On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel. This outbreak of the Korean conflict had caught the Royal Canadian Air Force flat-footed. The RCAF was only able to offer newly re-constituted 426 Squadron with six North Star transport aircraft. By July 26th they had landed in Washington state and three aircraft flew their first trans- Pacific mission the next day. The RCAF also offered a variety of personnel for various United Nations duties including a contingent of flight nurses, air reconnaissance specialists, and forward observation and control personnel.
In May 1950, RCAF pilot Flight Lieutenant (F/L) Omer Levesque was on exchange with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (FIW) at Langley Air Force Base (AFB). He received permission to deploy with his unit to Korea in December 1950. Lieutenant General G.E. Stratemeyer, Commander of the Far East Air Force (FEAF), extended an offer on January 25, 1951 to assign RCAF aircrew to his command “to gain operational experience with jet aircraft in the Korean theatre”. The formal exchange agreement was that any RCAF pilots that had over 50 hours of experience on the F-86 Sabre would be attached to USAF FIWs for a tour of 50 missions or six months, whichever came first. Specific details about this formal agreement was initially vague and not well documented and the ensuing selection process was ad-hoc at best.
The Chinese and North Korean fighter bases were primarily in the extreme north-west of North Korea along both sides of the Yalu river which earned the nickname "MiG Alley". The UN fighter base was located near Seoul, Korea which was 200-250 miles from MiG Alley.United Nations crews were forbidden to cross the Yalu river into Chinese territory.
The Korean air war was a technological dog fight with a mix of old and new technologies and associated tactics. Opposing air superiority jet fighters were well matched. Russia had supplied 850 MiG-15 and MiG-15B jets to North Korean and Chinese People Liberation Army Air Forces; up to 350 used at a time in rotation. The US provided two wings of F-86 Sabres; progressively upgraded through A, E and F model variants; up to 150 aircraft in a pure fighter role. The Canadian company Canadair also supplied 60 F-86 Mk IIs (designated F-86E-6-CAN in USAF service).
The F-86 had machine gun armament, better dive, deceleration, rate of roll and slight turn radius and capability advantages. Later, variants of the F-86 introduced A-1CM radar-ranging gun-sight but it was also found to be complicated and a maintenance headache. It could be flown with a "g-suit" to help pilot tolerances, and the air frame could be equipped with fuel drop tanks.The MiG-15 had heavier cannon armament, better climb rate, acceleration, level speed at 20,000 feet and a higher combat ceiling. The MiG-15 initially did not have a radar-ranging gun sight. MiG-15Bs later introduced a "g-suit" capability and the air frame could also be equipped with drop tanks.
Korean-based USAF Fighter Interceptor Squadrons (FIS) were organized into five flights with a total Unit Establishment of 25 F-86 Sabres with up to 44 pilots. Flights were commanded by a Flight Leader (Captain rank minimum). The USAF pilot tour was 100 missions and for every six weeks of duty, each pilot received 3 days of “Rest & Recreation (R&R)” in Japan. The basic flying element was a two-ship formation and single aircraft were directed to Return To Base (RTB). “Clobber College” was a pass / fail combat training program given to USAF / Exchange pilots consisting of “Escape & Evasion” and “Flying Combat” phases.In the Escape & Evasion phase, a two-day lecture course was given on survival equipment and techniques and escape & evasion tactics. During the Flying Combat phase, one or two solo “famil” (familiarization) trips over the base area were followed by formation trips flying in two, four and eight-ship formations with an introduction to jet combat tactics.
Combat tactics evolved to account for jet impact on speeds and distances. Mass formations on take-off & in combat were normal. Elaborate tactics to bait opponents were routinely used. Formations and tactics varied widely with the experience of individual pilots and their rotations. Flame-out landings by F-86 Sabres on RTB also became routine (i.e. one per week). The Yalu River and the Yellow Sea were respective sanctuaries.
United Nations “kill” claims had to be corroborated by either gun camera or a second eye-witness. “Probable” claims had to be supported by large portions of aircraft coming away or proof of on-board smoke / fire via the gun camera. “Damaged” claims had to be confirmed via strikes on the aircraft in the gun camera footage. Many claims were disallowed due to gun camera faults or lack of second eyewitness. Immediate post-war claims of a 10:1 victory margin by UN pilots over Communist pilots were not supported by subsequent analyses with access to Russian & Chinese records. Many “destroyed” aircraft simply “damaged”. A 7:1 to 3.5:1 victory margin is more realistic.
Nineteen RCAF pilots completed 914 combat sorties and accounted for nine kills, two probables and ten damaged MiG-15s for no losses of their own. Just nine RCAF pilots accounted for all of the kills / claims. Three Canadians were shot down over Korea. Two of them escaped but Second World War veteran Andy MacKenzie was captured and spent two years as a prisoner-of-war (POW). One Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) pilot completed 66 combat sorties (233 hours / 92 carrier landings) primarily in ground interdiction / attack missions. At least two other expatriate Canadians served in Korea with Captain Robert "Bob" Love (USAF) accounting for another six MiG-15 kills. RCAF / RCN Canadian pilots were awarded nine Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFCs) and a total of 58 US / Commonwealth awards.
