Our troops to that time had very little of close air support. Our Air Force had some jet fighters (F-80, "Starfighters) at Itazuki airbase in Japan. But these lacked the firepower and bomb carrying capacity to be suited for close support of ground troops; their pilots had not trained for that kind of service; and the distance from Itazuki to Pusan was at the very maximum of their operating range.* [*In-flight refueling for jet fighters was not yet well-developed.]
During those first several weeks, the Soviet directors of the invasion were brazen enough to send some of their aircraft and pilots (including MiG jet fighters) into the southern regions. They were probably no better equipped or trained than our own Air Force for the support of ground troops. But their presence was in some measure further demoralizing for our long beleaguered men at Pusan. The arrival on the scene of Carrier Task Force 77, and later some Air Force, F-86 Saberjets, would shortly convince the Soviets they should keep their planes and pilots a bit closer to home.
Reconnaissance flights while Task Force 77 was still at Okinawa found the main roadway along the west coast of the peninsula virtually jammed with troops and equipment hurrying southward to join the forces already pressing against our defenders at Pusan. Indications were that the enemy was awaiting arrival of those additional forces before launching what they hoped would be their final and victorious assault. So TF 77's first strikes after moving into the Yellow Sea during the night of August 4 were against that stream of reinforcements moving down the west coast of the peninsula.
The first of those strikes were effective somewhat beyond expectation. Post-strike photographs revealed great numbers of burned out tanks and other vehicles, in several places blocking passage of further traffic. The enemy, accustomed to moving down that route day and night without interference, apparently was caught quite off-guard by the first strike. Nor were they able quickly to develop very effective defenses. That was due in part to the tremendous firepower and great variety of ordnance which our strike aircraft could deliver.
Twenty-five to thirty aircraft were launched for each strike; a mix of the WW2 veteran, F4U Corsair, fighter bomber, and the new dive bomber by Douglas which was called "Able Dog." Both craft carried 20mm cannon in their wings, usually belted with armor piercing, incendiary, and fragmentary rounds. The veteran fighter bomber could itself carry an impressive number and variety of bombs and rockets. The Able Dog could carry a much greater load. Both could deliver with precision and selectively, according to the target.
In addition to post-strike photos of the damage, the effectiveness of TF 77's entry into action was confirmed by the reaction of the enemy high command. Within three or four days the task force was alerted to general quarters (readiness for battle) by a picket destroyer's radar detection of aircraft approaching the fleet from mainland China. The planes were detected as they arose from the airfield at Tsingtao, and set course directly towards our task force.
The covering air patrol (CAP) for the task force was F9F Panther jet fighters (the first jet aircraft to be operated from an aircraft carrier). Two of them intercepted the intruder aircraft, still quite distant from the perimeter of the task force. It was a flight of three, propeller driven, light bombers with Soviet markings. They were flying directly toward the fleet.
The ship's public address system enabled that all hands, now at their battle stations, could hear communications between Adm Ewen and our intercepting aircraft. "Jehovah" first ordered a warning pass in front of the Soviet aircraft. That done, our intercepting pilot reported the bombers continuing on course. A firing pass in front of the intruders was ordered and made. The three bombers still continued on course towards the fleet.
"Splash one," was the admiral's next order. About a minute passed after our fighter pilot acknowledged the order. Then his voice came again reporting the lead bomber with both engine's dead spiraling down toward the sea, and the other two having reversed course and headed back towards Tsingtao.
One of our picket ships was at the site of the downed bomber's crash in a matter of minutes. Shallow waters in that area of the Yellow Sea simplified inspection of the wreckage. The "splashed" bomber had carried no armament, and even no crew except for its pilot. That unfortunate young man's body was retrieved, photographed as evidence that the pilot was Russian, and a few days later delivered to Soviet officials. There was complaint from Moscow, of course. The Soviet representative to the United Nations blandly insisted the three bombers were on a "navigational training flight," and "over international waters."
