KOREA 1950 SOVIET PILOTS ENTER THE FIGHTING III

MiG 15 vs F80

On 11 November 1950, the 64th IAK had only one aerial engagement, but it was sufficiently bitter. At 1400 at a call from the Andong auxiliary command post, four MiGs led by the commander of the 28th GIAP Major Koliadin took off from the Anshan Air Base. In the area of Andong, at 1424 Koliadin’s flight was attacked from above and behind by a group of 20 F-80s. In order to evade the attack, Koliadin banked sharply into a climbing left-hand turn. In doing so, the combat formation came apart, and the further combat was conducted in separate elements. Koliadin’s wingman Captain Akimov drove off the attack on his leader and downed one of the F-80s, when he noticed that the wingman of the second element Senior Lieutenant M.P. Nasonov had not followed Koliadin in his climbing turn, but had continued flying straight ahead. Koliadin and the leader of the second element, the commander of the 2nd Squadron Hero of the Soviet Union Major V.D. Borovkov, having evaded the initial enemy attack, urgently ordered over the radio: “No. 23, you have enemy on your tail, break away!” Nasonov gave no indication that he heard the warning and continued a level turn to the left at an angle of about 30 degrees, but at this moment an F-80 opened fire at him from a range of 50 meters. Nasonov’s MiG began to fall in a controlled, left-hand spiral. Borovkov went to the aid of his wingman Senior Lieutenant Nasonov, dropped onto the tail of the attacking F-80 element, and closing the range from 500 to 200 meters, shot down one of the Shooting Stars from behind. At this point Borovkov was jumped by a different pair of F-80s, and he was forced to cease his effort to cover his wingman. Attempting to make a crash landing at the airfield in Andong, which was still under construction, Senior Lieutenant M.P. Nasonov crashed and was killed.

The remaining three Soviet pilots separated from the enemy and successfully returned to Anshan. According to V.D. Borovkov, during this flight they had spotted an enemy forward airfield, where Mustangs were being stationed, and even conducted an attack on enemy aircraft that were taking off from the strip, in which he claimed that one or two enemy aircraft were destroyed. However, this author has not been able to locate any document that would confirm this claim. The American side acknowledged the loss of one F-80 and damage to a second F-80, both from the 49th FBG’s 8th FBS.

On 12 November 1950, the pilots of the 151st GIAD essentially conducted the final aerial battles in the year 1950. The enemy again undertook several attacks on bridges across the Yalu with the forces of the USNAF’s piston-engine aircraft and units of the Strategic Air Command. Eight MiGs led by Captain S.I. Korobov was the first to scramble to intercept an inbound enemy air strike. However, six of the MiGs immediately returned to base because they couldn’t raise their landing gear. Captain Korobov’s remaining element continued the mission and soon encountered 10 B-29s and six F-80s. Korobov attacked the bombers, but he himself was attacked by two of the escort fighters and only shook loose of them with difficulty. He then returned to base.

At 0905, the last combat of 1950 for the pilots of the 151st GIAD took place. It involved eight MiG-15s of the 28th GIAP. The leader Major V.D. Borovkov was engaging 12 F-80s in the Andong area. At the same time, between 0838 and 0948, six MiGs from the 72nd GIAP were dueling with six B-29s and 16 F-80s in the same area. In this action, Major Boldun’s group scored no victories, but it did cause the enemy aircraft to turn back without completing its mission. After exiting the battle, Senior Lieutenant V.M. Dubrovin’s element was directed by ground control toward a pair of piston-engine fighters. Maneuvering into attack position, they opened fired on them from a range of 800 meters, but observed no results from the firing. On this day, one South Korean T-6 failed to return from its reconnaissance flight; perhaps it had crashed as a result of an encounter with MiG-15s?

