The conflict between China and Taiwan – in its current form – is going on since 1949. Its origins, however, are much older.
In 1911 the Manchu dynasty in China was overthrown, and in January 1912 China was declared a republic, after the boy Emperor Hsuan Tung (later to become better known as Pu-yi) abdicated. The revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen, was elected the first president, but he controlled only the south and centre of the country: Beijing and northern China were under control of Gen. Yuan Shi-kai, a pro-republican brought into power by the former Imperial Court, who died in 1916. With the fall of the Imperial dynasty, however, many parts of China took the chance to declare independence. Mongolia, for example, declared itself independent in 1912 with help from Russia, while insurrections broke out also in Szechuan, Nunan, Hopei, Anwhei and Kiangsu Provinces. Eventually Sun Yat-sen was displaced by a succession of warlords that ruled different parts of China. A central government continued functioning in Beijing, but it had little power outside the city. In 1922 Sun Yat-sen established himself at the leader of the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), in Canton, and started a war against the warlords. After defeating Gen. Ch’en Ciung-ming, in 1923, in 1927 the KMT launched an advance towards the north, defeating one warlord after the other, and finally capturing Shanghai and Nanking. Sun Yat-sen died in the meantime, and the leadership of the KMT was assumed by Gen. Chiang Kai-shek: his troops captured Beijing in 1928.
Meanwhile, however, the Communists became strong in several parts of China, and in August 1927 they started an uprising against the KMT under leadership of Mao Tse-tung. While this war was raging back and forth, in 1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria, where a puppet regime was installed that remained in power until 1940, ruling a state now named Manchukuo. Another similar regime was established in Nanking, after the Japanese continued their invasion deeper into China. Both the regimes in Manchukuo and in Nanking were based on anti-KMT elements, mainly former warlords, but in 1940 they were superseded by the so-called Reformed National Government of China, established at Nanking and led by Wang Chiang-wei, a former associate but now a rival of Chiang Kai-shek.
Faced with the continuous Japanese advance, and the puppet regimes in the north, the Communists and Nationalists were joined by forces of several warlords and even started cooperate and from 1940 they – but foremost the Nationalists – were extensively supported by the USA, which started sending increasing shipments of arms (including aircraft) to Chiang Kai-check.
Chinese Air Force(s)
Quite a number of different air forces and air services was created in China in the early 20th Century. The first Air Service of the Chinese Republic came into being already in 1913, and it took part in the war against Mongolia. But, an official air force was founded three years later, with miscellaneous light aircraft, mainly of French and – from 1917 – also British origin. This air service already had official markings, consisting of a five-colour flag in red-yellow-blue-white-black (red standing for Han Chinese, yellow for Manchus, blue for Mongols, white for Moslems, and black for Tibetans), and a five-pointed star in the same colours. In 1922 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the first president of China, established a small air force during his war against Gen. Ch’en Ciung-ming, hiring several Chinese-American pilots from the USA, who were trained in Courtland, California, on two Curtiss Jennies. By 1925 this “Sun Yat-sen’s Private Air Force” acquired a total of 21 different aircraft, mainly various Curtiss JN-4s, H-16s, HS-2Ls and other aircraft. Some of the warlords had their own air forces as well: Gen. Yen His-shan, ruler in the Shansi Province, for example, had a small air force operating Breguet, Shreck and Avro aircraft, in 1922, flown by German pilots, and existing until around 1924.
In 1925 the nucleus of the future KMT Air Force was established with Soviet support: this service can be considered the predecessor of the later Chinese Nationalist Air Force (CNAF) and the current Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), its insignia becoming a white sun on a blue disc, supposedly designed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen himself. This insignia was then accepted as that of the Chinese Air Force, and was in widespread use until 1940 (two versions of it were also developed for the Chinese Navy).
The communists had initially very little contact with aircraft, and it was not before 1933, when the Fukien People’s Republic Air Force was organized in Hangkow with some 90 aircraft, that they had any kind of a serious air arm. The Red Army of China Air Force was set up in 1935, equipped with a small number of Tupolev SB-2 bombers, sometimes in the late 1930s, but this service mainly languished until after the WWII.
Meanwhile, other air forces were organized in Mongolia, and then in Manchuria, rule by the warlord Chang Tso-lin: although an ally of the central KMT government, Manchuria was permitted to maintain an autonomous air force, based at Mukden, from 1928 until 1931, and both Chang Tso-lin and his son Chang Hsueh-liang maintained also their own private air force, based at Fengtein, while the Manchurain Marshall Chan Tsung-chang also had an own air force with few aircraft based in Tsinanpu.
When Manchuria was occupied by the Japanese, these partially revived the air force, from September 1932, organising a para-military airline, the Manchurian Air Transport. Also, from 1938 until 1940 the Manchukuo Air Force was formed by the Japanese, while already a year earlier the puppet regime of the Reformed Republic of China in Nanking was permitted to set up an air fore, although this was apparently equipped only with gliders. Both the Manchukuo Air Force and the Nanking China Air Force existed only until 1940, when the reformed National Government of China was permitted by the Japanese to organize the National Government of China Air Force (usually wrongly-named “Cochinchina AF” in Western press), equipped with aircraft of Japanese origin, such as Nakajima Ki.27A-B, and others.
Aside from the KMT air force, the services in Manchukuo and Nanking, and a small Communist air service, in the 1930s there was also the Canton Air Force, existent from 1933 until 1936, under control by Gen. Wong Kwang-yu, that operated some 90 aircraft, Gen. Liu Wen-lo’s air force (operational in Chengu, in the Sechuan province, between 1930 and 1933) and others.
From 1937 the USA started supplying aircraft to the KMT Air Force, and this support became especially clear from 1940, when the legendary „American Volunteer Group“ (later re-formed to become a part of the then US Army Air Force as the 23rd Fighter Group) – equipped with sharkmouth-marked P-40s – was sent to China. From 1943 the USAAF also used bases in areas held by the Nationalists for flying B-29-raids against Japan. During the war, the USA supplied numerous P-40s, B-25s, and P-51Bs to the Nationalists, while the Communists also organized their own air force (or, better said, several of them), which flew a plethora of very different - mainly completely obsolete - aircraft.
By 1949 the KMT Air Force was a well-developed and equipped service, flying P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, B-25 Mitchells and even B-24 Liberator bombers, as well as a considerable number of C-46 and C-47 transports.
|Typical KMT Air Force P-51 Mustang of the late 1940s and early 1950s looked like this. The serial was usually applied on the fin, like on USAAF/USAF aircraft. The Nationalists managed to evacuate some 110 P-51s to Formosa, in 1949, and the type provided the bulk of their fighter strenght in the coming years. |
The Red Army of China Air Force, on the contrary, was still in development. In 1944 it captured a number of Japanese Tachikawa Ki.54 aircraft, and after the Japanese capitulation it was reformed and almost completely equipped with different types left behind by the Japanese Air Force and Navy, including Kawasaki Ki.45, Mitsubishi Ki. 30, Ki.46, Ki.51 and Tachikawa Ki.55s. In 1946 the communist air force was renamed into People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), a title it wears until today.
China after WWII
After the Japanese capitulation, the US were concerned about the widespread communist influence, and decided to continue the support of the Nationalists. In 1945, for example, the whole 3rd Amphibian Group of the USMC landed near Tientsin, in China, in order to help establish a supply system for different Nationalist garrisons. On 16 September 1945 there was even an incident between the fighters of the US 7th Fleet, that penetrated the airspace over Manchuria, and Soviet fighters that intercepted them. The Soviet should have fired several times at American planes, but missed. On 15 November 1945 a PBM-5 Mariner reconnaissance aircraft of the USN’s VP-26 Squadron (a unit tasked with “special” kinds of reconnaissance missions) was attacked by a Soviet fighter some 25nm south of Dairen (former Port Arthur), in Manchuria, while investigating six Soviet transport ships and a beached seaplane in the Gulf of Chihili. No damage was caused however. On 20 February 1946, in the same area another PBM-5 was intercepted by Soviet fighters while making an “unauthorized”! flight over Dairen. The Soviets fired several warning bursts at it causing no damage and the Mariner immediately turned away.