Had "Jehovah" not called their bluff decisively on the first one, Task Force 77 would no doubt have been kept at battle stations a good share of the time by more such "training" flights from Tsingtao. Thus began and ended, in a matter of minutes, the Soviet efforts to interfere directly with TF 77's operations. But shortly was encountered a manner of interference more difficult to deal with.
With the flow of enemy supplies and reinforcements down the west coast greatly reduced, after a few days some of TF 77's strikes were sent to Pusan. There, instead of pre-assigned targets, or selections thereof by themselves, our pilots struck at enemy positions designated by "strike controllers" from our forces within the perimeter. Some of those controllers, were at observation posts on the ground within the perimeter. Others were airborne, in light, observation aircraft operating from the airfield within the perimeter.
When they reported in to ground controllers, informing them of the types of armaments carried for this sortie, our pilots were quickly directed to targets well suited to their armament. But when they reported to airborne controllers they more often would be told: "Wait, Navy I have planes coming in from Japan.
The ground controllers were combat seasoned Army men, well aware as to which of enemy positions it was most important to strike, and concerned with putting available air support to the best possible use. The airborne controllers were Air Force pilots, combat or other experience unknown. Their primary concerns or interests can best be judged by their performance. The planes they had coming in from Japan were F-80 .jets known as "Starfighters." Armed basically with four, 50-caliber wing guns, they were limited to 200 pounds or less of armament (bombs or rockets) on their wing racks because if the heavy fuel load required for the round trip flight between their base in Japan and the targets at Pusan. The fuel loading of the Air Force jets was critical. They could make but one pass over the target area, loosing their light load of bombs or rockets, and a few short bursts from the fifty caliber wing guns, then hope they had enough fuel remaining to make it back to Itazuki Air Base (which they frequently did not).
Such was the character and capabilities of those "planes coming in from Japan," to which the airborne strike controllers at Pusan were giving precedence over those coming from Task Force 77. Each Corsair, fighter-bomber, from the task force carried about 3000 pounds of armament, plus 800 rounds of 20mm cannon fire. Just one Able Dog launched from the carrier would have about 6500 pounds of various attack armament, plus 400 rounds for its 20mm wing cannons. And if given target assignments soon after arrival, both were capable of staying long enough to make repeated passes, delivering whichever and however much of its payload seemed appropriate on each pass.
Such were the capabilities of the aircraft which those airborne controllers were holding off from striking the enemy at Pusan. The lightly armed F-80's they were clearing in instead, were taking off from Itazuki in pairs, at intervals of about 10 or 15 minutes. Their arrivals at Pusan in such sequence left little or no time for allowing the TF 77 aircraft to make proper strikes in between. Often the Navy planes were held off until there was time for them to make only one firing pass before returning to their ship for refueling. In some cases, lacking the opportunity to properly expend all of their armament on enemy targets, they had to drop the unused portions into the sea before landing aboard their carrier.
In one instance, the entire Navy strike force of some 25 or 30 Corsairs and Able Dogs, had to so jettison all of their ordnance because the airborne strike controllers at Pusan refused to clear them in for even one pass. Thus more than a quarter-million pounds of potent firepower was kept from application upon the enemy forces pressing against our defenders of Pusan. The F-80's which were cleared in during that time period would have delivered less that one thousand pounds* of far less effective ordnance, and somewhat randomly from high altitude rather than with the precision of which the Navy craft were capable.
