Valor Friday

| January 6, 2023

Captain E. Royce Williams, USN (ret.)

We’ve talked about a lot of legendary figures within their respective communities. Today’s subject is a legend in the naval aviation community, but is largely unknown outside those with wings of gold. The mission that made him famous among Airedales was actually, legitimately classified at the highest levels. His wartime heroics and feat of courage went unacknowledged for decades. He didn’t even tell his wife or his brother (also a naval aviator)! Thankfully, the mission of Royce Williams is now declassified, and in just the last few weeks, he’s starting to get the official recognition he deserves.

Elmer Royce Williams (who went by his middle name) was born in Wilmot, South Dakota in 1925. Wilmot’s a sleepy little town on the Minnesota border about two and a half hours north of Sioux Falls. In 1936 the Williams family moved to nearby Clinton, Minnesota just to the east.

In Clinton, the Williams family ran the local grocery store. Royce’s father had used his WWI veteran’s bonus to make the purchase. Williams and his brother worked in the shop, but both had an itch to fly. It was around this time that Royce first met his future wife Camilla.

Both Royce and Camilla graduated high school in Clinton, where he’d played as quarterback of the football team, in 1943. Royce was top of his class. The two would eventually marry in 1947 at St Paul Lutheran Church in Clinton. Royce had been active with the Boy Scouts, and he was the first young man from Clinton to achieve Eagle Scout.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he and his brother both sought to enlist. They both wanted to become aviators. Royce’s older brother Lynn joined in 1942 and would eventually commission into the Marine Corps and become a naval aviator. Royce joined the Navy as an aviation cadet in March 1943.

Williams attended boot camp at Corpus Christi, Texas, then cut his piloting teeth on the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N bi-plane in Kentucky and Arkansas. Through 1944 and into 1945 he moved on to the Boeing Stearman and then into operational fighters. He became carrier qualified after landing on USS Ranger (CV-4), and was thereafter night carrier qualified while flying the legendary Vought F4U Corsair. He received his commission as a naval officer in November 1945.

F9F Panther

Williams completed his flight training too late to see action during World War II, but he remained in the service after the conflict. He also returned to Minnesota in 1949 where he finished his bachelor’s degree in 1950. With the Navy, Royce was trained in the first carrier-capable jet of the service, the F9F-5 Panther. He’d also flown the Grumman F6F Hellcat and the Grumman F8F Bearcat fighters during this period.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) in 1950 after her post-war re-fit

After receiving his degree, Williams was sent to the Line Officer School for the Navy. After he graduated from that class, now a lieutenant, he was assigned to VF-781. With the war in Korea going strong for more than two years, they deployed aboard USS Oriskany (CV-34) to Korea and started flying combat missions over the peninsula on 15 September 1952.

On 18 November, Royce and three wingmen took off from Oriskany. The ship was operating off the North Korean coast, only about 100 miles away from the Russian city of Vladivostok. Royce was on his second combat mission of the day. They were scrambled to intercept seven enemy fighters flying out of Vladivostok headed towards the carrier task force.

It turns out the enemy planes were MiG-15s and wore the red star of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were involved in the war sporadically. The Soviets were helping, unofficially, their communist allies in North Korea, who were already heavily backed by the Chinese. It’s believed the Soviets were on the prowl for revenge after the American Navy aviators had carried out an attack in northeastern North Korea on the Soviet border earlier that day (which had been Royce’s first mission that morning).

The four Panthers took off in a blustery snow storm. The flight leader’s aircraft had fuel pump problems, so had to return to the ship, taking one of the other fighters as an escort. This left Williams in command with wingman Lieutenant, Junior Grade Dave Rowlands in a two-to-seven fight to screen the entire carrier group from air attack.

Williams and his wingman were ordered to retreat and return closer to the carrier, to protect the fleet. Before they could, the flight of MiGs split into two groups and made to attack the two Americans in a pincer move. When one of the MiGs fired on Williams, the game was on.

“We were just going through 26,000 feet when the Russians split up and dove out of the contrail layer,” Williams remembered. “The first ones came at us from the right side in a four-plane formation and opened fire. I pulled into a hard climbing left turn and came around on the Number Four MiG. I fired a burst and hit him solidly in the rear fuselage. He went down smoking, and my wingman then followed him, leaving me alone.” Williams, now alone, faced six Soviet fighters.

Rowland’s guns had immediately jammed, leading him to retreat from the battle. Williams was now the only thing standing between his comrades and seven six Soviet jets.


We should take a moment to discuss the relative capabilities of the aircraft in question. The MiG-15 was a small, fast, nimble swept wing fighter. It was the preeminent fighter over Korea. The F9F, by this point in the war, was an aging design. It featured straight wings, and though both aircraft had a single jet engine capable of about 6,000 pounds of thrust, the Panther was several thousand pounds heavier. The MiG-15 had the F9F clearly outclassed in top speed, cruise speed, acceleration, rate of climb, and maneuverability at altitude.

Williams flew and fought for a full 35 minutes. He’d fire on one of the MiGs, then another would be on his tail and he’d have to outmaneuver them. Constantly taking fire from the enemy, Williams refused to give up.

