Harold 'Hal' Fischer
POW, jet ace, USAF F-86 Sabre pilot
By Stephen Sherman, Apr. 2001. Updated June 25, 2011.
Hal Fischer was born in 1925 and joined the US Navy just before the end of WWII. After two years at Iowa State University, he joined the United States Army in 1949. He received contradictory orders, one sending him to Korea with the infantry, the other to flight school. With some "inventive paper wrangling," he was transferred to the new U.S. Air Force in 1950, earning his wings that December.
After completing gunnery achool at Nellis Air Force Base, he was assigned to the 80th Fighter Bomber Squadron (80th FBS), the famed "Headhunters" of World War Two. (See article on Jay Robbins - 22 kill ace of World War Two.) Along with the rest of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing (8th FBW), the 80th FBS was based at Itazuke Air Base, flying Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars.
80th Fighter Bomber Squadron
In March of 1951, he flew in a C-54 to the base in Japan. Post-war Japan impressed Fischer strongly, starting with the stench from the "honey-buckets," carriers of human excrement, which was used to fertilize the rice and vegetables of the farmers and the "ojosens," Japanese girls, who lingered on the walk, offering sex, just outside the gates of the base. In Tokyo, he and his buddies bought souvenirs: imitations Zippos, fans, pool cues, and, most commonly, small replicas of a Samurai swords (to carry in their flying suit, to deflate the "Mae West" life preserver and life raft should they become accidentally inflated during flight). He took a two day train trip to his base at Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu.
When he arrived at the base, a "the war can wait" attitude prevailed, and he was surprised to be assigned to an RTU, a Replacement Training Unit. After being checked out in the RTU, he was assigned his first combat mission, an F-80 ground support strike against the village of Suijui. With one hundred miles over water each way between Japan and Korea, always uncertain weather, Fischer approached his first blooding with fear and reluctance. He resolved to stick as close to his flight leader as possible, and he completed an uneventful mission. His first missions followed a familiar pattern. The F-80 would be loaded down with almost a thousand gallons of jet fuel, 1800 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition, and 1000 pounds of bombs or napalm. The climb out to Korea would take about 125 miles, to reach the F-80's loaded operational ceiling of 24,000 feet. About another 125 miles would bring them to the target area, over which they would spend 10 minutes. Then, with their airplanes considerably lightened, they would climb back up to 32,000 feet for the return trip.
His life on the ground improved when he and his good friend, for the price of a carton of cigarettes, moved out of a five-man tent into a two-man tent, complete with a personal maid. All the pilots flying combat missions needed outlets to relieve tension; many drank, many frequented the house of ill-repute; others would set up housekeeping with a local girl. There was a definite scale of prostitutes. The lowest were those who hung around outside the gates, "Where you going, boy-san?" they would ask. Next were girls who worked in bordellos. Then cabaret girls. Finally, the 'kept woman' was at the highest end of this spectrum. Fischer found relaxation in tooling around the Japanese countryside in a used scooter, checking out the neighborhoods and fish markets, the real Japan beyond the souvenir shops and sake parlors. The local restaurants offered good food, in abundance, at a low price: sukiyaki, vegetables, rice, tea, beer. He also enjoyed observing the Air Force officers' caste system, which segregated regular officers from reserves, Captains from First Lieutenants, and First Lieutenants from Second Lieutenants. Every fourth day, he would fly a standing alert on the strip. Being fighter pilots, he and his mates reserved their heaviest drinking and gambling for the nights before they had to stand alerts. When they were scrambled, invariably the cause was a transport returning from Korea whose pilot had forgotten to turn on the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). Sometimes it was a fishing vessel that was picked up on the base radar. Returning from one of these false alarms, still badly hung over from the previous night's drinking, his brakes failed on landing. His Shooting Star lurched off the runway and buried its nose in a ditch, with the fuselage sticking out at a forty degree angle . After any flight accident, the first person summoned was the flight surgeon, to determine the flying condition of the pilot. In no condition to be examined, Fischer recovered the broken brake puck and displayed it, along with his explanation to his squadron commander. Somewhat mollified, the CO didn't summon the flight surgeon, and Fischer determined to be in the best possible physical shape on future missions. Evidently the squadron had received a batch of bad brake pucks, and Fischer's brakes failed him again, while landing on the PSP (pierced steel planking) strip at Taegu, Korea.
