Commies Attack Americans, Turning a Search Mission into a Dogfight
Commies Attack Americans
The DC-4 Shootdown & the Ensuing Dogfight
On July 22, 1954, Chinese communist pilots shot down a Cathay Pacific Douglas DC-4, claiming they mistook it for a plane from nationalist Taiwan. Although the four-engined propeller-driven Douglas was a C-54 Skymaster, the incident is known as “the DC-4 shootdown” because the C-54 is the military version of the Douglas DC-4, and the aircraft was flying a commercial passenger run.
Four days later on July 26, U.S. Navy pilots found themselves in a dogfight over the South China Sea. Two U.S. Navy Skyraiders (hardy propeller-driven attack planes) circled over American vessels that were searching for survivors of a British Cathay Pacific DC-4. Suddenly, the Skyraider pilots were jumped by Chinese pilots flying Soviet-designed World War II-era fighters, Lavochkin La-7 Fins. A dogfight ensued over international waters. After two more Navy planes joined the brawl, the Chinese planes were shot down.
In America, the incident provoked outrage. Newspapers were not second-guessing Washington’s version of what had happened, and nor were they using morally neutral language to describe the enemy, as is now the journalistic standard. “Commies Attack Americans On Search Mission,” read the headline of an Associated Press story that ran in a Virginia newspaper, and a sub-head added, “Fighters From Carriers Suffer No Casualties — Washington To Protest Communist Brutality.” China later apologized to Britain for the attack that claimed ten lives, including three Americans. Eight people survived.