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The Korean War, which saw the full emergence of jet aircraft in combat, began forty years ago this month. JET WAR By Philip Farris Nthe peaceful years just after rean battlegrounds, in Japan. There, Fighter pilots on both World War II, while the United the bases of the US Fifth Air Force sides of the Korean War found that the principles States
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  The Korean War which saw the full emergence of jet aircraft in combat began forty years ago this month. JET W R By Philip Farris N the peaceful years just after World War II, while the United States was deactivating combat units, releasing servicemen and servicewomen from duty, and dis-mantling arsenals, Air Force lead-ers were developing aircraft for an air war yet to come—the jet war. The Air Force, under Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, was building a solid nucleus of modern aircraft, even as it shrank in size. The events of June 25, 1950— forty years ago this month—shat-tered the brief postwar peace and sparked the militarization of the cold war. Communist North Korean troops stormed across the 38th par-allel. Attacking at dawn, the North's spearhead of Soviet-built T-34 tanks and following infantry swept aside the first defenses and flooded south into the Republic of Korea. South Korean forces, taken by surprise, wavered and broke. Communist in- fantry and marines poured ashore on South Korea's east coast near Kangnung. Kaesong fell at 9:00 a.m., and the seaborne Communist columns pushed their way inland. The attack set off immediate alarms far south and east of the Ko- rean battlegrounds, in Japan. There, the bases of the US Fifth Air Force were spread out in a defensive arc from Kyushu in the south to Hon- shu in the north. Fifth Air Force combat squadrons formed the back- bone of US air defenses in the Far East. The Fifth was largest of the Far East Air Forces (FEAF), recog- nized as the major air element of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's South- west Pacific Area Theater. FEAF's primary mission was to maintain ac- tive air defense of the Far East Com mand and theater of operations. Fifth Air Force provided the appro- priate mobile air striking force pre- scribed in FEAF's mission state- ment. The mainstay of the Fifth's defen- sive capability was the first jet fight- er that the United States ever pro- duced in quantity: the Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star. This new air- craft was deployed with the 35th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Yokota, near Tokyo; with the 68th Fighter- Bomber Wing at Itazuke Air Base on Kyushu; and with the 49th Fighter- Bomber Wing at Misawa on north- ern Honshu. Fighter pilots on both sides of the Korean War found that the principles of a maneuvering dog- fight applied to the high- er speeds of jets. 1st Lt. Russell J. Brown downed a M1G-15 with his F-80C right) over Sinuiju, Korea, in the first jet-vs.- jet combat in history. 92 IR FORCE Magazine / June 199     By September 1952 three jet aces in Korea, members of the 4th FAY, could claim seventeen victories among them. Col. Harrison R. Thyng (left) had shot down five Communist aircraft, Maj. Fred Boots Blesse (center) seven, and Capt. Clifford Jolley (right) five. The three would eventually account for twenty-two MiGs. The United States knew it re- quired more than the F-80 jet fighter for the war effort. The F-80 squad- rons were backed by two all-weath- er fighter units operating prop-driv- en North American F-82 Twin Mustangs. In fact, FEAF's planners also saw a need for Fifth Air Force to use every prop-driven F-51 North American Mustang that could be found. They understood and valued the F-51's longer range and ability to operate from short, rough airfields. Also deployed at Yokota were RF-80A reconnaissance planes of the 8th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Two light tactical bomb- er squadrons of the 3d Bombard- ment Wing, equipped with Douglas B-26 Invaders, were deployed at Johnson AB, north of Tokyo. Rounding out Fifth Air Force's line- up of units was the 374th Troop Car-rier Wing, which operated out of Ta- chikawa AB with two squadrons of Douglas C-54 transport aircraft. A Shoestring Air Force In the first days of the war Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, FEAF Commander, sent a message to USAF Headquarters asking for per- sonnel to bring all units up to war strength. He also requested 164 F-80s, twenty-one F-82s, sixty-four F-51s twenty-two B-26s twenty- three Boeing B-29s, twenty-one C-54s, and fifteen Douglas C-47s. Most of these planes were needed to round out squadrons to war strength and provide a ten percent reserve for combat attrition. Unfortunately, the Air Force in 1950 was what Gen- eral Vandenberg would later de- scribe as a shoestring Air Force. Deep reductions in personnel in 1949 and early 1950 brought its strength down to 411,277—less than one fifth the size of the 2,000,000-strong World War II fly-ing force. USAF had to support the first year of operations with World War II equipment stocks. Even so, there was no shortage of USAF action. By June 26, only hours after the North Korean inva- sion began, airmen from the Fifth Air Force were flying over the pen- insula in every available plane, evacuating Americans via Seoul's Kimpo Airfield and carrying other noncombatants out of the belea- guered country. The enemy, however, continued to press hard and fast as the droning USAF transports—C-54s, C-47s, and Curtiss C-46s—undertook their life-saving sorties under protective cover of F-80 jets, prop-driven F-51 Mustangs, and F-82 Twin Mustang night fighters. On June 27, under orders from Washington, Fifth Air Force fight- ers went to war in earnest, aided by carrier-based Navy and Marine fighter and attack planes, Royal Australian Air Force Meteor jets, South Korean and South African fighter-bombers, and Greek and Thai transport units. The First