Presenter : Mr. Danz Blasser, Senior Analyst, Korean War Working Group, Joint Commission Support Directorate (JCSD)]

U.S. - Russia Archival Conference
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Research in the U.S. - Russian Archives: The Human Dimension

Good Morning. My name is Danz Blasser and I am the Senior Korean War analyst with the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office. This morning, I would like to try and put into perspective the immense human value of Korean War-era Soviet documents that we are finding in the Central Archives of the Russian Ministry of Defense. The Russian Ministry of Defense only relatively recently, in 1997, granted our office unprecedented, continuing access to the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense, located in Podolsk, Russia.

This access, and our research in this hugely important archive, has allowed us to fully comprehend the magnitude of the Soviet involvement during the Korean War. In this archive, we have found tens of thousands of pages of documents relating to the shoot down of United Nations aircraft from November 1950 through the end of the war in July 1953.

First, by way of introduction, I would like to talk a little about Soviet involvement during the Korean War. During the war, it was well known that Soviets served as ground force advisors to North Korean and Cummunist Chinese units and flew fighter sorties under the guise of being volunteers with the North Korean and Communist Chinese Air Forces. Anytime I refer to Chinese, I am referring to the Communist Chinese. The true extent of their involvement in the sir and in ground based air defense units goes much deeper and has only been recently been revealed with the declassification of documents in the Russian archives.

At the onset of the war, the United Nations air forces rapidly gained air superiority over the fledgling North Korean Air Force. A real concern arose within the Chinese government when North Korean resistance collapsed in the face of General MacArthur's end run at Inchon that advanced to the Yalu River. This threat of a massed foreign army on their border led to the Chinese intervention into the Korean War. The Chinese Air Force at the time was little better than the North Korean Air Force. The Chinese approached the Soviets with a call for help in the air. The Soviet Air Force, which already had air units based in China training the Chinese Air Force and responding to Nationalist Chinese air attacks, was ordered by Stalin to respond.

The first unit to enage the United Nations was the 151st Fighter Aviation Division in early November 1950. Shortly afterwards, the Soviets activated the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps to engage the United Nations in Korea. During the next two and a half years, a total of 12 Fighter Aviation Divisions comprised of 34 Fighter Aviation Regiments, two independant Fighter Aviation Regiments, four Anti-aircraft Artillery Divisions comprised of ten Anti-aircraft Artillery Regimets, two Aviation technical Divisions, two Anti-aircraft Artillery Searchlight regiments, and a host of support units rotated through the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps.

General Georgij Lobov, one of the three war-time commanders of the 64th, wrote in an article that the total number of Soviets involved in the Korean War over its duration was approximately 70,000 with peak strength of 26,000. The Soviets flew roughly 74% of all communist combat sorties during the Korean War. Soviet pilots were sent under the guise of a temporary duty combat training program rather than as a war effort. The pilots flew from Chinese airfields in planes with Chinese markings and wore Chinese uniforms. They were even ordered to speak Chinese on the radio, which quickly was abandoned. This gave the Soviets deniability of their involvement. We knew they were there, but to avaoid the risk of all-out war we were willing to not publicize the fact.

According to Soviet documents, during the Korean War the Soviet Air Force flew a total of 63,229 sorties, 60,450 of which were during the day and 2,779 at night. They fought in a total of 1,790 aerial enagements, and claimed 1,097 victories. Soviet anti-aircraft artillery units claimed to shoot down an additional 212 aircraft for a total of 1,309 U.N. aircraft shot down. Soviet acknowledged losses smounted to 335 sircraft and 120 pilots.

