Hero Shot of Major George A. Davis

Hero Shot of Major George A. Davis

F-86A Sabre "Miss Behaving"

F-86A Sabre "Miss Behaving"

George Davis, Ben Preston and Winton 'Bones' Marshall

Three of the victors on November 30 1951 pose for the cameras. From left to right: George A. Davis (two Tu-2s and one MiG-15), Ben Preston (one La-11) and Winton "Bones" Marshall (one Tu-2 and one La-11).

George Davis USAF

George Davis USAF

gun camera footage of George Davis MiG kill

This gun-camera footage was taken by the F-86E Sabre BuNo 51-2752 flown by George A. Davis (CO of the 334th FIS/4th FIW) on December 13 1951, and shows one of the three MiG kills he scored that day. Most likely it is one of the two PLAAF MiG-15s of the 40th Regiment/14th Division he shot down in the afternoon. The Chinese Air Force admits the loss of 7 MiGs and 2 more seriously damaged in that combat, which match quite well with the 10 MiG kills claimed by American pilots.

However, this victory came at a a cost: several flights of experienced Russian MiG-15 pilots arrived to save their Chinese buddies from annihilation, and shot down 2 F-86s, including one pilot of Davis' unit (Charles D. Hogue, downed by the MiG-15 ace Pavel S. Milaushkin).

Zhang Jihui, Chinese MiG-15 pilot in Korean War

Zhang Jihui (12th Regiment, 4th Division) was the Chinese MiG-15 pilot who shot down the F-86E BuNo 51-2752 of George Davis on February 10 1952, killing the American ace. Zhang also damaged the F-86E BuNo 50-645 of Bill Littlefield, just before being himself shot down, probably by Major Donald Rodewald (25th FIS).

Response by Raymond Cheung

The speculation about Zhang being shot down by Maj. Rodewald or Lt. Ross of the 25th FIS, 51st FIW is problematical.

According to the Squadron History of 25th FIS, Maj Rodewald claimed a "probable" at 0800H and Ross a "damaged" at 0810H , a full 28 and 18 minutes respectively before the time Davis made his attack (Olynyk F., "United States Credits for the destruction of enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat post World War 2", p24, publ 1999, Frank Olynyk, Aurora, Ohio). For the time of the claims attributed to Davis, Olynyk referenced the FEAF General Order No. 200, 26 Apr. 1952.

The Periodic Intelligence Report (PERINTREP) covering the day's action provides even more details. Davis did not separate from his flight with his wingman until 0803H, after Rodewald made his claim for the "probable". According to the PERINTREP, the MiG's Rodewald and Ross attacked were flying in the opposite direction and at a higher altitude as the formation Davis attacked. Two other pilots from the 51st FIW also submitted claims for "damaged" MiG's in similar circumstances, i.e. before the time of Davis' action.

Demonstrating that Zhang, Juhui and Shan, Zhi-yu were shot down after Davis is absolutely pivotal to the author's hypothesis. Based on the evidence outlined above, the author's position is clearly untenable. Since no other US pilots even submitted a claim for damaging a MiG after Davis was shot down, the only reasonable conclusion is that Zhang did not shoot down Davis.

Dr. Cheung is a PhD who has been published in numerous defense journals including historical ones.

Lt. Col. George A. Davis

Awarded the Medal of Honor

By Diego Zampini, Dec. 2004. Updated April 16, 2012.

George Andrew Davis enlisted in the US Air Corps at Lubbock (Texas) in March 1942, and earned his wings and commission while training at four different fields in Texas.

Assigned at the outset as a fighter pilot, he went to the Pacific Theater in August 1943, where he established an enviable combat record with the 5th Air Force. From that date until March 1945, flying with the 342nd Fighter Squadron of the 318th Fighter Group, Davis completed 266 missions for a total of 705 combat hours, being credited with the destruction of seven enemy aircraft and earning the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and nine Air Medals.

He was promoted to first lieutenant and to captain in February 1944 and November 1944, respectively. He returned home for peacetime duties as flight commander, air inspector, and jet fighter pilot at bases in Texas, Tennessee, California, New York and Pennsylvania. He was promoted to the rank of Major in February 1951, and in October went to Korea with the 4th FIW, being assigned as commander of its 334th FIS.