*All information on this page kindly provided by Terry Leversedge from the book "Canadian Eagles in Crimson Skies".
Check out MiG Alley and see the F-86 Sabre in Action
S/L Omer Levesque was an experienced Second World War Hurricane / Spitfire pilot with four “kills”. He re-enlisted in 1946 and later flew deHavilland Vampires with 410 Squadron. In May 1950 he was on exchange with USAF, flying the F-86A Sabre. In June 1950 he deployed with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron to Korea. He also flew escort missions for B-29’s. He completed 71 operational sorties and rotated home in June 1951. He was awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the Air Medal.
F/O Bruce Fleming was an experienced Second World War Beaufighter pilot. In March 1952 he deployed to 334 FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He was credited with a MiG kill on May 13,1952 and later damaged two more MiGs, a locomotive and 2 trucks. As the 50 mission rule was not well understood or acknowledged at the time, Fleming managed to complete 82 operational sorties and rotated home in June 1952. He was awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross. He later joined Canadair as a test pilot.
F/O Gene Nixon was not a Second World War veteran but he had completed the minimum 50 sorties on F-86 Sabres needed prior to selection. In March 1952 he deployed to 25th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He was credited with no kills or damage. He completed 50 operational sorties and rotated home in July 1952. F/O Nixon was awarded the US Air Medal for his service.
F/O Jack Donald was not a veteran either. He had completed 50 sorties on Sabres prior to selection; however he never fired the guns. In March 1952, Donald deployed to 4 FIW at Suwon, Korea. He did not satisfactorily complete “Clobber College” so he was rotated home in April/May 1952.
F/O Larry Spurr was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot. In April 1952, he deployed to the 25th FIS / 51st FIW at Suwon (K-13), Korea. He was credited with one MiG kill and completed strafing attacks on ground targets. He completed 50 operational sorties and rotated home in July 1952. He was awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross. The award of the US Air Medal was later disallowed.
G/C Ed Hale was an experienced Second World War Canso and Digby pilot. In 1949 he became the first Commanding Officer of RCAF Station Chatham, New Brunswick. In 1951 he was named Commanding Officer of No.1 Fighter Wing in North Luffenham, England, the first Canadian NATO base. In April 1952, he deployed to 16th FIS / 51st FIW at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He completed 23 missions in 24 days and was credited with MiG damage plus one locomotive damaged. He completed 26 operational sorties and rotated home in May 1952. He was awarded the US DFC but the award of US Air Medal was disallowed. He was the most senior RCAF officer to deploy to Korea.
F/O Claude LaFrance enlisted in the RCAF in 1947 and became an instructor on deHavilland Vampires at the OTU in Chatham. In May 1952 he deployed to the 39th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea, although he also flew with the 16th FIS. He was credited with a confirmed MiG kill on August 5, 1952. He completed 49 operational sorties on the F-86 and one operational sortie on a T-33 before he was rotated home in September 1952. F/O LaFrance was awarded the US DFC but his US Air Medal was also disallowed.
F/L Ernie Glover was an experienced Second World War Hurricane / Typhoon pilot. In June 1952 he deployed to the 334th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He flew F-86E-6-CAN #52-2833 and had a Canadian (USAF) crew chief. He was credited with 3 MiG kills plus 3 more damaged. He had completed 50 operational sorties on the F-86 Sabre and rotated home in October 1952. Glover was awarded both the Commonwealth and US Distinguished Flying Crosses. The award of US Air Medal was disallowed.
F/L Robert Lowry was an inexperienced Second World War pilot as he had not completed operational training by the war’s end. In July 1952 he deployed to the 25th FIS at Suwon (K-13), Korea. He completed 50 operational sorties (70 hours & 40 minutes) on the F-86 Sabre and rotated home in December 1952. F/L Lowry was awarded the US Air Medal.
S/L Doug Lindsay was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot / ace, with seven kills to his credit and was awarded the DFC. In July 1952 he was deployed to the 39th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He was an element leader after his fourth mission and was credited with two MiG kills plus 3 more damaged. He completed 50 operational sorties on the F-86 Sabre and rotated home in December 1952. He was awarded the US DFC. The award of the US Air Medal was disallowed.
S/L Eric Smith was an experienced Second World War Mosquito pilot and was awarded the DFC. In July 1952 he deployed to the 334th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He flew as the wing man for famous USAF fighter ace, Capt L.W. Lilley. He completed 50 operational sorties on the F-86 Sabre and rotated home in December 1952. He was awarded the US Air Medal.
*Click on the photo to hear S/L Smith tell his own story.
W/C Robert Davidson was an experienced Second World War Typhoon pilot with six “kills”. He remained with the RCAF post-war and later flew deHavilland Vampires with 421 Squadron at RCAF Station Chatham, NB. In September 1952 he deployed to the 335th FIS in Korea. He flew 51 operational F-86 sorties, participated in at least ten combat engagements (with no claims), and rotated home in December 1952. He was awarded the US Air Medal.
