"MiG Alley" is the name given by United Nations (UN) pilots to the northwestern portion of North Korea, where the Yalu River empties into the Yellow Sea. During the Korean War, it was the site of numerous dogfights between UN fighter pilots and their opponents from North Korea (including some unofficially crewed by Soviet airmen) and the People's Republic of China.
Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 were the aircraft used during most of the conflict, and the area's nickname was derived from them. It was the site of the first large-scale jet-vs-jet air battles, with the North American F-86 Sabre.
MiGs enter the scene
The North Koreans began their war against South Korea on June 25, 1950 with a small, obsolescent air force of propeller-driven Soviet aircraft of World War II vintage flown by under-trained and inexperienced pilots. Once the UN, especially the United States, committed its air power to the war, North Korean force was rapidly depleted. For several months, UN P-51 Mustangs and early jet fighters operated by the United States, like the F-80 Shooting Star and F-84 Thunderjet along with bombers, roamed the skies over North Korea virtually at will while the North Koreans and their Soviet and Chinese advisors argued behind the scenes over the best course of counter-action.
By October 1950, the Soviet Union had agreed to provide air regiments equipped with high performance MiG-15 fighters, along with the trained crews to fly them. Simultaneously, the Kremlin agreed to supply the Chinese and North Koreans with their own MiG-15s, as well as training for their pilots.
The first encounters happened on November 1, 1950, when eight MiG-15s intercepted about 15 United States Air Force (USAF) P-51 Mustangs. Soviet pilot First Lieutenant Fiodor Chizh shot down and killed American pilot Aaron Abercrombie. Later that day, Soviet pilot First Lieutenant Semyon Jominich (also spelled Khominich) became the first pilot in history to be credited with a jet-versus-jet kill. This occurred when three MiG-15s attacked about 10 American F-80C fighters, with Jominich claiming the F-80C of American pilot Frank Van Sickle (listed in American records as killed by flak). On November 9, 1950, the Soviets suffered their first loss when Lieutenant Commander William T. Amen shot down and killed Captain Mijael Grachev.
In response to North Korea's deployment of jets, P-51 squadrons from the UN air forces converted to jet fighters: the F-86 in the case of USAF and South African Air Force (SAAF) and the Gloster Meteor by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
April 12, 1951 was nicknamed "Black Thursday" by USAF pilots after three MiG-15 squadrons (30 planes) attacked three squadrons of B-29 Superfortress bombers (36 planes) protected by about a hundred F-80 Shooting Star and F-84 Thunderjet fighters. With no casualties on the Soviet side, 12 B-29 bombers were destroyed. (three B-29s were shot down and seven were damaged according to US sources.)  The US sorties were halted for approximately three months afterwards, forcing US forces to change tactics like flying during night-time in small groups.
For many years, the participation of Soviet aircrews in the Korean War was widely suspected by UN forces, but consistently denied by the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, however, Soviet pilots who participated in the conflict have begun to reveal their role.
Soviet aircraft were adorned with North Korean or Chinese markings and pilots wore either North Korean uniforms or civilian clothes, to disguise their origins. For radio communication, they were given cards with common Korean words for various flying terms spelled out phonetically in Cyrillic characters. These subterfuges did not long survive the fury of air-to-air combat, however, and pilots were soon routinely communicating in Russian.
Soviet MiG-15 regiments were based on Chinese fields in Manchuria, where, according to existing UN rules of engagement, they could not be attacked. Many Soviet regiments underwent preliminary training at Soviet bases in the neighboring Soviet Maritime Military District. Soviet air defense troops also began to arrive along the Yalu, setting up radar installations, ground control centers, searchlights and large numbers of anti-aircraft guns to deter any attacks on the Chinese airfields.
While UN pilots chafed at the restrictions imposed on attacking the MiG's Chinese airfields, it wasn't known until many years later that the MiG pilots themselves operated under tight restrictions. To preserve the fiction that Soviet pilots were not fighting in Korea, they were prohibited from flying over non-Communist-controlled territory or within 30 to 50 miles of the Allied front lines. (One Soviet pilot who was shot down in UN-controlled territory shot himself with his pistol rather than be taken captive. Another pilot who bailed out into the Yellow Sea was strafed to prevent him from being captured.) Nor could they pursue UN aircraft over the UN-controlled Yellow Sea.
In spite of the restrictions, many US pilots took advantage of a "hot pursuit" exception to flying over China to pursue MiGs across the Yalu River. Later, "hot pursuit" became active MiG hunting over Manchuria, with US pilots maintaining a "code of silence" about the patrols. Flight leaders chose wingmen who would keep quiet, and many rolls of incriminating gun camera footage "mysteriously" disappeared.[better source needed]
The UN conducted Operation Moolah to entice Communist pilots, especially Russian pilots, to defect to South Korea with a MiG-15. The operation was intended to serve a psychological purpose, as well as provide an analysis of the MiG-15's flight performance.
The MiG Alley battles produced many fighter aces. The top aces were Russian. Nikolai Sutyagin claimed 21 kills, including nine F-86s, one F-84 and one Gloster Meteor (operated by No. 77 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force) in less than seven months. His first kill was the F-86A of Robert H. Laier on 19 June 1951 (listed by the Americans as missing in action), and his last was on 11 January 1952, when he shot down and killed Thiel M. Reeves, who was flying an F-86E (Reeves is also listed as MIA).
Other famous Soviet aces include Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev, who was credited with 19 kills, and Lev Kirilovich Shchukin, who was credited with 17 kills, despite being twice shot down himself.
