During the Korean War (1950-1953) that saved South Korea from occupation by North Korean and Chinese military forces, the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was in combat for 37 months, during which their heroic air-combat efforts flying F-51 “Mustang” fighter-bombers and F-86 Sabrejets are among the most heroic in U.S. military history.
These photographs are excerpted from Truckbusters from Dogpatch: The Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953, a remarkable, 712-page, true-life account of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing from 1950 to 1953. Over 1,000 previously unpublished images from Korean War archives and personal collections are included in Truckbusters.
This service is offered by BelleAire Press to honor those from many countries who fought to protect Freedom and Liberty during the Korean War.
January 1952 Summary
Static, defensive-type ground warfare continued into January 1952. United Nations warships and naval aircraft worked closely with Far East Air Forces to interdict Communist supply networks. UNF air attacks were countered by active air opposition and increasingly heavy anti-aircraft fire from Chinese Communist and North Korean Forces. At Panmunjom, UN negotiators labored to achieve an armistice; however “communist intransigence, evasiveness, and procrastination thwarted their efforts.” UN jet fighters provided protective aerial cover for fighter-bombers and inflicted costly losses on hostile MiG-15s, which made only sporadic attempts to interfere. There was a strong perception among fighter-bomber pilots that they were frequently used as “bait” to entice MIGs into battle. During the month, UN pilots shot down thirty-two MiGs and damaged twenty-eight others. Although Far East Air Forces “lost only five jets in aerial combat, it saw enemy ground fire destroy forty-four other aircraft. These had been engaged in low-level bombing runs and strafing sweeps.” The official Air Force chronology makes frequent mention of actions in which jet fighter aircraft, heavy bomber aircraft or rescue helicopters were engaged, but rarely mentions actions by fighter-bomber squadrons flying the now outdated F-51 Mustang aircraft. Fifth Air Force tactical strikes were directed primarily against railheads, communication lines, and highways over which the communists moved supplies and equipment to front-line positions. Fighter-bombers concentrated on rail-cutting missions but also provided vital close air support (CAS) for Eighth Army ground forces that included bombing, napalm, and rocket strikes. Adapted from U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002.
Conversion “In the Field” From Mustangs To Sabrejets
The 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was the last American combat unit to fly the P/F-51 “Mustang” in combat—ending an era during which the Mustang reigned supreme as the world’s best fighter plane. Only in January 1953 was the 18th Wing converted to the F-86 fighter-bomber jet aircraft. The last F-51 combat mission was flown from K-55 on 23 January 1953.
As a tribute to its leadership and adaptability, the 18th Wing is the only known Air Force flying unit to be asked to convert from one type of aircraft to another—while engaged in combat and without “standing down” from required combat mission completions—not once, but twice and while operating from “forward operating bases.”
In July 1950, 18th Wing squadrons were ordered to convert from F-80 “Shooting Star” jet aircraft to the aging F-51 “Mustang” fighter-bomber. In January 1953, 18th Wing Squadrons converted from the F-51 “Mustang” to the F-86 “Sabrejet”—again while in active combat and while meeting all operational commitments.
The 18th Fighter Bomber Group at the end of 1952 “was an F-51 unit composed primarily of recalled Air Force Reserve Officers, none of whom were jet qualified,” the 18th noted.
“January and February of this reporting period presented the Group with the mammoth task of conversion in the field,” the Group reported. In January 1953, immediately following the movement and consolidation of the 18th Wing at K-55 (approximately 40 miles south of Seoul), “a conversion from F-51 aircraft to F-86F aircraft was accomplished,” the 18th FBW monthly report noted.
The retraining process was launched in early January 1953 with the activation of the 18th Combat Crew Training Flight (Provisional) whose function was to instruct, “assigned pilots in the operation of jet fighters.
Pilots from the 2 Squadron SAAF were the “first to undergo transition training [to the F-86]. Each of these pilots received a minimum of one transition flight in the T-33 aircraft and a minimum of two instrument instruction flights with USAF instructors.” After completing training for the SAAF pilots, the training flight moved over to train 12th Squadron pilots in the T-33 jet trainer aircraft, while simultaneously “acting as instructors for the South African pilots who were checking out in the F-86.” They then moved on to the 67th Squadron.