The Marines eventually pulled out of China by June of 1946, however, and the Nationalists were now to fight alone against the communists which were increasingly supported by the Soviets. In that struggle, neither their relatively powerful air force - which boasted 40 P-47Ds, some 60 P-51C/Ds and 40 each of B-24Js and B-25Cs - could help the Kuomintang, nor the - more or less - clandestine US support, via such „private“ enterprises like „China Nationalist Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Air Transport“ (CNRRAAT), lead by US General Claude Chennault. The CNRRAAT initially transported relief supplies under a contract for the UNRRA, but subsequently supported the nationalist troops near Hsutchow, Wihsien and Taiyuan. In 1948, the UN-contract for the CNRRAT was cancelled, and Chennault then went on to organize the company Civil Air Transport (CAT) with the help of the CIA. This company was to become much better known for certain other enterprises it was involved in 1960s, but in China it could not help change the situation, and in the same year - after several of CAT’s bases in China were overrun by the Communists - Chennault was forced to retreat together with nationalist forces to Kumming, and then to Hong Kong (where, „interestingly“, the British authorities confiscated something like 137 aircraft of other relief organizations which worked in China, but none belonging to the CAT).
By late 1948, the Communists controlled the whole central and eastern China, while the nationalists held only Beijing and Tientsin - both of which fell in early 1949. The USA restrained from getting directly involved in the conflict again, but continued flying reconnaissance missions along the Chinese borders – and sometimes also behind them. On 29 December 1947 a USMC aircraft crashed in China and the crew of four was captured by the Communists: all were released only in July 1948. Hardly three months later, on 19 October 1948, a USN aircraft crashed near Tsing-Tao, and the crew of two was captured as well: they were released only in June 1950.
During their final operations against the KMT, in early 1949, the Communists have also captured some 134 aircraft of the Kuomintang Air Force, and they managed to press quite a number of P-51Ds into service.
|During the final campaign against the KMT on mainland China, in 1949, the Communists captured a number of Nationalist aircraft, including several North American P-51D Mustangs (and spare parts for them). The Mustangs were pressed into service with the PLAAF, but it remains unknown to which extension they were eventually used against the KMT subsequently. |
Arrival of the Soviets
On 1 October 1949, the China was declared a People’s Republic (PRC), declaring themselves the official rules of the country. This fact was not recognized by the USA, however, and it was the Nationalist government, now based on Formosa (meanwhile usually called Taiwan), that was originally the Chinese representative in the United Nations. Namely, the Nationalists were not ready to accept the new situation, and they continued their struggle launching air strikes against mainland-China in what they expected was preparation for their return.
At this point, the Chinese communist leadership approached the Soviets with request for help. During two rounds of negotiations, in December 1949 and in early February 1950, between Stalin and Mao Tse-Dong, the Soviets and the Chinese agreed on a defence treaty, signed on 14 February 1950, in accordance to which the Soviet Union took upon itself the responsibility to "show aid to China" with all necessary means, including military. The original background of these negotiations was the actual wish of Chinese communist leaders to seize Taiwan and destroy the remaining forces of Chiang Kai-Shek. Stalin, however, would not agree with a preparation for an outright invasion of Formosa, instead agreeing to transfer aircraft and warships to China, and help train Chinese personnel by the means of sending a number of Soviet advisors into the country. Instead, a decision was taken to send a group of Soviet air-defence forces to establish an air defence zone around Shanghai, and stop the Nationalist Air Force from operating over mainland-China. The Soviet contingent, organized around units of the Soviet Air Defence Force (V-PVO), was put under command of Gen. Batitskiy. His subordinates were the commander of the Aviation, Lt.Gen. S. Slyusarev, and Col. S. Spiridonov, commander for air defence artillery. Gen. Batitskiy was connected to the Chinese military via the Soviet chief military advisor to the People's Liberation Army of China and military attache in Beijing, Lt.Gen. P. Kotov-Legon'kov.
The Soviets were swift to finalize the planning of the deployment of their contingent. This was completed by 23 March 1950, and eventually two large combat units were deployed under command of Gen. P. Batitskiy into the Shanghai area. These were organized as follows:
52nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Division (52. ZAD): CO Col. S. Spiridonov, and including:
- 1st Guards Searchlight Regiment: 73 searchlights deployed on 19 positions in the Shanghai area - 64th Independent Radio Technical Battalion for Aircraft Acquisition (a unit equipped with 13 radar stations, deployed in Tsidun, Nanhoi, Haiyan, and Usyang, plus radar posts at Han Tzyaolu, Dachan and Jiangfang
- 45th Independent Signals Company: responsible for communications.
The Chinese agreed to put also the 2nd, 3rd, 11th, and 14th Mixed Anti-aircraft Regiments, deployed around Shanghai, Nanking, and Suchov, under Soviet command, in order to better coordinate the air defences.
106th Fighter Aviation Division (106. IAD), including:
- 29th Guards Fighter Regiment (29. GIAP): 40 MiG-15, initially based at Suchow, then moved to Dachan airfield, near Shanghai
- 351st Fighter Regiment (351. IAP): 40 La-11, initially based at Suchow airfield, then moved to Jiangfang airfield
- 829th Mixed Aviation Regiment: 10 Tu-2 & 25 Il-10, based in Nanking
- Independent Transport Aviation Group: 4 Li-2
These units were deployed to China between 9 and 23 March, under great secrecy, and became operational - with help of the 278th Motorized Technology Battalion, 286th Independent Aviation Technical Battalion, and 300th Motorized Technology Battalion (in China already since October 1949) - by the end of the month. The three mentioned support units were responsible for the airfields as follows:
- Dachan AB: 278th Battalion
- Jiangfang AB: 286th Battalion
- Suchow AB: 300th Battalion
In order to maintain the security and remain undetected by the Nationalist Chinese and the USA, the deployment of the Soviet units was mainly undertaken by night. For communications the Soviets used local telephone network exclusively, and even in this case they used only the part of it that were not connected to the US telephone stations. The Soviet units have also got very strict orders regarding their area of operations: this was limited to a zone 70km northeast of Shanghai, Tsyutsyyui, to the north coast of the Gulf of Hangchow and the City of Hangchow, and to the south as far as Hensha island.
PLAAF and CNAF The condition of the two Chinese air forces that were already involved in mutual fighting was not the best. The PLAAF was under command by Gen. Chu De, and operated a miscellaneous collection of very different aircraft, including some Aichi E13A1 “Jakes”, deHavilland/Airco DH9As, Junkers F.13s, over 100 Mitsubishi Ki.51 Sonias, as well as many B-25H Mitchells and North American P-51D Mustangs captured from the Nationalists. The Soviets found that over 70% of the Chinese anti-aircraft units based in the Shanghai area were not combat ready.
The Soviets were monitoring the CNAF operations already since autumn 1949 and according to their records the Nationalist Air Force at the time had four fighter, two bomber, and two transport aviation regiments, one reconnaissance squadron and one special purpose detachment, operating a total of 361 aircraft, as follows:
- 158 fighters (including 110 P-51 Mustangs and 48 P-47 Thunderbolts)
- 65 bombers (including 21 B-24 Liberators, 28 B-25 Mitchells, and 16 Mosquitoes)
- 16 reconnaissance aircraft and 1 transport aircraft.
These assets were mainly based on different airfields on Formosa, as well as several air bases established on the islands of the Chuashuan archipelago, especially Cheoushangdao, from where they were conducting air raids against the cities of Shanghai, Nanking, Suchow, and PLA positions near Ninbo. The most intensive bombardments the Nationalists carried out against industrial objects, electrical power stations, railroad junctions, and airfields.
The First Battles of the Cold War The first Soviet units in China went on combat alert already on 7 March, since when the 351. GIAP, based on Suchow, held two sections of Lavotchkin La-11 fighters on Readiness 1 (similar to "Alert +5" condition) and Readiness 2 (similar to "Alert +10") status. After almost a week of waiting, on 13 March they were sent into the air for the first time, a pair led by pilot Sidorov being vectored to intercept a B-25 bomber approaching Suchow. The two Soviet fighters had little problems to catch with the slower bomber and shot it down over the mountains northwest of Nanking. Already on the next day the La-11 were engaged in combat again, and pilot damaged another B-25 sufficiently to cause an emergency landing only five kilometres northeast of Suchow AB. Six crewmembers were captured alive, while one died.
A week later, on 20 March, nine La-11 were scrambled to intercept three CNAF P-51D Mustangs and several B-25 bombers that were approaching Shanghai. According to Soviet reports, as soon as the CNAF pilots spotted their fighters, they broke off and disengaged towards east. On 2 April 1950 two CNAF Mustangs were intercepted by Capt. Guzhev over the Gulf of Hangchow, and both shot down. With this the first phase of the Soviet involvement in China was effectively over, then no additional clashes with CNAF aircraft were reported for a lengthy period of time afterwards. On 28 April, a Nationalist P-38 was shot down by Maj. Keleinikov, while in the night from 11 to 12 May Capt. Shinkarenko also shot down a B-24 bomber. Later, during the summer, a single US RB-44 and a P-2V each were shot down over the Chinese coast.
