Omer Levesque

WWII and Korean War Fighter Ace

Omer Levesque

A Short History

Joseph Auguste Omer Levesque was born in Montreal, Quebec. He was interested in the military as a child, but he wasn't attracted to the air force as it was pretty much an anglophone institution. He didn't feel that his English was good enough to get along in the RCAF. He enlisted in a militia unit in nearby Mont Joli. He was intelligent and motivated so he rose quickly to be a lieutenant with Les Fusiliers du St. Laurant by the time he was attending Ottawa University. This was the first bilingual university in Canada so he could study in French while he improved his English. He became interested in flying while playing hockey against the air force from Rockcliffe airport, just outside Ottawa.

Once his English was good enough to get through the Air Force training he transferred to the RCAF in 1940. He had to take a considerable demotion to aircraftsman second class, but he wasn't too concerned about the demotion, he thought that the army was pretty much finished after the withdrawal from Dunkirk that cost them so dearly.

Levesque was shipped to Portage, Manitoba for Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS). They trained on the sturdy and ubiquitous de Havilland Tiger Moth. In his group were to be such well known fighter pilots as Bert Houle, Don Laubman and Bill McRae, as well as many young men who died either in training or as pilots. In the following photo of seven pilot candidates at EFTS graduation, five were to die before the wars end. Only Levesque at left, and Bill McRae third from the right would survive.

Levesque after Portage

Omer was something of a rebel and did what he wanted without paying attention to popular opinion. Many people in Quebec did not see this European war as something worthy to be involved in. Certainly the attitudes of the RCAF at the time did not encourage Francophones to enlist in their service, although many eventually did. Sent to Camp Borden, Ontario for SFTS he fit in well with the other pilot trainees and did not feel any resentment from his anglophone peers. He graduated with his wings on April 1, 1941 with 160 hours of flying time.

He was shipped by boat to Europe on April 15, 1941 but didn't arrive until May 20 due to a convoy stop in Iceland. The seas were rough and the U-Boats were prowling the shipping lanes with impunity. Despite having the ship toss depth charges on several occasions they made it to Scotland without incident.

Omer was sent to No. 55 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in Scotland where he was initiated to a real fighter, the Hawker Hurricane. His OTU training provided another 65 hours of flying time. Following training Levesque was posted to the RCAF's veteran 401 "Ram" Squadron who were flying Supermarine Spitfire Vs, so he had to quickly become experienced on this superior fighter. "We'd heard so much about it and it really was beautiful - unexpectedly beautiful - to fly. It was so smooth and responding to the engine. The weight of the aircraft wasn't all that much. It had tin wings and the Hurricane had had very heavy wings." The Mark Vb also packed a bigger punch armed with two 20 mm cannons and four 0.303 machine guns. 401 Sqdn Crest

In September, 1941 he was in combat over France. 401 Sqdn was part of the Biggin Hill wing. Although they had beaten the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the Allies were now having to reverse roles and were flying over occupied Europe against motivated and well trained German pilots. The Germans were fighting over occupied France, so if they were shot down and survived they could be back in the air the next day.

"Most new pilots bought it after two or three sweeps. Once we nearly lost the whole squadron, losing nine pilots in one sweep. We were just about decimated. In the Battle of Britain you could bail out and be home the same day, but over France you were a prisoner. And the Germans were so powerful and cocky in those days. They'd sometimes chase us right back over the channel. They were wiping us out."

Advancement was rapid in this situation of high pilot attrition. "I was told, "Even if you don't want to be an officer, you have to be, because we can't have an NCO leading a flight."

On November 22, 1941 the Squadron ran into the new German aircraft that was to remove the slight technical margin that the Spitfire Vb had over the Messerschmitt 109 "Emil", that was the Focke-Wulf 190. The Werger, or "Butcher Bird". It was also the day he downed his first aircraft, one of the new FW-190s.

The whole of the Biggin Hill Wing had taken off crossing the channel at Dover. As usual, the first hint of trouble was a shouted "Bandits" over the intercom.

Levesque looked around into the sun, the best place for an enemy to hide. A flight of German aircraft with large, round noses, unlike those of the Bf-109s, flashed past with cannons and machine guns firing. The lead Spitfire blew up into a gop of yellow flame and dirty-black smoke. Omer's lead, Hank Sprangue, then fell to the same fate although he got out in time, thus freeing Omer for battle. He swung around to his right.

