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Marine Air Over Korea: Pusan To The Chosin Breakout

 

CSC 1985

 

SUBJECT AREA Aviation

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

When North Korean Communists invaded South Korea in 1950,

 

UN forces had little time to prepare for war. They had to react

 

quickly to the Communist agression to prevent being pushed off

 

the penisula and they had to infuse more UN forces into the fight.

 

One of the first UN forces sent to Korea was the hastily-

 

organized 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, a regimental combat team

 

consisting of the 5th Marine Regiment and Marine Air Group - 33.

 

As the air component of the Marine Brigade, MAG-33 provided

 

air support for the ground Marines and for other UN forces, as

 

needed. While the Brigade was being rushed about the Pusan Per-

 

imeter plugging up gaps in the UN defenses, the Corsairs of MAG-33

 

often provided the combat strength required to win the battles.

 

MAG-33 pilots delivered accurate and highly effective close air

 

support in early Korean battles known as Chindong-ni, Kosong, and

 

the 1st and 2nd Battles of the Naktong Bulge.

 

Within four months of the outbreak of hostilities, 1st Marine

 

Division and 1st Marine Air Wing arrived in Korea, just in time to

 

participate in the Inchon amphibious assault. At this battle also,

 

Marine air played a pivotal role in the outcome of the assault.

 

After the Inchon invasion initiated the retreat of the North

 

Korean forces, the Marines were ordered north above the 38th Par-

 

allel to help encircle and destroy the North Korean forces. Just

 

when North Korea appeared defeated, the Chinese Communists entered

 

the fight and surrounded the 1st Marine Division. 1st MAW Corsairs,

 

once more, provided deadly close air support to enable UN ground

 

forces to make a fighting withdrawal back to the coast and safety.

 

In the early campaigns at Pusan, Inchon, and the Chosin Res-

 

ervoir, the squadrons of 1st MAW provided invaluable aerial sup-

 

port to the UN forces and often determined whether battles were

 

won or lost. Their performance was so impressive that numerous

 

UN commanders commented highly on the effectiveness of Marine air

 

support.

 

Without the presence of Marine aviation, the outcome of the

 

Korean conflict might have been much different for the UN forces.

 

Marine pilots truly earned their flight pay.

 

MARINE AIR OVER KOREA:

PUSAN TO THE CHOSIN BREAKOUT

 

 

OUTLINE

 

 

 

 

Thesis Statement: During the early campaigns of the Korean

conflict, U. S. Marine aviation provided reliable and highly

effective air support for UN ground forces and proved to be

a vital key to the UN military successes.

 

 

 

I. Pusan Perimeter

 

A. Chindong-ni

 

B. Kosong

 

C. 1st Battle of the Naktong

 

D. 2nd Battle of the Naktong

 

 

II. Amphibious Landings

 

A. Inchon

 

B. Wonsan

 

 

III. Chosin Reservoir

 

A. The Breakout

 

B. Hagaru

 

C. Koto-ri

 

D. Hungnam

 

 

ILLUSTRATIONS

 

 

 

 

 

Figure Page

 

1. Map of Korea 2

 

2. Invasion from North 3

 

3. North Korean Advances 5

 

4. Pusan Perimeter 7

 

5. Japan and Korea 8

 

6. Combat Air Bases 8

 

7. Task Force Kean 12

 

8. 1st Battle of the Naktong 16

 

9. 2nd Battle of the Naktong 19

 

10. Inchon Landing 22

 

11. Wonson - Iwon Landings 25

 

12. CCF Offensive 28

 

13. First Marine Division

Line of March 30

 

 

MARINE AIR OVER KOREA:

PUSAN TO THE CHOSIN BREAKOUT

 

 

 

At 4 a.m. on 25 June 1950, eight divisions of the North

 

Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) swept across the 38th Parallel and

 

struck into South Korea along six invasion routes (figs. 1 &

 

2). This attack was the culmination of several years of

 

political disputes and military clashes between the North

 

and South Korean governments and began what was to be known

 

as the Korean "conflict" between United Nations and Communist

 

forces.

 

The speed and violence of the Communist attack stunned

 

the South Korean (ROK) defenders, and by mid-morning of the

 

day of the attack, all six invading columns had broken through

 

the ROK outposts and were rushing to capture the capital city

 

of Seoul. On 28 June, Seoul fell, and the South Korean gov-

 

ernment fled farther south to Taejon.

 

On 29 June 1950, General Douglas MacArthur, Commander

 

of UN Forces in the Far East, was ordered by the United Nat-

 

ions to use U.S. forces in Japan to help stem the Communist

 

invasion. On 30 June, 2 rifle battalions of the U.S. 24th

 

Infantry Division were placed under the temporary command of

 

Major General W. F. Dean and airlifted into Pusan, Korea.

 

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One U. S. battalion went into position at Osan, south of Seoul,

 

and was quickly routed by the stronger Communist force (fig. 3).

 

Three days later, the second U. S. battalion was severely beaten

 

at Chonan, and the Communist onslaught continued south with great

 

speed.1 It was already clear that the North Koreans were rush-

 

ing for Pusan and a quick ending to the war.

 

U.S. Army reinforcements continued to arrive from Japan,

 

and by 13 July, 2 regiments of the 24th Infantry Division had

 

formed hasty defensive positions along the Kum river. That

 

same day, the 25th Infantry Division landed at Pusan, and Lt.

 

General W. H. Walker, leader of the U.S. Eighth Army, was named

 

as commander of all UN ground forces in Korea.

