The First Ace Is Crowned

by Captain James J. Jabara
334th FIS, Suwon AB, 20 May 1951

The following account is based on the after-action report of Captain James J. Jabara, 334th FIS, Suwon AB, 20 May1951

It was Sunday, 20 May 1951, and history was about to he made. Back home the folks watched Eddie Lopat win his 7th game in a row for the Yankees, who were leading the American League as usual. The National League was led by Brooklyn's Dodgers. People were watching Van Johnson in the theaters, as he led the Japanese-American 442nd RCT in the movie "Go For Broke", while Robert Mitchum was chasing Ava Gardner in the film "My Forbidden Past".

But at Suwon AB, the men of the 4th FIG were about to take off into history. It was the afternoon mission, a MiG sweep over Sinuiju, 4 flights of 6 with 4 'spares'. Lt.Col. Bruce Hinton led PINTAIL ABLE flight with Col. Herman Schmid, Capt. Sam Pasecreta, 1/Lt. Paul Bryce, Capt 'Mo' Pitts, and 1/Lt Rudy Holley. PINTAIL BAKER was led by Capt. Max Weill, with 1/Lt. John Ironmonger, Capt. Ray Janeczek, 1/Lt. Howard Miller, l/Lt. Ward Hitt, and Capt. Dale Hudson.

AWNING ABLE flight was made up of Lt.Col. Ben Emmert, 1/Lt. Bill Ihrig, Capt. Milton Nelson, 1/Lt James Dennison, 1/Lt 'Hoot' Gibson, and 1/Lt. Lon Walter. AWNING BAKER was led by Capt. J.O. Roberts, with 1/Lt. John Hungerford on his wing; Capt. Jim Jabara led the second element, with 1/Lt. Jack Kemp as his wingman; Capt. 'Sandy' Hesse and 1/Lt Stan Ahrends made up the third element. 1/Lt. Hubert Shackleford, Dick Panter, Bobbie Lee Smith, and Phil Janney flew 'spare'.

About 15 miles SE of Sinuiju, a fight was starting to ta~e shape. Baker 3 and 4, Jim Jabara and Jack Kemp, had just dropped their tanks when two things occurred. First, Jim's right wing tank did not drop. And second, they sighted a large gaggle of Migs in their area. Orders were that any airplane with tanks that wouldn't drop, especially one with only one tank that didn't drop, was to immediately depart the area and head for home. But this might be Jim Jabara's last mission, and he wasn't going to let one hung tank interfere with his possibly making ace.

Jim Jabara: - "We heard Col. Hinton call out "many bandits crossing the river". We were still approaching the area, coming up on the west coast to the mouth of the river. Col. Emmert ordered us to "Drop tanks!" just as we made landfall. As we approached Sinuiju, I saw about 12 Migs, which turned and started toward us. It was then that I noticed that my right tank hadn't dropped."

"We were at about 27,000'. They were high, maybe 3000' above us. The Migs continued closing as we turned into them. Two of the Migs fired on us as we closed in a head-on pass. I fired and missed as we passed each other. They missed and overshot badly. I tried to turn and get on their tail. But with that right tank still 'hung', I couldn't get into any kind of position. That tank really screwed me on that pass."

"Kemp called to tell me about 3 more at our 5 o'clock, getting into position. That made twelve of them to the two of us. As these three Migs overshot, Kemp and I cranked her around and broke into them. I picked out the no.3 MiG, which seemed to be slightly behind the other two. The Mig went into a constant left turn, and we went round and round for awhile."

"At about 25,000' 1 started to pull within range. I fired once, then again. The second burst caught the Mig right below the cockpit, through the wing root, and across the left wing. It suddenly burst into flames, did a couple of snap rolls, and went into a spin. I could see him the whole time because he was trailing heavy black smoke.

"I kept watching it and thought it was going to go straight in. But at about 10,000', the Mig leveled out just for a minute, and I saw the pilot bail out. The Mig then just exploded. I don't think there was a big piece of it fell at all. I made a pass at the pilot with my camera rolling. I almost hit him when I bent down to turn on the camera, and had to pull up to avoid him. He was twirling in the 'chute, and all dressed in black."

