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 Over 1,000 previously unpublished images from Korean War archives and personal collections are included in Truckbusters.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aircraft or rescue helicopters were engaged, but rarely mentions actions by fighter-bomber squadrons flying the now outdated F-51 Mustang aircraft.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.
The “Red Capital”—Pyongyang—received “considerable attention during the month” of August 1951.
Three “maximum efforts” missions were sent this month to attack Pyongyang, the 18th FBW report noted. “Maximum effort” missions were a group mission, each squadron putting up sixteen aircraft for each mission. These missions were over and above the squadron’s primary mission of “vigorous close support to the ground forces,” during which it flew an average of 12 sorties per day.
Two of the maximum effort attacks on Pyongyang were made on 14 August 1951. The heavy losses in pilots prompted a highly classified and uncharacteristically stiff letter from the 18th Wing Commander, Colonel T.C. Rogers to the Fifth Air Force Commanding General.
“Attacks on targets as heavily defended as Pyongyang by F-51’s are not considered to be profitable when made under conditions which lessen the maximum striking potential of the airplane.”
“Very intense, accurate flak was encountered on the afternoon mission of 14 August, both into and out of the target area,” Rogers continued. “This condition did not exist in the morning attack, where the element of surprise was present. Axes of attack were all as directed by 5th AF except for the afternoon attack on target #1 which was changed to avoid radio antennae.”
Losses in the two strikes on 14 August for the Wing included two pilots KIA, three pilots MIA, six aircraft lost before returning to base, and four aircraft so heavily battle damaged that they were transferred to the 18th Maintenance Squadron.
Rogers recommended that “maximum effort attacks against heavily defended areas be made only when the striking force is able to employ its maximum payload. Staging from any forward base might obviate the use of external fuel tanks…permitting each airplane to carry…two 500# bombs.”
Damage assessments and observations by pilots should be “given more weight in target selection,” Rogers suggested. And, squadron or flight leaders should be “given discretion in the choice of axes of attack against specific targets.” Rogers concluded by urging that
“attacks against heavily defended areas be so planned and spaced as to afford the striking force the advantage of surprise.”
Major Murrit Davis, Commander, 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
“On 14 August the squadron joined in a group ‘gaggle’ over Pyongyang,” the 39th Squadron reported. On the morning raid Major Murrit H. Davis, the Squadron Commander, suffered heavy damage to the right wing tip of his Mustang when the tip struck a cable over the target area and Captain Wagner’s aircraft had a large portion of the right horizontal stabilizer shot away. However, both aircraft made it back to K-10 safely.
That afternoon, Robert E. Sandlin in his unpublished manuscript “The Cobra in the Clouds Strikes Again,” the whole squadron was “again scheduled for a second mission on Pyongyang to again strike military targets in the area. Major Davis led his flight in low over the target area and just after releasing their napalm were struck by a tremendous amount of ground fire. The results were tragic for the 39th. Major M. H. Davis, Captain John Horn, Operations Officer, and his wingman were all shot down and killed. Major Jack A. Davis assumed Command of the 39th Fighter Squadron.”
The monthly report filed by the 39th FIS noted in the afternoon raid over the same target, Major Davis, Captain John L. Horn and Captain John F. Grossman failed to return. Major Davis received battle damage in the coolant system while over the target and insisted on circling over the immediate target area to determine the whereabouts of the other two missing pilots. He finally left the area and started south, but his engine had over-hearted and he subsequently crashed in enemy territory without bailing out. Captain Horn, the Operations Officer, was flying an F-51 with a K-25C camera and after his flight dropped their napalm he made a 180-degree turn back across the target to take photos of damage inflicted. No one saw him after he dropped his napalm and turned back over the area, but it was assumed he was hit by the intense enemy ground fire and crashed in the immediate target area.
In early September, Colonel T.C. Rogers, 18th FBW Commander, received a letter from Margaret Davis, writing about her husband, Major Murrit H. Davis, now missing in action. She expressed her appreciation and that of Davis’ mother for the letters Rogers had sent them regarding their husband and son.