Documents from the Podolsk archives have also given us insight into the activites of the North Korean and Chinese air forces. Both the North Korean and Chinese archives are unresponsive to our current request for detailed Korean War-era material. Soviet documents reveal that the Chinese Air Force began conducting combat operations in December 1951 with two fighter divisions; they brought another three divisions into operation in MArch and two in May 1952 for a total of seven divisions. The North Korean Air Force, after its near destruction in the early months of the war, reentered the air war with one division in the beginning of 1952 and by the end of the same year fielded an additional two divisions. In all, the North Korean and Chinese air forces completed 22,300 flights, fought in 366 aerial engagements, and claim to have shot down 271 enemy aircraft. Their losses were 126 fliers and 231 aircraft.

Totals for all the communist air forces during the war are 85,529 sorties flown, 2,156 aerial engagements fought, and 1,368 aerial shoot down claims. Acknowledged communist air losses were 566 aircraft and 246 pilots. As yet,  no information of Chinese or North Korean anti-aircraft artillery has been accessed in the Russian archives.

The complete domination of the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War has been held as fact in the west. Even today, one can hear 10:1 as a ratio of shoot downs to losses bandied about. One of the reasons I have been stressing these figures is to show that there are two sides to every story. Only when historic documents from both sides are compared can we approach anything near to the truth.

During the Korean War, the United Nations air forces claimed to shoot down a total of over 935 communist aircraft in aerial combat, compared with its combat losses from all causes of 1,041 aircraft. Of these, 1,041 aircraft, only 147 were counted as downed in aerial combat. 816 aircraft were lost to hostile ground fire, and the remaining 78 to unknown causes. If all 78 of these unknown losses were in aerial combat, the total number of UN aircraft shot down would be 225 aircraft.

The one most truthful statement from both sides is the number of aircraft they reported lost. The Soviet Air Force was identical to the U.S. Air Force in that aircraft were accountable items. When one's tenure as a commander ended and he signed over his aircraft to his replacement, he had better have the same number he signed for or reasons why not. When we compare the two sets of numbers, we get a much better picture of what really happened. If we take acknowledged losses from the communist air forces and comoare them with the acknowledged losses of the UN air forces (231 Chinese and NK + 335 Soviet = 566) 225 (147 Acknowledged + 78 Unknown) we arrive at a much more believable shoot down ratio of 1:2.5 in favor of the UN.

Even so, these numbers are very soft. Both sides did not acknowledge as shot down those aircraft that were able to return to their airfields never to be flown again. The UN air forces also report an additional 945 non-combat losses. These losses are usually described as training accidents or malfunctions. Russian historians have justifiably raised an eyebrow at this number.

Our office, the Joint Commission Support Directorate of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office is charged with sharing information found in Russian archives with the relatives of Missing U.S. Servicemen. Our researchers are working in this archive eight days out of every month, reviewing files and collecting those pages that refer to American or UN loss incidents in the war. These documents are copied and provided to our office in Moscow. Once we receive the material from the Russian archives, we analyze it, correlate it with known information from U.S. archives, translate the material, and share it with the families of the missing servicemen to whom the incidents apply. The fact that both sides inflated their shoot down claims sometimes hinders our ability to perform this process, I will give you an example.

We have found many documents in the Podolsk archive reporting the events of September 9, 1952. On this day, Soviet pilots claimed to shoot down a total of 14 F-84s and seven F-86s, for a total of 21 aircraft. The Soviet pilot, his wingman, his squadron commander, and his regimental commander all wrote reports giving details of the shoot down of each of these 21 claims. Soviet ground personnel collected an analyzed gun camera film. Soviet search groups traveled to the area of the shoot down to collect additional data from local residents, and if possible, wreckage from the aircraft and information about all of these activities is documented in the files in the Podosk archive. We have collected a mass of information fro September 9, 1952, all of which, when taken individually, is seemingly plausible. However, when compared to U.S. records, we find that, on this day, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged that they lost only three F-84s in aerial combat, and had only one F-86 damaged. The three pilots of these F-84s are still missing in action, making this an important date for us. Our problem is to try to figure out which reports are the most factual and most porbably refer to the shot down aircraft. Fortunately in these three cases, we were able to come to the most probable conclusion and shared this information with three very grateful families.