A little later, eight MiGs of the 139th GIAP’s 1st Squadron, under the command of Captain B.V. Bochkov, lifted off a runway on the Liaoyang Air Base, tasked with defending Siniuju against an enemy air attack. At 0905 in the area south of Andong, at a command from the auxiliary command post they were directed to intercept a large group of enemy aircraft, consisting of 20 USNAF F9F-2 Panthers and AD-1 Skyraiders flying at an altitude of 8,000 meters in four-plane formations echeloned in altitude. The first to attack the enemy was Captain B.V. Bochkov’s flight, which targeted a flight of four AD-1s. At this time, the wingman of the second element in Bochkov’s flight Senior Lieutenant N.A. Kolesnichenko noticed four Panthers below them moving onto the tail of Senior Lieutenant A.I. Stuchkov’s MiG; Kolesnichenko banked to the right and at a range of 250 meters attacked the enemy leader and downed him with two short bursts. The enemy’s burning airplane fell in the vicinity of Andong, which was confirmed by the group’s pilots, gun camera footage, and the auxiliary command post in Andong.

Captain Bochkov with his wingman Senior Lieutenant L.D. Shchegolev attacked the right-hand wingman in the formation of AD-1s and fired two bursts at him, after which the Skyraider snap rolled and plunged toward the ground. Bochkov overtook and passed the attacked enemy group at high speed, and didn’t observe the fall of the stricken enemy aircraft, but other pilots confirmed that the AD-1 struck the ground.

In the course of the battle Lieutenant S. Kumonaev’s engine flamed out and he landed at the Andong airfield. Due to fuel exhaustion, Lieutenant N.I. Sannikov and Lieutenant P.M. Kustov were also forced to land at Andong. On 14 November, all three pilots flew back to their base in Liaoyang. As a result of this action, only one downed enemy F9F-2 was confirmed; Captain Bochkov didn’t receive credit for his probable victory over the AD-1. The Americans acknowledged the loss of both planes, but two days later, they also announced, of course, that the MiGs had nothing to do with either loss.

On 14 November 1950, the US Strategic Air Command undertook several attacks on Siniuju with B-29 bombers from the 19th and 307th BG. At 1040, eight MiGs from the 139th GIAP’s 1st Squadron under the command of Major G.I. Khar’kovsky took off to intercept one enemy air raid. Guided by the auxiliary command post, our pilots soon spotted 20 B-29 bombers in a column of flights, covered by up to 20 F-80s. The enemy formations were approaching on a meeting course.

As the enemy aircraft neared Singisiu, Khar’kovsky with his flight conducted the first attack against two groups of B-29s from below and to the right. Khar’kovsky and his wingman Lieutenant Iu.I. Akimov opened fire from a range of 600-800 meters at the group leader and another B-29 trailing to the leader’s left. As a result, the bomber attacked by Khar’kovsky burst into flames, dropped its left wing, and Lieutenant Akimov watched as it fell to the earth. After the first attack, the second element, consisting of Senior Lieutenant A.I. Kapranov and I.I. Kakurin attacked a following group of B-29s. However, they observed no results from their firing pass. With a left-hand turn they pulled out the attack and headed to the assembly point.

After the first attack from below, Khar’kovsky and Akimov climbed to the left, came around, and then dove on the bombers again and attacked the third group of B-29s from below and behind. Suddenly Khar’kovsky was jumped by an F-80; catching a glimpse of the American fighter angling toward him, Khar’kovsky broke off his attack into a climbing turn toward the sun. Gaining altitude in a left-hand turn and with the sun now at his back, he made another firing pass and attacked the fourth group of B-29s from above, behind and to the right. As a result, the extreme bomber on the left of the formation caught fire and fell off sharply to the left. Lieutenant Akimov, following his leader, saw the burning, falling bomber. However, at this moment Akimov himself was attacked by an F-80, and he would have been in a very tight situation, had not six MiGs from the 67th IAP under the command of Captain V.I. Sokolov suddenly shown up and hurried to his assistance. Captain Sokolov’s flight had engaged the cover fighters, and it was he who had seen Akimov’s precarious situation and went to bail him out of it. He dropped onto the tail of the pursuing F-80 and shot it down, while the rescued Akimov exited the fight and returned to base. The pilots of Khar’kovsky group watched as Sokolov’s victim burst into flames and spun wildly out of control toward the earth.

