Article posted to the PWG Forum by Robert Dorr

Date: Sat, 16 Jun 2001 10:26:07 EDT

Subject: [pwgers] P4M-1Q Mercator Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the North Korean MiG-17 attack on a P4M-1Q Mercator on June 16, 1959. The following is a quote from an article about the Mercator written for Air International magazine by me and retired Navy Lt. Comdr. Rick Burgess several years ago. This was the second P4M incident, following the shootdown of a P4M near Shanghai in 1956. Begin quote Another P4M-1Q belonging to VQ-1 (bureau no. 122209) barely survived an encounter with hostile aircraft on 16 June 1959 when it was shot up by North Korean MiG-17 interceptors. The previous day the Mercator flew a routine track over the Sea of Japan from Iwakuni to Misawa, Japan identical in reverse to the track it was to fly on the date of the incident.

According to the official report, the Mercator departed Misawa at 8:08 a.m. local time, proceeding on "a northwesterly course at altitudes between 6,000ft [1,858m] and 7,500ft [2,322m] to a point over the Sea of Japan approximately one hundred miles [161km] off the Coast of Siberia." The Mercator flew its planned track in "westerly and southerly directions, roughly parallel to the coast, to the point at which the attack occurred." For 25 minutes immediately prior to the attack, "the P4M had been on a heading which would have taken it to a point on the Korean coast south of the United Nations Truce Line. Coincident with the beginning of the attack, the P4M was 78mi [126km] east of Wonsan, North Korea, and commencing a left turn to a southeasterly course away from land."

At 12:12 p.m. local time (0815Z), two "silver-colored MiG type fighter aircraft, bearing red star markings on the fuselage abaft the cockpit, appeared high astern of the P4M, already in their attacking runs. One MiG passed overhead without firing but the other opened fire on his initial pass, hitting the P4M on the port side. Employing standard fighter tactics, the MiGs made at least five passes, three of which were firing runs. On the second firing run, the P4M tail gunner [Petty Officer Second Class Eugene Corder] was ready but the MiG fired first, seriously wounding him and knocking his turret out of action."

Radioman James A. Dendy, who was in the squadron but not aboard, remembers that Corder never fired a round. According to Dendy, Corder was an electrician, not a gunner, who was sitting in the aft position while the tail gunner, named Nelson, was elsewhere in the aircraft. The failure to return fire caused President Eisenhower to question publicly "why his boys were not armed," claims Dendy. Getting shot at was also part of the job, Dendy opines: "If these people will tell you the truth, they've seen the street lights in Vladivostok, Russia more than once." (Radioman Joe Price remembers, "We used to go up north when the Russian fleet came out of Vladivostok in the spring.") Upon sighting the MiGs, the Mercator pilot, Lt. Comdr. Donald Mayer, sent out a distress call, gave orders to open fire, and dived the aircraft to fifty feet, or fifteen meters, above the water. The MiGs followed and "pressed home their attacks for approximately five minutes. After breaking off the last attack, the MiGs pulled straight up to a high altitude and disappeared to the north." Four USAF fighters based at Itazuke, Japan launched to cover the Mercator as it headed for Japan and four South Korean fighters established a patrol over the Korean coast to intercept any attempts to finish off the P4M-1Q.

"Fighting damaged controls and two dead engines at altitudes varying from fifty to two thousand feet, the pilot and co-pilot, in a masterful display of airmanship, nursed their crippled P4M-1Q to the Japanese airbase at Miho, on the where a successful landing was made." According to Captain East's research, the extraordinary physical strength of the co-pilot, Lt. Comdr. Vincent Anania, a former All-American football player at the Naval Academy, helped keep the crippled plane airborne. The pilot and copilot were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the rest of the crew received Air Medals, and Corder, wounded, received a Purple Heart award.

End quote

Robert F. Dorr
Oakton, Virginia