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MiG Alley

Mig Alley, a name given by U.S. Air Force pilots to the Northwestern portion of North Korea, where the Yalu River empties into the Yellow Sea. As it was the site of the first few large-scale jet-vs-jet air battles, the alley is considered the birthplace of jet combat. It is quite easy to tell that that area of the sky is where the most dogfights occured between MiG-15s, and F-86 Sabres, during the Korean War.

A map showing the approximate location of MiG Alley. Wikipedia

During that time period, in which the war between the two Koreas falls in, MiG-15 were the most commonly used jet fighters by the North Koreans, and their Soviet supporters, and the F-86 Sabre for the South, with their U.S. supporters. However, the first contact in the air between the South, and the North did not involve Sabres, but P-80 Shooting Stars. It occured on November 8th, 1950, when inexperienced Soviet pilots in MiG-15s attacked a flight of equally inexperienced U.S.A.F. pilots. At that time, not a single U.S. squadron based at South Korea had the, at that time, new, and sophisticated, swept-wing F-86 Sabre. As a result, the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, which was equipped with Sabres, was rushed to Korea, and Fighter Command had them based at Kimpo Airfield.

Secrecy of their Participation...

The Soviets have long denied the participation of their fighter pilots in the Korean War, but truth is, they were there. Only after the Cold War, when the Soviet party fell, did the pilots start to reveal their role in the fight. It was not a great shock, almost everyone had already made that conclusion themselves, with the proof of the pilots or not.

Large-Scale Daylight Bombing, and the MiG interceptors...

The U.S. was constantly sending large-scale daylight bombing raids on North Korea, and the Soviet forces' primary mission was to intercept, and shoot down the lumbering B-29s. They were very effective. B-29 loses mounted, with the daylight raids becoming a rarity, and night raids had also started to posed risk. Not long after, the MiG-15s also began systematic attacks on U.S. jet fighter-bombers, which were the backbone of the U.S. effort to interdict railway operations in the North. The reason for the Soviets' effectiveness was probably because their decision to withdraw their inexperienced student pilots, and plac combat veterans from World War II, most of them flight instructors, to the fight. The young, and fresh U.S.A.F. pilots, were in-turn at a huge disadvantage, outnumbered, and outskilled. However, this was not the case throughout the whole war. Inexperienced they might have been, they still learned fast.

The standard U.S. fighter formation during the Korean War was the "finger-four", named after its resemblance of the fingers of the right hand, seen from above. It was led by a flight leader, often the most experienced of the four, in the "middle finger", or number one position. He was covered by his wingman, commonly a less experienced pilot that flew on his left, in the "index-finger", or number two position. In the "ring-finger" position, was the element leader, generally the second-most experienced pilot. He was covered, in-turn, on the right, by his wingman, flying in the "pinkie-finger", or number four position. That wingman was normally the least experienced of the four, and would usually be chosen as the target of stalking MiGs due to the lack of cover from behind. More than not, the rest of the pilots would not notice him being shot down, and would only find out that he was missing minutes later, or upon landing. The "finger-four" formation was perfected by the Luftwaffe in World War II. It gave good mutual support, and by flying in a more spread-out manner, it also enhanced maneuverability, and wider visual coverage. The flight leader, and element leader were the primary "shooters", while the wingmen assigned to them were to watch out for threats.

Even though they were badly outnumbered, Sabre pilots still enjoyed some advantages. Among them was a radar ranging gunsight on their six 0.50 calibur machine guns, which made sure that almost every burst of fire hit their target. Another, is that the F-86 pilots were given G-suits, which lowered the effects of G-forces on the pilots in a dogfight, for example, the prevention of blacking out. Also, later variants of the Sabre, particularly the "F" model, came very close to duplicating the speed, and performance of the MiG-15. Employing the advantages, and understanding the MiG's weaknesses, F-86 pilots were enabled to have more success over the enemy, according to U.S. sources.

After Joseph Stalin's death in March 5th, 1953...

The new Soviet leadership, after Stalin's death, was much less aggressive, wanting to seek an armistice to this seemingly endless war. They eventually succeeded. The dogfighting continued until July 27th, 1953, although it was much less in MiG Alley starting from Spring, particularly after May.

Additional Information

MiG pilots were nicknamed "honchos", (Japanese for "big shot".) by U.S. pilots, who had the most respect for their enemy.

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