"I made a complete circle, saw an enemy aircraft and climbed toward it, getting on its tail. I got in a pretty good shot ... all of a sudden, smoke came out the full length of its fuselage. I got him in the fuel tanks but the sealant prevented a fire. He wasn't finished and dove away, turning to keep from me. But I stayed right with him all the way down from 22,000 feet. He went straight down and I kept firing at him, using up just about all of my 120 rounds of cannon fire."

They were locked in a deadly dual, turning and falling in a circle. Holding on the German turned ever tighter to escape from Levesque. The turns were so tight that some of the rivets in the Spitfire's wings popped. The two combatants were so close they could see each other's eyes. Finally Omer got into a good position and let loose with everything. The German plane shed chunks of metal and burst into flames. It nosed over and crashed into the ground. "I was pretty close to the ground and barely got out and pulled up in time myself."

But he didn't have time to think of his victory for the German's squadron mates had spotted the pair at a distance and were now positioning themselves for the coup-de-grace. Further fighters were scrambling from the airbase at nearby St. Omer. That's when Omer broke all of the rules of aerial warfare. He attacked a superior force from below. Over enemy held territory it was tantamount to suicide. Perhaps the surprise of it kept him alive for he shot down another German fighter and the others scattered. He headed for England "on the deck" and got back safely.

The first plane was confirmed, but the second had to be listed as a probable.

Hugh Godefroy recalls the event from the perspective of the post-mission Squadron debriefing session:

"Jamie Rankin had led them on a perfect bounce (apparently after the German's had bounced them) and they had destroyed four - one each for Ormston, Blakeslee, Morrison and Levesque. Omer Levesque was also going to be credited with the one probably destroyed and four damaged (there seems to have been more to this fight than was reported by Levesque). I was just in time to listen to the debriefing. Don Blakeslee was called first and with his usual offhand manner, described the details of his victory. Ormston, flushed with elation, described how his had blown up in his face. Don Morrison had chased three off Jeep Neal's tail, sending one of them down in flames into the sea.

"Has anybody else got a claim?" Jamie asked.

Bill Haggerty stood up and said, "I think Sergeant Levesque has, sir."

Everybody turned around and looked back at "Trottle." He was slumped in a chair at the back of the briefing room, his face bathed in sweat.

In response to the silence, he stood up like a frightened little boy and as he searched for words, his lips trembled. He took a deep breath, a long sigh, and said, "Sir, I should be dead twenty times. I could have been killed without knowing 'nutting about it"

There was a roar of laughter which he didn't seem to notice. Choked with emotion, he haltingly gave his report. There was no more laughter. His story had the undivided attention of every pilot in the Wing. He had been attacked by a gaggle of radial-engined aircraft faster than anything he had ever seen. He had shot two of them down and after a battle for his life, made his escape. With sweat pouring off his brow, he gave a big sigh, and slumped back on his seat. There was dead silence. Then somebody beside me said, "Boy, he's had it!"

Omer was promoted to Flight Sergeant and sent off on a forty-eight hour leave, with the full expectation that he would be sent home. After his leave, Trottle came straight to Dispersal. Habitually particular about appearance, he looked neat as a pin with his new Flight Sergeant Crowns up. He had by no means "had it." He was not a bit interested in going back to Canada. On the contrary, he planned to stay a long time. He had bought himself an MG sports car. To the delight of everyone, he was his familiar cocky self again. With a swagger, he strode over to Deane MacDonald slumped in a chair.

"Sergeant MacDonald. You see those Goddam crowns? From now on, you show respec' Chris'. And smarten up." Wreathed in smiles, Deane gave him a limp-handed salute, and Trottle retaliated by grabbing him around the neck.