It is interesting to note, that at this time the Soviets were not using the MiG-15 as their main interceptor. Instead the La-11 - pretty potent fighters for their time, considered at least equal to the P-51, but actually designed to escort Tu-4 bombers - were used for intercepts.
With the cessation of the CNAF raids against targets in the Shanghai area, the Soviets could concentrate on training of the PLAAF and PLA personnel, organizing systematic exercises in order to improve their skills. During the summer the Soviets provided 2.591 hours of training to the Chinese, and from 1 August the V-VS and PLAAF units began carrying out parallel combat service in the Shanghai air defence zone, in preparation for turning over their whole equipment to the PLAAF, set up for 19 October 1950. On this date the Soviet indeed transferred all their assets under the Chinese command. Their contingent in China was then split: a better part of it returned to the USSR, while the rest – foremost a major part of the 351. IAP, was relocated to Shenyang, in northeast China in order to form the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps, which was to take part in the Korean War. One of the pilots serving with the 351. IAP at the time was Sen.Lt. Karelin, later to become one of the most successful Soviet MiG-15-pilots of the Korean War.
In total, the official Soviet documents consider there to have been two phases in the history of the deployments of their units in the defence of Shanghai. Between 24 February and 18 May the Soviets recorded a total of 367 sorties launched by the CNAF against targets in the area defended by their forces. Usually, these were single-plane reconnaissance flights as well as small-scale raids against airfields and industrial objects in the Shanghai area, and against Chinese Army positions along the coast. Between 18 May and 20 October 1950 the CNAF ceased flying into the zone defended by the Soviets, but after the outbreak of the war in Korea it re-started operations, even if at a very small scale: only 12 sorties were recorded, of which nine were by night. Overall, according to contemporary official Soviet reports, the CNAF lost seven aircraft over China in the period between 20 February and 20 October, including two B-24 Liberator bombers, two B-25 Mitchell bombers, two P-51 Mustangs, and one P-38 Lightning. This was supposedly the reason for the CNAF to cease any further raids against targets inside the zone defended by the Soviets, and instead concentrate on attacking PLA units along the coast.
During these two phases the Soviet units performed 238 CAPs over their own airfields, 4.676 combat training flights, and 193 transport sorties. The Soviet pilots claimed six air-to-air kills, without suffering any losses in exchange. The V-VS units did lose some personnel, however, including two officers and one private, as well as two aircraft (a MiG-15 and a La-11), lost in flying accidents. The Soviet AAA also shot down a PLAAF Tu-2 bomber in a case of fratricide fire. The overall conclusion was that the Group of Soviet PVO Forces in Shanghai have successfully completed their mission, and a number of V-VS officers were highly decorated for their "outstanding execution of the mission", both in China and in the USSR.
After being forced to cease CNAF operations over mainland China, in June 1950 the Nationalists had also to retreat also their last ground forces back to Formosa. This pull-back was supported by the USN carrier-battle-group (CVBG) lead by USS Valley Forge (CVA-45), which subsequently also had to take care for the Nationalists not to mount any counter-offensive. With the start of the Korean War, however, the attention of both - the USA and China - was turned away from the situation around Taiwan, and for the next four years there were no additional clashes, while the Nationalists were able to consolidate their regime.
During the Korean War the USAF and the USN continued flying ferreting missions over China. On the night of 4 July 1951, for example, an RB-45C of the 323rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, based in Yokota, Japan, and flown by Capt. Stacy D. Naftel, penetrated as deep as 500 miles inside the airspace over Manchuria. The aircraft was intercepted by eight MiG-15s, but evaded their fire and accomplished the mission. On 18 January 1953, however, a Lockheed P2V-5 Neptune reconnaissance aircraft of the VP-22 was intercepted and shot down near the port of Swatow, directly across the Formosa Strait. While searching for survivors a PBM-5 Mariner came under fire from Chinese air-defence sites on the coast, and requested help while distancing an obviously too dangerous zone: the large but slow aircraft was eventually also shot down and crashed into the sea. The destroyer USS Halsey Powel and another Mariner from VP-40 were sent into the area, but the Chinese opened fire at them too: ignoring the fire, the crew of the destroyer managed to pull ten out of 19 downed sailors from the downed Neptune and the Mariner out of the water.
|Despite bitter complaints from the Soviet leadership, which was repeatedly requesting the Chinese to accelerate the introduction of new fighters and organization of new units during the whole Korean War, the Chinese were relatively slow in this process at the time, and by 1951 there were only two regiments flying MiG-15bis as night fighters. Being not completely trained and equipped, both units were used only for the defence of China, but they became involved in interception of USAF reconnaissance aircraft, some of which went very deep over China. If all the PLAAF night-fighting MiG-15s were camouflaged remains unknown: most of the Chinese jets were actually left without any camouflage. The pattern shown here, however, was seen frequently already during the Korean War, and again also on some MiG-17s, later in the 1950s. |
Reorganization of the CNAF
In May 1951 the USA have sent a small group of instructors to Taiwan, the task of which was to reorganize the Nationalist armed forces. By 1953, this job was completed so far, that the Chinese Nationalist Air Force (CNAF) could be equipped with more modern fighters, including enough Republic F-84G Thunderjets to form one squadron. Simultaneously, it also operated two squadrons of P-47s, and one of P-51s. Additional deliveries were to follow soon. The CNAF at the time was still in control of the airspace over the Fujian province, eastern Guangdong, and southern Zheijang. Most of the CNAF pilots were experienced from earlier operations during the Civil War and some were also recruited from the CAT, which was extensively involved in clandestine operations over mainland China at the time. They were to badly need this experience very soon.
Reinforced by additional deliveries of arms and ammunition from the USSR, in January 1954 the Chinese launched attacks against several Nationalist-held islands near the coast, especially Dachen and Nanchi/Yijiangshan. Meanwhile, however, the Nationalists were able to heavily fortify Matsu (or Mazu) and Quemoy (this should be the accurate transcription of the name the Taiwanese used for Jinmen at the time – which is Mandarin for Kinmen, as the island is called in the local dialect, Hokkien). From there, time and again the Nationalists started new artillery counterattacks against the Chinese shipping and troop concentrations, thus provoking an eight-months long campaign of artillery, naval and aerial skirmishes.
By the summer of 1954, the PLA massed artillery units and on 3 September started to shell Quemoy, while simultaneously preparing an operation against Dachen and Yijiangshan, held by a division of Nationalist troops, supported by ten naval vessels. The bombardment of Quemoy lasted one month, and could not be stopped despite the intervention of the CNAF. The PLAAF then deployed a bomber division (equipped with Tu-2 bombers), a ground-attack division (flying Il-10s), three fighter divisions (all equipped with MiG-15s), two independent recce regiments, and three PLANAF fighter divisions, with a total of 200 combat aircraft, to five airfields in the area.
By late October 1954, the PLAAF conduced foremost recce operations over the both islands, but on 1 November, at 11:00hrs the first air strikes against Yijiangshan was undertaken as well. During that day, 168 combat sorties were undertaken by MiG-15s, 72 by Tu-2s, and 48 by Il-10s. A total of 851 bombs were dropped and 3.741 rounds of ammunition fired. The operation was continued at a similar tempo, unless on 18 January 1955 the PLA assaulted. The Nationalists put up a stiff resistance, but, as the CNAF had to fly over from Taiwan, and could boast nothing of the communist air power, it was not capable to intervene. By 25 February the Nationalist air defences shot down 19 communist aircraft, but Yijiangshan was under the Chinese control, and subsequently the Dachen had to be evacuated.
