Col. ‘Goose’ Guss: 1st Marine Shoot Down MiG cover

Col. ‘Goose’ Guss: 1st Marine Shoot Down MiG


Last January, the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation received a request for the purchase of a Memorial Brick for the museum’s Walk of Memories from the family of Colonel William Franklin Guss, USMC. Subject to space restrictions each Memorial Brick for the walkway may be personalized. The family ended their brick inscription with; “1st Marine shoot down MiG.”
That inscription begged further exploration, which proved far from disappointing.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars on 4 reviews

"I found this article to be not just of excellent content, but gripping as well. Not a complex read which would be counterintuitive to the storyline. Enjoying reading about all things military especially military history, Col. Guss's story enlightened me to the fact he had the first confirmed kill of a Mig-15 in the war. Having been unaware of this fact the article taught me something new which is always enjoyable" 5 stars by

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4th Fighter Group and VMF 223


Flew combat missions in three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Aircraft flown include F4U ‘Corsair’, F9F ‘Panther’, F-4 ‘Phantom’, A-6 ‘Intruder’, and

F-86 ‘Sabre


Distinguished Flying Cross (3)

Air Medal (1 Silver and 1 Oak Leaf Cluster)

Purple Heart (1)

MiG-15 (1)

Please Explain

Last January, the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation received a request for the purchase of a Memorial Brick for the museum’s Walk of Memories from the family of Colonel William Franklin Guss, USMC.

Subject to space restrictions each Memorial Brick for the walkway may be personalized. The family ended their brick inscription with; “1st Marine shoot down MiG.”*

That inscription begged further exploration, which proved far from disappointing.

* The Memorial Brick program is an on-going fundraising effort by the Foundation. Each Memorial Brick can be custom engraved, with a maximum of three lines per brick and twenty total characters per line. For detailed information on this program, please contact the Foundation’s office at (858) 693-1723

Vietnam, 1966

Vietnam, 1966

Colonel Jay Hubbard and Colonel “Goose” Guss, Vietnam 1966


There is so much history attached to the Colonel Guss story that sufficient Log Book space is not available. However, I trust the reader will enjoy what follows.

I am indebted to Jeffrey and Robert Guss who shared their father’s records and family memorabilia for this article. I also appreciate the efforts of Tom Handley, a close friend and fellow retired officer, who researched USAF Fighter Interceptor Wing records at the Air Force Research Institute, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Early Career

Colonel Guss, from Reading, Pennsylvania, enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve on June 23, 1942. He applied for Aviation Cadet training, was accepted on August 7, 1942 and reported to Corpus Christi, Texas on October 29, 1942.

Upon graduation on July 7, 1943, he received his Wings of Gold and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, USMC, with orders to “Pre-operational Training” at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miami, Florida.

Finishing his NAS Miami training on September 10, 1943, Guss reported to the Fighter Training Unit at MCAS El Toro. Flying the F4U Corsair, he quickly demonstrated a fighter pilot’s acumen.


On February 23, 1944, pilot Lieutenant Albert P. Wells* was flying lead with Lieutenant Guss flying as wingman on a Corsair training hop from El Toro.

The two put on an air show with some low altitude acrobatics that greatly impressed Wells’ girlfriend, who was sunbathing on the beach.

Unfortunately, someone on the beach was not so favorably impressed and reported the impromptu performance to the El Toro base commander. The MPs were waiting for the pilots when they taxied in and escorted them to the commander's office. Wells was placed under arrest.

* Later in World War II, Wells became an ace while assigned to VMF-323 (“Death Rattlers”).

F4U-1 Corsair

F4U-1 Corsair

A U.S. Marine Corps Vought F4U-1 Corsair of Marine Fighting Squadron 213 (VMF-213) Hell Hawks is warming up for fight from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Copahee (ACV-12), on 29 March 1943.

Image by US Navy

Public Domain

Curtain Call

After hearing Wells get chewed out, Guss figured he was in for the same, but was simply asked if he was flying wing. He responded, “Yes sir.” The commander simply said, “Good job – dismissed!”

Guss, the 20 year old Second Lieutenant wingman, took an opportunity the next day to repeat the performance only this time over a Marine field to ensure there was no mistaking who had been Wells’ wingman. Guss was then given the opportunity to again join up with his squadron mate Wells; this time not in the air, but under arrest.

Zoom The Tower

His Arrest Order Charges state, “At 1655 on 24 February, 1944, you were pilot of an F4U-1 airplane, Bureau Number 02221, and did at Camp Pendleton Field, Oceanside, California, zoom the tower and stunt low over the field.”

