HMCS Nootka firing at target railway bridge.Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-213652
"And the MiG pilot was so taken with the idea of shooting this Englishman down, he forgot he had no air underneath him and he flew right into one of the mountains."
Generally speaking, the navy was not actively and continuously involved in warfare, because of the fact there was no navy ships in the North Korean navy at that time. And the Chinese did not bring their ships into the act at all, after they got into the war.
Our primary work out of Sasebo [Japan] was acting as a plane guard for an aircraft carrier, a British carrier or an American one, whichever who had the duty, and they would go off, these are the light fleet carriers, they would go up into the Yellow Sea, flying their aircraft off in support of army operations ashore in Korea and also flying interdiction against the boats that they thought were unfriendly, laying mines or whatever. But there was no naval action as such. Our time was spent equally divided between acting as a plane guard for a carrier and what was called inshore patrol work, which meant lying around up in the friendly islands of the Yellow Sea, discouraging the locals from attempting to make war on us. It was a very different war.
And I don’t think, well, we got shot at a couple of times, more than that. But most of our, well, just about all of our patrols were in the Yellow Sea except for one or two on the east coast of Korea, between Korea and Japan. And this was a different war again from the Yellow Sea war and consisted of, for entertainment and war-like purposes of chasing trains or trying to destroy communist Korean trains carrying goods and whatever to their troops in the southern part of Korea. The railways in Korea ran primarily north and south because the place has a mountain range down the middle. So we stayed close to the shore on the east coast and we could catch trains dashing between tunnels. This became known as the train busters. So if you saw smoke coming out of a tunnel, you’re pretty sure there was a train hiding in it waiting for us to leave and you can just imagine what happened. You know, we’d catch some and we’d miss some. Again, a very different than what I’d been used to in the North Atlantic [during the Second World War].
We’d come under fire, we didn’t know where the guns were until we could see the dust raised by the concussion of a gun firing inside a cave. They’d fire it with just the barrel showing up. And so there’d be a bout of flame and a lot of dust and we’d know there was a gun in there. And so we then try and knock the gun out using the aircraft, our aircraft to identify our follow shot and also the position of the North Korean artillery. And they were pretty good at what they did and I don’t think we were terribly successful in the long haul in knocking out too many guns.
We got a couple of freights on the east coast of Korea when we were patrolling on the east coast. I can recall, we ran the length of Korea and we came up to near the border of Manchuria, a place called Chongjin was the major town near the border on the Korean side. So we were traveling with an American destroyer. We did it twice, the [USS] Henderson and the [USS] Endicott, American destroyers. And we sort of learned how to do it the first day which was with the Henderson and the second time we went back with the Endicott and we were fired upon accurately by Chinese shore batteries and so we had to get out of there in a bit of a hurry. They were every good, of course, it’s easier, you’re more accurate when your gun isn’t rolling around as ours was at sea, so they, they bracketed us to the point where I was standing on the upper deck taking all this stuff in, a piece of shrapnel, a jagged piece of metal about four or five inches long, hit the ship. It landed between my feet eventually.
One Sunday morning, we were anchored off Chodo as a matter of fact and we tuned the ship’s communication radio, we tuned it to the frequency used by the pilots on the British and American aircraft that were flying interdiction into northern Korea, going in to bomb ammunition dumps and oxcarts and what else. And we were listening and all of a sudden, the voices got very tense. Two of our aircraft from a British carrier, the lovely propeller driven aircraft called the [Hawker] Sea Fury, were jumped by a MiG [Russian-built fighter jet]. A MiG is a very fast aircraft that flew circles around the Sea Furies, but on the other hand, Sea Furies had a much tighter turning circle. So the MiG had trouble lining up the Sea Furies in order to shoot them down. So the MiG picked on one of the Sea Furies and ran in on it and the pilot was pretty good, he was watching his rearview mirror over his head, as soon as he saw the machine guns or cannons firing on the MiG, he would turn, turn so suddenly that the MiG went flying past him and never got a real good shot at him. And the wingman of this guy was also watching the MiG and he alerted the lead British pilot that the MiG was firing. And so the British pilot on the attacked aircraft was dodging the MiG which would get behind him and try and shoot him down again and all this was narrated over the air and we were listening, it rather made a lovely Sunday morning entertainment.
The British pilot dodged down, he would turn and go down, dropped down a couple of thousand feet and then the MiG would come back and have another run at him, and eventually the British pilot got so low when he went down, he went into a valley, it was very mountainous, between the mountain peaks and the MiG followed him in. And the MiG pilot was so taken with the idea of shooting this Englishman down, he forgot he had no air underneath him and he flew right into one of the mountains. And of course, was wrecked in a big cloud of flame. And the British pilot came out of the valley doing barrel rolls because he’d seen all this and his wingman had told him what happened and came past us flying upside down heading back to his carrier. And apparently, when he got back to his carrier, he asked permission to, there’s a term for it, “shoot up the deck.” And he was refused but he did it anyway and he blew past the bridge. They were looking down on him as he was flying along the carrier’s deck, look down on it he was so close to the deck but he was going about 350 miles an hour. And he got to the ship and apparently he was stayed in his cups drunk for a couple of days after that and he was mentioned in the New Year’s honours list by the Queen and it was all thoroughly jolly time was had by all, except the MiG pilot who wasn’t around to observe it.