Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Mustangs Photos
MUSTANGS IN KOREA
Following the end of World War II the Japanese-occupied territory of Korea was divided between the USA and the USSR. After attempts to unify the country during the late 1940’s failed, tension began to build along the 38th parallel. This was primarily due to the reluctance of the Soviets to take any part in unification proceedings. This resulted in an ‘Iron Curtain’ being created between the North and South.
During 1948 the Americans sponsored the formation of the Republic of Korea in the region south of the 38th parallel. At the same time the Soviets similarly sponsored the formation of the Korean Peoples Democratic Republic in the North.
Each of these new states claimed to be the legal government of Korea. The regime in the North immediately set about to bring down the South Korean government. Initially this took the form of subversive activities and propaganda, but as time went on, their methods became more violent and threatening.
In June 1950 the North Korean government presented two proposals for the amalgamation of the North and South Korean Assemblies. These two proposals were very pro-North and were rejected outright by the Southern government. On 25 June, five days after the rejection of the second proposal, the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) launched attacks at several points along the border effectively beginning the Korean war.
On the morning of 25 June 77 Squadron’s Sergeants’ Mess received a telephone call from the Operations Officer, United States 5th Air Force, to the effect that North Korea had attacked South Korea and warning that the Squadron may be called upon to ‘help do something about it.’
Two days later, the United Nations Security Council met and declared that the North Korean action constituted a breach of the peace and called on member nations for assistance. The Australian Government advised 77 Squadron on the last day of June that it was to assist in ‘policing’ Korea, under the command of the US 5th Air Force.
Thus, 77 Squadron was to have the distinction of being the first Commonwealth unit to participate in the conflict.
77 Squadron flew its first mission of the Korean War on 2 July 1950 providing air cover for USAF C-47 transports evacuating wounded back to Japan.
The task of escorting transports and bombers was soon discontinued due to an almost total lack of North Korean air activity. At the time the North was only equipped with second hand Soviet Yak-9 fighters of WWII vintage.
The Squadron’s first ground attack mission was flown on 3 July 1950 when eight Mustangs, led by Wing Commander Lou Spence, attacked targets on the road between Heitaku and Suwon. The attack was a resounding success.
Because of the vast distances between the RAAF Station at Iwakuni, in Japan, and targets in North Korea it became necessary to stage aircraft through the Korean airstrip of Taegu. The Mustangs would depart Iwakuni each morning, attack their allotted targets and land at Taegu for refueling and rearming. This arrangement also made it possible to mount a further attack on the North Koreans before the aircraft returned to Iwakuni.
The Squadron’s maintenance personnel would work through the night repairing battle damage to prepare the Mustangs for the next day’s operations. The Squadron Dakota would fly maintenance personnel to Taegu every morning and returned them to Iwakuni at the end of flying each night. The operation worked extremely well despite its complexity.
At this stage the war on the ground had not been going well for UN Forces as the Communist advance south continued unchecked. By the end of July UN forces had been pushed back to an area south of the Naktong River near the town of Pusan. A desperate struggle to hold the town now began.
If the first month of the war had been busy the second month proved to be hectic. This was due to the UN ground forces requiring immediate assistance in the form of demanding and dangerous close air support. The Squadron’s Mustangs worked with Ground Controllers who guided the pilots onto enemy positions.
As well as flying close-support missions the Mustangs of 77 Squadron were also directed to attack the enemy lines of supply and communication. It was hoped that by destroying these vital targets the enemy would be sufficiently weakened enabling the UN forces under siege at Pusan to break out. To achieve this aim the Mustangs carried out attacks on railways, bridges, roads and supply dumps during August. The enemy often used railway tunnels to hide trains and equipment from air attack, the tunnels drew repeated attacks from the rocket-armed Mustangs.
On 15 September in an attempt to split the enemy forces in two, General MacArthur landed the 10th US Marine Corps at Inchon near Seoul. Caught between this force and the U.S. 8th Army fighting its way up from Pusan, the North Koreans were at last put on the defensive. The UN forces recaptured the South Korean capital of Seoul on 17 September. A concerted effort to push the enemy back to the Manchurian border now began.
During September the Squadron operations gradually moved north with the advancing ground forces. The Squadron’s aircraft repeatedly struck at the enemy supply lines and communications, in particular the North Korean rail system, which commanded special attention.
The ground forces moved swiftly and by the end of the month, 77 Squadron Mustangs were roaming deep into North Korea.
