SQUADRON LEADER ANDY MACKENZIE
POW - 5 DECEMBER 1952 to 5 DECEMBER 1954  

By Carl Mills

Because of President Eisenhower's visit to Seoul in December 1952, military forces were taking extra precautions to ensure that the area remained secure. The effort by the fighter squadrons was to send a large formation to patrol the northern boundary of "MIG Alley" to ensure that Communist MIGs were kept away from Seoul. Three squadrons of sixteen F-86 Sabre jets each were involved and began patrolling south of the Yalu River about 1300. The three squadrons were separated by about five miles and were, in turn, stacked in flights of four aircraft between 42,000 feet down to about 35,000 feet.  The formation leader, "Cobra One," was leading the lead formation from 42,000 feet and his wing­man, "Cobra Two," was Squadron Leader (S/L) Andy MacKenzie (R.C.A.F.).

As the armada continued its patrol (now eastbound) MacKenzie experienced a failure of his hydraulic system. This system provided the force required to maneuver the aircraft in the air. The much less powerful back-up system kicked in and MacKenzie elected to continue the patrol. The back-up system was designed to get the aircraft home but was not powerful enough for maneuvering in combat. At this point MIGs appeared westbound at 50,000 feet on the opposite side of the Yalu River.

There were approximately twenty to thirty in pairs with the pairs following each other. The first pair dove on the lead formation, shooting as they approached. They passed under MacKenzie, southbound, and he called Cobra One that he was going to pursue them.

MacKenzie dove after but quickly discovered that Cobra One had, in fact turned in the opposite direction and was pursuing another pair of attacking MIGs. As wingman, it was MacKenzie's duty to cover his element leader, Cobra One. In the catch-up process, MacKenzie indicated to Cobra One that he was clear of enemy fighters and to continue his attack. In the meantime, the second squadron was approaching the area. MIGs and Sabres are both swept-wing fighters and in the distance they look very much alike. One method of distinguishing them apart is that Sabres fought in pairs and MIGs, often, did not. Another indication was that the tactics of the MIGs, after combat, was to dive northbound for their sanctuary across the Yalu River. MacKenzie was now a single northbound aircraft.

A pilot in the second squadron of Sabres, thinking that he was a MIG, took a long, lucky shot and hit MacKenzie. The shot destroyed the canopy and a few hits went into the right aileron and fuselage. Within seconds the controls locked and the aircraft spun towards the ground. At 40,000 feet MacKenzie decided to eject, at high speed. Arguably, the two problems, low hydraulic failure and the damaged aileron, combined to render the aircraft uncontrollable. There is little doubt that he would have returned safely to his base if he had left the formation when the hydraulic failure occurred. Similarly, if he had had full hydraulic pressure he may have been able to fly the aircraft to the safe haven of Chodo Island for ejection and rescue. Chodo was a U.S.A.F. held island about half way up the North Korean coast and was a designated safe rescue area for damaged aircraft.

The impact of the high-speed ejection tore away his crash helmet, oxygen mask, gloves, wrist watch and UN identity discs (dog tags). However, he free fell for a short distance and then deployed his parachute. It was a long, cold descent and the enemy was waiting for him when he landed. He was loaded into a truck, blindfolded but not bound, and driven for a few hours to a shack for initial interrogations. His captors were Chinese with English speaking interrogators. Within a few hours he was driven to another location. The transport was a truck complete with squealing pigs. Shortly he was transferred to another vehicle, still blindfolded, and driven for several hours. His interpreter informed him that he was now in China and not to be afraid—he was told that he would go home soon.  

In the few weeks leading up to Christmas, Mackenzie underwent intense interrogations. They wanted to know all about his family, his squadron, aircraft performance and the topic of germ warfare was introduced. When MacKenzie refused to cooperate they introduced the fact that he had no identification and was considered a spy. Other comments indicated that the military had not yet been informed of his capture. At this point MacKenzie was convinced that he would be executed.

CHRISTMAS 1952

MacKenzie was moved to another building and placed in a concrete cell with no light, heat or furniture. He was given two blankets but one was taken away because of his lack of cooperation. He was continuously cold and hungry. When the topic of Christmas (1952) came up during interrogations they indicated that he would enjoy a turkey dinner with other POWs if he cooperated. It was too cold to sleep and MacKenzie sat squat-style to conserve energy and warmth. However, painful back spasms soon resulted from his continuous shivering. Still refusing to cooperate, when Christmas Day arrived he was given new blue-padded Chinese clothing, a piece of spiced meat, some hard candies, a bottle of wine, and an apple. He was informed that these were gifts from the Chinese people who had a lenient and humanitarian policy towards their POWs.  

In January 1953 MacKenzie made contact with another prisoner, a U.S.A.F. B-29 tail gunner. He managed to get a message to him but was caught. Because of this he was transferred to another prison. However, the U.S.A.F. gunner was released in Operation "Big Switch" in September 1953 and finally, then, information was received about MacKenzie to the outside world. In the meantime the new prison would be his "Home" for the next eighteen months. Interrogations continued and still MacKenzie refused to fully cooperate and for this he remained in solitary confinement. The months passed with no change—just relentless interrogations, boredom, the incessant fear of the unknown and the beginning of another winter in captivity.

