. The reasons for the majority of their failures to succeed are not concealed by them alone. The low level of flight, tactical and gunnery training received by many of them who were forced to fly as instructors prior to the war - "if we didn't do that, we wouldn't have flown" - and the very secrecy of their mission itself did not prepare them to succeed. And there is more. They flew at a time when simply being detailed to be a pilot was dangerous in itself - "Where did they stick you? Here where all things are the same, and there are no replacements!" And pilots thrown out there, in the slant placed on it by the commander of the 324th IAD, I.N> Kozhedub, were "two regiments against all of Imperialism", a mistake for which the System would pay in pain, blood and their very lives, as they carried out their duties - to fight...
Thus, given those conditions which we accepted earlier, that we will only count the victories in those situations if the aircraft attacked was shot down -- just simply shot down (blown up, destroyed) without a lot of highly convoluted language. The results for which all have been waiting are presented here.
Captain S.I. Naumenko claimed his victories on the 4th (two F-84s), 6th (one B-29), and 24th (two F-86s) of December 1950. In reality, no F-84s could have been shot down on 4 December, as the type did not make its first combat flights in Korea until three days later, e.g. there is an error in the identification of the enemy aircraft. We have not found any other information on US aircraft which were actually lost on that date.
The American side states no B-29s were lost on 6 December. In that case, in truth, their side is not juggling the facts, as the victory of our pilot was recorded by gun camera film and the frames were attached to the report of the battle. The frames show that the firing distance was quite long, and in the objective view of the camera were two groups of Superfortresses. It follows to stress that in the first battles the determination of the range to the B-29s was completely erroneous in its dissemination.
Regarding the Sabres, American statistics from December 1950 indicate that they flew 229 sorties and lost only one aircraft in combat, when Captain Lawrence V. Bach was shot down on 22 December 1950.
While the documents state that both Captain Jabara and Senior Lieutenant Shebanov became "jet" aces on 20 May 1951, in point of fact neither one of them made ace on that day.
Jabara actually shot down one MiG-15 on that date. According to our documents, on 20 May Captain Nazarkin, a pilot with the 196th IAP, was shot down and forced
to bail out; one other MiG was reported as damaged. American statistics claim that Captain Jabara shot down one MiG on the 3rd, 10th, 12th, and 22nd of April 1951. Overall, on 3 April the US side claimed three MiGs shot down, and our actual losses for that date were three aircraft. On 10 April, we suffered no losses. On 12 April, on the largest battle to that date fought with the Superfortresses, and ignoring US claims of shooting down eleven (!) MiG-15s, our side lost but one. Finally, on 22 April, besides the claim of Captain Jabara over a MiG, three other pilots claimed to have scored. Our actual losses for that date were one aircraft. For that reason, and even if the single aircraft losses on 12 and 22 April were scored by Captain Jabara, on 20 May he would only have a score of four victories.
Senior Lieutenant Shebanov also did not become a "jet" ace on that date. His other claims were scored on 4 (one F-86), 10 (one F-86), 12 (one B-29), 18 (one F-86) and 22 (one F-86) April. In the documents of the 324th IAD, at that stage in the history of MiG versus Superfortress combat, both regiments of the division claimed a total of 10 B-29s shot down. American sources have a different record of the battle. Over the target area, the 19th and 307th Bomb Groups each lost one bomber, and five more 19th Group aircraft and one more 307th Group aircraft were seriously damaged. The latter aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Suwon and was written off. For that reason, if the information as to the loss of the B-29s is correct (as to this, we will speak openly of it, and will be returning to examine that question in a future article) then no less than three Soviet pilots claimed each bomber which was destroyed.
As for analyzing the verification of the victories of F.A, Shebanov against the Sabres, we do not have access to any of the data from the USAF. It is known that for all of April the USAF suffered only three operational losses of F-86s, and not one of those was claimed to have been shot down in aerial combat. We also stress that the fifth jet victory claimed by Shebanov was Gene Holley, who Jabara thanked for saving him on the way home.
For that reason, we have learned one important lesson - not to accept the extremes of the war which was fought in Korea - for it could go one way or the other - and only to rely on ours, or any other archival data.
The battle fought on 20 May 1951 serves to illustrate our conclusions. While our actual loss consisted of only one aircraft, two MiG-15s were counted by Captain Jabara, and one more was claimed by Captain Milton E. Nelson from the 335th Fighter Squadron. There are no American publications which indicate their corresponding losses in this battle. Our side claimed four Sabres as shot down. Senior Lieutenants Alfeyev and Shebanov each claimed one victory. One more F-86 was claimed by the commander of the 196th IAP, Colonel Yevgeniy Pepelyayev, who wrote in his report: "...on 20 May 1951, during the period of 1508-1558 hours, during an air battle with a group of F-86 Sabres I fired at an F-86 at a range of 500-600 meters. At the time of my firing, I noticed shell strikes along the enemy's right wing, after which the aircraft went from a bank to the left into a right turn." (18) This would be the first of 19 victories claimed by Ye.G. Pepelyayev. Returning to those details, there is an important observation. In his report, he does not make a direct claim of a shot down aircraft, but only reports the details of what actually happened, which is typical of his reports. The last of the four Sabres claimed was by Major Kirisov, who reported after the battle that "...as for me, on 20 May 1951, during an air battle with a group of Sabres fought near Sensen between 1508-1557, I shot down one enemy F-86 type aircraft. It was not possible to identify the precise location where the enemy aircraft impacted due to the difficult situation continuing during that aerial combat." (19)
As an operational minimum, two of the four Sabres claimed appear to have returned home safely. The fact that at least one when down was corroborated by the North Korean police: "..Seven kilometers southeast of the village of Dekon in the region of Teysyu (now Chongju -- Authors), an American fighter aircraft was shot down, burning in the air and when it landed. Its pilot bailed out by parachute - he was taken to a hospital by Chinese Volunteers and his documents were taken from him." (20) Later, the division received a list of what was taken from the captured pilot by the Chinese Volunteers. He only gave them what was required by duty - he gave them an inarticulate name, and he advised them he flew an aircraft with an undesirable name, and that there were a thousand more of these machines sitting back at his base. Naturally, his real name was painted on his flight helmet in dark blue letters. As a point of fact, the regimental commander, Ye.G. Pepelyayev, reported that on that date the regiment had only claimed one aircraft shot down, but photographic checks had indicated four shot down. In this case, it appears the objectivity of the pilots was better than the objectivity of "objective checks" in verifying claims.