Sending one enemy plane down in flames after another, he said he didn’t have time to tally his kills. Williams later told The San Diego Union Tribune, “I was too busy to start counting. I would fire at a plane and then someone else would be on my tail and I had to maneuver and I couldn’t tell what happened to the plane I shot.”

Royce said, “They had me cold on maneuverability and acceleration – the MiG was vastly superior on those counts to the F9F. The only thing I could do was out-turn them.” Royce’s jet taking hit after hit, he kept pouring fire into every enemy plane he could. “I was firing at every MiG that passed within gun range as they came by.”

Williams recalls, “Finally, the leader and his wingman went off to the right and I went after the section leader of the plane I’d shot down. He pulled up into the sun and I lost him, then I saw the leader and his wingman come around for a diving attack. I turned into them and fired at the leader. He turned away and the wingman rolled down on me and we went past belly-to-belly as I raked him with a long burst. He caught fire and went down. The section leader then came around and I turned into him and fired at him practically pointblank and he went down. The leader then came around again and I fired and parts came off him as he dove away.”

He continues, “As I maneuvered to avoid the wreckage, I porpoised to try and clear my tail. I was tracking another wounded MIG when I suddenly spotted one of the other two as he slid in on my six. He fired a burst with his 37mm cannon and hit me in the wing. The shell went into the engine area and messed up the hydraulic unit in the accessory section. I suddenly lost rudder and flaps and only had partial aileron control. The only thing that really worked were the elevators. I dove toward the cloud deck below at 13,000 feet, and he was 500 feet behind me and still shooting all the way down. It seemed like it was taking forever to drop that 10,000 feet! My wingman finally got back in the fight and came in on the MiG and he pulled away as I went into the clouds.”

Royce recently described his thoughts during the action. “A lot of it was awareness of where they were and how I had to maneuver to avoid them,” He said. “They were taking turns. I decided if I concentrated on shooting them down, then I’d become an easy target. So my initial goal was to look for defensive opportunities when they made mistakes.”

Somehow, he’d done the incredible. He’d survived an encounter with a superior number of better performing enemy aircraft. He also shot down four of the MiGs, and damaged one enough that it crashed while returning to Vladivostok. In a single engagement, and all alone, the young lieutenant took out more than half of an enemy flight thrown at him.

Williams’ Panther was critically damaged, but flyable. Sort of. The Soviet 37mm shell had ripped into the fuselage just behind the wing spar and just in front of the engine. Losing hydraulics, Williams could only pitch up and down. His altitude was only 400 feet, and he needed to be at least 1,200 feet to eject. The aircraft stalled at anything below about 170 knots. He had no choice but to bring it home with what had, and to come in hot while doing it. With the crippled flight controls, he was still able to get it back to Oriskany.

He had to land at high speed, to avoid stalling, but was able to put the nearly destroyed fighter onto the flat top deck of Oriskany. The plane had 263 holes in it. Every one of his 760 rounds of 20mm cannon ammunition were spent. Royce never saw the aircraft again, and it’s believed it was pushed overboard.

According to official Soviet reports, of the seven aircraft that left Vladivostok that morning, only one returned. Four were shot down by the Americans, one crashed while returning to base, and the disposition of the final one was never determined.

Retired Rear Admiral Doniphan Shelton (USN), who has been leading a latter day effort to properly recognize Williams says, “Four MiG-15s down over a period of time is one thing, quite another when those four are downed in one historic 35-to-38-minute aerial engagement of one F9F-5 against seven very superior MiG-15s.”

The incident with Williams and the Soviets was immediately classified. It was feared, at the highest levels of the US government, that it could lead to a wider conflict with the Soviet Union. Royce was ordered never to talk about it, and he didn’t. Not to his wife or his brother, a fellow aviator.

Williams was ordered to a top secret meeting with Vice Admiral Robert Briscoe, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, at which the admiral said the NSA team aboard USS Toledo (CA-133) on a special intelligence mission off the coast of Vladavostok reported that Williams downed at least three of them. Williams later is reported to have met with President Eisenhower, Secretary of Defense Wilson, Generals Bradley, Van Fleet, Clark, Ridgeway, Admirals Radford, Clark and others to discuss the MiG engagement.

Williams was quietly awarded a Silver Star for his actions that November day. His wingman Rowland was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. Royce’s citation, intentionally, downplays the event. It credits him with shooting down two MiGs.

Another member of Williams’ flight that day, then-Lieutenant Junior Grade John Middleton, was also awarded a Silver Star. His award citation is a near copy of Williams’. From the accounts I can find of the battle, Middleton was the wingman/escort for the pilot who was having fuel problems and returned to Oriskany. His role in the combat action came at the very end. He was vectored onto one of the MiGs as it crashed into the sea. He did fire a burst at it. Middleton died in 1974, long before the mission was ever declassified.