The top UN ace of the war, Capt. Joseph C. McConnell, claimed 16 MiGs, including three on one day. His story featured in a film called The McConnell Story, starring Alan Ladd and June Allyson. The second-highest-scoring UN ace, Maj. James Jabara, was the first UN jet-vs.-jet ace. Another ace, Frederick C. "Boots" Blesse, claimed nine MiG-15s in his F-86 Sabre and later wrote No Guts, No Glory, a manual of air fighter combat that is still studied today.
George Andrew Davis, Jr. became one of the first members of the new U.S. Air Force to receive the Medal of Honor after being killed while leading his section of two F-86s against 12 MiG-15s when he was trying to shoot them all down.
The US Air Force claimed that it maintained air superiority throughout the war and held a significant kill ratio over communist air forces operating in and around Korea. The US Air Force still claims a kill ratio of 10 to 1 in their favor. The modern Russian sources indicate a kill ratio of 3.4 to 1 in the Soviet favor. Some consider the "kill" totals over MiG Alley controversial. The Soviets claimed 1,106 United Nations planes of all types shot down by the VVS, including about 650 Sabres. (The USAF says it lost less than 200 aircraft in air combat). The F-86 pilots, in turn, claimed 292 MiG-15s shot down, while B-29 gunners claimed a further 16. Over thirty Sabre pilots were claimed to have been shot down behind enemy lines and their fate has never been definitively established. Surviving pilots, captured and later repatriated after the armistice, reported being interrogated by Koreans, Russians, and Chinese. For years after the Korean War ended in 1953, rumours persisted of pilots held captive by the Soviets.
A number of computer video games based on the combat in MiG Alley have been produced, amongst them:
- MiG Alley Ace, released by MicroProse in 1985.
- Sabre Ace, Conflict Over Korea: 25 June 1950-27 July 1953 London: Eagle Interactive/Virgin Interactive, 1997. Players can use a U.S. F-86 Sabre against the MiG-15 in the Korean War.
- MiG Alley Empire Interactive/Rowan Software, 1999. A combat flight simulator of Korean War.
- "Sabre vs MiG", one add-on packet for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2 from Flight 1 Just Flight.
- "Korean Combat Pilot", add-on packet for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 1 and 2 from Just Flight.
- "Red Star" add-on for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2, a work produced by Fox Four CFS2 Korean War Project.
- Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 released a DLC entitled 'MiG Alley' the pack adds the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15 as playable aircraft.
- War Thunder made by Gaijin has a map called 'Korea' based on MiG Alley.
A section of Polish Aviation Museum, where the post-Soviet planes are stored, is called "The MiG Alley" (pl. Aleja MiGów).
- List of Korean War air aces
- MiG Alley (video game) - flight simulation computer game based on the air combat in MiG Alley
- "Black Thursday" of US strategic aviation
- B-29 in Korean War
- Zaloga (February 1991)
- Dogfights: MIG Alley (Television series). United Kingdom: The History Channel. Retrieved 2007-02-04.
- The McConnell Story
- Frederick C. "Boots" Blesse
- NOVA: Missing in MiG Alley, produced by WGBH, Boston (broadcast 2007-12-18)
- Cull, Brian and Newton, Denis. With the Yanks in Korea. Volume One. Grub Street, 2000. ISBN 1-902304-49-7
- Davis, Larry. MiG Alley Air to Air Combat over Korea. Warren, Michigan: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1978. ISBN 0-89747-081-8.
- Francillon, René. Dans les Cieux de Chosen. Air Fan No.317 April 2005
- Gordon, Yefim and Davison, Peter. Mikoyan Gurevitch MiG-15 FAGOT. Speciality Press Publishers and Wholesalers. 2004.ISBN 1-58007-081-7
- Krylov, Leonid and Tepsurkaev, Yuriy. Soviet MiG-15 Aces of the Korean War. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 2008. ISBN 1-84603-299-7.
- Kum-Suk, No and Osterholm, J. Roger. A MiG-15 to Freedom: Memoir of the Wartime North Korean Defector Who First Delivered the Secret Fighter Jet to the Americans in 1953. McFarland & Co. Publishers, 1996.
- Mesko, Jim. Air War over Korea. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 2000. ISBN 0-89747-415-5.
- Thompson, Warren. F-86 Sabre Aces of the 4th Fighter Wing. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-996-7.
- Thompson, Warren. F-86 Sabre Aces of the 51st Fighter Wing. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-995-9.
- Thompson, Warren. F-86 Sabre Aces of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-84176-287-3.
- Thompson, Warren. Korea The Air War(2). London, W1X 9DA, UK: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 1988. ISBN 1-85532-234-X.
- Thompson, Warren and Dorr, Robert. Korean Air War. St Paul, MN, USA : Motorbooks International, 2003. ISBN 0-7603-1511-6.
- Thompson, Warren; Dorr, Robert; Lake, Jon. Korean War Aces. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 1995. ISBN 1-85532-501-2.
- Werrell, Kenneth. Sabres Over MiG Alley: The F-86 and the Battle for Air Superiority in Korea. Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59114-933-9.
- Xiaoming, Zhang. Red Wings Over the Yalu. Texas A&M University Press-College Station, 2002. ISBN 1-58544-201-1
- Zaloga, Steven J. "The Russians in MiG Alley: The nationality of the "honcho" pilots is no longer a mystery. The Soviets now admit their part in the Korean War" Air Force Magazine, volume 74, issue 2, February 1991. 
- "Korean War Aces" website.
- "The B-29 in MiG Alley," by Bud Farrell
- "In Korea, We Whipped the Russian Air Force," by Richard K. Kolb, VFW magazine, August 1999.