Russian Aces over Korea
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagot pilots
By Diego Zampini, Nov. 2004. Updated January 27, 2012.
June 24 1951. One of many duels between Sabres and MiGs was raging at 10,000 meters (about 30,000 feet) over the southern shore of the Yalu River over North Korea, and the experienced CO of the American 336th FIS, Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, was getting closer to an unaware MiG, ready for his 3rd MiG kill. (Hinton had shot down the very first MiG credited to a Sabre pilot in the Korean War six months earlier.) Suddenly he saw a Sabre crossing in front of him followed by a MiG-15, which was beating up the F-86 with its terrible 37 mm cannon.
Hinton even saw big pieces of debris coming off of the stricken Sabre. Shell strikes were setting the F-86 on fire.
Without hesitation, Hinton flew to help his comrade. However, he could not surprise the MiG-15 pilot, who saw him coming, forgot the beaten F-86 and performed a head-on pass against Hinton, like a joust of medieval knights. The MiG passed so close to Hinton's Sabre, that he wondered how they avoided a mid-air collision (the MiG driver missed Hinton's aircraft by less than 15 yards). In the ensuing fight, Hinton needed all his expertise to get a little advantage. Hinton's wingman confessed later that he couldn't follow the maneuvers of his leader, blacking out several times despite his g-suit. But after one circle and two low yo-yos, Hinton was able to shoot two short bursts, hitting the MiG. Smart enough so to know when he should quit, the skillful MiG-15 pilot disengaged and crossed the Yalu before Hinton could catch him.
Hinton escorted the badly hit F-86 (BuNo 49-1281) back to Suwon, where it belly landed and was written off. Only then did Lt. Col. Hinton realize that he had saved the life of his dear friend Glenn T. Eagleston, CO of the 4th Fighter Wing. Eagleston was a WW2 ace with 18.5 kills against German planes, and he had scored two MiG kills in the previous six months. So, the adversary able to beat up such an excellent pilot had to be a first class opponent. Hinton referred to that MiG-15 pilot with the following words:
"This MiG driver had been good, VERY GOOD. He had been waiting above the engagements between the MiGs and the F-86s. It was a well-known tactic that was commonly used by a single MiG pilot, that we referred to as CASEY JONES*. Ol' Casey was an exceptional pilot, and definitely not an Oriental. His normal procedure was to hit fast from a high perch, diving down on any F-86 that was isolated from the on-going air battle, quite similar to a tactic used by von Richthofen in The Great War."
(*) For non-American readers: Casey Jones was a legendary locomotive engineer in the US railroads' golden age. He used to sit atop the locomotive cabin to see any problem on the rails in enough time. The US pilots compared this attitude with the one of their best adversaries (loitering above the combat waiting for an unaware prey) and so they gave to these MiG-15 pilots the nickname "Casey Jones".
Do we know today who "Casey Jones" was? YES, and Hinton's suspicions about his identity were right; he was not an Oriental. He was Nikolai Vasilievich Sutyagin, a member of the 17th IAP (Fighter Regiment) of the 303rd IAD (Fighter Division) of the Voyenno Vozdushnye Sily, the Soviet Air Force. Actually Eagleston became the 4th aerial victory of Kapetan Nikolai Sutyagin, who had shot down a Sabre on June 19 1951 and two more on June 22. The score of that outstanding Russian pilot kept rising, to 21 kills, which made him the Top Ace of the Korean War. (In comparison, the great U.S. aces of the Korean War knocked down "only" fifteen MiGs).
During the time that the "Honchos" (the nickname given by the Sabre pilots to excellent MiG pilots) were in Korea, between April 1951 and January 1952, they shot down or damaged beyond repair 142 UN aircraft against 68 losses, an overall 2:1 kill ratio. Their most successful month was October 1951, when the Soviet MiG-15s bagged 7 F-86s, 6 F-84Es, 2 RF-80As and one F-80C, one Meteor and 10 B-29As -24 victories- and suffered only 8 MiGs lost. During that period over 30 Soviet MiG-15 pilots became aces, among them the already mentioned Nikolai Sutyagin (21 kills); and also Yevgeni Pepelyayev (19), Lev Shchukin (17), Sergei Kramarenko (13), Mikhail Ponomaryev (11), Dmitri Samoylov (10), etc.
