Category Archives: Korean War

Recovering the banner, 70 years ago today

1st Marine Division, Seoul, 27 September 1950, during fierce street-to-street fighting to liberate the South Korean capital from DPRK forces:

USMC photograph by SGT J. Babyak.

“When Marines entered the U.S. consulate grounds at Seoul to replace the flag, they discovered remains of original stars and stripes in the trash at the rear of the building.”

Stinger over Inchon, 70 Years Ago

Vought F4U-4B Corsair #306 of fighter squadron VF-113 (“Stingers”) flies over U.S. ships at Inchon, South Korea, on 15 Sep 1950, during the largest amphibious assault since WWII. The battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) is visible below the Corsair.

NH 97076 (Detail)

The “V” tail code belongs to Carrier Air Group Eleven (CVG-11), which flew a mix of jet (F9F Panther) and piston fighters from the straight deck Essex-class fleet carrier USS Philippine Sea (CV-47). The pilot is LCDR (later CPT) James Victor Rowney, the operations and maintenance officer of CVG-11.

While the Philippine Sea is long gone, the Stingers endure as Strike Fighter Squadron 113 (VFA-113), based at NAS Lemoore, and currently use the Super Hornet to deliver their sting as part of Carrier Air Wing Two.

The road to Daegu

This original color photo shows the crew of an M-24 Chaffee light tank along the Naktong River front in largely DPRK-occupied South Korea. Note the sign to Daegu.

NARA FILE#: 111-C-6061

On the ground is PFC Rudolph Dotts, Egg Harbor City, N.J. gunner (center), armed with an M3 Grease Gun. On the hull with an M1 Carbine is PVT Maynard Linaweaver, Lundsburg, Kansas, cannoneer of the tank’s M6 75mm gun. On top, ready on the M2 .50-cal heavy machine gun, is PFC Hugh Goodwin, Decatur, Miss., tank commander.

All are members of the 24th Reconnaissance Company, 24th “Victory” Infantry Division. The date is likely August to September 1950, as the unit was inside the battered Pusan (Busan) Perimeter, holding the western portion of the line.

Of note, the DPRK forces opposing the 24th had hundreds of Soviet-supplied T-34/85 tanks, which had both stronger armor than the M-24 and a superior main gun.

The Far-Reaching UN Forces in Korea and the Things they Carried

With this month being the 70th anniversary of the rush by the Free World to help keep the fledgling Republic of Korea from forced incorporation by its Communist neighbor to the North, it should be pointed out that the UN forces that mustered to liberate Seoul and keep it so carried an interesting array of arms. Gathered ultimately from 21 countries you had a lot of WWII-era repeats such as No. 3 and No. 4 Enfields carried by Commonwealth troops as well as M1 Garands/Carbines toted by American and a host of Uncle Sam-supplied countries.

But there were most assuredly some oddball infantry weapons that were used as well.

One historical curiosity was the initial contingent supplied by the Royal Thai Army, who left for Korea in October 1950 wearing French Adrian-style “sun” helmets and armed with 8x52mm Type 66 Siamese Mausers that were actually versions of the bolt-action Japanese Type 38 Arisaka built before WWII at Japan’s Koishikawa arsenal.

Note their French-style helmets, U.S.-marked M36 packs, and Japanese Showa-period rifles. Ultimately, more than 10,000 Thai troops would serve in the Korean War alongside U.S. forces, fighting notably at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. (Photo: UN News Archives)

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Coming home from the Forgotten War

As appropriate with the 70th anniversary of the Korean War this month, the DOD reports: 

In the largest repatriation of South Korean soldiers’ remains from the Korean War, 147 such remains were returned to South Korea following an honor ceremony last week at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and [South Korea’s] Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification have jointly worked on the remains, as being ROK soldiers who had often died alongside U.S. troops.

MAKRI and DPAA scientists have conducted joint forensic reviews and validated 147 remains as being of South Korean origin.

In a mutual exchange, six Americans identified on South Korean battlefields were transferred to U.S. custody at Osan.

