The Soviet MiG-15 in the Korean War.

MiG-15 Aces in Korea

12 April 1951

One of the most epic aerial battles of all time took place on 12 April 1951 in the skies over the town of Sinuiju, North Korea. It was the first large-scale jet-versus-jet combat in history; it pitted some of the best military pilots who have ever flown against one another; and it helped create a host of new air combat aces.

MiG-15bis firing cannons

A Cold War game changer - the MiG-15bis opens fire

On what the USAF would subsequently call ‘Black Thursday’, 48 B-29 Superfortress bombers escorted by a mixed force of 96 fighters were tasked to destroy Sinuiju’s Yalu River bridge, a key remaining supply link between North Korea and the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). This area of north-western Korea, where many of the war’s aerial engagements took place, was to become notorious as ‘MiG Alley.’

map of MiG Alley

The area dubbed ‘MiG Alley’ during the Korean War (1950-53) on the Chinese-North Korean border

The Korean War had been raging since June 1950, when forces of the communist Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) invaded mainly pro-Western and capitalist South Korea. In autumn 1950, when it looked as if North Korea might be on the point of defeat, its communist allies China and Russia began providing the country with both overt and covert military assistance.

In a move that would tilt the balance of air power sharply back towards the communist side, the Soviet Union brought its latest and most capable jet fighter - the MiG-15bis (NATO codename ‘Fagot’) - into the fray. It also, and in secret, provided the pilots to fly it. Many of these Soviet volunteers were already aces, having gained huge experience fighting the Luftwaffe in WWII.

To maintain secrecy, the Soviet MiGs were given Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAF) or North Korean Peoples' Army Air Force markings. Pilots were told to speak Chinese or Korean when airborne; and instructed not to enter South Korean airspace for fear of capture and exposure. Many were based initially at the Chinese airfield of Antung near the North Korean border.

MiG-15 downing F-86

A force to be reckoned with - MiG-15 downing F-86

On the opposing side, the United Nations Command was made up of mainly US, British and Australian forces. Many of the U.N. pilots had also gained combat experience in WWII, and many aces featured among their ranks. With little or no initial North Korean air threat in the early months of the war, U.S. pilots flew F-80 Shooting Stars and F-84E Thunderjets - and even the P-51D Mustang - on ground attack missions with impunity. The Brits flew Supermarine Seafires, Hawker Sea Furies and Fairey Fireflies from aircraft carriers offshore, while the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) contingent piloted similarly outdated F-8 Gloster Meteors.

The arrival in theatre of the vastly superior MiG-15bis reversed this imbalance of air power at a stroke. The MiG-15s outclassed the older, Allied aircraft in every way. The only aircraft able to meet the Fagot on its own terms was the US F-86 Sabre. Introduced to the conflict late in 1950 and armed with six Browning .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns, the Sabre could not match the MiG-15’s tremendous firepower of one 37 mm NR-37 autocannon and two 23 mm NR-23 cannons. The Fagot also had a higher operational ceiling, allowing it to escape to altitude if necessary; a faster basic speed and rate of climb; and a better turn rate above 10,000 m (33,000 ft).

F-86 Sabres dogfighting MiG-15s

Tipping the scales of war - the F-86 fights back

The heavier Sabre could, though, dive faster than the MiG to get out of trouble; it enjoyed the edge in horizontal turning fights below 8,000 m; it had a much better gunsight; and U.S. pilots routinely wore g-suits, which helped prevent blackouts under the extreme g loads of dogfighting. With the MiG-15bis now going head-to-head against the F-86, a long, bloody and attritional battle for air supremacy began.

Major-General of Aviation Sergei Makarovich Kramarenkoy

Major-General of Aviation Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko, (Серге́й Макарович Крамаренко), Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin and Golden Star.

One of the most accomplished Soviet pilots at Antung was Captain Sergei Kramarenko. Also a WWII veteran, Kramarenko had only one confirmed aerial victory against the Luftwaffe to his name, but had assisted in several more. During the Korean War, Kramarenko flew 104 combat sorties, engaged UN aircraft on 42 separate occasions, and was officially credited with 13 victories. These are notoriously difficult to confirm, but cross-checks suggest that he achieved at least nine of the official count. Kramarenko, then, was not the highest scoring Soviet ace of the Korean conflict. That honour goes to Major N.V. Sutyagin, with 21 victories, closely followed by Col E.G. Pepelyaev with 19. Kramarenko, who was the fourth-highest scoring ace with nine F-86s, two F-80s and two Meteor F-8s, wrote an excellent book about his experiences: The Red Air Force at War: Air Combat Over the Eastern Front & Korea, which gives us an insight into many of the tactics he employed against Allied pilots. (The combat accounts below are abridged extracts.)