 

On 15 July, 3 Communist divisions broke through the 20-

 

mile American front along the Kum river. For 5 days, the

 

Americans attempted a stand at Taejon but were unsuccessful.

 

On 21 July, while trying to break out of Taejon, MajGen Dean

 

was cut off from his troops and was eventually taken prisoner.

 

MajGen Dean would remain in captivity for the remainder of the

war, but his bravery in battle had won him the Medal of Honor.2

 

The delaying action fought by the unaided 24th Division

 

had cost over 1,000 American lives, but it had slowed the

 

Communist advance and won precious time while fresh UN forces

 

were being sent to Korea. One of the forces enroute by this

 

time was the hastily organized 1st Provisional Marine Brigade.

 

On 2 July 1950, General MacArthur requested a Marine Reg-

 

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imental Combat Team (RCT), with appropriate air support for

 

employment in Korea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved this

 

request the same day, and, with the conflict only 10 days old,

 

U.S. Marines were on their way to war once more, this time in

 

Korea.

 

The 5th Marine Regiment, supported by the artillery of

 

1st Battalion, 11th Marines, was selected as the ground unit

 

of the Marine Brigade. Marine Air Group (MAG) - 33 was chosen

 

as the air component. On 5 July 1950, this RCT-MAG force was

 

designated as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. BGen E. A.

 

Craig was appointed as Commanding General of the Brigade, and

 

BGen T. J. Cushman was designated as Commanding General of the

 

reinforced air group.

 

The Marine Brigade, including its air component, was form-

 

ally activated on 7 July 1950, and began loading for Korea on

 

the 9th. By 14 July, approximately 6,500 ground and air Marines

 

set sail for the Far East and the Korean conflict.3

 

By late July, the situation in Korea had reached a crisis.

 

The Communists were threatening to break through the Pusan Per-

 

imeter, which was held by remnants of the battered and sorely

 

outnumbered American and ROK armies (fig. 4). The Marines were

 

badly needed. With the Army units falling back along all fronts,

 

Pusan, the only Korean port still in UN hands, was in danger of

 

being lost. The Marine Brigade was originally scheduled to stage

 

into Korea through Japan, but the urgency of the military situat-

 

ion forced the Brigade to proceed directly to Pusan. The ground

 

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elements landed at Pusan on 2 August and began to debark. The

 

air component proceeded to Japan by faster transportation and

landed there on 31 July (fig. 5).4

 

While the ground units of the Brigade were debarking at

 

Pusan, MAG-33 quickly deployed its units and readied for combat

 

operations. The major elements of MAG-33 included:

 

UNIT AIRCRAFT / MISSION

VMF-214 F4U4B Corsairs

 

VMF-323 F4U4B Corsairs

 

VMF(N)-513 F4U5B Corsairs

 

VMO-6 OY-2 spotter aircraft

HO3S-1 helicopters

 

MTACS-2 Tactical Air Control

Squadron

 

MGCIS-1 Ground-Controlled

Intercept Squadron

 

For maximum mobility and striking power, VMF-214 and

 

VMF-323 were based aboard "jeep" aircraft carriers during

 

the initial operations in Korea. The VMF-214 "Blacksheep"

 

Corsairs were based on the USS Sicily, and the VMF-323

 

"Deathrattlers" operated from the deck of the USS Badoeng

 

Strait. VMF(N)-513, equipped with a night-fighter version

 

of the Corsair, was initially land-based at Itazuke airfield

 

in Japan. The helicopters and spotter aircraft of VMO-6

 

were staged at Chinhae, Korea, for closer coordination with

 

the Marine Brigade (fig. 6). MTACS-2, the Tactical Air Con-

 

trol squadron, set up shop at Pusan.

 

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In the bitter fighting that ensued in Korea, Marine

 

aviators proved that they had trained well during the years

 

following World War II. During the early campaigns of the

 

Korean conflict, U.S. Marine aviation provided reliable and

 

highly effective air support for UN ground forces and proved

 

to be a vital key to the UN military successes.

 

PUSAN PERIMETER

 

When the Marine Brigade landed at Pusan of 2 August 1950,

 

it was immediately assigned as part of the U.S. Eighth Army

 

Task Force Kean. While ground elements of the Brigade were

 

preparing for a counterattack west toward Chonju, the aviation

 

elements of MAG-33 struck the first blow for the Marine Corps

 

in Korea. On 3 August, Major R. P. Keller led a flight of 8

 

VMF-214 Corsairs from the USS Sicily in the first Marine air

 

strike of the Korean war. Major Keller's flight bombed, rock-

 

eted, and strafed enemy positions near the towns of Sandon-ni

 

and Chinju. Three days later, the "Deathrattlers" of VMF-323

 

flew 30 sorties in support of Eighth Army units west of Pusan.

 

On 7 August, VMF(N)-513 added its support with a night strike

 

launched from Itazuke airfield in Japan against enemy-held

positions near Kumchon.5

 

Although these first Marine air strikes were interdiction

 

and deep air support missions, the two carrier-based squadrons

 

would quickly be tasked with that type of mission for which

 

Marine aviators were best known -- close air support. The vet-

 

eran Marine pilots of World War II soon realized that they

 

would have to modify the aerial tactics they had used in

 

the previous war.

 

Enemy air forces had been controlled early in the fight,

 

and there was little heavy anti-aircraft opposition in the

 

early actions. However, due to the low cloud ceilings common

 

to the summer rainy season, close air support (CAS) attacks

 

had to be made at low altitude, and the attacking aircraft

 

usually encountered heavy enemy small arms fire. Numerous

 

aircraft and several pilots were lost to this crude, but

 

effective, method of anti-aircraft fire.

