Chapter Eight: The Korean War

When the day finally rolled by, Major Gordon Anderson said his goodbyes and packed up his gear and hopped on a Douglas C-54 Skymaster troop transport plane which took him to the Yokota Air Base located in Western Tokyo. This was only a layover before he hopped again over to the Osan Air Base in South Korea. While here he would be attached to the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing temporarily as Lt. Russell Brown’s wingman. 


This would only be for a few days until he got his feet wet and was assigned his own unit. He was not proud, besides he had heard a lot of good Intel on him, and the word was that he was “on the stick”.  The fact that he was the first American pilot to shoot down a Russian built Mikoyon Gurevich Mig 15 fighter jet did not hurt either.  Grandpa Gordon was to temporarily replace Lt. Col. Evans Stephens who was his wingman on that eventful day. Once he got oriented to his new role, Lt. Col. Stephens would resume his rightful place as his wingman.

Since this was such a memorable event in history, I believe that it should be covered in detail, especially since Grandpa Gordon would be flying several missions with this same pilot.

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFPN) —  From the time military aviators engaged in aerial combat during World War I, their exploits produced innumerable “firsts” in aviation history. One such “first” occurred during the Korean War on Nov. 8, 1950. That’s when a 25-year old, first lieutenant flying with the 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing) became the first pilot to shoot down a jet-powered aircraft in the first all-jet, air-to-air battle.

First Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying a F-80C Shooting Star, gained a position in aviation and military record books when he shot down a Soviet-made, swept-wing Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 near Sinuiju, a North Korean city that lay along the Yalu River.

His feat occurred during a Far East Air Forces campaign of B-29 Superfortress incendiary attacks on North Korean cities to eliminate military targets along the Yalu River, among which were the bridges crossing the river at Sinuiju.

Early in November 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the United Nations commander, authorized the bombing campaign after successfully convincing President Harry S. Truman and the Joint Chiefs that Chinese Communist Forces “in large force are pouring across all bridges over the Yalu from Manchuria.:” The only way to stop this flow was to destroy the international bridges and other installations supporting the enemy’s advance. Officials in Washington had feared international complications, but this concern was negated given the military situation.

Gen. George S. Stratemeyer, Far East Air Forces commander, ordered a series of B-29 strikes against four North Korean cities bordering the Yalu between Nov. 4 -7, 1950 with an attack on Sinuiju Nov. 7. Bad weather prevented the all-out attack on Sinuiju on this date; however, B-29s were to conduct their operation on the next day.

Before this B-29 bombing campaign, FEAF fighter aircraft and medium bombers already had attacked the North Korean airfield at Sinuiju. On Nov. 1, 1950, MiG-15s appeared for the first time in the war, and fired at F-51 fighters over Sinuiju before the MiG-15s returned to their safe haven of the Antung airfield complex across the Yalu River.

The appearance of the MiG-15 was an unexpected development for U.S. fighter pilots. Little was known about its capabilities; however, the B-29 raids continued as planned. On Nov. 8, 1950, the mission for the 51 FIW F-80 pilots was to knock out the antiaircraft artillery positions at Sinuiju before the Superfortresses conducted their attack shortly before noon.

Although the 51st FIW was based at Kimpo Air Base (K-14), it also staged flights from airfields at Pyongyang, North Korea (K-23 and K-24). During the morning of Nov. 8, 1950, the 16 FIS launched four flights of four F-80s each to attack the airfield at Sinuiju. Upon arrival over the airfield, as one flight completed several strafing runs at antiaircraft positions, it climbed up to fly top cover for the flight behind it. Lieutenant Brown was in the number two position of his flight following his element leader, Maj. Evans G. Stephens, 16 FIS commander. Their flight was the last of the squadron’s attack.

By the time Lieutenant Brown’s flight made its three strafing runs of the airfield, the ack-ack (sound) of antiaircraft fire was puffing everywhere. He later recounted, “We could have got out and walked on it.” He noted that most of the fire came from the Communist Chinese side of the Yalu River.

After Lieutenant Brown and Major Stephens completed their runs, they climbed to 20,000 feet to cover the second element of their flight -1st Lt. Ralph N. Giel and 1st Lt. Richard D. Escola–on their strafing runs.

As Lieutenant Brown and Major Stephens reached top cover, they began peering in all directions, searching for signs of enemy aircraft. Earlier, as the squadron began its strafing runs, four Yak fighters appeared on the Chinese side of the Yalu. Lieutenant Brown searched for them, but these aircraft apparently departed the area. However, Major Stephens soon spotted eight to 12 MiG-15s approaching their position from the south and above them about 30 miles away, on the Korean side of the border. He ordered Lieutenants Giels and Escola to “come on up” from their strafing runs.

