Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

20 May 1967

Colonel Robin Olds, U.S. Air Force (1922–2007)
Colonel Robin Olds, U.S. Air Force (1922–2007)

20 May 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, commanding officer of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant Stephen B. Croker, destroyed two Vietnam People’s Air Force MiG-17 fighters with AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided and AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles while flying McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0829, named SCAT XXVII.

An official U.S. Air Force history publication describes the air battle:

Two other MiG-17s became the victims of Col. Robin Olds and his pilot, 1st. Lt. Stephen B. Croker. [Note: at this point in time, the WSOs of USAF F-4Cs were a fully-rated pilots.—TDiA] These were aerial victories three and four for Olds, making him the leading MiG-killer at that time in Southeast Asia. An ace from World War II, the 8th TFW commander was battle-tested and experienced. Olds termed the events of 20 May “quite a remarkable air battle.” According to his account:

“F-105s were bombing along the northeast railroad; we were in escort position, coming in from the Gulf of Tonkin. We just cleared the last of the low hills lying north of Haiphong, in an east-west direction, when about 10 or 12 MiG-17s came in low from the left and, I believe, from the right. They tried to attack the F-105s before they got to the target.

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F in Vietnam Peoples' Air Force markings at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F in Vietnam People’s Air Force markings at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).

“We engaged MiG-17s at approximately 15 miles short of the target. The ensuing battle was an exact replica of the dogfights in World War II.

“Our flights of F-4s piled into the MiGs like a sledge hammer, and for about a minute and a half or two minutes that was the most confused, vicious dogfight I have ever been in. There were eight F-4Cs, twelve MiG-17s, and one odd flight of F-105s on their way out from the target, who flashed through the battle area.

“Quite frankly, there was not only danger from the guns of the MiGs, but the ever-present danger of a collision to contend with. We went round and round that day with the battles lasting 12 to 14 minutes, which is a long time. This particular day we found that the MiGs went into a defensive battle down low, about 500 to 1,000 feet. In the middle of this circle, there were two or three MiGs circling about a hundred feet—sort of in figure-eight patterns. The MiGs were in small groups of two, three, and sometimes four in a very wide circle. Each time we went in to engage one of these groups, a group from the opposite side would go full power, pull across the circle, and be in firing position on our tails almost before we could get into firing position with our missiles. This was very distressing, to say the least.

“The first MiG I lined up was in a gentle left turn, range about 7,000 feet. My pilot achieved a boresight lock-on, went full system, narrow gate, interlocks in. One of the two Sparrows fired in ripple guided true and exploded near the MiG. My pilot saw the MiG erupt in flame and go down to the left.

Colonel Robin Olds flew this McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, SCAT XXVII, when he and 1st Lieutenant Stephen B. Croker shot down two VPAF MiG-17s near Haiphong, North Vietnam, 20 May 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds flew this McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, SCAT XXVII, when he and 1st Lieutenant Stephen B. Croker shot down two VPAF MiG-17s near Haiphong, North Vietnam, 20 May 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

“We attacked again, trying to break up that defensive wheel. Finally, once again, fuel considerations necessitated departure. As I left the area by myself, I saw that lone MiG still circling and so I ran out about ten miles and said that even if I ran out of fuel, he is going to know he was in a fight. I got down on the deck, about 50 feet, and headed right for him. I don’t think he saw me for quite a while. But when he did, he went mad, twisting, turning, dodging and trying to get away. I kept my speed down so I wouldn’t overrun him and I stayed behind him. I knew he was either going to hit that ridge up ahead or pop over the ridge to save himself. The minute he popped over I was going to get him with a Sidewinder.

“I fired one AIM-9 which did not track and the MiG pulled up over the ridge, turned left and gave me a dead astern shot. I obtained a good growl. I fired from about 25 to 50 feet off the grass and he was clear of the ridge by only another 50 to 100 feet when the Sidewinder caught him.

“The missile tracked and exploded 5 to 10 feet to the right side of the aft fuselage. The MiG spewed pieces and broke hard left and down from about 200 feet. I overshot and lost sight of him.