Honor Guard from UN countries participates in a dignified transfer as part of a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, June 26, 2020. The United Nations Command in Korea remains committed to enforcing the 1953 UN Armistice Agreement and overseeing activities such as this repatriation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan)

Dragons Headed to Pikit, 75 years ago today

An LCI landing craft carries troops of Company I, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry “Victory” Division up the Mindanao River for the assault on Fort Pikit, Philippines, 30 April 1945.

U.S. Signal Corps photo 207688, via NARA

An old Spanish provincial post established in 1893 overlooking the Pulangi River, the small bastioned stone masonry fort was occupied by U.S. troops in 1898, relieving a 65-man Spanish garrison, then handed the site over to the Philippine Constabulary in the 1920s.

The Japanese Imperial Army took over Fort Pikit in 1942 but abandoned it in poor condition in April 1945 before withdrawing into Eastern Mindanao. In 2012, the installation was declared a National Historic Landmark.

As for the 34th Inf Rgt, they were a standing regular Army unit since 1916 and on the eve of the Japanese attack on the Philipines, they were ordered to reinforce the archipelago. Still waiting to embark for the PI on 7 December 1941 at San Francisco, they were instead diverted to Hawaii where they were assigned to defend Oahu until 1943 when made a backbone unit of the reforming 24th Inf Div.

Landing at Hollandia and Biak in New Guinea in 1944, they were in the thick of things in the liberation of the Philipines from October 1944 onward, hitting Red Beach with the first wave and earning the nickname, “Leyte Dragons.” Three of the regiment’s soldiers would receive the MoH (posthumously) for their actions on Leyte. The unit would continue mopping up operations against Japanese holdouts from the central Mindanao jungles into October 1945. The unit would receive the Presidential Unit Citation.

After Occupation Duty in Japan, men of the 34th were one of the first units rushed to South Korea when the balloon went up there and the first U.S. casualty in that forgotten conflict is often thought to be the 34th’s Pvt. Kenneth R. Shadrick, killed in action 5 July 1950, south of Osan.

Korean Conflict. Men of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, covering up behind rocks to shield themselves from exploding mortar shells, near the Hantan River in central Korea. 11 April 1951 LOC LC-USZ62-72424

Get to the choppa: Battlewagon edition

An SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter is secured by flight deck crewmen aboard the battleship Iowa (BB-61) on 1 Sep 1985. Official USN photo # DN-ST-86-02511, by PHC Jeff Hilton,

The Iowa-class battleships received official helicopter pads and a helicopter control station below their after 5-inch director–although no hangar facilities– in the 1980s during their Lehman 600-ship Navy modernization.

The helicopter control station on the 02 level of the battleship Iowa (BB-61). Official USN photo # DN-ST-86-09557, by PH1 Jeff Hilton

They used them to host visiting Navy SH-60 and SH-2s, as well as the occasional Marine UH-1, CH-46, and CH-53 while also running their own early RQ-2A Pioneer UAV detachments–to which Iraqi units would later surrender to during the 1st Gulf War. 

Crew members aboard Iowa (BB-61) wait for a Helicopter Light Anti-Submarine Squadron 34 (HSL-34) SH-2F Seasprite helicopter to be secured before transporting a badly burned sailor injured during NATO exercise North Wedding 86. Official USN photo # DN-ST-87-00280, by PH1 Jeff Hilton

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter approaches the landing area at the stern of the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61)

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter is parked on the helicopter pad during flight operations aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61).

A U.S. Marine Corps Boeing Vertol CH-46D Sea Knight (BuNo 154023) of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (HMM-165) prepares to land aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64). The helicopter was transporting Allied military personnel who were coming aboard the ship to be briefed by Wisconsin´s Commanding Officer, Capt. D.S. Bill. The meeting was taking place during the 1991 Gulf War. 6 February 1991 Navy Photo DN-ST-92-07868 by PH2 Robert Clare, USN

However, it by far was not the first time those dreadnoughts sported whirly-birds.