Before leaving, he gave the Intelligence Officer a piece of paper on which he had drawn what he remembered of the shape of the radial-engine aircraft. Copies of Levesque's drawing were circulated throughout Fighter Command and proved to be a remarkably accurate picture of the new German fighter, the Focke-Wulf 190.FW190 Sketch

The weather deteriorated for several months and curtailed sweeps across France. One day he was passing the time in a London restaurant when he was recalled to base. Moments after arriving he was leadig two others across the channel on an armed reconnaissance flight. One aircraft had engine trouble and returned to base. The weather was poor so they came down to within several thousand feet of the water when out of the mist appeared a German destroyer escorting several ships. Without bombs they attacked the only vulnerable point they could think of, the base of the smoke stacks in the hope of damaging a boiler. Flak erupted around them from the destroyer and shore batteries. They made a single pass raking the destroyer and headed home. It was crazy, within a hour one could go from a pleasant lunch in a restaurant to dodging Flak while attacking a ship off the coast of France.

Omer was commissioned as a Flying Officer in Feb. 1942 and found himself on regular patrols over the Channel.

The Channel Dash

For over a year the RAF had been trying to destroy the powerful German light battleships DKM Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen sitting in Brest harbour. Bomber crews had flown some 200 sorties to destroy them, but not one had made a direct hit on either. On April 6, 1941 one bomb lodged in the neighbouring dry dock and presented a hazard so the Germans moved the Gneisenau out into the harbour while they removed the bomb. An incredibly brave torpedo attack was made by the crew of a Beaufort torpedo bomber of 22 Squadron flown by Ken Campbell. Amazingly, they made it through thousands of AA guns (Brest was the most heavily defended area on earth) launched their torpedo and damaged the battleship in the stern. Had it been at sea it would have sunk, but the Germans brought in other ships to support Gneisenau and pumped out the sea water. Campbell and his crew didn't make it out of the harbour. Campbell received the VC. But their attack meant that the ships stayed at Brest a full year longer, now the Germans wanted them in home waters at Wilhemshavn where they could be readied for anti-shipping cruises in the Atlantic.

DKM Scharnhorst
DKM Scharnhorst

Unfortunately, the RAF Coastal, Bomber and Fighter Commands and the RN Fleet Air Arm, did not have a coordinated response plan for when the ships would try to leave Brest, as surely they must, and travel through the English Channel. Daily aerial reconnaissance flights kept tabs on the activity in the harbour. Intense aerial activity in the area on Feb. 11 alerted Fighter Command that finally something was happening in Brest. They sent out two Spitfires to do a reconnaissance. S/L Oxspring and another pilot spotted the swarm of aircraft and screening destroyers and reported back to Hawkinge. For unexplained reasons the message went no further and nothing happened. An hour later another Spitfire landed at Kenley. Group Captain Barnwell (or possibly Beamish), despite a broken back and body cast, was flying over the Channel just off the Somme River. He sighted the large destroyer force steaming along the coast towards Cap Gris Nez. He did not immediately report the event but waited until landing to report the location of the armada. This was due to orders of No. 11 Group to maintain RT silence until the enemy was engaged, except in an emergency. This apparently wasn't an emergency.

Eventually, the British responded, but in an uncoordinated, slapdash manner. Every available aircraft was put up, including light Hudson patrol bombers carrying 250 lb general purpose bombs, mine laying units of Bomber Command, and six Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bombers.

The Biggin Hill Wing was scrambled on to the fighter cover. Levesque and Deane MacDonald flew together with Omer as lead and Deane as wingman. Omer spotted the German fighters and dove to the attack. Shortly Deane discovered he had three Messerschmitt 109s on his tail. He had to turn to their attack or face destruction. As he did so he warned Omer, who did not reply and continued his attack on another 109. Deane's last view of his friend was of Omer scoring hits on the 109 with two more on his tail. Deane was later killed in action.


Deane MacDonald
Deane MacDonald

"You could see a tremendous amount of smoke from those ships," he remembered. And the flak crews were firing everything they had at any aircraft above them. "We got mixed up with a whole bunch of aircraft and we were only 300 - 400 feet above the ships. Those huge ships were firing at us and big balls were coming up from them. At the same time, German fighters were all over the place. We were really going crazy, skirting in and out of clouds in a fights that lasted twenty to twenty-five minutes". Just ahead Omer spotted a Bf109 dodging Flak and he raced in to the attack. He fired from several hundred yards, further than normal but he was afraid that the yellow nose of his Spitfire V would be spotted. The German pilot crumpled and his aircraft dove into the sea. Suddenly, Levesque found himself in the middle of a wild dogfight.