“I was quite out of fuel and all out of missiles and pretty deep in enemy territory all by myself, so it was high time to leave. We learned quite a bit from this fight. We learned you don’t pile into these fellows with eight airplanes all at once. You are only a detriment to yourself.”

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II  at Pages 59–60.

Coloenl Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB, 1967. U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB, 1967. U.S. Air Force)
Fighter pilot Brigadier General Robin Olds, U.S. Air Force (Retired) with SCAT XXVII at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. General Olds died 14 June 2007. (U.S. Air Force)
Fighter pilot Brigadier General Robin Olds, U.S. Air Force (Retired) with SCAT XXVII at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. General Olds died 14 June 2007. (U.S. Air Force) 
Robin Olds’ McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, SCAT XXVII, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 May 1953

Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., U.S. Air Force, Suwon Air Base, Korea, 18 May 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
McConnell’s Beautious Butch II at Suwon Air Base (K13), Korea. (U.S. Air Force)

18 May 1953: On his last day of combat, Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., a fighter pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, United States Air Force, flew two sorties in which he shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters, bringing his total to 16 aerial victories. He was credited with damaging 5 more enemy aircraft. McConnell was the leading American ace of the Korean War. He had scored all of his victories between 14 January and 18 May, 1953.

For his actions on this date, Captain McConnell was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:

The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain Joseph McConnell, Jr., United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as a Pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, FIFTH Air Force, in action against enemy forces in the Republic of Korea on 18 May 1953. Leading two F-86s on an air superiority mission over North Korea, he sighted a formation of twenty-eight MIG-15 type aircraft. Determined to accomplish his mission and with complete disregard for the numerical odds against him, he immediately attacked. Although under fire himself, he pressed his attack to such extent that he completely disorganized the enemy formation, destroying one of the MIGs and damaging another. Several enemy aircraft were then firing at him but, seeing that the other Sabre in his flight was also being fired upon, he completely ignored enemy cannon fire directed at himself and destroyed the MIG that was pursuing his wingman. These victories, in spite of counterattacks by such superior numbers, completely unnerved the enemy to the extent that they withdrew across the Yalu before further attacks could be made. Through his courage, keen flying ability and devotion to duty, Captain McConnell reflected great credit upon himself, the Far East Air Forces, and the United States Air Force.

Captain Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., U.S. Air Force.

During his combat tour in Korea, McConnell flew at least three North American Aviation F-86 Sabre jet fighters: an F-86E and two F-86Fs. He named the airplanes Beauteous Butch, after his wife’s nickname.

On 12 April 1953, after his eighth kill, he was himself shot down by another MiG-15. He ejected from his second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, and parachuted into the Yellow Sea where he was rescued by a Sikorsky H-19A Chickasaw helicopter from the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, based at the island of Chŏ-do.

His last airplane, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910, was painted with 16 red stars and Beauteous Butch II following the last mission. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.

Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., and Captain Harold Fischer, a double ace, with McConnell's second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, Korea, 1953. (U.S. Air Force).
Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., and Captain Harold E. Fischer, Jr., a double ace, leading McConnell at the time of this photograph, with Joe McConnell’s second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, “Beautious Butch.” This fighter was shot down 12 April 1953. (U.S. Air Force).

Of air combat, Captain McConnell said, “It’s the teamwork out here that counts. The lone wolf stuff is out. Your life always depends on your wingman and his life on you. I may get credit for a MiG, but it’s the team that does it, not myself alone.

Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., was born 30 January 1922 at Dover, New Hampshire. He was the second child of Joseph Christopher McConnell, a barber, and Phyllis Winifred Brooks McConnell. Mrs. McConnell died in 1931.

After graduating from high school, Joseph McConnell enlisted in the Medical Corps, United States Army, at Concord, New Hampshire, 15 October 1940. He had enlisted for the Philippine Department. Private McConnell was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for training. McConnell was 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall and weighed 134 pounds (6o.8 kilograms).

