KOREA 1950 SOVIET PILOTS ENTER THE FIGHTING I

MiG-15 vs Hawker Sea Fury, Korean War

The entry of armies of the Chinese People’s Volunteers into combat operations on 19 October 1950 slowed the offensive of the U.S. and its allies deep within North Korean territory, but by 24 October, the front lines in places were now within 60-70 kilometers of the Chinese border. In the regions of Chosan and Unsan, forward American elements even reached the Yalu River, which marked the border between North Korea and Manchuria. However, on 25 October, forces of the NKPA and CPV launched a counteroffensive, which continued until 5 November and hurled UN forces away from the Yalu by 50-60 kilometers in the direction of Anju. The Soviet pilots of one aviation division, the 151st IAD, participated in this counterof50 fensive. To be honest, the combat task that was given to the Guards aviation division was of a purely defensive nature: not to cover the very front lines and the attacking NKPA and CPV troops, but instead to defend critical targets in the PDRK, which were being subjected to numerous attacks by the USAF. First and foremost, the 151st IAD was to protect the strategically important bridge across the Yalu not far from Andong, as well as Andong itself, in which there were supplies and CPV units, which were using this bridge to move into North Korea. The Soviet pilots were categorically forbidden to cross the Yalu River or to fly over the Yellow Sea’s Korea Bay, in order to avoid becoming prisoners. The point is that the US Seventh Fleet and their allies reigned supreme in the Yellow Sea, while dozens of enemy diversionary-espionage groups were operating in the front line zone, which would have been delighted to capture a downed Soviet pilot.

The Soviet pilots entered the fighting incognito, since officially the Soviet Union was not involved in the war in Korea. Thus the first Soviet pilots wore CPV uniforms, had no personal documents that would have revealed their identities, and moreover they were ordered to use only Korean commands when in the air. For this purpose, in the course of a week they learned a couple of dozen Korean phrases that were necessary for conducting battle. To be honest, the latter ban against speaking Russian in battle didn’t last long; once in action, the Soviet pilots quickly forgot the Korean phrases and communicated in Russian, more than once saving their life in battle by doing so.

By the end of October, the 151st IAD was dispersed among three airfields – the 72nd GIAP had remained at the Mukden-North Air Base; the 28th GIAP had flown to the Anshan airfield; and the 139th GIAP was stationed at Liaoyang. In the last ten days of October, Soviet pilots in their MiGs, equipped with external fuel tanks because their airfields were distant from the area of operations, began to conduct patrols along the Chinese-Korean border without violating the border itself. Our pilots were familiarizing themselves with the area of combat operations and simultaneously protecting PRC airspace and Andong itself, because the American pilots were frequently intruding into Chinese airspace and bombing Chinese towns and villages, including Andong. However, there was still no order to cross the border and enter combat over North Korea.

However, on 1 November 1950, just such an order arrived. In connection with the distance of their airfield complex from the area of combat operations, all the combat sorties were carried out in the Andong-Siniuju area, which also happened to be close to the front lines at the time. This is where the first clashes between Soviet and American pilots took place. At the time, units of the US Fifth Air Force were actively operating in the Siniuju-Singisiu region. American F-51 attack aircraft and F-80 fighter-bombers were particularly active in the given region – and thus it was with them that the first encounters with the Soviet pilots took place.

Early on the morning of 1 November 1950, several MiG-15 flights from the 72nd and 28th GIAP took off at an order from the division command post to patrol the border with the PDRK. Equipped with external fuel tanks, the MiG pilots for the first time were given authorization to cross over the Yalu into North Korean air space and to conduct free hunts in search of US aircraft.

Pilots of the 28th GIAP were the first to encounter the enemy. In the vicinity of Naamsi-dong, six MiG-15s spotted and attacked four F-51s, but with a sharp maneuver the Mustangs evaded the attack and departed the area at tree-top level. In essence there was no combat, because the enemy declined it.

