Korean War Aces

F-86 Sabre Jet page

F-86E Sabre Jet

F-86E Sabre jet

typical 4-plane flight, 'finger-four' formation

Finger-four formation

Col. Walker 'Bud' Mahurin

Flew P-47s with 56th FG in WWII, 21 kills

Flew F-86 Sabre jet fighters in Korea, 3.5 kills

"When you talk to a pilot, especially a guy like me who has a lot of years on him, his stories get better by the moment. The next thing you know, his airplane was a dud, but due to sheer combat capability he was able to shoot down twenty enemy aircraft.

As the commander of a fighter group, you don’t call your pilots in, to brief them on a new operation and say "Okay, you go out there and go get ‘em, I’ve got some staff work to do." You like to say, "Well, this is kind of experimental. I’ll lead the mission." "  -   - Bud Mahurin, in a 1997 interview for SECRETS OF WAR

Bud Mahurin was always photographed with a big smile on his face, especially in his early WWII photographs. He couldn't have known that he was one of few American fliers who would be shot down in two different wars.

As an outstanding young flier with the famed 56th Fighter Group in World War Two, he flew over Nazi-occupied Europe, downing 19.75 German airplanes, and later, in the Pacific, he downed 1 Japanese aircraft.

His career as a fighter pilot almost ended before it started, in August 1943, when he destroyed his P-47 while horsing around with a B-24. He flew too close, and the bomber 's propeller chewed up his Thunderbolt's tail. Mahurin managed to bail out, and he got off with no more than a $100 fine and a tongue-lashing from CO Hub Zemke. A few days later, he shot down his first German plane, an Fw-190. Flying a war bond subscription plane "SPIRIT OF ATLANTIC CITY, NJ," he scored again on September 9, and on October 4, he shot down three Bf-110s to make ace.

He became the Eighth Air Force's first double ace (10 victories) on November 26, in a raid over Bremen. As the Bf-110s came after the B-17s and B-24s, Mahurin and the rest of the 56th waded in. He get right behind his first victim, shooting off the plane's wing and probably touching off its aerial rockets in the process. As the B-17 gunners blasted away at anything that came too close, including American P-47s, Mahurin avoided their 'friendly' fire and found a second Bf-110, which he sent flaming to the ground. His third target tried the Germans' favorite, but least effective, evasive tactic - diving away. Virtually no other plane in the sky could out-dive the 'Seven Ton Milk Jug', and Mahurin caught and destroyed his third target down at 14,000 feet.

In March, 1944, he shared credit for destruction of a Do-217 bomber over Tours, but was shot down himself. He evaded capture, and made his way back to England in May. To protect the Resistance fighters, ETO rules forbade evadees from flying combat in Europe. So Mahurin went to the Pacific, as CO of the 3rd Air Commando Group, and scored the last of his WWII kills there, flying P-51 Mustangs.

He stayed in the military after WWII, and was working in the Pentagon for the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force when the Korean War broke out. He quickly "got up to speed in jets," and went to Korea. He began working for Gabby Gabreski in the 51st FIW. In 1952 he was captured and tortured by the Chinese Communists.

Colonel Walker "Bud" Mahurin passed away at his home in Newport Beach, California, one of the last surviving WW2 aces. He was 91. In his career, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, and many more.

Bud Mahurin 1997 Interview for SECRETS OF WAR

All rights reserved.

© 1998 The Documedia Group.
Edited by Stephen Sherman

Q: This is Bud Mahurin and the title is "Korea: the Air War." Tell me about your tour of duty. When did you begin? And what was your initial assignment?

Mahurin: I initially worked in Korea in December of 1951. I was sent there for ninety days temporary duty. I had a lot of young men coming into my command who had jet experience in combat in Korea, and I didn’t have that. So I felt it was necessary to go over there as a leader, and gain some jet fighter combat experience, so I’d be in a condition to lead. We thought the war would be over within my ninety day tour.

Q: What kind of aircraft were being used, and how did you find them?

Mahurin: We were assigned F-86 Sabre jets, manufactured by North American Aviation Corporation. There were two wings that were involved. The 51st FIW at Suwon (airbase K-13) and the 4th FIW at Kimpo (K-14) near Seoul. Both wings were sent to combat the MiG-15, which had appeared in the skies over Korea. The MiG-15 was superior to the conventional straight-winged aircraft that we were then flying. The F-86s proved to be a worthy adversary for the MiG-15s; they were our finest fighters at the time.

Q: Compare a MiG-15 to an F-86.

Mahurin: The MiG and the F-86 were fairly similar, both in appearance and performance. A lot of their development came from the scientific endeavors that the Germans conducted during World War II: jet engine development and the ability of a swept-wing aircraft to fly faster than a straight wing. We needed to fly longer distances than we’d been flying. Our objective was to keep the Manchuria-based MiG-15s from coming down into South Korea, and supporting the Chinese and the North Korean ground forces.