Air-to-air kills were rare for the US naval services in Korea. Most sorties for the naval aviators consisted of ground attack and close air support. Only two naval aviators (one USN and one USMC) claimed ace status, having each taken down at least five enemy aircraft. The Marine Corps ace scored all of his kills flying an F-86 while attached to the US Air Force. In total, the naval air arms only took down 55 enemy aircraft during the war. This makes Williams’ feat all the more remarkable. He was, and to this day remains, the only American to shoot down four MiGs in a single engagement. He is the Navy’s top scoring carrier-based pilot and the Navy’s top scoring jet aviator of the war.

Williams would remain in the Navy. He flew a total of 70 combat missions in Korea. He served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. He flew 110 combat missions there in the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II and Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. He was embarked aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) as the commander of Carrier Wing 11 during this tour.

Williams was put on the temporary disability list in 1975 as a captain. He fully retired from the Navy in 1980. He logged more than 4,500 flight hours, with more than 3,000 of that in jets, and had more than 500 carrier landings. In addition to the many fighters I’ve already listed, he had experience flying the USAF’s F-86 Sabre (and the navalized FJ-3 Fury version of the same), the USAF’s F-100 Super Sabre, and the Navy’s F-8 Crusader.

In addition to his Silver Star, he received a Legion of Merit w/ combat “V”, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star Medal, 11 Air Medals, and a Navy Commendation Medal w/ combat “V”.

He retired to Southern California. Since his mission became unclassified, and the Russians have acknowledged and named the pilots involved (Captains Belyakov and Vandalov and Lieutenants Pakhomkin and Tarshinov of the VVS-PVO, the Air Defense Forces of the Red Air Force), efforts to upgrade Williams’ Silver Star have commenced.

Capt Williams next to a preserved F9F, painted to match his, complete with four MiG “kill” tallies, aboard USS Midway Museum San Diego, CA

In July 2022, the US House of Representatives passed legislation allowing the President to award Williams the Medal of Honor. On 21 December 2022, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro used his statutory authority for the upgrade of awards to rescind Williams’ Silver Star and instead award him the Navy Cross. It remains to be seen if this in turn will be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. At age 97, there’s not much time left for Captain Williams to have the blue silk ribbon draped around his neck.

Williams, for his part, would be honored to receive the Medal of Honor, but isn’t heartbroken should he not get it. “If it happened, I would be awed,” Williams told the San Diego Tribune in June 2022. “I wish my dad could know. It would mean even more to my friends to know that I finally received it.”

Royce’s brother Lynn would also make the service a career. He retired as a colonel from the Marine Corps in 1971. He’d served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He too retired to California. He died in 2021 at the age of 98.

Category: Historical, Navy, Navy Cross, Valor, We Remember

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The title of the article says it all.

We know our very own beloved AW1Ed and Mick are very proud of Captain Elmer Royce Williams, USN.

“The Real-Life Maverick Who Took On 7 Soviet Jets In A Classified Korean War Dogfight”

“The existence of the improbable dogfight remained under wraps for decades, yet the details of what happened are the stuff of legends.”

Thank You, Mason, for sharing another Valor story of an Unsung Hero who literally fought in The Danger Zone.



Time to replace Captain Williams’ Silver Star/Navy Cross with the Medal Of Honor.


He used his stones to safely stop his aircraft during carrier landing.


POTUS needs to present CAPTAIN Williams with the Medal of Honor…and Congress needs to give Captain Williams a standing ovation as they did with this guy in December 2022.

America First.🇺🇲

“We The People…”


Naw, Brandon will make up some ridiculous story about the Captain refusing the medal that we will have to listen to for years, just like his bogus story about the Silver Star he tried to award in A-stan.


They had him outnumbered and surrounded…The poor bastards. Give this Warrior the MoH, he damned sure EARNED it. SALUTE!

Another great War Hero Story, Mason. Thanks!


When I saw the Silver Star, I immediately thought that was bullshit. He rated at least a Navy Cross. Incredible feat.


Thanks for another great valor article, Mason. Hard to believe we still have WWII era vets among us. But then, the last Civil War vets lived until the 1950’s. That’s right–the 1950’s!

Albert Woolson – Wikipedia


Also, James Albert Hard:

“Union Soldier. He was the last-surviving combat veteran of the Civil War, outliving all but one of the 2,675,000 Union soldiers. (The last survivor was a musician who enlisted in the final weeks of the war.) He enlisted in the Union Army four days after the attack on Ft. Sumter. As a Private in the 32nd New York Infantry, he fought in the Battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, South Mountain, and Antietam. At age 111, he is the longest living male of the cemetery’s 350,000 residents.”


Badass! Thanks for posting this story of a hero we all should know, but never did until now.


A true hero-warrior.

And unlike the posers, he kept his trap shut when told to. He understood the reality of the issues if he didn’t.

Whether he gets the MoH in his lifetime or not, he gets to live his life with honor.


Now that was a great read.


I never realized the F9F had that much lift capabilities, after fuel, ammo, and the two giant spherical cockpit brass were loaded.

Prior Service

GOT-Dam!!! And yet another naval aviator moves ahead of my dad (USN, Aviator, Ret) in terms of all around badass. This guy needs an MoH hung around his neck like yesterday.