“Converting a flying organization from one type of aircraft to another type aircraft is a difficult proposition under optimum conditions,” the 18th FBW noted in its monthly report. “The task of conversion under the conditions with which this Wing was faced proved to be tremendous. We had just competed a move to an unfinished air base in the middle of the winter. Construction of buildings and hangars in the flight line area had not commenced. The entire area of the base with the exception of the concrete runway, taxi strips and hard stands was one big mud hole. Maintenance of aircraft had to be accomplished in the open and this proved to be a serious handicap because of the cold weather. Exposure to the weather causes many persons to become sick. Effectiveness of aircraft maintenance suffered as a result. Living quarters were over crowded. There were no clubs or other activities available to occupy what spare time the men had. They ate, they slept, and they worked if they were physically able. Despite the terrific hardships encountered, the personnel of this Wing did the job and the conversion was a success.”
The 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron was ordered to “stand down” from flying combat missions and was first to start conversion to F-86s while the 2 Squadron South African Air Force and the 67th Squadron continued flying combat missions from K-46. Shortly thereafter the 2 Squadron SAAF “ferried their F-51s to Japan and returned to K-55 to commence conversion.”
On January 15th the 67th Squadron flew a maximum effort mission, taking off from K-46 and landing at K-55. Four F-51s were turned around upon landing at K-55 and flew a JOC Alert mission the same day. The last F-51 mission was flown from K-55 on 23 January 1953. At this time it was decided to ‘stand down’ the 67th Squadron for logistical reasons due to the short time remaining to effect complete conversion. The 67th Squadron subsequently ferried their F-51s to Japan and started conversion training prior to the end of January.”
Excerpted from Truckbusters from Dogpatch, the Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953.
Brigadier General Turner C. Rogers, 18th Wing Commander in 1951-1952, believed the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was “the best damn fighter wing in the world.”
Truckbusters From Dogpatch author, CAPT Tracy Connors, noted that after years of research, interviews and assessment of the Wing’s truly unsurpassed combat record during the Korean War, I not only “agree” with General Rogers, but I believe “that what this unit accomplished during its Korean War service ranks it alongside other legendary military units of the United States Armed Forces—throughout our history.”
The research for Truckbusters included formerly classified monthly records and reports, plus hundreds of personal recollections and photographs to spotlight and profile the men who actually fought the war. Connors wanted Truckbusters to become for the reader “a gritty, dusty, tent city full of the sounds, smells and character of those who served with the 18th in Korea—pilots, ammorers, mechanics, clerks, medics, and supply sergeants—who still, live and speak and fret and worry about how to keep that venerable, but out-dated F-51 Mustang “Spam Can” flying.”
“It was my hope and objective that when readers had ridden along with the Truckbuster pilots in their Mustang fighter-bombers, when they had stood outside in the Korean summers and winters loading ammunition or changing engines with the ground crews, when they had lived the air war in Korea through the memories and photographs of those who were there,” Connors emphasized, “that they would agree with General Rogers, too.”
The 18th Wing made an enormous contribution to the Korean War, including saving the day during the Pusan Perimeter (almost Dunkirk) period, during the breakout after Inchon, and during the retreat from the Yalu, “during which they saved many thousands of American lives.”
Later, the 18th’s unrelenting interdiction played a key role in bringing about the Armistice that reestablished the nation of South Korea. The 18th Wing flew more combat missions that any other unit in the Korean War, and one of its squadron commanders was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of only two such awards to Air Force personnel during that war. The Wing’s integrity, professionalism and dedication also contributed significantly to the fledgling Air Force core values so often cited these days, Connors explained.
Truckbusters is the story of an embattled American military unit that worked through enormous challenges to achieve military success that is highly relevant to all Americans today. “The Korean War is called by some Americans ‘the Forgotten War.’ But not by millions of South Koreans who regained their freedoms, self-determination and future. It’s not called that by the families and friends of those who fought, bled and died there. And, it should not be forgotten by those today who understand the on-going importance of what was achieved by those who struggled there. Our nation owes those who served in Korea a significant debt of gratitude for what they did to protect Freedom. Their deeds and achievements continue to shape the world over half a century later.”
This post inaugurates a new visitor feature — sharing historical photographs of 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing combat operations during the Korean War. “First Missions” is the lead off video in this series that is projected to include videos that include all 37 months of combat by the 18th FBW, and hundreds of photographs, most never before published.
During “the darkest hours of early September, when it appeared as though the ‘last gasp’ of the North Korean forces might carry their drive around Taegu and south to the port of Pusan,” the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group “labored at peak efficiency, despite miserable flying weather and an untimely move from the comparative comforts of Japan to the newly-constructed airstrip in Korea designated, simply, K-9.”