 

CHINDONG-NI

 

On 6 August, the Eighth Army Task Force Kean (named for

 

its commander, MajGen W. B. Kean) launched a UN counterattack

 

west from Pusan to halt a Communust "end run" through the

 

southwest portion of the perimeter (fig. 7). The 1st Prov-

 

isional Marine Brigade was attached to the 25th Infantry

 

Division and ordered west to relieve U.S. Army units near

 

Chindong-ni.

 

Task Force Kean moved out with VMF-323 and VMF-214

 

Corsairs flying constant close air support strikes ahead of

 

the Marine and Army ground units. Marine aviators on the

 

front lines and Army artillery forward observers acted as

 

forward air controllers, using radios to direct the aircraft

 

to enemy trouble spots. Ground commanders quickly discovered

 

that air strikes were the most effective weapon against enemy

 

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positions dug in on the reverse slopes of the ridges.

 

Napalm, dropped from low altitude, was recognized as

 

the most effective air weapon against tanks, troops in trenches,

 

and inflammable targets. The 5-inch rockets were good against

 

vehicles, trains, and gun positions, but 100- and 500-pound

 

bombs proved best against bridges, buildings, and area targets.

 

However, the pilots' favorite was a mix of high-explosive, in-

 

cendiary, and armor-piercing 20mm cannon ammunition, which dis-

 

intigrated vehicles, stopped locomotives, and mowed down enemy

 

troops.6

 

Task Force Kean's attack stalled during the morning of

 

7 August, and BGen Craig was ordered to assume control of all

 

troops in the Chindong-ni area. Under this new leadership,

 

the Task Force gained momentum, repulsed a Communist dawn

 

attack on 8 August, and continued the attack toward the task

 

force objective of Chinju. By the evening of 9 August, the

 

core of the enemy resistance had broken, and the Brigade moved

 

ahead rapidly.

 

KOSONG

 

August 11 proved to be a very productive day for Marine

 

air near the village of Kosong. This action, later known as

 

the "Kosong turkey shoot", began with an artillery bombard-

 

ment of the town of Kosong. The artillery was devastating

 

and prompted major elements of the North Korean 83rd Motor-

 

ized Regiment to attempt a hasty withdrawal to the west. Too

 

late, they realized their mistake. Overhead, a division of

 

VMF-323 Corsairs, led by Major A. A. Lund, spotted the road-

 

bound enemy column of over 200 trucks, jeeps, and other veh-

 

icles which carried the regiment's troops and supplies. As

 

the Corsairs began their strafing runs, the enemy column

 

ground to a halt and became totally disorganized. During

 

the attack, the Corsairs encountered heavy enemy ground fire,

 

but managed to destroy over 40 vehicles before being relieved

by another flight of VMF-323 aircraft.7 However, not all went

 

well for the pilots of VMF-323 this day.

 

The original attacking flight did not escape unscathed.

 

Two of the four planes, piloted by Capt. V. Moses and 2Lt. D.

 

Coyle, were damaged by enemy fire and forced to make emergency

 

landings in enemy territory. When his plane crash-landed,

 

Capt. Moses was thrown clear of the aircraft but landed un-

 

concious in a rice paddy and drowned. He became MAG-33's

 

first combat death.8

 

Luckily, 2Lt. Coyle's experience that day had a more

 

fortunate and even somewhat humorous ending. Within 5 minutes

 

of his emergency landing, 2Lt Coyle was rescued by an HO3S-1

 

helicopter piloted by Lt G. F. Lueddeke of VMO-6. After enter-

 

ing the helicopter, Coyle slapped what he thought was an enlist-

 

ed man on the back and said, "Thanks, Mac. I sure am glad to

 

see you." He was later somewhat embarassed to learn that he

 

had been addressing the Brigade commander, General Craig, who

 

had gone along to observe helicopter operations.9

 

1ST BATTLE OF THE NAKTONG

 

At midnight on 12 August, the Brigade was ordered to

 

disengage from the enemy near Sanchon and to move to another

 

threatened portion of the Pusan Perimeter along the Naktong

 

river (fig. 8). During the morning of 15 August, the Marine

 

Brigade arrived by truck at the location which would soon

 

become known as the "Naktong Bulge."

 

During the night of 6 August, one of the most disting-

 

uished Communist units, the NKPA 4th Division, had forced a

 

1,000-man bridgehead across the Naktong river by wading

 

through chest-deep water and pulling crude rafts loaded with

vehicles, heavy weapons, and supplies.10 By 8 August, the

 

NKPA 4th Division had engaged elements of the U.S. 24th

 

Infantry and had a firm foothold within the UN perimeter.

 

Thus began the 1st Naktong Counteroffensive.

 

During the now well-known battles of the "1st Naktong"

 

(Obong-ni Ridge, Finger Ridge, etc.), MAG-33 provided in-

 

valuable combat strength to both U.S. Army and Marine units.

 

OY-2 spotter aircraft from VMO-6 hovered over the battlefield

 

throughout the daylight hours, spotting for artillery units

 

and providing control for the numerous airstrikes conducted

 

by the Corsairs. At night, VMF(N)-513's "Nightmare" Corsairs

 

silenced enemy artillery and mortars by aiming at little more

 

than just artillery muzzle flashes. One pilot dive-bombed

 

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the "X" formed by tracers from two widely displaced machine

guns, both sighted in over the target which was in defilade.11

 

After much fighting in the Naktong Bulge, the enemy

 

forces were finally driven back across the river, and the

 

perimeter was restored. Marine supporting arms were credited

 

with the final restoration of the perimeter, due to the dev-

 

astating air and artillery barrages delivered on the withdraw-

 

ing enemy forces.