With the four F-80s at 20,000 feet, Major Stephens saw two of the MiG-15s pull out in a dive, and heading toward the Antung complex at almost their same altitude. The two MiG-15s, though, also were heading the flight of F-80s.

Major Stephens banked sharply to the left with Lieutenant Brown closely behind. Lieutenant Brown still had not spotted the MiG-15s, and noted after the battle, “I was looking around like mad and flying formation at the same time.” However, as soon as Major Stephens completed his turn, Lieutenant Brown saw the two MiG-15s flying a loose formation. The lead MiG-15 broke directly in front of Major Stephens, and second one in front of Lieutenant Brown.

Major Stephens maneuvered his F-80 to get in a firing position on the first MiG-15. At the same time, Lieutenant Brown banked his F-80 into a firing position on the second MiG-15.

The second MiG-15 began a climbing turn to the left, but Lieutenant Brown stayed tight inside the MiG’s turn while he figured its lead. With only one of his four .50-caliber guns still working–the other three had jammed on the strafing runs–he fired four short bursts. They were misses.

The MiG-15 pilot then did a wingover and began a dive. Lieutenant Brown reacted instinctively, and dove after the MiG-15, saying to himself, “Damm, I’m going to get him.” In seconds, the two jet fighters “hurtled earthward,” and Lieutenant Brown quickly closed to within 1,000 feet of the MiG-15–straight down toward the earth.

Although he could not gain on the MiG-15, Lieutenant Brown set his sights, and fired one burst. Then he fired three short volleys.

Red flames puffed out of the right side of the MiG’s fuselage, near the engine section. Lieutenant Brown thought “it was now or never,” and “squeezed the trigger and held it down.” The MiG-15 then burst into flame. By now Lieutenant Brown was hurling in a 600-mph dive only 2,000 feet from the ground.

With the MiG-15 exploding, Lieutenant Brown hurriedly pulled the F-80 out of its dive as the aircraft shuddered dangerously close to the ground before he climbed back for altitude.

Although the aerial combat between Lieutenant Brown and his MiG-15 opponent took about 60 seconds, it earned him a unique stature in the annals of aviation history. It was also  his only aerial combat victory.

The plane that Lt. Brown was flying was the, F-80c-20-LO Shooting Star on that day and would be the same plane Grandpa Gordon would be initially flying as well.

Even after seven decades there is still a lot misconceptions and confusion surrounding the Korean War. So I think it would be advisable to briefly discuss the war so as to clear up some of areas of contention. While air power played a vital role in the Korean War, its function is often portrayed as less significant than that experienced in WWII. However, a quick dismissal of the air war must be tempered by the understanding that vital historical resources remain inaccessible in foreign government archives and that the conduct of the air war has never been subject to detailed historical analysis. Furthermore, resources which are available tend to bias towards their own specific historical narratives.

While information on the airwar in Korea lacks the fullness of preceding and following aerial campaigns, nonetheless, specific trends start to emerge. The airwar over Korea reflects the maturation of piston aircraft technology during the Second World War. The strategic contest of emergent jet and rocket technologies during the early Cold War, and the political restrictions of a limited geographic conflict becomes an issue in this war. Concern over the entrance of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) into the conflict—and the possible expansion of the conflict from the same—dictated that the UN (United Nations) focus much of their strategic thinking on the Korean War. The eventual entry of the PRC into the conflict modified the UN/US air campaigns from predominantly close air support, interdiction, and strategic bombing to also include establishment and maintenance of air supremacy. The skies over Korea provide a critical linkage between established Second World War and developing US Cold War air doctrines.

Even though this work is of a fictional family and characters they are living and fighting in real life events and thusly as should be evident in previous chapters this author is doing his utmost to remain as accurate as possible in keeping with this narrative.

The Korean War in Brief:

On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops, supported by Soviet-supplied tanks and artillery, advanced across the 38th parallel, routing the lightly armed South Koreans. The immediate tasks facing General of the Army Douglas MacArthur’s Far East Command and its air component, the Far East Air Forces, were to provide equipment for the embattled South Koreans and to evacuate the American noncombatants caught in the path of the Communist offensive. Fighters and bombers of the Far East Air Forces contributed to the evacuation by protecting the ships and aircraft carrying the refugees to Japan. While covering the evacuation, 1st Lt. William G. Hudson, the pilot of an F-82 Twin Mustang, scored the first aerial victory of the Korean War by shooting down a Soviet-built fighter.

The Korean War consisted of four distinct phases. Initially, the Communist army advanced against increasing resistance as it forced the United Nations defenders into the Pusan perimeter in the most southeastern part of South Korea. In September, however, the second phase began when the North Koreans suffered a complete reversal of fortune when the UN forces landed at Inchon, far beyond the battle line; burst from the Pusan perimeter; shattered the North Korean Army; and pursued its remnants northward. The third phase began when China intervened in force in November 1950, surprising the scattered UN armies as they approached North Korea’s northern border and driving them back to the vicinity of the 38th parallel. Finally, the fourth phase was a stalemate, during which neither side would risk vast casualties in an attempt to gain a complete victory. Truce talks began in July 1951, but the fighting continued until July 1953, when the negotiations at last bore fruit and the conflict ended in a cease-fire agreement.