[ *A documented account of the "Air War" in Korea (check title, author and precise quote) states that "in seventeen days of continuous operation" the USAF F-80 squadron delivered only 7500 pounds of ordnance on enemy installations near Pusan. One ship-launched Able Dog would carry 6500 pounds on each sortie. Land-based, the Able Dog was loaded with as much as 8500 pounds. ]
Talk in CPO quarters aboard the Phil Sea that night included mention that the United States Air Force was doing a far better job of aiding the communist forces at Pusan, than the Soviet Air Force was able. The intrusion of the three Soviet aircraft had in fact not interfered one iota with TF 77's air strikes on the peninsula. Rather it had only added a bit of realism to a "battle-stations" drill for the fleet, probably serving to impress some of the younger sailors with the importance of those drills. But the USAF pilots who were strike controllers at Pusan were interfering on a daily basis. That was as irksome to the men who serviced and loaded our strike aircraft, as it was to the pilots who flew them. To myself, this was the first reminder of USAF Lt. Winegar's parting words to me at Waco: "If we get into another war, what in hell's the Army going to do for close support? These wild-blue-yonder boys not only can't provide it. They're not even interested in it!"
Well, now it could be said that at least some of those "wild blue yonder boys" were a little bit interested in it. But to what purpose? Certainly those at Pusan showed no interest in providing our Army troops the best possible of close support. One quite obvious interest was medals. As a matter of policy, an "Air Medal" was issued to an Air Force pilot for every five flights from Japan into the Korean combat zone. Twenty five missions brought a "Distinguished Flying Cross" in addition. One hundred flights meant rotation back to the states, tunics now adorned with ribbons to indicate sixteen Air medals and four DFC's."
Initial complaints to Gen. MacArthur by our fleet commanders about such gross wastage of Navy support capability were reported to have been dismissed by him on recommendation of his Air Force staff officer, General Stratemeyer, as just a case of "inter-service rivalry." The problem caused a great deal of high-level haggling which was resolved only when top Army and Navy commanders from the war zone went personally to MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo.
Thus was borne out in the first few weeks of action the wisdom of Lt. Winegar's concern for the Army if we got into another war. Those "wild blue yonder boys" quickly proved they could not provide the close air support our ground forces needed and deserved. Beyond that, some of them were preventing it from being provided by others who could.
The "envy" Winegar had expressed for us "Navy guys" in the helicopter business was quickly shown to be justified, as well. More than just willing to' "give it a chance" (as he had expressed it), our Navy commanders and associates were quickly asking us what more our new flying machine could do for the fleet. Adm Ewen's "flag secretary" saw it as the most expeditious way of getting certain vital documents to all ships of the task force. He spoke to Lt Sundberg about it. Sundberg sent me to the "Flag Sec's" office to work out the details.
A broad smile of recognition was Lcdr "Jerry" Miller's initial greeting to me; and probably my response was much the same. Our meeting a year and a half previously in Tennessee had not been a circumstance which resulted in close personal association at the time. But it had been such as to cause in the both of us the manner of mutual regard which would enable us at once to join effort in dealing with the task he now had in mind. After but a few words of warm greeting he said:
"I've got a problem, chief! And you're .just the kind of guy I need to help me deal with it!"
And indeed that was so. His main problem was that some very stringent regulations regarding the handling of some documents interfered with his need to get them delivered quickly to the 30 or more ships which comprised Task Force 77. For some of those materials required, according to regulations, hand delivery and signed receipts. Which meant that one person, "cleared" through a meticulous process of personal "background" investigation to handle such classified material, must hand it directly to another persons similarly authorized who must in turn give signed receipt.
A relatively easy procedure, that, in the Pentagon or other shore-based facility. Not so at sea. Without service of a helicopter, this would require that one of our destroyers be constantly employed as a courier vessel; catching up with and maneuvering alongside all other ships and rigging lines between the two for transfer of materials and receipts. And because it would be a full-time task, that would be one less ship available for the perimeter screen protecting the aircraft carriers.
Using the helicopter for that purpose was therefore the logical thing to do. But as Miller had recognized, there were in fact several problems to be dealt with in order to do that. We set at once to the task of dealing with them.
To begin with, we had but one helicopter. (They were a very scarce item of equipment in 1950.) Any other uses of it had to be fitted within its more important schedule as "guardian angel" for the Air Group pilots during launch and recovery operations. It was important also to minimize total flying time for the machine. For it required very frequent inspections and maintenance procedures; these being done mostly at night by the same five men who serviced and flew in it during daylight hours.
