PAUL BEAVER FRAeS sheds new light on a classic air combat encounter from the Korean War in 1952 - where Royal Navy Sea Fury piston-engine fighters shot down a North Korean MiG-15 jet. But was the correct pilot credited for the kill?
Brian 'Schmoo' Ellis' Sea Fury. The piston-engine fighter was used in ground attack missions in the Korean War. (via Author)
The early morning mist had started to dissolve as the ‘finger four’ formation of Hawker Sea Fury fighters from 802 Naval Air Squadron dropped down to 4,000 feet over Pyongyang ready to reconnoitre the main north-south railway. This was the main artery for supplies and its weak points were 19 bridges across which the troops and ammunition went south.
It was 9 August 1952 and the United Nations’ forces had been engaged in fighting back a Communist invasion of South Korea for nearly two years. They were not making good progress and every effort from carrier-based air power was needed to stem the hordes.
I saw a MiG get around behind me as if he wanted to dogfight. Big mistake; a jet can’t dogfight a Sea Fury"
As they flew circled round to cross enemy territory to the sea at Chinnampo, the flight’s leader, Lieutenant Peter (Hoagy) Carmichael called for the other three fighters to step out into a combat formation making the fighting formation about one mile wide. This would allow them to spot enemy aircraft quicker and made them feel less vulnerable to ground fire.
To Carmichael’s left was his wingman, Sub-Lieutenant Carl Haines, known as the sharpest eyes in the Fleet, and to this right were Sub-Lieutenant Peter (Toby) Davis and his young wingman, Sub-Lieutenant Brian (Schmoo) Ellis.
MiGs, four o'clock high!
'Schmoo' Ellis was reunited with his old foe, the MiG-15 in 2017. (Via author)
Sixty-six years later Schmoo Ellis remembers every detail of that day. “We crossed the coast on a deserted stretch near Chungsan at about six o’clock. There was no sign of activity. The Communist air defence forces seemed to still be asleep. That was no anti-aircraft fire; all seemed quiet.”
The reason for the lack of tell-tale puffs of anti-aircraft fire was simple. “We should have realised there were enemy fighters in the local area,” remembers Ellis. “Within minutes it had all changed”
“It was Carl who spotted them first. He called ‘MiGs four o-clock high.’”
“I was the nearest to the fast approaching enemy, so I called the break. With a well-practiced manoeuvre, we crossed over – the right pair taking the lead - and turned towards the enemy, at the same time opened the throttle to its highest power setting, in a climbing turn.
“My four 20 mm cannon were set to fire and I braced into the turn, pulling hard. As I did so, I saw a MiG get around behind me as if he wanted to dogfight. Big mistake; a jet can’t dogfight a Sea Fury".
What happened next has gone down in the Royal Navy’s history but not quite in the way it has always been portrayed.
“The MiG came in from behind and realised that he had too much energy; he was going too fast. He put out his air brakes to slow but in doing so loss momentum and dropped into my gyro gunsight. I fired and even as he accelerated away, I kept firing. I had no time to watch him go down as there was still a fight underway,” is how Ellis recalls it today.
Kill recognition denied
The shootdown was one of the few post-1945 British air combat kills and one of the rare piston vs jet encounters. (RAeS NAL)
In the four minutes of air combat, it was a MiG ‘kill’ and two or three damaged, probably beyond repair. It became a cause célèbre in the Fleet Air Arm. Many Sea Fury pilots were disappointed for Schmoo Ellis, who kept his own counsel on the matter even when flight leader Carmichael was awarded the victory.
Listen to a first-hand account of this dogfight
'Schmoo' Ellis will be giving his first hand account of this famous air combat in conversation with Paul Beaver at the Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop on 25 January (see www.armyflying.com/events/)