A Chronological Account of the USAF Involvement in the Korean War


Jan. 23, 1950. USAF establishes Research and Development Command, eight months later it was redesignated Air Research and Development Command. In 1961 ARDC will be redesignated Air Force Systems Command.

Feb. 1, 1950. The prototype of the MiG-17 (NATO reporting name “Fresco”) fighter makes its first flight at the Soviet flight test center at Zhukovsky. It is an aerodynamically refined version of the MiG-15 and fitted with an. The top scoring North Vietnamese ace, Colonel Toon (which some sources list as “Tomb”), records thirteen aerial victories while flying MiG-17s.

June 25, 1950. North Korea attacks South Korea to begin Korean War. The first Air Force aircraft destroyed in the conflict is a Douglas C-54 that is strafed on the ground at Kimpo AB, South Korea, by a pair of North Korean Yak fighter pilots.

June 27, 1950. President Truman announces he has ordered USAF and USN forces to aid South Korea, which has been invaded by North Korean Communist forces.

June 27, 1950. Flying a North American F-82 Twin Mustang, USAF Lt. William G. Hudson, with radar operator Lt. Carl Fraser, destroys a Yak-11 near Seoul.

June 28, 1950. USAF aircraft fly first strikes of the war, attacking tanks, trucks, and supply columns along the North Korean invasion route.

June 28, 1950. USAF Lt. Bryce Poe pilots an RF-80A on the first USAF combat jet reconnaissance sortie in Korea.

June 30, 1950. President Truman authorizes Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur to dispatch air forces against targets in North Korea.

July 3, 1950. Carrier aircraft go into action in Korea, with strikes in and around Pyongyang. Also Lt. (j.g.) L.H. Plog and Ens. E.W. Brown, piloting Grumman F9F Panthers, each down a Yak-9, the first US Navy victories in air combat in Korea.

July 10, 1950. Flying a North American T-6 Texan trainer armed with smoke rockets, Lts. James Bryant and Frank Mitchell, on the first day of “mosquito missions” (forward air control sorties) in Korea, call in a strike by F-80 pilots who destroy a column of North Korean tanks.

Aug. 5, 1950. USAF Maj. Louis J. Sebille continued to attack Communist troops in his damaged airplane until it crashed near Hamchang, Korea. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously. This is the first Air Force Medal of Honor awarded in the Korean War.

Sept. 14, 1950. North Koreans push retreating UN forces into the “Pusan Perimeter” in Southeast Korea, marking the line of maximum advancement for the invaders. Airpower pounds North Korean supply lines, limiting the enemy force that can be brought to bear on Pusan.

Oct. 19–29, 1950. UN counteroffensive reaches its maximum line of advancement, stopping just short of the Yalu River near the Manchurian border.

Oct. 25, 1950. Communist China enters the Korean War.

Nov. 8, 1950. 1st Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying a Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star, downs a North Korean MiG- 15 in history’s first all-jet aerial combat.

Nov. 9, 1950. In the US Navy’s first jet-vs.-jet combat, Cmdr. W.T. Amend, flying a Grumman F9F-2 Panther, downs a MiG-15 over the Yalu River.

Dec. 4, 1950. When his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, crash lands at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, Navy Lt. (j.g.) Thomas Hudner makes a bold decision. He belly lands his Vought F4U-4 Corsair close to Brown to lend assistance. Hudner packs snow around the engine of Brown’s aircraft, trying to put out a smoldering fire, but to no avail. Marine 1st Lt. Charles Ward arrives in a Sikorsky HO3S helicopter with an axe to free, Brown who is pinned down , but it is of no use. In shock and suffering from hypothermia, Brown dies. Hudner is awarded the Medal of Honor.

Dec. 17, 1950. Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, flying a North American F-86 Sabre, wins the first ever air-to-air combat between swept wing fighters when he shoots down a MiG-15 over Korea.

Dec. 25, 1950. Communist forces re-cross 38th parallel into South Korea.


April 6, 1951. The Labor Department announces that employment in aircraft and parts plants increased by 100,000 people in the first six months of the Korean War.

May 20, 1951. Maj. James Jabara becomes the Air Force’s first Korean War ace. He eventually downs 15 enemy planes in Korea.