How could they do this, when all the American aces in that same period (Ralph Gibson, Dick Becker, etc) could only score 5-6 MiG kills? (except for the intrepid Major George A. Davis, who was credited with 14 kills) As a group, were the Russians 2-3 times better fighter pilots than their American opponents, as the claimed scores of 15 vs. 5 might imply? Not at all. Despite the secrecy surrounding Soviet operations in Korea and the lack of need to inflate the tally for propaganda purposes, several factors helped overstate Russian scores:
- Many Soviet medium and high-ranking officers wanted to gain favour with the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (well known for killing or deporting Soviet generals who failed in accomplish his wishes), and one way to do so was to inflate the score of the MiG regiments in Korea.
- The Soviet pilots earn 1,500 additional rubles for every air victory they were credited with. It is quite likely that there were many false claims, just for the money.
- The gun camera images of the MiG-15 were of such poor quality, that the Russian gun camera analysts decided that if a US plane appeared in a pic, then they would credit a "kill," even when they did not notice shell strikes, smoke, or an ejection.
If we add to such factors the usual over-claiming -in good faith, but over-claiming in the end- of any war, then we can understand why the Soviet 64th IAK claimed the unbelievable figure of 1,106 UN aircraft destroyed in the Korean War. (532 of them in the "Honcho Period," when only 142 Allied aircraft were actually downed by the Soviet MiG-15 pilots). So, many of those scores must be seen with a lot of skepticism, e.g: Mikhail Ponomaryev was credited with 11 kills, but when we analyze the dates of his claims, only 2 matched with admitted US losses! And he is not the only one.
However, most of the claims of the four top scoring aces -Sutyagin, Pepelyayev, Shchukin and Kramarenko- proved to be very reliable, as did the claims of several other aces, e.g. Aleksandr Smorchkov, Stepan Bahayev and Dmitri Samoylov. Further, the overall 2:1 kill ratio of the "Honcho Period" clearly shows that the Russian Aces at that time gained at least a slight edge against their skillful American counterparts.
So, why did the Russian pilots in Korea scored so high? It is an interesting question, and it has more than a possible answer. One of them is because -at least in 1951- they were using better tactics:
- The Soviet fighters were guided to the air battlefield by good ground control, which directed them to the most advantageous position.
- The MiG-15s always operated in pairs, as part of a team called "the sword and the shield," with an attacking leader ("the sword") covered by a wingman ("the shield").
- The squadrons operated in 6-plane groups, divided in 3 pairs, each composed of a leader and a wingman:
- The first pair ("the sword pair") of MiG-15s attacked the enemy Sabres.
- The second pair ("the shield pair") protected the first pair.
- The third pair remained above, with a panoramic view of how the battle evolved, supporting the "sword pair" or the "shield pair" depending the situation. This pair had more freedom than the others, because it could also attack targets of opportunity, such as lone Sabres that had lost their wingmen.
Experience was also a key factor, and the Russian pilots had a great deal of it. Most of the regimental and squadron commanders in 1951 were WW2 aces, e.g. Georgii Lobov (19 victories), Aleksandr Vasko (15 kills), Aleksandr Kumanichkin (30), Grigorii Ohay (6). So, the Russian pilots were as experienced as the best American WW2 Aces of the 4th and 51st Wings, like Francis Gabreski, Glenn Eagleston, Walker Mahurin, Robert Thyng, George Davis and many others.
The small, agile and lethal MiG-15 Fagot was the classic opponent of the F-86 Sabre in Korea
Did differences in equipment explain the disparity? Probably not. Esentially the technological contest between the Soviet MiG-15 and the American F-86 Sabre was an even match. The MiG-15 Fagot was better than the F-86 in many aspects (superior climb rate, faster acceleration, more powerful weaponry) but the F-86 Sabre compensated that with more stable diving, a better gunsight, and a g-suit for their pilots, allowing them to resist the tremendous g-forces involved in dogfights. So, the edge were the men in the cockpits, and in the "Honcho Period" the Soviets had such slight edge. Quoting Chuck Yeager: "It's the man, not the machine".
Additionally, Korea was for the Russian MiG-15
pilots a "target-rich environment." In April-May 1951 there were only
of MiG-15s in Manchuria, with a total of only 72 MiGs (despite the
fantastic US reports which talked about 200 MiGs in China at that
time). These six dozen MiGs faced about 700 UN aircraft, odds of 10 to
1. The arrival of the 3
regiments of the 303rd IAD reduced the odds to 4 to 1 by October 1951,
but the Soviets
enjoyed the numerical superiority so often mentioned in US sources. By
1953 the Russians had about 300 MiG-15s in the theater (plus a similar
Chinese MiGs) against 1,000 UN aircraft (297 of them F-86E/Fs, plus a
number of F-84s). Taking into account such figures, it is clear that
Russians always found the Korean skies full of American aircraft, and
scores of 15, 10 or 8 were not uncommon.