F-86 firing on MiG-15

Not just rattling - the Sabre strikes

The majority of these tips and tricks remain good for us today, always allowing for dissimilarities between aircraft types. The first thing Kramarenko stresses is the vital importance of arriving in the combat zone higher and faster than your opponent. This might seem obvious, but in the heat of war...The second thing Soviet pilots did, having established height and speed advantage, was to attack enemy formations from different directions. Both these tactics worked to great effect in the 12 April engagement over Sinuiju. In the space of a few minutes, although outnumbered more than two-to-one, 44 Soviet MiG-15bis pilots claimed to have shot down 10 B-29s, three F-80s and one F-86. Soviet airmen dubbed the B-29s ‘flying barns’, because they caught fire and burned so easily.

B-29 Superfortresses in flight

In for a shock - USAF B-29 Superfortresses

The USAF admitted to the loss of three B-29s with seven more damaged - and did not claim any enemy losses. The disaster taught the USAF a sharp and salutary lesson. Following this engagement, all U.S.bomber sorties over Korea were halted for approximately three months. When it started up again, bombing was only carried out at night and by small formations, with daylight raids permanently discontinued.

Kramarenko takes us to the heart of the Sinuiju fight: ‘We were flying above the Superfortresses. Our MiGs opened fire. One of the B-29s lost a wing and started falling apart. Three or four of the others caught fire. Crews were bailing out. Dozens of parachutes hung in the air, I had the impression that an airborne landing was underway. Four more “Fortresses” fell to the earth, others turned back. Around 100 American flyers were taken prisoner. After the fight, we found shell-holes in [all our own] planes. One had a hundred holes. But there was no serious damage, and not a single bullet had hit any of our cockpits.’

Bullet-riddled MiG

Riddled with bullets but still flying - the more robust MiG-15

Even Kramarenko did not always get his tactics right:

‘...when I looked back, I saw a couple of Sabres at 500 meters. A little bit closer, and both would open fire. That was when I made a mistake. I should have increased my angle of climb and dragged the Sabres to high altitude where the MiG had the advantage. But I only realized that later. At that time, I reversed my heading, passed over the Sabres in a slight dive and hid in a small group of clouds. Once there, I turned to the right. On leaving the cloud cover, I started a ‘Boy Vo Razvojot’, a climbing turn to the left with a roll angle of 40-50°. But when I emerged, the Sabres were not below where I expected them to be. Instead, they were still high, above and behind me.

F-86 fires on fleeing MiG-15

Running for his life - Kramarenko dives for safety

‘I threw my aircraft into a dive, but instead of then pulling up sharply into a climb, I rolled into a slow, flat dive. The Sabres didn’t expect that. I dived to the right towards the hydroelectric station over the Yalu river. This huge reservoir had a 300-meter-high dam and a power station which provided energy not only to half of Korea but also to the whole of north-eastern China. We had orders to protect it at all costs. It was defended by a dozen of our anti-aircraft batteries, which had orders to shoot down any aircraft that came near.

MiG-15 amidst barrage of exploding AAA

The only way is hope - into the heart of the AAA

‘I hoped the battery gunners would get the Sabres off my tail. Dark clouds of exploding anti-aircraft shells filled the sky in front of me. I didn’t try to evade them... if I did, the Sabres would shoot me down. I preferred to die at the hands of my fellow gunners than by the bullets of the Sabres. I headed for the very center of the explosions. The aircraft punched into the barrage. Once inside and through the shell bursts, I immediately threw the MiG from side to side, up and down…’

Suddenly, I was once again out in the sunshine. Behind and below me were the dam and the reservoir. Off to the left I could see the departing Sabres - they had lost me and perhaps figured I was dead...I pinched the arteries in my neck to stop the blood leaving my head...’


Finally Safe! - Kramarenko flies to safety

Let’s give the last word on Soviet air combat tactics to Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, 336th FIS (Fighter-Interceptor Squadron), USAF: ‘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...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 Baron Manfred von Richthofen in The Great War.’ (Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, USAF)

Allied pilots also adopted this ploy in Korea. But then, that’s another story.

New Missions

In the last Open Beta we added a number of missions that can be flown either as a single player, or with friends, on DCS: The Channel.

Take a look at the V1 No Ball Raid missions for the P-47, P-51 and Mosquito, or fight on the other side in the No Ball Scramble missions for the Bf 109 and FW190. There is more to come, with a number of exciting new Instant Action missions set over the Marianas currently in development.

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Yours sincerely,

Eagle Dynamics Team