One of these three shoot downs points out another problem that we encounter when we try to correlate Soviet wartime documents with American documents. During the war, the Soviets had a very difficult time identifying U.S. aircraft, both in the sky and on the ground. Soviet pilots would usually report shooting down F-86 aircraft. The F-86 was the most technologically advanced U.S. fighter plane at the time, and it was much more prestigious in the pilot's mind to shoot down an F-86 than a lumberin old F-80 ot F-84. One of the Soviet claims on September 9, 1953, was for an F-86, which was in actuality a verified shoot down of an F-84. The Soviet search group went to the crash location and identified the wreckage as that of an F-86. They collected the wreckage of the aircraft, which included, according to Podolsk records, a Browning .50 caliber machine gun with serial number 23235. According to U.S. records, however, this machine gun was on the equipment manifest for one of the lost F-84s. Who knows how many of the Soviet-reported F-86 shoot downs may have been a different type of aircraft?

The Soviets were not the only party that inflated or falsified their records. During the Korean War, U.S. Air Force rules of engagement decreed that the Yalu River was not to be crossed, and airfields in China were not to be molested. Sanctions for violations of this policy were great, to include being cashiered from the service. Nevertheless, Soviet Koresn War documents reveal that this order was routinely disobeyed, and in fact, U.S. Air Force pilots made a habit of crossing the Yalu River, orbiting over Soviet airfields, all of which were located in Manchuria and shooting down MiGs over their own runways while they were attempting to land or take-off. It occurred so frequently, in fact, that one of the missionsd of Soviet units based at second-tier airfields, those farther back in China, was to provide topo cover in support of take-offs and landings at the front line airfields.

U.S. Aircraft were also shot down over these airfields in China, which is why we are interested in this fact - crash sites and remains of crews might today be in China, rather than North Korea. The fact that American crashes took place in China was hidden from U.S. commanders because of the American ban on flight beyond the Yalu. We often find inaccurate or patently false data on actual loss location of these pilots in U.S. records. For instance, Captain Albert Tenney, a missing Air Force F-86 pilot was reported to have been shot down by MiGs on May 3, 1952. His wingman reported, according to U.S. records, that he saw Tenney's aircraft crash into the water at the mouth of the Yalu River. Soviet documents, on he other hand,  report that Capt. Tenney's F-86 was shot down in the area of Myaogou airfield - on Chinese territory. A Soviet search group was dispatched, found his remains, and collected debris and some of his personal effects from the aircraft. One of the personal effects collected was Capt. Tenney's identification card. My main point here is that without access to the Soviet records in Russian archives, we never would have known Capain Tenney's ultimate fate or where to search for his crash site and remains.

I would now like to tell you about one of our cases, from which we have great expectations of recovering the remains of a missing U.S. serviceman. I want to stress, that this case was built entirely around documents found in the Russian archives.

On September 16, 1952, Captain Troy Gordon Cope departed Kimpo Air Base, Republic of Korea, in a multi-aircraft flight. Their mission was to engage enemy MiGs along the Yalu River. Cope and his eingman found the MiGs, and an engagement began. During the course of the battle, Cope and his wingman were separated, and radio contact with Cope was lost. No further information past this point in time concerning Captain Cope exists in U.S. records.

According to Soviet reports found in the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense, many Soviet Air Force units were active in defensive patrols on the day Cope was lost. While numerous air battles occurred, and Soviet pilots claimed several shoot downs, only one F-86 aircraft was shot down on September 16, 1952 - Captain Cope's F-86. Out of all the Soviet shoot down claims for this day, there is only one that comes close to matching the circumstances surrounding the loss of Captsin Cope that are reflected in U.S. records. Soviet Captain Zhuravel', the regimental navigator of the 518th Fighter Aviation Regiment, was credited with shooting down an F-86 at the same time and location where Captain Cope reportedly disappeared.