The 80th FBS fought against ground targets, with very little air-to-air combat. Their planes carried out strafing, napalming, or bombing missions, and the Communist ground forces shot back with intense anti-aircraft fire. Foreshadowing our next war in Vietnam, the Korean air war was a frustrating, ambiguous conflict. The F-80s would bomb a railroad; maybe 3 planes out of 24 would actually destroy some length of track. As the jets flew away, Fischer wondered how long it took for hundreds of workers to swarm over the damaged line and put it back in operation. Their strafing and napalming attacks frequently targeted villages near the front lines, villages that allegedly, or possibly, housed enemy forces. The pilots would drop their deadly loads, and see women, children, or livestock in the path of destruction. The pilots discussed these problems, and unofficially decided to avoid villages unless they had been briefed that it contained troops.
As a very junior First Lieutenant, Fischer was assigned a very senior plane, a weary old F-80, number 659, that Fischer dubbed 'Kismet'. But it was reliable, and under the fine care of an excellent crew chief, it gave Fischer no problems. He certainly preferred to the newer, but inferior F-84s, which had difficulty just getting off the ground and had a penchant for blowing up or burning. He watched one Thunderjet burn up on the runway, until the whole fuselage melted and settled into the ground like a huge wax model.
In the spring of 1951, rumors circulated that they would be moved to Korea. Fischer, anxious to get on with his life, wanted to complete his 100 missions and get back to the States. So he volunteered as a spare, and took every mission he could get. In one 30-day period, he racked up 30 missions. One of the less productive missions that he flew in took place on May Day, 1951. The UN High Command decided to celebrate the Communist holiday by staging a major air strike on the officers' training school outside of Sinanju. All available planes were staged at K-2, and they all took off together, many with JATO (Jet-Assisted Take-Off) rockets spewing dense smoke all over the airstrip. A few planes were seriously damaged. But they struck the enemy school and destroyed a few buildings. On this 'political' mission, intense enemy fighter opposition was expected, but as it turned out the only losses were on take-off.
In June, the 8th FBW did move from Japan, up to airbase K-14, at Kimpo, Korea. Kimpo was a big let-down, compared to the relative comfort of Japan. Here they lived in tentsand Quonset huts, had to line up for showers in stinking water, and ate food that was barely palatable. "Privies" were anything but private. The truce talks began about this time and the war settled into a stalemate. Missions became hard to come by; 10 per month seemed to be the quota. A pilot who got ten missions in the first week of a month sat around for the next three weeks. When missions were available, they frequently aimed at North Korean airports. The flak was heavy enough, but men who had flown over Germany in WWII scoffed at it. But there were casualties, including one of a pair of twins. After his death, his brother stared at the wall and refused to eat. Soon, the surviving brother was returned Stateside, where, rumor had it, he married his brother's widow.
During this time at Kimpo, Fischer became blooded, or had his aircraft hit for the first time. He didn't realize it until after he landed and his plane was inspected. A round had gone through the wing and damaged the main spar. The aircraft was deemed "Class 26" - too expensive to repair, and it sat on the runway, slowly being cannibalized for spare parts.
Later, his unit moved over to K-13 at Suwon, whose main attraction was its better quality runways. The hot summer continued and missions continued to be scarce. His trusty old F-80, 'Kismet', finally met its end when another pilot took it out on a strafing mission and was hit in the engine. The pilot bailed out over Inchon Harbor and was promptly rescued by a chopper.
After flying 105 missions, he rotated out of the front line and selected a personnel job at the Far East Air Force headquarters. But soon the talk of jet aces and the allure of flying combat got to him, and when Bill Whisner stopped by, that cinched it, and he soon joined the 39th FIS of the 51st FIW, based at his old base, K-13 at Suwon.
Sabre AceOn joining the 39th FIS, he flew under Squadron Leader Douglas Lindsay, an RCAF exchange officer, as his flight leader. Fischer flew a lot of missions, but couldn't get on the scoreboard. Eventually he would score ten kills, as noted here:
- Finally on November 26, 1952 over Kanggye, North Korea, the moment came; he was flying Lindsay's wing when they attacked a flight of about 20 MiGs. With Fischer glued to his wing, Lindsay went after a pair of MiGs in a climbing right turn. In the manner of all dogfights, two MiGs then go on their tails, firing at Fischer. Lindsay broke around and blasted one with a 90 degree deflection shot. The MiG pilot bailed out. By then Fischer had become separated from Lindsay. He spotted two MiGs below him, headed north. He got behind them, apparently unobserved. He fired several long bursts, and was about to give up the attack, when one of the Russian jets started to drift down. He caught up to it; the cockpit was empty! The pilot had bailed out. He followed the plane down and strafed the wreckage, so that his gun cameras would evidence the kill.