July 3, 1951. Despite bad weather and running out of daylight, Navy Lt. (j.g.) John Koelsch and AMM3C George Neal attempt to rescue a downed Marine aviator, Capt. James Wilkins, in mountainous terrain deep in North Korea. Their Sikorsky HO3S helicopter is shot down by ground fire as they are pulling Wilkins up in the rescue hoist. The three Americans then evade capture for nine days and reach the Korean coast before capture. Suffering from dysentery and malnourished, Koelsch consistently refuses to cooperate with his captors. He dies in prison and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

July 6, 1951. In Korea, a Strategic Air Command crew, flying a Boeing KB-29M tanker conducts the first air refueling operations over enemy territory under combat conditions.

Sept. 14, 1951. Flying a night intruder mission, Capt. John S. Walmsley Jr. attacks a North Korean supply train near Yangdok, North Korea. His bombs hit an ammunition car, and the train breaks in two. He then makes a strafing attack on the remaining cars, but his guns jam after the first pass. Using the newly installed searchlight in the Douglas B-26 Intruder’s nose, he lights the way for another pilot to finish off the train. Walmsley’s aircraft is hit by ground fire and crashes. He is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Oct. 2, 1951. Col. Francis S. Gabreski of the 51st Fighter Wing downs a MiG-15, which gives him 6.5 victories in Korea. Combined with his 28 victories in World War II, he is the highest scoring Air Force ace with victories in two wars.

*Nov. 30, 1951. Maj. George A. Davis Jr. becomes the second USAF ace of two wars—World War II (seven) and Korea (14). (Note in the story line I moved the fictional character Grandpa Gordon to the 2nd spot and bumped the Maj to the third spot. I have kept him in his rightful place in this chronology to keep it historically correct. This slight of hand was necessary to make the story line flow better. If anyone tasks offense with this I appologize, but I must remind the reader that this is a work of fiction.)


Feb. 10, 1952. Despite being outnumbered 12 to two, Maj. George A. Davis Jr. and his wingman in F-86s attack a formation of MiG-15s over the Sinuiju-Yalu River area of North Korea to protect a force of US fighter-bombers. Davis, who had recorded seven air-to-air victories in World War II and had added 14 more in Korea, shoots down two of the MiGs (although these would not be confirmed victories) before being shot down himself. His wingman manages to escape. For his unselfish action, Davis would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor.

April 1, 1952. In a further change from practices carried over from when it was part of the Army, the Air Force redesignates the grades of private first class, corporal, and buck sergeant as airman third class, airman second class, and airman first class.

May 29, 1952. The first combat use of air-to-air refueling of Air Force fighter airplanes takes place as 12 Republic F-84E Thunderjets flown by pilots from the 159th Fighter-Bomber Squadron are topped off on their way back from a bomb run against targets at Sariwon, North Korea. The F-84s are based at Itazuke AB, Japan. By July 4, three more of these Operation Rightside missions will be flown.

June 23–24, 1952. Combined air elements of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines virtually destroy the electrical power potential of North Korea. The two-day attack involves more than 1,200 sorties and is the largest single air effort since World War II and first to employ aircraft in Korea from all three services.

June 11, 1952. A Grumman SA-16 Albatross pilot lands in the shallow, debris filled Taedong River in Korea to rescue a downed F-51 pilot while the fighter pilot’s squadron mates beat off heavy enemy fire and illuminate the rescue with their landing lights.

Nov. 22, 1952. While leading a flight of four Lockheed F-80s on a mission to dive bomb enemy gun positions that were harassing friendly ground troops near Sniper Ridge, North Korea, Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr.’s aircraft is hit repeatedly as he presses the attack on the enemy guns. His aircraft badly damaged, he turns and deliberately crashes into the gun positions, destroying them completely. For this selfless action, Loring is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.


Jan. 14, 1953. Capt. Joseph C. McConnell Jr., who would go on to become the leading American ace in Korea, records his first aerial victory, a MiG-15. Assigned to the 39th Fighter Squadron, he was flying a North American F-86 at the time.

Jan. 15, 1953. Capt. Lawrence A. Barrett and Lt. R. F. Sullivan fly their Sikorsky SH-19 helicopter more than 100 miles behind North Korean lines to rescue a downed F-51 pilot.

Jan. 30, 1953. Capt. B. L. Fithian (pilot) and Lt. S. R. Lyons (radar operator) shoot down an unseen North Korean aircraft using only the radar (no visual sighting) in their Lockheed F-94 Starfire to guide them to the intercept. The target turns out to be a Lavochkin La-9 piston-engine fighter.

May 13 and 16, 1953. Air Force crews flying Republic F-84 Thunderjets conduct two raids on dams, causing the loss of all electrical power to North Korea.

May 18, 1953. Capt. Joseph C. McConnell Jr., flying an F-86, downs three MiG-15 fighters in two separate engagements. These victories give McConnell a total of 16 victories in just five months of action and make him the leading American ace of the Korean War.

