Squadron Leader Omer Levesque

by Larry Davis

Squadron Leader Joseph A.O. "Omer" Levesque was attending the University of Ottawa in January 1940 when his studies were interrupted by Adolph Hitler. He had been a 2nd Lieutenant in the Canadian militia but resigned to join the Royal Canadian Air Force following the Dunkirk evacuation. He entered the RCAF as an aircraftman second class, with the hopes of becoming a pilot, and was graduated from elementary flight school on 1 April 1941.

Levesque was posted to 401 Squadron, initially flying Hawker Hurricanes before converting to the Supermarine Spitfire at Biggin Hill during September 1941. On 23 November, Levesque was patrolling the Pas de Calais area when his flight sighted a gaggle of German fighters above them. These were unusual in that they had radial engines - they were Focke Wulf 190s. Levesque maneuvered his Spitfire into position and fired an accurate burst into one of the FWs, which began to smoke heavily and headed for the ground. It was the first FW-190 shot down by an RCAF pilot during the war. Later, Levesque would add three more German fighters to his credits.

During the breakout from Brest by the German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen, Levesque's flight met over forty German aircraft covering the breakout. At some point during the ensuing combat, Levesque's Spitfire suffered a fatal hit from one of the German fighters, and he was forced to ditch in the English Channel. Levesque was picked up by a German ship and remained a POW for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Omer Levesque remained in the RCAF, flying some of the first jet fighters in service DeHavilland Vampires with 410 Squadron in 1948. In early 1950, 410 Squadron participated in Exercise SWEET BRIAR in the Whitehorse region of the Yukon, along with several units of the US Air Force. Little did Omar know that within a few months he would be assigned to the USAF and flying combat in a land far from Canada.

In May 1950, Levesque was sent to Langley AFB as an exchange pilot, and was assigned to the 334th Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, flying the F-86A Sabre. When war broke out in Korea in June, Levesque flew alert missions protecting the American capital from attack. In early November, Soviet MiG-15 jet fighters appeared in the skies over North Korea. The USAF countered by deploying the 4th FIG and its Sabres for a "short TDY to a land of temperate climate". The 4th was going to war in Korea and Omar Levesque, exchange pilot from the RCAF, was going with them.

One of the first things that Levesque contributed to the combat effort of the 4th was the identification stripes that marked the F-86s in Korea. In a meeting with the group commander, Colonel John C. Meyer, it was mentioned that with the similarities in size and shape between the MiG and Sabre, it was possible to mistake one for the other in a combat situation. What was needed was some type of quick identification device for the pilots of the 4th Group. Levesque quickly made a drawing of an F-86 fuselage and wings having black and white bands similar to the D-Day stripes that Allied tactical aircraft wore during D-Day 1944. Col. Meyer liked the idea but had the fuselage 'bands canted toward the front. All 4th FIG Sabres were painted with these black and white stripes before going into combat in Korea.

In mid-December, Omer Levesque was part of a detachment of the 4th FIG which began flying sorties from Kimpo AB to the Yalu River, just across the border from the MiGs at Antung. Although several pilots achieved victory against the MiGs, Levesque was not one of them. On 2 January 1951, when Chinese forces threatened to overrun Kimpo, the 4th Fighter Group detachment evacuated and returned to Johnson AB, Japan, to rejoin the rest of the 4th Wing. While the ground war continued well south of the 38th Parallel, Levesque and the 4th FIG pilots flew training missions and occasional air patrols over Japan until 5th AF ordered his squadron back to Korea at Taegu. Then, when UN ground troops retook the airfield at Suwon, the Sabres relocated there and once again had a base within range of "MiG Alley", along the Yalu River.

On 30 March 1951, Levesque was flying as Red Two on an escort mission for B-29s that were attacking bridges along the Yalu near Sinuiju. As expected, a force of MiGs rose to attack the Superforts, and Major Ed Fletcher, Red Leader, called out "Bandits coming in from the right!"

Levesque: "We all dropped our tanks and Fletcher spotted two more MiGs at 9 o'clock and slightly high. Our element turned toward these enemy fighters, who turned away, and I found myself behind one of the MiGs. My MiG pulled up into the sun, probably trying to lose me in the glare. It was an old trick the Germans used to like, but this day I was wearing dark sunglasses and was able to keep the MiG in sight."

The MiG pilot, (many of whom were Soviets, as learned later), leveled off, not knowing that Levesque had stuck to his tail. The tenacious Canadian quickly adjusted his gunsight for a deflection shot and banked more steeply to turn inside the MiG. A corkscrewing dogfight had by then carried them down to about 17,000 feet. Omar's right index finger tightened on the trigger and sent six streams of .50 caliber bullets toward the MiG.

Omar continues: "I guess I was about 1500 feet away from him. I hit him with a good long burst and he snapped over in a violent roll to the right. Firing again, I raked the MiG from nose to tail and watched as it rolled end over end into the hills below. I must have hit his hydraulic system because I saw the flap on his left wing drop down."

A flash of red flame and white smoke marking the funeral pyre of both plane and pilot.

I started to pull up and saw another MiG diving toward me. I climbed back into the sun at full throttle, started doing barrel rolls and the MiG disappeared."

Soaked with sweat, Levesque noticed that he was rapidly approaching "Bingo" fuel - just enough to get him back to Suwon. But even after losing the second MiG, he wasn't safe. As he climbed back to a fuel-efficient altitude of 40,000 ft. he passed through the nervous B-29 gunners' field of fire.

"I went right through the B-29 formation and they all shot at me! Thank God they missed. I waggled my wings to indicate I was 'friendly' and they stopped firing. But a lot of .50 caliber shells had just missed me!"

Turning his F-86 southwards, Levesque could relax a little. It had taken ten years and two wars, but Omer Levesque was an ace at last. He received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission. Levesque flew a total of seventy-one combat missions with the 334th FIS before rotating home in June 1951. He was proud of the Canadians serving with the US Air Force and of the UN efforts in general. "We achieved absolute air superiority in Korea. It was just classic. The Chinese said afterwards that they would have gone over us like a steamroller if it hadn't been for Allied airpower."

Sabrejet Classics salutes Squadron Leader Joseph A.O. Levesque, "Omer" to his comrades.

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

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