The first combat occurred after lunch at 1250, when five MiGs under the command of Hero of the Soviet Union Major N. V. Stroikov, the commander of the 1st Squadron, were patrolling the Andong area. Captain I. A. Guts’s lead element spotted three F-51s. Attacking from above, they opened fire on the enemy formation. Apparently damaged, one of the Mustangs broke formation and began to flee in a dive. The remaining pair of Mustangs went into a left-hand turn, but upon leveling out they were jumped by a different pair of MiGs, and in this attack Lieutenant Fedor Chizh succeeded in downing one of the F-51s from short range. Thus the Soviet pilots opened the scoring in this war, having shot down the first USAF aircraft in the skies of North Korea. The downed F-51 was from the 35th FBG’s 39th Squadron – its pilot was killed.

On this same day at 1412, four MiG-15s led by the 72nd GIAP’s 2nd Squadron commander Major A.Z. Bordun took off on a combat assignment for the Andong area. Major A.Z. Bordun, Senior Lieutenant A.I. Sukhov, and Lieutenants S.F. Khomich and D. Esiunin were piloting the MiGs on this mission. Having patrolled above Andong for 25 minutes and without having encountered any enemy aircraft, the flight received the order to return to base. Lieutenant Esiunin had already been forced to return, since his MiG had no external fuel tanks and was running low on fuel.

As they were turning back, Lieutenant Khomich saw 10 F-80 jets below them, flying in column formation: four F-80s were in the lead, followed by two F-80s at an interval of 500-800 meters, with the other four F-80s bringing up the rear at the same interval. Receiving the permission to attack from the leader, Lieutenant Khomich alone attacked the leading foursome of Shooting Stars and shot down one of them from short range, before climbing steeply away. The trailing four F-80s attempted to attack him, but their formation was jumped by Bordun’s element in turn. Breaking off its attack, the F-80 flight fled the area. Our pilots made no effort to pursue them, because fuel was running low. One F-80 from the 51st FBG’s 16th Squadron was destroyed – its pilot went missing-in-action.

Thus in the course of the first air-to-air battle between jet fighters of the contending sides, in which three MiG-15s took on 10 F-80s, the Soviet pilots emerged victorious. For his victory, Guards Lieutenant Semen Fedorovich Khomich was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

The pilots of the 28th GIAP were unlucky on this day, because the group that had taken off from this regiment on a combat assignment never encountered enemy aircraft, either failing to spot them or because the American aircraft had avoided battle, while the Soviet pilots were forbidden to cross the front lines. Thus the first day of their war ended successfully for the pilots of the 151st IAD. Two victories had been scored, and one more US aircraft was probably damaged, without any loss on the Soviet side. According to the latest publications in the American press, on 1 November 1950 the USAF lost two F-80s and one F-51, not including seven aircraft of other types.

The first aerial combats in the skies of Korea also exposed the first difficulties. The distance of the Soviet air bases from the area of operations reduced the time available to the Soviet pilots to search for and engage enemy targets. The first combats had accordingly been brief. There was only a limited number of external fuel tanks in the division’s supply stocks (their production was centered back in the Soviet Maritime District), thus the Soviet pilots had to conduct missions in small groups, and not always with external fuel tanks.

Moreover, a psychological factor weighed upon the Soviet pilots: after all, they had never before met American pilots in battle, and didn’t know their combat tactics, attitudes and skill. The fact that the Americans had been our allies during World War II dampened the fighting spirit of the pilots, especially after witnessing the first human losses.

The Soviet pilots knew about the tactical and technical characteristics of the enemy aircraft only by hearsay, while only combat itself might show how these aircraft could perform in battle. On 1 November, the Soviet pilots engaged Mustangs from the 18th and 35th FBG, which they encountered repeatedly in the subsequent November battles.

In the first week of November, the Soviet pilots conducted combat patrols over the Sinuiju-Singisiu area, covering the strategically important bridge near Sinuiju, the airfield there, and the roads over which supplies were flowing in a continuous stream to the NKPA and CPV forces. However, the enemy air force, alarmed by the first encounter with the MiG jets, sharply curtailed its activity in the area of their operations, and upon spotting approaching MiGs, evaded combat and departed. Thus until 6 November the pilots of the 151st GIAD had only several scrapes with enemy aircraft that had no results.

However on 6 November 1950, the Mustangs of the 8th and 18th FBG renewed their operations in the 151st GIAD’s area of responsibility, as a result of which several aerial clashes took place with them. The pilots of the 151st GIAD on this day conducted several combat missions, but only one of them was crowned with success: after lunch, a flight of pilots from the 72nd GIAP dueled with a flight of F-51s, and Senior Lieutenant N. K. Kuznetsov in one head-on attack shot down one of the Mustangs from the 18th FBG’s 39th Squadron, killing the pilot.

