INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT OVER THE YELLOW SEA
KOREA - FEBURARY 5, 1955
I was assigned to the 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) in May 1954 at Kimpo Air Base (K-14). In the fall of 1954 the entire 4th Fighter Wing moved from Korea to Japan. The 336th FIS moved to Misawa Air Base on the northern tip of Honshu. The 334th and 335th squadrons moved to Chitose Air Base in the southern part of Hokkaido. The 335th was the last of the three squadrons to move from Kimpo on Thanksgiving day 1954.
During the winter of 1954-55 Red China was threatening to invade the islands of Matsu and Quemoy off the coast of mainland China. FEAF Headquarters deployed F-86 units from Okinawa to Taiwan, Korea to Okinawa, and from Japan to Korea. The 335th FIS deployed to Osan, Korea in late January 1955. I remember that it was very cold during that time. We slept by flight, about six or eight guys in quonset huts. Our source of heat was a fuel oil space heater in the middle of the room. Some guys slept under several wool blankets and some slept in their winter survival suit (Poopy Suit) liner. During our stay at K-55 we maintained an alert status with 4 Aircraft on 5 minute alert.
On February 5, 1955 twelve F-86s from the 335th were scheduled to escort an RB-45 on a photo reconnaissance mission up and down the west coast of North Korea to photograph the airfields. Under the truce agreements the North Koreans could not add additional air strength to their inventory, and of course, it was suspected that they did and we were trying to catch them at it. The plan was for the RB-45 to fly at 30,000 feet three miles off the coastline, with the F-86s flying 2000 feet above and behind the RB-45. The RB-45 flew at a lower airspeed than the F86s and this required the fighters to almost continously S-turn, or weave, to maintain a position behind the RB-45 and still keep their speed up around .82 mach.
The twelve F-86s took off at 1300 hours with the squadron callsign of "Harpoon". Our flight callsign was "Shark", led by Captain Jack Kimball (Shark 1), with Lt. Giles (Pockets) Charliebois as Shark 2, Lt. Chuck (Fish) Salmon (killed in 1959 with the Thunderbirds) flying number three, and I (Stoney) was flying Chuck's wing as Shark 4. The callsign for the RB-45 was Osage 111. Shortly after takeoff the fighters were passed off to a radar station with the callsign "Badger." During climbout and after crossing the coastline south of Inchon, we test fired our guns. As was always the case shortly after takeoff by any U. S. aircraft that appeared to be on a mission up the coastline, MiGs would take off and climb to altitude. On the several missions up the west coast (and at least one up the east coast) while I was stationed at Kimpo, there were always MiGs flying parallel with the F-86s, but they stayed over land. Most of the time contrails could be seen and the ground radar stations always maintained good contact. They could normally give a fairly accurate "Bandit" count. At a certain point after we turned north, the flight was passed from "Badger" to "Satan", another radar station located on an Island in the Yellow Sea. As we proceeded north everything looked routine. Satan was giving us continuous information on the MiGs and the members of Harpoon flight were being very professional, very little chatter on the radio and using proper callsigns when something was said. The whole flight continued north to the mouth of the YaIu river, turned west for about 50 miles, made a 1800 turn back to the Yalu, then turned back south maintaining a position off the coast and over international waters. At a point roughly parallel to Pyongyang, all hell broke loose!
