It was a beautiful flying day in Korea with unlimited visibility as the 39th Squadron launched a full blown Yalu Sweep in June 1953. No less than forty-eight Sabres from the 16th, 25th, and 39th Squadrons were lined up on the runway at K-13 (Suwon) in central South Korea. The air to ground boys across the field (the 8th FBW) were scheduled to launch soon afterward.
Leading my flight was Colonel (later General) George "Shakey" Ruddell, 39th Fighter Squadron commander. I was flying number 4 as wing man to Lt. Wade "Killer" Kilbride- We were 'Cobra Flight', which coincidently was also the emblem of the 39th Squadron. Flying with the squadron commander was not exactly every pilot's dream, because he was always the most demanding. We also suspected that the engine in his F-86 was a little 'souped up' so to speak. The only setting that Col. Ruddell knew on the throttle was full forward from takeoff to landing
Our mission was to intercept any MiGs attempting to cross the Yalu River and attack the F-84 and F-86F fighter bombers that were working targets in North Korea. Soon after arriving at our patrol station on the Yalu River, we spotted six MiGs in formation attempting to slip into North Korea at low altitude. Col. Ruddell immediately began a dive which put us right on top of and directly behind the MiG formation, i.e. the perfect 'bounce' from 6 o'clock high.
The Colonel and his wing man took on the MiG leader. Kilbride set his sights on the leader of the second element. The other two MiGs broke their formation and disappeared for the moment. Though we lost sight of Ruddell, he eventually shot down the MiG that he had engaged. He was already an ace and this was his eighth victory of the war.
Kilbride, my leader, engaged his Mig in a tight turn, firing continuously and scoring numerous hits on the Russian fighter. I attempted to stay on his wing, protecting his tail and watching the MiG Wade had staked out. Thank God for the 'G' suit, because I was holding a constant '4 Gs' trying to stay with Wade and the MiG in the turns. In the course of all this action, the enemy wingman appeared on my left side attempting to get into a firing position on Kilbride. As the MIG pulled up on my left, I held my 'G' forces until I felt that it was time for me to do something to prevent his firing on Wade.
I relaxed just enough stick pressure to put me in position to fire. My .50 caliber tracers laced through the canopy of the MiG, which immediately did a lazy roll and beaded for the ground. In spite of my gun camera film confirming this part of the action, I didn't see any type of explosion. I suspect that my bullets may have killed the MiG pilot, as my tracers penetrated the fuselage where the MiG had very little armor protection.
However, the intelligence people would not confirm the victory. Many times I have wondered if I should have broken off and followed that MiG down to get the confirmation. But, needless to say, as a wing man I was commited to staying with my leader and protecting his tail. Shortly thereafter, Kilbride 'fired out' (expended all his ammunition) and called on me to continue the engagement with 'his' MiG. I pulled in behind the MiG Wade had been firing on. The MiG pilot, thinking the engagement was over, rolled out straight and level, turned north and headed for the Yalu and safety.
I very deliberately pulled in right behind the MiG, put my pipper on his tailpipe, and almost Counted a kill. Suddenly I noticed what appeared to be flaming ping pong balls floating past my Sabre. Cannon shells! Really big 37min cannon shells! I heard a frantic call from Wade, "Cobra 4, break right NOW!" I had no choice but to break off from a certain victory and head for home.
Later Wade and I determined that the two MiGs we thought had abandoned the fray after our initial bounce, had decided to come back and help their comrades. We also figured they had received a bit of 'encouragement' from the MiG that Wade and I were firing on, i.e. Chinese for "Get these guys off my tail!" My hard right break saved my life as the MiGs didn't give chase, which allowed us to return to Suwon safely. There were a lot of hairy Stories floating around the bar that night because we, the 51st group, had several confirmed kills that day. Kilbride bought me a drink!
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