1948-55

Back in 1948, while the ships still had floatplane catapults and a quartet of Curtiss SC-2 Seahawk floatplanes on their stern, USS Missouri (BB-63) accommodated a visiting experimental Sikorsky S-51, piloted by D. D. (Jimmy) Viner, a chief test pilot for Sikorsky.

Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter (Bureau # 122527) landing on Missouri’s forward 16-inch gun turret, during the 1948 Midshipmen’s cruise. Guard mail, ships’ newspapers, and personnel were exchanged via helicopter while the Midshipmen’s cruise squadron was at sea. Most exchanges were made by hovering pick-up. The forward turret was used as a landing platform since the floatplane catapults on the ship’s fantail prevented helicopters from operating there. The photo was filed on 13 September 1948. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-706093

With the cats deleted in the early 1950s, the Iowas saw more HO3s, now equipped with folding blade rotors and externally-mounted rescue hoists.

USS New Jersey (BB-62) A Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter of squadron HU-1 takes off from the battleship’s afterdeck, while she was operating off Korea. The upraised green flag signifies that the pilot has permission to take off. Crash crew, in yellow helmets, are standing by with fire hoses ready. This helicopter is Bureau # 124350. The photograph is dated 14 April 1953. The photographer is Lt. R.C. Timm. 80-G-K-16320

USS Iowa (BB-61) steams out of Wonsan harbor, Korea, after a day’s bombardment. The photograph is dated 18 April 1952. Note HO3S helicopter parked on the battleship’s after deck. Also, note the WWII catapults are deleted but the floatplane crane is still on her stern. NH 44537

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) snow falling on the battleship’s after deck, 8 February 1952, while she was serving with Task Force 77 in Korean waters. Note 16″/50cal guns of her after turret, and Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter parked on deck. Photographed by AF3c M.R. Adkinson. 80-G-441035

Four Marine HO4S/H-19 (Sikorsky S-55) and one Navy HO3S/H5 on the fantail of USS Missouri during the Korean War, 1952. The H-19s are likely of HMR-161, which largely proved the use of such aircraft in Korea. 

Vietnam

New Jersey also supported the occasional helicopter during her reactivation in the Vietnam war. Notably, she received 16-inch shells and powder tanks from USS Mount Katmai (AE-16) by H-34 helicopter lift, the first time heavy battleship ammunition had been transferred by helicopter at sea.

New Jersey (BB-62) underway off the Virginia Capes with an SH-3D Sea King from HS-3 “Tridents”, (attached to the Randolph CVS-15 and a squadron of CVSG-56), about to land on the fantail. However, it is more likely that the helicopter flew out to the “Big J” from NAS Norfolk. Official Navy Photograph # K-49736, taken by PH3 E. J. Bonner on 24 May 1968, via Navsource.

Two UH-1 Huey helicopters resting on the fantail of the New Jersey (BB-62) during her service in December 1968 off Vietnam. Courtesy of Howard Serig, via Navsource.

But wait, old boy

With all that being said, it should be pointed out that it was the Brits who first successfully used a helicopter on their last battlewagon, HMS Vanguard, in 1947, a full year before Missouri’s first rotor-wing visit.

Landing a Sikorsky R4 helicopter on the aft deck of the battleship Vanguard February 1, 1947

And Vanguard would go on to operate both RN FAA Westland WS-51 Dragonflies and USN Piasecki HUP-2s on occasion in the 1950s.

The more you know…

After 100 Years, Marines Could Lose Their Tanks

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

The Wall Street Journal has a report that the Marines are set to drastically reboot in the next decade. In short, they will get leaner and lighter, shedding about 15,000 Marines, ditching lots of old-school 155mm tube artillery in favor of mobile truck-mounted anti-ship missile batteries. The 8th Marines would be disbanded along with some helicopter squadrons while the number of UAV squadrons will be doubled.

The focus of the new 2030 USMC would be an updated Wake Island 1941 program-– landing on and defending small Pacific islands to deny the use of an area to a Chinese naval force.