He popped out of a cloud to find a FW-190 in front of him. He fired without thinking and shot it down. A third FW came out of a cloud in front of him like in a shooting gallery. "Dogfights were like that," he recalls. "One moment, the sky would be filled with planes and the next moment there wouldn't be any, and you'd have no idea where they'd gone." He fired and flamed the third German aircraft. He was planning his celebration party after the third fighter went down when cannon shells ripped into his engine. A FW-190 had taken up station immediately on his 6 and was very large in his rear-view mirror. More shells ripped through his wings, his radio went dead and his engine caught fire. Levesque whipped his crippled Spitfire out of the path of the FW and doused the fire in his engine. The German roared past him. Now it was Omer's turn. Getting on to the German's tail he fired, but nothing happened. He was out of ammo.

He immediately headed for home, hoping to lose the German, although he was trailing a long plume of black smoke. The German fighter pilot left him alone, but then a very accurate Flak battery opened up on him, hitting the engine. He was too low to bail out, so he decided to ditch in the Channel with no hope of getting to England. Very few Spitfire pilots ever escaped a ditching before the aircraft sank. Even with a flat landing on calm water, the heavy engine immediately pulled a Spitfire under.

Levesque pulled back his canopy, brought up the nose and smacked into a 12 foot wave. The fighter sank immediately. Levesque was stunned by the impact, "I woke up. I felt good - it was like a dream. I thought to myself , 'If I come back from this, there's nothing to dying'". He was now under water, and he started to struggle out of the cockpit. His parachute harness caught on something, but he stayed calm, broke free and swam towards the light. The bubbles were "floating up towards the surface, - the light filtering down was a deep bottle-green. Finally, I got loose and started swimming. Then I noticed I was bleeding - from hitting my head in the crash." His Mae West would barely keep him afloat, and his inflatable dinghy wouldn't inflate. "I knew it was just about the end but it didn't bother me. At the time I was very cool. I guess I didn't know what I was doing. It was like being in the bottom of a pool". He was rapidly freezing to death in the frigid waters. He was only vaguely aware of hands grabbing him. When he awoke he was in the dark hold of a small vessel looking at a picture of Adolf Hitler. That pretty much confirmed who had rescued him. The Kriegsmarine sailors treated him well.

He was packed off to internment in Stalag Luft III near Berlin. It was a prison designed especially for Allied airforce officers.

The General der Jagdflieger, Adolf Galland, did all the planning for the accompanying air umbrella. Brilliantly conceived and boldly executed, the operation was completed without one British shell, torpedo or bomb touching a German warship. Though both the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst struck mines during the Channel dash, the damage was not disabling, and the entire german naval force was safe in home waters by midnight on 12/13 Feb.

None of the attacking Swordfish torpedo-bombers survived, and most of the Hudsons of 407 "Demon" Squadron did not receive the order to return to base and were also shot down. 42 Squadron Beauforts never managed to find enough torpedos for all of their aircraft to launch at the ships so most of them were stranded at Coltishall, which was just as well, as they would likely have all been slaughtered by the Luftwaffe.

It was a Pyrrhic victory for the Germans however, .none of their commerce raiders escaped the RN or RAF. The Scharnhorst, while trying to escape to the Atlantic, was sunk 26 Dec 1943 off the North Cape of Norway by gunfire and torpedoes from the English battleship Duke Of York and it's escorting cruisers and destroyers. The Gneisenau was bombed 26-27 Febuary 1942 while in drydock at Gdynia, repairing mine damage from the Channel Dash. The bow and #1 turret were completely destroyed. The Kriegsmarine decided to improve it's survivability against the English battleships by increasing it's main armament from 9x11 inch to 6x15 inch guns, with an entirely new bow. They gave up and decommissioned DKM Gneisenau on 1 July 1942 and all work was halted on 1/1943. They scuttled it at Gotenhaven 27-28 March 1945 as a blockship. But the damage to English pride was extensive.

Levesque spent the next three years of the war as a POW at Stalag Luft III along with more famous pilots such as W/C Bob Stanford Tuck. He never spoke much of his experiences as a POW. It was from this camp in March, 1944 that the "Great Escape" was made by 76 men. Most were caught and 53 were executed by the Gestapo. Levesque participated in the tunnelling but was not chosen for the escape.

