MiG-15 and Sea Fury

HMS Ocean and her escorts departed Kure on the evening of 8 August resuming operations off the Korean coast the following day. Unlike the previous patrol the weather was exceptionally fine which increased the sortie rate. This would be the day that the Sea Furies of No.802 NAS would tangle with MiG jet fighters. Having launched at 0600 hours in the morning Lt Carmichael, Lt Davis and Sub Lts Ellis and Haines departed Ocean and headed into the Pyongyang area to reconnoitre the railway line. Close to the village of Chinji-ri the flight spotted eight jet aircraft to the north. Quickly recognised as enemy fighters the Sea Furies dumped their external fuel tanks and assumed battle positions. Such was the pace of the battle that Sub Lt Ellis noticed streams of tracer passing each side of his aircraft. Calling ‘Break’ the Sea Furies broke off into a scissors break. It would appear from subsequent events that either the MiG pilots were inexperienced or they believed that their jet powered mounts would see them through without undertaking any clever manoeuvres. The result was that the Communist pilots were being shot at by the Sea Fury pilots from all angles thus Sub Lt Ellis was easily able to place hits on the wings of one MiG which limped away from the battle escorted by two others. Overall the dog fight lasted no more than five minutes after which the MiGs pulled away although there was an explosion on a hillside close by as an aircraft crashed. A call round the flight revealed that all the Sea Furies had survived and it was realised that the Fleet Air Arm had successfully shot down a jet fighter. Although Lt Carmichael as flight leader was accredited with the kill the other members of the flight were credited with a quarter each as it was impossible to ascertain who had fired the fatal shots. Overall this one fight had resulted in one destroyed aircraft with two others badly damaged. Further MiG reports were arriving at Ocean even as the Carmichael flight was heading home. One of the first to encounter this next wave was Lt Clark whose Sea Fury was hit by cannon fire in the starboard wing which began to blaze merrily. The pilot dropped the aircraft’s drop tanks and by careful side slipping managed to put out the fire. Eventually the badly damaged Sea Fury touched down on the deck of Ocean. Escorting Lt Clark was his wingman Lt McEnery who claimed hits on the tail of one of the attacking MiGs. The next attack was against a flight led by Lt Hallam who eventually had to break clear although his aircraft was hit by a 37 mm cannon shell behind the cockpit which left the pilot with no other option but to make a wheels-up landing at Chodo. His wingman Lt Jones managed to return to the carrier while a rescue mission was launched to collect Lt Hallam. Lt Carmichael was awarded the DSC and would eventually become a Commander. While the Sea Furies were tangling with the MiGs the Fireflies were dropping their bombs on a village just south of Chinnampo with great success. The following day was just as eventful. As before the Sea Furies departed to carry out strikes against railway targets led again by Lt Carmichael when yet again MiGs were spotted. External drop tanks were quickly cleared away and another dog fight quickly developed. Eventually the Sea Furies managed to reach cloud thus ending the engagement although at least one MiG was seen to limp away trailing black smoke courtesy of pilots Davis and Ellis. While the MiGs had sacrificed altitude to engage the Sea Furies it was unlikely that this would always be the case. Thus it was proposed that in theatre USAF F-86 Sabres should act as escorts to the Royal Navy fighters. However due to increasing commitments the USAF was not able to provide cover for these flights, therefore, further sorties had to be timed to coincide with F-86 patrols over Korea. When the Sabres were not available the Sea Furies flew in formations of eight aircraft that were intended to give cover to the attack aircraft while presenting the MiGs with too many targets. Even with these restrictions the Ocean air wing carried on regardless hitting all sorts of strategic and tactical targets. On 11 August this sudden flurry of jet fighter activity by the north ceased and on 13 August the carrier underwent a day of replenishment. Flying resumed again on 14 August and was a great deal quieter than before as the air wing concentrated on military targets in the Ongjin area, many of which were mortar positions. Having attacked the military positions the Sea Furies turned their attentions to road and rail bridges. However, No.802 NAS did lose an aircraft after a RATOG launch. Sub Lt Clark had used his RATOG to gain height rather than forward momentum on this occasion but once the rockets had finished firing the aircraft stalled and dived inverted into the sea. The pilot managed to escape and was successfully picked up by the plane-guard helicopter. Over the following days a similar pattern of missions was followed before the carrier departed on 18 August for Kure to avoid typhoon Karen. HMS Ocean arrived at Kure on the evening of 19 August mooring at the jetty opposite HMS Unicorn where replacement aircraft and stores were transferred.

With the squadrons fully re-stored with manpower and aircraft HMS Ocean put to sea on 26 August and resumed operations the following day. Bad weather dampened flying until 30 August when sorties were launched in support of landings near Paengyong-do. Further air support flights were undertaken over the Ongjin peninsula in support of further landings during which one Sea Fury was slightly damaged by ground fire. Other aircraft from Ocean continued to attack the usual range of targets and all aircraft returned safely after which the carrier withdrew for replenishment. Operations resumed on 1 September with the Sea Furies attacking bridges while the Fireflies concentrated on buildings thought to contain stores, ammunition or troops. Over the two following days Ocean’s aircraft continued their usual pattern of sorties although there was a new twist to these operations as a North Korean came on air posing as an American operations controller, however the pilots were suspicious as they were controlling a gunnery shoot for a Royal Navy Frigate. Flying on 4 September was cancelled as Typhoon Mary was moving in the vicinity of South Korea. Combat flying resumed the following day and all missions were completed without loss. Once the last aircraft had returned the carrier departed for Sasebo and arrived on 6 September. After a seven day sojourn in harbour HMS Ocean left Sasebo to resume patrol duties. On 14 September flying resumed with the Sea Furies and Fireflies spending much of their time searching for targets worthy of attention. Over the following few days a similar pattern of events occurred until on 17 September the Sea Furies struck at sluice gates controlling water flow at the mouths of the Haeju and Yonan rivers. All strikes were successful and the gates and supporting walls were destroyed by bombs. Over the following two days the air wing continued to strike their designated targets but on these occasions the crews were warned about the possibility of MiGs in the area although none were encountered. A replenishment day occupied 20 September. The next day MiGs were reported to be much in evidence and, therefore, some missions were diverted away from their primary targets. On 21 September No.802 NAS would have the Sea Fury of Lt Graham struck off charge due to the amount of anti-aircraft fire damage it had suffered whilst another would be totally destroyed when it ploughed into the flight-deck barrier. On 24 September the carrier undertook its final sorties of the patrol and then departed for Kure arriving on 25 September. Mooring alongside the jetty opposite Unicorn the usual process of exchanging aircraft and replenishing stores was undertaken.

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