Jet Victories On the same day, Air Force 1st Lt. Robert H. Dewald, flying an F-80 jet, downed a Soviet-made Il- yushin II-1 attack plane. Lieutenant Dewald's achievement is recorded as the first-ever American aerial victory attributed to a pilot flying a jet aircraft. Flying a cover mission earlier that day, 1st Lt. William G. Hudson and Maj. James W. Little, both flying in prop-driven F-82 fighters, were attacked by two North Korean fighters, and the US pilots fought back. With guns blaz-ing, they flamed two enemy planes. Lieutenant Hudson is credited with downing a Yak-11 fighter. Major Lit- tle is credited with destroying an La-7. The Air Force scored three other aerial victories on its first complete day of offensive fighter operations. Lt. Charles Moran, Capt. Raymond Schillereff, and Lt. Robert E. Wayne, flying in an F-82 and F-80s, respectively, brought down a Soviet-made La-7 and two Soviet-made Il-is. The following day, June 28, saw another Air Force first. On the morning of that day, the southward- drifting polar front stood over the airfields on Kyushu, but the Fifth Air Force had to fly. Lt. Bryce Poe II took off alone into the murky overcast from Itazuke in his RF- 80A. His task was to reconnoiter and photograph the vanguard of the North Korean force. Weather at Itazuke was foul but Lieutenant Poe found clear weather in Korea, and he successfully carried out his mission. Lieutenant Poe's flight marked the first reconnaissance sortie of the Korean War and of greater historical significance, the Air Force's first combat jet recon-naissance sortie. While the ground war raged up and down the Korean peninsula FEAF pilots waged unceasing air war against the North Korean en- emy—destroying aircraft; attacking supply and troop depots; shattering critical transportation facilities and routes; burning vehicles, locomo- tives, and railcars; and relentlessly pounding front-line, dug-in posi- tions. American pilots went into this fresh combat bolstered by their battle-tested experience of World War II. For the most part, the Amer- icans who carried the brunt of early fighting were veteran aviators 94 IR FORCE Magazine June 1990  The North American F-86 Sabre the nemesis of Soviet-built MiGs during the Korean War, was known s the MiG Killer Of 839 MiG-15s destroyed in air-to-air combat, 800 were F-86 victories. Only fifty-eight Sabres were shot down. Early in the war, it was North Korea's Yakovlev fighters that tan- gled most frequently with the Amer- ican Mustangs and Shooting Stars. However, as the Chinese Commu- nists moved into the battle along the Yalu River in the war's first winter, the sweptwing, Soviet-made MiG- 15 fighter entered the Korean air war. So, too, did an American air- craft that soon would become known as the MiG Killer : the North American F-86 Sabre. To be sure, the Air Force's slower F-80 jets already had gone up against the MiGs before the F-86 appeared on the scene in Korea. The first jet-to-jet victory in mili- tary history, in fact, saw a Soviet- made MiG-15 going down in flames at the hands of an American F-80 pilot. Lt. Russell J. Brown of FEAF's 16th Fighter Squadron sparred with and then brought down the Soviet jet on November 8,1950. It was in encounters with the F-86, however, that the Soviet-made MiGs met their true nemesis. The critical role of the F-86 is made plain in the final tally of Kore- an War victories. The Air Force's official victory publication lists page after page of Sabre pilot victo-ries over the MiG-15. Of 839 MiG- 15s shot down in air-to-air combat during the Korean War, fully 800 were brought down by Sabre pilots. The enemy managed to drop only fifty-eight of the F-86s. Ace is a title of honor given to an airman officially credited with downing five or more enemy air- wing F-86 machine through its paces to give the Americans air su-periority and a lopsided kill advan-tage against the fast and well-built MiG. It was a new type of air com- bat, never attempted before. The unique problems and features of jet war were dramatized in a personal account of a typical engagement by Col. Harrison R. Thyng, who be-came one of the Korean War's jet aces [see Valor, p. 111, January 1989 issue]. In the 1958 book Five Down and Glory Thyng recalled: The F-86 pilots ride over North Korea to the Yalu River, the sun glinting off silver aircraft, contrails streaming behind, as they challenge the numerically superior enemy to come on up and fight.. . . Breaking up into small flights, we stagger our altitude. We have checked our guns and sights by fir- ing a few warm-up rounds as we crossed the bomb line. Oxygen masks are checked and pulled as tight as possible over our faces. We know we may exceed eight Gs in the coming fight and that is painful with a loose mask. We are cruising at a very high Mach. Every eye is strained to catch the first movement of an en- emy attempt to cross the Yalu from the Manchurian sanctuary into the graveyard of several hundred MiGs known as MiG Alley. Now we see flashes in the dis- tance as the sun reflects off the A Communist MiG-15 pi- lot abandons his aircraft after it is hit by gunfire from an F-86 Sabre. The Sabre's gun camera re-corded the MiG pilot's ejection. The USAF pilot n this May 1953 dogfight was 2d Lt. Edwin E. Buzz Aldrin, Jr., who achieved fame sixteen years later as the sec-ond man to walk on the moon. craft. Of the forty Americans of all services who became aces in the Korean War, thirty-nine made their mark in F-86s. (The only non-Sabre ace, Navy Lt. Guy P. Bordelon, had five night kills in his F4U-5N.) Though they didn't become aces, many other American pilots scored victories. These individuals are credited with a total of 114 air-to-air victories in Korea. Of these, nearly two-thirds—seventy-two—were racked up by pilots flying the F-86. New Type of ir Combat Jet aces of the Korean conflict were experienced hands, pilots who were able to put the sleek, swept- AIR FORCE Magazine June 1990 5
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