In 1941, McConnell married Miss Pearl Edna Brown at Fitchburg, Massachusetts. They would have three children, Patricia Ann, Kathleen Frances, and Joseph Christopher McConnell III. McConnell called his wife “Butch.” He explained the not-so-flattering nickname by saying that she was, “the butcher of his heart.”

In 1943, McConnell was selected as an aviation cadet, and was trained as a navigator. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 18 September 1944.

A Consolidated B-24H Liberator of the 448th Bombardment Group, circa 1945.

Lieutenant McConnell was assigned to the 448th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Seething (Army Air Force Station 146) near Norwich, Norfolk, England. The 448th was equipped with B-24 Liberator bombers. McConnell flew as navigator on 60 combat missions.

Following World War II, Lieutenant McConnell remained in the Army Air Force. In 1946, he was assigned to pilot training. He graduated from flight training at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, and received his pilot’s wings 25 February 1948.

Lieutenant McConnell deployed to the Republic of South Korea in September 1952, and was assigned to the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing.

“Beauteous Butch” (Mrs. McConnell) and Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., circa 1953.

Captain McConnell returned to the United States 24 May 1954. After meeting with President Eisenhower in Washngton, D.C., he was assigned to the 435th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, based at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California. The squadron was equipped with the F-86 Sabre. (The former air base is now the Southern California Logistics Airport, VCV.)

The community of Apple Valley, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) southeast of George AFB, donated a two-bedroom house and an acre of land (0.4 hectare) to Captain McConnell and his family, as a sign of its appreciation. The house was constructed in 45 hours. ¹

In the summer of 1954, Captain McConnell was temporarily assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, 35 miles northwest of George, to evaluate the new North American Aviation F-86H Sabre fighter bomber.

Similar to the F-86H-1-NA Sabre flown by Captain McConnell, this is a North American Aviation F-86H-10-NH, 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)

On 25 August 1954, McConnell was flying F-86H-1-NA 52-1981, the fifth production airplane, performing an aerobatic function check. About 20 minutes into the test flight, McConnell radioed to Edwards that he was experiencing flight control problems, and had to use elevator trim adjustments to control the Sabre’s pitch attitude. He reported that he planned to make an emergency landing on the dry lake bed.

Witnesses reported seeing McConnell eject from the F-86H at about 500 feet (152 meters) above the surface. His parachute did not open. Captain McConnell was killed. The fighter bomber flew on for about one-half mile (0.8 kilometers) before it crashed at approximately 1:00 p.m., local time.

Investigators found that two bolts in the horizontal stabilizer control system had not been properly fastened and had fallen out.

Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., was just 31 years old. His remains were interred at the Victor Valley Memorial Park, Victorville, California.

Captain McConnell in teh cockpit of Beauteous Butch II after his final combat mission, 18 May 1953. The airplane is McConnell's third Sabre, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain McConnell in the cockpit of Beauteous Butch II after his final combat mission, 18 May 1953. The airplane is McConnell’s third Sabre, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The McConnell “appreciation house” is located at 20822 N. Outer Highway 18, Apple Valley, California. The 1,980 square foot (184 square meters) 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, house, in derelict condition, sold for $47,000 on 16 July 2016, less than 20% of what its value should have been.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 May 1943

The crew of the Memphis Belle after their 25th mission: (left to right) Technical Sergeant Harold Loch, Top Turret Gunner/Engineer; Staff Sergeant Cecil Scott, Ball Turret Gunner; Technical Sergeant Robert Hanson, Radio Operator; Captain James Verinis, Co-pilot; Captain Robert Morgan, Aircraft Commander/Pilot; Captain Charles Leighton, Navigator; Staff Sergeant John Quinlan, Tail Gunner; Staff Sergeant Casimer Nastal, Waist Gunner; Captain Vincent Evans, Bombardier; Staff Sergeant Clarence Winchell Waist Gunner. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

17 May 1943: The flight crew of the B-17 Memphis Belle completed their combat tour of 25 bombing missions over Western Europe with an attack on the massive Kéroman Submarine Base at Lorient, France.¹ The bomber was a U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24485, assigned to the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), VIII Bomber Command, based at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England). The aircraft commander was Captain Robert Knight Morgan, Air Corps, United States Army.

