USAF units and aircraft of the Korean War
It was the first time U.S. jet aircraft entered into battle. Air Force F-86 Sabre jets took control of the skies, as American fighter pilots bested Soviet-built MiG-15 fighters in combat against aircraft, Soviet tactics, and, on some occasions, Soviet pilots of the Soviet 64th Fighter Aviation Corps. World War II-era prop-driven P-51D Mustangs were pressed into the ground-air support role, and large formations of B-29 Superfortresses flew for the last time on strategic bombardment missions; the Korean War also saw the first large-scale use of rotary-wing helicopters.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Effects
- 3 Organization
- 4 Aircraft of the Korean War
- 4.1 Fighters
- 4.2 Bombers
- 4.3 Reconnaissance
- 4.4 Transport
- 4.5 Tactical air control units
- 4.6 Other units
- 4.7 Temporary tactical support wings
- 5 Far East Air Force Korean airfields (K-sites)
- 6 References
Shaped in World War II by an increasing concentration on the strategic role of attacking an enemy's homeland, the Air Force now faced a conflict almost entirely tactical in character and limited as to how and where airpower could be applied.
The Far East Air Forces Fifth Air Force was the command and control organization for USAF forces engaged in combat, its units were located in Korea and Japan. Fighter and troop carrier wings from Tactical Air Command and federalized Air National Guard units from the United States deployed to the Far East and reinforced FEAF units engaged in combat; these tactical units conducted interdiction strikes on supply lines, attacked dams that irrigated North Korea's rice crops and flew missions in close support of United Nations ground forces. AT-6 Mosquitoes, trainers used as airborne controllers, provided communication links between ground troops and supporting aircraft.
Although President Truman wasn't willing to risk extensive use of the U.S. bomber force, which was being used as a deterrent for possible Soviet aggression in Europe, a few groups of Strategic Air Command aging B-29 Superfortress bombers that were not part of the nuclear strike force were released for combat over the skies of Korea. Many of these B-29s were war-weary and brought out of five years of storage; these bombers wreaked havoc on North Korean military installations, government centers and transportation networks.
Like the rest of the American military establishment, the Air Force was in no way prepared for battle at the western rim of the Pacific, yet despite these limitations, the Air Force responded quickly and effectively, proving in many ways the utility of airpower in modern war. With virtually no warning, the Air Force injected itself into the war in the first critical week, it transported troops and equipment from Japan to Korea, evacuated American nationals, provided significant intelligence through aerial reconnaissance, and most importantly helped to slow the North Korean advance so that the United Nations forces could construct a defensive position on the peninsula.
Korea marked the end of the line for major use of prop-driven combat aircraft of the active-duty USAF and brought in the jet age in real terms. All F-82 Twin Mustangs had been removed from the theater by 1952 and F-51D Mustang strength had been cut in Korea from 190 to 65. First generation straight-winged F-80C Shooting Star and F-84E/G Thunderjet jet aircraft were shown inadequate against the Soviet MiG-15s. However, the swept-wing F-86 Sabre took control of the skies, bringing an entire new generation of swept-wing aircraft into the USAF arsenal in the 1950s.
The exception to the jet revolution was the specialized use of various counterinsurgency aircraft (A-1 Skyraider, A-26A Invader) by the 56th Special Operations Wing which were flown over Laos during the Vietnam War. (The F-51D/H Mustang was used by some ANG units in the Air Defense role, but by 1957 it was out of the inventory).
With the end of fighting in Korea, President Eisenhower, who had taken office in January 1953, called for a "new look" at national defense; the result: a greater reliance on nuclear weapons and air power to deter war. His administration chose to invest in the Air Force, especially Strategic Air Command; the nuclear arms race shifted into high gear. The Air Force retired nearly all of its propeller-driven B-29/B-50s and they were replaced by new Boeing B-47 Stratojet aircraft. By 1955 the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress would be entering the inventory in substantial numbers, as the prop-driven B-36s were phased out of heavy bombardment units rapidly.
During World War II, The Group, each with three or four flying squadrons, was the basic combat element of the Army Air Forces; this organization changed in 1947 when the new United States Air Forces adopted the wing-base plan. Each combat group then active received a controlling parent wing of the same number and nomenclature; the new wing also controlled three additional groups with the same number to operate the airbase, maintain the aircraft and provide medical care at the base. When combat forces began to fight the war in Korea, the USAF units did so in various organizational forms. In some cases, the combat arm of the wing plus a portion of the wing's supporting personnel deployed to the Korean theater, leaving the rest of the wing to operate the home base, to which the group returned after its tour of combat ended.
Early in the war, some combat group deployed and operated under other wings, including temporary four-digit wings. In December 1950, those groups' aligned (same number) parent wing moved on paper from their previous bases and replaced the temporary wing in combat; the personnel of the temporary wing's headquarters were reassigned to the headquarters of its replacement.
In 1951, the Strategic Air Command began to eliminate its combat group by reducing the group headquarters token strength and attaching the flying squadrons directly to the wing; therefore, wings replaced the medium bombardment groups attached to Far East Air Forces (FEAF) Bomber Command for combat; the groups were either inactivated or reduced in strength to one officer and one enlisted.
In most case, the personnel assigned to the group headquarters were simply reassigned to the wing headquarters which had moved on paper to the location of the headquarters. Most other combat organization in-theater continued to operate with both wing and group headquarters or with group headquarters only. In a few cases, individual squadron, such as the 319th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, were directly controlled by an organization higher than either wing or group level.
