Category Archives: Korean War

Upward and Onward, 70 years ago

19 November 1950: “A pilot of the Flying Cheetahs, the South African Squadron fighting in Korea with the Unified Forces, getting ready to take off for a mission.”

Flying Cheetahs, the South African Squadron fighting in Korea P-51 188081

UN Media Photo # 188081

You’ll note the pilot is at the stick of a P-51D Mustang, the “Cadillac of the Sky” during WWII. However, just a half-decade later the renowned dogfighter was obsolete at best when compared to the early jets of the day and in the USAF had been relegated to second-line service with the Air National Guard in favor of the P-80 Shooting Star.

Nonetheless, the South Koreans flew the Mustang and the U.S. Navy, using the carrier USS Boxer as a ferry, carried a deck load of the aircraft to the theatre just a couple months after the balloon went up, for use not only with the ROKAF but also with UN forces– such as the Royal Australian Air Force’s No.77 Squadron and the South African Cheetahs– in need of a supportable tactical fighter still capable of mixing it up with North Korean Yak-9s while able to drop rockets and 500-pound bombs on things below.

The Cheetahs, officially No. 2 Squadron, SAAF, was only a decade old in 1950 but had flown Hurricanes, P-40s and Spitfires in World War II, seeing plenty of action across North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Yugoslavia.

Deploying to South Korea in September 1950, they picked up loaned American P-51Ds at Johnson AFB in Japan and landed in Korea, 49 officers and 206 men strong, two months later. Their first combat sortie staged from K9 Airfield on 19 November– 70 years ago today– and it would be the first of many. They would soon switch to K13 and K10, operating from the latter through December 1952.

North American F-51D Mustang fighters of No. 2 Squadron of the South African Air Force in Korea, on 1 May 1951.USAF Photo HD-SN-98-07604

Used primarily for interdiction missions while attached to the 18th (U.S.) Fighter Bomber Wing, the standard per aircraft loadout against road and railway targets was two 500lb bombs, six 5-inch (127mm) HVAR rockets, and a maximum load of .50-cal ammo.

For attacks on supply areas and for close support missions the bombs were usually replaced with two 110-gallon drop tanks filled with napalm and fused with modified white phosphorous grenades.

The Cheetahs were considered “mud movers” due to the amount of dirt they threw in the air on ground attacks and, likely due to the airfields they worked from.

THE SOUTH AFRICAN AIR FORCE DURING THE KOREAN WAR (KOR 641) Leading Air Mechanic J J Dauth, Air Mechanic P H A Reilley and Sergeant L F Bussio working on an F-51D Mustang, during a spell of poor weather when rain and low cloud grounded the aircraft of 2 Squadron, South African Air Force. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

As noted by the SAAF, “While equipped with Mustangs, the squadron flew 10,373 sorties and out of a total 95 Mustangs acquired, no fewer than 74 were lost due to enemy action and accidents. Twelve pilots were killed in action, 30 missing and four wounded.”

South African Air Force No 2 Squadron Korean War. Lt H. Joyce’s F-51D No.334 (ex USAF 44-74757)

Finally jumping to the jet age, the Cheetahs transitioned to (loaned) F-86F Sabres in January 1953 and began missions from K55 two months later. “The squadron flew a total of 2 032 sorties in the Sabres. Only four Sabres were lost out of 22 supplied,” notes the SAAF.

A South African Air Force North American F-86F Sabre from No. 2 Squadron at Tsuiki Air Base, Japan, in 1953. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 100608-F-1234S-027

They earned over 420 individual decorations as well as Presidential Unit Citations from both the U.S. and South Korean governments.

Leaving Korea on 31 October 1953, the Cheetahs gave their Sabres back to Uncle Sam but, after returning to Waterkloof AFB, would later be equipped with Canadair Sabre Mk.6s until transitioning to Mirages in the 1960s, although some lingered on into the early 1970s.

10 Dassault Mirage IIIs, four F-86 Sabres, three Buccaneers, and four Canberras of the SAAF on the tarmac in the 1970s. At the time the force was heavily involved in various bush wars both officially and unofficially. 

Today the Cheetahs of 2 SAAF fly Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripens.

Their motto is Sursam Prorsusque, “Upward and Onward.”

As for the Mustang’s legacy in the country, today, the SAAF Museum at Swartkop Air Force Base maintains a former Swedish & Dominican Air Force P-51D, SN 44-72202 –”Patsy Dawn” the only such aircraft preserved in Africa.

Own a Flying Nightmare

A U.S. Marine Corps Vought F4U-5N Corsair night fighter of Marine night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513 Flying Nightmares on the flight line at Wonsan, Korea, on 2 November 1950.

A slugger, the gull-winged F4U-5 was the first post-WWII Corsair to enter production, filled with lessons learned from combat use in that conflict. Some 538 were produced of which 315 converted to the -5NL configuration with a wing-mounted radar for nighttime operations and other tweaks including winterizing– both of which would come in very handy in Korea.

Speaking of which, Bu.124541, as detailed by Warbirds News, spent more than 200 hours with the Flying Nightmares in Korea before she was charged off and transferred to the Argentine Navy in 1958 for operations from the Colossus-class carrier ARA Independencia (ex-HMS/HMCS Warrior).

The Argies kept her on the books until 1966, then she spent a period in storage before weathering life as a gate guard at the Museo del la Aviacion Naval in Buenos Aries before she was purchased by a French group of aviation enthusiasts in the 1990s.

Extensively restored, today she carries her historic VMF 513 livery, sans the radar dome which was deleted in the late 1960s.

F4U-5NL Bu.124541 via Platinum Fighters

F4U-5NL Bu.124541 via Platinum Fighters

Best yet, this flyable Corsair is airworthy and for sale at Platinum Fighters, just don’t ask how much.

But do you have it with aluminum handles?

The Turkish military was an early and frequent user of the M1 Garand. First fielding the .30-06-caliber autoloader in 1950 as a brand-new NATO ally, it took the place of reworked 1890s-era German Mausers. 

Pvt. Eyup Capkin of Turkey loading ammunition into an M-1 rifle in Korea (Springfield Armory National Historic Site TEMP-965.1)

In all, the U.S. sent over 300,000 M1s as military aid to Turkey by 1972.

Turkish paratroopers, Cyprus, 1972. Note the M1 Garand and M1A1 Thompson submachine gun

In recent years, as the Turkish military has been updating its arsenals, lots of M1s have filtered back via the CMP as ordnance returns– for instance, an estimated 13,000 former Turkish Air Force Garands came back in 2018. 

However, Uncle Sam provided Istanbul with few bayonets, forcing the Turks instead to come up with their own solution. This included converting old M1935 Mauser knife bayonets in the late 1950s. We have covered these already.

As the years rolled on, M.K.E. in Ankara (Makina ve Kimya Endustrsi Kurumu = Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corp.), produced a clone of the U.S. M5 bayonet, substituting black-painted aluminum grips for the traditional American plastic panels.

As the bayonets were not included in the ordnance returns, the Turkish military has been selling them on the milsurp market where both the Mauser- and M5-type have been circulating among importers (SARCO et. al) for around $20-$30.

Note the extensive wear, with the paint almost gone and some surface rust, which is common.

Like the standard M5, they are 11.125-inches long with a 6.5-inch blade.

I have to say, they are pretty neat.

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 

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

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