AIR: Book Review - Osprey F-86 vs MiG-15

Book Review: Osprey Duel Series Number 50: F-86 Sabre vs. MiG-15 by Douglas C. Dildy and Warren E. Thompson; 80 pp. with photos and color illustration
s; Osprey Publishing 2013; price US$18.95; ISBN 978-1-78096-319-8
Advantages: first objective study of the air war in Korea; uses both USAF a nd Soviet era materials to present its text; balanced view; ?Fighter Tact ics 101" a benefit!
Disadvantages: hard to cover all of the material in only 80 pages!
Rating: See text
Recommendation: for all Korean War aircraft fans
    About 20 years ago I was thumbing through what are referred to as ?open source publications? (books and magazines in a foreign language to the la yman) and found a nice series of articles by retired Soviet VVS General Geo rgiy Lobov on ?The Blank Pages of History?. This was a presentation of the Soviet participation in the air war in Korea which had been censored fo r more than 35 years by both sides. He made a number of seemingly bombastic claims such as 1,106 F-86 Sabres shot down along with 69 B-29 bombers and other claims of dubious repute. But at the same time, official USAF sources and many Western writers were claiming a 13 to 1 kill ratio for the F-86 i n Korea which did not hold water either.
    Finally, two respected American air historians have taken all of the avail able sources in hand to attempt to present an honest assessment of the air war and how it was actually fought. As a result, and as Doug Dildy is a ret ired fighter pilot who ?grew up? during the Cold War and was trained ba sed on results of Korea, they have presented a great description of what it was actually like to fly and fight in an F-86 Sabre or MiG-15 in Korea.
    Most people by now are aware that the Korean War degenerated into a proxy war between the US and its allies on one side and the Chinese and Soviets a nd their North Korean ally on the other. The air war was no different, and while the Soviets had been training up a nascent Chinese air force (the Peo ples Liberation Army Air Forces or PLAAF) they also had provided about 240 aircraft to the fledgling Korean Peoples Army Forces Air Corps or KPAFAC). When the war started in June 1950, the KPAFAC provided air support to its g round forces. At least until the US intervened and literally blew most of t hem out of the sky or destroyed them on the ground.
    As Stalin had a ?dog in the fight? he reluctantly decided to provide a ir cover over the northern part of the country along the Yalu River and its factories and power stations/dams. As the Soviet Air Forces (VVS) were onl y starting to work up with the MiG-15 he had to take some of their crack un its ? called ?parade divisions? by the rest of the VVS ? and send t hem to Korea to counter US B-29 and fighter bomber attacks. The first patro ls took place on 1 November 1950, and as a result the US Far East Air Force s (FEAF) frantically requested F-86s when the extant F-51s and F-80s showed themselves essentially incapable of dealing with the new threat.
    The air war thus began in earnest later that month, and both the Soviets a nd Americans fed in experienced pilots, many of whom were aces from WWII an d understood air combat. But both sides needed to learn the necessary skill s to fly their new aircraft. The US had the upper hand in regard to trainin g, but the F-86s had some drawbacks and their armament of .50 caliber machi ne guns provided to be less effective than thought, even with better gunsig hts and fire control. The MiG-15 was hard hitting with its heavy cannon but carried only a small amount of ammunition (less than 5.8 seconds for all t hree guns) and in its early models suffered a number of controllability pro blems.
    The main fight took place when the USAF swapped its A model Sabres for E m odels with a ?flying? tail and other improvements and the Soviets repla ced their MiG-15 aircraft with the MiG-15bis with boosted controls and impr oved faster-firing cannon. The book covers these combats in some detail and comes to the conclusion that with their best pilots versus the best US pil ots the ?kill? ratio was only 1.4 to 1!
    But the Soviets suffered a lot of problems, top amongst them being the lac k of a ?G suit? for their pilots which caused them to become fatigued o r ill much quicker in high G maneuver combat. As a result, after about one year the ?parade? divisions rotated out and were replaced by ?crack ? air defense (PVO Strany) divisions that were long on education but shor t on combat skills. The PLAAF also began fielding its first MiG-15 units at the same time, and the result was US victory counts going up and going up fast. The KPAFAC also joined in about the same time with its first MiG-15 u nits, and as a result the USAF was able to provide a level of air superiori ty over Korea.
    But the Soviets had managed to shatter the views of FEAF that B-29s were c apable of carrying out combat missions with fighter escort against the MiG- 15. Two disastrous missions on 12 April and 23 October 1951 resulted in rel atively heavy losses (and very bad press) and as a result the B-29s were sw itched to night combat, where they still suffered at the hands of the MiGs.
    The authors note that actual losses in Korea amounted to 92 air to air los ses of Sabres versus 566 admitted MiG losses by the VVS and PLAAF units (th e North Koreans never list losses unless some pilot ?heroically? crashe d into a formation of B-29s and destroyed all of them at once or other fant astic stories). This is still a very healthy 5.8 to 1 ratio, but as noted t he biggest outcome was that the cooler heads in Washington realized the B-3 6 then forming the mainstay of SAC was a sitting duck against the MiGs with out escorts. As a result they ramped up efforts to field the B-47 and later B-52 jet bombers.
    The book is clearly written in easy-to-understand terms and does a great j ob of using examples and facts to show how air combat was conducted, with b oth sides starting with ?finger four? formations and later changing to other more fluid tactics as the war progressed.
    Two pilots are cited most often in the text, one being the late USAF retir ed Colonel George Jones, a squadron leader in Korea with 6 kills and VV S retired Major-General Sergey Kramarenko who was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his combat results in Korea. Both were WWII vetera ns (Jones in the Pacific flying P-47s, Kramarenko against the Germans in th e La-5) and members of elite units before being selected to go to Korea. Th ey make a good comparison of the quality of pilots during the key air comba ts of 1951.
    There is a nice bibliography in the back of the book (which is why I do no t feel able to make an objective assessment, as I provided the authors with a large amount of translated Russian text during their research) and list recommended sources to read for further information. (They also provide som e disclaimers on the bias of the authors as well.)
    Overall, if you have any interest in Korean War air combat this book is a great place to start or simply add to your knowledge.
Cookie Sewell
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