‘The escorting pilots appeared to be cowards. If we forced them into a pair or a group of four aircraft, they flew apart, right and left and left us a clear path to the B-29 bombers. “Good”, I thought. “These guys are working for us”,’ Lt Col Aleksander Smorchkov, MiG-15 Pilot.
The USSR began assisting the People’s Republic of China in its establishment of a modern air force in 1950, when Soviet Air Force regiments and divisions were sent to the Far East to train local pilots. China’s involvement in the Korean War in late October 1950 inevitably drew Soviet pilots into the conflict as well, and the latter made their first appearance over North Korea on Nov. 1 when MiG-15 fighters from 151st GvIAD (Guards Fighter Air Regiment) engaged USAF aircraft. Such clashes would become an everyday part of the Korean War until the conflict ended in July 1953.
The battles fought between MiG-15s of 64th IAK (Fighter Air Corps) and Far East Air Force’s Bomber Command in late October 1951 were some of the fiercest, and bloodiest of the entire Korean War.
No fewer than five B-29 Superfortresses were lost to Soviet fighters in just 72 hours between the 22nd and 24th, with the first of these being B-29A 44-61656 of the 19th Bomb Wing, its destruction being credited to 12-kill ace Lt Col Aleksander Smorchkov of 18th GvIAP. The Soviet ace subsequently recalled in Leonid Krylov and Yuriy Tepsurkaev book Soviet MiG-15 Aces of the Korean War;
‘These B-29 missions were the most difficult I flew in Korea. We took off in poor weather, and some of my pilots had little experience of flying in such conditions. We looked for breaks in the clouds, but by the time we reached 10,000 m (32,500 ft) the sky had become overcast. Then we received the order to follow a course that would take us to the “big ones”. We had to lose 5000 m (16,000 ft) of altitude and fly under clouds. But how could we find them through the overcast? I could do it on my own, but I had the whole regiment with me. I couldn’t ask my base because they would expect me to be able to manage, and I might even be reprimanded for asking such a question.
‘I looked behind me and saw the whole regiment there, holding formation well. I ordered them all to put their noses down, to pay attention and not to close up in the clouds. I could see my wingman but nothing in front of me. I didn’t want any collisions! I was their commander, and therefore had responsibility for all my pilots. If just one pair collided it would be my fault. But we began to break out of the clouds, and the overcast was above us. And there they were —Superfortresses, just three kilometres (two miles) from us. Our command post estimated there were 12 bombers — I’d already counted them — and up to 120 escorting fighters.
‘What about my regiment? I looked around and there they were! All of them were with me, and I felt better at once. I ordered them to go for the big boys, but not to forget the small ones. So we went into the attack. The speed of our targets was 500 kmh (312 mph) and ours was 1100 kmh (688 mph). The escorting pilots appeared to be cowards. If we forced them into a pair or a group of four aircraft, they flew apart, right and left and left us a clear path to the bombers. “Good”, I thought. “These guys are working for us”.
‘I fired a burst at one bomber and saw my tracer rounds miss the target. As I got closer I fired again at its right-hand engines and fuel tank. Red flames came from them and the Superfortress started to go down. As it began to break up, I saw six parachutes opening, but there was no time for me to watch, as the escorts seemed to have woken up.
‘I had always taught my pilots that an aircraft like a B-29 was worth all their ammunition. If each of us could shoot down a Superfortress, then that would be great. But I still had some ammunition left after downing my bomber, so I used it to destroy an F-84. I said to my wingman, Vladimir Voistinnyh, “Go ahead and I’ll cover you”, as he went after a Thunderjet, but the battle was fading away by then and we were ordered home.’
Soviet MiG-15 Aces of the Korean War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Ad Meskens Own Work via Wikipedia