Archival documents of the division state that Captain V.I. Sokolov was leading the group of aircraft from the 28th IAD’s 67th IAP, and he received credit for the only F-80 that was shot down in this action. However, surviving veterans who participated in this action recall that the commander of the 67th IAP’s 3rd Squadron, Captain M. Pakhomov, was leading the 67th IAP’s group that day. Alas, there are other such inconsistencies between the recollections of veterans and the regimental documents …

Senior Lieutenant N.I. Podgorny of the 67th IAP’s 1st Squadron achieved the final victory in this clash. He had taken off from the Liaoyang Air Base together with his wingman Senior Lieutenant S.S. Kuprik a little after Captain Pakhomov’s flight. When he approached the combat area, he spotted a group of B-29s that were flying without cover. Banking sharply around, he attacked the formation of Superfortresses. With the abrupt maneuver, Senior Lieutenant Kuprik lost his leader and returned to base alone. At this time Podgorny attacked one of the “boxes” of B-29s, and from short range shot down the tail-end B-29; it fell to the earth in flames. Podgorny, pulling out of his first attack, swung back around and made another attack on the three B-29s. This time he managed only to damage one of the bombers, but his MiG also came under the fire of the bombers’ gunners and took hits – one bullet struck the oxygen cylinder, causing it to explode and damage his MiG’s nose cowling, blocking the pilot’s forward vision. Reducing his speed, Podgorny exited the battle and with difficulty made it back to his base, where he safely landed his MiG (the plane was restored to service in three days). Senior Sergeant Richard W. Fisher, a gunner aboard one of the B-29s from the 307th BG’s 371st Squadron, received credit for downing Podgorny’s MiG, but as we have seen, he only damaged it and it returned safely to base.

As a result of the aerial clash on 14 November 1950, pilots of the 64th IAK shot down five and damaged several more American aircraft. Pilots of the 139th GIAP claimed three enemy aircraft, and all three B-29s were credited to Major G.I. Khar’kovsky, for which he was awarded the Order of Lenin. Pilots of the 67th IAP shot down the other two enemy planes. Two of our MiGs received damage: Senior Lieutenant N.I. Podgorny’s jet and Lieutenant Iu.I. Akimov’s aircraft, which received several bullet holes in it.

According to a contemporary report from the United Press agency, two B-29s were shot down by MiGs in this battle; another B-29 returned to its base, but upon landing it crashed into four other parked aircraft, because the pilot of this B-29 had been seriously wounded in the leg by a shell from a 23mm cannon. Another B-29 safely returned to base with heavy combat damage, but with several wounded crew members on board. One more B-29 (No. 1940) from the 307th BG’s 372nd Squadron took serious damage from the cannons on Senior Lieutenant Podgorny’s MiG, but it was able to return to its base on Okinawa and was restored to service. The American side acknowledged the loss of two B-29s on this day. American records also show the loss of one RB-80 from the 49th FBG, which was probably shot down by Captain Sokolov.

The pilots of the 64th IAK had no further encounters with enemy aircraft until 18 November 1950. However, on that date the 64th IAK’s final battle of the year with the American air force took place when six MiGs of the 67th IAP’s 3rd Squadron under the command of Captain M. Pakhomov tangled with a group of carrier-based F9F-2 Panther fighters from VF-111, which were escorting USNAF strike aircraft trying to break through to the Yalu bridges. In the course of the action, Captain A.I. Tarshinov’s wingman Senior Lieutenant V. Bulaev became distracted by his own attack against one of the F9F-2s and abandoned his leader for 12 seconds. He downed the enemy aircraft, but while doing so a different pair of enemy aircraft attacked and shot down Captain Tarshinov’s MiG, who was killed in his cockpit. Lieutenant Colonel W. Lamb and his wingman Lieutenant R.E. Parker of VF-111 were responsible for downing Tarshinov. However, the Americans themselves lost two aircraft in this battle: squadron commander Captain Mikhail Pakhomov shot down a second Panther. Most likely, however, in this battle the pilots of the 67th IAP had attacked a group of F-80 fighter-bombers from the 49th FBG, which had a top escort of fleet F9F-2 Panthers, because the Americans recognize the loss of two Shooting Stars on this day.