Those were hard times for the FEAF. Most of the Communist aviators weren't the inexperienced North Korean and Chinese fliers, as it was asserted at that time, instead were the élite of the VVS (Voyenno Vozdushnye Sily = Soviet Air Force). About the time of Davis' arrival to Korea, during 5 days (October 22-27, 1951) the Soviet MiG force had beaten up the B-29s, no matter how many escort fighters were sent to protect them, and forced FEAF C-in-C General Otto Weyland to suspend the daylight raids of the Superfortresses, in what was the greatest American defeat in the air along the Korean War. That was the kind of opposition George Davis would meet in the skies of North Korea.

First Victories in Korea

The beginning of his career was meek; he damaged a MiG on November 4. Anyway, he began to cause an impression among the men under his command. Anthony Kulengosky was his wingman that day, and he recalled the combat that way (MiG Alley - Sabres Vs MiGs Over Korea, by Warren Thompson & David McLaren, page #61):

"I never had a chance to fire my machine guns at an enemy aircraft until one day was assigned to a new major who had just come over from the States. His look did not impress me; he looked like a schoolteacher. But, once airborne, did he turn out to be a 'tiger'.

On one mission, I called out a MiG at three o'clock low heading north, and this tiger was on that MiG like a fly on fly paper. He closed to about 2,000 feet and I cleared his tail and told him he was OK to shoot. He did, but used too long a burst and ran out of ammo fast, but he did score some hits. My leader told me to move up and shoot, that he would make sure my tail was clear. I fired a few rounds and hit the MiG several times, but by this time, we were getting too close to the Yalu and we had to cut the chase short. The major got credit for his first 'damaged', and he went on to become a triple ace later in the war. [...] His name was Maj. George A. Davis Jr. He was a great pilot and a real gentlemen."

A few weeks later, at noon on November 27 1951 Davis led his 334th FIS towards "MiG Alley", together with Major Richard Creighton who did so with his own unit, the 336th FIS. Early that morning the Russian MiG-15 units had been pretty aggressive and broke havoc among the Thunderjets and Shooting Stars strafing ground targets, shooting down one F-80C (Rafael Du Briel, KIA) and one F-84E (Bernard K. Seitzinger, MIA), the latter by the Top Soviet scorer, Colonel Yevgeny Pepelyayev. So, Davis and Creighton were tasked "to cool the enthusiasm" of the Russians and allow the US fighter-bombers to do their job; and indeed Davis let the Russians "frozen". In only two minutes between 13:49 and 13:51 hs, he blasted two MiGs out of the sky: the ones flown by Aleksandr P. Verdysh and A. Yesipko (both fliers perished - Verdysh had two victories to his credit, one F-86A and one F-51D). Creighton and 1st Lt. William Dawson claimed one MiG kill each in that same combat, but actually the Soviets suffered no additional losses in that combat. These 2 MiG kills were only the beginning of George Davis' legend.

Massacre over Cho-Do island

The PLAAF (People's Liberation Army Air Force = Chinese Air Force) became a real and dangerous threat on November 6 1951, when nine Tu-2s of the 24th Regiment/8th Division (escorted by 16 La-11s of the 2nd Division and 24 MiG-15s of the 3rd Division) destroyed the South Korean command post, food & ammo storage installations in Cho-Do island (Taehwa-Do in the Chinese cartography). That was a direct challenge to the American air superiority, that would not remain unanswered.

The F-86A Sabre BuNo 49-1184 "Miss Behaving" was George Davis' war-horse during the mission on November 30 1951. This aircraft was shot down few days later -4 December 1951-
by the Russian MiG-15 pilot Pavel Nikulin (176th GIAP/324th IAD).

The US Army intelligence had learned that the PLAAF planned to repeat its raid against Cho-Do on November 30 1951, and warned the FEAF, which ordered all the 334th, 335th and 336th FIS to scramble 31 F-86A/E Sabres at 15:32 hs to intercept the expected intruders and their escorting MiGs. Without knowing it, the Americans were helped by a Chinese timing mistake; the nine Tu-2s of the 24th Regiment (led by Gao Yueming) took off one minute prior to scheduled, at 14:19 hs (Beijing time, 15:19 in Seoul), and an unexpected 180º turn to the SE caused that the formation added 4 more minutes ahead. So, only 16 Lavochkins became the escort of the Chinese Tupolevs. The MiGs would arrive 5 minutes later (and only 16 out of 24), when most of the damage would be done. At 16:07 hs the 31 Sabres met the nine Tu-2s and the 16 La-11s, and the carnage began.

