May 1953. K-14 Kimpo, Korea, home of the 12th Tac Recon. Squadron
The RB-26 was the workhorse reconnaissance bird of the Korean War and had a very impressive combat record. Our mission in the 12th was essential for Bomb Damage Assessment and played an important part in targeting enemy positions. We actually had several types of reconnaissance missions, which varied on a day-to-day basis. Targeting Orders would come around noontime from Fifth AF there in Japan and missions would be assigned at our 1PM Operations Briefing. Some combat missions would be and “easy” mission, like taking pictures for BDE of a bridge that was knocked out, a supply dump, front line support or the rail “reccy” up the east coast of Korea. When I use the word “easy”, it correlates as to how much AA we would encounter in and out of the target areas.
The “not so easy missions” were when we worked with our “Little Brothers” the armed B-26s from the 3rd B.W. These missions were seek and destroy missions, targeting trucks and trains. We would support their mission by dropping flares on targets of opportunity and they in turn would either bomb them or “hose” them with their 13 forward firing 50 caliber machine guns. These nightly missions were not all that easy and required a lot of co-ordination between aircraft to be effective. Many a “choo choo” was destroyed and hundreds of trucks were put out of commission by this effective teamwork system.
The “really not so easy ‘pucker’ missions”, were the ones that made the “Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid” slogan a joke. These missions were those where we supported our “Big Brothers” the B-29 Heavy Bombers out of Okinawa. General LeMay had convinced FEAF that bomber stream sorties using Shoran Bombing was the way to go. SAC was running “Shoran” missions against targets up along the Yalu (Mig Alley), trying to shut down the supplies coming from our Chinese and Soviet “friends”. With the planned east to west track inbound, Charlie didn’t have to be too bright to figure out the bomb run heading and track and then have Migs and AA waiting for the B-29s. Most all B-29 losses occurred on these difficult missions.
Our mission was to “loiter” just south of the assigned target areas and as soon as the last B-29 had made his releases, wait for bomb impacts and then run in and take a few pictures for the “Intel” folks waiting to see if SAC had hit the assigned targets. This was a good way to get BDE as well as get your “pucker factor” up and off the chart, as Charlie was definitely awake and pretty upset by now.
One of the missions that I flew as “Nose Nav/Bombardier” was especially noteworthy, as we had made our runs in and out of the B-29 target area, getting the usual AA (flak). After releasing all of our magnesium “flash” bombs and taken as many pictures as we could, we turned south and headed back to home base. We had climbed up to about 9,000 ft to get away from ground fire and light AA and to get better radio reception from the Navy ship stationed off the west coast of the peninsular which controlled that sector. As we approaching “Big Ping Pong” as we called Pyonyang the Capitol of North Korea, from the north, we were under radar coverage from this Navy ship. Unfortunately, unknown to us, we at the same time were being targeted by two Mig “Night Fighters” who had been following us and were vectoring onto our position. The Navy controller in the area gave us a heads up and advised us that they had asked for two F-94 “Night Fighters” to come up and see if they couldn’t give us some protection.
We were unarmed, (afraid) and going to try to get away from two Migs armed with 20 mm so this had the potential of one of those missions that the made for an early retirement. At altitude, we could hear the Navy telling us to stick around until the AF could get their F-94s into the area. In other words play “Bait”. Easy for them to say, but “pucker factor” off the chart for us. Our reaction was to descend as low as possible, which we did and now we were operating in our environment. In addition, we turned back north in an effort to fool the Mig jockeys. The hilly terrain in this area gave us an opportunity to effectively elude our pursuers. After a few minutes of tooling around we popped up to get a read from the Navy on where the Migs were located. They told us they were vectoring the F-94s onto the Migs and for us to hang loose for a few more minutes. About 10 minutes later we saw a explosion on a hillside that we assumed was an aircraft crash impact. We again climbed up to be able to get radio contact with the Navy and they advised us to head back home and that the area was clear.
At out 1PM Briefing the next afternoon it was announced that F-94 Night Fighters had dispatched two Migs the evening before. There was no mention of the RB-26 that played the role of a Bait.