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Korean Air War Photos 65 Years Ago January 1952

Korean Air War

18th Fighter-Bomber Wing

65 Years Ago

January 1952

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 DogpatchThe 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  Over 1,000 previously unpublished images from Korean War archives and personal collections are included in Truckbusters.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.

Operation Strangle. The twisted and battered skeletons of two Communist supply trains litter a switching center somewhere between Pyongyang and Sariwon. Note that the through line terminates abruptly at bomb crater in lower right of picture. Note also upended locomotives. This low-level aerial photo is another excellent example of how “Operation Strangle” has disrupted Communist rail movement of supplies to their battle line forces in Korea, the Fifth Air Force reported in January 1952.
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.

Precious Stationery. Among the first “pipeline pilots” the Air Force had been training since the beginning of the Korean War a year and half before, 2nd Lt. Archibald “Archie” Connors arrived in Korea in January 1952 to join the 67th Squadron after a brief assignment with the 35th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Japan. The box he is carrying appears to be one usually containing stationery. In one of his letters he mentioned how scarce writing paper was at the time.

Operations offices at K-46 of the 12th Squadron “Foxy Few,” 67th Squadron “Fighting Cocks,” and the 2 Squadron SAAF “Flying Cheetahs.”

Remembering a Korean War Hero: Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF

Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF, was a decorated fighter pilot of WWII and the Korean War. A Pearl Harbor Veteran as a 17-year old gunner, he earned his AAF wings, personal decorations and a Captaincy by the end of the war. Rather than leave the rapidly demobilizing Air Force, he served as a Master Sergeant, until the Air Force restored his commission in 1952 to let him fly Mustangs in combat—again. The 18th FB Wing selected him to fly its 45,000th combat sortie, and he led the most heroic, yet ultimately tragic, helicopter air rescue mission of the Korean War. His bravery and leadership in two of our major air conflicts is worth remembering as the price of Freedom on this the anniversary of his death 63 years ago today. Ayer was the last 18th FBW Mustang pilot KIA in the Korean War.

The Iron Triangle Claimed the Last 18th FBW Mustang Pilot

It was nearly dark at 1915 hours on 25 July 1952, when Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, Flight Leader of Filter How Flight was “wheels up” from K-46, Hoengsong, SK, on a twilight reconnaissance of a North Korean MSR.

 K-46 Forward Operating Base for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1952-53.
K-46 Forward Operating Base for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1952-53.

It was rapidly getting dark, making it harder for ground observers to make out the “655” side number or the “Lovely Lady” on the left cowling or “Lady Louise” on the right cowling. His four-ship flight included 1st Lt. William McShane flying Number Two, 1st Lt. C. J. Gossett was Number Three, and 1st Lt. Rexford R. Baldwin was Number Four.

Ayer was one of the Korean War’s most experienced pilots and leaders, having served with distinction as a soldier, NCO and combat pilot during WWII. He was highly experienced in the F-51 Mustang, having earned several decorations for his bravery during heavy air combat in the Italian theater in WWII. Following his appointment as How Flight Leader of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 1 June just a few weeks before, he had been selected by the 18th FB Wing to fly its historic 45,000th combat mission, a great personal honor.

Further, he had been recommended for another Distinguished Flying Cross for his leadership in directing Mission 1890 on June 25th, a harrowing helicopter extrication of a Navy Corsair pilot from off the side of a mountain west of Wonsan under heavy fire. The mission involved six Mustangs and one H-5 Dragonfly helicopter. Tragically, although the rescue mission was initially successful, the waiting Chinese used Ens. Ron Eaton as bait, and shot the helicopter down five miles from the site. Minutes later, Ayer’s wingman, 1st Lt. Archie Connors, was also shot down while making a “low, fast pass” over the helicopter crash site to ascertain the fate of its crew and passenger. Mission 1890 became the most deadly helicopter rescue of the Korean War.

Tonight was to be just another twilight MSR interdiction. But for Captain Ayer, it was the last mission, the one from which he never returned. He became the last 18th FB Wing Mustang pilot killed in combat before it transitioned into the F-86 Sabre-jet in February 1953.

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