All these factors created opportunities for the Russian pilots to pile up bigger scores than their American counterparts in 1951. Officially, there were 51 Soviet aces in Korea, but many of them achieved such scores by including "group victories." The following list shows only the aces with 5 or more 'full' kills. The number in parenthesis indicates the kills confirmed by UN sources, and gives a good idea of the huge over-claiming of some aces. The list includes all aces with scores of 8 or higher, and some noted aces with lower scores.
Top Russian MiG-15 Aces of Korean War
|Top Russian Aces||Kills (*)||Comments||Medal (**)||Unit|
|Nikolai V. Sutyagin||21 (12)||9 F-86s, 1 F-84, 1 Meteor. Shot-up Glenn Eagleston||HSU||17 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev||19 (12)||shot down F-86A #49-1319, brought to USSR||HSU||CO of 196 IAP, 324 IAD|
|Lev Kirilovich Shchukin||17 (10)||shot-up the F-86E of Francis Gabreski, downed 2 times||HSU||18 GIAP, 303 IAD|
|Sergei M. Kramarenko||13 (7)||shot down 5 F-86s, 1 F-84 and 1 Meteor, downed once||HSU||176 GIAP, 324 IAD|
|Ivan V. Suchkov||12 (2)||2 B-29s||HSU||176 GIAP, 324 IAD|
|Stepan A. Bahayev||11 (5)||-||HSU||523 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Konstantin N. Sheberstov||11 (2)||1 B-29A, 1 F-86A||HSU||176 GIAP, 324 IAD|
|Grigorii U. Ohay||11 (3)||2 Meteors, 1 F-80C||HSU||523 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Mikhail S. Ponomaryev||11 (2)||-||HSU||17 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Dmitri A. Samoylov||10 (4)||3 F-86s, 1 B-29 conf. by USAF||HSU||523 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Pavel S. Milaushkin||10 (2)||1 F-86, 1 B-29 conf. by USAF||HSU||176 GIAP, 324 IAD|
|Dmitri P. Oskin||9 (2)||2 B-29s on Oct 23 '51||HSU||523 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Mikhail I. Mihin||9 (3)||all F-86E/Fs||-||518 IAP, 216 IAD|
|Aleksandr P. Smorchkov||8 (4)||3 B-29s on October 1951||HSU||18 GIAP, 303 IAD|
|Grigorii I. Pulov||8 (2)||1 F-86A, 1 RF-80A||HSU||CO of 17 IAP, 303 IAD|
|Serafim P. Subbotin||8 (4)||2 F-86s, 1 B-29, 1 Meteor||HSU||176 GIAP, 324 IAD|
|Semen A. Fedorets||8 (5)||shot down by Joseph McConnell April 12 '53||LO||913 IAP, 32 IAD|
|V. N. Alfeyev||7 (2)||on May 20 1951 shot-up the F-86A of James Jabara||RB||196 IAP, 324 IAD|
|Fiodor A. Shebanov||6 (2)||1 F-86A, 1 B-29A, KIA Oct '51||HSU||196 IAP, 324 IAD|
|Grigorii I. Ges||6 (3)||1 B-29A, 1 B-26B, 1 F-51D||HSU||176 GIAP, 324 IAD|
|Anatoly M. Karelin||6 (5)||all B-29s at night||HSU||351 IAP|
|Arkadii S. Boitsov||6 (3)||2 F-86s, 1 F-80 conf. by USAF||-||16 IAP, 97 IAD|
|Nikolai I. Ivanov||6 (4)||3 F-86Es, 1 RF-86A||LO||726 IAP, 133 IAD|
|Nikolai M. Zameskin||6 (2)||2 F-86E/F||HSU||878 IAP, 216 IAD|
|Boris S. Abakumov||5 (3)||1 F-86A, 1 B-29A, 1 Phanter||HSU||196 IAP, 324 IAD|
|Grigorii N. Berelidze||5 (3)||shot down Harold Fischer on April 7 1953||RB||224 IAP, 32 IAD|
|(*) The number between parenthesis
indicate how many of his claims match with UN losses so far.
(**) Key: HSU = Hero of the Soviet Union, LO = Lenin's Order, RB = Red Banner.