He was confined to the Bachelor Officer Quarters for 10 days. The Arrest Order recommended the Commandant of the Marine Corps delay Guss’ promotion to First Lieutenant for six months. Rumor was the severity of the sentence for that era might have been influenced by the presence of a visiting VIP Marine Corps general. Nevertheless, Guss was not off to a good start.


Prior to expiration of his 6-month promotion deferment sentence, Guss received shipping orders. He was reassigned to the 2nd Marine Air Wing (MAW) and on March 14, 1944 sailed to the South Pacific on the USS Savo Island (CVE-78).*

The task force arrived at Espiritu, New Hebrides on April 3, 1944. In June 1944, Guss was assigned to VMF-223 (“Bulldogs”) on Bougainville Island in the Solomon Islands.

* The USS Savo Island was a Casablanca class escort carrier named after the August 9, 1942 naval battle fought off Savo Island in the Solomon Island group, during the battle of Guadalcanal.

Bougainville, 1944

Bougainville, 1944

(Lt. Guss at far right)


VMF-223 was a famous squadron. The “Bulldogs” were the first fighter squadron committed to combat during the Solomon Islands’ Battle of Guadalcanal that began on August 7, 1942.

The squadron landed at Henderson Field on August 20, 1942 when survival was constantly in doubt. Major John L. Smith, with nineteen confirmed air-to-air victories and Captain Marion E. Carl credited with sixteen were Marine Corps icons.* Guss flew 52 combat missions over Bougainville and the New Britain Islands. By March 1945, he was in Samar, Philippine Islands at which time he was rotated stateside.

* Major John L. Smith received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle of Guadalcanal. Captain Marion E. Carl received the second of his Navy Cross awards.


Upon returning from the Pacific Theatre, Guss received various assignments to such places as NAS Jacksonville, NAS Miami, Quantico and MCAS El Toro; mostly in instructor positions.

While stationed at NAS Miami, Guss was also a member of a Navy/Marine aerobatic team flying Corsairs.

In January 1950, Guss received an assignment to Marine Corps Headquarters at Quantico. Within a month he became an exchange pilot flying the F-86 Sabre, often referred to as ‘Sabre Jet’, with the USAF 33rd Fighter Interceptor Wing (FIW), 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), at Otis AFB, Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This assignment lasted for over a year.

Sabre Fighters

Sabre Fighters

Five North American F-86A Sabre fighters of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing on the flight line at Suwon, South Korea, in June 1951.

The F-86As were F-86A-5-NA:

49-1158 was damaged by a MiG-15 on 23 September 1951;

49-1276 of the 336th FIS was shot down by a MiG-15 on 22 June 1951;



49-1236 of the 334th FIS was shot down by a MiG-15 on 24 October 1951

U.S. Defense Imagery photo

VIRIN: HD-SN-99-03072

Public Domain

Marine Captain Charles “Sly” Magill

As an interesting sidebar, some 40 years later Marine Captain Charles “Sly” Magill flew with the 33rd FIW as an exchange pilot during the first Gulf War.

Flying an F-15C, Magill downed a Russian made MiG-29 flown by the Iraqi Air Force. Magill's victory was the only Marine air-to-air victory of the Persian Gulf War, the first aerial victory by a Marine Corps aviator since the Vietnam War, and the last one to date. The 33rd FW is now a joint service organization responsible for training USAF, Marine Corps and USN pilots and maintainers on the F-35 Lightning II.

33rd FIW

Guss flew the F-86 during exchange duty from February 1950 until March 1951. During this period, the 33rd FIW was assigned to the USAF Air Defense Command (ADC).

Guss’ temporary assignment was extended due to the outbreak of the Korean War on June 20, 1950. The United States feared that disclosure of direct involvement by the Soviet Air Force in the war might spark a third world war and an attack on the United States; a nation saving challenge for ADC. On June 1, 1951, a year after the war began, Guss was in Korea with 1 MAW, VMF-311 flying F9F Panthers.



A Grumman F9F-2 Panther of fighter squadron VF-111 Sundowners, piloted by Lt JG Robert A. Guyer, dropping bombs over Korea.

VF-111 was assigned to Air Task Group One (ATG-1) aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45) to Korea from 15 October 1951 to 3 July 1952. Note the mission markers below the cockpit.

Image by US Navy

Public Domain


During a low level ground attack mission on August 18, 1951, Guss’ Panther was hit underneath the forward fuselage by a single round of ground fire which caused an explosion in his remaining ammunition that was routed near the forward cockpit flooring to the guns in the nose.