By the end of September 1950 UN forces crossed the 38th parallel. It was decided that 77 Squadron would move from Iwakuni to a Korean airfield from which the Mustangs could strike at North Korean targets without having to transit long distances. On 12 October the Squadron relocated to Pohang (airfield K3), situated on the east coast of South Korea, and began operations against the enemy the next day.
The North Korean capital was captured on 19 October by the advancing UN forces as they pushed towards the Yalu River which forms the border between Korea and Manchuria.
On 20 October No. 91 Wing was formed at Iwakuni and became operational on 1 November 1950. The Wing comprised of Headquarters No. 91 (Composite) Wing, Headquarters No. 77 (Fighter) Squadron, Headquarters No. 30 (Communications) Flight, Headquarters No. 391 (Base) Squadron and Headquarters No. 491 (Maintenance) Squadron. The Wing was placed under the operational control of the Commander-in-Chief United Nations Korea and the administrative control of the Commander-in-Chief BCOF.
By the end of October it appeared that the war would soon be won. The Communist Chinese, who until this time had been supplying the North Koreans with arms and equipment, entered the war in early November halting the UN forces before they could reach the border in strength.
77 Squadron first clashed with Chinese troops on 1 November when four of the Squadron’s Mustangs napalmed, rocketed and strafed a large number of Chinese troops who were holding up the advance of the 3rd Division Republic of Korea Army.
To keep as close to the front lines as possible on 16 November 1950 the Squadron moved north to airfield K27 at Yonpo near Hamhung. The move was supported by C119 Transport Aircraft of the USAF.
The Chinese and North Korean forces now started to push the UN forces south. The Squadron’s Mustangs attacked the enemy transports and flew in close support of the embattled UN forces. For the first time since the start of the conflict 77 Squadron was called upon to support Australian troops who were making a counter-attack against Chinese forces at Pakhon. The Squadron’s Mustangs flew constant attacks against swarms of enemy tanks and vehicles as they moved along the roads leading from Manchuria, inflicting heavy casualties.
On 24 November General MacArthur ordered the UN forces onto the offensive, but the situation was hopeless. The 1st Division of US Marines found themselves surrounded by seven enemy divisions, and for the first time in their history were, as their General put it, ‘ordered to advance in another direction’.
As the UN ground forces retreated back to South Korea, all available aircraft moved to the airfield at Yonpo inside the Hamhung-Hungnam defence perimeter. At Yonpo tension mounted as the enemy advanced ever closer to the airfield. All personnel were ordered to carry firearms and to prepare to defend the base.
Bad weather was hampering operations at snow-bound Yonpo and the ground crews worked ceaselessly in sub-arctic conditions to keep Mustangs airworthy. Finally, word was received to abandon the airfield. On 3 December the Squadron’s aircraft carried out their last mission from Yonpo. After completing the mission the Mustangs landed at Pusan the Squadron’s new base.
The Squadron’s ground crews and equipment were hurriedly evacuated from Yonpo and transported to airfield K9 at Pusan by RAAF C47s.
The airfield was known locally as ‘Dog Patch’ but senior Far East Air Force (FEAF) officers renamed it ‘Unityville’ to reflect the spirit of UN purpose. Flying operations during the month were curtailed by saltwater contamination of the fuel supplies, this problem was sorted out by 22 December 1950.
After getting back into the air the Squadron struck hard at the enemy’s supply lines destroying many trucks, railroads and bridges. The enemy struck back with concentrated AA fire and many aircraft returned to base with tell-tale bullet holes.
On 4 January 1951 the Chinese armies captured Seoul, the South Korean capital, which had now changed hands for the third time.
In mid-January the UN retreat ended 25 miles south of Seoul. Then began a slow push north to recapture the South Korean capital.
Seoul was retaken by the UN forces on the 15 March 1951. 77 Squadron continued to support the advancing troops.
On 23 March the Squadron participated in the largest parachute operation of the Korean war code named ‘Operation Tomahawk’. Eight Mustangs from the Squadron escorted 120 USAF transport aircraft over the Munsanni area. They then helped destroy any opposition from the enemy forces on the ground.
UN forces finally crossed the 38th Parallel, for the second time, on the last day of March.
The last few months had taken quite a toll on the Squadron. Accordingly it was with some relief that, on 4 April, the Squadron received the news that it was to withdraw to Iwakuni to begin converting onto the long-awaited Gloster Meteor jet fighter.
The Squadron flew its last operational Mustang sortie on 6 April 1951 when four aircraft had to abort an attack on a North Korean road due to bad weather.
The Squadron moved to Japan the following day and prepared to convert onto the new aircraft.
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