The scheduling for courier flights between plane guard duties was not really a problem, except for the time factor. Merely to circle the task force over the destroyers which were its perimeter screen would take an hour or longer. (Normal flight speed of the HO3S was 60-70 knots, its maximum about 90.) Even just the additional minute or two for delivery and pick-up with weighted pouch on a handline, made it impossible in any case to complete delivery to the entire screening force between the times when we were needed at plane guard for flight operations.
Strict compliance with regulations for "hand delivery" would increase to 10 or 15 minutes the time for each delivery and pickup. For that would involve lowering a man to the ship, waiting while he got out of wind and weather to deliver and get receipt, then hoisting him before proceeding. In addition to the time thus taken up, that would be some disruptive to the integrity of the screening force. For a destroyer often had to steer off-course during helicopter delivery, so we wouldn't have to hover in severe turbulence or stack wash.
So therein lay the problem with which Lcdr Miller thought that I was "just the kind of guy" he needed. Some very stringent and also very important regulations stood in the way of efficient conduct of vital communications in a Task Force engaged in combat operations. He was seeking a way to overcome or get around that "obstacle," without violating or defeating the very important purpose of those regulations.
Miller had already found it necessary to stretch regulations to the limit, possibly even to violate them, in the handling of some of the classified materials in his office. None of the men available to him had been "cleared" to handle such materials by the procedures called for in the regulations. He dealt with that problem as best he could by conducting a "swearing-in" ceremony of his own. His men gave solemn oath to keep careful account of all such materials produced and handled within the office, and not to discuss it outside.
The problem of prompt and secure delivery to the rest of the task force was not so readily resolved. It seemed reasonable enough to consider the handline with which the weighted mailpouch was lowered to be extension of the "hand" delivering documents it contained. The ship's officer who received them could then sign the receipts and place them back in the pouch for us to retrieve.
However, that would be almost as time-consuming as if we lowered a man on deck to make the delivery. For the receiving officer would understandably want to make certain he actually received what he was signing for, and also avoid risk that any documents might be caught and blown overboard by the turbulent winds which usually swirled on the afterdeck of an underway destroyer. So he would need to take the pouch elsewhere to remove and inspect its contents, sign the receipts and return with the pouch for our pick-up. The fact that he was out of our vision meanwhile would itself be breach of the regulation. And spending that much time at each delivery would wipe out much of the benefit which helicopter delivery otherwise could provide.
There was little help that I could provide to the Flag Secretary in deciding what to do about that problem, other than tell him what we could or couldn't do, timewise or otherwise, with our rotor-wing flying machine. Yet I was in fact "the kind of guy" he needed to help him deal with it. For his decision was that we would do what was necessary to get the job done, even though that would include the breaching of certain regulations regarding the handling of classified materials. Which meant that if anything went wrong if there were any slip-ups, losing materials or compromising of information it could be very damaging to Lcdr Miller's career.
In order to make efficient use of the helicopter to speed delivery of those documents vital to task force operations, without interfering with its primary, plane guard assignment or overworking the machine and its crew, we would deliver without waiting for receipts. Those would be picked up on the next time around (unless a vessel was scheduled to depart from the task force before that next time around). It was a clear breach of existing regulations, but to the great benefit and betterment of the Task Force's operations. It was essential to efficient operations under the circumstances.
Jokingly, Miller said to me after making that decision that if we got caught in this violation of the rules, he thought he had "enough connections to get us adjacent cells in Portsmouth" so we could play chess through the bars. In response to my admission, in similar vein, that the only game I knew on that kind of board was checkers, he said he was certain I could learn chess quickly enough and be a challenging opponent.