- The next time (Dec.22), Fischer, now an element leader, fired on a MiG that executed a perfect loop. Fischer followed, gaining a little with each loop. As they neared the Yalu, the MiG leveled out. As Fischer lined up his shot, the canopy flew off, followed by the pilot.
- Third kill (Dec. 28) - no other details
- When dogfighting the fourth one (Jan. 23, 1953),
he smashed his binoculars (see photo at top of page) on his stick grip.
The Sabre pilots carried binoculars in hopes of spotting the MiGs
first.) Briefly his guns jammed; as he got close enough to consider
ramming the MiG's tail, his weapons came back on. He fired and at that
close range exploded the enemy jet.
Records of the Soviet 64th IAK for January 23, 1953 indicate:
At 1130, in the Sinuiju/Danu area, the 535th IAP (20 MiG-15's led by LTC Alimov) engaged 24 F-86s at an altitude of 10,000 meters. Six pilots fired during the battle, the results of which are still unknown. Two squadrons of the 913th IAP (16 MIGs led by LTC Razorenov) in the Danu/Antung/Sinuiju area engaged 12 F-86s at an altitude of 10,000 meters. Three pilots fired on the enemy. According to the pilots, Sr. Lt. Karpov shot down one F-86. Sr. Lt. Karpov did not return from the mission. He ejected and is currently in the vicinity of Ben’sikhu.
On 23 January 1953 while in aerial combat near Kuan’dyal 51 with his unit, the 913th IAP, Sr. Lt. Karpov (Korlov?) shot down on F-86. The pilot ejected and was taken prisoner by Chinese comrades. He is wounded and is currently in a hospital in Andung. The downed pilot, Lt. Col. Edwin Heller, a USAF ace, is the commander of the 16th Squadron, 51st Air Group.
Fischer, who shot down the MiG-15 that shot down Heller, said after reviewing the Soviet version of events, "This tracks. It makes sense. I shot down the MiG that got Ed. I didn't know what happened to Ed. He just disappeared."
- On January 25, 1953, his fifth kill brought home the personal nature of his war, which normally could be viewed as an impersonal, machine vs. machine duel. He got into a tail chase, and opened up at long range. His gunfire struck home, igniting the MiG. As Fischer pulled alongside his target, he could see the enemy pilot, frantically beating his stuck canopy, futilely trying to escape his doomed aircraft. Hoping to humanely end the victim's misery, Fischer dropped back to finish off the plane, but the gobs of molten metal and the intense heat from the buring MiG jammed his Sabre's guns. A misfired round severed a rudder cable. Fischer had almost achieved the dubious distinction of shooting himself down. But it was number five for Fischer! He was an ace!
- In scoring his next kill, Fischer got involved in a traditional, WWI-style dogfight, he and the MiG heading the same direction, at the same speed and altitude. The scissored back and forth, each pilot trying to gain the advantage. Fischer dropped his speed brakes and briefly got behind his opponent. He fired a short burst, with the assistance of his radar gunsight, and lit up the enemy aircraft from one side to the other. Whoosh! Off came the canopy and out came the pilot.
- As he was leaving MiG Alley, he paired up with another Sabre pilot for the ride home. A MiG bounced his wingman and Fischer dropped back. Spotting Fischer, the MiG pilot turned left and zoomed away. Fischer stayed on him and got off a burst. The MiG spun away and down. Fischer decided he could only follow, so he nosed over his Sabre, and went down, matching the MiG's spin, firing when the enemy got in his pipper. The MiG spun right into the ground.
- On his eighth kill, he and his wingman chased a bunch of MiGs over China. As he closed in on his target, his wingman kept telling him that his tail was clear, but someone kept shooting at him. Eventually the mysterious gunfire stopped, and Fischer was able to bring down the MiG.