The tensions lessened only after the US 7th Fleet deployed the carriers USS Essex (CVA-9, carrying aircraft of the CVG-2 (M) on board, including F9F-6s of VF-23 and VF-24, F9F-8s of VA-63, F2H-3s of VF-64, AD-6s of VA-65, and F9F-8/8B of VA-26) and USS Yorktown (CVA-10, carrying aircraft of the CVG-15 (H) on board, including F9F-8B of VF-151, F2H-3s of VF-152, F9F-6s of VA-153, F9F-5s of VA-154, AD-6/7s of VA-155, and F9F-6/8s of VA-156) into the area. Additionally, in February 1955, the USAF deployed the 18th FBW, equipped with F-86F Sabres, to Taiwan. Shortly later the USA started delivering modern fighters to CNAF, including additional F-84G Thunderjets and the first out of eventual 250 F-86F Sabres, with which a total of three or four wings was formed, so that by 1957 the CNAF should have been composed as follows:
- 1st Fighter Wing, ?th and ?th FBS with F-84G
- 3rd Fighter Wing, 8th TFS converting to F-100C/D
- 5th Fighter Wing, 2nd, 3rd, 26th and 27th TFS with F-86F
- 11th Fighter Wing, ?th and ?th TFS with F-86F
- 12th TRS, with RF-84F
- ? SRS, with RB-57D (three of which were delivered in 1957 in the frame of the Project "Diamond Lil")
- ? TW, 3 squadrons of C-46D, C-47, and SA-16A
|The first F-86Fs supplied to Taiwan in 1955 were delivered directly from USAF stocks. Most saw heavy use - some were participants of the Korean War - and traces of their previous US national markings could very often still be seen (the aircraft originally kept their "buzz-numbers" for some time), like in the case of the (5)25135, seen here.|
|CNAF F-84G showing the marking of the 1st Fighter Wing to advantage. (Tom Cooper collection)|
The Quemoy Crisis
After the positive experience from the fighting around Yijiangshan and Dachen, the PLA started to plan a similar combined operation against Quemoy and Matsu. For this, the PLAAF needed airbases in a region which was still actually a free-flight zone for the CNAF. Therefore, from 1956 onwards, a series of new airfields was built, and the PLAAF fighters became active over the Formosa Straits: pilot Chen Wulu, deputy commander of the 18th Regiment, 6th Division PLANAF, claimed damage on two CNAF F-84Fs, on 18 January 1958, for example. Exactly one month later, on 18 February, also the pilots Hu Chung-Sheng and Shu Ji-Cheng of the 10th Regiment/4th Division PLAAF, claimed a CNAF RB-57A reconnaissance bomber as shot down over the mainland.
The preparations for onslaught on Quemoy were completed through the summer 1958, and between 27 July and 22 August, the PLAAF moved a huge number of aircraft, support assets (like radars, searchlights and AAA), and a complete command structure of the 1st Air Corps (from Fuzhou) and the 5th Air Corps (from Hangzhou) to form the Fuzhou Military Region Air Force. The aviation assets concentrated in this was consisted of five complete and four incomplete fighter divisions (all flying MiG-15s, but also some of newly-delivered MiG-17s), two bomber regiments, and a part of the 4th Naval Air Division, with a total of at least 620 combat aircraft.
From 27 July, the PLAAF started to conduct offensive counter-air operations over the Formosa Straights, dispatching numerous MiG-15s and MiG-17s, and this immediately provoked several clashes with CNAF fighters. The MiG-17s (at the time the PLAAF still operated Russian-built fighters, not yet J-5s) was not known to be in service with the Chinese AF, and its appearance caused a considerable surprise. Therefore, the USA rushed a shipment of AIM-9Bs to Taiwan (hardly months after the weapon was introduced to service in the USN), while the CNAF started a series of anti-shipping strikes, as well as recce operations over the mainland. These were foremost flown by F-84Gs and RF-84Fs, respectivelly, escorted by F-86s, some of which also established regular CAP-stations over Fujian. In order to counter the intensive PLAAF and PLANAF operations, the CNAF had to fly 100 sorties each day and as a consequence a number of air combats developed, in which the PLAAF claimed four kills and five Nationalist aircraft damaged, in exchange for one own loss.
|The appearance of the MiG-17F over China in 1955 was quite a surprise for the USA and the Nationalist Chinese, foremost because the aircraft was capable of flying higher and faster than the MiG-15, and was in some aspects superior to the F-86F Sabre at high levels. The Chinese did not operate many MiG-17s by the time: there were probably only two regiments with not more than 60 jets at hand. But, their number was to increase considerably by 1958, by when the Chinese have also started the licence production of the type under the designation J-5. |
According to the Communists, the first clash happened on 29 July, around 11:03hrs, when four MiG-17s of the 54th Regiment/18th Division, led by Zhao De-An intercepted three F-84Gs over Sha Tou. After three minutes of air combat, Sqn.Ldr. Gao Chang-Ji and pilot Zhang Yi-Lin each shot down one Thunderjet, while Zhao De-An damaged the third. On 7 August eight J-5s (Chinese licensed copy of the MiG-17), of the 46th Regiment/9th Air Division, engaged eight CNAF Sabres led by Col. Wang Meng-Qan. According to official Chinese records, after five minutes of air combat, the Sabre flown by Col. Wang Meng-Qan was damaged. No other fighters from either side should have been shot down.
|This gun-camera shot should be showing the downing of a CNAF F-84G on 29 July 1953, by a PLAAF MiG-15. The CNAF, however, is not known to have operated F-84Gs at the time yet. Consequently, it is believed that this is one of the two Nationalist Thunderjets claimed by PLAAF-fighters as shot down on 29 July 1958. The CNAF confirmed to have lost two F-84Gs on that day both of which belonged to the 3rd Fighter Squadron/1st Wing. The aircraft in question were “55”, flown by Lt. Ren Chu-Mou, who ejected near the Nan-Ao island, but was not recovered, and an unknown example flown by Maj. Liu Ching-Chuan, who managed to fly his aircraft over the Pescadores before ejecting. Given that PLAAF pilot Gao Chang-Ji claimed that his victim ejected near the Chinese coast, he most likely has shot down Lt. Ren. Pilot Zhang Yi-Lin, on the contrary, reported leaving his victim in flame and smoke, so it is almost sure that he shot down Maj. Liu. (via C.F.F.)|
|Formation of rocket-armed CNAF F-84Gs as were used for raids against mainland China, in 1955. (Tom Cooper collection)|
Despite such claims the Communists were not able to achieve any kind of air superiority over either Quemoy or Matsu. On the contrary, the CNAF continued flying recce missions over the mainland, and in August CNAF RF-84Fs photographed a build-up of MiG-17-units on Chenghai and Liencheng airfields, and it was during one of such reconnaissance flights on 14 August that the escorting Sabres claimed their first MiG-15 shot down.
According to official Chinese records, the battle on this day developed around 10:30hrs, when eight MiG-17s from the 46th Regiment/16th Division PLAAF engaged eleven F-86s over Ping Tan, and pilot Zhou Chun-Fu shot down two and damaged a third Sabre before being shot down and killed. The Nationalist records differ only slightly, but show that Zhou never had even a slightest chance of firing on a single Sabre. In fact, it seems that claims for Zhou’s kills were only the first in a whole series of claims credited by the Chinese to their killed pilots: significantly, there were to be additional similar reports, and each time two kills were credited to killed pilots. In accordance with the same logic the PLAAF credited one kill to all the pilots that were shot down – but survived!
Back to CNAF records: according to them, on this day eight F-86s of the 26th TFS/5th TFG CNAF were patrolling the area northeast of Matsu. The aircraft were flown by Maj. Li Zhong-Li (Li Chung-Li), deputy commander 26th TFS, Yin Man-Rong, Qin Bing-Jun (Chin Ping-Chun), 1st Lt. Pan Fu-De (Pan Fu-The), Capt. Liu Xian-Wu (Liu Hsien-Wu), 1st Lt. Liang Jin-Zhong (Liang Chin-Chung), Lt. Liu Guang-Can, and 1st Lt. Liu Wen-Gang. Liang Jin-Zhong's aircraft developed problems with cockpit pressure and the pilot aborted, flying back towards Formosa, so that only seven fighters arrived over Matsu, flying at 35.000ft.
Some 10nm northeast of Ping Tan they detected the eight MiG-17s, at 3 o’clock low and attacked. Sabres #1 thru #4 bounced the rear section of four MiGs, while the front four MiG-17 disengaged after Sabre #3 fired a long burst at one of them from a range of 1.100m – but missed. Sabres #1 and #2 went after the MiG #6, firing from a dive and shorter ranges, and Lt.Col. Li Zhong-Li reported seeing it go down in flames fater three bursts from 12.7mm machine-guns. According to some Chinese reports the pilot was killed; other accounts claim he survived.
Meanwhile, Sabres #3 and #4, Qin Bing-Jun (Chin Ping-Chun), and 1st Lt. Pan Tu-De (Pan Fu-The), respectively, attacked the MiGs #7 and #8. The last was flown by Zhou Chun-Fu and shot down on the first pass. Zhou rolled inverted, then rolled straight before ejecting: then his MiG-17 spiralled into the sea. MiG #7 zoom-climbed, chassed by Sabre #4: Pan Fu-De fired a burst a noticed some hits but claimed only a probable. Shortly after the same MiG, #7, flown by pilot Liu Yong-Chong, came under attack by Sabre #5, flown by Capt. Liu Xian-Wu, but it seems that it did not suffer any additional damage and returned safely, even if the US radio intelligence subsequently reported that only one out of four MiGs engaged indeed returned back to its base. For this reason 0.5 kill was awarded to both, Pan and Liu.