That day George Davis was flying an old F-86A Sabre BuNo 49-1184, (which had a fixed Mk 18 gunsight, instead of the range calculating radar usual in the newest F-86Es) and his wingman was 2nd Lt. Merlyn Hroch. At 10,000 feet (about 3,000 meters) Davis flew above the whole formation of Tu-2s and La-11s, sharply turned 180º and dove towards the Tupolevs. When he was within range, opened up and sprayed one Tu-2 with .50 bullets from wingtip to wingtip, forcing it to broke formation in a very bad shape (this bomber would be credited to Davis by the USAF as a "confirmed" kill, but as a matter of fact the Tupolev managed to make it back to Antung and was repaired later). Davis and Hroch turned around and jumped another Tu-2, and this time the Chinese aircraft just blew up: Davis' tracers had hit it in the fuel tanks.

Davis broke off again to perform another pass against the Tupolevs, but he did it so violently that Hroch lost track of him. Separated of his wingman, he should have return to Kimpo, but Davis had a different opinion. Instead, he came back behind a third Tu-2 and squeezed the trigger; the bomber burst into flames and the crew bailed out. At that time Davis was at Bingo fuel status and began to return home, but then heard the desperate call of 1st. Lt. Raymond Barton; he was under the attack of a MiG-15! Davis turned northwards and spotted the two aircraft, but he couldn't figure out which was Barton and which was the MiG. So, he asked Barton to turn to the left first, then to the right. When one of the two swept-wing airplanes did neither one nor the other, George Davis knew it was the MiG. So, he pulled in behind the Chinese jet, and opened fire with his six .50 machine guns. The MiG was shaken by shell strikes all over the fuselage, the wings and the cockpit (killing the pilot) and crashed into the sea. Davis arrived just in time: Barton's F-86 had received a hit which caused a huge hole in its right wing. One more hit of the lethal 37-mm cannon of that MiG, and Barton would not survived. 

Excluding the fact that Barton's airplane was hit by this MiG-15 and "Bones" Marshall's Sabre was severely damaged by the La-11 flier Wang Tianbao, that day was indeed a tremendous American victory. Even Chinese sources admits that, stating that the actual PLAAF losses were four Tu-2s (and not eight as was initially claimed by USAF), three La-11s and one MiG-15 (Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea, page #162). Two of the Tupolevs and the MiG were bagged by George A. Davis (all that using only about 1200 rounds, so he had enough ammo left for one more kill), and both Winton Marshall and 1st Lt. Douglas K. Evans shot down one Tu-2 each (the personal account of the latter about this battle can be found in Evans' book, Sabre jets over Korea: A first hand account page #156). Regarding the three Lavochkins, they were destroyed by Ben Preston, Marshall and John Honaker respectively. George Davis' scoreboard was now 5, so he became the first American "Ace of Two Wars." And this scoreboard would keep on rising.

MiG Hunter

At 15:55 hs on December 5 1951 Davis was leading his 334th FIS as top cover of a group of F-84s, when he spotted two Soviet MiG-15s over Sinanju trying to hunt the fighter-bombers. He pulled in behind one of those MiGs, and opened up. The MiG just blew up and the pilot (Anatoly I. Baturov) bailed out. Unfortunately, the Russian flier did so at very low altitude and perished. During his way back to Kimpo Davis found a lone MiG chasing another F-86, and he claimed that he shot it down (and the pilot also bailed out). However this claim did not match within VVS and PLAAF loss records.

This is probably the most famous photo of Major George A. Davis, and was taken
on December 5 1951, when he claimed two MiG kills. As a matter of fact, he shot down
only one MiG-15, the one flown by Anatoly I. Baturov (18th GIAP/303rd IAD, KIA).

It was a good day for the American hunters, because few minutes later Major Winton "Bones" Marshall  bagged another Soviet MiG -the one flown by Starshii Leitenant Aleksandr Ryzhkov (196th IAP), who was wounded in the cockpit of his MiG, and crashed to his death-. However, even two outstanding pilots like Davis and Marshall could not prevent that some MiG-15s disrupted the fighter-bombers: the CO of the 176th GIAP/324th IAD, Podpolkovnik (Lt.Col.) Sergey Fedoseyevich Vishnyakov, blasted out of the sky the F-84E of Hugh Larkin (MIA), and the MiG-15 ace Vasily Ivanovich Stepanov (18th GIAP of the 303rd IAD) so did with the Thunderjet of Horace Carman (POW).