The daylight bombing campaign of Nazi-occupied Europe was extremely dangerous with high losses in both airmen and aircraft. For a bomber crew, 25 combat missions was a complete tour, and they were sent back to the United States for rest and retraining before going on to other assignments. Memphis Belle was only the second B-17 to survive 25 missions, so it was withdrawn from combat and sent back to the United States for a publicity tour.

Miss Margaret Polk
Miss Margaret Polk

The B-17′s name was a reference to Captain Morgan’s girlfriend, Miss Margaret Polk, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The artwork painted on the airplane’s nose was a “Petty Girl” based on the work of pin-up artist George Petty of Esquire magazine. ² (Morgan named his next airplane—a B-29 Superfortress—Dauntless Dotty, after his wife, Dorothy Grace Johnson Morgan. With it, he led the first B-29 bombing mission against Tokyo, Japan, in 1944. It was also decorated with a Petty Girl.)

Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a 45-minute documentary, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” directed by William Wyler and released in April 1944. It was filmed in combat aboard Memphis Belle and several other B-17s. The United States Library of Congress named it for preservation as a culturally significant film.

B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485 (c/n 3190) was built by the Boeing Aircraft Company at its Plant 2 in Seattle, Washington, during the summer of 1942. It was the 195th airplane in the B-17F series, and one of the third production block. Flown by a Boeing pilot named Johnston, the new bomber made its first flight, 1 hour, 40 minutes, on 13 August 1942. Maintenance records indicate, “1st flight OK.”

The B-17 was flown to Bangor, Maine and on 31 August 1942 was assigned to the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), then preparing to deploy overseas.

2nd Lieutenant Morgan first flew 41-24485 on 3 September, and logged nearly 50 hours over the next three weeks. The squadron flew across the North Atlantic Ocean, and 41-24485 arrived at its permanent station, Bassingbourne, on 26 October 1942.

Following its twenty-fifth combat mission, Memphis Belle was flown back to the United States on 9 June 1943.

After the war, Memphis Belle was put on display in the city of Memphis. For decades it suffered from time, weather and neglect. The Air Force finally took the bomber back and placed it in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it has been undergoing a total restoration for the last several years.

Survivors. The crew of the Memphis belle after their 25th combat mission, 17 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Survivors. The crew of the Memphis Belle after their 25th combat mission, 17 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edge is swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters).

The B-17F had an approximate empty weight of 36,135 pounds (16,391 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) basic, and the maximum takeoff weight was 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms).

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) ³ nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric  turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-65 was rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 engine is 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

The original “Petty Girl” pin-up nose art of the B-17 bomber, “Memphis Belle,” during restoration.

With a normal fuel load of 1,725 gallons (6,530 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 3,070 miles (4,941 kilometers). Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

The Memphis Belle was armed with 13 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. Four machine guns were mounted in the nose, 1 in the radio compartment, 2 in the waist and 2 in the tail.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17F was 20,800 pounds (9434.7 kilograms) over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) of high explosive bombs were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, flies home from England, 9 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses, including Memphis Belle, remain in existence. The completely restored bomber goes on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, today, 17 May 2018.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, “Memphis Belle,” photographed 14 March 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Memphis Belle ® is a Registered Trademark of the United States Air Force.

¹ VIII Bomber Command Mission No. 58

² The nose art was painted by Corporal Anthony L. Starcer.

³ Later production B-17F and B-17G bombers were equipped with Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) engines.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, “Memphis Belle,” photographed 14 March 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 May 1967

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, winc Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Ratchitani RTAFB.
Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Rachitani RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)

4 May 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, commanding the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon RTAFB, shot down his second enemy airplane during the Vietnam War.

Colonel Olds had flown Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang fighters during World War II. He is officially credited with shooting down 12 enemy airplanes over Europe and destroying 11.5 on the ground. On 2 January 1967, he had destroyed a MiG-21 near Hanoi, North Vietnam, while flying a McDonnell F-4C Phantom II. He was the first U.S. Air Force fighter ace to shoot down enemy aircraft during both World War II and the Vietnam War.

