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Marine Air Over Korea: Pusan To The Chosin Breakout


CSC 1985







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




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.











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









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








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




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




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:



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



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.




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.




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




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




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.




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




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.




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




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




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




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.




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






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




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.




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


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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.




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




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


porting arm, yet never had circumstances conspired so well


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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.




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




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




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




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-




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.







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.




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.



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.







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.



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.



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

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



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,



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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