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Ruy Horta 21st May 2007 21:33

F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims... well do they stand up to scrutiny?

The US pilots were experienced and aggressive, many had flown combat in WW2, flying a thoroughbred second generation jet fighter. Tactically they were the hunters, just like over the Reich, free to find enemy fighters to engage at will.

The Communist pilots varied from similarly experienced Soviets, to unprepared North Koreans. Their fighter overal not different enough either way to make a real difference. The tactical situation however restricting them to a fixed air space and often with bombers and/or fighter bombers as their primary targets. The main (often high altitude) air battle was held over communist held territory.

Does 10:1 in favor of the USAF Sabres still hold?

Jim Oxley 22nd May 2007 01:41

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
One of the best books I have read on the subject (and the list is long :)) is Robert Jackson's "Air War Over Korea. The analysis of the air strategies employed by both sides alone makes this book worth reading.

The real crux of this book though is the detail with which he addresses the build up of forces and the application of 'all' air operations. Most books are fixated on the battle between the MiG and the Sabre. Jackson provides a much more balanced overview; assessing the success (or otherwise) of the ground support roll played by the both sides, the strategic and tactical bombing efforts by the B-29 and A-26 crews, the impact and function of the USN, Marine and FAA as weel as the air superiority role of the Sabre.

One of the really interesting points highlighted is the diversity of missions flown by the MiG pilots. The point made is that as many missions flown were intercept in nature - against the Mustang, F-80, F-84, A-26 and B-29 - as opposed the the generally accepted fighter sweeps against the Sabre's.

There is an extensive list of UN OOB's and stastics covering aircraft claims, missions flown by all types, enemy material destroyed, carriers employed etc. He doesn't attempt to confirm or otherwise the claim of 792 MiG's claimed shot down. Irrespective of whether the claims are correct or not (and until sources in China and North Korea become available the question is moot), but the point made is that the UN air forces remained on the offensive for almost the whole war. And that, despite quite severe losses, the ground attack component was the telling force in what was in effect a UN air victory.

That victory though came at some cost. In all the UN (predominately USAF) air forces lost almost 3,200 aircraft, approximately just over a third to flak alone. For the USAF they lost the equivalent of 20 combat Groups - roughly one quarter of the USAF's total front line strength as it stood in June 1950!

The lasting effect of the Korean air war was that it woke the American politicians up from the stupor they had allowed the Armed Forces to plunge into after the success of WWII. A whole raft of new military and strategic policies were put into effect to ensure that America would not be found so ill-equipped again.

drgondog 22nd May 2007 03:08

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
Ruy - Jim offered some excellent points w/o taking the 10:1 ratio head on.

Another 'subjective' insight is that the debriefing of the defecting N.Korean pilot - who stated that the losses incurred against the F-86 were 'devastating' to the point that combat in 1953 was undertaken only with advantage of altitude and one diving pass and back over Yalu.

I believe the interview is available via FOI Act Request. It was a part of the 1954-1955 curriculum at the Air War College when my father sttended in 1954. One of the other insights was that quite a few MiGs were lost to C/L due to battle damage and/or written off for same reason.

This subjective viewpoint sheds no light on the 10:1 ratio.

An additional question for me and one I have not undertaken is to examine the 'other' operational losses incurred by the F-86 wings. I was careful in my final summary for 355Fg Losses in WWII to place a damaged 47 or 51 which was hit in air combat, but crash landed as a 'loss' to the Luftwaffe.

I do not know how the Chinese/N.Koreans/Soviets (or USAF) categorized similar losses.

Having said this the kill review process and gun camera technology was better than WWII. If a major flyability component was not seen to break away or fireball as witnessed by other pilot or verified by film it was not a 'destroyed' MiG.



Jim Oxley 22nd May 2007 06:04

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
One of the stats mentioned in Jackson's Appendices is a break down of F-86 losses.

Operational Losses:
Air Combat - 78
Other causes - 61
Total - 139

Total - 347

Sadly just what the 'other causes' nor 'non-operational' losses are were not specified.

Pilot 22nd May 2007 08:40

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
On one forum where I am moderator one man from Russia is placed a great number of gun camera shoots as well other material and maps. Also there was available list of Soviet air aces. The first on the list if I remember good have 21 kills and some 150 missions over Korea.

Pilot 22nd May 2007 09:19

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
This link:

May 20, 1951
Capt. James Jabara becomes the world's first jet ace, shooting down his fifth and sixth MiGs in the Korean War.

Frank Olynyk 22nd May 2007 10:12

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
A very complete list of Korean War aircraft losses by UN forces can be found on the DPMO website It is a database called KORWALD (Korean War Aircraft Loss Database) and is at

On the right hand side of this latter page you will find links to the database sorted in various manners.


Six Nifty .50s 22nd May 2007 18:20

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...

Originally Posted by Jim Oxley (Post 43431)
One of the stats mentioned in Jackson's Appendices is a break down of F-86 losses.

Operational Losses:
Air Combat - 78
Other causes - 61
Total - 139

Cause of loss data for combat missions has been revised by the USAF several times. More than 100 of the total Sabre losses have now been attributed to MiGs. The increase is not definitive however, and is largely based on guesswork because there was no eyewitness for many individual losses. Originally the number of air-to-air combat losses was estimated at 58 and that was mainly drawn from reports of USAF pilots who personally saw another Sabre attacked or shot down by MiGs, or overheard radio distress calls from F-86 pilots under attack by MiGs.