Summarizing, the Russian aces dominated the struggle for air superiority over "MiG Alley" in the April 1951-January 1952 period, and earned the respect of their Americans adversaries (the nicknames "Honcho" and "Casey Jones"). From February 1952, when the crack pilots of the 303rd and 324th IAD were largely replaced by rookies, the Sabre pilots ruled over "MiG Alley," and the well-trained US pilots kept the edge until the end of the war. It during this later phase that the tallies of the greatest US Aces -Joseph McConnell, James Jabara and Manuel Fernández Jr. - began to rise quickly. But even then, there were Russian MiG-15 pilots who proved to be dangerous adversaries, like Nikolai Ivanov and Semen Fedorets.
Russian MiG-15 Aces in Korea, from left to right: Aleksandr P. Smorchkov (8 kills), Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov (6), Semen Alexeievich Fedorets (8), Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev (19) and Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko (13).
What did the Soviet veterans think about their American adversaries? In general terms, they felt sadness for being fighting against their old Allies against Hitler, and they respected very much their skills in combat. But let us read the Russian ace Aleksandr Pavlovich Smorchkov's own words :
"Our attitude towards the American pilots was complicated. During the Second World War, we had been allies against Hitler. Therefore, in Korea, we did not view the Americans as enemies, but only as opponents. Our motto in the air was 'Competition - with whomever.' ... My opinions about the relative abilities of Soviet and American aircraft and pilots were as follows: I thought the American pilots were very good. This opinion was shared by other Soviet pilots including my friends Vladimir Voistinnych and Piotr Chourkin."
The respect that those men felt for our brave countrymen should be reciprocal, and a way to show respect for those honourable Russian airmen is to account their deeds, which also deserve recognition. What follow is a short biography of some of those MiG-15 pilots who bravely fought against our countrymen 50 years ago, in a long and bitter war that should have never happened.
Nikolai Vasilievich SutyaginNikolai Sutyagin was born on May 5 1923 in the village of Smagino Buturlinsk, in a peasant family. He started his military career in 1941, and the following year he graduated from the Air Military School in Chernigov; in August 1945 participated in the short Soviet-Japanese war, which ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan.
Sutyagin served in the 17th IAP of the 303rd IAD when the Korean War began, and in May 1951 the Division was sent to Manchuria to reinforce the 324th IAD. He flew his first combat sortie on early June 1951, and his score began to rise:
- 19 June 1951 - First victory, the F-86A of Robert H. Laier (MIA).
- 22 June 1951 - his 2nd F-86 kill, his victim is Howard Miller (POW); he aso claimed a 3rd Sabre on this day.
- 24 June 1951 - his most impressive victory when shot up the F-86A of Colonel Glenn Eagleston (CO of the 4th FIW), who had to belly land in Suwon. Eagleston's Sabre was written off.
- 26 June 1951 - his 5th kill, the F-80C of Bob Lauterbach (KIA), officially becoming Asov (Ace).
- 29 July 1951 - shot down the F-86A #49-1098, his 6th kill (his 5th kill confirmed by US records).
- 9 August 1951 - claimed an F-80.
- 25 August 1951 - together with the CO of the 17th IAP, Mayora (Maj.) Grigorii Pulov, intercepted what they identified as Australian Meteors and both claimed one Meteor each.
- 26 September 1951 - one of his more successful days: in two separate sorties the 17th IAP engaged Meteors of the RAAF No. 77 Sqdn and Sabres of the 336th FIS, and he scored in both furballs: first shot-up the Meteor of Ernst Armit (written off later that day) and later shot down the F-86A of Carl Barnett (MIA).
- 10 October 1951 - awarded with the Golden Star, he became Hero of the Soviet Union.
- November 1951 - claimed to have shot down three F-86 and one F-84 (none confirmed by US records).
- 3 December 1951 - bagged another Sabre (the F-86A 49-1184) and claimed one F-84.
- 15 December 1951 - shot-up one F-86E of the 334th FIS. The unfortunate pilot (William F. Prindle) crashed and died while trying to land at Suwon airbase.
- 6 January 1952 - two victories: the F-84E of Donald Grey (KIA) and the F-86E of Lester Page (MIA).
- 11 January 1952 - last victory, his 21st: the F-86E of Thiel M. Reeves (MIA).
After the war Sutyagin graduated from the Air Academy in 1956 and the Military Academy "Genchtaba" in 1964. Promoted to Mayora-General and retired in 1978. He died on November 12 1986.