In February 1953, he determined that there were four prisoners in the block but didn't know who they were. The interrogations continued; they wanted to know about gun positions around the airfields, performance of bomber aircraft, numbers of aircraft in the squadrons, names of officers. But still MacKenzie refused to cooperate. He was punished again when the sitting-all-day rule was applied to his solitary confinement. For nearly three months, when he woke in the morning he was forced to sit on the edge of his bed all day long just staring at the walls. Whenever he tried to lie down the guards would shout at him. The only time that he got relief was when the guards wandered away from the doors. He could hear them and would jump up and stretch his legs until the guards returned. He had much time to reflect about his wife, four children and his parents. He was regretful that he had not written to them more often in the past and vowed to make up for it if he ever got out of China.

In April (1953) for reasons unknown, things began to change. He got a bigger room, the guards were more friendly, he was given warm water for sponge baths and books to read. He also made contact with one of the other prisoners, Captain Hal Fischer, who was from his U.S.A.F. squadron in Korea. Fischer was surprised but delighted to hear MacKenzie's voice because he had been considered KIA by the squadron. One of the routines was that the prisoners had to sweep their rooms every day and had to share the same broom. Although they were allowed to talk, confidential information was passed via the bamboo broom handle where notes were hidden. The code words "Mabel is ready" indicated that a message was hidden in the broom. Through this, MacKenzie learned that Fischer had become a double "ace" in Korea and that the other two prisoners were Lt's Lyle Cameron and Ron Parks, both U.S.A.F. pilots. In spite of this, intensive interrogations continued with all four POWs.

CHRISTMAS 1953

In August the other three were informed that the war was over. MacKenzie learned this through the broom, however he was never told and one day he challenged his interrogators. By October the communists had still not admitted to Mackenzie that the war was over. In fact they issued him with a new set of winter clothing which indicated that he wasn't going home soon. The topic of the interrogations changed to trying to get MacKenzie to admit that he had been flying over "neutral" China. MacKenzie was adamant that he had not flown over China. His books were taken away and he remained in solitary confinement. Christmas 1953 came and went and soon after he was ordered back to the sitting-on-the-edge-of-his-bed-all-day routine again.

After a month he finally decided that since the war had been over for seven months he should make things a bit easier on himself and decided to draft a statement. It took a month of daily meetings to finally get a statement that they would agree to. The problems was, how was he shot down deep in China but picked up in North Korea. The answer was simple enough, he had drifted to North Korea on his parachute! This document completed, they next tried to achieve another about germ warfare. Mackenzie went berserk which completely unnerved them.

In mid-April (1954) he was led into a large room and finally met the other three prisoners—they were all informed that they would be released from solitary confinement and would co-exist using cells for other purposes such as a library, kitchen, club room (for ping pong). They had relative freedom in the area for the next eight months. Also in April they were allowed to write home for the first time. He received a telegram from his father in mid-July and later a letter from his wife. It was then that he learned that his mother had passed away without knowing if he was alive or not.  

In November they learned that Colonel Ed Heller (U.S.A.F.) would be joining the foursome soon and also MacKenzie was informed that he was going to be released. With only two hours notice they had a special meal with two bottles of beer and a bottle of wine. Then he bid farewell to his friends. With an interpreter and a guard he travelled for four days all the way to Canton. At 8 a.m. on December 5th they travelled for four hours to the Hong Kong border. Two years to the minute that he had been shot down MacKenzie bid farewell to his captors and crossed into Hong Kong territory where he was met by his brother-in-law, Wing Commander Don Skene (R.C.A.F.) and escorted away. They had his R.C.A.F. uniform there and, although he had dropped from 200 to 130 pounds, it still fit him.

Carl Mills is from London , Ontario . After two years in Air Cadets, he joined the RCAF Auxiliary, in 1955, with 420(F) Squadron and later 2420 AC& W Sqn .  He attended the University of Waterloo , graduating in 1965 as an electrical engineer, and rejoined the Air Force Reserves in Toronto with the Wing HQ and 400 Sqn.  After 24 years service, he retired from the Reserves in 1983 as a Lieutenant Colonel.  Since then he became involved in Canadian aviation historical research and published the book, ABanshees in the Royal Canadian Navy” in 1991.

His current project is the Canadian Airmen and Airwomen in the Korean War which has been underway for some six years and should be ready for publication by next year. This project, as well as research and interviews, also involves the commission of eighteen original pieces of Korean War artwork which have  recently been completed.

He is an Associate Historian with the Air Force Air Division, a member of the CAHS and the Air Force Association.  He is an Honorary Member of the Korea Veterans Association and an Honorary Life Member of the Canadian Naval Air Group.  

 

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