Maj. Zhong-Li then ordered the formation to re-assemble and turned back towards Formosa. While returning, however, the Sabre flown by Lt. Liu Guang-Can crashed into the sea for unexplained reasons. Eventually, there is no confirmation for any other losses in CNAF records, except the F-86F #307, from the 26th FS/5th FW, together with the pilot, Lt. Liu Kwant-Yi (not Liu Guang-Can, as stated elsewhere). Liu did not report being hit: he was #7 in this formation and is known to have participated in the hunt for the MiG #7 during this engagement, i.e. he never came anywhere near the MiG #8, known to have been flown by Zhou Chun-Fu. In fact, Liu was on the way back home when contact with him was broken. CNAF radars tracked him to 50nm northwest of Taoyuan (very far from the area where the MiGs were encountered), before it crashed into the sea. Liu is known to have had a severe cold at the time and might have lost consciousness during the flight).
Begin of the Onslaught
Despite the loss, on 23 August the PLA started a massive artillery onslaught against Quemoy, apparently as preparation for an invasion. This was enough to alert the USA, and the US 7th Fleet immediately dispatched carrier USS Hancock (CV-19) from Hong Kong, USS Shangri La (CV-38) from Yokosuka, and USS Midway (CV-41) from Pearl Harbour. USS Essex (CVA-9), which belonged to the 6th Fleet in the Med was also sent across the Indian Ocean. While the bombardment was going on and the US fleet sailing towards Formosa, the PLAAF deployed additional units into the area, including two regiments equipped with Il-28s (like in the case of MiG-17s, these were still Soviet-built examples), and one with Tu-4s to Zhanghou AB, in Fujian. Also, two additional MiG-15 and one Il-10 regiments were prepared for deployment, but never used.
In response, the USA initiated a massive deployment of over 140 USAF F-100 and F-104 fighters as well as some bombers to different airbases on the island, and on Okinawa, organized as follows:
- 83rd FIS, F-104A based at Ching Chuan AB
- 511th TFS, F-100D based at Ching Chuan AB
- 27th TFW, with 522nd TFS flying F-101C from Kadena AB
- 314th TCW, with 1 squadron of C-130A transports at Ashiya AB (in Japan)
- 345th BG, with 499th BS flying B-47B from Kadena AB
- 354th TFW, two squadrons of F-100Ds at Kadena AB
- 363rd TRW, two squadrons of RF-101Cs at Kadena AB
The USMC also had the F4D-1s of the VMF(AW)-115 and VMF(AW)-314 based at Tainan, wile the USAF and the CIA deployed a number of RB-57Ds and U-2A/Bs to Taoyuan AB, on Taiwan as well: the later were operated by the 4025th SRS in the operation called "Project Hot Shop".
As US fighters began flying defensive CAPs over Formosa, the CNAF was free to operate over the mainland, and in position to increase the number of offensive missions there to something like 200 sorties per day. Some of these missions included reportedly up to 80 CNAF fighters, and clashes with PLAAF interceptors became unavoidable again. Between 23 August and 10 October seven air battles occurred of which those on 25 August, 24 September and 10 October were the heaviest.
According to Chinese sources on 23 August, the CNAF sent 48 F-86Fs over Quemoy, and eight more over the Zhanghou area. The PLAAF scrambled no less but 68 MiG-17s (and some J-5s, now available as well), and in the following air combats pilot Liu Wie-Min of the 27th Regiment/9th Division PLAAF is claimed to have shot down two Sabres. However, the same pilot should have subsequently been shot down and killed by PLA AA-units. The CNAF records show absolutely no losses on this day at all, and it must therefore be concluded that here the Chinese have again credited two kills to one of their killed pilots – apparently for no other reason but that the pilot died n combat.
Re-supply of Besieged Garrisons
On 8 September 1958 5th TFG CNAF launched a formation of 12 F-86s into a patrol over Cheng Hai. The first team was lead by Maj. Li Zhong-Li, with Lt. Dai Mai-Lun, Lt. Lin Zong Huo, Lt. Liu Xian-Wu (Liu Hsien-Wu; deputy CO of the 3rd TFS), Lt. Huang Yung-Long, Lt. Qin Bing-Jun (Chin Ping-Chun), Lt. Li Yi-Jun (Note 5), 1st Lt. Wang Tao, 1st Lt. Liang Jin-Zhong (Liang Chin-Chung), 1st Lt. Liu Wen-Gang, 2nd Lt. Zhu Wei-Ming (Chu Wai-Ming), and Maj. Yu Zhong-Ti (Yu Chung-Tsi; commander of the 2nd TFS), to provide cover for two RF-84Fs of the CNAF Recon Squadron, which attempted to photograph PLAAF and PLANAF airfields in the area. The Sabres were underway at 31.000ft, directly behind the reconnaissance aircraft. The mission was almost completed by 11:00hrs, with RF-84Fs taking photographs of Cheng Hai and Shan Tou, but, five minutes later, 12 MiG-17s were spotted some 10nm northeast of Cheng Hai. Right at the start of the following dogfight, Maj. Yu Zhong-Ti shot down one MiG, followed by another destroyed by Lt. Liu Xian-Wu. The third MiG was shot down by 1st Lt. Liang Jin-Zhong, and then the remaining Chinese pilots disengaged.
On their way back towards Formosa, however, a part of the CNAF Sabre-formation sighted two other MiGs, and Lt. Liu Xian-Wu attacked them, hitting one. The MiG was claimed to have caught fire and crashed. Meanwhile, other Sabres engaged two other MiGs and Lt. Qin Bing-Jun shot down one of them, scoring the fifth kill for CNAF on that day – supposedly without any losses. The Chinese sources are not especially open about this engagement. In fact it is only known that they claim one Sabre-kill, supposedly scored by pilot Zhang Yi-Lin of the 54th Regiment/18th Division PLAAF: there is no trace of any Nationalist Sabre being lost on this day in official CNAF records, however. Quite on the contrary, in the recently published book “Shelling Jinmen”, Chinese author Want Yan confirmed a loss of a MiG-17 flown by Zhang Yi-Lin, of the 54th Regiment/18th Division, during a battle over Gong-Kou. Unclear is only if he was insantly shot down, or if he crashed while returning to base with a damaged aircraft.
The next air battle occurred on the afternoon of 18 September, and consisted of two engagements. The first happened around 16:12hrs, northwest of Quemoy, and the second around 18:04hrs, some ten miles south of the same island. During the first engagement, four F-86s - flown by Maj. Zhan Cheng-Ju, Lt. Dong Guang-Xing (Tung Kuang-Hsing), Lt. Mao Jie-Sheng (Mao Che-Shing), and 1st Lt. Ding Ding-Zhong (Ting Teng-Chung) - were to provide cover for RF-84F recon aircraft underway to Wie Tou. Around 16:16hrs, northwest of Quemoy they were detected by 16 MiG-17s, however, four of which were engaged. In the following dogfight Lts. Dong Guang-Xing and Mao Jie-Sheng each claimed to have shot down one MiG.
The second engagement developed when four F-86s, flown by Maj. Sun Si-Wen (Sun Tzu-Wan), 1st Lt. Liu Xin-Ye (Liu Hsin-Yeh), Lt. Lin Wen-Li (Lin Wan-Li), and 2nd Lt. Lu Yang-Zhong, were sent to cover several ships that were about to deliver supplies to Quemoy. Around 18:04hrs, while some three miles east of Mt. Hu-Tou, the formation clashed with eight MiG-17s: despite being low on fuel the CNAF pilots engaged – with excellent results, each pilot claiming one MiG as shot down, Lt. Lin Wen-Li in addition claiming one probable.
For their part, the Chinese sources are again not especially detailed, and only one claim is known, associated with pilot Zhu You-Cai, of the 52nd Regiment/18th Division PLAAF, who should have shot down one CNAF Sabre. This is eventually the only claim credited during this crisis by the PLAAF to one of its pilots that was not shot down. However, there is no trace of any Sabre-losses on this day in CNAF records.
|This gaudy-marked F-86F of the 2nd Fighter Wing CNAF ((5)24545/F-85141) had few additional, "personal" markings around the cockpit, as well as the unit insignia of the 2nd Fighter Wing on the fin. |
|This F-86F, (5)24441/F-86272, was also flown by the 2nd Fighter Wing, but the unit insignia applied on the fin - a head of the roaring tiger - should have been that of one of the squadrons - not that of the 2nd FW! |
|The third unit of the 2nd Fighter Wing CNAF in 1958 apparently painted its aircraft in this way, however, its designation and serials of its aircraft remain unknown. |
Arrival of the Snakes
While the air and artillery battles were raging over the Formosa Straits, the USA were attempting their best to reinforce the Nationalists. One of the most secret operations undertaken at the time was the deployment of two pilots and five NCOs from the VMF-323 to Taiwan in order for these to install AIM-9B Sidewinders on CNAF F-86 Sabres. This project was so secret that not even the USAF knew something about it: 40 missiles and 40 launching rails were taken directly from the stocks of the VMF-323 and brought – together with seven mentioned Americans – to the Hsinchu AB, on Taiwan.
