Korean Naval Aviation Operations




Korean Naval Aviation Operations



The outbreak of war in Korea caught U.S. military services in the midst of a transition. The establishment of the Department of Defense in 1947 and its reorganization in 1949 required readjustments within the services to which none had become completely acclimated. Successive decreases in the military budget and the prospect of more to come had reduced the size of all services, and a reorganization of operating forces to keep within prescribed limits was in process.

New weapons and equipment had not been completely integrated and tactical doctrine and new operating techniques for their most effective employment were still being evolved. This was particularly apparent in naval aviation where the introduction of jet aircraft had created a composite force in which like units were  equipped with either jet or propeller-driven aircraft having wide differences in performance characteristics, maintenance and support requirements, and tactical application.


Combat requirements in Korea were quite different from those of the island-hopping campaign of World War II. Only the landings at Inchon, 2 1/2 months after the shooting began, followed the familiar pattern. The natural result of conditions imposed by the United Nations intention to confine the battle area to the peninsula, was to limit air operations to support of troops. This was a normal enough mission for carrier air, but the need to sustain it for extended periods over a land mass which by previous experience was extremely large, made quite a difference. Carrier forces also flew deep support missions, attacked enemy supply lines, roamed over enemy territory looking for targets of opportunity, bombed enemy bridges, interdicted highways and railroads, attacked refineries, railroad yards and hydroelectric plants, and escorted land-based bombers on special missions. All were carried out effectively, but were new experiences for units trained to interdict enemy sea-lines of communication and ward off attack by enemy naval forces.

The see-saw action on the ground as the battle line shifted and as action flared up and quieted gain, required great flexibility of force and demanded the ability to carry out a variety of missions, but after the first 6 months of the war, the overall air campaign developed into a monotonous, although serious routine. It was a battle described by Commander Task Force 77 in January 1952 as "a day-to-day routine where stamina replaces glamour and persistence is pitted against oriental perseverance." In comparison to the forces engaged in World War II, Korea was a small war. At no time were more than four large carriers in action at the same time. Yet in the 3 years of war, Navy and Marine aircraft flew 276,000 combat sorties, dropped 177,000 tons of bombs and expended 272,000 rockets. This was within 7,000 sorties of their World War II totals in all theaters and bettered the bomb tonnage by 74,000 tons, and the number of rockets by 60,000. In terms of national air effort, the action sorties flown by Navy and Marine Corps aircraft rose from less than 10 percent in World War II to better than 30 percent in Korea.


There was another and perhaps greater difference between the two wars. Support of forces in Korea required major attention from the planners and of units assigned to logistic supply, but action in Korea was only a part of the total activity of the period. Outside the combat area fleet forces continued their training operations on the same scale as before, and fleet units were continuously maintained on peaceful missions in the eastern Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Research and development, although accelerated, did not shift to emphasize projects having direct application to the war effort but continued on longer range programs directed toward the progressive modernization of fleet forces and their equipment with ever more effective weapons.

New facilities for test and evaluation were opened. Advances in guided missiles reached new highs indicating their early operational status, and ships to employ them were being readied. Firings of research missiles like Loon, Lark and Viking, from shore installations and from ships, provided both useful data and experience. Terrier, Talos, Sparrow, Sidewinder, and Regulus, passed successive stages of development. Research in high-speed flight, assisted by flights of specially designed aircraft, provided data leading to new advances in aircraft performance. The carrier modernization program continued and was revised to incorporate the steam catapult and the angled deck, together representing the most significant advance in aircraft carrier operating capability since World War II. In a period when naval aviation was called upon to demonstrate its continuing usefulness in war and its particular versatility in adapting to new combat requirements, it also moved forward toward new horizons.

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