The boredom of camp life was nearly crushing, compounded by poor food and the grim conditions they lived in. He tried to keep busy sketching a bit of camp life and doing doodles of aircraft and combat. February, 1945 changed his life again. Stalag Luft III was near Berlin and the Russians were close to the city. The Germans packed up the prisoners and moved them closer to Berlin. This was an extremely dangerous time for prisoners of the Germans. The German soldiers were highly stressed some from combat, but most from fear of facing a rampaging Russian army who were not taking any German prisoners. Their orders were to take Berlin as fast as possible. Many allied fliers were marched off their feet as they were weak from poor food and illness, some were shot on the march. Others escaped the marches to hide until liberated by Allied troops. For Omer and the rest of Stalag Luft III they were put behind barbed wire near Berlin. One morning Russian tanks burst into the compound firing their cannon. "They came in at three in the morning, blowing trees over" he recalls. Within days he was back across the Elbe River with American troops. "That was the first time in three years that I saw white bread. Our diet hadn't been too good. Few of our Red Cross parcels ever got through to us."

Between Wars

Omer was back in the UK by June, 1945 and quickly took a refresher flying course. By July he was back in Canada for a well deserved rest and reunion with his family. He decided to attend McGill University in Montreal in the fall of 1945. He re-enlisted with the RCAF in 1946 and was posted to Rockcliffe in Ottawa, but was granted leave to finish his degree in political science and economics at McGill University.

He spent 1948 flying a C-47 Dakota with 414 Squadron in the north before he was posted to 410 "Cougar" Squadron in St. Hubert, Quebec. They had survived the post war cuts and had been changed from a night fighter squadron to a day fighter squadron flying newly acquired DeHavilland Vampires.

He quickly adapted to the nimble Vampire becoming one of the 410 Squadron's aerobatic team. They called themselves the Blue Devils. F/L R. Schultz, F/L Don Laubman, F/O Mike Doyle, F/O Omer Levesque, F/L W. Tew (not in photo) and S/L R. Kipp OC were the members (from left to right).The Blue Devils aerobatic team

In his continuing series of "firsts" he made the fastest trip between Montreal and Ottawa in 8.5 minutes on May 9, 1949 in a test to see how fast and how far the Vampire could fly.

June 1949 was their first airshow appearance at Rockcliffe, with a second show at St. Hubert the same day. They were still practicing rolls and formation flying while travelling back to St. Hubert for the second show. They flew at many shows around Ontario, Quebec and the NE U.S.A. On July 22 S/L R. Kipp and Joe Schultz were practicing low-level aerobatics at St. Hubert when Kipp crashed and was killed. On August 28 at Brantford, Ontario Omer lost a wheel on takeoff. In spite of it, he flew the show and then carried on to Downsview just north of Toronto, where he made a successful belly landing. The team was disbanded at the end of the 1950 season, only to be brought back together in 1951. They were finally disbanded in August, 1951.

Life in the post-war RCAF wasn't all joy riding at air shows. The cold war was getting frigid and North American air units cooperated in joint exercises in the Yukon and Alaska preparing for the anticipated Russian invasion. Omer participated in Operation Sweet Briar in Feb. 1950 flying Vampire jet fighters. This was an Air Defence Group exercise designed to be a real test of the squadron's tactical mobility. It involved moving supplies, ground crew, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, logistical aircraft and fighters from Ontario to the Yukon where they were to engage "the enemy" American fighters posted at Ladd Field, Alaska. They were flight planned from North Bay, Ontario, Fort William, Ontario, Rivers, Manitoba, Edmonton, Alberta, Fort St. John, Alberta, Fort Nelson, B.C., Watson Lake, B.C. and finally Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. North Stars preceded the Vampires with supplies and ground crews. Some of the other pilots in the exercise he knew from training or the war, including Don Morrison and Don Laubman. The war games over the Yukon and Alaska included raiding the opposition ground installations and intercepting each other's aircraft. F-82's, F-80 Shooting Stars and Vampires were the primary fighters, although P-51s also took part. A-26s, C-54s, C-47 Dakotas and C-82s provided logistical support. Mitchells, Lancasters, and RF-80s may up the "bomber and recon force". During Sweet Briar he learned that he had been accepted for an exchange posting with the USAF. "They wanted to send me to England to fly Meteors with the RAF, but I didn't want to fly that bloody old plane. I wanted to go to the United States where they had the new planes."