Aircraft of the Korean War
Far East Air Forces (FEAF)
- Far East Air Force Bomber Command
- Twentieth Air Force
- Kadena Air Base, Okinawa
- 19th Bombardment Group (B-29) (June 1950 – May 1954)
- Inactivated 19th BW assigned to SAC, June 1954
Strategic Air Command (SAC)
- Attached to: Far East Air Force Bomber Command
- Stationed at: Johnson AB, Japan, 1 April 1950; Yokota AB, Japan, 14 August 1950; Iwakuni AB, Japan, 1 December 1950; Kunsan AB, South Korea, 22 August 1951 – 1 October 1954
- Stationed at: Pusan-East AB, South Korea, 10 May 1952 – 10 October 1954
- Attached to: 8 Fighter-Bomber Wing, 15–30 November 1950
- Attached to: 314th Air Division, 1 December 1950 – 10 May 1952
- Stationed at: Itazuke AB, Japan, 26 October 1950; Miho AB, Japan, c. 10 December 1950 ;Pusan-East AB, South Korea, 23 May 1951 – 10 May 1952
Tactical air control units
- North American AT-6 Texan
The Texan trainer found a new life in Korea as a forward air control aircraft. To meet an urgent operational need for close air support of ground forces, the Texans flew "mosquito" missions, spotting enemy troops and guns and marking them with smoke rockets for USAF fighter attack; the T-6s of the 6147th Tactical Control Group performed invaluable work.
Units that flew the AT-6 in Korea were:
- Temporary unit composed of:
- 605th Tactical Control Squadron: duration.
- 606th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron: duration.
- 607th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron: duration.
- 608th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron: 2 November 1951–.
- 6132d Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron: 9 October 1950 – 2 November 1951.
- 1st Shoran Beacon Unit (later, Squadron): attached 27 September – 1 December 1950 and 6 September 1952–.
- Stationed at: Pusan, South Korea, September – October 1950; Taegu, South Korea, October 1950; Seoul, South Korea, October 1950 – July 1953
- Temporary unit composed of:
- 942nd Forward Air Control Squadron
- 6148th Tactical Control Squadron
- 6149th Tactical Control Squadron
- 6150th Tactical Control Squadron
- Stationed at: Taegu AB, South Korea, August – October 1950; Kimpo AB, South Korea October 1950; Seoul Afld, South Korea, October 1950; Pyongyang East Adrm, North Korea, October – November 1950; Taegu AB, South Korea, November 1950 – March 1951; Pyongtaek Adrm, South Korea, March 1951 – April 1952; Chunchon, South Korea, April 1952 – July 1953
Temporary tactical support wings
In July 1950 United States Department of Defense planners did not foresee that the Korean campaign would be of long duration. Consequently, the Fifth Air Force modified its command structure only to meet immediate needs; when the time came to move tactical air units to Korean airfields, Fifth Air Force did not deploy its permanent wings because they were heavily committed to the air defense of Japan. Instead, it utilized temporary air base squadrons and air base units to support tactical units in Korea. By August, the situation called for larger organizations with greater allotments of personnel and equipment, and Fifth Air Force set up five temporary tactical support wings to support the combat groups.
Formed to assist in the projection of force to Korea, these temporary wings provided facilities, administration, services, and operational control for assigned and attached combat units; the task was formidable, for the installations the wings controlled were usually "bare base" operations with no amenities and only marginally serviceable airfields.
Logistically, poor roads and rail lines, limited port facilities, and overextended airlift hampered the wings. Organizationally, they were without regular status, such as authorization for personnel and equipment or for promotions. Even with these handicaps and hardships, the tactical support wings performed valiantly, they worked hard to make combat airfields operable and to provide the support and control combat units needed. They struggled to keep pace with the dynamically changing battle lines, opening new bases and forward operating locations as needed.
Their success bought time for the Fifth Air Force to reorganize, and on 1 December 1950, regular wings replaced them.
- 6002d Tactical Support Wing
Organized effective 1 August 1950, at Taegu #1 AB (K-2), to support the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group. Forced to withdraw with its tactical units to Ashiya AB, Japan, on 8 August, it returned to Korea on 5 September and advanced to Pyongyang on 22 November, it retreated to Suwon AB (K-13) on 30 November, where it was replaced on 1 December 1950, by the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing.
- 6131st Tactical Support Wing
Organized effective 8 August 1950, at Pohang AB (K-3), to support the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group, the wing moved to Suwon AB on 7 October and to Kimpo AB (K-14) on 28 October. On 25 November, it advanced to Pyongyang AB (K-23), where it was replaced by the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing effective 1 December 1950.
- 6133d Tactical Support Wing
This wing organized 12 August 1950 at Iwakuni AB, Japan, to support the 3d Bombardment Group and was replaced by the 3d Bombardment Wing on 1 December.
- 6149th Tactical Support Wing
Organized 5 September 1950 at Taegu AB (K-2) to support the 49th Fighter-Bomber Group, this wing was replaced by the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing effective 1 December.
- 6150th Tactical Support Wing
Organized 5 September 1950 at Tsuiki AB, Japan, to support the 35th Fighter-Interceptor Group, the wing moved to Pohang AB (K-3) on 5 October and to Yonpo AB (K-27) on 27 November, where it was replaced by the 35th Fighter-Interceptor Wing on 1 December.
Far East Air Force Korean airfields (K-sites)
During the Korean War, the large number of locations used for bases and the similarity of some geographical names prompted the Air Force to use alphanumeric identifiers for bases in addition to their proper designations. Under this system, each base in Korea received a "K number," simplifying positive identification when referring to the various bases.
These are the known bases that the U.S. Far East Air Forces operated during the Korean War. The place name spellings used are those found in Fifth Air Force general orders designating the K-Sites and other official Fifth Air Force documents.
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