KOREA 1950 SOVIET PILOTS ENTER THE FIGHTING II

MiG-15 Fagot North Korea vs B-29 Superfortress USAF, Korean War 1950

The pilots of the 64th IAK on 8 November had again dueled with Mustangs from the 18th FBG, and they had achieved three victories. The Americans, in addition to Brown’s “victory”, claimed an additional “probable”: four F-51s of the 35th Squadron had tangled with four MiGs near the Yalu River, and supposedly 1st Lieutenant Harris Boys downed one of the Soviet jets. However, it is known reliably that on 8 November 1950, the 64th IAK had no losses.

The hottest days for the pilots of the 64th IAK were 9 and 10 November 1950, when through the joint efforts of the pilots from both divisions, several massed attacks against bridges across the Yalu in the areas of Andong and Singisiu were repulsed. Several dogfights developed with the participation of 50-60 aircraft from both sides. These two days of aerial combat became the most productive in terms of the number of achieved aerial victories.

At first on the morning of 9 November at 0900, seven MiGs from the 139th GIAP, under the command of the chief of the Regiment’s aerial gunnery service Captain V. P. Bochkov, took off to intercept an attack by USNAF piston-engine fighter-bombers. In the area of the Andong bridge, the Soviet pilots spotted a large formation of enemy piston-engine aircraft that were attempting to destroy this strategically vital target. Corsairs and Skyraiders from the aircraft carrier Philippine Sea’s 11th Air Group were targeting the bridge. The attack formation included eight AD-2 from Squadron VA-115, approximately 20 F4U Corsairs from VF-113 and VF-114, which were being covered from above by two flights of eight F9F Panther jets each from VF-111 and VF-112.

It was with these American fighters and fighter-bombers that the pilots of the 139th GIAP collided above the bridge across the Yalu. In essence, this was the baptism of fire for the pilots of the 1st Squadron of this Guards regiment; in their combat ardor, they plunged into the thick of the enemy aircraft, and a wild melee erupted. The 1st Squadron commander Captain M.F. Grachev and the overall group leader Captain V.B. Bochkov themselves became caught up in the action, and in the heat of battle, failed to direct the combat or their subordinates. Thus the squadron formation disintegrated into isolated elements and solitary aircraft – each caught up in its own battle and failing to provide cover to each other. Despite these mistakes, the Soviet pilots fought bravely against superior enemy numbers, and in the swirling action, the enemy fighter-bombers were unable to release their bombs on the bridge with any accuracy. In this battle, the squadron commander Captain Grachev fought heroically on his own, and according to the testimony of other participants, personally shot down two or three American aircraft. Group commander Captain Bochkov also downed one Skyraider. After the significant losses at the hands of the MiGs, the attack aircraft began to flee the area – just when the covering Panther flights pounced on the scattered MiGs from above. One flight of four Panthers under the command of Captain W.T. Amen, the commanding officer of VF-111, managed to catch a solitary MiG in a pincer movement and shot it up from their 20mm guns at point-blank range. Thus, the first Soviet pilot-internationalist Captain Mikhail Fedorovich Grachev was killed in this battle. This was the first combat loss of the 64th IAK and simultaneously the first genuine officially confirmed victory of US pilots (and US Navy pilots) over an enemy jet in the form of a MiG-15 fighter.

The other pilots of the 139th GIAP were also attacked by the Panthers, but exploiting the MiG’s superiority, they successfully countered these attacks and turned the tables on the Panthers. As a result one of them was shot down by Lieutenant N.I. Sannikov, and the remaining began to exit the battle. However during their departure, one flight of F9F-2 was unexpectedly attacked from below by Senior Lieutenant A.I. Stulov, who shot up one of the F9F-2 from point-blank range. Here is how Aleksandr Ivanovich Stulov recalls this combat almost 55 years later:

Then the next patrol of 9 November 1950 took place. The 1st Squadron with a complement of 8 or 10 aircraft took off at an alert signal. The squadron was being commanded by either Grachev or the regiment’s new navigator Bochkov – I can’t say exactly. It was 160 kilometers from the air base to Andong. The enemy air force was targeting the railroad bridge linking the territory of China with that of North Korea. For this purpose they used B-29 bombers, piston-engine Thunderbolt attack aircraft [more likely the AD-4 Skyraider], and twin fuselage aircraft named the Black Widow [more likely the F-82 Twin Mustang]. They had the top cover of Shooting Star jet fighters. I was Grachev’s wingman; I can no longer name the other pilots on the mission – I’ve simply can’t recall them after so many years. With all our aircraft, we went after the attack aircraft that were bombing the bridge, but they were at low altitudes that aren’t very advantageous for jet fighters. A complete “fur ball” resulted and it was impossible to distinguish where your planes were and where the enemy planes were, or who was attacking whom. Moreover, these piston-engine aircraft were more maneuverable than ours and evaded out from under our attacks. It was impossible for us to steepen the angle of our dives, since we were right above the ground. In these conditions all of our aircraft scattered and we lost all coordination, not because we wanted this, but because of the situation that had developed. I, for example, attacked a Black Widow [again, more likely a Twin Mustang], but it spotted me before I could close within firing range and with a sharp, diving turn passed below me. Reversing, it then gave a wild burst at my aircraft. I went after a Thunderbolt [Skyraider], but it also didn’t allow me to close within firing range. However, we carried out our task: we had disrupted the attack on the bridge.

When there were no longer any aircraft over the bridge, I started to climb to regain altitude and spotted four Shooting Stars in a compact formation, on a northward heading. I set out in pursuit of them, having first taking a look around me. Within 3 or 4 minutes, I had closed with them, making sure I stayed behind and below them so that they couldn’t see me. Then, when I had drawn within 50 meters, I took careful aim and fired a short burst with everything I had. However, it happened that I encountered some turbulence in their slipstream just as I fired, which threw off my aim, and the burst went wide of the lead aircraft. I had been just a split second late in opening fire. The left-hand wingman broke left into a descending turn. There was nothing left for me to do than to follow him, cutting off his turn, and I fired a couple of more bursts at him. It looked like I had fatally stricken his plane, so I climbed away and took a quick look around, but the other three aircraft were nowhere in sight. I went into a shallow dive and headed back to base at high speed, because I didn’t have much fuel left.

This was the first, and I would say, disorganized dogfight, which no one was directing in the air or from the ground. From my point of view, it would have been better for the first flight to attack in pairs and for the second flight to provide cover; then, when the first flight had pulled out of its attacking pass, to swap roles and to use the radio.

All of our aircraft returned to base one by one, except for Grachev’s MiG. All the pilots were worried about him, but I suffered even more, because I knew him better than anyone else, both as a comrade and as a pilot. For about a week, no one knew what had happened with him. Then Captain Rudokovsky, the squadron’s adjutant appeared, and delivered a small paper-wrapped bundle that weighed about 2 kilograms. It held all that remained of Grachev. The command decided to send me to Port Arthur for the burial of the remains, and gave me two sergeants to assist me. I pressed Rudokovsky to tell me everything he knew. He told me that they had located the place of our aircraft’s crash, inside Chinese territory approximately 15-20 kilometers from the Korean border. He added that American jets had shot him down, and that there had been four of them. As I supposed, after the initial action against the piston-engine attack aircraft, he had relaxed and become less vigilant, which the enemy exploited, and having closed upon him from behind unnoticed, riddled his aircraft, after which his aircraft plunged to the ground.

Lieutenant Samuil Kumonaev shot down one more Panther in this scrap. It had been attacking his wingman, Senior Lieutenant M.I. Bolodin.

Thus the Soviet pilots in this action knocked down five or six US aircraft, but the regiment was credited with only two: one F9F-2 and one AD-2. Captain M.F. Grachev’s supposed victories went uncounted, since he had been fighting alone, while his gun camera film burned up together with the aircraft. Therefore credit for any of his victories didn’t go to the regiment, or else they were attributed to anti-aircraft gunners, who were also protecting this bridge and took part in repelling the attack. The command of the USNAF in Korea recognized the loss of only one of its F9F-2 Panthers from VF-51, the pilot of which was rescued. However, there are data that show that three Corsairs were lost at the beginning of November in combat actions, but the Americans still haven’t released information about the exact dates when they were lost.

The losses of the 139th GIAP in this battle might have been even greater, since they had fought without any organization or cohesion. However, the pilots were bailed out by the combat experience that they had acquired in the Great Patriotic War and the MiG-15’s superior performance.