As a result of this, their final day of combat in the skies of Korea, the pilots of the 28th IAD shot down two American aircraft, but lost one of their own, in which deputy squadron commander Captain Arkadii Ivanovich Tarshinov was killed. Between 19 and 25 November 1950 inclusively, the pilots of the 28th IAD didn’t fly a single combat sortie. Their last combat sortie occurred on 26 November 1950, when 16 MiGs of the division took off to intercept solitary enemy aircraft in the Andong area, but they never found one – likely the enemy aircraft departed the area before the MiGs arrived. The 28th IAD’s pilots flew no more missions for the rest of the month. At the beginning of December 1950, in response to an order they flew to a new base in Qingdao, deep in the interior of China, where they spent some time training Chinese and North Korean pilots to fly the MiG-15, after which they returned to the Soviet Union. The 151st GIAD conducted its final combat sortie on 27 November 1950, when Captain S.I. Korobov’s flight flew a reconnaissance mission and encountered no enemy aircraft. With this, the combat operations of the pilots of the 151st GIAD and 28th IAD in Korea came to an end.

On 30 November 1950, as part of the rotation of combat units in the theater of combat operations, pilots of the new 50th IAD, which had just joined the roster of the 64th IAK, conducted their first sorties to familiarize themselves with the area of combat operations. This fighter division, which was commanded by Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel A.V. Pashkevich, had been formed on the Liaodong Peninsula in October 1950 on the basis of two Soviet aviation regiments: the 177th IAP of the PVO, commanded by Colonel V.Ia. Terent’ev, and the 29th GIAP commanded by Major D.V. Virich. Both regiments of the division were equipped with 30 MiG-15bis fighters each (instead of the establishment strength of 40 fighters). On 20 November 1950, both regiments of the 50th IAD flew from the Sanshilipu Air Base to Anshan Air Base, from where on 30 November they began to conduct combat sorties.

In December 1950, three more Soviet Air Force jet-equipped fighter divisions arrived in China from the Soviet Union: the 309th IAD (with the 49th and 162nd IAP armed with MiG-9 jet fighters and commanded by Colonel N.I. Stankevich), which was based in Gunshulin; the 65th IAD (with the 70th and 172nd IAP armed with MiG-9 jet fighters under the command of Colonel S.S. Pankratov), which was based in Guangzhou (Canton); and the 324th IAD (with the 196th IAP and 176th GIAP armed with MiG-15 fighters under the command of thrice Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel I.N. Kozhedub), which arrived in the PRC on 25 December and was stationed on the Dongfang Air Base in Sichuan Province. All three divisions began training Chinese pilots. All of these divisions were from the so-called second echelon, had not seen combat, and had engaged exclusively in training. They comprised the 64th IAK’s reserve, which provided replacements of experienced flight personnel and technicians for the corps. In the event of a sharpening of the situation, the second-echelon divisions were ready to join combat as part of the 64th IAK’s first echelon. The enemy was aware of this gathering strength in the 64th IAK’s rear and had to reckon with it.

As a result of the first month of combat in the Korean sky, the pilots of the four Soviet fighter regiments in the 151st GIAD and 28th IAD shot down or damaged 50 enemy aircraft. Of this total, 31 victories were officially recorded: 9 F-51s, 7 B-29s, 7 F-80s, 6 F9F-2s and two AD-1s. Nineteen additional enemy planes were damaged or recorded as “probable” victories in the November air battles: 6 B-29s, 5 AD-1s (it is possible that some of these were actually F4U Corsairs), 4 F-51s, 3 F-80s and 1 F-82. The pilots of the 139th GIAP had the highest score: 12 confirmed and 13 probable victories. In second place behind them were the pilots of the 72nd GIAP, which achieved 9 official and 5 probable victories. The pilots of the 28th GIAP officially downed 6 enemy aircraft (with one more recorded as a probable), while the pilots of the 67th IAP had 4 confirmed kills, and damaged an additional enemy aircraft. The top scoring Soviet pilot over the first month of fighting was the 139th GIAP’s squadron commander, Major Grigorii Il’ich Khar’kovsky, who in two aerial combats downed four B-29 bombers, for which he was awarded the Order of Lenin.