The fact was, of course, that it was only his own self, and his own career, that Lcdr Miller was putting at risk. It was an honor to be regarded as the "kind of guy" he believed could help him do the job without slip-up, thus making it a worthy risk. The kind of men he needed (and he needed more than just one) were those who would understand and appreciate the risk he thus imposed upon himself and the reasons for it, and do their best to help him carry it through successfully.
There were many such men aboard the Phil Sea. Lt Sundberg and myself happened to be the ones needed by him right then, because we flew the helicopter. And we had five men with us who would handle the "goods" with great care, if for no other reason than that we told them to do so.
There needed to be similar understanding by all the officers aboard the other ships of the fleet who were receiving the materials. Our first delivery, under that arrangement, would include a memo from Miller to each of them, explaining the revised procedure and giving some of the reasons for it. The fact that the memo was from the Flag Secretary would indicate to those officers that this departure from standard procedure had Admiral Ewen's "blessing" (at least implicitly). But if anything went wrong in result, there was no doubt that Lcdr Miller would insist he was solely to blame.
So carried back to Lt Sundberg from that meeting with the Flag Sec was a well-defined, time-saving procedure for efficient delivery of vital documents from "Jehovah" to all the ships of his task force. Carried also to my own personal satisfaction was further assurance that I had been quite correct in my appraisal of the then-Lieutenant Gerald Miller, during our very brief association a year and a half earlier; that he was the manner of officer who should make it into the upper echelons of the Naval Service. From his handling of this matter came the feeling that he definitely would do so.
The several demands for our services made Lt Sundberg and myself the busiest of all the pilots in the carrier task force. We averaged about six flights each per day. The work load on our five-man crew was much the greater. Between each of those flights, in addition to the refueling of our machine, there was inspection of several of its most critical parts. Yet there was no indication that any of them felt overworked. It was to all of us both challenge and opportunity; opportunity to demonstrate the worth of this machine of which we were so proud, and the challenge to make it and ourselves do even more than we originally expected. It was opportunity also to develop and improve both our equipment and our operating techniques.
The efficiency with which we could perform many of those services, and sometimes whether or not we could do them, was dependent upon the combined skills of pilot and crewman. The crewman's part was sometimes the more vital. His hand on the pilot's shoulder signaled by a system of pats and tugs for proper positioning of the machine, and also informed the pilot of what was happening below which he was unable to see. The need for changes in equipment or techniques was often recognized more quickly by our crewmen than by ourselves, the pilots.
Thus it was also with the few other helicopter units in 7th Fleet during those first few months of combat operations. We shared as quickly as we could the lessons learned from our separate experiences. The hydraulic hoist on the machine, necessary for pickup of a man or other heavy load, was much to slow for delivery of mail or other lightweight parcels. A weighted pouch on a hand line speeded that operation. Leather gloves for the crewman to safely slide it down speeded it even more. Chief Hill, working with Sundberg, made delivery of a heavy bag to a destroyer with the hoist. To his considerable alarm, the sailor on deck who removed the bag, then affixed the hook of the hoist cable to one of the ship's lifeline cables; quite as a good seaman would ordinarily do since he expected later to put the empty bag on it for pickup. Quickly thereafter, all of our squadron's helicopters were equipped with a bolt cutter in case it was necessary for any reason to cut the hoist cable.
Usually when launch and recovery operations were completed there would be materials on deck from Flag Sec's office for delivery to the other ships. But before we could depart on that assignment, we had to land, shut down, and refuel. And we would be delayed several minutes in doing that because it was customary (for operational reasons) that the task force would reverse course immediately when the last of the returning planes had landed aboard. Thus, by the time we could be over the deck from our plane guard station, the ship would have begun its turn and the flight deck would therefore be canted some ten to fifteen degrees. There was some danger in those early helicopters of creating a condition of "resonance" (vibration of increasing frequency and intensity:) if the wheels touched down unevenly and with enough shock to set up a vibration in the rotor system. Putting the machine down on a sloping surface was therefore ordinarily to be avoided. So we had to hold off from landing for several minutes, until the ship settled onto its new course and the flight deck again was level.