A little later, just after 1000, six MiGs from the 72nd GIAP under the command of Major A.Z. Bordun took off for the Singisiu area. Once in the area, they spotted a single B-29 bomber being escorted by 16 F-80s. Senior Lieutenant A. Rodionov tied up the covering fighters in combat, while Bordun’s element attacked the B-29 in turn. First to attack the bomber (an RB-29 reconnaissance aircraft No.44-61813 from the 91st SRS [Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron]) was the wingman Lieutenant A.M. Dymchenko, who fired at the B-29 at a range of 100 meters out to 800 meters, and then again at 400 meters. Next Major Bordun made a firing pass and opened up on the Superfortress from a range of 300-400 meters. The flashes of shells striking the B-29 were visible, which left the bombers’s two left engines burning. Lieutenant Dymchenko attacked again and finished off the B-29; the bomber erupted in flames and its gunners were no longer firing at Dymchenko’s MiG, and soon the burning B-29 fell into some clouds.

Senior Lieutenant Rodionov’s flight also successfully engaged the two flights of covering F-80s, preventing them coming to the aid of the B-29, and presumably downed one Shooting Star. True, it wasn’t credited to the regiment. We had no losses in this action.

Some time later, groups of MiGs from the 28th, 72nd and 139th GIAP took off at intervals of time to repulse an enemy raid in the Andong – Singisiu area, because the enemy attack lasted until 1453. In this period of time, several more clashes with American aircraft took place. For example, in the afternoon four MiGs of the 72nd GIAP under the command of Hero of the Soviet Union Major N.V. Stroikov took off on a mission to the Singisiu area. Over the target they encountered four F-80 Shooting Stars and engaged them in battle. In the course of the scrap, the element of Major N.V. Stroikov and Captain V.N. Kaznacheev so successfully attacked a pair of F-80s, that when the Shooting Stars maneuvered to evade the attack, they collided and fell in fragments to the ground. They were credited to the score of Stroikov and Kaznacheev. The remaining F-80s immediately departed without carrying out their assignment.

Thus, on 9 November the pilots of the 64th IAK tallied up to seven victories. Two F-80s, three F9F-2s, one AD-2 and one B-29 were downed, with only one loss in return.

According to American records, two downed MiG-15s were registered on this day: one (Captain Grachev’s) was credited to Lt. Colonel Emmon of VF-111, while one more went to a gunner aboard the RB-29, Sgt. Kerry Lewin of the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. However, it is reliably known that in the battle with the RB-29, none of the MiGs were even damaged, so on this occasion as well, the Americans were hasty in claiming a victory. On the other hand, according to American information, the RB-29 that had been damaged by Bordun and Dymchenko actually managed to struggle back to its base in Japan, where it crashed when making a forced landing, and five of its crew perished.

On 10 November 1950, at 0908 at a call from the auxiliary command post, eight MiGs under the command of Captain S.I. Korobov, the 28th GIAP’s 3rd Squadron commander, sortied from the Mukden-North Air Base. Korobov was leading the attack flight, while Senior Lieutenant Pronin’s covering flight was staggered to the left, about 800 meters behind and 1,500 meters above. On the approach to the assigned area, Korobov received an order from the auxiliary command post to go to the assistance of Major A.Z. Bordun’s group, which was involved in a dogfight 15-20 kilometers south of Andong. Reaching the combat area at an altitude of 6,000 meters, at 0930 they spotted four groups of enemy aircraft inbound from the Yellow Sea at an altitude of 5,000 meters. The first and second groups consisted of four F-51 Mustangs each, while the third group had six F-51s. Four F-80s were covering the Mustangs. Korobov maneuvered into position and with his flight attacked the first group from above and behind at a target aspect angle of 0/4.4 They pulled out of the attack at an angle and climbed toward the sun. In this attack, Captain S.I. Korobov shot down one F-51 and the formation broke apart. Startled, two of the other Mustangs collided in the air – one plummeted to the earth, while the other, damaged, limped away from the combat area.