July 27, 1953. Capt. Ralph S. Parr, a member of the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, flying a North American F-86F, records the last aerial victory in the Korean War when he shoots down an Il-12 near Hoha-dong shortly after midnight. It was his 10th aerial victory.

July 27, 1953. UN and North Korea sign armistice agreement, producing cease fire in Korea.

July 27, 1953. Twenty-four minutes before the cease fire took effect, 1st Lt. Donald W. Mansfield (pilot), 1st Lt. Billy Ralston, and A2C D.J. Judd, flying a Douglas B-26 Invader (the A-26 had been redesignated in 1948) dropped the last bombs of the war on a North Korean supply dump.

July 29, 1953. Two days after the armistice ending the Korean War, the Air Force announces that the Far East Air Forces shot down 839 MiG-15 jet fighters, probably destroyed 154 more, and damaged 919 others during the 37 months of war. United Nations air forces lost 110 aircraft in air-to-air combat, 677 to enemy ground fire, and 213 airplanes to “other causes.”

A few Firsts for the USAF:

The Korean War that was just starting to unfold 50 years ago became the scene for some notable airpower firsts–and lasts. Korea was the first shooting war for the newly independent US Air Force. It was the first time U.S. jet aircraft entered into battle. Designed as a direct response to the Soviet MiG-15, the F-86 Sabre jets effectively countered these aircraft, tactics, and, on some occasions, pilots of the Soviet 64th Fighter Aviation CorpsWorld War II-era prop-driven P-51D Mustangs were pressed into the ground-air support role, and large formations of B-29 Superfortress bombers flew for the last time on strategic bombardment missions. The Korean War also saw the first large-scale use of rotary-wing helicopters.

On the other side of the coin, Korea marked the end of the line for prop-driven combat aircraft–in USAF, at any rate. The Korean War was the last (and only) time large numbers of piston-engine and jet-engine aircraft shared the wartime skies. It was the last US major war without at least some space support.

For three years, American air power contributed overwhelming force to the war effort, by controlling airspace over the battlefield with an overwhelmingly effective air superiority force, by providing effective close air support to ground force operations, and by providing transportation for critical war material. The Korean War was significant in the fact that it was the first war in which the newly independent United States Air Force was involved.

The US suffered 4,055 service personnel killed and 2,714 aircraft lost with the USAF suffering 1,841 battle casualties, of which 1,180 were killed in action.

Composition of the USAF:

The United States Air Force (USAF) in South Korea was composed of units assigned to Pacific Air Forces Seventh Air Force. The mission of the personnel, equipment and aircraft is to deter, protect and defend the Republic of Korea from attack from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or more commonly known as North Korea.

The mission of Seventh Air Force is to plan, direct, and conduct combined air operations in the Republic of Korea and in the Northwest Pacific in support of Pacific Air Command Air Force (PACAF), the United States Pacific CommandUnited Nations CommandUS-ROK(South Korea) Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea. The Seventh Air Force is composed of the 8th and 51st Fighter Wings.

The USAF was shaped in World War II by an increasing concentration on the strategic role of attacking an enemy’s homeland, the Air Force now faced a conflict almost entirely tactical in character and limited as to how and where airpower could be applied. The Korean War air campaign centered around three main roles: Air superiority/interdiction, strategic bombardment, and close air support:

Air Superiority and Interdiction

Caught by the surprise and force of the DPRK’s 25 June 1950 invasion, Republic of Korea (ROK) forces and their US advisors initially operated a confused withdrawal toward the southeast of the peninsula. However, the initial shock of invasion soon turned into a concerted defense around Pusan. Critical to the stabilization were aerial assets both within the ROK and those based in Japan. Air superiority over the DPRK air force was gained within a month. The establishment of air superiority re-opened debate on the application of air power. USAF leadership promoted establishment and maintenance of air supremacy, interdiction to slow or halt Communist movements, and strategic bombing to blunt Communist war-making ability. US Army, Navy and Marine Corps leadership desired continued close cooperation of air and ground forces. The debate on which aerial strategy to prioritize largely reflected the present status of the war. More broadly, the debate was deferred by moving forward with all options at varying intensities.

The UNC air superiority gained through the warring powers’ numerical and technological imbalance did not go uncontested. General McArthur’s failure to heed his command’s intelligence, Washington’s directives, and PRC warnings saw him commit UNC forces up to the Yalu River in October 1950. The perceived danger of US forces on the border of Manchuria saw Beijing make good on its thinly veiled threats and commit PRC ground and air assets to the on-going conflagration. CCF intervention brought vast resources to support North Korea’s continued survival. First UN contact with CCF forces came in the vicinity of Unsan on October 25, 1950. Soon Communist presence was manifest in the skies with the introduction of Soviet-piloted jet aircraft. The new Soviet-developed MiG-15 swept wing, jet-powered aircraft eliminated established UNC air supremacy. The older, piston engine aircraft deployed by the US were soon replaced with the more advanced jet-powered aircraft including the F-86 Sabre, a swept wing fighter comparable with the Soviet MiG-15. While the early imbalance of piston versus jet combat was keenly felt, the limitation on range provided some stabilization.