By May he was at Langely AFB, Virginia on an RCAF/USAF exchange program getting his check-out on the new F-86A Sabre with the 4th Fighter Wing. The Sabre was a revelation of how good and fast jet fighters could be. The Vampire in comparison with the Sabre was a weekend toy. He said of the Sabre, "It was like being on a bucking bronco - I didn't ride it, I just hung on! It had lots of power and could turn around on a dime. When you pull back you get a whole lot of air - the stabilizer doesn't fight the elevator. This made the aircraft tremendous."

On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea with 90,000 troops. On June 27, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution which recommended that U.N. member nations provide assistance to the Republic of Korea in repelling the armed attack against its territory. Three days later, President Truman authorized U.S. aerial forces to attack military targets inside North Korea. American troops were committed to protect the south. China pledged to aid their fledgling communist neighbours and the Russians threw in with them as well. A superpower confrontation was under way with the United Nations supporting the American action, dubbing it the Korean Police Action.

Korea

The North Korean troops pushed south quickly, occupying Seoul in short order and pushed the Americans back to Pusan on the south coast. The Americans held out in Pusan and retaliated by wiping out the North Korean Air Force with WWII vintage fighters and a few obsolescent jet fighters. They bombed bridges, and troop concentrations so as to isolate the troops around Pusan. The North Koreans lost many of their invading troops. B-29 Superfortress bombers destroyed most of the North Korean industrial capacity. General Douglas MacArthur and his American troops landed at Inchon and completely isolated the North Koreans. Then American and other UN troops advanced steadily into North Korea until in November, 1950 the Chinese entered the war with masses of troops and Russian-built MiG-15 fighter-interceptors. This new fighter was fast, agile and powerfully armed.

Chinese MiGs
Chinese MiGs

In days five bombers fell to their guns and others were badly damaged. It quickly became apparent that the F-80 Shooting Stars could not protect the B-29s as they were badly outclassed by the MiGs. President Truman was forced to commit a front-line fighter unit with F-86 Sabres, the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, to the war zone. By December, 1950 Omer was in Korea with another full-blown war raging around him. Eventually 21 other Canadians would follow him into the air war over Korea flying with American units.

Sabres arrive in Korea
Sabres arrive in Korea

With the Chinese involvement in the war the U.N. land forces withdrew successfully to a defensive line across Korea south of the 38th Parallel. A new military strategy was then adopted--maintain superiority in the air while inflicting maximum damage to the enemy on the ground, thereby making war so costly that they would request an armistice.

Much of the success of this new strategy depended upon close air support to U.N. troops. Daily, USAF F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bombers attacked every conceivable type of target on the front lines and in rear areas with machine guns, rockets, high explosive bombs, and fire bombs. At the same time, B-29 Superfortresses pounded the North Korean rail and road networks to isolate Communist troops from their supply sources, attacks so devastating that traffic in North Korea could move only at night. All of this bombing required air support from F-86 Sabres to keep the MiGs at bay.

Omer and his SabreIn Dec. 1950, as a Flight Lieutenant, he became the first Canadian to fly operations in Korea. The 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was based at Kimpo about 200 miles from the Yalu River separating Korea and China. He earned the U.S. Air Medal by flying 20 missions from the 17th to the 21st of December, roughly four a day.

LEVESQUE, Squadron Leader Joseph Auguste Omer (17794) - Air Medal (United States) - awarded as per AFRO 490/51 dated 10 August 1951, "in recognition of meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight from 17 December to 21 December 1951."

A peculiar situation existed during the Korean Conflict with respect to the air war. Not only were U.N. aircraft prohibited from attacking MiG bases across the Yalu in Manchuria, but MiG-15 pilots were prohibited from attacking U.N. positions from their Manchurian bases. These restrictions were developed to avoid a direct confrontation between American and Chinese forces that could escalate the Korean War into WWIII. However, there was no such restriction on MiG pilots if they took off from airfields in North Korea. Consequently, the Communists decided to repair damaged airstrips in North Korea in addition to building new ones in order to take advantage of this situation.