“I am, of course, eager to know everything possible about the crash, and your letter contained much more information than the first sparse account received from Washington,” she said. “Although I fully realize that the picture is very black indeed and offers very little encouragement for clinging to the belief that my husband survived the crash, I do have that belief and will hold to it. It is a comfort to know that the men of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing share my concern during this period of great anxiety. Major Davis was very proud to be a part of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, and of the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. It makes me very proud to hear that in return he was admired and respected by all of his associates,” she concluded.
Rogers replied to Margaret Davis on 16 September by noting that he fully realized “how difficult this war is for wives and parents. Sometimes I think it is worse for them than for the men actually engaged in combat,” Rogers observed. “I have received other letters similar to yours,” he continued, “in which wives cling to every shred of hope. I wish there were some assurance I could give you. As you probably know, unless positive proof of death can be established a man must be reported as missing in action. Dave’s chances of survival are extremely slim,” he pointed out.
“Mrs. Davis, your husband was a very gallant man,” Rogers concluded, “his thoughts were always first for his pilots and men. I was waiting at his operations office when his squadron returned from the mission on the afternoon of 14 August–never have I seen a group of pilots and men more grief stricken. They would have followed Dave anywhere. He has a living memorial in the hearts of his men. We all share with you the hope that he may have survived.”
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.
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.
September 1: As the NKA “noose” tightened on the Pusan Perimeter, Fifth Air Force units conducted relentless CAS and interdiction missions against NKA troops and armored columns attacking along the Naktong River front. Carrier-based aircraft from USN Task Force 77 also provided close air support to the perimeter defenders. General MacArthur directed General Stratemeyer to use all available FEAF airpower, including B-29s, to help the Eighth Army hold the “Pusan Perimeter,” the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula that South Korea still controlled.
Headquarters EUSAK requested support missions from FAF to “attack and destroy hostile forces which have penetrated or threaten to penetrate our front lines.” The Secret mission request orders called on FAF to support the defense of U.S. forces in South Korean and to be prepared to support a counterattack by blocking “enemy movement” with “particular attention to night movement across the Naktong River.” 7
On September 1st, a “miniature rotation plan” was established that would slowly begin to afford “a three day rest in Japan for officers and airmen who had spent a minimum of six weeks in Korea. Not more than four officers and seven airmen were placed on such duty at one time.”
September 3: Task Force 77 withdrew its aircraft carriers from the Pusan area. It needed to conduct replenishment at sea operations and to move TF units north to strike communications targets. All close air support responsibility now rested with Far East Air Forces.
September 4: An H-5 helicopter rescued a downed U.S. pilot from behind enemy lines at Hanggan-dong. It was the first H-5 helicopter rescue of the war.
September 6: As North Korean forces approached Taegu, Eighth Army headquarters withdrew to Pusan.
September 8: The 18th FBG, which had departed Korea a month earlier, returned from Japan, settling at Pusan East (Tongnae). The 6002nd Fighter Wing moved to K-9 (Pusan).
September 9: North Korean forces attacking southeast of Hajang reached a point only eight miles from Taegu, their farthest penetration on the western front. FEAF Bomber Command began a rail interdiction campaign north of Seoul to slow enemy reinforcements, which might hinder the UN Inchon landing.
September 10: As a result of Task Force 77’s unexpected withdrawal from close air support of the Eighth Army on September 3, General Stratemeyer persuaded General MacArthur to direct that all close air support requests must be routed through the Fifth Air Force. If Fifth Air Force lacked resources to meet the requests, they were to be forwarded to FEAF headquarters for coordination with the Commander, Naval Forces, Far East. 8
September 13: Typhoon Kezia hit southern Japan, hampering FEAF operations and forcing some aircraft to move temporarily to Pusan and Taegu.