F/O Andrew Lambros was an experienced Second World War Typhoon pilot and was awarded the DFC. He was attached to the 39th FIS on October 22, 1952 and flew his first sortie on November 2,1952. He acted as a flight leader and a wing leader on repeated occasions. Lambros damaged 2 MiGs on January 22 and January 31, 1953. He completed 50 operational sorties and rotated home in March 1953. He was awarded the US DFC.
S/L Andy MacKenzie was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot / ace with 8+ “kills” and was awarded the DFC. He gained F-86 Sabre experience in North Luffenham, England. MacKenzie deployed to Korea in November 1952. On his 5th operational sortie, he was the victim of a “friendly fire incident”; being accidentally shot down on December 5, 1952. He was captured by Chinese forces and remained in captivity until December 5, 1954. He was the only RCAF POW in Korea.
F/L Fred Evans of Saint John, NB, was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot and was awarded the DFC. He was also a post-war deHavilland Vampire pilot and flew with the Blue Devils aerobatic team. In December 1952 he deployed to the 39th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. He flew regularly with USAF ace Peter Fernandez. Evans claimed one locomotive and 4 rail cars destroyed in ground attack. He considered the MiG-15 superior to the F-86. He completed 50 operational sorties and rotated home in April 1953. Evans was awarded the US Air Medal.
F/L Grant Nichols was an inexperienced Second World War pilot. In January 1953 he deployed to 16th FIS in Korea. Nichols claimed one MiG damaged on April 7, 1953; however, it was later upgraded to probably destroyed. He completed 50 operational sorties and rotated home in May 1953. Nichols was awarded the US Air Medal.
F/O Bob Carew was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot. He rejoined the RCAF in 1950 and became an instructor on Vampires, T-33s and the F-86 Sabre. In February 1953 he deployed to the 335th FIS in Korea. On his tenth mission providing close escort to RF-80, he encountered 40+ MiGs and suffered an engine flame-out. He glided 130+ nautical miles from 43,000 feet down to 7,000 feet. A controlled bail-out over Chodo Island ensued and he was rescued by a US helicopter and then picked up by a C-4 transport plane. Carew completed 50 sorties (72 combat hours) and rotated home in July 1953. He was awarded the US Air Medal.
S/L John Mackay was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot / ace with 11 kills. Prior to going overseas, he completed a portion of his pilot training at No. 21 Elementary Flying Training School in Chatham, NB. He remained in the RCAF after the war and led 416 Squadron back to Europe during Operation Leap Frog 2. In March 1953 he deployed to the 39th FIS at Kimpo (K-14), Korea. Mackay was credited with one MiG kill on June 30, 1953. He completed 50 operational sorties on the F-86 and rotated home in July 1953. He was awarded the US Air Medal.
S/L Bill Bliss was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot with 412 Sqn. He flew with the Ontario Provincial Air Service post-war then re-enlisted. Bliss was a deHavilland Vampire aerobatic team pilot with the Blue Devils and later flew as one of the Red Knights. In April 1953 he deployed to the 4th FIW in Korea. He was only able to fly a limited number of combat missions (31) before the armistice was invoked. Bliss was awarded the US Air Medal.
S/L William Fox was an experienced Second World War transport and bomber pilot. In May 1953 he deployed to the 16th FIS at Suwon (K-13) Korea. Fox completed 98 hours and 20 mins of combat sorties on the F-86 Sabre and rotated home in October 1953. He was awarded the US Air Medal.
S/L Duke Warren was an experienced Second World War Spitfire pilot. He deployed to Korea in July 1953 post-armistice with 39th FIS in Suwon. Later, he transferred to the 51st Wing HQ. Warren completed 67 sorties on the F-86 Sabre flying Combat Air Patrols (CAP) and conducting ferry missions before he rotated home in November 1953. He then wrote an extensive post-tour report on his experiences.
*Click on the photo to hear S/L Duke Warren tell his own story.
F/O Brian Mullin was an experienced Second World War air gunner. He re-enlisted as a pilot in 1950 and deployed to Korea in June 1953. He did not see operations until after the armistice was signed but completed 57 sorties on the F-86 Sabre flying CAP and conducting ferry missions. He rotated home in November 1953. He was the last official RCAF fighter pilot on active duty in Korea.
Although he was not with the RCAF when he was in Korea, Captain Bob Love enlisted in the RCAF in 1941 but saw no combat service. He left the RCAF and enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in 1942 where he served as an instructor for the duration of the war. Post-war, he joined the California Air National Guard flying F-84s. He deployed to Korea in 1952 with the 335th FIS and completed 57 operational sorties on the F-86 Sabre. Love scored six MiG “kills” becoming the 11th highest scoring US ace in Korea. He was awarded the US Silver Star Medal.
*Click on the photo to read Love's Silver Star citation.
See the award citations for all RCAF fighter and transport personnel who served in Korea.
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