Guss later commented that he felt the shock of the explosion and pain in the back of his legs. When he opened his eyes, he was startled to see red liquid splattered all over the inside of the cockpit but was relieved to discover that it was hydraulic fluid.

Despite the damage to his aircraft and shrapnel in the back of his legs, Guss managed to get the plane back to the air base and make a safe landing.


His wife, Margie, received the standard disconcerting Western Union telegraph: “Regret to inform you that your husband William Franklin Guss USMC has been wounded in action 18 August 1951 in the Korean area in the performance of his duty and service to his country.

I realize your great anxiety, but nature of wounds not reported and delay in receipt of details must be expected. You will be promptly furnished any additional information received.”

Happier Times

Happier Times

Colonel Guss and Wife Margie

Exchange Pilots

During the Korean War, the 1st MAW reported to the USAF 5th Air Force.

A cooperative arrangement between the 5th AF and 1st MAW provided for a few Marines, after they finished their Marine Corps tours in jet aircraft (such as the F2H Banshee or F9F Panther) to participate in several weeks of temporary duty as exchange pilots with a USAF F-86 squadron.

At any given time, there was usually only one Marine flying with a squadron in one of the two operating F-86 FIWs, the 4th and 51st. During this period, these "Marine visitors" downed 21 MiG-15 aircraft.

4th FIW

By October 1951, Guss had flown sufficient 1st MAW missions to meet the exchange pilot requirement and requested assignment to an F-86 squadron.

He was assigned temporarily to the 4th FIW, 336th FIS at Kimpo Field (K-14) Korea. His assignment began on October 9, 1951 and concluded on November 22, 1951. He later told his family that as he walked down the flight line for his first combat sortie, he noticed deformations in the skin of the Sabres, illustrating how many "G's" the planes were pulling.

Tall Cotton

With the 4th FIW, Captain Guss definitely found himself in “Tall Cotton!” The wing was famous for both its unique heritage and aerial combat achievements in World War II and Korea.

The 4th FIW evolved from the Royal Air Force (RAF) “Eagle Squadrons” flying Spitfires manned by volunteer pilots from the United States. The first Eagle Squadron was formed in September 1940 during The Battle of Britain, more than one year prior to the United States entry into World War II in December 1941.

The 4th Fighter Group (FG) was activated in England on September 29, 1942 after the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) “Mighty Eighth Air Force” (8th AF) began to arrive in England.



F-86s of the 4th Fighter-interceptor wing, Korean War.

Image Source F-86 Sabre Fighter-Bomber Units over Korea by Warren Thompson

USAF Photo

Public Domain


Scoring 550 confirmed air-to-air victories over the Luftwaffe, second only to the equally famous 56th FG “Wolfpack” score of 665, the 4th was the first 8th AF FG to penetrate German air space and first to engage enemy aircraft over Paris and Berlin.

The 4th transitioned to P-51 Mustangs from Spitfires and then P-47 Thunderbolts. However, the 56th refused to give up their P-47 Thunderbolts during the war. Partnered with the 4th, the 56th flew its first operational mission on March 10, 1943. The two wings became intense competitors until war’s end two years later.

Deadly Unit

The 4th FIW was also the deadliest fighter unit of the Korean War, accounting for 516 air-to-air victories; more than half of the enemy aircraft credited as being destroyed by the USAF.

Twenty-five 4th FIW pilots made ace by the end of the war. Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, commander of the 4th FIW, 336th FIS was the first F-86 pilot to score a MiG-15 kill; the first of 792 MiG-15 aircraft eventually destroyed by the F-86 Sabre in 2½ years of Korean War combat.

By November 4, 1951, Guss who had logged over 340 hours in the F-86 was leading a flight of 4 Sabres over Tokchen, North Korea. He observed two MiG-15s to his 9 O’clock position and maneuvered behind the enemy aircraft, firing a short burst into the number two MiG-15.



Gun camera photo of a MiG-15 being attacked by a USAF fighter.

Gun camera photo of a Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 being attacked by U.S. Air Force North American F-86 Sabre over Korea in 1952-53, piloted by Capt. Manuel "Pete" Fernandez, 334th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing.

Photo by US Air Force


Public Domain

Violent And Continuous

Captain Guss pursued the enemy aircraft through a “violent and continuous” maneuvering engagement near Pyongyang, North Korea where he shot the MiG-15 down.

The MiG pilot was Senior Lieutenant V.P. Filimonov, 523rd Fighter Air Regiment (IAP), Soviet Air Force. The participation of Soviet pilots flying against United Nations forces in Korea was one of the worst kept secrets of the Korean War. The combatants chose not to officially disclose this information for fear it would lead to direct conflict with the Soviet Union.

