Aviation History

Capt. E. Royce Williams, F9F-5 pilot who dogfight alone against 7 Soviet MiGs and shot down 4 of them, was awarded the Navy Cross but Medal of Honor still sought

The Navy Cross is an upgrade of the Silver Star Medal previously awarded to then-Lt. Williams on May 7, 1953, for his actions during the Korean War where he led a division of three fighter planes against seven enemy MiG-15s.

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro has awarded the Navy Cross to retired Navy Capt. E. Royce Williams for his actions on Nov. 18, 1952.

This is an upgrade of the Silver Star Medal previously awarded to then-Lt. Williams on May 7, 1953, for his actions during the Korean War where he led a division of three fighter planes against seven enemy MiG-15s.

“Having reviewed the findings of now numerous investigations related to the case of Capt. Royce Williams, I have determined this case to be special and extraordinary,” said Del Toro in a US Navy press release. “Lt. Williams took the lead of an incredibly critical mission during the Korean War which led to the protection of Task Force 77 from enemy attack. I authorize the Navy Cross be awarded for his valorous actions committed from personal bravery and self-sacrifice to country. His actions clearly distinguished himself during a high-risk mission and deserves proper recognition.”

As we have already explained, on Nov. 18, 1952 US Navy F9F-5 pilot E. Royce Williams took off in his aircraft from USS Oriskany along with other three Panther drivers to intercept seven Russian MiG-15 fighters that were heading toward them from a Soviet base in Vladivostok.

US Intelligence reports believed that the MiGs were seeking revenge after Williams and other American aircraft had carried out an attack in northeastern North Korea near the Soviet border, early that morning.

CAPT E. ROYCE WILLIAMS USN, Retired (photo via HomeLand Magazine)

The four F9F-5s took off in a blustery snowstorm. One of their jets suffered a fuel pump problem and had to turned back toward the aircraft carrier bringing his wingman with him as an escort, leaving Williams and his wingman Dave Rowlands to defend the carrier against the incoming MiGs.

A MiG fired on Williams and the battle was on. Since Rowlands’ guns jammed, Williams was the only Naval Aviator to attack the MiG-15s during the dogfight which lasted more than 30 minutes. Williams shot down 4 of the MiGs and another of the Soviet fighters crashed while returning to its base in Vladivostok.

After he shot down the first MiG, Williams couldn’t confirm his kills as he explains to The San Diego Union Tribune. “I was too busy to start counting. I would fire at a plane and then someone else would be on my tail and I had to maneuver and I couldn’t tell what happened to the plane I shot,” he recalls.

Williams’ Panther was so badly damaged that it could only pitch up and down and had to perform a high-speed landing to prevent stalling. His F9F was found with 263 holes afterwards.

The mission, which could have sparked an international incident and a major clash with the Soviet Union, was put under wraps. Williams was instructed by his commanding officer not to talk about it. So he didn’t.

While Williams heroic action was forgotten, one of the downed MiG pilots was later reported to be a decorated war hero.

According to Alert 5, since 2014, there has been a campaign to award the Medal of Honor to Williams for his heroic feat. However, there were no record of the encounter in the declassified US documents for the Korean War as the US Navy and National Security Agency scrubbed the incident away. Worried that acknowledging about the incident might draw the Soviets into the Korean War.

The only official record of the dogfight are in the declassified Soviet documents on the Korean War. Igor Seidov, a Russian military historian, wrote about the dogfight in his 2014 book “Red Devils Over the Yalu: A Chronicle of Soviet Aerial Operations in the Korean War.” According to Seidov, of the seven MiGs that left Vladivostik that morning, only one returned to base. The other four were shot down by a single US aircraft, one plane was severely damaged and crashed on its way back, and the seventh plane was never found.

As already reported, eight years ago former Rear Adm. Doniphan Shelton became aware of Williams’ heroics and he began a campaign to get the forgotten hero the recognition Shelton insists he deserves. He compiled background information, filed a request for documents under the US Freedom of Information Act and drafted a resolution requesting a Medal of Honor for heroism Shelton calls “unmatched either in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or since then.”

“Four MiG-15s down over a period of time is one thing, quite another when those four are downed in one historic 35-to-38-minute aerial engagement of one F9F-5 against seven very superior MiG-15s,” Shelton explained. He concedes that the engagement was not well recorded and errors were made in reporting the details.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F9F-5 Panther VF-111 Sundowners, V131 / 126213 / 1953

“Success in this case is an uphill battle,” Shelton said. “The Navy likes to stick by its records even in instances when those records are in error, as in this instance.”

Peter-Rolf Ohnstad Jr., with American Legion Post 416, helped with the quest. He said the Medal of Honor resolution was approved by the regional American Legion district, “enthusiastically endorsed” by the state American Legion and “overwhelmingly approved” at the group’s national convention in 2017, The San Diego Union Tribune reported.

Currently a replica of Williams’ Panther sits on the USS Midway Museum flight deck bearing four MiG kill symbols, but the true story of the dogfight that took place 70 years ago may never be known.

Williams took the quest for a Medal of Honor in stride. It’s in his past. He said he doesn’t expect any additional recognition.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Great story about Royce Williams and a long overdue award. I have another story about jet-to-jet conflict in the Korean War.
    Disclaimer: The following story is hearsay from my mother regarding information given to her by my father before his F-80c went down in Korea on 23-Jan-51.
    1st Lt. Ralph Jacobs was a WWII B24 pilot (Italy and N. Africa) who transitioned to P-51's and F-80c's prior to assignment to Kimpo Airfield in S. Korea on 30-Nov-50. A key point in this narrative is that the USAF trained him in the Russian language in 1948. After he was transferred to Itazuke, Japan in Aug-50 from Clark Field in PI, he related the following to his wife, Wanda. During jet-to-jet encounters (F-80 vs. MIG-15) the opposing pilots would speak Chinese until things got hot and then they would switch to Russian. There was no doubt in Lt. Jacobs' mind that Russian was their native language and he, of course, reported his knowledge to his superiors. In all the years up to the advent of Glasnost and US access to Russian archives, the US government denied there was any reason to believe that any Russians were involved in the Korean conflict. Of course, the Russian archives have since proven that false.
    That Wanda Jacobs was provided this information by her husband is a certainty. She would not have known otherwise. I was present at the POW/MIA meeting for surviving families sponsored by the DoD in 2014 in Washington, D.C., when it was announced that there was a high level of Russian involvement in the Korean War at all levels, especially MIG operations and POW camps. It appears Lt. Jacobs was vindicated in his belief.

    • Great story! Do you have any additional info? Could you give us your name? It would be cool writing an article on this story and if you want you could be author!

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