Our flight, Shark flight, was in a shallow turn to the right in our weave and were just about to cross behind the RB-45 when somebody shouted "Hey, there are MiGs up here!" Almost immediately somebody (didn't use a callsign) said "The f---ers are shooting at us!" At this point I looked back over my right shoulder and saw four MiGs swooping down behind us at about 2000 to 3000 feet distance, closing fast. Their leader apparently firing at the RB-45 and their number three man firing at me! The first MiG element continued down under us going for the RB-45 and the second element broke off to their right. At this time our radio chatter changed from "highly professional" to using nicknames - except for one call that I distinctly remember. Fish Salmon said just as calm as can be "Shark lead this is Shark 3, may I take the bounce?" Jack said "Roger Shark 3". Fish called to me "Stoney are my tanks clear?", as he punched off his wing tanks. I punched mine off as I answered him. He was already rolling over on his back and pulling down in an inverted dive. I was on his right side and immediately fell in trail with him to hang on to my position. As he rolled out behind the two MiGs they broke hard left over land, but Fish was in good shape at this point and immediately gave the trailing MiG a burst! He hit him with his first burst. Both MiGs reversed and made a hard climbing turn to the right. This was not a smart move because now Fish could pull lead on him easily and he let go with another burst, which hit him all around the tailpipe. I could see little "blinks" all around the fuselage and he began to smoke! At this point both MiGs broke left again and rolled level in a shallow dive. Throughout these maneuvers Fish kept asking "Stoney are we clear?" I was constantly looking around and still concerned about the other two Migs. Shark 1 and Shark 2 remained with the RB-45 to protect it from any further attacks, which never came.
During these two or three minutes there was a lot of radio chatter going on among the other flights who were also attacked. We know that a minimum of eight Migs were directly involved. One F-86 (Lt. Don "Roundman" Phillips) had a bullet glance off his wing. Apparently the MiGs made a firing pass on the top flight and then made a climbing turn somewhat similar to the way gunnery patterns were flown in those days. I never knew exactly what happened to the other flights, but I remember there was lots of chatter! I might mention here that up until approximately two weeks before this mission the "Rules of Engagement" for that area prevented us from flying over land, even if attacked! But they had been changed to allow us to chase them all the way back to theIr base if necessary! We suspect that the North Koreans had not gotten the word through the grapevine, based on the way they broke back over land after the firing pass.
After the two MiGs rolled out over land, and beaded east in a shallow dive. Fish continued firing. The MiG was really smoking now. I was now on Fish's right side in pretty good wing position as he kept asking if we were clear. I was now directly behind the other MiB and in good firing range! I looked up to our left and saw a fighter rolling in from 9 o'clock high! I was about to call out a "bandit" when I realized it was a lone F-86! It Turned out to be Lt. Leroy Crane and he swooped down almost directly in front of me and started firing at the other MiG! At this time I moved to the left and positioned myself between Fish and Leroy, trying to keep us all clear. I had a very sore neck for the next few days from looking around so much - especially toward the rear! Leroy was firing, but not hitting. I got a call from Fish saying that he had "fired out" and for me to move over and take the MiG. He hadn't bailed out yet, though he was still burning! I started to move to the left behind the MiG simultaneously as Fish moved out to the left to fly cover. At this time Leroy called that he had fired out - for some reason that we couldn't explain, he never hit the MiG, which left me a choice of either MiG. I remember thinking about which I should take. It turned out that it didn't matter anyhow, because Harpoon Lead called "Break it off and return to base" about this time. Fish and Leroy both immediately pulled up and to the right, and as a wingman I had to break it off too - without ever firing a shot! Sometime during the fight Capt. George (Willie) Williams shot down another MiG.
We had fought from above 30,000 feet to below 5,000 feet and approximately 50 miles inland over North Korea. The join up and return to base was uneventful. Fish and I returned as a flight of two and entered the traffic pattern in the normal fashion. As we approached the runway, Fish asked permission to do a victory roll. A voice came back with a "Negative" and I always thought it came "jokingly" from the Mobile Control Officer at that time, who was Lt. Dick McKibbean, and not from the control tower. A few years ago at a reunion I had a chance to ask Dick about it and he had no recollection of it at all. In any case Fish didn't make a victory roll.
Quite a celebration took place at the O-Club that night -somewhat akin to what they have after winning the Super Bowl! The guys were really on an emotional high and partied and told war stories until the wee hours of the morning! The RB-45 crew, enlisted men included, partied with us.
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