Zhang Jihui after four victories
|Years of service||1945–1978|
Zhang Jihui (Chinese: 张积慧; pinyin: Zhāng Jīhuì; born January 1927) was the Deputy Commander of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and a highly decorated fighter pilot during the Korean War. Zhang joined the PLAAF in 1945 and was one of the first combat pilots trained for the PLAAF. He was later posted at the Chinese 4th Aviation Division, which was also the first Chinese air unit that entered combat during the Korea War. On February 10, 1952, Zhang became famous in China due to the death American ace Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., and he is credited by the Chinese for shooting down the American ace until Russian sources disputed his claim 40 years later with different theories lie in who and how the Chinese and Russian fighter pilots may have engaged the American fighter pilots. Zhang claimed a total of four victories during his service in Korea, and he was awarded the title Combat Hero, 1st Class during his service. After the Korean War, Zhang had held various commands and became the Deputy Commander of PLAAF in 1973. Outside of his military career, Zhang was also the Deputy Mayor of Yantai.
Early life and military career
Zhang Jihui was born at Rongcheng, Shandong in January 1927. He was born into a poor peasant family of seven that lived off 2 km2 (490 acres) of land. His father, Zhang Benzhou, was a farmer and a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang entered elementary school at the age of 10, and he became a school teacher after finishing elementary school at Ningjin County in 1943.
Zhang soon abandoned his job in order to pursue higher education. While studying at university in 1945, he joined the Chinese Communist Eighth Route Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the Japanese surrendered, his unit was moved into Manchuria, where the Chinese Communist People's Liberation Army (PLA) had set up its first pilot school. Zhang was sent to study at the school and graduated in 1948. He was among the first group of pilots trained for the fledgling People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). In 1950, Zhang became a group leader at the 4th Aviation Division.
Combat in Korea
When the PLAAF officially entered the air war over Korea in September 1951, Zhang's 4th Aviation Division was the first PLAAF unit sent into combat, and it was under the command of the Soviet 64th Aviation Corps. The 4th Aviation Division was stationed at Langtou Airfield in Liaoning Province, and it was composed of 55 MiG-15s. Zhang first entered two aerial engagements with no victory, but he soon claimed his first victory on October 16, 1951. While intercepting an UN flight on October 16, Zhang claimed to shoot down one aircraft while forcing a F-86 Sabre to crash. For this action he was awarded the Meritorious Service, 1st Class. On February 4, 1952, Zhang claimed his third victory against a F-86 and received the Meritorious Service, 2nd Class.
Death of Major Davis
On February 10, 1952, US F-86 Sabre ace Major George Andrew Davis, Jr. was shot down by a MiG-15 during his 16th mission in the MiG Alley near Kunu-ri. Davis was the highest ranking Korean War ace at the time, and he was posthumously celebrated as a hero and received the Medal of Honor. About 36 MiG-15s from the 4th Aviation Division were involved in the engagement in which Davis was killed, and Zhang was among the group. According to Zhang's own report after the battle, while the MiGs were en route to intercept Davis' group, he and his wingman became separated from the main element. As Zhang was trying to rejoin his formation, he spotted a group of eight F-86s in the area between Taechon and Chongye at 0740. Zhang and his wingman then swung down onto the tails of two Sabres and opened fire. Zhang claimed that he shot down both Sabres, but enemy reinforcements soon destroyed his MiG while killing his wingman.
The publicity of Davis' death soon caught the Chinese attention. To determine whether Davis was killed by Zhang in the absence of gun camera footage, the 4th Aviation Division had sent two search teams on February 16 and 18, and they recovered a wreckage of F-86E, along with Davis' body and his belongings. The search team had also discovered that the crash site was within 500 m (550 yd) to where Zhang had bailed out, and that Zhang's 12th Regiment was the only unit that operated near the area; the nearest Soviet unit was operating dozens of kilometers away. In light of those findings and the testimonies from the ground troops that had witnessed the battle, Zhang was credited by the PLAAF for shooting down Davis' F-86. Davis' dog tag is currently on display at the Dandong Korean War Museum.