Oh yeah, and the Marines will also lose all of their beautiful and hard-serving Abrams main battle tanks.

A century of support to the Devils

The Marines got into the tank game in the 1920s and has employed armor in every major combat action ever since– with the exception of Wake Island.

In 1923, the Marines established Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary Force at Quantico with a handful of Great War surplus U.S. Army (a trend that would continue) M1917 Renault light tanks, two-man 6-ton vehicles armed with a light machine gun.

Marine M1917 Renault Light Tanks, “Tanks Going into Action, Antietam, 1924”

In 1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in China, where it would operate for a year before it returned to the States and was disbanded in 1930.

Then came two armored platoons stood up in the mid-1930s equipped with the light (5-ton) Marmon-Harrington tankettes, of which a whopping 10 were acquired.

Marine Marmon-Herrington tankette landing from lighter, 1930s

On 1 August 1940, the USMC established the 3d Tank Company with M2A4 light tanks. This unit the next year became Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion and by early 1942 were rushed to defend American Samoa. By August, they were landing at Guadalcanal.

A Marine M2A4 light tank on Guadalcanal, 1942 “MOP UP UNIT– Two alert U.S. Marines stand beside their small tank which helped blast the Japanese in the battle of the Tenaru River during the early stages of fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Those well-manned, sturdy machines readily mopped up strong points of enemy resistance.”

Upgrading to M4 Shermans in time for 1943’s Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation, the Marines would continue to use the hardy medium tank in a force that would grow to six battalions.

1944 M4A2 Sherman tank Company A, 1st Tank Marine Battalion passing a Japanese blockhouse at Peleliu

By Korea, the Marines were able to put their Shermans to pasture and begin using the 90mm-equipped M26 Pershing and the M46 tank.

“Marine tanks parked in the southwest part of the perimeter of Koto-ri. The high ground was within the perimeter. 1950”

Lessons learned in Korea brought about the medium-and-heavy combo that was the M48A1 and the M103, which were used in Lebanon in 1958, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where Marine tankers were ashore at GTMO) and the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic.

Then came Vietnam, where the Marines continued to utilize the upgraded M48A3 although the Army was switching to the M60 Patton.

6 March 1967, a Marine M48A3 in Vietnam. Note the Playboy Bunny. “Tankers Construct Road: A blade-wielding tank of the 1st Tank Battalion carves a road for Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines [2/26] during an operation south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Private First Class Warren E. Wilson).”

The Marines would only upgrade to the M60A1 in 1975, once Vietnam was in the rearview, a tank they would keep– with much modification– through the First Gulf War. Importantly, it was the M60s of the Marines that were the first serious armor on the ground in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm.

Since 2001, Abrams-equipped Marine tank platoons have been very busy, deploying multiple times to the Middle East. This included company-size deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as carving platoons off to float around with MEUs in the Fleet.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 3d Platoon during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003– note the M1 tank support

The Corps currently fields 403 M1A1/A2 variants, less than one-tenth of the amount the Army/National Guard has on hand. Of course, as the Marines just have three tank battalions, one of which is a reserve unit, there are only about 180 of these tanks in unit service, with the rest of the hulls forward-deployed in places like Norway and in other forms of long-term storage.

If all goes according to plan, by 2030 the Marines will have zero Abrams.

Planned upgrades, scheduled to take place through 2024, naturally will be a footnote.

And the beat goes on…

Christmas Eve Fireworks Show

Somewhere off the DPRK on this day in 1950…

USS Missouri (BB-63) Forward turret fires a 16-inch shell at enemy forces attacking Hungnam, North Korea, during a night bombardment in December 1950 LSMR NH 96811

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 96811

USS Missouri (BB-63): Forward turret fires a 16-inch shell at enemy forces attacking Hungnam, North Korea, during a night bombardment in December 1950. In the background, LSMRs are firing rockets, with both ends of the trajectory visible. This is a composite image, made with two negatives taken only a few minutes apart. The photograph is dated 28 December 1950 but was probably taken on 23-24 December.

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