As the MiG airfields neared completion in April and May 1951, B-29s carried out an intensive bombing campaign and destroyed them. During the same period, USAF B-29s cut most of the bridges across the Yalu. However, these WWII propeller-driven bombers became so vulnerable to the modern MiG-15 jet fighters during daylight missions, even with area cover provided by USAF jet fighters, that by late 1951, they began operating only at night.

On March 31, 1951 Omer Levesque was the first Commonwealth pilot to shoot down an enemy MiG 15 jet in Korea. The following, rather dramatic, account is by Mike Minnich published in Air Classics:

The bright winter sun dazzled against the cobalt blue sky. Outside the cockpit of Levesque's Sabre, the temperature was - 60 F. At the patrol altitude of 40,000 feet, an oxygen system failure could mean unconsciousness in 30 seconds and death within minutes.

Omer Levesque was getting used to the strange world of high-altitude, high-speed jet combat. Since arriving in Korea in December, he had flown more than 50 combat missions. This day's task was typical. A large formation of American B-29 Superfortress propeller-driven bombers was attacking bridges spanning the infamous Yalu River, the bounday between North Korea and its ally Red China.

Two squadrons of Sabres were assigned as escorts, to protect the bombers from any MiGs that might attempt interceptions from their bases in nearby "neutral" Manchuria. The Sabre formations were weaving, attempting not to outpace the much slower B-29s. Levesque's gaze travelled past the bulge of his tightly fitting oxygen mask to scan the 24 instruments and dozen indicators that revealed the vital signs of his F-86s operation.

"I was flying as wingman for Maj Ed Fletcher, leader of Red flight, " Levesque remembers. "Suddenly the squdron commander called out bandits coming in from the right. We all dropped our auxiliary fuel tanks and Fletcher spotted two more MiGs at nine o'clock - off our left wings and above us a bit."

The two pilots turned sharply towards the pair of enemy fighters, who quickly split up and turned away to evade the pursuing Sabres.

"My MiG pulled up into the sun, probably trying to lose me in the glare," Levesque tells. "That was an old trick the Germans used to like to do - but this day I had dark sunglasses on, and I kept the MiG in sight."

The enemy pilot - many of whom were Russians, although none were ever captured for absolute proof - levelled off, not knowing Levesque had stuck on his tail. The tenacious Canadian quickly adjusted his illuminated gunsight for a deflection shot and banked more steeply to turn inside the MiG. The corkscrewing dogfight had by then carried them down to 17,000 feet. Levesque's right index finger tightened on the control-stick trigger and sent six streams of .50 calibre bullets streaking home.

Lining up the MiG
Lining up the MiG

"I guess I was about 1500 feet away from him," he says. "I hit him with a good long burst, and he snapped over in a violent roll to the right. I must have hit his hydraulic system, because I saw the flap on his left wing drop down alone."

The MiG 15 kept rolling straight into the ground. A flash of red flame and white smoke marked the funeral pyre of plane and pilot.

"I started to pull up, and saw another MiG diving from above me," Levesque says. "I climbed into the sun at full throttle and started doing barrel rolls . The MiG dissappeared".

The constricted bands of Levesque's G-suit relaxed their hold around his legs and waist as the G-forces of his sharp pull-up diminished. Without the device, blood rushing from the head in such manoeuvers would cause the pilot to black out.

Soaked with sweat, he noticed that his fuel was approaching "bingo," the point where 1000 pounds remained - just enough to get him safely back to base at Suwon, South Korea. Turning his F-86 southwards at the fuel-efficient height of 40,000 feet, he could relax a bit. It had taken 10 years and two wars, but Omer Levesque was an ace at last.

In Omer's words the fight was somewhat different. "I got in a really nice deflection shot but with those six guns firing you lost 30 to 40 knots of speed, which was a hell of a lot! I aimed again and fired another burst and, all of a sudden, the flaps came down on the MiG. He kept on turning and I followed him down." He was nearly blacking out, even with his compression suit helping out. Firing again, he raked the MiG from nose to tail and watched as it rolled end over end into the hills below.

Even after losing the second MiG he wasn't safe. "I went right through the B-29 formation and they all shot at me! Thank God they missed. I waggled my wings and they stopped firing, but lots of shells had just missed me."

He received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross for his combat. The following is an excerpt from DFC (US) citation, quoted in an RCAF Press Release of May, 1951.

