MiG Alley: The US Air Force in Korea, 1950–53

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
Other Publication Information
Hard Cover, 6”x9.2”, 336 pages
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Front Cover

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver served with the US Navy in Vietnam and has spent thirty years in Hollywood as a screen writer for television and the movie industry. Horror fans will know him as the author for the 1989 cult classic by producer Roger Corman of “The Terror Within” starring George Kennedy, Andrew Stevens, Starr Andreeff, and Terri Treas. Thomas McKelvey Cleaver has also been a published writer for forty years and is known for Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15, The Bridgebusters: The True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Group, Aces of the 78th Fighter Group (Aircraft of the Aces 115), F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat Aces of VF-2 (Aircraft of the Aces 125), and an ebook, Air Combat Annals.

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver follows his earlier book on the Korean War, The Frozen Chosen, (see my review of this title elsewhere on the site ) with a history of the aerial battles over the Korean peninsula. Utilizing operational and claims data from both sides, Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, pulls together a compelling story of MiG Alley. “MiG Alley” refers to a northwest portion of North Korea where the Yalu River meets the Yellow Sea. UN pilots entered into many dogfights with their opponents that included North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and of course, the Russians. “MiG Alley” got its name from the Soviet MiG-15 fighter that engaged the Allied jet fighters, notably, North American’s F-86 Sabre.

What Thomas McKelvey Cleaver brings to bear is first person stories and his research into the claims from both sides. Not-surprisingly, both sides made downed aircraft claims that were not necessarily so. This does not impugn the pilots from either side, for this was a propaganda war as well. Both sides had other restrictions as well. UN Forces were not to attack Chinese bases for fear of bringing China openly in the war. Russian pilots were also restricted from flying into Allied territory for fear that the Russian pilots would be downed and Russia’s impact in the war fully exposed. What would be exposed after the war was the USAF Sabre claims of a 10:1 victory to loss ratio was just more propaganda, with the ratio closer to a 1:1 tie. Russian piloted MiGs did not stray far from their lines and could often return to a friendly environment despite being filled with 50-caliber holes. Sabres had a tougher time surviving the MiG’s 20mm cannon fire.

The Chapters include:

  • Foreword by Col. Walter J. Boyle, USAF (Ret)
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: First Blood
  • Chapter 2: Douher’s Disciples
  • Chapter 3: An Aerial Revolution
  • Chapter 4: Messerschmitt vs Tank over the Yalu
  • Chapter 5: Holding the Line
  • Chapter 6: The Fatal Decision
  • Chapter 7: A New and Different War
  • Chapter 8: Red Stars Over the Yalu
  • Chapter 9: The Ceegar Kid
  • Chapter 10: Year of the Honcho
  • Chapter 11: Black Tuesday
  • Chapter 12: Our Only Asset was Our Courage
  • Chapter 13: Shooting Stars, Thunderjets, and Meteors
  • Chapter 14: MiG Madness
  • Chapter 15: Stalemate
  • Chapter 16: Will They Ever Say “Enough”?
  • Chapter 17: The Ace Race
  • Chapter 18: The Final Months
  • Chapter 19: Who Won?
  • Bibliography
  • Index

I do expect some changes from my Advance Reading Copy and the final release in November. The November release will be in hard cover, vs my soft cover copy. There will also be Illustrations/photographs, a Bibliography, and an Index. Some changes in the Table of Contents may also occur as the chapters in my copy do not correspond to those on the Osprey website. There was minor content repetition repetition that I noticed in the first several chapters that will probably be corrected in the editing process.

I found fascinating the introduction of the 20mm cannon to the F-86 Sabre in Chapter 18. Operation GunVal saw eight Sabres fitted with four T-160 20mm cannons with the designation F-86F-2-NA. Initial testing showed that a buildup of gun gas in the cannon bays was an issue, with the ‘fix’ being to eject these gases into the intake. Early testing was done between 10,000’ and 25,000’ with no issues. The cannon armed Sabres were introduced to combat tests in January 1953 and quickly found flameouts at altitude when firing the cannons. It seems that with less oxygen at higher altitudes, the cannon gas buildup was causing compressor stall at 42,000’ altitudes in South Korea. Lt. Col. George C. Jones provides a first hand remembrance of his first MiG kill with the 20mm cannons followed by a compressor stall.

I read this book over a five evenings and found it quite intriguing. Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s liberal inclusion of first-hand accounts puts you in the pilots seat. It has inspired me to do additional study on “MiG Alley”. My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this excellent book.

Highly recommended!


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