At the time there was no certainty that the idea of mounting what was then the top secret USN air-to-air weapon on old, ex-USAF F-86s flown by the CNAF; the project was held so secret, that not even the NAS China Lake team that developed the Sidewinder knew anything about it. Eventually, the VMF-323’s team came to the idea to jury-rig the HVAR-rocket launching system wiring with the wiring of the pylons they brought with them. This was, of course, a considerable improvisation, especially as there was no precedent for it, and it had to be done solely with the help of few technical manuals the sailors brought in their sea bags.
Working around the clock the VMF-323’s team needed one week to prepare the first Sabre, and this was then flown by one of the pilots. The testing consisted of one HVAR being fired from one of the newly-mounted Sidewinder rails, the pilot then acquiring it with the AIM-9B carried on the other rail, and then firing. The missile scored the desired kill, and proved that the installation functioned (the ships of the USN observed the test and – not knowing anything about the Sidewinders being delivered to the CNAF – reported about the Nationalists “testing an unknown guided air-to-air missile” to the CINCPAC). After two weeks of intensive work a total of 20 F-86s were modified with two rails each.
Then a captain of the USAF started working on intercept tactics, teaching the CNAF pilots to fight against USAF F-100s, deployed on Taiwan, in air combats at 40.000ft and higher. The method saw the Sabres climbing to 35.000ft, then diving to convert their altitude into speed, and then climbing back again to attack from underneath and bring their targets into the range of the Sidewinders. By the mid-September 1958, therefore, the Chinese Nationalist Air Force was about to become the first ever to use guided air-to-air missiles in combat!
|By late 1955, however, the CNAF started introducing its own serials. These were quite interesting and consisted of the original USAF serial (in this case (5)12894, and the CNAF serial that included the type designation, F-86098, with the last three digits repeated on the rear fuselage. "098" was operated by the 5th TFG in the period 1955-1958.|
Turkey-Shoot on 24 September
Already in the days before the crucial engagements occurred, starting in early September, the CNAF began flying supply flights to the besieged islands, as the constant Chinese shelling was frequently disrupting the naval operations. For this task C-46 Commando transports, escorted by Sabres, were used. Specific Russian and Chinese sources indicate that the PLAAF decided that slow transports would be lucrative targets, and so when on 24 September a total of 24 C-46s and 48 F-86s were underway to Quemoy, the PLAAF scrambled 48 MiG-17s from Liancheng and Shantou to intercept. The main task of this large formation of MiGs was to distract the Sabres, while four MiG-17s from Jinjiang would then follow on at low level to intercept the C-46s. Apparently, the tactics functioned, and two C-46s were claimed shot down after the F-86s were lured away during a fierce air battle over Wen Zhou Wan.
Official PLAAF records, however, indicate something else. According to them the CNAF flew a total of 126 fighter and fighter-bomber sorties on this day. When two groups of 16 Sabres entered the airspace over the Hue and Fujian Provinces, they were intercepted by MiGs from the 14th and 16th Division PLAAF, with the result that one aircraft on each side was damaged during the first clash. Later, during a battle over Wen Zhou, two Sabres should have been shot down, both by pilot named Wang Zi-Zhong, flying a MiG-15bis from the 5th Regiment/2nd Division PLAAF; but, the Chinese acknowledge also that the Nationalists used the Sidewinder for the first time on this day, and that one hit the MiG of the very same pilot that should have previously downed the two CNAF fighters.
The official CNAF combat reports seems to confirm some parts of the communist report - at last to some degree, and in so far that they do not indicate the engagements on this day to have seen the involvement of any transport aircraft, but instead to have seen the first combat use of the AIM-9B Sidewinder. In fact, if the battle indeed developed as follows, there was not the slightest chance for Wang Zi-Zhong to have shot anybody down. According to CNAF and USMC sources, around 09.45hrs the 6th TFG RF-84Fs flown by Lt. Yan Shi-Ju, took-off on a reconnaissance mission over Wen Zhou Wan, with 18 F-86 Sabres of the 11th TFG as escort, four of which were armed with two Sidewinders each. The Sabres were flown by Lt.Col. Li Shu-Yuan (Li Shu-Yuen), 1st Lt. Fu Chun-Xian (Fu Chun-Hsien), Lt. Qian Yi-Qiang (Chin Yi-Chiang), Lt. Song Hong-Yan, Lt. Liu Geng-Yuan (Liu Tsai-Chuen), and Lt. Xie Xiang-Long in one formation. Lt.Col. Ma Da-Peng (Ma Ta-Peng) led the second formation, consisting also of 1st Lt. Xia Ji-Zao (Hsia Jie-Tsu), Lt. Yu Qing-Zhang, Lt. Li Wei-Yang, Lt. Col. Tang Ji-Min (Tang Jie-Min), 1st Lt. Li Zai-Quan, Lt. Wang Yuan-Bo (Wang Yuen-Po), 1st Lt. Zhang Xin-Yong (Note 11). Finally, the third formation was led by Col. Leng Pei-Shu, Lt. Lu Wei-Song, Lt. Lin Xi-Wei, and Lt. Yan Zhong-Kang First Lieutenant. The Sabres took off at 09:58hrs, and established escorting formation over the lonesome RF-84F around 10:02hrs, then separated into two groups as they approached the mainland, with the forward formation consisting of six fighters flying ahead of the Thunderflash, one rear group flying low behind it, and other rear group high flying behind it, at a level of 36.000ft.
The first group of six Sabres arrived over the target area at 10:34hrs, and found no enemy in the air. After making a right turn to a new heading 220, they were informed by the local CNAF GCI about the appearance of PLAAF fighters some 20nm out, at 4 o’clock. Sighting approaching trails of vapour the CNAF pilots reversed to left and engaged, requesting confirmation from their colleagues flying high that these were not CNAF fighters. While this was going on the MiGs turned on a new heading 70, so the Sabres of the first group followed them in a new turn to the right, first diving and then climbing to a level of 39.000ft and approach within the range of 2.000m – now directly behind the enemy.
Aproaching from the rear, Lt.Col. Li Shu-Yuan (Li Shu-Yuen) and his #3, Lt. Qian Yi-Qiang (Chin Yi-Chiang) each fired a single AIM-9B, scoring hits on two communist fighters. Obviously not expecting this kind of attack – especially not from such range or at that level – both MiGs did not manoeuvre: they blew up and fell towards the earth. The Chinese pilots obviously did not expect the F-86s to climb up to their altitude, and even less so to be able to hit them from ranges of more than 1.000m. Two surviving MiGs immediately pulled up and left, but the rest of the formation continued on the same course and were attacked by 1st Lt. Fu Chun-Xian (Fu Chun-Hsien) who then fired two AIM-9Bs in quick succession. Both scored a hit, downing two more MiGs. Only now did the Chinese turn around, making a 180° turn and turning to engage – supported by a second group of MiGs that meanwhile approached from another direction. During the ensuing dogfight Lts.Qian Yi-Qiang (Chin Yi-Chiang) and Song Hong-Yan each claimed one MiG as shot down, while Lts. Geng-Yuan and Song Hong-Yan claimed one probable each.
The second group of the Sabres arrived on the scene, still tracing the RF-84F at a low level. The Thunderflash completed its recce run around 10:43hrs, and turned back home. Around 10:50hrs, while some 3nm east of Nan Ji, the high-flying Sabres spotted an enemy fighter at 32.000ft and Lt.Col. Ma Da-Peng (Ma Ta-Peng) turned to engage. Closing at Mach 0.9 to a range of only 2.000ft, Da-Peng fired three times (it is unclear which weapons were used), causing the MiG to caught fire and crash. Immediately afterwards, he detected another MiG and attacked again. Closing to between 3.000 and 4.000ft he fired several times, but missed, finally letting his wingman to attack. Lt. Xia Ji-Zao scored a hit and the MiG fell to the ground.
