Twins over Korea

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A side profile of the 68th F(AW)S FQ-383 displaying natural aluminium drop tanks with the vertical tail displaying the Squadron’s emblem of a medieval knight. Lieutenant William ‘Skeeter’ Hudson and radar operator Lieutenant Carl Fraser operated this aircraft and scored the first official aerial kill of the Korean War.

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Lieutenant Hudson’s victory taken with a malfunctioning camera by his radar operator, Lieutenant Fraser. The North Korean insignia and the observer in the rear cockpit are just visible. The observer failed to parachute and went down with the aircraft. The pilot bailed out and landed by South Korean troops who shot and killed him after he fired at them with a handgun.

The picture is a shot taken by a USAF F-82G Twin Mustang of the first kill claimed by the USAF in the Korean War, June 27, 1950. The original is cutoff as shown, that’s all there is.

This aircraft is identified in some US books as a “Yak-7U” presumably meaning Yak-7V conversion trainer, which it’s pretty clearly not. It was officially credited as a Yak-11 (trainer based on the Yak-3 fighter airframe but with a lower powered radial engine, sort of equivalent to an American T-6 Harvard, not fighter-like in performance). However given the situation, North Korean aircraft attacking Kimpo, and one having put holes in the tail of the F-82 taking the picture before the tables were turned, a Yak-11 seems a strange type to encounter (though Yak-11’s did have a light armament of 1 synchronized mg). A more likely type would seem a Yak-9P fighter, but that type had a retractable tailwheel, unlike the plane in the photo shot and unlike most Yak-11’s.

The Russians are adamant that all they ever gave the KPAFAC were postwar all metal Yak-9P types. If the tailwheel is fixed, it could be (a) a local modification (b) an early production series model or (c) sterling KPAFAC maintenance.

On the Sunday of 24 June 1950 at 04.00 hours (25 June Korean Time), seven infantry divisions of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA), supported by one armoured division, equipped with Russian-built T-34 tanks, crossed the 38th parallel into the Republic of South Korea (ROK). Within four days, NKPA forces captured Seoul and continued southward down the peninsula, sweeping aside ROK forces, which fell back southward to Suwon. The United States initially committed air and ground forces to provide military assistance to South Korean Forces and for the protection of women and children dependents of American military personnel and civilians. On the 26th, President Truman committed U.S. forces to enforce the UN Security Council’s demand that member states provide military assistance to the Republic Of Korea and named General Douglas MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief, Far East (CINCFE) of all United Nation forces. The air component of Far East Command (FEC) responsible for providing defensive air cover, was the Far East Air Force (FEAF) under the command of Lieutenant General George E. Stratemeyer with the Fifth Air Force based in Japan as its largest component commanded by Major General Earle E. Partridge. American naval and air forces quickly went into action with the Seventh U.S. Fleet establishing a blockade of the Korean Coast while FEAF struck North Korean targets affecting the safety of evacuating American nationals. On 27 June FEAF specifically instructed the Fifth Air Force to establish air superiority over South Korea and strike NKPA ground forces by conducting air strikes against enemy troop concentrations and supply routes.

The arrival of the Twin Mustang over Korea was in response to the evacuation of U.S. civilians, including many women and children, from the advancing North Korean Army to ships in Inchon Harbor or by transport aircraft at nearby Kimpo and Suwon Airfields. Fearing that the North Korean Air Force might try to shoot down the transport aircraft or attack shipping in the harbour, the Air Force requested fighter cover while the ships and transports loaded and departed. Colonel John ‘Jack’ Price, commander of the Eighth Air Wing immediately realized the difficulties in undertaking this mission since this task required continuous air cover by long-range conventional aircraft. The F-80 Shooting Star was available, but without secure airfields in Korea from which to operate, its thirsty jet engines and an 800-mile combat range (less when fitted with external weapons stores), meant it could only remain over the airfield for a few minutes before having to return to base. The F-82G was the only interceptor capable of travelling the 300-plus miles from Itazuke to the Seoul/Han River area and still have enough fuel to orbit for any length of time and then return to base. He needed the services of three Air Force F-82 squadrons stationed on mainland Japan and Okinawa.

Price had at his disposal twelve F-82Gs of the 68th F(AW)S ‘Lightning Lancers’ at Itazuke Air Base Kyushu, Japan but that was not nearly enough for the mission. The Fifth Air Force requested the use of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F-51 Mustangs but Britain and the Commonwealth had not yet committed their military to the conflict. Therefore, the Fifth Air Force ordered the 339th F(AW)S to move its Twin Mustangs from Yokota, Japan, to join the 68th at Itazuke. The deployment of those two squadrons was still not enough and Brigadier General Jarred V. Crabb, FEAF Director of Operations, ordered the Twentieth Air Force to send eight F-82s from the 4th F(AW)S to Itazuke from their base Naha Air Base, Okinawa. The Air Force quickly formed the three night fighter squadrons into the 347th Fighter (All-Weather) Group (F(AW)G) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John F. Sharp, commanding officer of the 4th F(AW)S, nicknamed the ‘Fightin’ Fuujins,’ after the Okinawan god of wind. The 347th had an official strength of thirty-three F-82s in late June 1950 but in reality the number ready for combat stood at nineteen: the 4th F(AW)S having five of eleven aircraft combat ready, the 68th with six of ten, and the 339th with eight of twelve. The Air Force, without a long-range jet night fighter, pressed the F-82 into conducting every type of air warfare in Korea from air-to-air combat, bombing, close-air support, weather reconnaissance, air control of ground fire, to night intruder missions. It was one of the 68th F(AW)S Twin Mustang’s, piloted by First Lieutenant George D. Deans with radar operator Second Lieutenant Marvin R. Olsen which, during a reconnaissance flight over South Korea on the night of 24/25 June, confirmed the North Korean military had crossed the 38th Parallel.

