he time after World War Two saw the start of the long standoff between the two world powers that came out of the war. America and the USSR. Many indirect conflicts were fought between the two nations known as proxy wars. This term is used to describe two nations fighting each other while being supplied by rival nations. The first example of this was the Korean War.
The Korean War saw the standoff between the USSR-backed North and the UN-backed south. As is today, the 38th parallel was the front line of the war that still continues today. Both sides supplied newly developed jets to their respective supported country. For the South, the United States supplied them with the F-86 Sabre, a brand new fighter jet design capable of supersonic flight, as well as pilots to fly them. On the other side of the border, the USSR supplied the North with state-of-the-art MiG-15 jets as well as pilots to pilot them.
What ensued is the first instance of only jet-on-jet combat in history. Combat was fierce with none of the two sides quite standing out as the winners. This led to both sides seeking the technology of the other side’s jet. A campaign was started by both sides with differing rewards from both sides.
The Soviets ordered all of their pilots to try to incapacitate an F-86 over North Korea. This in most cases would lead to the pilot who achieved this feat getting a promotion which meant a lot in the Soviet Union. A promotion would mean an increase in the standard of living of their whole family as well as nationwide appraisal. This resulted in the shooting down of an F-86 jet in October 1951 when an American jet pilot overextended into Soviet airspace and in the process damaged his F-86. While trailing smoke, he tried to make his way back into UN-controlled airspace as he knew that the Soviets wanted to research the technology of the F-86. After his air control surfaces were shot he crash-landed in a mudflat, north of the 38th parallel, unable to cross over to the UN-controlled side of the country. Fierce battles were fought over the crashed jet as the US Air Force pilots tried destroying the wreck while the Soviets pilots tried fighting them off. In the end, Chinese laborers were recruited to disassemble the plane after which it was packed in trucks and shipped towards the border with Russia at night and through tunnels to safeguard the convoy from air attack. After reaching Russia, it was sent to Moscow through the Trans-Siberian Railway to be studied by the top scientist of the Soviet Union. A replica was later made by backward engineering the wreck which greatly helped the Soviets move forward with their jet technology.
The Americans had a different strategy when trying to acquire a MiG-15. For this, they set up Operation Moolah. This consisted of dropping leaflets over the north using B-29 Superfortress bombers written in Korean, Chinese and Russian as well as transmitting over short-range radio that a reward of $100,000 was to be given to any pilot which defected with a MiG-15 jet. An extract of the transmission stated:
“To all brave pilots who wish to free themselves from the Communist yoke and start a new, better life with proper honour. . . you are guaranteed refuge, protection, humane care and attention. If pilots so desire, their names will be kept secret forever”
This proved to be fruitful as on September 21, 1953; Lieutenant No Kum-Sok defected to South Korea in his MiG-15. This allowed the Americans to dissect the Soviet tech allowing them to further their jet research program.
The Cold War wasn’t as cold as we all think. Proxy wars filled the years after World War Two up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both world powers flexed their military muscle by fighting the opposition either directly like in the Soviets in Afghanistan or the Americans in Vietnam or through proxy wars like in Korea. This brought forward a new fighting frontier, catapulting us into the 20th-21st-century type of war which has had great ramifications, both globally and locally. As a result of this, we are still impacted by the actions of the ideological war that happened a lifetime ago, and we will continue to be until conflict for world domination by a specific nation stops.