However, Davis' most successful day was still to come, and it did on December 13 1951. About noon the 334th FIS met the Soviet 18th GIAP, and in a hard battle against this crack unit, Davis managed to prevail claiming two MiG kills to his credit. The Soviet loss records confirm one: the MiG of I. A. Gorsky, who was killed in action (in that combat also Al Dymock and Anthony Kulengosky claimed one victory each, but these are overclaims in good faith, the Soviets suffered no additional losses that day).

At 15:52 hs in the afternoon the 334th and the 336th FIS were performing their second "MiG Sweep" of the day when found a large gaggle of MiG-15s belonging to the Chinese 40th Regiment/14th Division. Most of the pilots in the cockpits of these MiGs were novices, so they simply had no chance against the experienced men of Davis. When the furball was over, the American fliers have claimed 10 MiG kills to their credit. It was not so, but the Chinese records shows that their losses in that combat were indeed high: seven MiGs were lost and two more were heavily damaged but could be repaired later (Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea, page #169). More important, the Chinese sources confirm that George A. Davis actually blasted two MiGs out of the sky at in a blink of an eye between 15:52 and 15:53 hs in that combat.

But then arrived two Soviet MiG-15 regiments and turned the wits; in a matter of few seconds the tech officer of the 18th GIAP of the 303rd IAD Aleksey Kaliuzhny shot-up the F-86A of Ken Chandler (who wrongly thought his engine was damaged by debris of the Chinese MiG he was shooting at, and was forced to bail out over Cho-Do island) and the MiG-15 ace Pavel S. Milaushkin (176th GIAP/324th IAD) bagged the F-86A of one of Davis' men, Charles D. Hogue (MIA). After such unpleasant surprise, and already short of fuel, the Sabres withdrew towards the Gulf of Korea.

Despite these two sudden losses, the balance of the day was very favourable for the American fliers, they destroyed 8 MiGs against the loss of 2 F-86s, which means a positive 4:1 kill ratio. Furthermore, with the two MiGs he shot down that day, Davis' official kill-board rise to 12 victories (9 MiGs and 3 Tupolevs) - and his actual tally to 9 (seven MiG-15s and two Tu-2s).

1st Lt. Douglas Evans (336th FIS) did not participate in that mission (something he always regretted) but he remembered the impression made on him by Davis when he talked with his buddy Claude Mitson, who was there (Sabre jets over Korea: A first hand account, by Douglas Evans, page #161):

"I missed a real hot one in the afternoon. I almost blew my top listening to the mission over the squadron radio - and, later, talking to the boys who were on it. They caught MiGs that were fumbling around down low, looking for our fighter-bombers, and really worked them over. Maj. Davis, the C.O. of the 334th Squadron, has gone hog-wild and is shooting down MiGs like mad. He got two more on that hot one. Davis is very mild-appearing guy, but when he straps on a fighter he's all tiger - a hell of a sharp pilot and gunner, and he must have the eyes of an eagle."

Certainly George Davis made an impression in all the people who knew him in person. However, such amazing streak of successes took its toll on him, in an unexpected way: according to the American historian John R. Bruning (Crimson Sky, page #186), Davis became obsessed with increasing his personal tally at all costs, he wanted to become the "Ace of Aces" of the Korean War. Besides, he developed an unhealthy contempt for Communist pilots, he sincerely began to believe that there was no MiG-15 pilot capable to shoot him down. Putting these together with Davis' usual "overzealousness", "brashness" and "highly unorthodox" style of flying (according to Bruning's own words), one got a combination which leads in only one direction: Disaster.