On September 7th the entire 18th Fighter-Bomber Group moved to K-9 airstrip near Pusan. This move to “Dogpatch,” as the new base was immediately named, was the second such transfer for the 12th FBS, but it now placed the fighter-bombers, “within fifteen minutes flying time of the front lines and permitted ground-support operations, though limited, in even the foulest weather.” 2
Origin of “Dogpatch”
Heat waves shimmered upward from rain pools alongside the airstrip at K-9, S/Sgt William J. “Sandy” Colton, a public information specialist attached to the 18th Wing Staff later reported. Colonel Curtis Low, Captain George Bales, and Colton surveyed the “uninspiring Korean landscape” from their ankle-deep vantage point in the mud. “Lower Slobovia or Dogpatch couldn’t be worse than this,” commented Low, while his two companions nodded weary agreement. Thus, Dogpatch received its Cappian title, which was to eventually be picked up by the stateside press and become a familiar label of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing.
Following the relocation of the 18th to K-9, Colton began datelining his news dispatches with the descriptive title and before long the 18th became identified as the “Dogpatchers of Korea.” In fact the 18th became synonymous with Al Capp’s comic strip village to such an extent, Colton noted, “that celebrities of the Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell and Jolson stature were usually met with banners and signs proclaiming proudly that the 18th was truly an airborne version of the popular stateside cartoon strip.”
A letter dispatched through channels to Al Capp himself soon brought recognition from Li’l Abner’s creator, who followed through by designing a Mustang motif patch with Nancy 0. and Abner astride a death-dealing F-51. This same insignia was featured on television and aroused such interest that the Texstyle Corporation sent along as a present full-color cloth patches for the Dogpatchers of the Fifth Air Force.
By late 1951, Al Capp was an honorary member of the 18th and “would be amazed at the Dogpatch signs around the base,” Colton noted. “Everything from the new control tower to the mess hall menus proclaim that the 18th is proud of its humble beginning in Korea, but more important we had a sense of humor that war could not lessen but only served to inspire everybody to greater efforts. In other words we could always eke out a laugh no matter how rough it was. Regardless of the hardships it may have been ‘confoozin,’ but it was still ‘amoozin.’”
First Dogpatch Established at Pusan East (K-9) Air Base
The Pusan East (K-9) Air Base was adjacent to the Suyeong River in Haeundae District, Busan, South Korea. [It was redeveloped in the 1990s as Centum City, a commercial and residential area.]
The runway at K-9 was basically a 6,000-foot long “steel mat, which had not been completed.” There were “a handful of weather-beaten buildings to form the new base.” The “officers and airmen immediately pitched a ‘tent city’ and set up housekeeping without a break in operations against the enemy. The move was planned and executed to “allow the Mustangs to take off from Ashiya, make their strikes, then stage from K-2 airstrip at Taegu. At the end of the day they landed at their new home and were ready for normal operations by the following day.”
Gradually, “necessary supplies and equipment” arrived from Japan and the “primitive” living conditions were slowly improved. By the end of September, “most” of the tents had wooden floors and a “contract laundry” was available to personnel. A “belated shower arrangement” proved “immensely popular in spite of the cold weather.” Fresh food was “limited but greatly appreciated.” 3
Squadron operations, armament, maintenance and communications were moved to the opposite side of the strip at K-9. The sections were then consolidated and housed in seven squad tents per squadron, centrally located near the respective aircraft dispersal areas but on the opposite side of the strip from the housing area. “This arrangement proved to be very satisfactory from all points of view.” 4
On 7 September, the 18th Fighter Bomber Group headquarters and the 12th and 67th Squadrons were moved to K-9, ten miles east of Pusan, Colton noted. “This airstrip, like K-2, utilized the dirt and steel runway mats. All personnel were quartered in 12-man tents, and many of the Wing, Group, and squadron offices also used these tents.” 5
K-9 was important as an air evacuation and staging area. The wounded were brought from the Pusan Evacuation Hospital to K-9 by rail transportation, loaded on ambulance and 6×6 trucks, and then to C-119, C-54, C-46, and C-47 aircraft for flights to Haneda and Itazuke Air bases in Japan. This field was bordered on three sides by mountains a mile from the field, and on the other side by the sea. South Korean laborers were used in the Mess, on the Flight Line, and in installation of the Base. This was the largest field in South Korea and the only one capable of handling jet aircraft. Marine Corsairs (F4U), Navy Skyraiders, and RAAF F-51’s and C-47 aircraft of its 77th Squadron frequently operated from K-9. In addition, many high-ranking personnel of all nations passed through the field–Generals Walker and Stratemeyer flew from K-9 quite often.
