Strategic Air Command

History of the Strategic Air Command
Page 6 - 1950-53

The Korean War

Initial Deployment
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel, thus starting the Korean War.  President Harry Truman quickly committed American support to South Korea and the United States bungled it's way into the conflict.  "It is the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong enemy," declared General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  
       At the close of World War II, the United States had thrown away its vast military power and military appropriations had been reduced to almost nothing.  The Berlin Crises of 1948 demonstrated the stupidity of the unilateral disarmament and B-29s were hastily brought back into service.  However the new Strategic Air Command had but a small fraction of the forces that the US strategic air forces had at the end of the war.
      In spite of these limitations, SAC was quick to respond.  The 31st Reconnaissance Squadron, 5th Reconnaissance Group, was then temporarily deployed at Kadena AB, Okinawa. It quickly moved to Yokota AB to shorten mission time.  The 19th Bomb Group was then stationed at North Field, Guam, but quickly deployed to a forward base. 
    The 31st Recon Squadron  immediately began flying combat reconnaissance missions.   Results were passed on to the 19th, which sprung into action.  On the night of June 28th - only three days after the outbreak of the war -  their B-29s struck enemy bridges, trucks, tanks and supply columns.  This was the first use of SAC's combat power.  During the next month, the 31st Squadron flew 31  missions.
      On July 3, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, USAF Chief of Staff ordered the 2nd and 92nd Bombardment Wings to deploy to the Far East.  On the 5th, the 19th Bombardment Group relocated northward to Kadena, Okinawa to reduce the distance to their targets.  Three days later, the 92nd Bombardment Group deployed from Spokane AFB (later Fairchild) to Yokota AB, Japan.  The 22nd Bombardment Group departed March AFB, California on July 13 to join the 19th at Kadena AB, Okinawa. 
      Fifty B-29s from the 19th, 22nd and 92nd Bombardment Groups struck the port of Wonsan, North Korea on July 13, 1950.  They dropped over 500 tons of high explosive in the Wonsan Oil Refinery, dock areas and marshaling yards.  It was the first major strike of the conflict. 
    General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.  As commander of the Japan Occupation forces, it was intimate aware of the devastation done by American B-29s during World War II, when Japanese cites were fire-bombed by over 500 fortresses at a time.  He had only a tenth as many and wanted more.  He readily accepted an offer from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for two additional bombardment groups.
     The 98th Bombardment Group, stationed at Spokane AFB, was scheduled to make a permanent change of station (PCS) to Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico.  The 307th Bombardment Group was stationed at MacDill AFB, Florida.  On August 1, both were deployed to Kadena.
      This was an incredibly rapid response, especially when compared to the American response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a decade earlier. 
Far East Air Forces (FEAF)
     SAC now had five B-29s equipped bombardment groups and one reconnaissance squadron stationed in the Far East.  They were assigned to the Far East Air Forces (FEAF), which was established on July 8, 1950.  It was assigned the 5th, 13th and 20th Air Forces, and the Far East Air Material Command.  It was  commanded by General George E. Stratemeyer, but Major General Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell Jr. was chief of FEAF Bomber Command.  FEAF was distinct from SAC and under the direct control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  SAC continued to control all the bomber forces in the ZI (Zone of Interior - i.e., the United States)  
     Between July 30 and August 5, the Superfortress virtually eliminated the huge Koman (Hungham) chemical-industrial complex with more than 1,200 tons of bombs dropped during three missions.  Other targets included the port and dock areas of Chongjin (Sheishim); Cinnempo industrial area; Haeji ammunition storage area; Songjin magnesium plant, Suchow hydro-electric plant, Pyongyang arsenal and marshalling yard; and Seoul marshalling yards, and locomotive and rail car manufacturing plant.  FEAT Bomber Command lost four B29s during the campaign.
