Who really did win the air battles over MIG Alley in Korea? Depends on who you ask. MIG Alley was basically the air border between northwest Korea and Southern China as defined by the meanderings of the Yalu River. It was the site of the first major jet on jet air warfare and pits the classic MIG -15 “Fagot” (Named by NATO coders. The Name started with and “F” which means it is a fighter, and the term refers to a burning cigarette. The unpainted brushed metal exteriors shined like a cigarette in the dusk and the exhaust nozzles looked like the lighted ends of the cigarettes) versus the F-86 Saber. And the P-80 Shooing Star. And the F-9 Panther. And the F-9 Cougar. And the F-84 Thunderjet.
The MiG Alley battles produced many U.S. fighter aces. The top U.S. ace of the war, Capt. Joseph C. McConnell, claimed 16 MiGs, including three on one day. Hollywood immortalized him with The McConnell Story, starring Alan Ladd and June Allyson. The second-highest-scoring U.S. ace, Maj. James Jabara, was the first U.S. jet-vs.-jet ace. Another ace, Frederick C. “Boots” Blesse, claimed nine MiG-15s in his F-86 Sabre and later wrote No Guts, No Glory, a manual of air fighter combat that is still studied today.
George Andrew Davis, Jr. became one of the first members of the new U.S. Air Force to receive the Medal of Honor after being killed while leading his section of two F-86s against 12 MiG-15s when he was trying to shoot them all down.
According to other sources, however, the top two fighter aces over MiG Alley were actually MiG-15 Soviet pilots: Nikolay Sutyagin (claiming 21 aircraft) and Yevgeny Pepelyaev (claiming 19).
Casualties and “kill” totals over MiG Alley remain highly controversial and possibly will always remain so. The Soviets claimed 1,106 United Nations planes of all types shot down by the VVS, including about 650 Sabres. (The USAF only admits to losing less than 200 aircraft in air combat.) The F-86 pilots, in turn, claimed 792 MiG-15s shot down, while B-29 gunners claimed a further 16. These numbers were later reduced to 379 MiGs. The Chinese PLAAF claimed only 85 kills.
Total losses were very high at the UN side, some 3625 aircrafts were destroyed all causes, that included 2280 by the USAF, 814 by the US Navy, 368 by the USMC, 41 by the Royal Navy, 55 by the RAAF and 67 by the SAAF. MiGs accounted for around 9% of this number with some 320 UN planes destroyed. The Chinese–North Korean AAA take the part of the lion in these numbers with more than one thousand planes shot down (a minimum of 816 USAF planes were shot down by the AAA).
Over thirty Sabre pilots were shot down behind enemy lines and their fate has never been definitively established. Surviving pilots, captured and later repatriated after the armistice, reported being interrogated by Koreans, Russians, and Chinese. For years after the Korean War ended in 1953, rumors persist of pilots held captive by the Soviets.
From Fighter Combat, The Story Of Air-To-Air Combat, Mike Spick.
“The first victory came to one swept wing fighter over another on December 17th, 1950, when Saber driver Bruce Hinton downed a MIG-15. It was the first of hundreds. At the Armistice in July 1953 USAF Sabers claimed a victory/loss ration of 14:1, but this was initially amended to 71/2 :1, the actual figures being 757 victories to 103 losses. Unsurprisingly, the Russians deny this, claiming 1097 UN airplanes were shot down (651 of them Sabers) for 335 losses.
Communist fighter pilots claim more than eight Sabers for each one actually lost.”
Official US Air Force History, Air Force Foundation, 2006.
“While precise American victory claims remain controversial, F-86 pilots won a clear victory, downing about eight MIGs for every Sabre lost in combat.”
From A Century of War by Luciano Garibaldi, 2001, Barnes and Noble Books.
“During a friendly reunion of former American and Russian airmen, all about 80 years old, it came to light that the Soviet MIG-15s were unquestionably superior to the American F-86 Sabre. The Russians were clearly victors of their battles; they knocked out 1300 of their adversaries planes, losing only 335 planes and 135 airmen of their own.”
From Time-Life Books Epic of Flight Series, Fighting Jets, 1983.
“In MIG Alley, the Sabres had met a more numerous adversary and out fought him at every turn. In all, they brought down 792 MIG-15s for a loss of only 78 F-86s.”
“History is written by the victors.” -Winston Churchill