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
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
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
"My name is Spaatz."
Deacon eagerly replied:
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
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
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. Breretons 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
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).
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 Forces 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
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
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
theyd "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 Fourths 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 worlds
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 Wars
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 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 Fourths 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 Fourths
300th MIG-15 November 1, 1952, and also accounted for
the Fifth AFs 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 4ths 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 ½ 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
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.
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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