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Through The Years With The Fourth

The History of a Fighting Outfit

"FOURTH BUT FIRST" is the motto of the Fourth Fighter Interceptor Wing, the most famous United States Air Force outfit in Korea. During the Korean conflict -- from December 15, 1950 when the Fourth first went into action, until July 27, 1953, when the Truce was signed -- the MIG-Killers of the Fourth destroyed more enemy aircraft than any other Air Force unit in Korea.

Throughout the Fourth's 12 years of being, the unit has piled up one of the most enviable records in the history of American air power. How did the Fourth gets its start? Has it always been such a red-hot outfit? On the event of its second anniversary, the Jet Gazette is proud to present the fighting story of those eventful 12 years, the history of the Fourth Fighter Interceptor Wing.

The Beginning

DURING THE EARLY DAYS of World War II, before the United States entered the world-wide conflict, enemy air power around the globe was overwhelming the desperately fighting Allies.

In Europe, the mighty German Luftwaffe was pounding Great Britain with everything it had, trying to bomb the island into submission. In Asia, the Japanese Air Force was blasting the almost defenseless Chinese at will.

Young Americans of that day, adventuresome and eager to fight for the underdog, were volunteering their services to the hard-put Allied nations. In China, General Chaire Chennault formed his famous "Flying Tigers" and flew Curtiss P-40s against the Japanese invaders.

In England, during the Blitz, Americans who volunteered for--the Royal Air Force or Royal Canadian Air Force were often placed in so-called "Eagle Squadrons" where they could do their fighting as an American unit. It was out of these famous Eagle Squadrons that the Fourth Fighter Interceptor Group was born.

It was September 29, 1942, at Debden Airfield; not far from London. Out of the RAF came the American members of the three Eagle Squadrons then in action (71st, 121st, 133rd). They formed the three original squadrons of the Fourth Fighter Group, a part of the 65th Fighter Wing, 8th Air Force. The present three squadrons in the Fourth still retain the original AAF numbers.

Here's how Grover C. Hall Jr, former PIO with the WWII 4th, and author of "One Thousand Destroyed"' (a history, of the 4th during the second war), described the 4th's entry into the U.S. Army Air Forces: "In the summer of 1942 the United States had begun to build the world's mightiest air force in England -- the Eighth. I had 185,000 officers and men. But it was only a puny force in its early days. It had a few bombers, but not a single fighter pilot who had been to combat.

The AAF got some battle-tried fighter pilots Sept. 29, 1942 when the three Eagle Squadrons met at Debden Airdrome to become officers of the U.S. Army, with ranks commensurate with the rank they held in the RAF. "The pilots fondly hung up their RAF uniforms and transposed their RAF decorations to the AAF's green tunic. Their decorations and AAF silver wings they pinned over the left breast. Over the right breast they sewed the knitted RAF wings.

It was a big day at Debden, but it was lost upon the Eagles because, having been trained in RAF military they didn't know how to ape U.S. Army customs of the service. They saluted with their palm showing; they stamped their foot down as they completed facing movements. Stars, bars, gold and silver leaves revealed rank, but for God's sake, what rank?

Gen. Carl A. Spaatz said to 2nd Lt. Deacon Hively:
"My name is Spaatz."
Deacon eagerly replied:
"Mine’s Hively."

THE FORMATION of the Fourth was probably the only time a fighter group had been activated in a theatre of war. The first commanding officer of the Group was Col Edward W. Anderson and the outfit consisted of 48 battle-tested Supermarine Spitfires. The transfer of the men to the United States Army was thus completed and the pilots of the new fledging AAF outfit took to the air with RAF experience under their belts to become a screaming terror in the skies over Europe. The Fighting Fourth was on its way.

World War II

IMMEDIATELY the Fourth started adding to the already impressive record of the Eagle Squadrons. Flying coast patrol, escort, fighter sweeps, dive-bombing and strafing missions, the Fourth's initial operations were directed principally against enemy airfields and installations in Holland, Belgium and France.

But when the all-out bombing of Germany began in late 1942 and early 1943, the Fourth's primary mission was bomber escort. For many months, it was the only U. S. fighter unit in Britain. In March 1943, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt replaced the Spitfire as the Fourth's operational aircraft. The North American P-51 Mustang replaced the Thunderbolt in February, 1944.

THERE WERE many firsts in the Fourth's early history. The first fighter unit to use belly tanks, it was also the first American fighter group based in England to penetrate German territory. This it did in July 1943 in support of bombers returning from a raid in northwest Germany.

The Fourth escorted heavy bombers on the first famous daylight raid on Berlin in March 1944 and was part of the first shuttle mission flown from England to Russia in June and July 1944.

The day Reichmarshal Goering saw the rednosed Mustangs of the Fourth Fighter Group over Berlin was the day he decided that Germany had lost the war.

In the 45-day period from March 5 to April 24, 1944, the unit compiled the amazing record of 323 enemy aircraft destroyed, 15 probably destroyed, and 143 damaged. The Group received the Distinguished Unit Citation for this impressive display of fighting superiority.

