On November 18, 1952, during the Korean War, the then 27-year-old Williams raised a F9F Panther – the first jet aircraft used by the US Navy – from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, for a patrol over the border area between Korea and China, and not far from the Soviet Union to the east. The United States supported the South Koreans in that conflict, while China and the Soviet Union sided with communist North Korea.
During this patrol, Williams and his colleague spotted seven Soviet MiG-15 fighters heading towards the carrier and her substantial escort. On orders from his commanding officer, the two American jets flew between the Soviets and the ships, whereupon the Soviets promptly opened fire on Williams. Just then the man was ordered not to open fire on the enemy aircraft, but he replied:I am engaged” (loosely translated: “I’m already involved in a gunfight”, ed.).
263 bullet holes
Williams also knew that the Soviet planes were faster than his, so escape was not an option. “At that time, the MiG-15 was the best fighter in the world. My plane was primarily suited for bombing, not air combat,” the pilot said. What followed was a half-hour dogfight, despite the disadvantage, with Williams constantly having to turn so his opponents couldn’t shoot him out of the sky.
During that fight, the American pilot fired all 760 rounds at his disposal and shot down four MiGs, a fifth was chased away by another American aircraft that had come to his aid. But Williams himself was also hit: after his landing, no less than 263 bullet holes were counted in his plane, which was in such poor condition that it would be immediately later pushed into the sea.
Fear of World War III
The incident – in which American and Soviet aircraft came into direct combat for the first time – was discussed at the highest level. “Williams was personally questioned by several senior admirals, the Secretary of Defense and the President (Dwight Eisenhower, ed.). He was then ordered not to speak about the incident because it was feared it would lead to a devastating escalation of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, potentially triggering World War III,” the US Navy said in a statement.
All evidence of the dogfight – and thus Williams’ improbable performance – was immediately dismissed as top secret the brand. Williams got one in 1953 Silverstar, the third highest US military decoration, but he was sworn to secrecy. So it wasn’t until 2002, when the archives of the incident were released, that he was able to tell his family and friends about his feat.
In the following years, various US veterans advocacy groups campaigned to have Williams de Medal of Honour, the United States’ highest military decoration. The US Navy does not go that far: In December it was decided that Williams Navy Cross would receive. The ceremony took place in his home state of California on Friday.
Royce Williams is oneTop Gun“pilot like no other, an American hero to history,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, who co-founded the force performed to give the pilot a higher price. “This is the most unique air combat between the United States and the Soviet Union in the history of the Cold War. The heroism and courage he displayed for 35 minutes 70 years ago in the skies over the Pacific Ocean and North Korea saved the lives of his fellow pilots and those on board the ship . His story, now fully told, is one for eternity.”