Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Meteor Photos
The Gloster Meteor Mk8 - Korea
On 24 February 1951, the light aircraft carrier HMS Warrior arrived off Iwakuni with fifteen Gloster Meteor MK 8 jet fighters and two Meteor MK 7 two-seat jet trainers on her deck. The aircraft were offloaded and transported to RAAF Station Iwakuni where they were prepared for flight.
Four experienced Royal Air Force Meteor pilots led by Flight Lieutenant Max Scannell were attached to 77 Squadron to test-fly the new aircraft and to convert the Australian pilots onto the aircraft. The first RAAF pilot to convert to the new jet was Squadron Leader Cresswell. Flying a jet aircraft was not new to him as he had completed a jet conversion course on the F80 Shooting Star with the USAF during the previous January. The remaining twenty Meteor MK 8 fighters arrived on the 23 March. One aircraft was lost en-route between England and Singapore.
On 5 May 77 Squadron’s conversion to Meteors began in earnest when a programme of lectures got under way for both air and ground crew. Due to a lack of two-seat Meteor trainers, the two aircraft the Squadron did possess were forced to fly constantly to keep up with the hectic pace of the conversion course.
In early May an F86 Sabre from the USAF was detached to Iwakuni to fly a series of performance comparison tests with the Meteor in order to help determine which role the Meteor was best suited for, ground attack or interceptor. After two days of testing, it was concluded that the Meteor had a superior rate of climb and rate of turn but was slower than the Sabre. Unfortunately, the Meteor had also shown one major performance fault in that it lacked manoeuverability at high altitude.
An argument erupted between the Australians and the Americans as to how the new aircraft should be employed. Cresswell and Scannell arguing that although the Meteor had obvious draw backs it should be used as an interceptor. After discussing the matter with US 5th Air Force Headquarters, it was decided to try out the Meteor as an interceptor.
On 2 June 1951 the Squadron was ordered back to Korea, however, the move was delayed because the USAF insisted that the Meteors be fitted with a radio compass before being allowed to fly in Korea.
At the end of July 1951 the Squadron returned to Korea and settled in at airfield K14 at Kimpo north of Seoul. The move was effected by C47s of the RAAF 30th Transport Unit, and C119s and C54s of the USAF. The area was a sea of mud as July was the middle of the Korean wet season and as a result, living conditions were very uncomfortable. The airfield was shared with the USAF 8th Fighter Wing who were responsible for providing the Australians with meals and base facilities.
The Squadron flew its first operational jet mission on Sunday 30 July when sixteen Meteors were tasked to carry out a fighter sweep in the vicinity of the Yalu River. At K14 the Squadron had to produce eighteen operational aircraft each morning and evening and as a result the ground crews worked long hours to keep the sixteen aircraft with two spares on line.
The entry of China into the war resulted in a complete change in the status of the Communist’s air power. The Chinese introduced a high performance jet fighter to the theatre in the form of the MiG-15. The MiG-15 had a performance equal to, and in some cases, better than the Sabre at high altitude although it had a tendency to enter a spin if not manoeuvred carefully at medium altitudes.
Against the MiG the Meteor, if caught at altitude, did not stand a chance. Up until this point the fighter sweeps carried out by 77 Squadron had yet to confront the MiG-15 in combat. The Squadron pilots were starting to become restless at the lack of opposition.
The first encounter with the Communist jets finally came on 25 August when eight aircraft, providing cover for a USAF RF80 reconnaissance jet, sighted four MiGs on patrol. Flight Lieutenant Scannell fired at one of the enemy jets at extreme range but was unable to claim any hits. The MiGs flew back across the Yalu River where it was forbidden for UN aircraft to fly.
Four days later the Squadron had their second chance to fight it out with MiG-15s, however, the odds were stacked heavily against the Australians. Eight Meteors, led by Squadron Leader Dick Wilson were carrying out a routine fighter sweep near Chongju when they were attacked by over 30 MiGs.
Squadron Leader Wilson put his aircraft into a dive and was able to position himself behind one of the enemy jets. He had just opened fire on the enemy aircraft when his Meteor (A77-616) was hit by cannon fire from both above and below. Wilson broke off the engagement and nursed his damaged Meteor home.
The Squadron, now under the command of Wing Commander Gordon Steege, had another inconclusive battle with enemy MiGs on 26 September 1951 a formation of twelve Meteors engaged a large number of MiGs over Anju. The MiGs dived through the Australian formation scoring hits.
As the dog-fight continued another two MiGs dived through the Meteor formation. The leading MiG broke for the safety of Yalu River but his wingman broke in the opposite direction and into the Meteor’s sights. Flight Lieutenant Cedric Thomas headed the MiG off as it tried to turn back towards the Yalu forcing it further south. Finally the MiG pilot, made his escape by turning into the sun, however, it was considered doubtful that he had enough fuel to make it back to his base.
On 1 November 1951 the Squadron was awarded a Korean Presidential Unit Citation for “Exceptionally meritorious service and heroism”.
77 Squadron finally achieved its first confirmed MiG-15 ‘kill’ on 1 December when twelve Meteors were engaged by over fifty MiGs in an epic dogfight over Pyongyang.
With the arrival of a second USAF Sabre Wing to the area it was apparent that the Meteor’s role would change. The air battle of 1 December with the loss of three Meteors showed the superiority of the Russian fighter and that it would be foolish to continue using the Meteor on fighter sweeps into ‘MiG Alley’. A song often sung in the Squadron at the time, summed up the situation aptly, ‘all I want for Christmas is my wings swept back’. In January 1952 the Squadron was assigned the role of area and airfield defence for both Kimpo and Suwon leaving the Sabres to patrol the skies over North Korea.
