My newest hero:  Navy pilot finally recognized for downing 4, count ‘em 4, Soviet jets in one dogfight

All photos by James Ulvog taken on the U.S.S. Midway museum in San Diego, California.

Official records reported Capt. E. Royce Williams shot down one North Korean fighter on November 18, 1952. He was also credited with one “probable.” This was back during the Korean War. He was awarded Silver Star Medal at the time.

We now know there was far more to the story.

He actually shot down four fighters.

Oh yeah, they weren’t North Korean MiGs flown by North Koreans.

They were Soviet fighters. With Soviet markings. Stationed inside the USSR. Flown by Russian pilots.

At the time, the Soviet Union, a.k.a. Russia, a.k.a. the Evil Empire, was not participating in the Korean War, therefore the pilots and planes obviously could not be participating in the fight. Everyone had to pretend that was the case, although I’ve been aware for long time there are reports that Russian pilots were flying and fighting during the Korean War and Russians were flying and fighting during the Vietnam War.

But no one could admit that. Doing so would have risked a very dangerous escalation.

As a result, the actual details, including the number of enemy planes shot down and who was flying them was classified until 2002, 50 years after the incident.

Having played a minor part during the Cold War working to hold the Soviet bear at bay, I certainly understand why the Russian involvement and the number of planes was classified for so long.

We now know and can talk about what really happened.

Photo by James Ulvog.

Then LT Williams took off with three other planes from the carrier USS Oriskany. They were flying the F9F-5 Panther fighter. When they broke through the clouds cover at 12,000 feet, they saw the enemy flight they had been vectored towards – there were seven MiG-15 fighters overhead at 40,000 feet. All seven were marked with the Soviet red star. That means they were flying from the Soviet Union, not North Korea and not China.

The MiG-15 was a better fighter than the Panther in all areas except for turning ability.

While maneuvering to engage, the flight leader had engine problems and had to return to the carrier. Obviously, his wing man went with him to provide protection. That left LT Williams and his wing man to engage seven higher performing fighters.

LT Williams fired and damaged one of the fighters. His wing man pursued the troubled fighter, leaving LT Williams with 1-6 odds.

He took out four.

One of the remaining MiGs hit Williams’ plane and he dove for cover in the thick clouds.

Weather was lousy but he was able to limp back to the carrier and risked a landing instead of ejecting into the ice cold waters during a blizzard.

There were at least 263 holes in his aircraft, according to a count by the deck crew. He used all his ammunition. Command decision was to push the severely damaged and unrepairable aircraft over the edge and into the deep. Makes sense that was their decision. What a kick it would have been to keep the plane and in 50 years when the incident was declassified put it on display, unrepaired. Alas, that is not the way things work.

The horrible potential diplomatic repercussions meant that he could only talk about shooting down one plane plus one probable. Admitting publicly Soviet fighters were engaged, shot down, with four pilots killed, would have been a really, really bad idea. Talking up Americans whipping Soviet pilots flying a superior aircraft would have been entertaining, but unacceptably dangerous.

In 1992, the Russians admitted that four of their MiGs were lost that day.

Lt Williams flew 110 missions in Vietnam, flying the A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom II. He retired as a Captain with two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Silver Star Metal, which was upgraded to the Navy Cross on January 20, 2023.

He is the only pilot to down four MiGs in one combat. This is also reported to be the longest fighter jet conflict ever.

Thank you, Capt. Williams.

For more info:

The Navy press release says in part:

“On Nov. 18, 1952, Williams was flying with two other members of VF-781 from Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA 34) when they encountered seven MiG-15 aircraft. Before they could engage, the team’s flight leader had to return to Oriskany due to a fuel pump issue, leaving only Williams and his wingman. After Williams downed the first MiG, his wingman chased the falling aircraft, and Williams found himself alone in air-to-air combat with the remaining MiGs

“Out-manned and piloting what was considered an inferior aircraft to the MiG-15, Williams engaged the enemy for 35 minutes, shooting down four of them in the longest dogfight in U.S. military history. Additionally, no other American fighter pilot has ever shot down four MiG-15s in one fight.

“The Navy Cross is only awarded to service members who distinguish themselves for extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force, and is the U.S. Navy’s second-highest military decoration. Williams retired from the Navy in 1980, and his medals include the Navy Cross and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.”

Photo by James Ulvog.

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