I opened fire and saw my shell bursts dancing all over the enemy aircraft. Its right engine flamed. I noticed the Meteor wingman's tail flying off as result of the burst from my wingman. … I saw another Meteor leaving the battle. We overtook him and attacked. … I managed to frame him in my sights and opened fire. My shells burst on the Meteor's wings and the pilot baled out.
Written by a Russian MiG ace, Lt. Colonel Sergey Vishnyakov, this account describes a dramatic combat against Australia's 77 Squadron Meteors on 1 December 1951. It was a decisive action that signalled the end of the Meteor's air-to-air combat role.
This was not the first time that 77 Squadron had been forced to adapt to new ways of fighting the war. Having begun as a ground attack squadron flying Mustangs, the squadron converted to jets shortly after China entered the war and MiG jet fighters began appearing in the skies over Korea. Unfortunately the Gloster Meteor Mk8 was no match for the MiG in combat.
Compounding the Australians' disadvantage was the fact the United Nations forces were forbidden from crossing the Yalu River which formed North Korea's border with China. The Chinese side of the frontier became a sanctuary, the number of MiGs increased and an area of north-western North Korea became known as 'MiG Alley'.
Operational Meteor flights began on 29 July 1951, but MiGs were not encountered until 29 August. Then the Australians found themselves outnumbered by four to one. One Meteor was shot down. The pilot Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie ejected 11,000 metres over North Korea and was captured. Another Meteor was badly damaged but the pilot managed to nurse it back to the airfield at Kimpo.
Similar encounters followed with the MiGs almost always coming off best. By the beginning of December 1951 after four months on Meteors the situation had become untenable and a new role for the squadron had to be found. After a morale-sapping period of airfield defence when they saw no fighting, 77 Squadron was once more employed in a ground attack role which remained the mainstay of its operations until war ended. The Squadron still occasionally encountered MiGs in this role. The final score was five Meteors shot down against three MiGs.
By the end of the war No. 77 Squadron had flown a total of 18,872 sorties, mostly in Meteors. Losses had been heavy, 37 pilots were killed and seven taken prisoner.
Group Captain Douglas Hurst
Douglas Charles Hurst was born in Brisbane in 1923. In 1942, he enlisted in the RAAF, flying Kittyhawks on fighter-bomber operations with 80 Squadron. Post-war, he served with 82 Squadron (BCOF) in Japan. In 1948, he returned to Australia, and after conversion to Meteors, flew as a flight commander with 77 Squadron in Korea during 1952, where he was awarded the DFC and US Air Medal for his gallantry in ground attack operations. He later served in Malaya, and was Australian Air Attache in Washington 1964-66. Doug Hurst retired from the RAAF in 1970 with the rank of group captain. The citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross reads as follows:
Since September, 1952, Flight Lieutenant D.C. HURST has held the appointment of Flight Commander in No.77 (Interceptor/Fighter) Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, operating from a forward air base in KOREA. During his current tour of operations, Flight Lieutenant HURST has already flown one hundred and twenty one Meteor jet fighter sorties against the enemy, eighty-six of these sorties being ground attack strikes. These ground attack strikes, consisting of rocketing and strafing, have been directed against heavily defended enemy troop concentrations, supply centres, lines of communication and ammunition dumps.
On 22nd September 1952, Flight Lieutenant HURST directed and led a Squadron rocket attack against a dangerous build-up of enemy troops in North West KOREA. Although met by intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, this officer brilliantly led the Squadron in a low, daring attack, which successfully destroyed the target. [Hurst was flying out of Kimpo for an operation over Map reference YC5143. His log book indicates that the village at this reference was burnt out with napalm].
Throughout his many operations, Flight Lieutenant HURST has displayed complete disregard for personal safety, and his courage, and great leadership ability have brought great credit upon himself and the Royal Australian Air Force.