The next day of combat, 7 November, was more intense for the Soviet pilots. On this day, pilots of the 28th GIAP also opened their combat score. The successful pilot was the deputy regiment commander and Hero of the Soviet Union Major V.I. Koliadin. At 1406, he took off for the area of Singisiu at the head of four MiGs, and at 1435 at an altitude of 6,500 meters, having spotted up to 15 Mustangs, he opened fire on the tail-end flight. When climbing out of this firing pass, Koliadin encountered four more F-51s. He attacked and fired upon it, forcing the enemy aircraft to turn away. At 1438 Koliadin observed a new group of Mustangs, consisting of 20 planes in an echelon formation. After maneuvering into position, he dove upon the second flight of this group from above and behind and opened fire at a range of 500 meters, registering strikes upon one target that sent it plummeting earthward. After this our pilots broke off the battle because they were running low on fuel and returned to base. In this action, other pilots of Koliadin’s fight also fired upon the Mustangs, and the leader of the second element Captain N.G. Pronin presumably downed a second Mustang, but the regiment only credited Major Koliadin with a victory.

On this same day, pilots of Major A.I. Guts’s flight from the 72nd GIAP also distinguished themselves: at 1326, Captain Guts’s flight encountered four F-51 in the area of Singisiu, and in a swift action the leader of the second element Senior Lieutenant A.E. Sanin shot down one F-51, while the others were driven away from the defended target.

The American acknowledged that there was a combat between four F-51s from the 36th FBS and four MiG-15s, but declared that the Mustangs suffered no losses. Another four-plane flight of Mustangs, this one from the 12th FBS, encountered four MiGs in the area of the Yalu, and Major Ken Karson supposedly shot down one of the Mig-15s in combat. However it is reliably known that on 7 November, the pilots of the 151st GIAD not only had no losses, but also suffered no damage to their aircraft in the action. The Americans on this day also lost two F-80 Shooting Stars from the 8th FBS, which after a battle with MiGs, ran out of fuel on their way back to base, and the pilots of these two F-80s had to abandon their aircraft.

The intensity of combat and the number of aircraft involved from both sides increased with every passing day. In connection with this it was decided to augment the Soviet air presence in the area of combat operations. This required an organizational overhaul and triggered a shuffling in command.

As mentioned in Lieutenant Colonel Volkov’s testimony above, it was decided to organize a separate fighter aviation corps on the basis of the 151st GIAD. At the beginning of November, the 139th GIAP was withdrawn from the 151st GIAD and contributed personnel and equipment in order to create a new aviation regiment, designated the 67th IAP; its commander became Hero of the Soviet Union Major N.F. Pasko. On 1 November 1950, in response to an order from the USSR’s War Minister dated 18 October 1950, the 28th IAD was formed at the Liaoyang Air Base to take command of the 139th and 67th IAP. The former deputy commander of the 151st GIAD, twice Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel Aleksei Vasil’evich Aleliukhin, became the commander of the newly-formed 28th IAD.

On 20 November 1950, the 50th IAD, which also had two fighter regiments (the 29th and the 177th), arrived at the Anshan Air Base from Shanghai. Together with the 151st GIAD and new 28th IAD, it was made subordinate to the newly created 64th IAK [istrebitel’nyi aviatsionnyi korpus, or fighter aviation corps]. The former commander of the 151st IAD Major General Ivan Vasil’evich Belov assumed command of the corps. Colonel A.Ia. Sapozhnikov, the former commander of the 28th GIAP, took Belov’s place in command of the 151st GIAD. The Guards aviation division also now had a two-regiment table of organization, consisting of the 28th GIAP, whose commander was Hero of the Soviet Union Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Ivanovich Koliadin, and the 72nd GIAP, the commander of which remained as before Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Ivanovich Volkov.

The forming of the new aviation grouping was completed on 27 November 1950. On that date, the 28th, 50th and 151st IAD were all unified under the command of the 64th IAK.