Q: What is different about the F-86? Compare it to a conventional straight wing aircraft.

Mahurin: Up until the development of the F-86, all straight wing aircraft were limited in their ability to approach the speed of sound. Based on German research during WWII, the swept wing came along; it presented a thinner wing to the air that it flew through. Thus it could go faster without compressing the air in front of the aircraft. This was a revolutionary development, it made a lot of straight wing aircraft that were being built obsolete. This established the trend for swept wings, which became the norm later on. One of the major differences between this aircraft and the MiG-15 was that the horizontal stabilizer on the MiG-15 was mounted above the vertical stabilizer. When the MiG-15 got into a spin, the air flying off the main wings would blanket out the horizontal stabilizer and the pilot couldn’t recover. They were ordered to bail out if they got into a flat spin. The low stabilizer on the F-86 meant that we could outperform the MiG-15s in various combat maneuvers, especially turns, and so it offered an advantage over the MiG-15.

Q: What were the MiG’s advantages over the F-86s?

Mahurin: Because the MiG-15 was lighter than an F-86 it could climb a little faster. While its forward speed during the climb wasn’t quite as great as an F-86, it could still climb at a higher angle of attack, and so, it appeared to us that the MiG could really climb. And, because of its lightness, the MiG-15 could reach a higher altitude than the F-86, high enough so that we couldn’t reach them, up above 45,000 feet.

Q: This was the first war in which jets were fighting jets. What tactics did you have to learn?

Mahurin: The tactics, in terms of maneuvering, didn’t change much over World War II, except it required a lot more airspace, because the speeds were higher. The biggest problems for both sides were fuel economy and endurance. You couldn’t stay in the combat zone for a very long, because you burned up your fuel, and had to come home. But, as far as the turns and the dives and the things we see in World War I movies, with Spads and Nieuports, that kind of combat was not much different except it took a lot of airspace and went on at greater speeds.

Q: Did the early people in the Air Force fear that you couldn’t conduct dogfights at that speed?

Mahurin: People who didn’t have any jet experience came up with some half-baked ideas. A Pentagon scientist swore up and down that we would never be able to fire our guns out of the front end of a fighter jet because the airplane would run into the bullets. It wasn’t true at all, of course, because all motion is relative. But that's where technology was in the eyes of the general public at the time. Those fears were a function of ignorance.

Q: Describe what it feels like to be in the cockpit of an F-86.

Mahurin: It was more fun than anything else I’ve ever done. The F-86 was a brilliant design. Even today, it’s a very modern aircraft in terms of its engine power and so forth. It was just a delight; it didn’t have any bad habits. Unlike the MiG, creature comforts were taken into consideration. The Sabre had an air conditioning system that would produce ice if you wanted it to. It would drive you out of the cockpit with heat if you wanted. You could adjust it like a modern car. The MiG didn’t have any of that. The MiG pilot was sitting in the cockpit without any air-conditioning. Our G-suits helped us control our blood flow at high maneuvering rates, and the Russians didn’t have that either. There are more advantages -- the F-86 was a Cadillac; the MiG-15 was a Model-T Ford.

Q: What did it feel like to fly an F-86 jet fighter?

Mahurin: You had a sense of power, a sense of high performance. You didn’t think much about the airplane. It felt like a part of you. In combat, you didn’t think "I’m going to turn now, and I’m going to pull back on the stick." You just did it automatically, like moving an extension of your body. That was quite thrilling, and it was a lot of fun.

Q: What formations did you use?

Mahurin: When I got to Korea, the F-86s had been flying for about a year. In that time, the commanders were using essentially the same formations and tactics that we used in World War II. But these tactics used too much fuel. The fighters would take off and circle the field, until they got sixteen, thirty-two, and forty-eight planes in formation. Then they would climb out slowly in close formation up to the combat area and then the flight leader would direct the flight to spread out. But you had already used a lot of fuel just circling to assemble and climbing up. That was very expensive, in terms of the time we could spent over the Manchurian border.

So these take-off and assembly tactics had to change. I had visited the North American Aviation many times, and I had knowledge of performance characteristics that you could only find in private sock/SOC(?) rating manuals. It was apparent that we would conserve a lot of fuel if we took off two-by-two, instead of trying to get thirty-six or forty-eight airplanes together. These pairs would start along toward the enemy at high forward speed, allowing the wing men to all catch up gradually before we got to the combat zone. That was real valuable to us.

In the original assembly process, the aircraft had to go pretty slow. The leader would go slow, the rest would go slow, and they’d start out to climb slowly. As a result, they would reach altitude, say 32,000 feet, and their forward speed would be way below the performance of the aircraft. As a result, the MiGs looked like they were going like skyrockets, when they weren’t at all. We needed to keep up our forward speed. It didn’t affect the rate of climb very much and ultimately didn’t affect the ability to get together. When we got to altitude, we were going as fast, or faster than the MiGs. So it was a function of learning how to fly the F-86, and learning how to perform better in the combat zone.