 

On 19 August, the Marine Brigade was detached from Task

 

Force Kean and was ordered into Eighth Army reserve. BGen

 

Craig ordered his units to a rear bivouac area near Masan to

 

rest and await further orders. This bivouac area became known

 

as the "Bean Patch" because it was just that -- a bean patch

 

large enough to accomodate a brigade.

 

At the Bean Patch, the Brigade busied itself rearming

 

and restocking with supplies trucked in from Pusan. Patrols

 

in the rugged country around the Bean Patch were fed hot meals

 

delivered in special containers by the versatile helicopters

 

of VMO-6. BGen Craig also utilized the services of VMO-6's

 

helicopters to fly him and his staff to and from meetings

 

within the perimeter.

 

For the air component of the Brigade, however, the

 

successful close of the 1st Battle of the Naktong Bulge

 

brought little change in operations. Other UN forces were

 

still engaged and needed the air support which MAG-33 could

 

deliver. For the remainder of the month of August, the

 

Corsairs of VMF-214 and VMF-323 ranged along the perimeter

 

in support of U.S. Army and ROK units. During this period,

 

Marine aircraft were largely directed by airborne Air Force

 

controllers or by Army ground controllers, but they still

 

consistently produced the same high quality results as when

 

working under Marine control.

 

2ND BATTLE OF THE NAKTONG

 

The end of August brought an unexpected turn of events

 

for the Marine Brigade. By 1 September, fresh Communist

 

forces had again penetrated east of the Naktong river and

 

were seriously threatening the UN perimeter (fig. 9). Once

 

more the call went out for the "fire brigade" to plug the

 

hole.

 

When news of the projected recommitment reached Brigade

 

headquarters, VMF-323 was in Japan enjoying some rest and

 

recuperation, and VMF-214 was scheduled to follow soon after.

 

At 1600 on 1 September, VMF-323 received the new word while

 

most of its personnel were on leave in Kyoto and its planes

 

were at Itami airfield. By 2200, all but 12 members of the

 

squadron had reported in, and VMF-323 headed back into the

 

action.12

 

On 3 September, the Brigade returned to the Naktong area

 

and was placed opposite the center of the new bulge in the

 

perimeter. As the Marine units stepped off in the attack,

 

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Marine air was unable to help initially due to heavy fog and

 

low cloud cover. This time, the Brigade found itself pitted

 

against the NKPA 9th Division, which was armed with Russian-

 

made tanks and heavy direct fire weapons.

 

By 4 September, the NKPA 9th Division was attacking

 

under a full head of steam and was met head-on by the Marine

 

Brigade. The weather had cleared, and the Corsairs of MAG-33

 

ranged overhead, delivering their ordnance with deadly accur-

 

acy. Under the combined combat weight of the Marine air-

 

ground forces, the NKPA 9th Division eventually collapsed

 

and withdrew across the Naktong river once more. After re-

 

establishing the perimeter, the Brigade was withdrawn to Pusan

 

to embark aboard shipping for the anticipated amphibious land-

 

ing at Inchon.

 

Although it had been in combat for only about a month,

 

the Marine Brigade had exceeded all expectations. An accur-

 

ate estimate of the damage inflicted upon the enemy by Marine

 

pilots is difficult to determine, but one thing was certain --

 

the aviators of MAG-33 had acquitted themselves well, and no

 

one knew it better than the Marines on the ground. Of MAG-33's

 

performance, Brigadier General Craig said:

 

Close air support furnished by Marine airmen

was a marvel to everybody concerned, including the

Marines. We had never seen anything like it, even

in our practice.13

 

INCHON / WOSAN LANDINGS

 

After the 2nd Battle of the Naktong, UN and Communist

 

forces reached a stalemate along the Pusan Perimeter. To

 

break this deadlock, General MacArthur conceived a daring

 

plan to conduct an amphibious assault at Inchon to cut the

 

Communist supply lines to the north and to isolate the North

 

Korean forces in the south.

 

For the landing at Inchon and to facilitate future

 

operations, two reinforced U.S. divisions, the 7th Infantry

 

and the 1st Marine, were combined to form X Corps, under the

 

command of Marine Major General E. M. Almond.

 

By mid-September, the major elements of the 1st Marine

 

Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing were in place in

 

Korea and Japan and were beginning to take part in the combat

 

operations. Major General Field Harris commanded the Marine

 

Air Wing, which now included MAG-12 and the elements of MAG-33

 

which had taken part in the Pusan campaign. Besides the Cor-

 

sairs of MAG-33, 1st MAW assets now included the Corsairs of

 

VMF-312 and VMF-212, as well as the twin-engined F7F "Tiger-

 

cats" from VMF(N)-542.

 

INCHON

 

On 15 September, X Corps, following in the wake of a

 

terrific naval bombardment, stormed ashore at Inchon and

 

began to fight its way to the capital city of Seoul. All

 

during D-Day of the invasion, the carrier-based Corsairs of

 

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VMF-214 and VMF-323 added their bomb, napalm, and strafing

 

power to the bombardment of Inchon and the island of Wolmi-do.

 

The port of Inchon fell on the first day, and Kimpo airfield

 

was captured shortly before midnight on the 17th by the 5th

 

Marine Regiment.14 Less than one hour after the capture of

 

Kimpo airfield, the helicopters of VMO-6 landed and started

 

to evacuate the dead and wounded.