Colonel Robin Olds and 1st Lieutenant William D, Lefever (standing, left and center) with other pilots of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 8th Tactical Fighter wing, Ubob Rachitani RTAFB, 4 May 1967. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Colonel Robin Olds and 1st Lieutenant William D. Lefever (standing, left and center) with other pilots of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Rachitani RTAFB, 4 May 1967. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

A description of the air battle follows:

On 4 May, the 8th TFW provided two flights of Phantoms for MiGCAP for five F-105 flights of the 355th TFW which were on a strike mission. Col. Olds, 8th Wing commander, led the rear flight, flying with 1st Lt. William D. Lafever. The other F-4 flight was sandwiched midway in the strike force. MiG warnings crackled on Olds’ radio just before his wingman sighted two MiG-21s at 11 o’clock, attacking the last of the Thunderchief flights. Colonel Olds’ account picks up the encounter at this point:

“The MiGs were at my 10 o’clock position and closing on Drill [the F-105 flight] from their 7:30 position. I broke the rear flight into the MiGs, called the F-105s to break, and maneuvered to obtain a missile firing position on one of the MiG-21s. I obtained a boresight lock-on, interlocks in, went full system, kept the pipper on the MiG, and fired two AIM-7s in a ripple. One AIM-7 went ballistic. The other guided but passed behind the MiG and did not detonate. Knowing I was too close for further AIM-7 firing, I maneuvered to obtain AIM-9 firing parameters. The MiG-21 was maneuvering violently and firing position was difficult to achieve. I snapped two AIM-9s at the MiG and did not observe either missile. The MiG then reversed and presented the best parameter yet. I achieved a loud growl, tracked, and fired one AIM-9. From the moment of launch it was obvious that the missile was locked on. It guided straight for the MiG and exploded about 5–10 feet beneath his tailpipe.

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF in markings of the Vietnam People's Air Force, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 in markings of the Vietnam People’s Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

“The MiG then went into a series of frantic turns, some of them so violent that the aircraft snap-rolled in the opposite direction. Fire was coming from the tailpipe, but I was not sure whether it was normal afterburner or damage-induced. I fired the remaining AIM-9 at one point, but the shot was down toward the ground and did not discriminate. I followed the MiG as he turned southeast and headed for Phuc Yen. The aircraft ceased maneuvering and went in a straight slant for the airfield. I stayed 2,500 feet behind him and observed brilliant white fire streaming from the left side of his fuselage. It looked like magnesium burning with particles flaking off. I had to break off to the right as I neared Phuc Yen runway at about 2,000 feet, due to heavy, accurate, 85-mm barrage. I lost sight of the MiG at that point. Our number 3 saw the MiG continue in a straight gentle dive and impact approximately 100 yards south of the runway.”

Colonel Olds then took his flight to the target area and covered the last of the 355th TFW strike aircraft as they came off the target. Leading his flight to Hoa Lac airfield and dodging two SAMs on the way, he found five MiG-17s over that airfield.

“We went around with them at altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 feet, right over the aerodrome,” Olds reported. The F-4s ran low on fuel before any real engagements occurred, however, and were forced to break off the encounter.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 51–53.

During this mission, Colonel Olds and Lieutenant Lefever flew McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II serial number 63-7668.

Colonel Robin Olds shot down a MiG-21 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder fired from this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7668, 4 May 1967. U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds shot down a MiG-21 with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7668, 4 May 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 May 1943

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

SMITH, MAYNARD H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 423d Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 1 May 1943.

Entered service at: Caro, Michigan.

Born: 1911, Caro Michigan.

G.O. No.: 38, 12 July 1943.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The airplane was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter airplanes, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft’s oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier’s gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson reads the Citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 4379)

Sergeant Smith was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress on his first combat mission. The bomber was so badly damaged that, on landing, the airplane’s structure failed from battle damage and it broke in half. There were over 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes.