Lev Kirilovich ShchukinHe flew 212 combat sorties, participated in 17 aerial battles and was credited with 17 air victories (in simple words, he scored every time he engaged UN aircraft, 100% effectiveness), but he was also downed twice.
Lev Shchukin honoured his first name -'Lion' in Russian- chasing the US aircraft like a lion hunts an impala in the Kalahari. In his very first combat sortie on June 1 1951, he and his three comrades found a group of Mustangs and Shchukin bagged one. His victim that day was the F-51D of Harry C. Moore (KIA). A few days later (June 6) scored his second victory, the F-80C #49-737.
On June 17 1951 he participated in a big melée between 25 Sabres and 30 MiG-15s of his unit (18th GIAP of the 303rd IAD), while shooting down one F-86, but he was also downed. In his own words:
"We took off with the order to engage the Sabres and cut them off from our main attacking group. Our squadron was specialized in the dogfighting role. The other two squadrons would engage the bombers and strike aircraft. There were a few more Sabres than MiGs; and I saw that they started the attack. I looked back and I saw the nose of a Sabre, and I saw it firing against me. I dove steeply and I could only shout to my wingman Anatoli Ostapovsky: 'Ostap, hold on!' The American tried to dive after me, but then gave up and disengaged. So, I turned towards him and hit him with all three cannons. I saw part of his wing rip off and a white smoke trail appeared."
Shchukin saw how the unfortunate F-86 crashed into the East China Sea near Sonchon. But the hunter would not survive the prey for much longer; on his return to Antung, Shchukin was suddenly attacked by other Sabres, as himself accounted:
"Because Ostapovsky lost track of me during this hot combat, I went home alone. Suddenly I felt hits in my plane and I knew they were bullets. The canopy's glass broke, my blood spattered all over the instrumental panel, the control stick was useless and I got a terrible wound in my nose. I bailed out and opened the parachute, and while I was hanging there, 4 Sabres fired at me, each of them twice."
The American pilot who shot Shchukin down was Captain Samuel Pesacreta, and Shchukin would stay in a hospital for about a month. He flew again on August 29, and on that day his flight surprised a group of Australian Meteors of No. 77 Sqdn; Shchukin had no problem shooting down one of them. The pilot -Ronald Guthrie- become a POW.
But Shchukin's most important victory happened on October 2 1951. During an intense dogfight he ran to help one of his buddies, Capt. Morozov, because a Sabre was beating him up. Shchukin could not save his comrade -who bailed out-, but he could catch the excellent Sabre pilot by surprise and riddled him at short range with the three cannons of his MiG-15bis Fagot. Badly shot-up, the F-86 disengaged, leaving a thick black smoke trail. Actually Lev Shchukin had damaged the F-86E "Lady Frances" of Colonel Francis S. Gabreski, XO of the 4th FIW, and the aircraft was written off immediately after landing.
October was a good month for this Russian Lion, because -besides having shot-up Gabreski- he blasted out of the sky four more UN aircraft: one F-80C on October 22 (Louis Esposito, KIA), one F-84E on October 23 (John Shewmaker, MIA), one RAAF Meteor the following day (Harold Foster, written off), and one RF-80A on October 30 (Grant Madsen, KIA). After such awesome performance, it was no surprise when on November 13 1951 Mayora Lev Shchukin also became Hero of the Soviet Union.
However, in an incredible twist of fate, Colonel Francis Gabreski and Lev Shchukin met each other for a second time, on January 11 1952, and this time the surprised one was the Soviet Ace: Gabreski forced him to eject, and Shchukin was severely wounded in the backbone when he landed. After a long rehabilitation he could walk again, but sadly was prohibited from flying. Promoted to Polkovnik (Colonel), he also graduated from the Air Academy in 1956 and became an aviation advisor in Egypt and Vietnam in the 1960's. Retired in 1977, today he lives in Minsk, Byelorussia.
Sergei Makarovich KramarenkoThe fourth highest scoring MiG-15 ace, Kapetan Sergei Kramarenko, began his Korean career (he already was a WW2 Ace with 6 victories) on April 10 1951, when he claimed one F-84 Thunderjet. He participated in the huge aerial battle over the Yalu River on April 12, between the MiG-15s of his unit (the 176th GIAP, 324th IAD) and 100 US combat aircraft (B-29s, F-86s and F-84s), when he claimed a second Thunderjet. More than a month later, he added another F-86 to his tally.