Final Deed (American Version)

On February 10 1952 George A. Davis led 18 Sabres to escort a group of F-84s which should strafe the marshalling yards of Kunu-ri. Davis personally led one of these three flights, callsign "John Able". According to "John Able 4" (1st Lt. William Littlefield), "John Able 2" reported a pressurization problem, and "John Able 3" developed oxygen problems. So, "John Able Lead" (Davis) ordered #2 and #3 to return to Kimpo, and Littlefield became his new wingman. The USAF official version of what happened next is very well summarized in Davis' citation when he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor:

"...Major Davis' element leader ran out of oxygen and was forced to retire from the flight with his wingman accompanying him. Davis and the remaining F-86 continued the mission and sighted a formation of approximately 12 MIG-15 aircraft speeding southward toward an area where friendly fighter-bombers were conducting low-level operations against the Communist lines of communications. With selfless disregard for the numerical superiority of the enemy, Davis positioned his two aircraft, then dove at the MIG formation. While speeding through the formation from the rear, he singled out a MIG and destroyed it with a concentrated burst of fire . . . now under continuous fire, he sustained the attack and fired at another MIG which burst into smoke and flames and went into a vertical dive. Rather than maintain his superior speed and evade the enemy, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out still a third MIG-15. During this latest attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River. Davis' bold attack completely disrupted the enemy formation, permitting the friendly fighter-bombers to successfully complete their interdiction mission . . his superb courage against formidable odds exemplified valor at its highest."

Bruning cannot help but wonder why Davis did not take with him at least another flight (of the three others under his command) to engage these MiGs, that would reduced the odds from 6:1 to 2:1. But taking into account how much Davis underestimated his Communist adversaries at that time, it was not a surprise that he did what he did. Besides, the Chinese sources admits the loss of three MiGs of the 12th Regiment/4th Division that day ( Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea, page #166) , what at first sight seems to match quite well with both Davis' claims and a 'probable' claimed by Major Donald D. Rodewald (25th FIS). George Andrew Davis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on April 15 1953.

Davis' Death (Chinese Point of View)

However, in his book Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea, pages #163-168, Dr. Xiaoming Zhang shows the Chinese version of the air combat where George Davis was killed, and he also noted some interesting contradictions in the American official version of Davis' death:

  1. Initially USAF did not report losses on February 10 1952, and claimed only one victory and three probables (that information was given by USAF to the "New York Times" thru an official communique, and published in the article "Sabres Fight MiGs Five In Day" on February 11).

  2. Only two days later, on February 12, USAF admitted the loss of Major Davis and corrected the tally for February 10 to two confirmed kills and one probable (evidently confirming one of the "probables" and discarding another), and only then credited both victories to Davis (FEAF Weekly Intelligence Roundup No.76, February 16 1952, USAFHRA) . 

  3. It is not clear why these two victories were credited to Davis, there was no guncamera footage to support such claims - that footage went down with the aircraft Davis flew that day, the F-86E BuNo 51-2752 (same source than previous item).

  4. USAF authorities never performed a proper investigation about how an squadron leader so notorious like Davis made such undisciplined move that resulted in his death. That seemed to be irrelevant for them. They wanted Davis to die like a national hero, and that was why they awarded him the Medal of Honor and promoted him to Lieutenant Colonel. So many honors buried the main questions: "How?" "Why?"

After reading the available Chinese sources -the letter of Liu Yalou (CO of the PLAAF) to Mao Zedong on February 23 1952, and "Lantian zhi lu" (recollections of Chinese pilots)- Dr. Xiaoming Zhang found out the following facts: 

  1. On February 10 1952, 36 Chinese MiG-15s of the 4th Division scrambled at 7:30 hours (8:30 hours Seoul time) in two main groups to engage fighter-bombers approaching Kunu-ri. These two groups engaged the American Sabres in two separated air battles - both occurred at about 7:40 hs Beijing (8:40 hs Seoul time).

  2. The first battle occurred over Taegwan-dong (45 miles SE of Sinuiju) and no blood was drawn: the Chinese neither did claim victories nor suffered losses.

  3. The second battle happened over Taechon, and during it The Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) claimed two F-86 kills but lost three MiGs by Sabres.

  4. The MiG-15 pilot who was credited with both F-86 kills (and consequently with shooting down Major George A. Davis) was Zhang Jihui.

  5. Both Zhang Jihui and his wingman Zhiyu Shan were two of the three Chinese losses that day, being both shot down AFTER Zhang destroyed Davis' F-86. The unfortunate Zhiyu perished.