September 15: U.S. Marines invaded Wolmi-do in Inchon Harbor at dawn, occupying the island in less than an hour. The main U.S. X Corps landings at Inchon took place at high tide, in the afternoon, after a forty-five-minute naval and air bombardment. U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aircraft from carriers off shore provided air cover during the amphibious assault. At the same time, FEAF air raids in South Korea prepared the way for the planned Eighth Army advance from the Pusan perimeter. 9
The Inchon landings in the west central region of Korea were “indirectly supported” by the hard working Mustang pilots of the 18th FBW who “continued pressure against the enemy in support of the 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry, and the 1st Cavalry Divisions in the southern sector of Korea thus interdicting and possibly diverting forces to the north.”
Mustangs of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group “contributed their all-out support to the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Cavalry Division along the Pusan perimeter thus indirectly aiding the landing at Inchon by diverting the enemy’s attention from that area.” 10
September 16: U.S. forces secured Inchon and began moving toward Seoul. From the vicinity of Taegu, the U.S. Eighth Army launched its long-awaited offensive.
September 17: U.S. Marines captured Kimpo Airfield near Seoul. To support the Eighth Army offensive, Fifth Air Force F-51s and F-80s flew napalm attacks, reportedly killing over 1,200 enemy soldiers in Tabu-dong, Yongchon, and other strongholds near the Naktong River.
September 19: Supported by Fifth Air Force close air support missions, the 24th Infantry Division began crossing the Naktong River near Waegwan, and the 1st Cavalry Division broke through communist lines.
September 21: USAF forward air controllers in T-6 Mosquitoes equipped with air to ground radios spotted about thirty enemy tanks preparing to ambush the advancing 24th Infantry Division. They called USAF aircraft and USA ground artillery, which destroyed fourteen enemy tanks and forced the rest to flee.
September 22: North Korean resistance crumbled all along the Pusan perimeter. Lt. George W. Nelson, a USAF pilot in a Mosquito aircraft, dropped a note to 200 enemy troops northeast of Kunsan demanding their surrender. They complied, moving to a designated hill to be captured by nearby UN ground troops. 11
September 23: HQ Fifth Air Force in Korea moved from Pusan to Taegu.
September 25: Far East Air Forces flew flare missions over Seoul all night that allowed USMC night fighters to attack North Korean troops fleeing the city.
September 26: U.S. military forces from Inchon and Pusan linked up near Osan, while ROK troops with Fifth Air Force support moved northward along the east coast toward the 38th Parallel.
September 27: U.S. Marines drove enemy forces from Seoul and took control of the capital building. The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered General MacArthur to destroy the North Korean Army, which involved crossing the 38th Parallel into North Korea. Only ROK troops were to be allowed by the UN Command in provinces bordering China and the Soviet Union.
September 28: ROK troops advanced into North Korea for the first time and General MacArthur officially restored Seoul to ROK President Syngman Rhee.
September 30: Throughout September, “bad weather, shortage of tents, bedding, and potable water provided much concern for officers and airmen alike” of the 18th FB Group. “There were no showers. Living conditions were, in a word, adverse. On September 30, 1950 a shower was installed in the Quarters (tent) area, however, living quarters proper were still over crowded.” 12
1 U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002. The U.S. Air Force’s First War: Korea 1950-1953 Significant Events. September 1950.
2 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
3 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
4 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
5 USAFHRA. “The Story of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group in the Korean United Nations Police Action.” 6002nd Tactical Support Wing, Public Information Office. S/Sgt Sandy Colton.
6 USAFHRA. History of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, September 1950.
7 EUSAK mission support memorandum of 1 September 1950 to Fifth Air Force. (NARA)
8 USAFHRA. History of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, October 1950.
9 U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002. The U.S. Air Force’s First War: Korea 1950-1953 Significant Events. September 1950.
10 History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, July-October, 1950. USAFHRA.
11 U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency. January 2002. The U.S. Air Force’s First War: Korea 1950-1953 Significant Events. September 1950.
12 USAFHRA. History of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, September 1950.
Connors, T. D. (2007-2015, September 8). 18th fBW combat sorties Sept 1950 significant dates, Truckbusters from Dogpatch: the combat history of the 18th fighter-bomber wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953. Retrieved from BelleAire Press, LLC: http://www.truckbustersfromdogpatch.com/log-entries/18th-fbw-combat-sorties-sept-1950-significant-dates/