Editor’s Note: Truckbuster’s From Dogpatch is perhaps the largest unit combat history of the Korean War. It represents over five years of intensive research in Department of Defense archives and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It also includes numerous riveting first person accounts prepared by unit commanders and pilots.
On July 5th, General Order 24 issued by the 18th FBW “directed the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group to organize a provisional squadron code named ‘Dallas Squadron.’ The officers and airmen of the former 12th Fighter Bomber Squadron were used as a nucleus to form this provisional squadron. On July 8th General Timberlake designated Taegu as the destination for the “Dallas” squadron, which departed Clark Air Force Base on 10 July 1950, via Troop Carrier aircraft for Johnson Air Base, Japan, where it was to receive the mix of equipment Ashiyaand supplies that had been determined was required for it to perform its missions] property and aircraft.”
The newly created Dallas Squadron moved to Ashiya Air Base and then on to Taegu Airstrip, K-2, Korea. “The first combat mission was flown from that base on 15 July 1950,” the 18th Group reported.
At K-2 the Dallas Squadron was re-designated as the 51st Provisional Squadron and assigned to the 6002nd Fighter Wing. Major (then Captain) Harry H. Moreland was in command of the 51st.
The North Koreans traveled at night and hid their vehicles before daybreak. It took a while to catch on to how and where they chose to hide them. Once we found out what they were doing and where they tried to hide their men and material the task of locating them became much easier. They would dig out an area in the side of a hill and drive the vehicle into the hole and then cover it up with branches. We learned to look for tire tracks off the road and follow them to a hidden target. They would drive a tank into the side of a small house, but the tracks would give the hiding place away. Another favorite spot was along a river bank. They would pick a location that had a high bank, then move up next to the river bank and cover the truck. Sometimes they were not so imaginative and would park in an open field under a hay stack. Again, the tracks leading to the vehicle were a dead giveaway.
No Civilian Targets
On one occasion, I was leading a two-ship flight out of Taegu. Lt. Chappie James was my wingman. This was during that time when the North Koreans were almost at Taegu and we would soon have to evacuate that forward operating base. We were southeast of the base when we got a call from a mosquito pilot (airborne forward controller) that he wanted us to strafe a large number of troops who were going down the road.
We proceeded to his location and he directed us to strafe people going down the main road. Before setting up for a strafing pass I decided to buzz the group to get a much closer look before attacking. Looking down during that high speed pass, I saw many women and children in the crowd. There may have been North Korean troops amongst them but I could not bring myself to strafe the crowd and so informed the FAC. We soon departed the area to look for clearly military targets.
Later, while flying up a valley I noticed tire tracks leading up the slope and stopping at a clump of bushes. So we took a close look and could make out a vehicle under each of about 20 large bushes. From that point on we had a heyday–strafing each target until we had most of them burning before we ran out of ammo. A much more rewarding mission than the alternative. Had we attacked the people on the road I would have had guilty feelings the rest of my life.
Panels for Identification
Spud Taylor ( later KIA) and I had been on a two-ship napalm close air support mission. A FAC called us and said some of our ground troops were in need of help–then directed us to a location and showed us where our troops were located. [Our forces were well identified with panels made of colored cloth. Later on the North Koreans got wise and used panels to confuse us.]
The FAC then showed us where the enemy fire was coming from and we gave them a warm welcome with our napalm. The FAC said we were right on target and released us to recce the area while returning to K-2.
Fanning the Flames–with Mustangs!
We were flying at about 1000 feet searching for targets of opportunity when I noticed some tracks in a large, open field leading up to a haystack. Upon a closer look at the haystack we could see that a tank was under it. We were down to .50-caliber ammo which doesn’t offer much of a threat to a tank, but we decided to give it a try. So we each made a few strafing passes with no apparent damage.
Before departing I noticed smoke coming from the haystack. Apparently our ammo had started a small fire in the hay itself. So, we decided to help it. We each made low level passes placing our right wing over the tank to fan the flames. Much to our surprise it worked and we soon had a good fire going. We circled the tank and watched it blow up before departing for home plate.