 

On 19 September, VMF-212 and VMF(N)-542 flew into Kimpo

 

from Itami airfield in Japan. VMF-312 was called forward to

 

Kimpo on 28 September, and by 1 October, MGCIS-1 and MTAS-2

 

had established a radar warning system and a Tactical Air

 

Direction Center (TADC) at Kimpo to direct all aircraft in

the X Corps area.15 Now, Marine air efforts began in earnest.

 

The invasion at Inchon broke the back of the Communist

 

forces in South Korea, and UN forces began to advance stead-

 

ily north from the Pusan Perimeter. Thousands of North Korean

 

soldiers were captured, and South Korea was soon back in friend-

 

ly hands.

 

On 8 October, the amphibious phase of the Inchon operat-

 

ion was declared terminated. X Corps was loaded back onto

 

ships at Inchon and transported by the Navy to the northeast-

 

ern coast of Korea for still another amphibious landing.

 

General MacArthur's overall plan called for X Corps to land

 

at the port city of Wonsan, 80 miles above the 38th Parallel,

 

while the Eighth Army continued its attack north from Seoul

 

across the 38th Parallel. Eventually, these two forces would

 

encircle the enemy forces, destroy them, and end the war in

 

Korea.

 

WONSAN

 

The 1st Marine Division landed unopposed at Wonsan on

 

26 October, and three days later, the 7th Infantry Division

 

came ashore at Iwon (fig. 11). All units drove quickly in-

 

land, with the Marines striking toward the Chosin Reservoir

 

and the 7th Infantry Division heading to the northwest.

 

Simultaneously, two ROK divisions swept north toward the

 

Manchurian border.16

 

A former Japanese airfield at Wosan became the first

 

base of operations for the 1st MAW in this new area, and on

 

14 October, VMF-312 and VMF(N)-542 landed there to begin work.

 

The USS Badoeng Strait moved into the waters off Wonsan with

 

VMF-323 embarked, and VMF-214 debarked from the USS Sicily

 

to operate from the Wonsan airfield.

 

1st MAW aircraft provided close air support as Marine

 

units fought north and as the Siberian-like winter began to

 

close in on the UN forces. In late October and early November,

 

the carrier-based pilots were confronted with new dangers from

 

the icy and snow-covered carrier decks. Aircraft which had

 

stood the night on the carrier deck had to be taken below to

 

the hangar deck to thaw out and have the ice removed. Ashore,

 

similar problems faced the aviation units. Icing conditions,

 

low cloud ceilings, and snow combined to make flight operations

 

extremely hazardous. However, despite these hardships, Marine

 

air units continued to provide timely and accurate air support.

 

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During this period, VMF-312's normal missions consisted

 

of attacking bodies of North Korean troops attempting to es-

 

cape the UN forces. On 19 October, a flight of VMF-312 Cor-

 

sairs attacked 500 enemy troops near Yangdok, killing about

 

100. On 24 October, another VMF-312 flight attacked a body

 

of 800 enemy on the road near Kansong and caused over 200

 

casualties.17

 

As November wore on and UN forces met with continued

 

success, the North Koreans seemed pretty well beaten. There

 

was even some talk of "home before Christmas," as the UN

 

forces raced for the Yalu river which formed the border be-

 

tween North Korea and China.

 

As the world would soon discover, the Chinese Communists

 

had another surprise in store for the UN forces.

 

CHOSIN RESERVOIR

 

On 26 November 1950, ten divisions of the Chinese Com-

 

munist Army crossed the Yalu river and attacked the ROK II

 

Corps, and the U.S. 2nd and 25th Army Divisions.18 The ROK

 

forces were anihilated, and the 2nd Division lost over 80

 

percent of its troops and heavy weapons. The UN forces soon

 

realized that they were in a "new and different" war, and

 

that they faced a fresh, new army of over 200,000. British

 

and Turkish brigades were badly mauled as they attempted to

 

cover the withdrawing UN forces. By 28 November, the Eighth

 

Army was wholly turned south with the Chinese in pursuit at

 

the rate of about six miles per day.19

 

On 20 November, the advance guard of the main Marine

 

column captured several Chinese soldiers who warned that a

 

Communist ambush awaited at Yudam-ni, west of the Chosin

 

Reservoir. Little heed was paid to these enlisted soldiers,

 

and the column continued north. During the night of 28 Nov-

 

ember, a new Chinese army seemed to rise from the ground as

 

8 Chinese divisions struck the 1st Marine Division. At the

 

time of this attack, the 7th and 5th Marines were in Yudam-ni,

 

and the 1st Marines were protecting the main supply route

 

(MSR) with single battalions at Hagaru, Koto-ri, and Chin-

 

hung-ni (fig. 12). Within two hours after darkness fell,

 

Marine units all along the 53-mile MSR were simultaneously

 

engaged by the Communists.20

 

On 28 November, Marine Corsairs provided support for

 

the UN forces in numerous areas. Northeast of the Chosin

 

Reservoir, VMF-323 planes supported the withdrawing ROK forces.

 

To the west, VMF-312 and VMF-214 aircraft conducted their at-

 

tacks in support of the Eighth Army, which was attempting to

 

withdraw to more defensible positions. VMF-212 flew all of

 

its sorties in support of Marine units near the reservoir.