Battle damage to the radio operator's compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Battle damage to the radio operator’s compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Maynard Harrison Smith was born at Caro, Michigan, 19 May 1911. He was the second child of Henry Harrison Smith, a lawyer, and Mary Christine Gohs Smith, a school teacher.

Smith worked as a clerk in a government insurance office. He married Miss Arlene E. McCreedy at Ferndale, Michigan, 31 July 1929. They had a daughter, Barbara Lou Smith. They divorced 22 October 1932. He later married his second wife, Helene Gene Gunsell, at Caro, Michigan, 30 March 1941.

Maynard Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 August 1941. He was trained as an aerial gunner, and on completion, was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. He was assigned as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 combat crew of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England.

A gunner fires the two Browning .50 caliber machine guns of his electrically-powered Sperry ball turret.

Following the 1 May mission, Staff Sergeant Smith flew only four more combat missions before a medical board diagnosed him with Operational Exhaustion. He was removed from flight status and reverted to his initial rank of private.

While stationed in England, Sergeant Smith met Miss Mary Rayner, a British subject and USO volunteer. They were married in 1944. They would have four children.

Sergeant Smith was released from active duty, 26 May 1945.

Following World War II, Smith worked for the Department of the Treasury. He later founded Police Officers Journal, a magazine oriented toward law enforcement officers.

Based on an examination of certain facts in his life, as well as anecdotes by persons who knew him, it is fair to say the Maynard Smith was a troubled individual. But the extreme courage he displayed on 1 May 1943 cannot be denied.

Maynard Smith died at St. Petersburg, Florida, 11 May 1984 at the age of 72 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Forces, was the first of only five Air Force enlisted airmen to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also awarded the Air Medal, with one oak leaf cluster (two awards).

This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning .50-caliber machine gun at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning Machine Gun, Caliber .50, AN-M2, at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force) 

Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29649 was delivered to Denver, Colorado, 29 January, 1943. After crossing the North Atlantic Ocean, the new bomber was assigned to the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Thurleigh, near Bedford, Bedfordshire, England, 24 March 1943. It was identified by the letters RD-V painted on its fuselage.

On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was one of 18 B-17s of the 306th Bombardment Group assigned to attack German Kriegsmarine submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast of France. Another 60 B-17s from three other groups were also part of the mission. Only 12 bombers from the 306th arrived over the target, which was heavily obscured by clouds. Each bomber carried two 2,000-pound (907 kilogram) General Purpose bombs, which were dropped from 25,200 feet (7,681 meters) on a heading of 270°. After a 20-second bomb run, the group released its bombs at 11:26 a.m.

Damage to the left side of 42-29649’s radio compartment. (U.S. Air Force)

Flying away from the target area, the 306th flew over the city of Brest at low altitude. 42-29649 was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The group was then attacked by 15–20 Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Two bombers were shot down over the city and a third ditched near the coast. -649 caught fire and three crewmen bailed out over the water and were lost.

Of the 78 B-17s dispatched, 7 were lost. 73 crewmembers were listed as Missing in Action, 18 Wounded in Action and 2 Killed in Action.

On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was flown by Captain Lewis P. Johnson, Jr., aircraft commander/pilot; 1st Lieutenant Robert McCallum, co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant Stanley N. Kisseberth, navigator; Staff Sergeant J.C. Melaun, nose gunner and bombardier; Technical Sergeant William W. Fahrenhold, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Maynard H. Smith, ball turret gunner; Technical Sergeant Henry R. Bean, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Robert V. Folliard, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Joseph S. Bukacek, waist gunner; Sergeant Roy H. Gibson, tail gunner. Sergeants Bean, Folliard and Bukacek were killed in action.

This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524. also o fthe 423rd Bombardment Squadron, was very similar to teh one on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. The squadron identification markings, "RD", are painted on the fuselage. The second letter "D" identifies this particular airplane. (U.S> Air Force)
This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524, Meat Hound, was also of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardment Group. 8th Air Force. It is the same type as the B-17F on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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