B-29 Operations - Korea
With the advent of the conflict in Korea in June 1950, the B-29 was once again thrust into battle. For the next several years it was effectively used for attacking targets in North Korea. The Warner Robins Air Materiel Area (WRAMA) literally unwrapped and refurbished hundreds of "Cocooned" Boeing B-29 Superfortresses. Understaffed and working around the clock, they made sure that United Nations forces in the Far East had the necessary tools to fight the North Korean invaders. This was particularly true with the key role B-29s played in bombing Communist supply lines and staving off the enemy's assault on Allied forces pinned down inside the Pusan Perimeter. B-29s detached from Twentieth Air Force continued flying combat missions until the end of the war in 1953.
After destroying North Korea's industry in the first two months of the war, USAF B-29 Superfortresses operated in many varied roles, from close support of troops on the ground to bombing bridges on the Yalu River. The air war in Korea also saw the extensive use of smaller tactical aircraft to attack strategic targets.
In World War II, the division between strategic bombers and tactical aircraft was clear. Long range, multi-engine strategic aircraft bombed factories, key bridges, ports, and power systems far behind enemy lines. Smaller, short-to-medium range tactical aircraft hit targets closer to the front lines. In Korea, this division blurred as the available strategic bomber, the B-29 Superfortress, was used in both of these roles.
On occasion the headquarters of the Far East Command insisted that the B–29s attack areas close to the battlelines through which the enemy was advancing. Stratemeyer complied but objected to the use of the big bombers against targets better suited to fighter-bombers. Vandenberg, in the Far East on an inspection, supported his subordinate, according to Stratemeyer, “very explicitly and masterfully” explaining the difference between tactical and strategic air operations.
After listening to the Air Force Chief of Staff, MacArthur conceded that it was indeed wasteful to use B–29s against the hard-to-locate targets normally hit by fighter-bombers, but in the present emergency he felt he had to hit the enemy with every available airplane. As a result, his headquarters directed that the B–29s be dispatched in mid-July 195o against bridges, road junctions, and troop concentrations within sixty miles of a critical segment of the front lines.
Because of their compact size—only the capital of Pyongyang, with a population of 500,000, had more than 100,000 inhabitants—and lack of fireproof buildings, North Korean towns seemed almost as vulnerable to fire bombs as the cities of Japan. This time, however, the Truman administration would not allow the use of incendiaries against cities.
The Air Force was instructed to minimize civilian casualties, depriving the enemy of a propaganda issue. The use of fire bombs proved unnecessary that summer, for in mid-September 1950 after about one month of systematic bombardment, Stratemeyer announced that practically all the strategic industrial targets in the country had been destroyed by high explosives alone.
Within the first two months of the Korean War, the strategic bombing campaign was considered over. Most of the industrial targets deep in North Korea had been destroyed or seriously damaged -- although some potential strategic targets still remained untouched for political reasons. These included the port city of Rashin, located only 17 miles from the USSR border, and hydroelectric power facilities in North Korea (which also supplied power to Manchuria and Siberia).
Since American fighters had wiped out the North Korean air force and the enemy had few antiaircraft guns, B–29 crews could concentrate on accurate bombing. The big problem was weather, for clouds often closed in over the B–29 bases during the course of a mission, and in such conditions, landing was the most dangerous part of the flight. Two of the five groups of B–29s assigned to Far East Air Forces returned to the United States in October 1950.
The Chinese intervention in November 1950 signaled a new escalation in the Korean War and new responsibilities for bomber crews. Superfortresses hammered towns and cities all along the North Korean side of the Chinese border, and interrupted the enemy's transportation system by bombing bridges and railroad marshaling yards. They also neutralized enemy airfields (including those situated along the Korean side of the Manchurian border) and attacked enemy troop concentrations.
Bomber command relied on incendiaries to multiply the damage done by the remaining three groups. The administration apparently was no longer concerned by the propaganda advantage that might accrue to the government of North Korea if fire bombs were used.
Few B–29 bombardiers had any experience using the radio-controlled bombs, relics of World War II that had a guidance system prone to failure. Bombardiers had to track teh bomb all the way to the target, disregarding MiGs and antiaircraft fire. The Air Force used two guided bombs in Korea, the VB-3 Razon and VB-13 Tarzon, primarily against bridges. After these weapons were dropped from the aircraft, the bombardier visually guided the bomb to the target by radio control. The Razon and Tarzon bombs' flight control surfaces allowed them to be controlled in two axes (range, or up and down, and azimuth, left or right). They also carried a flare to assist visual tracking after release.
One of the first of the 12,000-pound guided bombs to arrive in the theater of operations badly damaged a railroad bridge at Kangye, some 25 miles inside North Korea. Although the USAF had mixed results in Korea with the Razon and Tarzon, they foreshadowed the later widespread use of precision-guided weapons.
With the first raids into northwestern Korea came the first MiG-15 attacks against B-29s. Between November 1950 and November 1951, the Air Force lost 16 B-29s to enemy action, in spite of F-86 and F-84 fighter escort. The MiG threat forced Far East Air Forces (FEAF) Bomber Command to switch almost exclusively to night attacks for the rest of the war.
In the spring of 1952, with a stalemate on the ground and the failure of a negotiated truce, FEAF began a new policy of "selective destruction" using "air pressure" to force the communists to settle. The goal was to make the war in Korea too costly for the communists by destroying specific high-value economic targets.
By 1955, with the situation in Korea stabilized and intercontinental-range bombers entering service, the need no longer existed for a B-29 numbered air force in the Pacific. Despite American success in preventing the conquest of South Korea by communist North Korea, the Korean War of 1950-1953 did not satisfy Americans who expected the kind of total victory they had experienced in World War II.
Even after communist China entered the war, Americans put China off-limits to conventional bombing as well as nuclear bombing. Operating within these limits, the U.S. Air Force helped to repel two invasions of South Korea while securing control of the skies so decisively that other United Nations forces could fight without fear of air attack.
The problem of inadequate numbers of trained intelligence personnel to support the targeting function continued throughout the war. Two separate studies were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the Air Force in Korea. Both reports indicated that the outbreak of the war had created an immediate shortage of intelligence personnel. They also pointed out that inadequate training made these shortages more acute. The shortage was so acute that FEAF had to draft flying officers to perform intelligence functions. As late as July 1952, the FEAF Bomber Command “lacked sufficient personnel to handle any large day-to-day quantity of targets.”
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