In Korean Skies
IN KOREAN SKIES
F/L Ernie A. Glover of the RCAF, attached to the 334th (F) Squadron USAF, flying a Canadair Sabre F-86E-6 (Mk. II), brings down one of the three MiGs with which he was credited. Illustration by Peter Mossman.
The following account was written by Hugh A. Halliday, former curator of War Art with the Canada War Museum in 1963, when he was a Flying Officer in the RCAF on the staff of the Directorate of History. It appeared originally in the RCAF publication, Roundel for December 1963 and January/February 1964 and was made available by the author for Journal publication.
Although both the Luftwaffe and the RAF employed jet aircraft during World War II, there were no engagements between the jets of the two air forces. It was not until the Korean War that jet versus jet combats took place. Then, the Sabres of the USAF won against Mi G-15s with a kill ratio of 10 to 1, despite heavy odds. Among those Sabre pilots was a score of Canadians who contributed their share, shooting down at least nine MiGs and damaging many more.
At the outbreak of the Korean War, the UN air forces under American command quickly eliminated the small North Korean Air Force. When the Communist Chinese intervened in the fall of 1950, they introduced a new factor in the air war. On 1 November 1950 six MiG-15s crossed the Yalu River and attacked a flight of F-51 Mustang fighter-bombers.
The swept-wing MiG-15 was the most advanced Russian fighter of the day, superior to every UN plane in Korea at that time, and was being supplied in growing numbers to the Red Chinese. Although American F-80 Shooting Stars and F9F Panther jets were able to shoot down a few MiGs, it was clear that the newer aircraft threatened UN air superiority, vitally needed to stem the enemy's overwhelming strength on the ground. The only comparable airplane in service in the West was the North American F-86 Sabre. In a crash program, the USAF moved one wing (the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing) from Wilmington, Delaware, to the Far East in November 1950. One of the pilots was an RCAF officer on exchange duties, F/L J.A.O. Levesque, who became the first Canadian to participate in all-jet air battles.
Omer Levesque was an old hand on fighters. During World War II he had resigned a commission in the Royal 22nd Regiment to join the RCAF. As an NCO pilot in No. 401 Squadron he had destroyed four German fighters before being shot down and taken prisoner in February 1942. Now he was on his way to another war.
The 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing could only operate its Sabres from Kimpo airfield, northwest of Seoul. The field was already crowded with bombers and fighter-bombers, so the wing's commander, Col. G.F. Smith, left a large part of the unit at Johnson Air Force Base in Japan. He then established Detachment "A" at Kimpo with pilots drawn from the Wing Headquarters and all three squadrons, the 334th, 335th, and 336th. Levesque was among the pilots sent to Korea.
The Sabres flew an orientation flight on 15 December and two days later they took off on a sweep over North Korea. Lt. Col. B.H. Hinton shot down one MiG, the first of many which were to fall to the Sabres. Initially flying at about Mach .62 in order to save fuel, the Sabre pilots were at a disadvantage, as they first had to accelerate before countering the high-flying MiGs. After several inconclusive combats, the Sabres switched to cruising at Mach .85 or more, and this paid off. They shot down five more MiGs in December for the loss of one of their own.
Early in January 1951, advancing Communist armies forced the Sabres to abandon Kimpo and return to Japan. However, late the same month the American 8th Army opened a counter-offensive, retaking Suwon airfield on 28 January and Kimpo on 10 February. The airfields were badly damaged, and when the Sabres returned to Korea they had to be based temporarily at Taegu, using Suwon for staging. In February, however, the 334th Squadron moved to Suwon, while the 336th, based at Taegu, staged its Sabres through the more advanced field and Sabres and MiGs resumed their duel.
On 30 March i951, a force of B-29s was sent to bomb the bridges over the Yalu at Sinuiju, under the very noses of the MiGs based in Manchuria. The 334th Squadron was included in the escort, and Levesque was flying as wingman to Major Edward Fletcher, one of the flight leaders.
The MiG response that day was feeble, and only a few brushed with the Sabres. Fletcher and Levesque attacked two, which split up, each with a Sabre in hot pursuit. Levesque's MiG made a few evasive manoeuvres and then leveled off, as if the pilot thought he had shaken the Sabre. At more than 600 yards Levesque opened fire, and the sleek enemy fighter went spinning down, crashing on the Manchurian side of the Yalu River. It was Levesque's fifth victory in two wars.
Caption: F/L (later S/L) J.A.O. Levesque was the first Canadian to fly with the USAF in Korea and the first to take part in an all-jet dogfight. His MiG kill was the first by a Canadian and he is seen receiving his American DFC from Col. H.A. Sebastian. DND PL51603
He remained with the wing until May 1951, when his exchange tour expired and he was returned to Canada. He came home wearing the ribbons of the American Air Medal (for having flown 20 missions in December) and the American Distinguished Flying Cross (for his combat on 30 March 1951).
Editor's Note: Want to read more? This article is found in the CAHS Journal, Volume 24, No. 4, Winter '86 found on the CAHS website.
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