As noted by the auxiliary command post’s order, at 0908 six more MiGs under the command of Major A.Z. Bordun from the 72nd GIAP had left Mukden to repel an enemy air strike in the region of Andong. As Bordun’s group was conducting a left-hand turn over the target area, Senior Lieutenant A.M. Dymchenko caught sight of one B-29 bomber at an altitude of 4,000 meters, and reported this over the radio. At the leader’s command, the group began to close in for an attack. At this moment, a second B-29 was spotted, which having dropped its bombs, began to head toward the Yellow Sea in a right-hand turn. During the attempt to attack the first B-29, Bordun’s group was jumped by two flights of four F-80 Shooting Stars each from above and behind, to the right and the left. Pulling out from under the attack in a chandelle to the left, Major Bordun attacked one of the F-80 flights from behind at a target angle of 1/4, and shot down one of the F-80s at a range of 600 meters. At this point, three more flights of F-80s, with eight fighters in each, were approaching the battle, and the first attempted to attack Dubrovin’s element, but it evaded and in turn attacked eight F-80s on a meeting course, opening fire at 1,000 meters. Soon the group at Bordun’s order exited the battle in a dive. The enemy made no attempt to pursue. At the authorization of the auxiliary command post, the group returned to base.

At 1026, eight more MiGs from the 139th GIAP’s 2nd Squadron scrambled from the Liaoyang Air Base at an order from the 28th IAD command post to intercept another enemy attack group. Under the command of Major G.I. Khar’kovsky, at 1044 the group was approaching the Andong area at an altitude of 6,500 meters. At an order from the auxiliary command post, the group descended to 5,000 meters, and out in front of them, 16 kilometers away in an area east of Singisiu, they caught the glints of seven B-29 bombers, flying in a compact formation of a column of flights, being escorted by four F-51s. Having spotted the approaching MiGs, the bombers began a turn to the left. Leading the attack flight, Major Khar’kovsky and his wingman Lieutenant Iu.I. Akimov attacked the two trailing B-29s from below and behind, angling in from the left and the right. After the first aimed burst, the B-29 targeted by Khar’kovsky began to lag behind the rest of its formation. Khar’kovsky attacked it again from below and to the right, as a result of which the B-29 spouted flames. Burning, it fell in an area 25 kilometers northeast of Andong, which was confirmed by the auxiliary command post in Andong, other pilots in the group, and gun camera footage.

Lieutenant Akimov, who had attacked the other B-29, opened fire at it from a range of 600 meters and noticed that the tracers were passing behind the tail of the bomber. He ceased fire, shifted his MiG slightly to adjust his aim, and opened fire again. This time he saw his shells striking the center of the B-29. Before pulling out of the attack, Akimov noted fragments from the stricken B-29 falling away from the bomber. After the attack he formed up again with his leader. He began a repeat attack and caught sight of the bomber that had been attacked by Khar’kovsky falling away with its left wing on fire. After his second attack, Akimov watched his target, emitting smoke, fall away. Lieutenant Akimov received victory credit for this B-29, which was confirmed by the commander of the covering group Senior Lieutenant A.A. Zhdanovich, Major Khar’kovsky and gun camera footage.

Zhdanovich’s flight attacked the remaining five B-29s from above and behind at great range, after which two of the B-29s fell back from the rest of the dwindling formation and descended into some clouds. The remaining three B-29s escaped beyond the Soviet no-fly line, so there was no pursuit. The pilots of Zhadovich’s flight couldn’t observe what happened to the two B-29s because of the poor visibility and the great range.

During the battle, the four F-51 escort fighters tried to get behind the leader of the second element of the attack group Senior Lieutenant Kapranov. His wingman Lieutenant I.I. Kakurin drove off the enemy attack, after which the Mustangs left the combat area. According to Kakurin’s after-action report, these were F-82 Twin Mustangs, and that when repelling their attack on Kapranov, he had fatally damaged one of them, but he received no confirmation for this victory.

At 1053, with no enemy aircraft remaining in the area, Major Khar’kovsky gathered his group at a command from the auxiliary command post in Andong and returned to his home base without any losses. As a result of the fighting on 10 November, the pilots of the 64th IAK repelled several enemy attack groups, including the attack of the seven B-29s from the 307th BG on Uiju, and downed five enemy aircraft: two B-29s, two F-51s and one F-80. In the day’s actions, the 64th IAK had no losses; only Lieutenant Kakurin’s MiG received any damage, a bullet hole through his fuel tank, but he safely returned to base. The Americans acknowledge the loss of two Mustangs on this day and only one B-29.

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