 

The Corsairs were most effectively used at this point

 

to prevent the Chinese from massing their forces. Marine

 

pilots were constantly strafing enemy concentrations and

 

breaking up Communist attacks. On 28 November, enemy troop

 

concentrations were attacked 29 times; on 29 November, the

 

number of similar attacks jumped to 61.21

 

Click here to view image

 

With their supply routes blocked in the south, the units

 

of X Corps attempted to regroup and to establish defensive

 

positions, as the bitter cold and supply shortages began to

 

take their toll. Ammunition and medical supplies were air-

 

dropped by Marine R4Ds and R4Q transports, while helicopters

 

from VMO-6 made regular flights to evacuate the wounded.

 

Marine R4D and R4Q transports shuttled day and night from

 

Itami airfield in Japan to Yongpo airfield, bringing in vit-

 

ally needed medical supplies and evacuating casualties to

 

hospitals in Japan. Marine transports also flew supply and

 

evacuation sorties into the short airstrip at Hagaru.22

 

After four days of fighting the bitter cold and the

 

fanatical Chinese Communists, 1st Marine Division's position

 

became untenable. On 30 November, the decision was made for

 

the Marines to break out of the encirclement and to return

 

to the coast.

 

THE BREAKOUT

 

On 1 December, the 1st Marine Division wheeled about

 

and, led by the 7th Marines, started to fight south toward

 

Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni (fig. 13). This Marine withdrawal

 

was destined to become an epic story of courage and survival,

 

and, once again, Marine air support would play a decisive

 

role.

 

Never in Marine history had so much depended on a sup-

 

porting arm, yet never had circumstances conspired so well

 

Click here to view image

 

to prevent Marine air from carrying out its mission. The low

 

overcasts combined with the bitter cold and rugged terrain to

 

render close air support missions almost impossible. The ex-

 

treme cold also produced maintenance and logistic problems

 

for 1st MAW units, as engine oil froze and mechanics were

 

forced to perform delicate engine work while exposed to the

 

extreme cold. Lack of fueling and bomb-handling equipment

 

and spare parts also plagued 1st MAW squadrons, yet these ob-

 

stacles were eventually overcome, and air support was avail-

 

able to cover the ground elements fighting south.

 

During the breakout, Corsairs from all the Marine squad-

 

rons participated in day-long strikes against the Chinese.

 

OY-2 spotter aircraft flew artillery-spotting missions along

 

the withdrawing column, while VMO-6's helicopters continued

 

their medical evacuation and rescue missions. The crowded

 

air above the UN column was filled with cargo planes dropping

 

much-needed supplies, and the Corsairs were constantly wheel-

 

ing and diving in attacks on enemy positions. Marine Corsairs

 

ranged the length of the withdrawing column providing flank

 

security, attacking enemy concentrations, and destroying enemy

 

roadblocks and weapons.

 

1st Marine Division received 36 close air support sorties

 

during the daylight hours of 1 December, but the greatest ef-

 

fort was made in behalf of three Army battalions from the 7th

 

Infantry Division. For three days, these Army units had fought

 

a grim battle for survival against heavy odds and were in

 

danger of being overrun by over 3,000 Communists troops.

 

Captain E. P. Stamford, a Marine forward air controller as-

 

signed to one of the beleagured battalions, directed the

 

Corsairs of VMF(N)-513 against the enemy, just as the Com-

 

munists launched a fierce attack against the battalions.

 

For a few moments, the fighting was touch and go, but as

 

the Corsairs made repeated napalm, bomb, rocket, and straf-

 

ing attacks, the enemy broke ranks and fled for better cover.

 

In all, 46 Marine sorties were flown in support of these

 

Army units, allowing them to eventually join up with the

 

main withdrawing Marine force.23

 

Throughout the breakout, the Corsairs of VMF(N)-513 and

 

the "Tigercats" of VMF(N)-542 were constantly on station at

 

night over the scattered fighting fronts, silencing Chinese

 

artillery and automatic weapons fire. Gun flashes revealed

 

the enemy's guns, and Marine night-fighters proved that they

 

could knock the guns out. Ground commanders noted that the

 

mere sound of the night-fighters' engines would often be

 

enough to silence the enemy artillery.

 

HAGARU

 

By 4 December, the Marine column had reached Hagaru and

 

the exhausted forces were able to enjoy a brief lull in the

 

fighting. However, there was no respite for the Marine fliers.

 

On 4 and 5 December, Marine pilots flew a total of 297 sorties

 

against enemy positions, vehicles, and troop concentrations

 

around Hagaru.24

 

On the morning of 6 December, the 1st Marine Division

 

broke out of Hagaru and continued its attack toward the coast.

 

By 0715, 18 Corsairs of VMF-214 had reported on station and

 

were quickly put to work. After advancing only 2,000 yards

 

from Hagaru, the column was halted by intense enemy fire. As

 

the Corsairs attacked the enemy positions, 81mm mortar fire

 

was continued, even though the mortar shell trajectories

 

were higher than the altitude of the attacking planes. Rather

 

than lose the firepower of the 81s, the mortar gunners were

 

instructed to aim at the tails of the attacking aircraft to

 

ensure that none of the planes were shot down. Under this

 

combined bombardment, the enemy guns were silenced in about

 

an hour, and the column continued southward.

 

On this day also, a new innovation was introduced to help

 

control the crowded airspace over the withdrawing Marine column.