Although Zhang was credited by the PLAAF for shooting down Davis' F-86, doubts about the claim were raised due to US Air Force's recollection of the event was inconsistent with Zhang's own account of the battle, and that Davis had claimed to have shot down two Chinese MiGs moments before being killed. The lack of gun camera footage from Chinese side meant Zhang's victory claim also hinged on his own recollection of the event. After declassifying their involvement in the Korean War 40 years later, Russian sources disputed Zhang's claim by raising the possibility that 1st Lieutenant Mikhail Akimovich Averin was the MiG pilot that had shot down Davis' plane. According to the recollections from the pilots of the Soviet 64th Aviation Corps, both Zhang and his wingman were probably shot down by Davis, who was in turn surprised and shot down by Mikhail A. Averin scrambling to save the Chinese MiGs. Lieutenant General Georgeii Lobov, commander of the 64th Aviation Corps, also noted in his memoir that Davis was killed by a Soviet pilot. Currently, both China and Russia have taken credit over Davis' death with no conclusive evidence to confirm either sides of the story.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding Davis' death, Zhang became a household name in China, and the victory was one of the few proud moments in the PLAAF's rather underwhelming performance in Korea. The PLAAF later awarded Zhang with the title Combat Hero, 1st Class for this action.
According to official records, Zhang had participated in 10 aerial engagements with a total of four victories during his service in Korea, and for his service Zhang received the Meritorious Service, Special Class. The North Korean government also awarded Zhang with the Freedom and Independence Medal, 2nd Class.
Immediately after the war, Zhang was sent to study at the Red Banner Air Force Academy in the Soviet Union, and returned to China in 1957 after graduation. He steadily climbed the ranks by assuming the command of the 27th Aviation Division in 1964, and later took command of the 1st Aviation Corps in 1970. In 1973, he was named the Deputy Commander of the PLAAF.
In July 1978, Zhang was stripped of his ranks and imprisoned, but after his release in 1980, he became the Deputy Mayor of Yantai. In July 1990, the PLA Central Military Commission restored Zhang's position and allowed him to retire with a state pension.
- 张积慧 (Zhang Jihui) (in Chinese), Rongcheng, China: Rongcheng People's Government, retrieved Aug 9, 2012.
- 张积慧 (Zhang Jihui) (in Chinese), Shandong, China: Xinhua, retrieved July 12, 2010.
- Zhang 2004, p. 25.
- Zhang 2004, p. 163.
- Zhang 2004, pp. 145–146.
- Zhang 2004, p. 146.
- Zhang 2004, p. 164.
- Werrell 2005, p. 156.
- Werrell 2005, p. 157.
- Zhang 2004, p. 166.
- Zhang 2004, p. 167.
- United States-Russia Joint Commission on POWs and MIAs 1996, p. 38.
- Werrell 2005, p. 158.
- Zhang 2004, pp. 164-165, 168.
- Zhang 2004, p. 168.
- United States-Russia Joint Commission on POWs and MIAs 1996, p. 39.
- Wei & Liu 2001, p. 184.
- Appendix A, Air Force Leaders 1949-1990, Alexandria, VA: GlobalSecurity.org, April 27, 2005, retrieved July 13, 2010
- United States-Russia Joint Commission on POWs and MIAs (1996), Comprehensive Report of the U.S. Side of the U.S. - Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAS, Korean War Working Group, June 17, 1996 (PDF), Washington D.C.: US Department of Defense, retrieved July 13, 2010
- Wei, C. X. George; Liu, Xiaoyuan (2001), Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent Cases, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-313-31511-6
- Werrell, Kenneth P. (2005), Sabres over MiG Alley, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institution Press, ISBN 1-59114-933-9
- Zhang, Xiao Ming (2004), Red Wings Over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea, College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 1-58544-201-1