by Colonel Martin C. "Joe" Johansen
When we got to Korea in December of 1950 no one in the 4th Fighter Wing knew a whole lot about the MiG-15. We spent many hours talking with some of the F-80 jocks who had battled the MiGs in the past month since they appeared. We learned that the MiGs were clobbering the B-29s along the Yalu River, and there was very little the F-80 guys, much less the Mustang drivers, could do about it. The F-80 pilots were courageous, but they had very limited success fighting the much faster Mig. That is why the 4th was now in Korea. The F-86 was the only logical choice to re-capture the skies.
Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton took the first batch of Sabres into Korea during mid-December 1950. Although they didn't know a lot about the MiG, they learned fast, shooting down several North Korean and Chinese pilots who had showed up on our side of the Yalu. Bruce's gang passed the word along to Col. J.C. Meyer, Lt. Col. Glenn Eagleston, Major Ed Fletcher, and the rest of us who would take the 334th Fighter Squadron into what became known as "MiG Alley". But the Migs were very elusive and things were quiet in the Alley for the better part of a month. Often we could see them forming up on their side of the river. But it was rare when an occasional brave soul, or 3 or 4, would even make a threatening pass to try and get us to drop our external tanks.
This changed quickly when Soviet pilots showed up. Suddenly the MiGs got bolder, appearing more and more frequently on 'our' side of the Yalu - large formations of them! Their passes became more aggressive, and we got into scraps more and more often. Our guys now found it more difficult to score. These MiG drivers didn't make the same mistakes the earlier MiG pilots had. They didn't make those dumb shallow banks to evade us. Nor did they try to dive away from us, apparently knowing that the '86 could outdive them easily. They did have one advantage that they used often. When they wanted to break off an engagement they simply ducked across the Yalu, knowing full well that we were ordered not to follow. The MiG pilots were improving.
About this time we started getting reports of a single MiG, which would stay high above the madding crowd, all by himself. He remained on his perch and would only come down when he spotted a stray with no wingman, a common situation with the wild maneuvering during a big fight. In early spring of 1951 we decided to try a "bait" tactic to see if the Soviets were listening to our radio chatter, much as we assurned we were listening to theirs. The plan was for Lt. Col. Eagleston, nicknamed "Eagle", to take a flight of six up to the river, just below the contrail level, usually about 40,000 feet. Eagle and his wingman were in the lead, Captain Jim Jabara and his wingman on the left element, and "Ole Joe" Johansen and his wingman on the right.
The idea was to have Captain A.J. Melancon with another flight of four down about 25,000 feet. A.J. was to start broadcasting a panic "Bingo" (low fuel) and other troubles, saying he was heading south and yelling for his other three flight mates to cover him. Obviously the enemy was listening and the MiGs took the bait. Soon enough, four of them were chasing A.J.. Eagle, superb combat leader that he was, rolled us over and down beautifully, bringing us out right behind the. MiGs.
We were perfectly aligned for a quick kill. Eagle and his wingman lined up behind two of the MiGs, with Jabara and his wingman behind the other two. Ole Joe had no MiGs in front of him so I started to position myself and my wingman to cover the other four. Suddenly I saw a lone MiG climbing off to the right. At which nine I said to this MiG "You're dead, you SOB!" - WRONG'
With tons of airspeed after the Split-S I knew I could get this guy. That was my first mistake. We knew they were maneuverable but really didn't know how much the MiG could out climb us. I decided to go up after him - second mistake. The MIG orbited to the left, apparently just watching my wingman and me. He threatened a couple of times, which caused me to begin a spiral upward, gravity notwithstanding, in order to keep my nose toward him - another mistake. That's when he made his first pass.
I pulled my nose in to meet him. He came in at a high Mach and started firing all of his "Roman Candles" (red for 37mm and yellow for 23mm). A hit by any one of those would make my Sabre mighty sick I met him head-on, firing my poor little .50 calibers. But because his tracers were like a colorful strearn of water, it was easy for me to press a bit of right rudder, knowing he was probably sighting on my air intake the same as I was on his. He was. The Roman Candles went directly over my left wing, as did the MiG. That's when I saw the four big red stripes just aft of his canopy. I thought, "This guy is a wheel!"
The MiG zoomed back up on his perch like a home-sick angel, as I began to lose both airspeed and brains trying to climb after him The MIG banked over and came down, all lined up for his second pass. Again I met him head-on. I really hosed at him with a lot of rounds, still with a bit of rudder. He fired a rather short burst, again passing over my left wing before roaring up high again in his yo-yo.
On his third pass, as my Sabre was shaking in a prestall, he made a classic curve-of-pursuit attack, and opened up on me from way out. As the bright stream headed my way I kicked in a little more rudder with a stick-pull - almost stalling. The Roman Candles passed just behind my vertical tail - and just over my wingman's canopy! Incredibly my wingman, was stiff with me. The MiG driver again zoom-climbed up for his fourth yo-yo. I stayed around became I wanted this guy - BAD! Still one more mistake!
This time he came in with lots and lots of airspeed. Same song - next verse, He fired a long burst. A little bit of rudder and stick-pull into an even worse stall on my part caused his rounds to again pass slightly aft of my rudder and in front of my wingman He sure must have had a lousy gunsight Then came his fifth yo-yo and his great insult to me. As he started in with his speed boards out to slow down to pull more lead, the guy did a nice left-hand barrel roll! That's sort of insolent, I thought to myself.
At the end of the roll he opened up again. But as quickly as the Roman Candles started, they stopped. The MiG was out of ammo. He floated down toward me, passing just aft. I flung my 86 over to the right hoping for a canopy-to-canopy snap-shot as he passed underneath. I knew the odds of hitting him were like drawing to an inside straight, but I had to try. We looked at each other, canopy-to-canopy, for a bit. I could plainly see, underneath that funny little tankers helmet and behind the little mask that he wore, that this light-haired, bright blue-eyed jock was not Korean or Chinese. And for some reason, this knowledge made me feel better.
Still flying canopy-to-canopy I'm wishing he'd blink and get the hell out of there. I guess he felt the same way, especially since he was out of ammo. He firewalled the throttle, accelerating rapidly and climbing the whole time. I did a Split-S, and finding that I was way beyond "Bingo" fuel, headed south with my tall between my legs arid rather damp, armpits. Hairy though it had been, it was still a draw And my wingman was still with me!
Returning to Suwon I found the word was already out that I'd had a real gasser with a great enemy pilot. The officers and EMs from both the 334th and 336th squadrons were gathered for the war story even before I got to Intelligence for the de-brief. It was all still fresh in my mind to say the least, and I had no trouble at all telling what I'd learned from this Soviet jock. I named the MiG driver 'THE PROFESSOR", for he had a true PhD in Air Science and Tactics. Various other 4th Fighter Films encountered this guy later on, some of whom were clobbered by him. Bruce Hinton got a few pieces of him during a clash after the Professor had punched a lot of big holes in Eagle's F-86. Someone later dubbed him CASEY JONES and that name stuck. After my debrief with the troops and Intell, my wingman stole up to me and quietly asked, "Sir, do you think we might have been a little too aggressive today?" I had no answer.
(Editor's note: -Old Joe", Col. Martin C. Johansen, made his last flight on
19 October 2002. He is missed.)
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