Lieutenant Royce Williams US Navy -
America has many heroes among the nearly 300 million people of all races and creeds residing in the United States. Most of the rare breed of humans became heroes while serving this Nation in our military. Many of the facts surrounding the heroic actions demonstrated during war are never recalled or reported after their war is over. Life goes on and the courageous act(s) that established an individual as a hero are forgotten by nearly all those concerned with or familiar with the brave events surrounding the particular act of heroism .
The National Museum of United States Naval Aviation holds a Symposium each spring at the Museum on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. My wife joins me in enjoying the symposium and the reunion type events of the week preceding the two days of historical remembrances covered by those Navy Department veterans who relive important events of previous war and peace accomplishments in Naval Aviation history. It was during the 2000 Symposium that I met Captain Royce Williams USN (Ret.)and learned of his extraordinary heroic achievement on November 18, 1952 during the Korean War. This is the story as it happened to Lt. Royce Williams in the way he described it at the Museum.
Royce was assigned to Navy Fighter Squadron 781 (VF-781) in Carrier Air Group 102 aboard the USS Oriskany in Carrier Task Force 77 supporting combat operations against the North Korean Communist aggressors that invaded South Korea and had being driven back north toward the Chinese and Soviet borders. VF-781 pilots were flying the latest Grumman models of the Panther Jets, the F9F-5 aircraft. The Panther jets were used in the air to ground role for interdiction and close air support and had seen very little aerial contact with Migs. Oriskany was operating off the extreme northern coast of North Korea near Chongjin which put the carrier within easy striking range of Soviet aircraft based in Vladivostok, Siberia. Because of the potential threat from the Soviet Union, a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) was required overhead the carrier as fighter protection against enemy attacks.
The weather over the task force on November 18, 1952 was 500 feet overcast, visibility obscured estimated 2-3 miles in blowing snow. Radar approach and departures were required for all operations. Royce was launched in a flight of four Panthers as part of a large three carrier strike group to hit North Korean industrial targets near the border with the Soviet Union. Multiple bombing runs were successfully executed under the overcast without significant AAA response and all strike aircraft returned safely to the carrier and were recovered without difficulty.
Royce was scheduled for a second launch as second section leader in a four plane CAP mission. The lineup was Lt Claire Elwood-Flight Leader, Ltjg John Middleton-Number Two, Lt Royce Williams-Section Leader and Ltjg David Rowlands-Number four. The Panthers were to provide protection for Oriskany in the event that hostile aircraft approached the carrier. The fighter CAP would be vectored toward the inbound aircraft and either repel or engage the enemy as required. Since no enemy aircraft had previously flown near the carrier the pilots figured on a boring orbit for 1.5 hours.
The four Panthers launched at 1 PM and climbed through the overcast until breaking out into clear skies at 12,000 feet above ground level (AGL). While still in the clag, the radar controller radioed the flight that bogies (a flight of aircraft) were 83 miles north flying on a course directly toward the Carrier Task Force (CTF). The CAP was told to proceed directly toward and intercept the incoming aircraft. While passing 16,000 feet Royce spotted approaching contrails and then 7 shiny MIG-15s flying abreast of each other at well above 35,000 feet.
Lt Elwood, the Flight Leader, reported his Fuel Pump Warning Light was on. The Combat Information Center (CIC) directed the Flight Leader to report overhead the Oriskany. Lt Elwood passed the lead to Royce and turned back to the CTF with his wingman Ltjg Middleton flying as his safety escort. Suddenly the odds went from 7 against 4 to 7 against 2. Royce and his wingman, Ltjg Rowland, continued climbing toward the approaching MIGs. At 45 miles from the CTF, the MIGs passed directly overhead and immediately turned left as though going to make a 180 degree turn and return to Vladivostok. Royce turned left to follow the MIGs and continued his climb to 26,000 feet. Royce followed the 7 MIGs keeping them in sight. The MIGs abruptly broke sharply back toward the 2 F9F-5 jets, split into two groups of 4 and 3 aircraft and dived steeply. The MIGs were lost by Royce when they passed conning altitude and the vapor trails vanished. Royce called out "Lost Contact" to the Oriskany controller to get information on the Bogie locations but the Bogie blips were no longer visible on ship's radar.