The Fourth took part in the Invasion of Europe at Normandy on June 6,1944, flying three bombing support missions that day. When troops of Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton’s Airborne Army landed in Holland on September 17, 1944, the Group patrolled the invasion area from an altitude of 10,000 feet. Two days later, while the First Airborne Army was being reinforced by additional troops, the Fourth flew similar missions.

First In ETO

AS A UNIT of the famous Eighth Air Force, the Fourth flew escort for bombers, dropping supplies on Warsaw, Poland, on September 18, 1944. The outfit also provided air cover during the may crossing of' the lower Rhine River in the closing days of the war in March 1945.

Through the final days of the conflict, the Fourth was busy strafing air fields and supporting ground operations as far east as Prague Czechoslovakia. And the Fourth also tangled with jets in World War II. The German Luftwaffe had jets in action toward the close of the war and two Fourth pilots, Maj. Louis Norley of Conrad, Mont., and Maj. Fred Glover of Asheville, N.C., were among the first American pilots to, destroy jets in aerial combat. Each got one ME-262 jet apiece.

THE FOURTH had its share of aces in WW II, too -- 70 of them, in fact. (Credit was given for aircraft destroyed the ground as well as in the air). Among the famous aces flying with the Fourth were Maj. Don S. Gentile, Maj. John T. Godfrey, Col. Donald J.M. Blakeslee, Maj. James Goodson, 1st Lt. Ralph K. Hofer, Maj. Duane W. Beeson and Capt. Nicholas Megura. At the end of the war, after all the records were checked, the Fourth Fighter Group was found to have destroyed more enemy aircraft than any other group in the European Theater of Operations. The grand total was 1,016 enemy aircraft destroyed (550 in air-to-air combat, 466 on the ground).

Group Disbanded

In November, 1945, the Group came home and was de-activated. But because of its outstanding war record, it was re-activated less than a year later, in September 1946, at Selfridge AFB, Mich.

The Fourth Fighter Interceptor Group later moved to Andrews AFB, Md., and was the first jet fighter unit on the Ease coast to fly the then new F-80 Shooting Star, the Air Force’s first operational jet fighter. This occurred in March, 1947.

After winning top honors in the Air Force gunnery meet at Las Vegas, Nev., in 1949, the Fourth moved to Langley AFB, Va., where it was equipped with the new swept-winged F-86 Sabrejet.

The Korean War started in June 1950 and F-51s and F-80s were handling most of the fighter assignments in the Korean skies.

In September 1950, the unit was transferred to New Castle County Airport, Delaware, and even lived in tents in preparation for the day when an overseas assignment would come.

The Russian built IG-15 entered the Korean war in November, 1950, when a group of the Red jets attacked a flight of Fifth Air Force fighter bombers striking targets above the Chongchon River.

The first MIG-15 was destroyed by an F-80 Shooting Star piloted by Russell Brown of Pasadena, Calif., November 8, 1950, near Sinulju (check). F-80s are now used only for reconnaissance missions.

On November 9, 1950, the Fourth was alerted for movement to the Far East.   Commanded at that time by Col., now Brig. Gen. George F. Smith, the Fourth FIW packed its bags and in a little over a month the sleek, swept-wing Sabres were tearing into the Red Air Force above North Korea.

At 1550 hours December 15, 1950, only two days after the advance units had landed at Yokusuka, Japan, the first Fourth FIW Sabres went into action over Korea.

On December 17, Lt. Col. Bruce H. Hinton, CO of the Rocketeers Fighter Squadron, made the first MIG kill by a Sabrejet.

Skeptics, who had heard that the MIG-15 was a superior aircraft to the F-86 Sabrejet, were in doubt as to whether the F-86 could stand up to the MIG. Those skeptics got a jolt on December 22, 1950, when the first large-scale jet battle in history took place in the Koran skies. The communists sent their highly-touted jets across the Yalu to tangle with the Sabres.

When the smoke of the battle cleared, the Reds wished they’d "stood in bed". The score read: six MIG-15s destroyed, one probably destroyed and two damaged, without a single loss to the Sabres. Outnumbered, even on that first big day, the Fourth proved its mettle as a first-class fighting outfit.

The winter offensive of the Chinese Communists in late 1950 and early 1951 forced the Fourth FIW to evacuate this airfield early in January 1951 and move to Japan where it continued its operations. Later, the wing operated from Suwon.

On August 23, 1951, the Fourth returned to this field. A bombed-out and rubble-strewn landing strip was about all that was left after repeated bombings and strafings by the UN forces as well as the Reds. The only structure left standing was the bullet-scarred administration building.

First Jet Ace

For nearly a year as the only Sabrejet unit in Korea, the Fourth constantly out-fought the enemy despite a continual increase in MIGs in the "Alley".   In late 1951, and early 1952, it was normal for the Fourth’s pilots to be out-numbered seven or eight to one.

