In 1952, a US naval aviator shot down four Soviet fighter jets in the most heroic manner, but Washington had kept it a secret for over 50 years as they feared that it could have triggered a ‘World War III’.
On November 18, 1952, Royce Williams, then 27, was flying US Navy’s first jet fighter – F9F Panther on a mission during the Korean War. While flying, their group’s leader’s jet suffered some mechanical problems, which left Williams and his wingman to complete the mission.
Then, to their surprise, seven Soviet MiG-15 fighter jets were identified heading toward the US task force.“They just didn’t come out of Russia and engage us in any way before,” Williams said in a 2021 interview with the American Veterans Center, as reported by CNN.
Four of the Soviet MiGs turned toward Williams and opened fire, he recalled. Then, defying US commanders’ orders, he engaged with the Russians.
At that time the MiG-15 was the best fighter airplane in the world, faster and able to climb and dive quicker than the American jets (which was not equipped for aerial dogfights).
Over the course of the fight, Williams fired all 760 rounds of 20mm cannon shells the F9F carried. Meanwhile, the Soviets scored hits on Williams, too, disabling his rudder and wing control surfaces.
Then, as he was heading in the direction of the US task force off the coast, one of the jets continued to follow him. Williams’ wingman rejoined the fight and tried to scare off the Soviet flyer.
CNN report said, “But Williams still had some difficult flying to do to get the damaged jet back on board the carrier. First, with the task force wary of Soviet warplanes possibly attacking it, its heightened air defenses initially thought Williams’ F9F was a MiG, and destroyers guarding the American carriers opened fire on him.”
Williams said his commander quickly put a stop to that, eliminating one danger. Still, Williams had to get his jet on the deck on the carrier, something he’d usually do at an airspeed of 105 knots (120 mph). But he already knew if he went lower than 170 knots (195 mph), his aircraft would stall and plunge into the icy sea.”
“And he couldn’t turn to line up with the carrier. So the ship’s captain decided to take the extraordinary step of turning the carrier to line up with Williams. It worked. He slammed onto the deck and caught the third and final arresting wire,” it added
However, the news of Williams’ heroics was kept secret as then-President Dwight Eisenhower and other high officials claimed that it could trigger WWIII
Navy Memorial’s website said, “Following the battle, Williams was personally interviewed by several high-ranking Navy admirals, the Secretary of Defense, and also the President, after which he was instructed to not talk about his engagement as officials feared the incident might cause a devastating increase of tensions between the US and Soviet Union, and possibly ignite World War Three.”
So it was not until 2002, when the records were declassified, that Williams could even tell those closest to him.“For the rest of his accomplished Navy career, and for decades after retirement, the details of Williams’ dogfight with Soviet MiGs over North Korea remained a secret,” according to the US Defense Department.
Later, when the information became declassified, William’s wife was the first person to know about it