These three Soviet fighter divisions of the new 64th IAK were all equipped with MiG-15s. The three aviation divisions together numbered 844 officers, 1,153 sergeants and 1,274 soldiers. The command of the new fighter corps was set up in Mukden, while its subordinate fighter divisions were based on the airfields of the Chinese cities Mukden, Anshan and Andong. The combat task of the 64th IAK was formulated by the Soviet military command and expressed as follows: to cover the crossings over the Yalu River, the hydroelectric stations on the river and the airfields in the area of Andong, and the North Korean supply arteries as far as the line Pyongyang – Wonsan. In conjunction with the fighter defense, the anti-aircraft defense was to prevent bombing attacks by the enemy air force on targets in northeast China along the Mukden axis.

The Soviet government made careful efforts to conceal its participation in the war from the West. Therefore in the course of the fighting, Soviet combatants were usually located distant from the front lines, while the 64th IAK’s fighters were restricted by the Yellow Sea coast and the no-fly line between Pyongyang and Wonsan. Soviet pilots were strictly forbidden to wander beyond this limited area. The Soviet air units and anti-aircraft defense emplacements in China and North Korea also observed camouflage and concealment measures, carrying out their combat assignments in the uniform of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army.

As we have seen, pilots of the 151st GIAD were the first to enter combat on the morning of 1 November 1950. Because of the organizational changes discussed above, the 28th IAD didn’t embark upon combat operations until 5 November, and at that only with the single 139th GIAP stationed in Liaoyang. The pilots of the 67th IAP entered the fighting a little later. However, until 8 November the pilots of this division on their patrol flights only rarely encountered American planes; more often, the enemy simply avoided combat.

The day 8 November marked a significant change: the enemy began the day with active air operations, launching a series of strikes on several important targets in the PDRK with large groups of F-51 attack aircraft, covered by F-80 jets. The first to take off to repulse the attacks were eight MiG-15s, led by the commander of the 72nd IAP’s 3rd Squadron Major V.P. Afonin. In the area of Andong they spotted four F-51s on a meeting course. Major Afonin immediately downed one of the F-51s in a head-on pass, while the other Mustangs scattered in different directions. As it was pulling out of the attack, Afonin’s flight was attacked by eight F-80s on a head-on course, which were covering the Mustangs. Another four Shooting Stars were diving to join the fray. In the head-on pass with the eight F-80s, an external fuel tank on Senior Lieutenant A.E. Sanin’s MiG was hit, but he safely made it back to Mukden in his jet.

Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov’s 2nd Flight, which was flying above Afonin’s flight when the action started, was also attacked by 10 F-80s, and then closed with four Shooting Stars in a head-on pass, but these brief engagements ended with no results and our pilots returned to their base.

The Americans believed that one of the departing MiG-15s had been downed and credited it to the 16th Squadron’s 1st Lieutenant Russell Brown, the first official victory of USAF pilots over MiG-15 jets. However, as it turned out, 1st Lieutenant Brown had only lightly damaged A. E. Sanin’s jet, and the very next day he took off on another mission in it. Thus, the Americans’ “first victory” over the MiG-15 didn’t in fact happen!

Major Afonin’s group landed in Mukden at 0938, just as eight more MiGs of the 139th IAP’s 3rd Squadron, under the command of squadron commander Captain M. Pakhomov, were taking off in Liaoyang for a combat assignment. When flying to the patrol area, Captain L.D. Shchegolov and his wingman became separated from the rest of the flight. Accelerating to close up with it again, Shchegolov spotted three F-51s that were attacking his wingman, who had moved in front of him. Shchegolov immediately moved to counter the Mustangs on a meeting course, and in the head-on pass shot down one F-51 with two bursts – the burning F-51 fell in the Andong area, which was confirmed by his wingman Senior Lieutenant P.M. Kustov and the auxiliary command post in this area.

At 1133, another flight of eight MiGs from the 28th GIAP, headed by Captain A.I. Akimov, took off on a combat mission. In the Andong area, the flight spotted one group of F-51s and fired upon it, then came across a second group of four F-51s. Attacking it, Captain Akimov shot down one of them, while the others evaded and escaped. A final group of eight MiGs from the 28th GIAP took off at 1343 and encountered six F-51s during its patrol, but the brief action ended with no results.

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