Air-to-Air Combat

Aerial coverage by Twin Mustangs began on the morning of 26 June with flights of four F-82s orbiting the Seoul/Inchon area throughout the day as cover for evacuees heading towards the port of Inchon. The first few hours of that first day went by without any trouble but at 13.33 hours a pair of North Korean Lavochin La-7, (Russian-built) fighters appeared and bounced two of the 68th Squadron’s Twin Mustangs. One of the F-82s, piloted by Lieutenant William A. ‘Skeeter’ Hudson with his radar operator Lieutenant Carl S. Fraser, was in the process of providing cover for two ships in Inchon Harbor when the pair of North Korean fighters attacked. Hudson and Fraser were under the assumption that the existing rules of engagement restricted any offensive action and they could only defend themselves if fired upon by hostile forces. According to Fraser, ‘We were supposed to be fighter cover for the two evacuation boats at Inchon, but after we were there for about thirty minutes, our control radioed us to proceed inland to Kimpo Air Base and cover the motor convoy bringing people from Seoul to Inchon,’ he said.

‘Skeeter’ Hudson’s aircraft with another Twin Mustang went inland at an altitude of 500 feet while two other F-82s provided top cover above the clouds at 3,000 feet. ‘After going up and down the road a couple of times, we spotted a couple of Russian-made Lavochkin LA-7s, at 11 o’clock high. We were instructed not to fire unless fired upon, so we didn’t make any aggressive move in their direction,’ Fraser said. ‘They started a wide turn toward us and we started one to keep them in sight. Suddenly, the leader tightened up his turn and peeled off at us, with the wingman right behind him. When we saw that he was going to attack, we dropped our external tanks, put on the combat power, turned on the gun switches and started a climbing turn toward him.’ The F-82s were under the impression not to engage until fired upon. Fraser continued, ‘Since we were forced to wait for him to make the aggressive move, he was in a good position to clobber us, but he was either overeager, or green, because he started firing from too far out and his bullets lagged behind us for the entire firing pass. His wingman started to make his pass on our wingman, but he wasn’t in a good enough position to even fire. They broke off and started a turn around on our tails, so we pulled up through the overcast. We figured that, if they came up through, we’d be up there in a position to let them have it. They evidently decided not to press the matter, because they never showed up.’

The Twin Mustang pilots’ decision not to engage the enemy infuriated Far East Command and it sent an order to FEAF that mandated its fighters to engage and destroy any NKPA aircraft approaching Republic of Korea and American forces. On the 27th, FEAF clarified the rules of engagement in which U.S. fighters would engage any North Korean military aircraft operating over South Korea; this clarification led to the 68th and 339th scoring the first aerial kills by USAF fighters. Evacuations in the Inchon area continued but Colonel Price became concerned over the effectiveness of F-82 squadrons due to aircrew fatigue – one pilot had flown fifteen hours out of the last thirty-eight but Price had no other choice: the Twin Mustangs had to continue with the mission because of their long-range capability. Operations on 27 June 1950 became the F-82’s high watermark as a (night) fighter in combat. Eleven Twin Mustangs belonging to the 4th, 68th, and 339th F(AW)S squadrons in conjunction with F-80C Shooting Stars of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing (FBW) took turns providing cover for the Norwegian freighter Reinholte evacuating civilians at Inchon Harbor and for a similar mission of a Douglas C-54 transport aircraft at Kimpo Air Base. Four F-82s of the 68th orbited an area around Kimpo Airfield and Suwon at 4,000 feet while three 339th Twin Mustangs flew at 8,000 feet and four more fighters of the 4th F(AW)S provided top cover at 12,000 feet. Flying above the evacuation Carl Fraser and ‘Skeeter’ Hudson were not about to repeat the previous day’s event and the team would engage in the first air-to-air engagement and record FEAF’s first aerial kill of the conflict.