Temp Image
“Navy AD-3 dive bomber pulls out of dive after dropping a 2000 pound bomb on Korean side of a bridge crossing
the Yalu River at Sinuiju, into Manchuria. Note: antiaircraft gun emplacement on both sides of the river”
(United States Navy 1950).

Most contests for air supremacy, both piston-versus-jet and jet-versus-jet, were concentrated near the northwest DPRK-PRC border (i.e., the Yalu River). This region—generally bounded by the Yellow Sea, the Ch’ongch’on River and the Sui-ho Reservoir—came to be known as MiG Alley. Communist forces benefitted from nearby bases, concentrated air defenses, and increased flying times due to closer proximity to the active combat area. Conversely, UNC forces had limited loitering time due to more distant air bases. The limited patrol time of approximately 20 minutes meant that much of UNC efforts dedicated to re-establishing and maintaining air supremacy were defensive, patrolling airspace or reacting to Communist incursion flights. Efforts by the Communist forces to expand their movement in concert with the Chinese-directed offensives of late-1950 and 1951 were aggressively crushed by UNC air attacks.

Component to re-establishment of UNC aerial supremacy were incursion flights into PRC airspace. Officially, the UNC prohibited “hot pursuit” of Communist aircraft operating north of the Yalu River. However, in theater this limitation was often ignored with UNC airmen quietly pursuing Soviet/DPRK/CCF aircraft inside Manchuria, patrolling Manchurian airspace for targets of opportunity, and engaging CCF bases and air defenses. Few MiGs were observed outside the northern border regions—MiG Alley in particular—following the 1951 UNC spoiling missions. UNC air superiority, initially won through a numerical and training imbalance, was re-established and maintained through a combination of better training, better experience, and more aggressive pilots.

Strategic Bombing

Like the fighters, UNC strategic bombing operations were subject to limiting restrictions. Strategic bombing operations began in earnest on July 30, 1950, 34 days after the UN entered the conflict, with B-29 Super fortresses destroying the limited number of DPRK strategic targets available (e.g., Operation Nannie Able, an attack on the chemical complex at Hungnam). With most approved large area targets quickly damaged or destroyed, much of the bombardment effort was directed at reducing Communist logistical networks, stockpiles, and marshalling points. Air-to-ground interdiction largely was concentrated in limited time duration operations such as Operations Strangle/Saturate, Pressure, nd Spring Thaw as well as more eccentric missions such as Operation Tack (the attempt to use air dropped, road-scattered nails and caltrops to halt enemy road traffic). These logistical interdiction efforts were largely a failure though some more focused interdiction operations, such as Spring Thaw, saw success in thwarting enemy offensive planning. USAF ability to escort the aging WWII heavy bombers was generally inadequate. Better interception training by Communist forces and USAF restrictions on deploying more modern technologies to the conflict for fear of compromise led to the USAF abandoning daylight strategic bombing by October 1951. Additional employment of US bombardment capability was used to maintain pressure on Communist negotiators during peace discussions (e.g., Operations Plan Blast, Red Cow, and Paralysis). Restrictions on strategic bombing target selection were partially lifted in mid-1952 and more conventional strategic targets were attacked. The bombing of hydroelectric facilities in June 1952, Pyongyang in July and August 1952, and irrigation dams in May 1953 caused significant damage and demonstrated the continued capability of strategic bombing in the jet age. However target selection, USAF technology deployment restrictions, and the Communist forces’ simultaneously flexible logistical system and willingness to accept high losses meant that the complete weight of USAF bombardment capability was never fully applied.

Korean War Air Combat
“Lt. R. P. Yeatman, from the USS Bon Homme Richard, is shown rocketing and bombing
Korean bridge. November 1952” (United States Navy 1952).

Close Air Support

More critical to the daily prosecution of UNC operations was effective application of tactical air support. While the USAF advocated for airspace interdiction and strategic bombardment as the primary role of airpower on the ground, it was CAS that more often saw aircraft engage with ground targets. The quantity of historical research into CAS is more limited than that discussing the role of air-to-air combat or strategic bombardment. However, available scholarship on the subject (Edwards 2010: 85, 87) reinforces the central role of CAS in the air war (accounting for approximately 15% of all UN sorties) and provides CAS as assisting in stabilizing UNC lines during critical points. The steady withdrawal to the Pusan Perimeter in July/August 1950 and the maintenance of the same was greatly assisted by CAS aircraft. During the Pusan fight, CAS is credited with inflicting equal enemy casualties as ground assets while destroying nearly three-quarters of DPRK mobile equipment and artillery. Likewise, during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, CAS is credited for 50% of CCF casualties. While CAS aircraft provided critical tactical support to ground forces, proximity to enemy infantry and air defenses negatively affected loss statistics.