US DFC
Receiving the US DFC

Flight Lieutenant J.A.O. Levesque, RCAF, performed an act of heroic and extraordinary achievement as a member of a flight of four F-86 type aircraft on a combat air patrol south of the Sinuiju-Yalu River area, North Korea. Flight Lieutenant Levesque's flight engaged enemy high performance jet aircraft in a battle which varied in altitude from 30,000 feet to 3,000 feet. Through aggressive and skilful maneouvering, he made repeated daring attacks upon the enemy which resulted in his personal destruction of one enemy aircraft. His brilliant evasion of other enemy aircraft added immeasurably to the success of his mission. Flight Lieutenant Levesque's heroic and extraordinary achievement and meritorious devotion to duty has brought great credit upon himself, his comrades in arms of the United Nations, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Air Force.

His American awards were presented at Johnston AFB, Japan, January 1951. With 71 operational sorties under his belt with the 334th he was rotated home in June 1951. He was proud of the Canadian contingent in the U.S. Air Force and of the entire UN air force efforts in general. "We achieved absolute air superiority in Korea. It was just classic. The Chinese said afterwards that they would have gone over us like a steamroller if it hadn't been for the Allied air force."

In July, he took up duties at CFB Chatham as the CFI (Commander Fighter Instructors) with No.1 (F)OTU. He was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal in 1953. Later he flew Canadair Sabres with 4 Wing in Europe and worked at Air Division HQ in Metz. While there he was instrumental in securing the French base at Rabat for the RCAF as a gunnery base. The deal was cooked up over a bottle of beer. The French officer promised that if Levesque got him a check-out on the Canadair Sabre, he would see that a deal for Rabat was taken care of.

He later returned to Canada flying Vampires with 438 Squadron, worked at Air Defence Command in St. Hubert, did a tour with the International Control Commission in Vietnam, meeting both Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap during a visit to Hanoi. He then worked in the NORAD system. Following his Air Force retirement in 1965 he worked on the Air Transport committee in Ottawa until 1987. He still lives in Quebec.

While not being a high scoring ace, Omer Levesque demonstrated an overwhelming ability to be first in military aviation of his times, and a decided mental toughness that kept him going even after he had been shocked by the bloody and sudden nature of aerial warfare. Few would have returned to flying after three years in a POW camp. Fewer still would have worked their way into the ranks of the best pilots in their airforce and back into a major international war. Omer Levesque did. He just couldn't quit.

 



Canadian Aces Home Page


Images From: Levesque #1: Courtest of Canadian Department of National Defence.
Levesque after EFTS: Larry Milberry and Hugh Halliday. The Royal Canadian Air Force At War 1939 - 1945. 1981. Permission to be requested.
401 Sqdn crest: 401 Squadron web site.
Levesque's sketch of a FW-190: from a photo in David Bashow. All the Fine Young Eagles. In the Cockpit with Canada's Second World War Fighter Pilots. Stoddart, 1996.
DKM Scharnhorst: from an on-line German naval site, archival photo.
Deane McDonald: Detail from a photo of 401 Sqdn members. Larry Milberry and Hugh Halliday. The Royal Canadian Air Force At War 1939 - 1945. 1981. Permission to be requested.
Blue Devils Aerobatic Team: other book.
Chinese MiGs and USAF Sabres with permission from the USAF Museum's Korean Conflict History Gallery
Levesque in front of a Sabre: Larry Milberry (Ed.). Sixty Years. The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984. CANAV Books, 1984.
Levesque's sketch of hitting the MiG: Larry Milberry (Ed.). Sixty Years. The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984. CANAV Books, 1984.
Receiving the US DFC: Larry Milberry (Ed.). Sixty Years. The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984. CANAV Books, 1984.
Quotes From: Mike Minnich. Air Classics, Sept. 1979.
Larry Milberry (Ed.). Sixty Years. The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984. CANAV Books, 1984.
Dan McCaffery. Air Aces. The Lives and Times of Twelve Canadian Fighter Pilots. James Lorimer & Company. 1990.
Hugh Godefroy. Lucky Thirteen. Stoddart. 1987.
David Bashow. All the Fine Young Eagles. In the Cockpit with Canada's Second World War Fighter Pilots. Stoddart, 1996.
The USAF Museum's Korean Conflict History Gallery