The formation flew above the evacuation playing out below in Inchon Harbor and Kimpo for nearly three hours until five enemy aircraft; IIyushin II-10 Sturmovik and Yakovlev Yak-7s (some sources cite Lavochkin La-7s or La-9s as participants) jumped the American fighters at 11.50 hours. Dropping out of the clouds, one of the North Korean fighters selected the last F-82 in the 68th Squadron’s formation, FQ-357, piloted by Lieutenant Charles ‘Chalky’ Moran with Lieutenant Fred Larkins as the radar operator and began firing, scoring several hits on the Twin Mustang’s vertical stabilizer, but Moran’s faster and more agile night fighter successfully eluded the attacker and his aircraft suffered no further damage. According to Carl Fraser, ‘It was while we were circling Kimpo that two North Korean fighters came up out of some low clouds and started after Charlie Moran, who was the number-four man in our flight. Their shooting was a little better this time, and they shot up Charlie’s tail.’ The F-82 pilots broke away as the enemy fighters flashed by the formation but the slower North Korean aircraft proved no match for the faster Twin Mustangs as they accelerated and manoeuvred behind their adversaries. ‘Skeeter’ Hudson conducted a high-G turn and latched onto one of the enemy aircraft. ‘Hudson slipped around and got on one of their tails,’ Fraser said. ‘When the guy realized that we were there, he pulled up into some clouds, and tried to shake us.’ Fraser continued, ‘We were so close to him that we could even see him in the middle of the clouds.’

Following the North Korean aircraft through the clouds and down to an altitude of 1,000 feet or less, Lieutenant Hudson lined up his Mk-18 gun sight and blasted away with the F-82’s six .50-caliber machine guns scoring hits on the enemy plane and knocking off pieces of the fuselage. The Yak banked steeply to the right as a second burst from Hudson’s fighter tore off the flap and aileron, ignited the gas tank, and caught the right wing afire. ‘By this time we were in so close we almost collided with him,’ Fraser said. Hudson and Fraser then observed the enemy pilot climb out of his cockpit of the stricken plane and onto the wing, turning around and speaking to the observer still strapped inside the rear cockpit. The observer, petrified, dead, or wounded, did not move as the North Korean pilot pulled his parachute’s ripcord. The chute billowed which yanked the man off the aircraft. At that moment, Fraser grabbed his 35mm camera he had taken aloft and snapped a photo. The enemy plane then rolled over with the observer still inside and crashed into the ground. The North Korean pilot survived his escape from the burning plane and landed safely but he was shot to death by South Korean troops after he started shooting at them with a pistol.

A few minutes later, Lieutenant Moran managed to latch onto the tail of the Yak that had made the initial attack on him and shot the plane down over Kimpo. At the beginning of the engagement, when the North Korean fighter had shot up his aircraft’s tail, Moran pulled the stick hard back but his aircraft began to stall and started to drop making it an easy target for the enemy. Moran jammed his stick forward to recover and as his aircraft responded the Yak appeared right in front of him and a few bursts from the F-82’s guns sent the North Korean crashing to the ground. Sadly, Lieutenant Moran, along with his radar operator Lieutenant Francis J. Meyer, were killed in action less than two months later on 7 August 1950 when their Twin Mustang crashed into a hill after hitting a cable that the North Koreans had strung across a valley. The wreckage of his aircraft, serial 46-355, and the crew’s remains were found 18 months later by ROK forces.

The three Twin Mustangs of the 339th Squadron, flying mid cover for the formation, joined in the fray with Lieutenant Walt Hayhurst and radar operator Lieutenant Cliff Miles latching onto another enemy fighter from the rear and opening fire at almost point-blank range of 100 yards scoring hits along the length of the fuselage. Hayhurst and Miles would have completed dispatching the North Korean except the F-82 was forced to break away to avoid a collision. Immediately, Captain David Texler and Lieutenant Victor Helfenbein, another 339th team, closed in with the same aircraft but lost it in the clouds. Meanwhile, Major James A. ‘Poke’ Little, commanding officer of the 339th, scored the third and final victory of the day for the Twin Mustangs by taking on the wingman of the aircraft that Hayhurst and Texler had engaged. Chasing the Yak through the clouds, he dispatched the enemy fighter a couple of miles outside Kimpo. The remaining two North Korean fighters seeing three of their brethren fall to the F-82Gs fled the scene. The three aerial victories by the 68th and 339th F(AW)S on 27 June 1950 were the first and last recorded by the Twin Mustang, although, subsequently, another 14 enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground by F-82s. Later that day, three F-80Cs shot down four North Korean fighters attacking Kimpo airfield becoming the first jet aircraft victories of the war, despite which however, enemy aircraft did manage to strafe and bomb Suwon airfield, 19 miles south of Kimpo, where they destroyed an F-82 named ‘B.O. Plenty’ (which had been forced to land at the airfield due to battle damage), as well as a Douglas C-54.

The fast pace in which the North Korean aircraft were engaged, and as to which of them was shot down first, created some confusion regarding which F-82 crew actually scored the first victory and who was piloting which 68th Squadron aircraft at the time. Major Little’s and Lieutenant Hudson’s victories occurred at approximately the same time. Officially, in 1953, the Fifth Air Force, after reviewing conflicting testimony, credited Lieutenant Hudson with the first kill. The action took place in a matter of a few minutes, therefore, the Air Force’s conclusion reached in 1953 must stand unless additional documentation comes to light that may reverse the official record.

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