June 1951 was a good month. On the 2nd Sergei bagged one F-86A -probably Thomas C. Hanson's- officially reported as "accidentally" lost by the UASF. On the 17th he shot down another, which crashed in the waters of the East China Sea. But his most interesting victory against the Sabres happened on September 23: during an engagement over the "MiG Alley," Kramarenko accidentally separated from the rest of his unit and was jumped by three Sabres. In an attempt to evade them, he entered in a thick cloud cover. When he got out of the clouds saw that 2 F-86s went by one side and the remaining one got separated, then put this lone Sabre (the F-86A BuNo 49-1158) in the gunsight of his MiG-15bis Fagot and knocked it out. However, he was again jumped by the remaining F-86s, and so he dove towards the hydroelectric dam of Suiho, knowing it was protected by heavy flak guns. As he thought, when the 85 and 100 mm shells began to explode around the three planes, the American pilots gave up the chase, leaving Kramarenko to land in Antung airbase without further trouble. That day luck favoured the bold and brave.
On October 30 he blasted an F-84E, #51-615, of the 49th FBW out of the sky, and was also involved in the major ambush that the 176th GIAP prepared against the Australian Meteors of No. 77 Sqdn on December 1 1951. During the ensuing battle the Russian MiG-15 Fagots slaughtered the RAAF formation claiming 10 Meteors (two of them were credited to Kramarenko). Actually only three Meteors were shot down and a fourth one was damaged; Kramarenko 1st claim was, most likely, the Meteor of Vance Drummond (POW).
On January 12 1952 Kramarenko claimed two Sabres, and one of them (F-86E BuNo 50-615) is confirmed (although the cause of loss was officially an "engine explosion"). A few days later, he shot down his 13th and last victim, the F-86E of Daniel Peterson, who was taken prisoner. But immediately after that, Sergei paid the price, because he was downed by an F-86E Sabre pilot of the 25th FIS/51st FIW, 1st Lt. James B. Raebel (who would score three MiG kills in Korea). Kramarenko bailed out safe and sound, and was kindly looked after by North Korean farmers until the rescue parties arrived.
After such brilliant performance (104 combat sorties, he engaged the enemy in 42 of them and downed 13 UN planes), on April 22 1952 Sergei Kramarenko was awarded with the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, together with Yevgeni Pepelyayev. Today he lives in Moscow.
Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov
Nikolai Ivanov was one of many Russian WW2 veterans who also fought in Korea. He was actually an "Ace of Two Wars," because in 1944-45 he shot down 6 German planes (4 FW-190s and 2 He-111s).
When his unit -the 726th IAP, 133rd IAD- arrived to Korea in June 1952, it was a hard time for the Soviet pilots in Korea. The experienced "Honchos" who fought so well during 1951 had been replaced by rookies of the 97th and 190th IAD, and they were being beaten up by the well-trained American pilots.
Nikolai Ivanov bagged his first Sabre on July 16 1952: it was the F-86E of Richard Drezen, who unfortunatelly was KIA. Two weeks later, on August 1, he was envolved in his toughest engagement when his squadron -12 aircraft- was attacked by Sabres of the 336th FIS: while trying to chase a Sabre, he stalled. When he recovered, realized that the American plane was jumping him. So, in an attempt for getting that Sabre out of his tail, he stalled again, but this time inttentionally! This unusual evasive maneuver worked quite well and forced the F-86 to overshoot, as Ivanov himself accounted:
"I learned to stall frequently, and taught my pilots how to recover a stall, so I knew what it was. I didn't expect, certainly, that my plane would fall, but I didn't lose control of the situation. I began to recover, and I saw that the Sabre was attached on me, and I stalled again, this time intentionally. There was a lot of rage in me, but I thought what I did. We were not at high altitude, and as I recovered from the stall, one of the Sabres jump out forward of me. I did not look around anymore -there was nobody else who could shoot me- so I went directly behind him. I aimed, shoot once, twice, and I saw that I got him.
I just began to level, when the second Sabre appeared. Probably he shot at me , but missed, and when I executed a maneuver, he had jumped out in front of me. ... I did not see where the first Sabre fell, and the second one started to smoke after a couple of bursts, and I saw its left wing seriously damaged. I shot again. The plane exploded into flames, leaving a trace of smoke behind it. It had smoothly gone to the left, downwards."
In a matter of minutes Ivanov bagged two F-86 kills, and actually his second victim is fully confirmed by US records: the F-86E of Major Felix Asla Jr, an outstanding Sabre pilots with 4 confirmed MiG kills in his scoreboard, one probable and four damaged. Unfortunately, Asla couldn't bail out and got killed in the cockpit of his Sabre.