Originally Posted by Jim Oxley (Post 43431)
Sadly just what the 'other causes' nor 'non-operational' losses are were not specified.

Accidents of all types and ground fire, for starters. By the way, I don't think that Robert Jackson is a reliable historian. I have read several of his books and found his research to be consistently sloppy, outdated, and misleading.

rldunn 23rd May 2007 04:24

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...
Jim and others

I have not seen mention of "Red Wings Over the Yalu" by Xiaoming Zhang (Texas A&M Univ Press, 2002) in this discussion. Zhang has accessed available Russian and Chinese records and tried to present a balance view on this issue. The data from the USSR/ChiCom/NKor side is presented but not absolutely definitive. US data, as noted in the discussion above, also leaves some room for additional investigation.

The 10:1 ratio whether correct or not (and probably not) is a very coarse measure. As in so many other debates who was flying the a/c, their skill level, and the tactucal situation among other matters need to be considered. One thing Zhang points out is that in many cases the MiGs tried to avoid the F-86s and engage strike a/c like F-51s, F-80s, and F-84s (not to mention B-29s). They also paid special attention to Aussie Meteors.

Opinions and fun discussions are fine but like so much about WW2 and other wars, not everything is known or printed in books. More hard research still needs to be done.


JoeB 31st May 2007 20:04

Re: F-86 vs MiG 15, the claims...

Originally Posted by Six Nifty .50s (Post 43451)
Cause of loss data for combat missions has been revised by the USAF several times. More than 100 of the total Sabre losses have now been attributed to MiGs. .

The USAF itself has never officially revised F-86 losses due to MiG's AFAIK. The 58 which appeared in early editions of Futrell's "USAF in Korea" was a mistake. 78 was always the number in the Fiscal Year 1953 Statistics Digest. Likewise the number 103 was not a USAF restatement, it's another author's mistake that's now been repeated hundreds of times. The USAF study he referred to "Sabre Measures (Charlie)" listed 'blue fighter' losses monthly for most of the war. Comparing the relevant tables in that paper and the Stats Digest, it's clear 'blue fighter' losses were all USAF fighter types even including F-51's. And "Sabre Measures" was a random code word, that study wasn't particularly about Korea (it was about sortie rates and losses with WWII and Korea as examples), and others in the "Sabre Measures" series are about stuff like ballistic missiles, etc.

Several *unofficial* researchers have reviewed USAF records and come up with different loss totals. I have for example, though unfortunately I can't point you to a published version yet. I've reviewed almost every case, in view of specific Soviet claims, and found that around 85-90 F-86's could reasonably be attributed to MiG's, including those which returned safely but were damaged beyond repair (which is relatively few though). For a published source Ken Werrell in his recent "Sabres over MiG Alley" quotes, in a footnote, perhaps around 100, but AFAIK from correspondance with that highly distinguished and reliable researcher and author, he didn't focus on that issue.

The Korwald database mentioned by Frank above is an excellent starting point but itself omits several a/c which were damaged beyond repair, and has ambiguous entries for others. OTOH most 'MiG damage' entries in Korwald were planes documented to have been repaired, so some casual researchers just adding them in as losses get too high a number. Also, though not directly relevant to total losses, Korwald has a small % of the F-86's damaged by MiG cannon fire, more seem to have been hit and survived to fight again than were downed. I get around 78 F-86 MiG losses strictly counting in Korwald, but 78 was a sloppy total that clearly doesn't exactly correspond to anything you get building bottom up from individual incidents, the totals some months are just wrong.

On MiG losses, "Red Devils on the 38th Parallel" by German and Seidov gives 319 Soviet MiG air combat losses, about 300 of which are mentioned one by one in the text by my count. Other Russian sources give slightly varying numbers. The Chinese official air combat loss total was 224 MiG's, quoted in "Red Wings" (as mentioned above) among other places. The NK defector No Gum-suk said in 1953 that the NK's had lost 100 MiG's to all causes during the war; his estimates of Soviet and Chinese losses corresponded pretty well with what they released decades later. Assuming the NK's lost 50 in combat, the total would be around 600, the great bulk by F-86's which claimed around 800, so pretty good claim accuracy ratio, and would make the 'real' ratio 6+:1.

And, Naboka's "NATO's Hawk in the Sights of Stalin's Falcons" gives day to day ops and losses for the Soviets through summer 1951, when there were few non Soviet MiG's. The UN fighter (not just F-86) claim accuracy ratio in that sub-period is also around 3/4, though the B-29's claims were very overstated (mirroring WWII experience).

On Soviet claims they are pretty specific and apparently complete. In almost all cases I've found that the times and places given correspond to actions recorded by the US with the same basic type of planes the Soviets claimed: sweptwing (ie F-86), B-29, straigtwing jet, prop fighter. There are many mis'id's within the last two categories, but no mistaking of F-86's for any of the other three categories, not that I've found anyway. So Soviet (plus Chinese and NK insofar as known) claims of F-86's can be separately compared against actual F-86 losses only, not to ignore any bigger picture of the air war, just saying there is the data to do that.


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