On May 20, 1951, Maj. James Jabara of the Pigeons Squadron destroyed his fifth and sixth MIGs to become the world’s first jet ace. He later returned to Korea for his second tour and ended up with a total of 15 MIGs to his credit.

In less than 18 months, the Fourth had destroyed 220 enemy aircraft, probably destroyed 36 and damaged 235 with a loss of less than 20 F-86s. Sabrejets from the Fourth spotted 12 TU-2 bombers escorted by LA-9 prop-driven fighters and MIG-15s on November 30, 1951. In the ensuing battle, the Sabres shot down 8 of the TU-2 bombers, 3 LA-9s and one MIG-15, and damaged three of the four remaining TU-2s. No Sabres were lost.

Lt. Col. Then Major) George A. Davis, Jr., recently awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, was the Korean War’s first double ace. Assigned to the Pigeons Squadron, he shot down four MIG-15s in one day, December 13, 1951, and, before he was killed in action over North Korea February 10, 1952, he destroyed a total of 11 MIG-15s and three TU-2s.

Busy MIG Alley

Only a few of the hundreds of MIG battles that took place during the war were fought outside of MIG Alley, the northwest corner of Korea. The Alley was bounded by the Yalu River and Manchuria on the north and the Chongchon River, approximately 75 miles to the south.

The deepest MIG penetration to the south during the war was to the Haeju Peninsula, within 40 miles of the western sector of the front.

A the time of the first issue of the Jet Gazette two years ago today, the Fourth FIW had eleven jet aces, compared with the total of 24 at the time of the truce. As the second edition wen to press late in July 1952, the Fourth’s combat record stood at 228 MIG-15s, TU-2s, 1 LA-9 and 1 LA-11 damaged, and another 40 MIG-15s probably destroyed.

During the month of September 1952, the Fourth FIW destroyed 37 Mig-15s, a record at that time. Col. Royal N. Baker, commander of the Fourth Fighter Interceptor Group, shot down the Fourth’s 300th MIG-15 November 1, 1952, and also accounted for the Fifth AF’s 600th MIG kill March 13, 1953.

The 700 MIG mark was passed by the Fifth AF July 10, 1953, and once again it was a Fourth pilot who made the kill. But the exact pilot is not known because kills 699 and 700 came so close together that they could not be separated. Capt. Lonnie R. Moore and his wingman, 2nd Lt. William F. Schrimsher, of the Chiefs Sq., made the two kills.

On May 4, 1952, the wing demonstrated the extreme versatility of the Sabrejet by blasting the Communist airstrip at Sinuiju, and the marshaling yard at Kunu-ri, with half-ton explosive bombs.

On June 23, the 4th’s Sabres joined forces with other wings in an all-out effort to destroy the huge hydro-electric power dams located on the Yalu river. The results of this raid caused a 90 percent curtailment of electrical power in the industrial section of North Korea.

And so the MIG Killers kept at work, piling up their scores and bringing more fame to the already famous Fourth. Jet aces and more jet aces became a common occurrence and when the war ended 24 of the 39 jet aces had served with the Fourth FIW.

Among the famous aces of the Fourth were Capt. Manuel J. Fernandez Jr., who destroyed 14 MIGS; Maj. James Jabara, 15; Col. Royal N. Baker, 12; Lt. Col. George A. Davis Jr., 11; Maj. Vermont Harrison, 10; Col. James K. Johnson, 10; Capt. Lonnie R. Moore, 10. (Complete jet ace story on pages six and seven.)

But all of the men of the Fourth, whether aces or not, contribute to the outstanding record of the wing during the Korean conflict and towards the cause of democracy. When the truce was signed July 27, 1953 and the scores of the air war were added, the Fourth was again First.

The Fourth Fighter Interceptor Wing had destroyed 490 MIG-15s, probably destroyed 84 and damaged 487 more. It had also shot down 16 other types of enemy aircraft, probably destroyed one and damaged five. The grand total: 506 enemy aircraft destroyed, 85 probably destroyed, and 492 damaged.

Since the signing of the truce the Wing has been under the command of Col. Donald P. Hall. During the truce period up to the present time, the Fourth has remained always on the alert and combat-ready in case hostilities should break out again over Korea.

Through an intensified "truce time training" program, the pilots of the Fourth have kept their aim sharp and are ready to go on & moment's notice. Simulated combat operations in the air and classes on the ground help keep the Fourth ready.

Throughout the brilliant and colorful history of the Fourth Fighter Interceptor Wing, men and machines have combined to raise havoc with the enemy. One thousand enemy aircraft destroyed in World War 11; five hundred destroyed in the Korean war -- these are records that are hard to beat.

"Fourth But First" continues to ring through the annals of American air power.

"1,000 Destroyed"

Much valuable information for the history of the Fourth FIW on pages 2B, 3B and 4B originally appeared in "1,000 Destroyed", by Grover C. Hall Jr., a history of the Fourth during WW II. Mr. Hall was wartime PIO for the Group and is now editor of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.

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