There was a way, I had reasoned, in which one could land on sloping surface with all three wheels touching down at the same time. Precision control and timing would be required, which fact made the idea challenging. It also was possible a situation might be encountered which made such landing necessary. I had discussed the idea with Chester, as we held hover over the deck one day waiting for it to come level. He was eager for us to do it right then, but other aircraft were close by on the deck. I wanted a larger area clear, at least for the first such landing.
Chief Hill was with me on the day that desired deck condition was available. Chester, awaiting on deck with wheel chocks, moved the other men clear when I signaled to him my intentions. The maneuver was quite simple. First, a tilt of the rotor to set the machine moving sideways up the slope. An opposite tilt, bringing the rotor parallel with the slope of the deck, would also stop the sideward movement. At that moment, before sideward movement in the opposite direction began, quick reduction of power put all three wheels firmly on deck at the same time, as safely as if on a level surface.
Chester beamed his approval with a big smile and thumb up, as he moved in with a wheel chock. Chief Hill put a hand on my shoulder as he was getting out of the machine, and said: "That was absolutely beautiful! But please, don't ever do it again when I'm riding with you!"
There was no reason ever to do it again on the ship. The viability of the technique had been proven. It could be used in full confidence if a situation arose which called for it. One year later the same technique would be used to pick up a man from a mountainside in North Korea at an altitude too great for an HO3S to hover.
There was yet one more especially interesting call for our helicopter service, during TF 77's first month of operations. A "Combat Photo Team" joined us on the flagship in mid-August. Its mission (according to senior enlisted member, Photographer First Class, Kazakitus) was to produce photographs and movie films of various activities of the fleet, for public information purposes "to let the folks back home know what's going on out here."
In charge of the combat photo team was a Lt Commander of Naval Reserve, named Ford; who happened to be of considerable renown as producer of films in Hollywood. He had served the Navy in similar capacity during World War 2. Ford's performance as officer-in-charge of the photo team was not within my scope of observation. But his lead man, Kazakitus, was very much so. A venturesome spirit among the assignments for which he had previously volunteered was an Antarctic expedition wherefrom his most prized of all pictures were of penguins. A veritable artist with his camera (black & white only), "Kaz" never asked nor wanted his subjects to pose. He watched for the opportunity to get them naturally. People, he said, were much easier in that respect than penguins; who seemed always wanting to pose.
The helicopter fascinated Kazakitus, of course. Ours, with its conspicuous, identifying side number UP-21 probably appeared in more newspapers and magazines than any other. It served also as his conveyance for airborne views of the Task Force, and to transport him and some of his men to other ships of the fleet. To enable him to photograph the carrier's flight operations from our vantage position at plane guard station, he was shown and practiced our rescue procedures so he might fly in place of one of our crewmen.
It was perhaps partly because he found in our small group the same kind of enthusiasm which he applied in his own work, that Kazakitus spent considerable of his free time on deck with the helicopter crew. He remarked to me one day on the enthusiasm and spirit of the men in our unit. He was a bit surprised when I said, after mentioning the similarity of his own attitude towards his work:
"But it's a damn' shame, Kaz, that your enthusiasm has to be spent on a job that really shouldn't be necessary."
Kazakitus pondered on that remark for a moment before asking, "Why do you say that?" But he then agreed without hesitation to my response that if the "powers-that-be" back in Washington* would call it what it is a war rather than a "police action," then the folks back home would understand what was going on without having to send them so many pictures.
[ * Many years later it would be learned from declassified records that President Truman had expressed intention to ask the Congress for Declaration of War; but his advisors from the Department of State had convinced him to seek a United Nations Resolution, instead. Which would undoubtedly have been those same "boys in the State Department" whom Truman's naval aide told journalist Brown "had it all set to let the Soviets have South Korea." ]
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.