In conclusion, we would like to provide you with the opinion which we have formed during the process of our multiyear efforts - the first verified achievement of jet ace in Korea could only have really taken place during the late summer or early fall of 1951. The subject of the results of air combat is one about which we can go on and on, but it will be done within the framework of this given effort. We hope to return to it again (if the editors don't veto the idea). But for now, we must amend the beginning of our article, by changing the word "opinion" to "delusion".
Afterword - For Our Colleagues
Until the recent opening of our archival materials on Soviet aviation units and formations, which took part in the air battles for Korea, which were kept as a minimum under a "Secret" stamp, and all of the information which has come out in the Western sources, we were frequently sinfully one-sided in our presentations and only giving out "HOORAH!" patriotism. In the last few years, things have begun to change, and now we are more and more frequently seeing publications on the subject of Korea in our national press. And what are they? To speak frankly, there are those who are no more pleased to see the truth of the Air War in Korea come out here than there are in the West. There are, naturally, reasons to be truly objective - getting into the archives is extremely difficult, and the articles in the main rely on the recollections of the pilots. But tens of years have passed since the war ended, and alas, the memory of many men is not perfect. There are reasons to be subjective, such as, for example, personal sympathies and antipathy for the writers - just like a television sports commentator who cold-bloodedly berates the goalkeeper for making bad moves on the field, but then turns around and cheers him when he manages a save and prevents the goal. How can one avoid data on the enemy - only God knows how the source of the information is banished when the information is clearly not in the style expected...
Back in the days of Rome, the historian Pollibi warned the historian Livy about juggling historical facts and the undesirable goal of clarifying a particular instance. Livy answered him thusly: yes, he had actually included legends in his works, even though it did not agree with factual support, as he wanted to support the main idea in his works - the grandeur of Rome. Given two versions of this or that event, he would pick the one which was closest to his subject and not bother with checking village tombstones in search of a third version - for it could refute the other ones entirely. Why? If the truth about an event was to be known, that grandeur could be seen to be based on cowards, morons, and criminals, than who wants to hear about such events? (We immediately want to state without equivocation that we are not drawing a parallel between Livy and Korean veterans.)
Dear authors! Colleagues! We know how hard it is to collect information, just as it is difficult to put pen to paper and provide your knowledge to others. But don't keep it squirreled away! Check and recheck your observations (access to the archives, as you can see, is not a sin!) and can you think about what the point of your writing is? Sometimes the approach of "I-am-writing-about-what-I-heard-but-the-Americans-are-just-disagreeing-with-me" in completing "works" is not conducive to healthy thinking. This is not our own claim, but you aren't the villains and we aren't D'Artagnans. Simply put, and with our deep condolences, when this approach is taken the reader, at the same time he sees "soup", he also sees the actual facts of the matter which indicate it is really an item with noodles. Do we really need your - and our - works to contain results which are unproven?
1. Here, and in all other cites in the text, the authors will be using Central Korean Time. The times cited in all of the archives were set on Peking Time, and we have translated them to Central Korean Time in parentheses.
2. TsAMO RF, file on 72 GIAP, Opus 539870s, volume 3, "Combat Reports", p. 46
3. Robert F. Dorr, Jon Lake, and Warren Thompson, Korean War Aces, London, Osprey Publishing Company 1995 page 16.
4. TsAMO RF, file on 151st IAD, opus 152561s, volume 8, "Criticism and Analysis of Combat"
5. Op. Cited pp. 70-73
6. Op. Cited, pg. 97
7. Piotr Butowski, Samoloty MiG, Wydawnictwo Komunikacji i Lacznoczi, Warsaw 1987 page 66
8. James. E. Johnson, Full Circle: The Story of Air Fighting, London, Chatto and Windus, 1964 page 267
9. TsAMO RF, files of the 151st IAD, opus 152691s, "Criticism and Analysis of Air Combat", pp. 53-55
10. Richard P. Hallion, The Naval Air War in Korea, Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1986, pp. 74-75
11. Robert F. Futrell, "The United States Air Force In Korea 1950-53", Duel, Sloan and Pierce, 1961.
12. James T. Stewart, "Air Power: The Decisive Force in Korea", Toronto, NY, London, 1957
13. TsAMO RF, files on the 196th IAP, opus 674066s, Volume 1, "Reports and Verification of Enemy Aircraft Shot Down" page 5
14. TsAMO RF, files of the 196th IAP, opus 674066s, Volume 1, "Reports and Verification of Enemy Aircraft Shot Down" p. 51
15. Opus cited, page 58
16. Opus cited, page 59
17. Larry Davis, Mig Alley, Squadron/Signal Publications Inc. Carrollton, 1978, p. 18
18. TsAMO RF, Files on the 196th IAP, opus 674066s, "Reports and Validation of Enemy Aircraft Shot Down", page 56
19. Opus cited, page 57
20. Opus cited, page 55
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