The Douglas AD Skyraider played a significant part in the Korean War. This example was operated by VC-5.
The arrival of the USS Boxer would allow the Valley Forge to withdraw for a much-needed refit at Puget Sound before she returned to the fray in November 1951. She departed Sasebo on 5 November, but the transit to Korea was delayed by heavy seas and high winds, and so strikes were not launched until the following day. The designated targets were located in the Manchurian border area, where strikes, close air support and jet fighter sweeps were undertaken. Three days later the task force was joined by the USS Philippine Sea. With two carriers available, the air groups were tasked with destroying the bridges across the Yula river on the border of Korea and Manchuria. The first target was the Changtion-ho-kou road bridge, which suffered some damage that was quickly repaired. A day spent refuelling on 10 November followed before the carrier returned to action. Again her designated targets were the bridges across the Yula, during which a span of the Sinuiju bridge was downed by aircraft from the Valley Forge and the newly arrived USS Leyte. A change of targets on 13 November saw both carriers launching strikes against military installations in the Hyosonjin area. After a quick refuel on 14 November both carriers were back in action the following day, undertaking close air support missions as the strike against the Sinuiju bridge were cancelled due to limited visibility. The bridge was finally attacked again on 18 November, and this was followed by a combined strike by aircraft from the USS Leyte and the Philippine Sea, which dropped the bridges at Hyosonjin. The Valley Forge would leave the combat zone on 19 November, proceeding to Yokosuka to destore prior to returning to the United States and Puget Sound for a much-needed refit.
The Valley Forge refit was quickly completed and the carrier returned to Yokosuka with Carrier Air Group 2 aboard. The units assigned to the CAG included VF-24, VF-63 and VF-64 flying Vought F4U Corsairs, VA-65 flying Douglas AD Skyraiders, VC-35 with AD4Q Skyraiders, VC-3 flying night-fighter Corsairs, VC-11 equipped with AEW Skyraiders, VC-61 flying reconnaissance Corsairs, and HU-1 flying Sikorsky HO3S Dragonfly helicopters for planeguard duties. Also aboard the carrier were eight helicopters that were launched off Itami, in Japan, for onward transition to the USMC unit VMO-6.
By 23 December 1950 the carrier launched close air support missions against targets near Hamhung which included troops on roads and villages, as these were advancing on UN forces that were awaiting evacuation. The carrier’s aircraft were directed by US Army and USAF Forward Air Controllers (FACs). During these attacks the Vought F4U piloted by Ensign J.R. Brinkley was shot down, the pilot being lost in his blazing aircraft. Strikes were also carried out against Kolori, Tongdong, the Chosin Reservoir, Wangpung-ni, Songburi, Changhungni, Toejo and Oro-ri, during which fifty-six sorties were flown. By 28 December the Hamhung evacuation had been completed, and the carriers of TF.77 undertook close air support missions against North Korean troops while other aircraft were directed by FACs against specific targets in Kalchon, Papori, Kuun-ni, Chigyong-di, Hwachon and Songdongi, during which thirty-two sorties were flown. Further sorties for close air support were flown on 29 December, during which villages, troops and vehicles were attacked, a total of seventy-six missions being flown during this period. The following day twelve sorties were flown, with hits being made against troops, villages and a bridge, considerable damage being inflicted.
A refuel break took place on the last day of the year, with combat sorties restarting on 1 January 1951, when close air support and reconnaissance missions were undertaken. During the ensuing air strikes damage was inflicted on warehouses, buildings, trucks and bridges. Further close air support missions were undertaken over the following two days before the carriers joined up with TG.79.1 for refuelling, after which the Valley Forge resumed operations, launching attacks against targets in the Kosong area, during which heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy. As bad weather stopped flying operations, the carrier departed from the combat zone to undertake refuelling throughout 7 January. The bad weather continued until 11 January, when close air support missions were undertaken against various ground targets at Kangnong, Suwon and Pyongyong-ni, during which various buildings and railway trucks were destroyed; this involved sixty missions in total. At the completion of this day’s flying the task group joined up with TG.79.1 for refuelling.