**Note so as not to detract from any of the heroes in the Korean War, I am going to create a fictional Fighter Interceptor Squadron for Major Gordon Anderson to command. His unit will be the 70th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and was part of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing* and was attached to the 5th Air Force. I will intersperse this squadron into a few of the air battles in the war so that I can give him his kills. I will also add him to the roles of the aces of two wars. I can do this with a clear conscience since this work is fiction after all.

Grandpa Gordon flew seven missions with Lt Russel Brown. During this time he did not see any combat, they were just basically for patrol and reconnaissance purposes. With little fanfare he was finally given command of the 70th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. His squadron consisted of 18 F-86H Sabres which served as fighter-bombers and could carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs and five Mustang P-51s mainly used for support and photo reconnaissance. He had 40 fighter pilots and 150 support personnel from office staff to ground support who maintained the planes and prepared fighters for their flight missions. With this force he could fly two missions a day indefinitely. He was quite proud of his squadron. It was his first command and he was bound and determined to make it the best squadron in the USAF.

As in the previous war, Grandpa Gordon flew a variety of missions from providing support and protection for the B-29 Superfortress bombers on their night bomber runs. He also ran limited and strategic bomber runs with the F-86H Sabres along with reconnaissance flights. The Sabre was a formidable fighter in its own right with a 10-to-1 victory ratio over the Russian MiG fighters.

The first large-scale dogfights between Soviet and US units took place in April 1951. Of course, Grandpa Gordon found himself right in the middle of the melee. Soviet and Chinese MiG-15s were marked with North Korean insignia. Soviet pilots even wore North Korean uniforms. Radio contact between Soviet pilots was supposed to be conducted in Korean. It was a language that few, if any, Russian and Ukrainian pilots understood. As a result, Soviet pilots took with them a small tablet with a list of common messages. Korean statements were spelled out phonetically in Cyrillic letters.

Not surprisingly, these efforts to camouflage the nationality of the Soviet pilots proved impractical in the melee of air combat, and the rules gradually were relaxed. In the war’s later years, Soviet MiG-15s often flew with Soviet insignia. Throughout the war, however, Soviet pilots operated under certain restrictions designed to reduce their chances of being captured by UN forces.

For example, Soviet regiments were ordered to stay over Communist-controlled areas and were forbidden to fly over the Yellow Sea. In May 1951, Lt. Yevgeny Stelmakh was shot down during an attack on B-29 bombers. He safely ejected but landed in UN-controlled territory. He committed suicide with his pistol rather than face certain capture.

Soviet pilots soon made their presence felt. Their increasingly aggressive tactics exacted a toll on the aging B-29s. Colonel Kozhedub’s regiments were first used en masse to stop the April 12, 1951, B-29 raid on the Sinuiju bridge. Three B-29s were shot down, the heaviest US losses up to that time.

The more numerous Chinese MiG-15 pilots were still too inexperienced to present much of a threat to the American escort fighters. However, a May 1951 meeting between Soviet and Chinese air force commanders at the Supreme Joint Headquarters in Mukden, Manchuria, led to the decision to form an “International Communist Volunteer Air Force” to help the CPVAF secure air superiority over the Yalu River area. In fact, the new force was neither international nor volunteer and marked a heavier commitment of Soviet aircrews.

Under the command of Gen. Georgi Lobov, a Soviet World War II fighter ace, the Soviet 64th Air Defense Corps was deployed to China in the spring of 1951 to bolster attempts to wrest control of the air from the US Air Force. The corps not only coordinated the increasing number of Soviet fighter divisions on the Yalu, but also controlled a growing number of Soviet ground air defense troops, who manned new air-surveillance radar installations, radar-directed gun units, and ground control intercept stations.

According to recent Soviet accounts, some 70,000 Soviet PVO troops served along the Yalu during the Korean War, many in these ground air defense positions. The air divisions of the new 64th Air Defense Corps burst onto the scene in June 1951 in a series of large-scale dogfights with F-86 Sabres over MiG Alley. Because the nationality of these new and unexpectedly tough pilots was far from certain, US Sabre pilots dubbed them “honchos,” from Japanese for “squad leader” or “boss.”

Far East Air Force (FEAF) intelligence soon reported that “more proficient pilots have recently been committed in Korea.” The growing aggressiveness of the MiG-15 pilots forced FEAF’s Bomber Command to curtail B-29 raids in the MiG Alley area of northwest Korea unless accompanied by fighter escort. MiG-15s also began systematic attacks on jet fighter-bombers, thereby impeding the railway interdiction campaign then under way. The outnumbered F-86 Sabre pilots continued to exact an unequal toll against the MiG-15s, but they could not prevent heavy B-29 losses during daylight.