A few weeks later -August 20- Nikolai Ivanov headed his MiG-15bis Fagot '502' to help one of his buddies, who was under the attack of a F-86E piloted by Norman Schmidt. After a few bursts at short range, Ivanov piled up Schmidt to his scoreboard; the American pilot ejected and would be rescued later.
His fifth kill came soon. On September 5 1952 Ivanov was taking off from Antung when he was suddenly warned by the control tower that two Sabres were strafing the airfield (such unannounced visits of the American planes were very normal at that time). He barely evaded the tracers of the enemy planes, and when they overshoot, he managed to enter in a low cloud cover. When he got out of the clouds, suddenly found a lone unaware F-86 ahead, and he took the chance: he send it downwards in flames to the Gulf of Korea waters. Actually his victim was the RF-86A of William C. Sney, who successfully bailed out and was picked up by a rescue helicopter. For his bravery that day, Kapetan Ivanov was awarded with Lenin's Order and promoted to the rank of Mayora.
Nikolai Ivanov was forced then to a long lay-off in a hospital in the USSR due to an old wound in action during WW2, and returned to Korea only in the last month of war. On July 16 1953 he and his buddies were doing a CAP when found several Sabres, and Ivanov hit twice one of them, which escaped leaving a trail of black smoke. That possible kill was also his last one; a few days later -July 27- the war was over. At the moment of writing these lines (November 2002), he is an 80-years old widower (his wife died 7 years ago) and lives in the city of Yaroslav, north to Moskow.
Semen Alexeivich FedoretsThe impressive war career of this Russian Asov included 98 missions, 8 aerial victories (all F-86E/Fs), being downed once, and being awarded with Lenin's Order, the second highest Soviet military decoration.
He flew his first combat sortie over North Korea in September 1952, and on December 17 he opened his score claiming an F-86. On February 19 1953 he was flying his MiG-15bis Fagot '93' in a fighter sweep of the 913th IAP, 32nd IAD, at 14,000 meters, when he saw a Sabre formation at 8,000 meters below. With the advantage of altitude, the Russians engaged the Americans. One of the Sabres jumped his buddy Valentin Shorin, and his leader Yevgeni Aseyev ran to help Shorin. Fedorets was covering Aseyev when he ran out of ammunition and called him to finish the Sabre off, as Fedorets remembered:
"Suddenly Aseyev told me '25 (that was my callsign), get closer, I ran out of ammo, and disengaged to my right. I immediately dove, ended up behind the Sabre, shot a burst at him at 300-400 meters, and I hit it. The pilot of the Sabre, seeing himself in danger reversed and dove. I exactly repeated his manouver, and upside down at 80-100 meters I put it in my gunsight and I gave him a short burst. I perfectly saw how a huge orange ball of fire emerged from the fuselage behind the cockpit, caused by the burst of the cannon N-37. The sun reflected in the expelled canopy, the Sabre's fuselage tore apart and fell to the ground."
His victim that day was 2nd Lt. Edward G. Izbicky, who became a POW. Two days later, during another fighter sweep in Ansiu area, the 913th IAP was surprised by Sabres of the 335th FIS. One of them, piloted by 1st Lt. Vincent Stacy, shot-up the MiG of Fedorets' squadron leader, S. I. Babich. Fedorets ran to assist Babich and bagged Stacy's F-86F, who ejected and was taken prisoner. However, Babich's MiG was so damaged that the Russian pilot had to bail out. In the hospital, Babich chose Fedorets as the new Komesk (squadron leader); and in this new role Fedorets claimed another F-86 on March 3.
But his greatest deeds happened on April 12 1953. That day his unit learned of an attack against Suiho dam by dozens of USAF Thunderjets escorted by Sabres. The whole 224th, 535th and 913th Regiments scrambled to engage the raiders, Fedorets' squadron being the last one to take off, because it was assigned to cover the withdrawal of the other squadrons. While watching the huge air battle from above in his MiG-15bis Fagot '93', Fedorets heard one of his comrades crying for help, as he recounted:
"Suddenly I heard on the radio the anguished voice of one of our pilots crying for help. 'Help me! I got hit!' I looked down, and I saw on the right at 90 degrees and 1,500-2,000 meters below a MiG-15 leaving a black smoke trail going northwards, pursued by a Sabre which fired at him all the time. I didn't think twice and sharply broke right and descended, getting closer to the Sabre. I gave it two bursts at 100-300 meters. After the second one, the Sabre lost control, turned to the right and dove to the ground.