Royce started a gradual left turn after arriving at the position of last visual contact. A line of four MIGs abreast suddenly appeared at ten o'clock, diving towards them with all guns blinking orange as they attempted to shoot down the Panthers. Royce turned into the first four MIGs and positioned his Panther in gun range on tail end Charlie. Royce fired a short burst of 20 MM cannon fire at the trailing MIG. The 20 MM impacted the fuselage of the MIG and he fell out of the formation trailing smoke and aircraft parts.
Royce's wingman trailed the smoking MIG down to 8000 feet trying to get his guns to fire and his gun camera to function. He finally gave up, broke off the engagement and started the long climb back to his Section Leader. The remaining three MIGs climbed to position for another firing run on Royce. Then they reversed course, rolled in on individual diving runs and commenced firing both 23 MM cannons and the 37 MM Gun at a great distance away. Royce turned into them again and fired his 20 MM as they flashed by at a very high rate of closure. The other three MIGs joined the fray which had Royce alone dog-fighting six MIGs. While reversing, jinking and rolling against the Bogie gaggle, Royce could see a MIG locked on his six o'clock position but Royce executed a very hard turn which caused the MIG to overshoot. Royce was firing at every MIG that passed within gun range as they sped by after taking shots at his tail. Finally, Royce got in a kill position on another MIG and fired off a concentrated burst while watching the HEAP (high explosive armor piercing) rounds detonating on the MIG's fuselage. The disintegrating MIG forced Royce to break away from the debris. Several times Royce tracked an individual MIG and fired rounds that appeared to hit the target. Royce did not follow up on the damaged MIGs but instead kept trying to keep his 6 o'clock clear of MIGs while still firing at every opportunity. Royce was tracking and firing at a smoking MIG when he saw a MIG slip into close range at his six. Royce called out to the ship that he could use some help. Royce rapidly reversed by breaking sharply but he felt a 37 MM explode into his aircraft. His Panther was severely damaged. He lost rudder control and had little use of his ailerons. That left him with only one fully operational flight control and that was his elevators. By porpoising the aircraft he could see 20 MM tracers passing above and below and could even see the 37 MM projectiles as they shot by his wounded F9F-5. Royce pushed hard over and while still at full throttle made for the 12000 foot cloud tops. He felt a rush of relief after entering the security of the ominous cumulous.
Royce broke out below the clouds and headed for Oriskany. As he passed a few of the more than 20 ships of the CTF, some fired at his aircraft. The friendly fire stopped after his Panther jet was visually recognized. The Panther was hardly airworthy, but Royce hated the thought of ejecting into the icy Sea of Japan. The F9F-5 was controllable above 170 kts and Royce flew aboard the carrier with a lot of help from the Captain of the Oriskany lining the ship on final approach to accommodate the drifting F9F-5.
Royce was ordered to report to VADM Briscoe, COMNAVFORFAREAST, at Yokosuka, Japan. Briscoe cautioned Royce that a Top Secret agency called NSA was aboard a Navy cruiser off the coast near Vladivostok and monitored all Soviet communications. NSA warned the CTF of the Soviet MIGs taking off from Vladivostok and flying toward the CTF. NSA covered all the radio transmissions and followed the MIGs from departure through the entire confrontation and until return of the remnants of the MIG flight to Vladivostok. NSA told Admiral Briscoe to tell Lt Williams that he got at least 3 of the MIGs. Admiral Briscoe warned Royce to not tell anyone about what he had been told about the Soviet encounter.
Royce reported that virtually all of his 95 minutes (1.6 hours) in the air was at full throttle, gun cameras used throughout and that he had fired out all of his 20 MM rounds during the engagement. Royce fired at every MIG that passed within range of his guns as they approached him head on or as they flashed by after their firing runs. The Soviets actually lost four of the MIG-15 aircraft on the flight to CTF-77 but verification of each downed aircraft by Royce could not be firmly substantiated since the fourth MIG could have been lost to maintenance problems and not Panther cannon fire. Royce later learned that the names of the Soviet pilots killed on their mission to CTF-77 that day were Captain Belyakov, Captain Vandalov, Lieutenant Pakhomkin and Lieutenant Tarshinov.
Captain Royce Williams was given an opportunity to be a Hero as a young pilot in combat and he reacted decisively with determination and bold courage. Shooting down three enemy aircraft in combat on a single mission is an uncommon accomplishment in the history of aviation. Royce Williams overcame all manner of hazardous hurdles to complete his mission and to land his badly crippled aircraft successfully aboard a pitching deck carrier in rough seas and bad weather.
Thanks gallant Air Warrior Royce Williams for serving our great Country valorously at a time of extreme National need.
Donald E. Cathcart
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