- no details
- March 21, 1953 - no details
PrisonerIn April, 1953, UN intelligence got word that the Chinese had based bombers in Manchuria, near the border. Concerned for their valuable jet fighters at forward bases like K-13, the UN forces started ferrying them nightly to other bases in the rear. Fischer led ferry flights back to Kunsan, which was very tiring, as they were flying back and forth, as well as trying to sleep at a strange base. On the morning of April 7, a bright sunny day, he took off from Kunsan and made K-13 without incident. After a minor mixup with his wingman, he took off on the afternoon flight, and climbed into the search area, where they saw contrails leading north, almost certainly MiGs. Numbers three and four in Fischer's flight went to investigate, while Fischer soon spotted a flight of four MiGs coming into Korea. He jockeyed into position and fired, trying to compensate for his guns' misalignment; they had not been properly boresighted after their last use. Four other MiGs joined the bounce and the Sabres turned into them, but the MiGs were too fast and promptly headed back across the Yalu.
Here Fischer made his mistake. Three other MiGs appeared, but Fischer's wingman was low on fuel. He ordered the wingman home, while he continued the attack on his own. He fired on the trailing MiG, then the second (which he hit), and then the leader, which his gunfire tore apart.
Records of the Soviet 64th IAK for April 7, 1953 indicate:Just as the debris from this aircraft flew over him, Fischer's engine began to die. He briefly considered trying to ditch off the Yalu, but rapidly growing smoke convinced him that he had to bail out. He describes the bail-out in Eric Hammel's Aces in Combat, Volume 5:
At 1610, six MIG-15s of the 224th IAP (led by Senior Lieutenant Anisimov) battled with four F-86s in the area of Kizjo at an altitude of 13,000 meters. At 1640 upon approach to Danu airfield, Senior Lieutenant Berelidze's pair attacked one F-86 which was pursuing Senior Lieutenant Ugryumov at an altitude of 1,000-1,500 meters. Senior Lieutenant Berelidze shot down one F-86 from a distance of 400 meters at a 14 quartering angle. The pilot: Captain Harold Edward Fischer, service number A02204126, Flight Commander, 39th Air Squadron, 51st Wing, was taken prisoner.
Fischer's victim was Lt. Ugryumov; this would have been his eleventh confirmed aerial victory. Lt. Berelidze is credited with downing Fischer, although another Russian pilot, Major Yermakov, may have shot him down.
"Now there was no decision to make if I wanted to live, for the aircraft would probably blow up in the next few seconds. I had to bail out. I reached down for the left handle and jettisoned the canopy. Then, with the right handle pulled up, I leaned back in the seat, put my feet in the stirrups, and squeezed the trigger. I was at 2,000 feet and my airspeed was 450 knots.
The 37mm shell that activated the ejection seat gave me a terrific impetus upward. It caused me to momentarily black out. When I recovered the first sensation was a rushing of wind around me. I was rotating rapidly in space. I immediately pulled the ripcord and waited for a tremendous opening shock. There was none. ... When the parachute had opened, the first indication was a slight jar. I looked up and checked the panels. They were all there save one."
As he floated down, he saw a derelict MiG trailing flame and turning aimlessly. Fischer himself landed on a rocky, heavily-wooded hillside. Now he was on the wrong side of the Yalu; he was in China, armed with only his chrome-plated .45 automatic. His head was bleeding a little and he was extremely tired, but he hadn't broken any bones on impact. He could hear voices in the area and a Chinese farmer approached him, as if looking for a lost animal. Hoping the man would be a "friendly agent," Fischer showed himself. Together they went down the hill, where a large of peasants armed with farm tools and a few old guns were waiting. Fischer tried to brazen it out, and walk away, as if he were a Russian MiG pilot, but without any luck. Some militia showed up, and then four Chinese soldiers in a U.S. jeep arrived.
The soldiers tossed him rudely into the back of the jeep and drove toward the nearby airbase, passing the ruins of Fischer's aircraft on the way. Now it was so much scrap. The soldiers held him briefly in a large building, then drove him through various villages, displaying their prize catch to the locals. The finally brought him to Dapu, the airbase he had been heading for from the beginning. Despite the discomfort and terror of the situation, managed to sleep that night.
Because he had violated Chinese territory, he was imprisoned in Mukden, China, and held there with three other USAF pilots until June, 1955; he spent most of his captivity in solitary confinement. On his return to the United States, he stayed in the Air Force, including a stint flying combat, as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Air Force. He retired in 1978. In 1994, on a trip to the Ukraine, he met some of the Russian pilots involved in his last dogfight of April 7, 1953. They confirmed that he had downed one MiG and severely damaged another.
- Eric Hammel's Aces in Combat, Volume 5 - a fine anthology, with stories by Korean War aces Fischer, DeLong, Kasler, and Risner; also many WWII stories