By September 1951, with some 525 MiG-15s in the Yalu area, Soviet and Chinese leaders were confident enough to begin planning the deployment of Chinese and new North Korean MiG-15 regiments into North Korea itself, outside Chinese sanctuaries.

The dogfights that occurred in the fall of 1951 highlighted the disparity of skills between the Chinese and Soviet pilots. In one year, China’s Air Force had expanded from virtually nothing to one of the world’s largest air arms, with more than 1,000 combat planes. The Chinese candidly admit that their pilots in Korea were poorly prepared but felt that the operations were a necessary learning experience. Soviet pilots were, on average, more experienced than their Chinese counterparts but not as well trained as their US foes. 

It was during this early fighting in MiG Alley 1951 that Grandpa Gordon recorded all of his five kills which made him an ACE in two wars. With this accomplishment he became the second USAF pilot of eventually seven to accomplish this milestone in history (The others included Francis S. Gabreski, George A. Davis Jr., Vermont Garrison, James P. Hagerstrom, Harrison R. Thyng, and Whisner.)

After he achieved this goal he became simply too valuable to risk in further dogfights, seeing how they had already lost Maj. George A Davis Jr. The only way to prevent him from participating in further dogfights was to promote him out of the skies. So that is how he became a lt. Colonel and and deputy Commander of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing on Feb.15, 1952. He did not know that an uncommon act of valor on the part of Maj. George A Davis Jr and his sheer stubborness was partially the cause of this quick promotion. As a memorial to Maj. Davis I will relay his story below.

On Feb. 10, 1952, Davis led his 60th jet mission over North Korea–a formation of four F-86s on combat patrol to protect fighter-bombers targeted against railroads near Kunu-ri. Davis’s element leader ran out of oxygen and had to return to Kimpo with his wingman, leaving Davis and the fourth F-86 to continue the patrol alone.A few minutes later, Davis spotted a formation of 12 MiG-15s heading south toward an area where the F-84 fighter-bombers were working. Disregarding the odds, Davis maneuvered into attack position and dove into the enemy formation, exploding one MiG on his first pass. With fighters on his tail, Davis shot down a second MiG and then, rather than dive to safety, continued his attack in a hazardous maneuver: He reduced speed to slide behind another enemy fighter. One of the remaining MiGs came in from seven o’clock, firing at close range. Davis’s F-86 went out of control and crashed on a mountain a few miles south of the Yalu. The MiG formation had been disrupted, the F-84s completed their interdiction mission, but the Air Force lost one of its greatest and most courageous warriors.

Prior to his promotion to Lt. Colonel, Gordon Anderson had flown over 80 combat and reconnaisance missions from late 1950 to early 1952. Needless to say, his time in Korea had been quite adventuresome, now it was time to take on the role of an administrator and go back to his roots as a trainer. Never to be one to sit around and rest, besides his duties as the deputy commander he took on adjunct position as a fighter pilot trainer. He mainly did this so he could still keep on flying. Frankly, he was a flight junky. He never felt so alive when he was yanking and banking in the blue skies. He knew that eventually his body would not be able to handle the stress that being a combat pilot put on it, but he was certain of one thing and that time had not arrived yet.

The remaining year and a half of the war went by uneventfully for Grandpa Gordon and when the Armistice was signed on July27, 1953 and the war finally ended he found himself wending his way back home. This time he took a plane ride back to the US so there would be no long transport ship cruise for him . Since he had not taken any leave during his three years in Korea, he decided that a little R&R was in order. Since there was no set date for him to go back to Nellis AFB, he decided to visit his parents besides you never knew how much longer his parents would be around. They were both starting to show their age. So he contacted his commanding officer Col. Miller from the radio control center at the base in Pearl Harbor and informed him of his plans. The CO told him that there was no rush and to take all the time he needed. He told him not to worry about coming back to the base to fill out the request for leave, he would handle all of the paperwork for him and he could sign when he got back to the base. Never being one to take leave he had built up a considerable amount of paid time off. Also since he had always lived in base housing and ate all of his meals at the mess halls he was starting to amass quite a bit of money. It did not hurt any that he was now collecting the salary of a Lt. Colonel.

Typically, a serviceman can only accrue 60 days of leave before he starts to lose his paid time off, but during times of war this restriction is loosened some and that maximum was increased to 120 days of paid leave. That is part of the reason that his CO was so easy going when it came to granting Grandpa Gordon his leave. He really could not prevent him from going since he was maxed out even with the wartime accrual parameters in place. So Grandpa Gordon had almost four months of time off to spend with his parents. Little did he know that during this time he would meet the woman of his dreams.