The pilot of that F-86E probably was Norman E. Green, a young pilot of the 335th FIS, who ejected and was rescued. However, as Fedorets was shooting down Green, a flight of four Sabres of the 39th FIS were closing in from behind. Even when Fedorets didn't know it then, that flight was led by an cce with 7 MiG kills in his score, and future leading American Ace of the Korean conflict, Captain Joseph McConnell:
My #3 and #4, Aleksandrov and Shorin, lost track of me during my sharp maneuvers, but my wingman V. Yefremov stayed with me. When I was closing to the Sabre I heard Yefremov saying 'A flight of Sabres behind.' He radioed such info and he went away to the left, leaving me alone without cover. As soon as I stopped looking through the gunsight and I turned my head, a short burst struck my cockpit from the right and above.
"I sharply broke to the right underneath the Sabre, getting out of the line of fire. The Sabre went forward, and ended up in front of me at my right. The American pilot turned his head, he saw me and engaged flaps, with the intent to slow down, to let me pass forward and to riddle me at short range. I realized his maneuver, and sharply broke left, while firing a burst at the Sabre without aiming. The burst struck the base of the right wing, close to the fuselage. A huge hole, about one square meter, appeared in the Sabre's wing of the Sabre. It broke to the right and fell downwards. That was my second enemy aircraft destroyed in that combat."
Fedorets was right in one thing: McConnell's Sabre was mortally wounded. But what Fedorets didn't know then was that, even with his F-86F badly shot-up, McConnell still could perform a barrel-roll which put him at 6 o'clock of the now unaware Fedorets. And then he took revenge for his defeat.
"As soon as I got my plane out of the attack, from below I was hit by a machine gun burst. I sharply pushed the stick, and tried to disengage. The cockpit filled of smoke and kerosene, the instrument panel was destroyed, and finally the new couple of Sabres [Fedorets did not know then that it was the same Sabre piloted by McConnell that he had knocked out before.] broke any control. Using the trimmer I leveled the plane, and decided to bail out. With a tremendous effort I was able to eject the canopy, and successfully bailed out of my damaged plane at 11,000 meters of altitude."
However, the Hunter did not survive his Prey for much longer. McConnell ejected out of his badly damaged F-86F over the East China Sea, and was immediately picked up by an H-19 rescue helicopter. Certainly a Clash of Titans happened that day: one excellent Russian Ace knocked out an American Ace and made him his 6th kill, but before to bail out this American Ace (future Top American scorer of the war) transformed his Russian defeater into his 8th victory. A Hollywood director could not have written a better script. That single combat legend today is a proof of the Top Class of the pilots who fought each other over North Korea 49 years ago.
That day ended up with a tied match: four MiGs downed by Sabres -2 Russians, 2 Chinese- but also four American fighters were lost due to Russian MiG-15 Fagots: besides Fedorets' bagging the F-86s of Green and McConnell, Starsii Leitenant Grigorii Berelidze (224th IAP) had shot down 1st Lt. Robert Niemann's F-86E (MIA); finally, another pilot of the 913th IAP, Kapetan Semenov, scored one F-84E down (James Wills, KIA).
After this combat, Kapetan Semen A. Fedorets scored two more F-86 kills (now flying a MiG-15bis with the number '16' onboard). The first one was the F-86F of Robert Coury on June 10 1953; Fedorets shot him at such close range that when he returned to Dapu airbase, found debris of the Sabre embedded into his MiG. His last victim was another F-86, shot down on July 19 1953.
After the war Fedorets was promoted to the rank of Polkovnik, and when he retired from active duty, taught his knowledge and experience to their students in the Air School in Kharkov.
Stephen Sherman & Diego Fernando Zampini
Sources and recommended links:
Red Devils over the 38th Parallel, Igor Seidov and Askold German (courtesy of Nikolai Bakalov and Rubén Urribarres).
Leonid Krylov and Yuri Tepsurkaev, "Hunt for Sabre," Mir Aviatsii magazine (in Russian language). There is also an excellent translation into English in Venik's Web Site, divided in Part I and Part II
- Leonid Krylov y Yuri Tepsurkayev, "Three out of One Thousand," Mir Aviatsii magazine (translated into English by Stephen Sewell).
- Shield of the Night, Little known pages about the Korean War 1950-53, Igor Seidov, Mir Aviatsii magazine, January 1993 (translated into English by Stephen Sewell).
- MiGs in Local Conflicts, Vladimir Babych, 1997.