 

A four-engine Marine R5D transport, hastily equipped with add-

 

itional communications equipment, was provided by VMR-152 and

 

operated as a flying Tactical Air Direction Center. From its

 

station above the column, this airborne TADC was in excellent

 

position to receive radio transmissions from ground units and

 

to control all aircraft supporting the division.25

 

KOTO-RI

 

With its arrival at Koto-ri on 7 December, the 1st Marine

 

Division had completed all but the last leg of its fighting

 

withdrawal. VMO-6 immediately continued its medical evac-

 

uation missions by helicopter, and Marine R4D transports

 

landed on the short airstrip at Koto-ri to assist in the

 

evacuation. The airstrip at Koto-ri was so short that a

 

landing signals officer (LSO) had to guide the large trans-

 

port aircraft onto the field, using the same techniques em-

 

ployed on the carrier decks.

 

On 8 December, the Marine column resumed the attack to

 

reach the safety of Chinhung-ni and, eventually, the port of

 

Hungnam. A raging blizzard grounded all Marine aircraft on

 

that day, but 9 December dawned bright and clear. By 0715,

 

planes from VMF-312 were over the column, attacking both

 

sides of the road. Flights from all the other Marine squad-

 

rons followed and kept up continuous attacks in support of

 

the ground forces.

 

On 10 December, another chapter in Marine aviation hist-

 

ory began with the arrival of VMF-311 at Yongpo airfield.

 

VMF-311 was the first Marine jet squadron to fly in combat,

 

and until 14 December, VMF-311's F9F "Panther" jets flew

 

interdiction sorties in support of the Marine column. The

 

squadron was then moved to Pusan to operate with the 5th

 

Air Force jets to cover the withdrawal of the Eighth Army.26

 

HUNGNAM

 

By 1300 on 11 December, the last units of the Marine

 

force reached Chinhung-ni, boarded trucks, and headed for

 

Hungnam. With the departure of the 1st Marine Division for

 

Hungnam and eventual evacuation by sea, the main task of the

 

1st Marine Aircraft Wing was finished. VMF-312, VMF(N)-513,

 

and VMF(N)-542 departed for Japan to join VMF-214, which had

 

left Korea earlier. VMR-152 continued to evacuate supplies,

 

equipment, and personnel. By 18 December, 1st MAW had com-

 

pletely withdrawn from the Hungnam area.

 

The fighting withdrawal was over. A Marine division

 

and a Marine air wing, fighting against bitter cold and seem-

 

ingly impossible odds, had severely mangled an enemy force

 

vastly superior in strength. The courage and fighting ability

 

of the ground Marine had been proved once more, yet the ground

 

Marine was the first to demand that a large share of the credit

 

for the successful withdrawal was due to their flying counter-

 

parts in 1st MAW. In the hour of greatest need, Marine airmen

 

had not faltered.

 

Major General O. P. Smith, Commanding General of the

 

1st Marine Division expressed the sentiments of the ground

 

Marines when he said:

 

During the long reaches of the night and in

the snow storms, many a Marine prayed for the coming

of day or clearing weather when he would again hear

the welcome roar of your planes as they dealt out

destruction to the enemy.... Never in its history

has Marine Aviation given more convincing proof of

its indispensable value to the ground Marine. A

bond of understanding has been estableshed that will

never be broken.27

 

REFLECTIONS

 

Although the fighting raged on for another two years

 

before the Korean armistice was signed, the evacuation of

 

the 1st Marine Division and the 1st Marine Air Wing at Hung-

 

nam marked the end of the initial phase of Korean combat for

 

the Marine air-ground team. Marine units had fought well,

 

and lessons had been learned.

 

During the early months of Korean combat, new tactical

 

developments pioneered by 1st MAW greatly advanced the UN

 

air effort and added to the 1st MAW reputation for versatil-

 

ity.28 Marine squadrons refined close air support techniques,

 

developed an airborne tactical air control center, and proved

 

that night close air support missions could be safely accomp-

 

lished.

 

Of the new tactical air support developments in the

 

Korean action, none had a more revolutionary effect than that

created by the Marine helicopters of VMO-6.29 Marine heli-

 

copters reshaped battlefield logistics in Korea and pioneered

 

techniques for vertical troop envelopment, aerial wire-laying,

 

medical evacuation, and vertical resupply.

 

At the end of the Pusan Perimeter campaign, BGen Craig

 

commended the pilots of VMO-6 and said, "Marine helicopters

 

have proven invaluable.... They have been used for every

 

conceivable type of mission."30

 

In the early campaigns at Pusan, Inchon, and the Chosin

 

Reservoir, the squadrons of 1st MAW provided invaluable aerial

 

support to the UN forces, and often determined whether battles

 

were won or lost. Pilots, as well as ground crews, were taxed

 

to their limits but delivered air support for the ground units

 

both day and night. From 3 August to 14 December, Marine tact-

 

ical squadrons flew a total of 7,822 sorties, and evacuated

over 5,000 UN casualties.31

 

5,305 of the 1st MAW sorties were close air support mis-

 

sions which were so accurate and deadly as to prompt UN com-

 

manders to comment on the effectiveness of Marine close air

 

support. One such comment was made by Colonel P. L. Freeman,

 

commander of the U.S. Army 23rd Regiment at Pusan. He stated:

 

The Marines on our left were a sight to behold.

Not only was their equipment superior or equal to

ours, but they had squadrons of air in direct support.

They used it like artillery. It was, "Hey, Joe - this

is Smitty - knock the left off that ridge in front of

Item Company." They had it day and night.32

 

Marine air in Korea, from Pusan to the Chosin Reservoir,

 

contributed significantly to the UN military successes and

 

truly earned its flight pay.

 

 

NOTES

 

 

 

1S. L. A. Marshall. The Military History of the Korean War.

New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963, p. 18.

2Ibid., p. 19.