The commander of Captain Zhuravel's regiment dispatched a search group to investigate the shoot down. This search group contacted local Chinese authorities and obtained written testimony from two separate Chinese civil servants, who had witnessed the air battle. The search group was also given small items of wreckage from Captains Cope's aircraft. The search group had the witnesses' statements translated from Chinese to Russian for inclusion in their report.

During our research at Podolsk, we found this Russian language translation. IT read "on September 16, 1952 at 12:00 noon, an F-86 crashed into a house in the village of Kuchen in the 8th District of the city of Andun, China." We were excited when we first read this, as it was a specific location and one which we thought we could go to and try to find. When the archival documents on this case arrived here in Washington, just to be on the safe side, we had a DPMO Chinese linguist review the original, Chinese language witness statement. What he read was similar to the Russian translation, but his translation gave more details. His translation read "... the enemy F-86 was shot down. It crashed into the third house - Lee D'yen-Cheng's house, Gu-Cheng Village, 8th District, An-Dong City, China." We were ecstatic.

While most search group documents are rather detailed, they usually reference location in terms of kilometers from a known point, such as two kilometers northwest of the village of X. Locations referenced in 50-year old documents are problematic. Is the village still there? Has the size of the village changed? Has its name changed? Or if they reference a road or a railroad, have they been moved or abandoned witht he passage of time? In the Cope case though, we had hard evidence to go to the Chinese with.

Early last year, personnel from our office met with Chinese officials in Bejing. We discussed the facts surrounding the Troy Cope case. We presented documents from the Russian archives, along with documents from U.S. archives. We made a compelling argument to the Chinese for permission for JPAC, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, who are our people that do crash site investigations and recovery operations, to go to andun, or Dandong as it is called now, to do a site survey. The Chinese studied the documents, agreed with our analysis, and gave permission to go. Early last month, JPAC went to Dandong. They found eyewitnesses to the crash and located teh site, exactly as referenced in the Soviet documents.

Our timing was fortuitous. A loocal resident had been looking at this plot of land to build his house on. The Chinese authorities put his plans on hold until JPAC could do its suurvey. Unfortunately for the resident, it doesn't look like he will be moving in anytime soon. Shortly after JPAC started its survey, they found indications of an aircraft crash crater and other "material evidence." Since it was still winter in Dandong, JPAC was unable to do a full recovery of the crash site, but it has made plans to return this summer and complete its work at the crash site.

I personally have the honor of knowing Chris and Dale Cope - Captain Cope's nephews. It has been my pleasure to share with them the Soviet documents and other developments in the case. I could never presume to convey their gratitude to the Russian Government, to the Russian archives, and to those people that make our work possible there. If the Copes were here with us now, they would profusley thank you. They are not unique in this regard.

Since we started working regularly in the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense in 1997, we have been able to share Russian archival information on the circumstances of loss with 263 individual families representing 262 missing American servicemen and one British flier. These are human beings who were lost over 50 years ago. Each and every one of these families - their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, has some closure and joins Chris and Dale Cope in giving their heartfelt thanks.

I hope my presentation has given you an understanding of how highly we value the cooperation that we already have with Russian archives. I havejust given you a few examples, and these examples, moreover, have been limited to Korean War cases. Similar examples could be offered from Cold War cases and from World War II cases. Our ability to work in Russian archives is extraordinarily important, and real people - the same mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, nephews - follow our work with keen interest and support it without qualification. This is for the most part basic, human reason - the urge to understand the fates of people they loved and lost. These are the same people to whom our government owes a debt of deep gratitude and a basic obligation - to return them home safely, or if that is not possible, to return their remains to their families for an honorable burial in their homeland.

 We hope during the next several days that our archival colleagues from both Russia and the United States can help us find new ways and ideas for working together and to continue broadening access to the rich history contained in Russian archives.

Thank you.

Courtesy Danz Balsser, Courtesy DPMO


Blasser Presentation