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Soviet Pilots over MiG Alley


The opening of archives in the former Soviet Union confirmed a fact that had long been denied -- the USSR provided many of the MiG-15 pilots and units that fought in MiG Alley. Like their U.S. Air Force opponents, several of these Soviet pilots were World War II combat veterans.

Before the Korean War, Soviet pilots were already in China training the newly-created communist Chinese air force, or People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). In August 1950, the USSR secretly deployed MiG-15s to Antung next to the border with North Korea. Soviet MiG-15 pilots flew their first combat missions over North Korea in early November 1950.

The Soviets tried to hide their nationality and denied they had pilots in direct combat. Their MiG-15s had North Korean or Chinese markings. Soviet pilots received orders to only speak Korean phrases over the radio (although F-86 pilots heard them speaking Russian over the radio in the heat of combat). Despite these precautions, USAF pilots reported seeing non-Asian pilots flying the MiGs. Sabre pilots also noticed the difference in experience when less-skilled North Korean and Chinese pilots also began flying MiG-15s against them -- they nicknamed the more-capable Soviet pilots "Honchos" (Japanese for "boss"). The fact that Soviet pilots were flying the MiGs became an open secret.

MiG Alley
Antung, just across the Yalu River border in Manchuria, was the main MiG-15 base. The communists built additional MiG bases in the area, which together with the original base became known as the "Antung Complex." Since it was in China, the rules of engagement prevented UN forces from bombing it.

The secondary MiG-15 bases in Anshan, Liaoyang, Mukden and other areas in China provided places to rotate MiG-15 units out of combat, and after a rest, allowed them to be sent back quickly to Antung.

The primary Sabre bases were at Kimpo (K-14) and Suwon (K-13).

Under orders from their leaders and limited by the range of their aircraft, MiG-15 pilots rarely flew south of Sinanju or the Chunchon River. These limitations created the boundaries of "MiG Alley."

Located just off the coast of North Korea, Chodo Island was a thorn in the side of the communists for the entire war. The radar station there provided radar coverage of MiG Alley. Perhaps more importantly, if the crew in a damaged aircraft could make it to Korea Bay, the rescue units based at Chodo could pick them up.

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North American F-86A Sabre
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis
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