 

3Ernest H. Giusti. "Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter."

Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 5 (May 1952), p. 20.

4Ibid., p. 21.

5Ibid., p. 20.

 

6LtCol. C. A. Phillips, USMC (Ret.), and Major H. D. Kuokka,

USMC. "1st MAW In Korea." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 41, no. 6

(June 1957), p. 44.

 

7Lynn Montross and Captain N. A. Canzona, USMC. The Pusan

Perimeter -- U. S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953, vol. I.

Washington: Historical Branch, G-3, Headquarters, U. S. Marine

Corps, 1954, p. 140.

 

8Ibid.

 

9Ibid., p. 141.

 

10Ibid., p. 174.

 

11Major Frank Smyth, USMC. "Night Support: A New Weapon."

Marine Corps Gazette, v. 35, no. 11 (Nov 1951), p. 19.

 

12Ernest H. Giusti. "Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter."

Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 5 (May 1952), p. 26.

 

13 Peter B. Mersky. U. S. Marine Corps Aviation - 1912 to the

Present. Maryland: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of

America, 1983, p. 131.

 

14LtCol. C. A. Phillips, USMC (Ret.), and Major H. D. Kuokka,

USMC. "1st MAW In Korea." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 41, no. 6

(June 1957), p. 45.

15Ibid.

 

16S. L. A. Marshall. The Military History of the Korean War.

New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963, p. 30.

 

17Kenneth W. Condit and Ernest H. Giusti. "Marine Air at the

Chosin Reservoir." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 7 (June 1952),

p. 20.

 

18S. L. A. Marshall. The Military History of the Korean War.

New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963, p. 36.

 

19Ibid., p. 37.

 

20Ibid., p. 39.

 

21Kenneth W. Condit and Ernest H. Giusti. "Marine Air at the

Chosin Reservoir." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 7 (July 1952),

p. 23.

22LtCol. C. A. Phillips, USMC (Ret.), and Major H. D. Kuokka,

USMC. "1st MAW In Korea." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 41, no. 6

(June 1957), p. 46.

 

23Kenneth W. Condit and Ernest H. Giusti. "Marine Air at the

Chosin Reservoir." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 7 (June 1952),

p. 22.

 

24Ibid., p. 25.

 

25Ernest H. Giusti and Kenneth W. Condit. "Marine Air Covers

The Breakout." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 8 (Aug 1952), p. 25.

 

26LtCol. C. A. Phillips, USMC (Ret.), and Major H. D. Kuokka,

USMC. "1st Maw In Korea." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 41, no. 6

(June 1957), p. 47.

 

27Ernest H. Giusti and Kenneth W. Condit. "Marine Air Covers

The Breakout." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 8 (Aug 1952), p. 25.

 

28LtCol. P. Meid, USMCR, and Major J. Yingling, USMC. U. S.

Marine Operations in Korea -- Operations in West Korea, vol. V.

Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps,

1972, p. 491.

 

29Ibid., p. 493.

 

30Peter B. Mersky. U. S. Marine Corps Aviation - 1912 to the

Present. Maryland: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of

America, 1983, p. 131.

 

31Ibid., p. 488.

 

32Andrew Geer. The New Breed: The Story of the U. S. Marines

in Korea. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952, p. 104.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

 

Banks, Charles L., LtCol., USMC. "Air Delivery In Korea." Marine

Corps Gazette, v. 35, no. 11 (Nov 1951), pp. 46-47.

 

Braitsch, Fred G., Jr., MSgt., USMC. "Marine Air War." Leatherneck,

v. 34, no. 11 (Nov 1951), pp. 30-35; v. 35, no. 11 (Nov 1952),

pp. 30-35.

 

Condit, Kenneth W. and Ernest H. Giusti. "Marine Air at the Chosin

Reservoir." Marine Corps Gazette, v.36, no. 7 (Jul 1952), pp.

18-25.

 

Geer, Andrew. The New Breed: The Story of the U. S. Marines in

Korea. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952.

 

Giusti, Ernest H. "Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter." Marine

Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 5 (May 1952), pp. 18-27.

 

Giusti, Ernest H. and Kenneth W. Condit. "Marine Air Covers the

Breakout." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 8 (Aug 1952), pp.

20-27.

 

Giusti, Ernest H. and Kenneth W. Condit. "Marine Air Over Inchon -

Seoul." Marine Corps Gazette, v. 36, no. 6 (Jun 1952), pp. 18-

27.

 

Marshall, S. L. A. The Military History of the Korean War. New

York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963.

 

Meid, P., LtCol., USMCR, and Major J. Yingling, USMC. U. S. Marine

Operations in Korea -- Operations in West Korea, vol. V.

Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine

Corps, 1972.

 

Mersky, Peter B. U. S. Marine Corps Aviation - 1912 to the Present.

Maryland: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America,

1983.

 

Montross, Lynn, and Captain N. A. Canzona, USMC. The Pusan Perimeter

-- U. S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953, vol. I. Wash-

ington: Historical Branch, G-3, Headquarters, U. S. Marine

Corps, 1954.

 

Montross, Lynn, and Captain N. A. Canzona, USMC. The Inchon-Seoul

Operation -- U. S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953, vol. II.

Washington: Historical Branch, G-3, Headquarters, U. S. Marine

Corps, 1955.

 

Montross, Lynn, and Captain N. A. Canzona, USMC. The Chosin Reser-

voir Campaign -- U. S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953,

vol. III. Washington: Historical Branch, G-3, Headquarters,

U. S. Marine Corps, 1957.

 



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