Q: Describe your relationship with your wingman.

Mahurin: The wingman idea developed after World War I; during World War II, all the combatants used the wingman concept. When you’re flying a single engine fighter, you focus your attention in front of your airplane, because you’re looking to attack the enemy. Therefore, you’re vulnerable in the back end, and that’s where the enemy’s going to attack you. A wingman and other members of the flight tried to protect the leader, to permit him to devote all of his attention toward shooting the enemy down. With four aircraft flying together, each pilot could look toward his fellow, and peripheral vision would allow each of them to look behind the individual aircraft. Four people were all looking inward, as well as outward, and they could protect each other. That tactic was developed during World War II and it has held on now, even with modern fighters in combat today. The idea of the wingman was protection.

The relationship between the wingman and his leader wasn’t social, because you, your aircraft, and your position assignments would vary in the squadron. You might have wingman Joe Blow one day and wingman Pete Swick the next, so you didn’t become really friendly and dependent on one wingman. The wingman knew what his responsibilities were. If he could enable his element leader to survive, and keep from being attacked, then eventually the wingman himself would be promoted to element leader, so there was always a selfish objective. You did a good job in order to succeed at what you were trying to do in the combat zone.

Q: Describe flying interdiction.

Mahurin: Initially, the F-86s were supposed to do nothing but escort. They were supposed to protect our aircraft that were doing interdiction. But our targets. the MiGs, did not fly continuously. The intelligence community found that the Russians were rotating their crews. The MiGs stayed at the bases in Manchuria, but the crews changed. For a period of time, when new crews would show up, the MiGs would stay north of the Manchurian border, and fly back and forth and look at us. That might go on for a week or so. Then the MiGs would then start to come down slightly into our area. They’d come near us, and we’d chase them and we’d go back and forth but no combat. That would go on for another week or so, and finally the MiGs would come close enough for aerial combat. For a short period, the aerial combat would go on hot and heavy, and then all of a sudden it would stop. There would be a dearth for a about a week, while the crews from Russia were changing, and we didn’t see anything in the air.

A fighter pilot’s objective is to shoot down enemy aircraft and that inactivity was a blow to our pilots, so we devised ways to entice the enemy to come up and fight us. We attacked the enemy close to where he was stationed in North Korea, in hopes that he would come up and defend his bases, and we’d get a chance to do combat with him.

Q: You were up near the Yalu River. How did you entice the MiGs to come up?

Mahurin: We would go down close to the ground and shoot up trucks, targets of opportunity, and tanks, if we could find them. The only way to do something important would be to equip our F-86s with bombs. The Air Force had not done that, although the F-86s had the capability. The question was: Why have hundreds of straight-wing fighter-bombers that couldn't defend themselves carrying bombs, and have the F-86s at high altitude carrying only fuel, when they could carry bombs and also defend themselves? We put bombs on the F-86s and tried our luck at accuracy, to see if we could bomb these bases in North Korea, and entice the enemy to come up. He would never know from one day to the next whether we were going to bomb his bases or targets in North Korea.

Q: The Yalu was tempting, there were lots of MiGs just north of the Yalu. People went over to entice them, to lure them out. How did they do that?

Mahurin: The rules of combat prohibited us from crossing into Manchuria, across the Yalu River. The State Department didn’t want us flying over China, and possibly provoking them to escalate the war in Korea. As we flew above the Yalu, we could see the MiG-15s taking off from their sanctuary, climbing up above our altitude, then diving down to build up speed, and coming across to do combat with us. We were like a prize fighter fighting with one arm tied behind his back. The only way we could go across the Yalu was to do it illegally, so to speak. Six of us did that, the first time, deliberately. From a career standpoint, we were taking a big chance, but we wanted to see what would happen, and we started to do that once in a while.

One day the six of us were summoned to Fifth Air Force Headquarters. Our commander, General Frank Everest, came storming in and he was as mad as could be. He pounded the table and said, "You guys are violating the demarcation line; you’re crossing the Yalu River. It’s got to stop! All the trouble this will cause with the State Department! I am going to court-martial every one of you. I was in my control center just the other day, watching on radar. I saw your pilots take off, fly over the Yalu River, up to Mukden, 200 miles north of the Yalu, circle Mukden a couple times, then fly back down and land at the Fifty-First Wing base. My God, this has really got to stop!"

We all stood up at attention. He stalked out of the conference room and slammed the door. We were all looking at each other, when he poked in his head back in and said, "If you’re gonna do it, for god’s sake, turn off your identification friend or foe system, because we can track you on radar."

Continue with Bud Mahurin interview second page

In the rest of the interview he describes crossing the Yalu, getting shot down and his experiences as a POW in North Korea. Check it out.