If all that information is correct, it was impossible George Davis could shot down two MiGs, instead he could score only one MiG kill at most, because two of the three Chinese losses that day occurred after he was shot down and killed, and these losses were precisely the man who shot him down and his wingman!! Besides, it is interesting to read the personal account of Davis' wingman that day, 1st Lt. William W. Littlefield, published in the book The 4th Fighter Wing in the Korean War (pages #111-112):

"In the meantime, we'd broken away from the rest of the group, and began a northeast to southwest patrol along the south side of the Yalu. We were at 38,000 feet. As we completed a right turn and began heading back northeast, George spotted three flights of MiGs heading south across the river and well below us. They were in close fingertip formation, with flights in trail - twelve MiGs total.

We came down on them and made our pass from their right rear and high. George opened fire on the #4 MiG in the last flight. I saw the MiG start smoking and fall out of formation. George then pulled out to the right, pulled up high, deployed his speed brakes, reversed, and started back in for another pass. He asked me if I saw the first one go down and I confirmed I'd seen it. We were still at about 28,000-30,000 feet.

By the time we were coming in for our second pass, we had overshoot the last two flights and were lined up on the lead MiG flight. That left seven MiGs in our rear during the pass! He again selected the #4 MiG in the first flight and began firing. By now the MiGs behind us were firing. I saw George's target start smoking and it too, fell out of formation.

But at almost that same instant I saw George's aircraft begin smoking. The landing gear came down and I thought I heard a mike button depress for what might have been an attempted transmission. I have always thought that it was George trying to say something, but nothing came out.

His aircraft then rolled over, obviously out of control. I stayed with him during these 'falling leaf' maneuvers, calling several times over the radio with no response. In the meantime, several MiGs had departed formation and were chasing us. I noted several bursts of cannon fire. But my concentration was always trying to keep George's aircraft in sight and staying with him as long as possible.

[...] Col. Preston proceeded to our area to attempt a rendez-vous, but never succeeded. As Major Davis' aircraft approached the ground, it had assumed a nearly wings level diving attitude. That airplane smashed into the side of a small knoll in generally, a northerly direction. I again called Col. Preston, gave him my position and asked if he'd seen the black smoke and fired. He replied to the negative."

Even when the interpretation of any personal account is always tricky and can lead to missgivings, one can note that, as Littlefield saw the destruction of the first MiG jumped by Davis (he confirmed that to Davis by radio), he only saw that the second MiG began to smoke, but could not confirm its destruction, because by that time they were under attack and Davis' F-86 was hit. Since then onwards Littlefield's priority was to follow the fall of his leader and to evade the cannon fire of the remaining MiGs, so he did not see the second MiG to crash, instead he only saw it smoking, which indicates only a damaged MiG.

Some American historians had speculated with the possibility that Davis had been actually shot down by Russian pilots. They say that when Davis and Littlefield jumped the two-dozens of Chinese MiGs, Davis shot down Zhang Jihui and Zhiyu Shan, but then was caught by surprise by a flight of Russian MiG-15s of the 148th GIAP/97th IAD which ran to help their Chinese buddies. Among them was Starshii Leitenant Mikhail A. Averin, who lined up behind Davis' F-86 and opened up, shooting Davis down and killing him. Certainly it is possible, but this theory have 3 weak points:

  1. The Russian pilots reported that Averin's victory happened over Suiho reservoir, far north from Kunu-ri, the area where both Chinese and Americans agree that Davis' death occurred.

  2. The Soviet reports of this battle do not mention in any place that they were going to help the Chinese. Instead they say that Davis tried to jump a flight of Soviet MiGs, but was surprised by the flight of Leonid I. Savichev, who was flying above the previous flight and remained unnoticed by Davis. One of Savichev's wingmen was Mikhail Averin, who blasted Davis' F-86 out of the sky.

  3. As we said before, Zhang Jihui and Zhiyu Shan were leader and wingman of an element, so if they would be the MiGs downed by Davis, they should have been flying together. Instead, Littlefield's personal account shows that the two MiGs jumped by Davis were the #4 of two different flights. Again, we conclude that Zhang Jihui and Zhiyu Shan WERE NOT the Davis' victims that day.

After putting all the information provided by the American, Soviet and Chinese sources together, this is the most plausible sequence of events related with the last combat sortie of George A. Davis: At 7:30 hs Beijing time Zhang Jihui (12th Regiment, 4th Division) and his group of six MiG-15s scrambled from Antung to intercept a group of F-84s detected by the radar stations which was heading towards Kunu-ri. Soon after take off Zhang spotted several black dots coming from the sea heading northwest, so he reported that to the regimental commander and took his wingman with him to investigate. By the time they climbed to 10,000 meters the black dots have disappeared. So Zhang and Zhiyu resumed their original heading southwards and tried to catch up with the main MiG formation.