"We were down to about 7,000' when the Mig exploded. Jack and I started to climb back to altitude. About 20,000' I spotted 6 more MiGs - four in a fingertip formation, and two more trailing. Somewhere in the climb Kemp and I had separated. I don't know where he was. They were in a left turn and evidently didn't see me at all. I pulled in behind the number 6 Mig and fired."

"The first four Migs dove down and away. The guy I had staked out just kept climbing straight ahead. His leader was also nowhere to be seen, and I figured he would be coming back at me. I had to keep one eye out for him, and the other on the Mig ahead of me."

"My MiG was still climbing and probably would have gotten away if he'd continued. But he suddenly dove down to the left. I had no trouble catching up with him. I started shooting as soon as I got within range. I got several good strikes. I don't know whether he was on fire or if he flamed out. But he was pouring white smoke out of his tailpipe."

"I overshot him right away, and he started a turn. Well, sort of a spiral - half spin, half spiral to the left. I looked around to see if anybody was on my tail, and put on my speed brakes. I knew he was in trouble, and I wanted to see if he was going to hit. I followed him down to 6500'. I think he was on fire, but I'm not sure because he was smoking like mad. He had definitely flamed out, going very slow, maybe 170 knots."

All of a sudden, there was popping all around me. There were Migs back there, and they were shooting at me! I broke real hard to the left, as hard as I could, pulled in the brakes and put on full power. I couldn't do much more than 500 knots because the airplane was very hard to control. I had to use both hands on the stick. It kept wanting to dip down to the left, probably becuase of the hung right tank. Every time I would straighten out, the Migs would shoot at me. Those reddish pink tracers were coming awfully close."

"Above me, a pair of F-86s were heading for home. It was 'Mo' Pitts and Rudy Holley. Pitts called Holley out the radio and said "There's an F-86 down there getting bounced by two MiGs." I said "I know it too damned well!" and Pitts called me and asked who the pilot was. I must have been in a high-G turn when I hollered into the radio "Jaaabbbaaarrraa!" Mo then said "Call us if you need help!" And I calmly replied that I could sure use some now."

"I kept breaking, then building up my air speed and breaking again. Mo and Holley came down and Holley started firing on the MiGs. One of the MiGs broke for the river. But the other was intent on getting me. He nearly had me now, and was closing the gap the whole time. Holley and Pilts pulled in behind the Mig that was behind me."

"Holley got off a couple of good bursts, hitting the MiG in the fuselage. The Mig started to smoke and dove away from us, heading straight for the Yalu. None of us could chase him down, even though he was crippled, as we were all way below 'Bingo'. We joined up and headed back to Suwon., landing on fumes."

The score for the day was five Damaged - Pitts, Holley, Weill, Janeczek, J.O. Roberts; one Probable by 'Hoot' Gibson, and three victories - Lt. Milton Nelson and two by Captain James J. Jabara.

The two by Jabara were his 5th and 6th, making him the first ace in the Korean War, and the first jet vs. jet ace in history. Jabara's total was 6 Kills, 1 Probable, and 4 Damaged. When Jabara landed at K-13, there was a crowd waiting for him, mostly his fellow pilots and ground crew. Almost as soon as Jim climbed out of the cockpit, Col. John Meyer, 4th Group Commander awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Later, in his private office, he chewed Jabara's butt for violating orders with regards to having a 'hung' tank.

By order of 5th Air Force, Jabara was sent home on the 22nd. He flew first to Johnson AB, Japan. Or rather he was flown to Johnson by C-54. Air Force had their first ace and they weren't taking any chances. Upon his return to the ZI, Jim was initially assigned to the Hq & Hq Squadron, USAF, Washington. Air Force wanted him to be an instructor and show the other pilots bound for Korea, how it was done. But Jabara would return in 1953, much to the dismay of the Mig pilots. They'd already had enough of Captain James J. Jabara.

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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