Close Air Support of Ground Troops
     The B-29 was conceived and designed as a strategic bomber.  It's mission was to destroy an enemy's ability and will to wage war.  It's primary targets were industrial and transportation centers.  This concept was first advanced by General Billy Mitchell during the 1920's, but was rejected by army brass, who saw the airplane as a tactical weapon, one that should be used to support ground troops.  The difference in the two concept was once compared to a cow and a bucket of milk.  Tactical bombing is intended to kick over the bucket.  Strategic bombing is out to kill the cow. 
     General MacArthur was from the old school and saw the B-29 as airborne artillery.  This resulted in ninety eight B-29s dropping 859 tons of bombs in a saturation raid on a 3 x 7 mile rectangular area, north of Weagan, North Korea on August 16.  An estimated 40,000 enemy troops were in the area.  This was SAC's first massive close air support mission.   One it would often repeat in Vietnam. 
Strategic Bombing
   FEAF had identified and designated eighteen strategic targets in North Korea.  By September 15, all had been neutralized.  A total of 30,000 tons of bombs were dropped in about 4,000 stories against both strategic and tactical targets.  FEAF's B-29s had systematic destroyed almost every important industrial target in North Korea with the first few weeks of operations.  By late 1950, the B-29s were out of targets.
     On November 4, the 98th Bombardment Group's B-29s were unable to strike their primary target at Kanggye due to cloud cover.  They went on to Chongjin, which was their secondary target and dropped their incendiary bombs.  It was the first use of such bombs in Korea by FEAT.  The bad weather continued.  The next day the 19th Bombardment Group was unable to attack it's primary targets at Sakchu and Pukchin, but went on Kanggye, it's secondary target.  It dropped 170 tons of incendiaries, destroying 65% of the target which was a large ammunition storage and communication center.
Bombing Restrictions
     President Harry S. Truman feared drawing the Chinese into the conflict and the Joint Chief of Staff prohibited the B-29s from flying across the Yalu River.   On November 6, the President and the JCS forbidding bombing within five miles of the Korean / Manchurian border.  As the B-29s flew increasingly close to the Yalu, they encountered antiaircraft opposition and began spotting Mig-15s.   The Chinese began testing their weapons and training, which had been provided by the Soviets.  The restrictions were lifted. 
Bridge Bombing
     General MacArthur wanted to stop the flow of men and supplies into Korea from Manchuria.  On November 8, FEAF dispatched a daylight raid of 79 B29s to hit the Sinuiju supply and communication center.  Sinuiju was on the far western edge of Korea, just across the Yalu River from Antung, Manchuria.  It was anticipated that the city would be well defended by flak batteries.   Fifth Air Force F-51 Mustangs attacked antiaircraft positions with rockets, napalm and machine guns, while F-80 Shooting Stars provided fighter cover.  Russian MiG-15s took off from Antung to the engage the fighters.  This resulted in the first air battle between jet aircraft.  The MiG was a superior aircraft, but the Chinese pilots lacked training and experience.  A F-80 pilot fired along burst from his six 50 caliber machines guns, resulting in the first MiG shot down in Korea.
     Just before noon, seventy of the B-29s unleashed over 584 tons of 500-lb incendiary bombs, while the other nine bombers from (from the19th Bomb Group) dropped 1,000-lb bombs on the abutments and bridge approaches.  The fighters had effectively suppressed the flak batteries on the southern side of the target, but the ones on the Manchurian side opened up with a heavy barrage as the bombers approached.  The B-29s came in above 18,000 feet and flew in tight squadron formation to minimize time over target. Pre and post strike photography revealed that the incendiaries had burned about 60% of the two-square mile built up area in Sinuiju.  The bridge approaches were damaged, but the spans were still standing.
     Three navy aircraft carriers launched planes against the bridges over a course of three days beginning November 9th.  They were able to take out the highway bridge and two lesser bridge up river at Hyesanjin,  but the heavily-constructed railroad bridge survived all their attacks.  The aircraft carriers withdrew and the b-29s were sent in once again.  