About that same time Davis and Littlefield were completing their first patrol circuit, spotted the main Chinese group and began to pull into an attack position. But they did not see the MiG-15s of Zhang and Zhiyu (that day unusual meteorological conditions caused that the high-flying aircraft did not leave contrails, as usually happened), who instead saw them coming from below and interpreted that they trying to get behind them. Zhang ordered his wingman to jettison their external tanks and to perform a climbing turn to the right, to get an even more clear altitude advantage. While they performed a 180º arc onto the tail of the F-86s, Davis began his first pass against the 12 Chinese jets of the main group, and showed his usual lethality blasting the trailing MiG out of the sky. Zhang did not mention in his report that he was running to help his buddies, but he mentioned he almost lost sight of the two F-86s when they pulled up towards the sun (evidently, Davis and Littlefield pulling up after their first pass), so it is possible he did not see the MiGs of his comrades because of the sun glare.

By the time Davis was lining up behind the element wingman of the first flight of PLAAF MiGs, Zhang was rapidly closing to the two F-86s and opened up for the first time. But he was too far and simply missed. That was the fire seen by Littlefield. The failure of Zhang's first attack allowed George Davis to damage the MiG he was attacking, but in the process George Davis lost his last chance to avoid catastrophe. Obsessed with becoming the highest scoring ace of the Korean War, Davis had underestimated the skills of his adversaries, and that cost him his life, because that day he met his match. After calming himself down, Zhang Jihui carefully put the F-86 leader (Davis', indeed) in the gunsight of his MiG-15, aimed, and at 600 meters pulled the trigger. This time he observed shell strikes all over the fuselage of the F-86E BuNo 51-2752, and a thick stream of black smoke emerged from the stricken engine. As a matter of fact, the heavy 37 and 23-mm projectiles have also hit the cockpit area and most likely killed Davis instantaneously. The Sabre fell out of control and crashed in a hillside one kilometer N of Sambong-ri. George A. Davis have performed his last act of bravery.

Exhilarated after his first victory, Zhang pressed his attack against the F-86 wingman (Littlefield), and after firing a burst at 400 meters, he claimed that the F-86 just blew up. It was not so, but Zhang's assertion is not a fabrication, instead only an exaggeration caused by the excitement of a combat situation. As a matter of fact, Littlefield's aircraft (the F-86E BuNo 50-645) was hit by the fire of Zhang's MiG-15, but the damage was slight and Littlefield returned to Kimpo without troubles, where his Sabre could be easily repaired.

That was not the case of Zhang and his wingman: immediately after damaging Littlefield's F-86, both were surprised by another group of Sabres, who shoot them down killing Zhiyu and forcing Zhang to bail out - probably they fell by the guns of Major Donald L. Rodewald and 1st Lt. James R. Ross (25th FIS). (Disputed. See sidebar response by Raymond Cheung.) Despite the lack of gun-camera evidence and an eyewitness to confirm Zhang's story -his MiG was destroyed and his wingman was killed- on February 16 the corpse of  Davis and the wreckage of his Sabre were found exactly where Zhang reported to see it crash, and dozens of Chinese soldiers of the 149th Division who witnessed the air combat supported his claim. So, on February 23 Zhang Jihui was officially credited with shooting down the top leading American ace.

A Great Ace

Certainly, all these questions and debates about Davis' death are coherent with the life of a person who became a myth even when he was still alive. Anyway, what it is out of question is that, whatever have been the actual circumstances of his death, whether he shoot down one MiG or two that fateful day, etc., there is no doubt that he prevented that the Chinese MiG-15s could catch the Thunderjets strafing Kunu-ri, so indeed his combat actions during this combat probably saved the lives of many of his fellow countrymen. Furthermore, everything demonstrate that Lt.Col. George Andrew Davis was one of the greatest aces of the Korean War, and nothing could change that. Davis died the same way he lived, in a great blaze of glory.

Table #1: George Andrew Davis' aerial victories during WW2
342nd FS, 318th FG (August 1943 - March 1945)
Rank Aircraft Date Victim Enemy pilot & status Enemy Unit
2nd Lt. ? 31 December 1943 ? ? ?
1st Lt. ? 3 February 1944 ? ? ?
Captain ? 10 December 1944 ? ? ?
Captain ? 10 December 1944 ? ? ?
Captain ? 20 December 1944 ? ? ?
Captain ? 24 December 1944 ? ? ?
Captain ? 24 December 1944 ? ? ?