RAAF Distinguished Flying Cross

Just days earlier on October 24, 1951, Senior Lieutenant Filimonov was credited with destruction of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Gloster Meteor that was escorting a USAF B-29 Superfortress bombing raid.

However, RAAF, 77 Squadron records show that during this fight the Meteor, “was strongly damaged, but the pilot, Flying Officer P. V. Hamilton-Foster, managed to return to base.”

He was awarded the RAAF Distinguished Flying Cross on March 10, 1952.

1st Korean Air-to-Air Victory By Marine Corp

Although Guss reported that “The enemy pilot’s parachute opened, and he landed in a field below,” post war Soviet records state that his “aircraft and catapult seat were found”, but Senior Lieutenant Filimonov was not recovered.

He was initially listed as Missing in Action, but subsequently classified as Killed in Action.

Guss’ victory over the MiG-15 was the first air-to-air victory over a MiG-15 by a Marine Corps aviator in the Korean War. Colonel Guss ultimately flew a total of 70 missions in Korea, the majority in Marine Corps F9F Panther jets.

Sonic boom

The F-86 could not fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight, but could break the sound barrier by exceeding the speed of sound in a dive.

Returning to Kimpo, Guss 'boomed' the field in celebration of his MiG-15 victory by diving over the field to create a sonic boom.

Wing Commander of the 4th FIW, Colonel Harrison Thyng, one of seven USAF aces in both the Korea War and World War II, did not have Captain Guss arrested or even confined to quarters.

General Harrison R. Thyng

General Harrison R. Thyng

United States Air Force general Harrison R. Thyng (1918–1983)

Image by US Air Force

Public Domain

Deja Vu

Maybe this was because Thyng commanded the 33rd Fighter Wing at Otis AFB from June 1950 until October 1951.

Colonel Thyng was Captain Guss’ commander for approximately 9 months at Otis AFB before déjà vu; in October 1951 Colonel Thyng arrived in Korea as commanding officer of the 4th FIW, and there was that same Marine, Guss. A story likely lost in history is Thyng greeting Guss after ‘his’ Marine’s historical achievement.

In His Words

Interviewed much later in the press, Guss related his battle with the MiG:

There were 16 planes in our flight, a routine fighter cover mission for some F-84 ‘Thunderjet’ fighter-bombers.’ As we were nearing our target, northeast of Pyongyang (capital of North Korea) we were jumped by a flight of MiG-15s.

As the enemy aircraft closed from above us, we broke formation to meet them. In the confusion that followed another pilot and I spotted two MiGs and went after them.

After that, it became a strictly personal fight between the MiG and me.

In His Words (Cont.)

For almost 20 minutes we chased each other all over the sky, trying to maneuver for a good shot at each other. The enemy pilot was good, and more than once I found myself on the wrong end of the fight. He fired at me, but never hit my aircraft.

I finally managed to drop behind him, just as the MiG started a spiraling climb. I had him in my sights and hit the firing button with a long burst. Pieces flew from the plane’s body and the pilot ejected almost immediately. I watched the MiG spin slowly to the ground and explode. The enemy pilot’s parachute opened and he landed in a field below.”

Colonel Guss

Colonel Guss

Colonel Guss,

Commander MAG-11,

Vietnam, 1967

Third War

Colonel Guss continued to serve his country for a third war, this time in Vietnam. He was assigned to MAG-11, initially as Deputy Commander and then Commander.

The Group was at that time, “the largest and most complex Aircraft Group in Marine Corps history employing seven different types of aircraft.”

From July 2, 1966 to July 1, 1967, Guss flew 4 separate types of aircraft, mainly the Grumman Intruder/Prowler series and F4 Phantoms. He flew 120 missions in Vietnam, mostly over North Vietnam with some targets deep within the North. Colonel Guss retired on January 31, 1970 after 27 years and 7 months of active duty.

History In Only Five Words

Typical of ‘America’s Greatest Generation’, Guss never said much to his family about his Korean War Sabre experience or the MiG-15 shoot down except that the “other guy was a very dangerous pilot who got on my tail and damn near bagged me many times.”

Guss further commented that he was completely exhausted when he finally got the MiG-15 to overshoot him by using his speed brakes.

Perhaps Guss’ unassuming perspective was influenced by the book; “The North American Sabre”, Doubleday and Company, 1963, where at page 65 it names the first Marine pilot to score an air-to-air victory over the MiG-15 as ‘Gass’ rather than Guss.

History in only five words; “1st Marine shoot down MiG.”