Between 12 and 19 January over 250 sorties were flown, during which buildings, railway vehicles and marshalling yards and small coastal vessels were attacked and destroyed, after which the carrier and her escorts returned to Sasebo for refuelling and restoring. The Valley Forge remained in harbour until the end of the month, when she departed in company with the Philippine Sea and the rest of TF.77, arriving off the east coast of Korea the following day. As before, the carriers undertook attacks against the usual range of targets, these being augmented by night heckler sorties flown by the night-fighter Corsairs. During this period over 300 sorties were flown, although not without loss, as a Corsair launching from the Valley Forge ended up in the sea, the pilot not being found. The second casualty concerned another Corsair, which was lost the same day, 7 February 1951, when landing on the carrier, although in this case the pilot was recovered by the ship’s rescue helicopter. After this period of frenetic activity, the two carrier groups departed the area on 27 February and headed for Yokosuka for refuelling and other replenishments. On 11 March the carrier groups departed from Japan, being joined en route by the battleship USS Missouri. Three days later the carriers were back off the coast of Korea. As before, the carrier groups launched missions against a full range of targets, during which locomotives, bridges, vehicles, troop concentrations and vehicles on the roads were attacked and destroyed. During this period the carriers also added the role of early-morning hecklers to their list of missions, as well as that of bombardment spotting. During this period the carrier would lose two aircraft, although fortunately both pilots were rescued. After nearly 700 sorties the carrier groups returned to Yokosuka on 26 March, a day earlier than planned, as the weather had deteriorated below operating minima. In the operating report issued by the Valley Forge command staff, one of their main comments was that trying to operate five squadrons from an Essex-class carrier was extremely difficult, even when the complement was reduced to four units, as on its last cruise there was difficulty in coping with the aircraft and crews. The report then stated that the ideal number of squadrons would be three, with the remainder being made up of specialised flights.
The Valley Forge departed from Yokosuka and headed for Puget Sound Naval Yard, where she underwent a much-needed refit between April and November 1951. When the carrier departed San Diego she had aboard four complete squadrons and some specialist flights. The assigned flying units included VF-52 with Grumman F9F Panthers, VF-111 also with Panthers, VF-194 flying Douglas AD Skyraiders, and VF-653 with Vought F4U Corsairs. Also aboard were flights from VC-3 with night-fighter Corsairs, VC-11 with AEW Skyraiders, VC-35 with night-operations Skyraiders, VC-61 flying reconnaissance Panthers, and HU-1 operating rescue helicopters.
Having arrived at Yokosuka at the beginning of December, the carrier underwent final preparations for Korean operations. These completed, the Valley Forge left port on 7 December, and in transit the air group undertook various combat exercises, during which two VF-653 Corsair pilots were killed when their aircraft collided. On 14 December the carrier air groups started their operations against targets on the north-eastern railway network in Korea. During these missions the air group had a Corsair and Skyraider divert to the airfield at K-18. Between 14 and 24 December the carrier groups undertook their usual range of attacks against shipping, building and troop concentrations among other targets, during which more than 300 sorties were mounted.
On Christmas Day the carrier group withdrew for refuelling and to celebrate the season, resuming full operations three days later, once the weather had cleared. On 28 December eighty-four sorties were launched, the primary targets being the railway network infrastructure and any traffic thereon. Losses during this early period of operations included an F9F whose engine flamed out on approach to the carrier, the pilot being recovered successfully. On 3 January 1952 a total of sixty-seven missions were launched, during which seventy-eight tonnes of bombs were dropped. During one of these attacks the Skyraider of Ensign Riemers was hit by anti-aircraft fire that caused severe damage to the aircraft’s starboard wing. As the AD became harder to control, the pilot was left with no other option that to ditch in Songjin harbour, having flown over sixty miles to get there. After ditching, the pilot was rescued within eight minutes, suffering from shock and dampness. Inclement weather and refuelling kept the air group grounded until 6 January, when operations resumed against bridges, with over 140 missions being flown. Refuelling occupied 7 January, with operations resuming next day, and over the next three days missions were flown against numerous targets. In the eighty-one sorties flown two aircraft were lost, although one pilot was rescued.
Flight operations resumed on 12 January, having been delayed by rough weather, during which a Grumman F9F slid over the side after a severe roll. The missions launched on 12 January were in support of Operation Moonlight Sonata, during which the heckler aircraft took full advantage of the full moon to attack the railways. During this period seventy-six sorties were flown, and a number of locomotives and railway vehicles were completely destroyed. The Moonlight Sonata missions continued until 17 January before the Valley Forge returned to Japan for ten days’ rest and recuperation. At the end of January she departed Yokosuka in company with the USS Antietam and Essex and the rest of TF.77. On 2 February air operations began, during which eighty sorties were flown. However, the air group did suffer some losses when two F4U Corsairs from VF-653 were lost at sea, although both pilots were recovered safely. The following day a further eighty-three sorties were launched, during which a Skyraider of VF-194 was shot down, the pilot being rescued. Although there were a few losses, the missions were successful, with a great number of railway targets being completely destroyed. After a period refuelling, combat operations resumed on 14 January, although they were then curtailed until 17 January due to bad weather. Over the next two days attacks were undertaken against railway infrastructure and vehicles, troop concentrations and numerous buildings. These missions were conducted in concert with the USS Philippine Sea, and were deemed successful even though a Grumman F9F was lost. On 20 February the Valley Forge and the Philippine Sea were relieved by the Essex and Antietam, and headed towards Yokosuka.