Meanwhile, around 10:40hrs the third group of Sabres, now at a level of 40.000ft, did a 360° turn over the target area before spotting four MiGs passing by and then turning around to engage – head on. After some turning, one MiG was claimed as damaged, but the rest disengaged safely. Only two minutes later, as the Sabres were climbing back to 42.000ft, they sighted two MiGs somewhere between 7 and 8 o’clock and attacking: Col. Tang Ji-Min and his wingman immediately turned sharp, causing the MiGs to overshoot and then disengage towards the north. Ji-Min led his wingman into a pursuit, during which they were joined by #3 and #4 of their formation. The hunt went on until the MiGs approached the Li Qiao AB, where the Sabres finally cut the distance. Aggressively attacking the MiGs in landing pattern, Lt. Wang Yuan-Bo finally scored some hits on one of the PLAAF fighters, causing it to crash.
Eventually, the CNAF pilots thus claimed nine confirmed and two probable MiGs as shot down, and one as damaged. Certainly, the appearance of the AIM-9B Sidewinder in combat was a great surprise for the Chinese pilots. They could not have expected the Sabres to open fire at them from ranges over 3.000 yards previously, so the first three or four Sidewinders fired almost certainly had little problems in downing their targets: after all, AIM-9B was functioning at best at levels above 30.000ft, against non-manoeuvring targets. Whether it is possible that this initial clash caused such a shock on the Chinese side and caused them to disperse all of their remaining formations thus enabling the CNAF pilots to pick out single MiGs and end shooting at them even over their own airfields, remains unknown and thus unconfirmed, however. Certain is only that CNAF sources do not claim the involvement of any transport aircraft in this air battle, the Chinese credit a killed pilot with two kills again, while the CNAF claims quite a few MiGs as destroyed.
Nevertheless, some Russian sources claim that after this day the Nationalists supposedly stopped flying supply missions to Quemoy. That this is not truth was shown during most recent Chinese publications, which indicate that on 3 October the PLAAF MiG-17-pilots Cao Shuang-Ming and Yu Yao-Zhong have shot down two CNAF C-46s. CNAF records confirm that two C-46s were damaged by MiGs on this day, but state that both landed safely. While their eventual fates are unknown – i.e. it remains unclear if they were subsequently repaired or not – this obviously means that the version about the downing of two Nationalist transports on 24 September was wrong, as well as that the CNAF did not stopping supply missions on that day. In fact, this claim might indicate that the said trap set up by 48 MiGs that distracted the Sabres from escorting transports, which in turn were then attacked by MiGs, might have actually happened on 3 October instead. Surely, even a loss of two transports would not have been a reason enough for the Nationalists to stop transporting supplies per aircraft to Quemoy: the situation there was all too serious not to risk losing even more aircraft.
The air battle on 24 September actually signalized the end of the contest in the air, then – with their fighters having an advantage in high-altitude performance, but acting as perfect targets for CNAF Sidewinder-armed Sabres when flying that high and in a straight line, and also being at a considerable disadvantage when attempting to manoeuvre against the Sabre at a lower level – the Chinese pilots subsequently became much more careful when engaging in air combats. They could not know if all or only some of Nationalist F-86s were armed with AIM-9Bs and consequently had to expect a sudden attack from any of them. Furthermore the PLAAF could not know the performance of the AIM-9B at lower levels: it only knew that the missile functioned perfectly at high altitudes, where no aircraft could not manoeuvre very hard because of the rare air.
Besides, at a lower altitude the inexperienced PLAAF and PLANAF pilots were no match for intensively trained CNAF F-86-pilots, even most junior of which had at least 1.000 hours on the type. In fact, even the pilots of the VMF-323 had to admit in embarrassment that their FJ4 Furies – although faster and able to fly higher – could not turn with Nationalist Sabres, especially not bellow the levels of 25.000ft.
|By 1958 the MiG-17F was already the main fighter of the PLAAF and available in considerable numbers. In the skies over the Formosa Straits they proved potent and dangerous opponents, but their pilots lacked the gunnery training and had no good section tactics. The appearance of the AIM-9B Sidewinders on CNAF F-86s was an immense surprise - if not even an outright shock - for PLAAF-pilots, then suddenly the superior climb and altitude performance were only exposing them to the missiles of enemy fighters!|
|Most of the PLAAF MiG-17s in 1958 were left without any camouflage. The aircraft flown by night-fighter units, however, were usually camouflaged - a practice introduced by the Soviets during the Korean War.|
The final air battle of this crisis therefore occurred at low levels – and, it is perhaps the most interesting of all, then many reports about this engagement are meanwhile available from both sides about this engagement, which occurred on 10 October 1958, around 0730hrs, over the Matsu. Even if these do not confirm each other it is at lest possible to conclude about the most probable outome.
According to PLAAF records, on this day eight MiG-17s from the 42nd Regiment/16th Division – flown by Li Zhen-Chuan (Deputy Division Commander), Zhang Zhen-Huan, Jiang Yong-Feng (Navigation Director), Du Feng-Rui, Huan Shu-Lin, Yang Yan-Fu,, Li Gao-Tang, and Wang Zhang-Xiao, intercepted six F-86s from the 5th TFG CNAF, led by Maj. Lu Jing. The Chinese claim that their pilot Du Feng-Rui shot down a Sabre of the 27th TFS CNAF, flown by 2nd Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun (who should have been captured after ejecting safely), while attempting to help Jiang Yong-Feng. The Chinese also say, however, that around 07:23hrs Du Feng-Rui was himself shot down in this combat, while fighting three Sabres, and killed by an enemy fighter that strafed him while he was hanging under the parachute: in turn, the same Sabre should then have been shot down by PLA AA-fire. Specifically, the gunners of the 521st Air-Defence Regiment/105th Artillery Division sighted two fighters crashing into the sea, and one parachute appearing in the sky. When the pilot descended to a level of 700m another fighter supposedly approached and opened fire at the parachute. The gunners of the nearest company of the 521st Regiment, the 3rd, could not open fire as they were not sure if the fighter is actually belonging to the PLAAF: then the gunners of the 1st and 4th Company opened fire. The 1st Company should have acquired the target from a range of 12.000m, and commenced firing from a range of 7.000m, firing 12 shots, all of which missed. The Deputy Commander of the 4th Company, Yang Zhang-Ming, ordered his unit not to fire until the target was only 2.600m away, and then let the 37mm guns fire 61 rounds, three or four hit home, downing the fighter into the sea.
The Chinese reports should have been confirmed by reports of the local air defence units, fishermen, interception of enemy radio communications (including several calls for the missing pilot, who should have disappeared some 65km west of Wai Pu), and the fact that Nationalist and US Navy warships – as well as a single Grumman SA.16 Albatross – should have been sent into the area to find the downed pilot.
The CNAF records again confirm a part of this version, but deny others. There were indeed six F-86s, flown by Maj. Lu Jing (Lu Chen), Lt. Jin Da-Ji, Lt. Luo Cheng-Zhi, Capt. Ding Ding-Zhong (Ting Teng-Chung), 1st Lt. Ye Zhuan-Xu, and 2nd Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun (Chang Nai-Chun). They were underway on a CAP over the Chinese coast, between Min Jiang Kou and Wu Qiu, when sighting eight MiGs approaching to a distance of five miles, southeast of Ping Tan. In an intensive dogfight, Lt. Ding Ding-Zhao claimed two, Maj. Lu Jin and 1st Lt. Ye Zhuan-Xu each claimed one MiG shot down, but 2nd Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun collided with a MiG and both fighters exploded, their wreckage crashing into the sea.
The communist Chinese sources stress that – except Du Feng-Rui – the other seven MiG-17-pilots from this engagement are still alive, and that none of them was shot down. Of course, considering the sturdy construction of the MiGs, it is possible that the four of them claimed to have been shot down by CNAF Sabre-pilots were actually damaged, or that at least their pilots managed to eject safely. It is also sure, however, that the CNAF does not recognize any additional loss but the Sabre #072, flown by 2nd Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun from the 27th FS/5th FW on this day, even if it originally claimed to have shot down 14 MiGs in exchange for two during the air battles on 10 October. Obviously, given the lack of any kind of reports regarding other air combats on that day, it remains unclear where should have all these aircraft been shot down.