The losses over the month of fighting for both divisions comprised a total of three MiG-15s and four pilots. The Soviet pilots Captain M.F. Grachev, M.P. Nasonov and A.I. Tarshinov were all killed in combat, while a pilot of the 72nd GIAP Senior Lieutenant I.M. Kuznetsov died in the month of August from encephalitis. All four men were buried in the Russian cemetery in Port Arthur.

Four MiG-15s of the divisions returned from missions with combat damage, but all were returned to service through the diligent work of the ground crews. Another one or two MiGs were lost due to flight accidents when training the Chinese pilots.

To this it is necessary to add that between 1 and 7 November, remnants of the North Korean air force’s 56th GIAP actively operated in the area of Singisiu, flying piston-engine Yak-9 and La-9 fighters. In combat with American piston-engine fighters the North Korean pilots fared rather well, downing approximately 10 enemy aircraft in that week. For example, it is reliably known that on 5 November 1950, eight North Korean fighters under the command of Kim Tal Hyon joined battle against 20 American aircraft and shot down six of them, including five B-26 bombers and one B-29, without any losses of their own. Information about the other victories of the North Korean pilots is still not available to authors, though it is known that North Korean pilots of the 56th GIAP fought stubbornly against the American air force in the areas of Sinuiju and Singisiu on 1, 2 and 6 November. The Americans themselves state that on 5 November, three B-26s from the 452nd BG’s 730th Squadron were attacked by four Yak-9s, which damaged two of the bombers. In November, pilots of the 18th FBG in their Mustangs shot down five Yak-9 fighters.

However, the most important thing is not in the numbers of victories and losses, but is the role that the Soviet air units played in this period of the war. In essence, the introduction of the Soviet fighter divisions into the fighting brought about a turning point in the course of the air war. The appearance of the MiG-15 jet fighters simply came as a shock to the United States command in Korea. They immediately recognized the superiority of the Soviet fighter over all the jets equipping the USAF and USNAF, which were operating in Korea at that time. Neither the F-80 Shooting Star nor the carrier-based F9F-2 Panther fighters could fight on equal terms with the Soviet MiGs. Only a top pilot in these aircraft might achieve a victory over a MiG, but even here the American aces were unlucky: all the Soviet pilots who fought in Korea in 1950 had World War II combat experience, and none of them were novices in mastering the jet technology.

The American command, alarmed by the rising aircraft losses in Korea, took a number of serious steps: Firstly, it sharply reduced the number of combat sorties by the USAF and USNAF to the Andong – Sinuiju area; secondly, after analyzing the November losses it was noted that the piston-engine F-51 Mustang attack aircraft, which at that time was the main USAF fighter-bomber in Korea, could no longer carry out combat missions in the area where MiGs were operating without strong fighter escort. This same conclusion was applicable to the main US Strategic Air Command bomber in Korea, the B-29. With the appearance of the MiG-15, the unpunished attacks by the Superfortresses on targets in the depth of North Korea came to an end, which was amply demonstrated by the loss of several Superfortresses in November. Even large numbers of escort fighters hadn’t saved the B-29s from losses, and cases of failure to carry out a combat mission became not infrequent due to the opposition of the MiGs.

Equally disquieting were the conclusions with respect to the use of the F-80 Shooting Star and the carrier-based F9F-2 Panther jet fighters against the MiG-15s. Both these aircraft were quite inferior to the MiG-15 in a number of performance characteristics and could not fight with them on equal terms, which was confirmed by the results of combat between them that normally ended in the favor of the Soviet fighter. Thus it was decided to employ the F-80 no longer as a fighter, and to re-equip the fighter-bomber units with them, that is to say, to transfer the F-80 into the class of fighter-bombers and to replace the plainly outdated Mustangs in this role.

Our pilots over the first month of fighting carried out all the assignments that they’d been given to protect particularly important areas of northeast China and the border provinces of North Korea against air attack. The reliable aerial cover given to the railroad and road arteries, and the bridges and crossings over the Yalu River in the Andong – Sinuiju area secured the uninterrupted flow of supplies, providing everything necessary to sustain ground operations on the fronts of Korea, to the forces of the CPV and NKPA. All this taken together also permitted the troops of the CPV and NKPA to go on a major offensive on 25 November, which forced the UN forces to retreat down the peninsula and away from the North Korean – Manchurian border.

 

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