During January the Squadron switched to ground attack. In this role the Meteor was able to find its niche in the Korean conflict. The Squadron flew its first ground attack sortie on 8 January when four Meteors rocketed a water tower near a Communist held town.
Ground attack missions required the Meteors to operate over hostile territory at low level. The accuracy of enemy anti-aircraft weapons was soon realised when two of the four aircraft on the first mission were hit by light flak.
The Squadron pilots found that the accuracy of conventional bombing in the mountainous Korean terrain left something to be desired. As a consequence they had a preference for the air-to-ground rocket as the weapon of choice. Late in 1951 the RAAF developed a new type of air-to-ground rocket containing napalm. It was known as the ‘Flaming Onion’. After trials at Williamtown and preliminary testing in Korea the first weapons arrived in February 1952.
The Americans showed considerable interest in the new weapon, accordingly, when the napalm rocket was first used in combat the USAF provided an RF80 reconnaissance aircraft to record the results on film for later analysis. This occurred on 8 February when the Squadron’s new CO, Wing Commander Ron Susans, led four Meteors armed with the new rocket in an attack on several buildings. The result was that 75% of the rockets scored hits on the targets resulting in numerous fires.
The new weapon was to prove extremely useful against enemy vehicle convoys and troop concentrations and it soon became the standard under-wing weapon carried by RAAF Meteors. Each aircraft was capable of carrying eight napalm rockets.
During the next few months the Squadron continued to fly demanding ground attack missions as well as area defence patrols.
The Communist ground forces soon began to feel the effects of the continuous attacks on their supply lines. By early May they began to send MiGs south in the hope of intercepting the raiders before they could reach their targets, so once more the Meteors were to clash with the MiGs.
At this time, with the onset of the Korean winter, the Squadron’s maintenance personnel once again found their task increasingly more difficult. Sub-zero temperatures meant that fitters had to work with their gloves on at all times as removing them for more than a few moments would invariably lead to frost bite, this made delicate operations all but impossible.
Thick snow had to be removed from the Meteors before dawn each morning which proved to be a most unpopular duty. It is a credit to the fitters that even under these conditions the aircrew were always provided with enough serviceable aircraft to enable them to fly 688 sorties in December.
On 20 January, 1953 Wing Commander Jack ‘Congo” Kinninmont handed command to Wing Commander John Hubble AFC. Flying during the month was disrupted by continual bad weather although a few successful strikes were carried out with a total of 50 enemy trucks and 48 buildings destroyed.
On 16 March the Squadron carried out what was arguably its most successful mission of the Korean War. An enemy convoy of approximately 150 trucks was destroyed. The convoy was first sealed at both ends preventing escape. The Meteors then ran up and down the convoy length rocketing and strafing.
Realizing the enormity of the job at hand the Squadron requested USAF assistance. After six hours the convoy was left in tatters. 77 Squadron alone accounted for the destruction of at least twenty-four vehicles and damage to an additional 74. The Meteors also strafed thirty-five troop billets, ten supply stacks and two buildings. A message of congratulations was received from the Commanding General Far East Air Forces and as a result the morale of the Squadron soared to new heights.
Due to the effectiveness of the UN Air Forces attacks on the Communist supply lines, the enemy was forced to undertake most of its troop movements and re-supplying under cover of darkness. As a consequence of this situation during the northern spring of 1953 the Squadron began night armed reconnaissance missions against enemy supply routes in the Pyongyang and Wonsan areas. These missions were normally carried out by a lone Meteor under the guidance of a ground controller. Although many attacks were made it was hard to judge their effectiveness, but it was considered that the disruption to enemy communications caused by the presence of the Meteors made the project worthwhile.
On 18 May, 1953 the Squadron again proved its mettle by completing an extremely successful rocket strike against an enemy troop concentration housed in 51 buildings north-east of Chinnampo. Sixteen Meteors attacked the village firing 125 napalm rockets into the target area despite heavy anti-aircraft fire. All the buildings were destroyed for no loss.
The Squadron continued to fly interdiction missions during the next two months, however, with the arrival of the wet season bad weather stopped flying completely. For example during June twelve days flying were lost due to adverse weather resulting in only 462 sorties being flown compared to the May total of 800 sorties.
The Squadron broke their own sortie record on 15 June by flying 88 sorties in the one day for 90 hours and five minutes of flying time. Most of this effort was expended on enemy troop concentrations with 224 rockets being fired, destroying numerous vehicles, revetments and an enemy command post.
During the past year the war on the ground had stagnated into a stalemate with neither side being able to gain the upper hand. The UN Air Forces had definite air superiority but this alone could not win the war.
The Korean War was formally ended at 1001 hours on 27 July 1953 when delegates from both sides signed an armistice at Panmunjom, with a cease fire commencing shortly afterwards.
The contribution made by 77 Squadron during the three years of the Korean War is totally out of proportion to that which might be expected from a unit of its size. During the war the Squadron flew a total of 18,872 sorties, comprising of 3,872 Mustang and 15,000 Meteor flights. The Squadron lost 41 personnel killed (this figure includes RAF pilots), all but two being due to an aircraft-related incident, and seven pilots captured.
The Squadron was credited with destroying 3,700 buildings, 1,500 vehicles, sixteen bridges, twenty locomotives, sixty-five railway carriages and an unknown number of enemy personnel. The outstanding results achieved by 77 Squadron, evidently much higher than usual for a single squadron, would not have been possible without the support provided by 391 Base Squadron and 491 Maintenance Squadron.
The level of technical support was outstanding, resulting in close to 100% serviceability for the Mustangs and Meteors. To achieve this, maintenance crews often worked up to sixteen hours per day under extremely harsh, and often wet, conditions.
After the Armistice Agreement was signed, 77 Squadron stayed on in Korea helping to maintain the United Nations presence.
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