In the book “Return of the Sabre”, by Yu Chou, published in Taipei in 1995, the author brought a transcription of an interview with Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun about how he experienced this battle. Zhang was flying as #2 to Capt. Lu. When they encountered the PLAAF MiG-17s, Chang spotted a lone MiG-17 climbing up in front of them and to the left. Lu made a sharp diving left turn to bounce the MiG-17. The MiG, clearly that flown by Du Feng-Rui, spotted the Sabres and broke left. Lu followed the MiG-17 around in two and a half circles, firing as he closed. According to Zhang, Lu missed and overshot. Zhang then closed in on Du, as he felt the communist pilot would be threatening his leader: as he tracked the MiG-17 he realized his radar gunsight was malfunctioning. Switching to manual ranging he fired two bursts, hitting Du’s MiG-17, and causing it to stream smoke from the left wing. The speed brakes also deployed. Still, the MiG-17 remained behind Lu's Sabre and Chang decided to fire a third time. He was so fixated on hitting his target that Chang failed to notice the closure rate.
According to Zhang, a working APG-30 ranging radar would break lock when the range closed to within 650ft, alerting the pilot. But, since he was using manual ranging there was no warning. The MiG-17 was now smoking also from the right wing – and losing speed rapidly. Too late, Zhang realized he was approaching at high speed, and initiated an evasion manoeuvre, but eventually flew straight through the fireball as the MiG in front of him exploded, clipping the left wing of the opponent. Fatally damaged, the Sabre tumbled wildly. Zhang managed to eject with some difficulty: while descending in his parachute another Sabre flashed by in a strafing pass. Zhang was under the impression the Sabre was shooting at him but could not identify who it was. The Sabre then broke off and strafed another parachute to Zhang's right.
After he landed and was captured, Chang learned that the other parachute belonged to Du Feng-Rui, the MiG-17-pilot who was, apparently, shot and killed by the Sabre. After being held prisoner for eight months, Chang was repatriated to Taiwan. All the remaining Sabres in the action returned safely to Taoyuan.
One of the conclusions drawn on the basis of available evidence, therefore, is that the only fact certain about this engagement is that both sides have lost a single fighter – when the Sabre of 2nd Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun collided with the MiG-17 flown by Du Feng-Rui.
Another possible explanation for the additional CNAF claims against PLAAF MiGs from 10 October 1958 was supplied to this author two years ago by a Chinese source, in the frame of a story about 2nd Lt. Zhang Nai-Jun.
According to this story, the whole Quemoy Crisis was by far not as serious a matter as usually described. Generally, there should have been some kind of an agreement between the two sides, about "odd-day-fire and even-day-peace": i.e. neither side would fire on specific days. 10 October 1958 was to be one of the day where there was not to be any fighting, but the CNAF then supposedly decided to celebrate one of the local holidays by sending a squadron of F-86s over mainland China to challenge the PLAAF. So, when the F-86s flew over the neutral line and above Ping-Tan Island of Fu-Jiang, the PLAAF was taken completely by surprise. In a rush the Communists started scrambling MiGs to intercept. This decision proved to be fatal, as MiGs were immediately at a disadvantage, struggling to gain heights at a fatally low speed against the high-flying-full-speed F-86s. So, ROCAF pilots claimed ten MiGs shot down within couple of minutes.
The rest of this story, however, explains some additional details about the fate of Lt. Zhang. As several MiGs managed to gain height and engaged the Sabres in a dogfight, he was covering his leader when spotting a MiG closing. Lt. Zhang turned in and attempted to help but in the chaos of the furball he oversaw another MiG very close to him, and there was a collision in the air, so he had to eject out of the disabled F-86. While he was descending hanging under the parachute, he saw the MiG pilot was not far away from him, under the parachute, too. A moment later, he saw the F-86 of Capt. Ding turning back and opening fire at them. He got several holes in his parachute, but fortunately he was low enough already and landed safely. (Capt. Ding later said he did not do it).
Once he landed, Lt. Zhang was captured by the Chinese soldiers. They first told him that bailed-out MiG pilot was killed by the other Sabre while still in the air under his parachute. Then they took him to interrogation at the local HQs, before he was sent to the FHQ of the local PLAAF Army. Subsequently, the Chinese let him meet his relatives in Sechuan and - together with another captured ROCAF pilot - took him to see some other places in China. Then one day the Communist authorities asked both of them if they wanted to go back to Taiwan. They say yes. The Communists notified the Taiwan authorities at Kim-Men Island and sent a fishing boat to take them there. Once close under the coast, the The KimMen soldiers opened fire on them, and they had to waive the white flag really hard. Nevertheless, after some screaming, they were allowed to land.
Both released CNAF pilots were interrogated again by the Taiwan units, but apparently worse then by the Communists! The worst were US interrogators, which went into details about anyone they saw in China and what they look like, as well as about all the details of all buildings they were in. Afterwards, the ROCAF gave Lt. Zhang a desk job, obviously mistrusting him: even all his old friends turned away from him. Only his Squadron boss understood his situation and would not let him down. Whatever, the situation became so bad, that the Lt. Zhang subsequently emigrated in the USA: his flying career was therefore over on 10 October 1958.
|It remains unclear when was the 3rd TFW CNAF equipped with Sabres and became operational, but this probably happened sometimes in 1958, when a large number of F-86Fs was delivered to Taiwan. The aircraft of this unit wore very colourfull markings, that were actually a combination of markings previously used by different USAF units. |
Otherwise, by the time, the USN had six aircraft carriers and an armada of 150 escort and support ships positioned around Formosa, while three all-weather wings of the USMC aviation, and two USAF wings were stationed on the island, together with some additional units dispatched to Japan and Philippines. The CNAF was reinforced by additional F-86Fs, and to a large degree equipped with Sidewinders which proved pretty effective - although certainly not playing any important role in establishing a kind of balance between the quantitatively stronger Chinese AF and the CNAF. Nevertheless, especially after Washington issued a „Guarantee for Security“ of Formosa, it was clear to Beijing, that any attempt to start a large-scale operation would probably lead to a war that it could not win. Therefore, the crisis slowly de-escalated some two weeks later, when the shelling diminished significantly. Quemoy and Matsu were (and still are) with the Republic of China, but the PLAAF had taken control of its whole airspace.
In total, during the crisis, the PLAAF records report about a deployment of 691 aircraft to the combat area, which should have flown 3.778 sorties. Furthermore, the Chinese claimed their fighters to have participated in 13 air combats and to have shot down 14 CNAF aircraft, losing five own. Also, the PLAAF pilots claimed nine CNAF fighters as damaged, in exchange for five own. One Nationalist pilot should have been captured. The CNAF, to contrary, claimed to have shot down 31 or 32 PLAAF aircraft, scored three probables, and damaged ten others, in exchange for three Sabres. All this should have happened in between 13 (according to PLAAF) and 25 (CNAF) air battles. Additionally, the PLA claimed two Nationalist aircraft as shot down by the AAA.
The exact details about the number of CNAF combat sorties flown remain unknown, but at least some details about the deployment of the Sidewinder with Nationalists Sabres are meanwhile known. In total, the personnel from the VMF-323 managed to modify 20 F-86s for launching Sidewinders, but only four of these should have participated in air combats. Although VMF-323’s own F4J Furies – a navalized and further developed version of the Sabre – could carry up to four Sidewinders, it was decided to mount only two on the CNAF F-86s, because additional pylons would seriously affect aircraft’s performances. In combat, these four Sabres should have fired a total of six AIM-9Bs and scored four confirmed kills using AIM-9Bs, all at high levels and against non-manoeuvring targets.
With special thanks to C.F.F. for his translation of Chinese and Taiwanese reports: this article would be impossible without his help!
- Official ROCAF ("CNAF") reports about air combats fought in 1958, including such like "Double Ten Mazu Air Combat", "Nine Eight Cheng Hai Air Combat", "Eight Fourteen Ping-Tan Air Combat" and others, translated and supplied by C.F.F.;
- "Air Wars and Aircraft", Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989;
- "Sea Power, A Naval History", Ch.W. Nimitz, S.B. Potter, J. Rohwer, Prentice-Hall Inc. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. (German issue, published in München, in 1982);
- Website http://www.china-military.org, and "Red Santa";
- "China's Air Force enters the 21st Century", Kenneth Allen, Glenn Krumel, Jonathan D. Pollack, RAND's Project Airforce, 1995, (excerpts supplied by Arthur Hubers);
- "Return of the Sabre", Yu Chou, Wen Ching Wen Ku, Taipei, 1995 (excerpts translated and supplied by C.F.F.);
- "Russia (USSR) In Local Wars and Regional Conflicts in the Second Half of the 20th Century", Maj.Gen. (ret.) V. A. Zolotarev, Moscow 2000 (see also http://www.korean-war.com/russianregionalconflicts.html), (excerpts supplied by J. C. Ritter, with additional commentary from "Brutus").
- Insignia Magazine, issues 11 (spring 1999), 12 (summer 1999), and 13 (winter 1999).
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