    On November 14, the 98th Bombardment Group sent in nine of it's B-29s to drop 1,000 bombs on the bridge.  The next day, a combined force of 21 B-29s from the 19th and 30th struck the bridge again.  The bombers fought off attacking MiGs and dropped their bombs on target.  Heavy flak and a 95 mph cross wind made the bombing difficult and little damage was done. A pair of B-29 sustained battle damage.  General MacArthur called off the attack, maintaining that the Sinuiju bridge was too strongly defended to risk further aircraft and air crews.  
     B-29s from the19th, 98th, and 30th Bombardment Groups attacked other bridges on November 24, but failed to achieve satisfactory results.  The next day, eight B-29s from the 19th Bomb Group dropped one span of the Manpojin Railway Bridge.  On the following day, eight bombers from the 30th Bombardment Group destroyed two spans of the Chongsongjin highway Bridge.
  Subsequent command attacks by Air Force and Navy Aircraft had cut almost half of the international bridges between Manchuria and Korea during the month of November to no effect.  The ingenious North Koreans and Chinese soon laid pontoon bridges in their place.  Winter brought freezing weather and soon the Yalu was covered with ice hard enough to support  vehicles.  Japanese railway engineers told FEAT intelligence officers that the ice was thick enough to support heavy weights and that they had one laid a rail line across such ice.
  A TDY RB-29 from the 92nd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron was shot down while on an operational mission near the Yalu River on November 9, 1950.  It was the units first combat loss of the war. 
The beginning of Smart Bombs
    It is very difficult to get a bomb on target.  When it leaves the aircraft, it has more forward than downward motion; it then begins to drop.  This results in a trajectory arc.  As it falls, it is subjected to cross winds, which can vary at different altitudes.  The further it has to fall, the more difficult it becomes to hit a target.  The B-29s were built to attack large targets from high altitude, not small tactical targets. 
     The Korean bridges were narrow and very difficult to hit.  The B-29s dropped their bombing altitude to 10,000 feet in hopes of achieving higher bombing accuracy.  This made them easier targets for intense anti-aircraft fire.  They dropped an average of four bombs per bomb run and made several runs over the target.  FEAF determined that it took over thirteen bomb runs to destroy an average bridge.  The MiG-15 Fagot soon arrived and drove the B-29s to altitudes of 21,000 feet.  With the technology then available, it was next to impossible to hit a target only twenty or twenty-five wide from four miles high.  Plus, the MiGs prevented the bombers from making more than one pass over the target.  In an effort to improve bombing results, they began dropping 2,00 lb bombs.
   During the fall of 1950, the 19th Bombardment Groups began experimenting with the 1,000-lb RAZON (Range and AZimuth ONly bombs.)  They had movable fins which responded to radio commands from the bombardier.  This was the first nattempt to guide bombs to a target, rather than have them simply fall.  It was a good idea, but there were many malfunctions.  Only 331 out of the first 487 RAZON bombs responded to the radio commands; a 67% success rate!  A technical team from the Air Proving Ground Command worked closely with the air and ground crews.    the last 150 RAZONs had a 97% reliability rate and fifteen bridge were destroyed. It required an average of only four RAZON bomb to destroy an average bridge.
     A new TARZON bomb was introduced in December, 1950.  It was based on the huge 12,000-lb British Tall Boy, which permitted control of both azimuth and roll.  Ten bombs were dropped, but only one scored a hit.  Crews of the 19th Bombardment Group continued to train with them and by March 1951 had become quite skilled in their use.  On Mach 29, 1951, three TARZON equipped B-29s were ordered to bomb the stubborn Sinuiju bridge, the one that had defied so many earlier attacks.  One aircraft returned with mechanical problems, a second ditched at sea and exploded on impact, but the third proceeded to target, only to miss.  It was later surmised the explosion on ditching had been caused by the bomb and the TARZON program was cancelled.




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