Tank Gunnery Crew Souvenir
This flight occurred early August when the North Koreans had crossed the Naktong River. We received a new tank busting rocket that they wanted us to test. They only had a limited number of them so they asked that only the more experienced pilots use them and to use them on tanks only. Otherwise bring them back home.
I was on a two plane flight searching the valley on the other side of the mountain from K-2. We are only about 5 minutes from our base. There were several valleys to look at and in one of them we came across a T-34 tank that had parked alongside of the road. An ideal target for our new weapon. We set up our firing passes to come in from different directions to make it more difficult on the gunners.
I have always found rockets hard to hit what you aimed at and this was no exception. We both made several passes and on my last pass I launched my last two rockets and at same time received several hits from the tank just as my rockets found their target. They were a success with the tank exploding.
The tank gunnery crew was not all that bad either. I had one bullet hole in the front part of the canopy and one just behind my head. I knew my plane had been hit so decided to return home and land. After the debriefing my crew chief said he would like to show me something. He showed me a bullet hole that had entered the underside or the airplane. En route it had clipped 5 strands from a 7 strand cable to my elevator. It also creased the coolant radiator, went thru the oxygen tank and exploded as it exited the fuselage. I kept that cable for years to remind me how lucky I was. A little closer it would have broken the cable, no elevator control, punctured the coolant tank, no power, exploded in the oxygen tank–no airplane.
How lucky can you get! A Lucky Strike, Indeed
We had been at K-2 for a short period of time and were flying some old F-51s that had been in moth balls. This was a two ship mission to strike targets of opportunity around Taejon where our troops had recently left in a hurry. I was leading the mission with Frank Buzze on my wing. It was a routine flight to the target area. When we arrived over Taejon there was a mosquito pilot flying an AT-6 over the area. He asked us to attack some buildings at the edge of town. Buzze and I proceeded to strafe the buildings from different angles to reduce our vulnerability.
After a couple of passes one of the building blew up as I was firing at it. When I pulled up from the pass I noticed that I was losing coolant fluid from my engine. I immediately called Buzze and told him of my situation and was heading for home plate. There was a mountain range between us and K-2 so I climbed to about 8000 feet altitude to clear the mountains. I put the mixture control to full rich so the engine would run cooler. The engine began to overheat and I gradually started losing power and altitude. We did not know just how far the enemy had gotten, but I wanted to go as far as I could to get back near our field. The plane kept sinking as I was almost in a glide.
At about 1000 feet Buzze called and told me that I should bailout. I believed that it was too low to go over the side of the plane and felt my best chance was to go as far as I could and belly in. I spotted the Naktong River in front of us and noticed a large sand shoreline on the far side. So I decided to set it down there. The powers to be decided otherwise and I ran out of speed and altitude in the middle of the river.
Before touching down I remembered the pilot’s manual. In big bold print it said, do not ditch this airplane. Then it said if you have to, drop a wing into the water just before touchdown. It was contrary to everything I wanted to do, but I did it and placed my left arm over the gun sight to ease the possible blow and made sure the seat harness was tight. This caused the plane to veer sharply and hit the water almost sideways. A rough ride, but all in one piece.
I really don’t remember how I got to the sand bar but it didn’t take long.
Buzze was flying overhead and I waved to him to let him know that I was okay. A short time later men dressed in white frocks started coming from everywhere. There were several hundred of them. They surrounded me but kept about 15 yards away. As I walked toward them the circle would move. Apparently they didn’t know if I was friend or foe and I wasn’t exactly sure about them, either. I am not a smoker, but did carry a pack of cigarettes in my flying suit for just such a situation.
I removed the pack of Lucky Strikes and held it over my head. The circle immediately collapsed and I was mobbed.
Buzze thought they were attacking me and had taken the safety off his gun switch ready to let them have it. I waved to him and he saw that I was okay.
I passed the cigarettes around and waited for them to light up. They just stood there holding the cigarette in their hands and smiling. I couldn’t figure why they didn’t light up.
Then it dawned upon me. They were waiting for me, so I took one of the cigarettes from the nearest person, lit it and passed it back. At that point they all lit theirs took a couple of puffs and passed it around. After the smoke they all formed a long line and came by me gently touching me and saying aregotto–“thank you.”
Moreland, H. H. (2015, September 1). Moreland’s moments, Truckbusters from Dogpatch: the combat history of the 18th fighter-bomber wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953 (T. D. Connors, Ed.). Retrieved from BelleAire Press, LLC: http://www.truckbustersfromdogpatch.com/mission-briefings/morelands-moments/