Table #2: George Andrew Davis' aerial victories in Korea.
CO of the 334th FIS, 4th FIW (November 1951 - February 1952)
Rank Aircraft Date Victim Enemy pilot & status Enemy Unit
Major F-86E #? 27 November 1951 MiG-15bis Aleksandr Verdysh - KIA 176 GIAP/324 IAD
Major F-86E #? 27 November 1951 MiG-15bis A. Yesipko - KIA 176 GIAP/324 IAD
Major F-86A #49-1184 30 November 1951 Tu-2 --- PLAAF (*)
Major F-86A #49-1184 30 November 1951 Tu-2 admitted 24R/8D, PLAAF
Major F-86A #49-1184 30 November 1951 Tu-2 admitted 24R/8D, PLAAF
Major F-86A #49-1184 30 November 1951 MiG-15 admitted (pilot KIA) 3D, PLAAF
Major F-86E #51-2752 5 December 1951 MiG-15bis Anatoly Baturov - KIA 18 GIAP/303 IAD
Major F-86E #51-2752 5 December 1951 MiG-15 --- VVS (*)
Major F-86E #51-2752 13 December 1951 MiG-15bis I. A. Gorsky - KIA 18 GIAP/303 IAD
Major F-86E #51-2752 13 December 1951 MiG-15 --- VVS (*)
Major F-86E #51-2752 13 December 1951 MiG-15 admitted 40R/14D, PLAAF
Major F-86E #51-2752 13 December 1951 MiG-15 admitted 40R/14D, PLAAF
Lt.Col. F-86E #51-2752 10 February 1952 MiG-15 admitted 12R/4D, PLAAF (**)
Lt.Col. F-86E #51-2752 10 February 1952 MiG-15 --- PLAAF (*) (**)

(*) = overclaim in good faith.
(**) = At the time of the mission, he was still Major. After he was awarded posthumously with the MoH, he was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.


The 4th Fighter Wing in the Korean WarThe 4th Fighter Wing in the Korean War by Larry Davis (Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2001). Certainly an excellent book with a lot of research made in USAF records and interviews to American veterans. It includes lots of Color and B&W photographs of Sabres and their pilots (some of them not previously released), including good quality photos of most of the aces of the 4th FIW.

In the Chapter 6 ("The End of 1951") Larry Davis vividly accounts some of the most successful missions of Major George Davis, particularly the ones on November 30 and December 5 1951, placing the reader in the heat of the battle. Chapter 7 ("1952-53") accounts the official US version of Davis' death; it also provides a very important  first-hand account of Davis' wingman on February 10 1952, 1st Lt. William Littlefied.

The only missing part in this book is that, almost 10 years later of the release of the Russian archives of the Soviet-age, the author performed a very poor research in the Russian sources. One have the hope that this shortcoming will be solved in future works of this very talented author.

[My copy of this book was a courtesy of my American friend Robert Blurton, aka "José Castillo" - Thank you very much, José! :-) ]

Red Wings over the YaluRed Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea, by Xiaoming Zhang & Joseph G. Dawson. This is the first book ever published in the West about the less known contendor of the aerial warfare over Korea: the PLAAF (People's Liberation Army Air Force) or Chinese Air Force; and it is a "must" for all the researchers interested in this topic.

It contains several B&W photos of Chinese MiG-15s, Tu-2s and La-11s never published before in the West, and provided a good and impartial analysis of the PLAAF war strategy, tactics and actions, both succeses and defeats.

I strongly recommend the Chapter 7 ("China enters the Air War"), which provides a lot of information about Chinese MiG-15 aces or high-scoring pilots like Zhao Baotong, Wang Hai and Zhang Jihui, and their victories against American Sabres, Thunderjets and Shooting Stars. It also gives a reliable and sincere accounts of PLAAF's losses in late 1951 and early 1952. In that same chapter, Zhang accounts the Chinese version of George Davis' death, under the guns of Zhang Jihui's MiG-15.

[My copy of this book was a courtesy of my Japanese friend Naoaki Ooishi - Arigatoo, Ooishi! :-) ]