Now It Can Be Told

SABRES USED TANKERS FOR KOREA DEPLOYMENT

by Col. Bruce Hinton

Dover AFB, Delaware, 0700, 9 November 1950: With a frontal passage nearing - rain, low ceilings, and gusty winds - there'd be no flying today for my squadron. It looked like a pretty quiet day. But that all changed when an unexpected phone call from 4th Group Headquarters announced a squadron commanders meeting not later than 1100 hours. Fourth Group (and Wing) Headquarters, along with the 334th Squadron, were located at Newcastle County Airport, Delaware. My Squadron, the 336th, was at Dover (not a big airlift base in those days, just me fighter squadron), with the 335th at Andrews AFB, Maryland- Quick calls to Capt. Howard 'Mac' Lane, squadron adjutant; and Capt. Morris 'Mo' Pitts, squadron material officer, notified them that we'd be driving to the meeting at about 0930.

It'd been slightly over four months since the 4th was deployed from its home at Langley AFB, Virginia, to these three bases, forming a defensive ring around Washington, D.C.. The outbreak of the Korean War had raised questions about the security of our nation's capitol. Dover AFB was in a 'stand-by' basis with leaky buildings. But it had a good runway and a base hospital, which was maintained to support annual Air Guard encaropments. As 336th FIS commander, I became the base commander.

Wing Headquarters at Newcastle was in a frenzy when we arrived. We quickly surmised that the biggest thing in our lifetime was about to happen. And so it was. The entire wing was moving overseas. Destination - Japan! All personnel, equipment, and records were to be readied for shipment. Our F-86A aircraft were to be prepared for flight to the West Coast. Many of our older Sabres would be replaced by later production models before our departure. Most of these were delivered in Newcastle, Dover, and Andrews by other F-86 Wings, principally the 56th at Selfridge and the 33rd at Otis. As it turned out, at least six replacements were flown direct to our ports of embarkation (POE) by the lst Wing at March AFB, California.

Each squadron had to have all of its Sabres airborne before 1100 hours, 11 November. The 334th and 335th would Proceed to North Island NAS, California, for shipment by aircraft carrier. The 336th would go to McClellan AFB, California, where in aircraft would be prepared for shipment, then sent down-river to Oakland/San Francisco for deck-loading onto oil tankers

Getting equipment ready for overseas deployment, selecting airmen and officers for specific tasks, receiving six replacement aircraft, and getting the whole outfit ready to leave in less than 48 hours was an assignment of Herculean proportions.

Choosing pilots was critically important, became there had been an influx of recent flying school graduates. To make matters worse, two veteran captains could not be included for physical reasons. But by filling many non-flying officer positions with experienced fighter pilots, we were able to achieve a ratio of two 'old-timers' 'for each new pilot.

As the newer replacement F-86s began to arrive, all of their pilots seemed to know what was going on in spite of the 'SECRET' classification of the move. Among these First Lieutenant Ralph D. Hoot' Gibson, who begged to be included. After discussions between the 4th and 56th commanders, 'Hoot' was transferred to the 4th FlW in record time. He was to become history's third jet ace.

Amid the frantic preparations, and even before the fighters left, some officers, airmen, and equipment began to depart, leaving only those persons and equipment needed to launch the Sabres. Maintaining a proper balance of people and equipment was crucial for a successful move. As a tribute to our hard-working maintenance crews I noticed that they all carried their tool boxes as personal baggage, making sure their birds would be ready to go.

On 11 November, F-86s from the three bases began heading West. Everyone, it seems, selected Wright-Patterson AFB for the first refueling stop. At 1100 hours, I led the last flight of my squadron out of Dover and headed for Wright-Patterson. We made the departure deadline but another crisis loomed ahead. Although the official orders NOW show that we were to be in place at our POE by 18 November, we were told that all aircraft had to be at those destinations by 13 November - just two days away! Anyone not making that deadline would be left behind.

I suspected that this was just a threat designed to encourage early arrivals, which was later confirmed. On the plus side, we were told that if anything - ANYTHING - was needed enroute, we were to use the name assigned to our operation - "STRAWBOSS" - to receive the highest priority. This was to include exchanging a badly broken F-86 for a serviceable one if the best base had Sabres. The magic word was STRAWBOSS.

At Wright-Patterson, the transient ramp was in chaos. Practically the entire group had chosen that base for the first refueling. But no one had alerted the folks at Wright-Patterson! To make matters worse, 11 Novemher was Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day) and a weekend to boot. Refueling 70+ Sabres by the undermanned transient crew was proceeding at a snail's pace. As the 4th Group Commander, Lt. Col. J. C. Meyer, approached my airplane I could see that he was furious He said I should have taken my squadron somewhere else to relieve the congestion at Wright-Patterson. Rather than point out that his staff should have handled this bit of coordination, I simply apologized. But it was clear to me that the 336th wouldn't be able to depart this day for the next leg.

On top of the refueling problems, one of our airplanes required an engine change. With the help of a tramsient alert crewmember, 'Mo' Pitts, my squadron materiel officer, began looking for a suitable engine. In one of the hangars, they discovered a flight test F-86A opened up for an engine change - with the replacement engine on a stand. After determining that the engine would work in our airplane, Pitts invoked the 'Strawboss' priority, and the engine was installed in our Sabre overnight by the WrightPatterson crew.

Next morning, Sunday, 12 November, flights of 336th aircraft headed west once again, but this time to a variety of bases We didn't want a repeat of the WrightPatterson overload. My flight departed last, heading for Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas. On arrival thee, we needed still another engine change. Sheppard was a major maintenance training base, and after sending the rest of the flight on to Albuquerque, I began negotiating with the base commander to get one of their J47s installed in our sick F-86. He allowed that it was Sunday, but they'd get right on it the next day or so. Knowing this would be a disastrous delay, I called the USAF Command Post and used the magic word - "STRAWBOSS". Within an hour a crew showed up to perform the engine change. Magic word, indeed!

Early the next morning, the re-engined Sabre was ready. I decided to act as chase while my pilot flew the test hop. Gaining altitude in a wide circle of the field, I moved in tight and checked the test aircraft for signs of leaks. Once we were satisfied that the airplane and engine were OK, I headed us for Albuquerque, filing a flight plan by radio. We were on our way again.

Arriving at Albuquerque, I could see that some 336th birds were still there, while a large group had already departed for the next leg - Nellis AFB, Nevada. After an uneventful refueling, I led the remaining aircraft to Nellis to join the rest of my squadron. We were expected at Nellis and enjoyed a problem free turnaround. On departure, when the entire squadron was airborne, we made a formation fly by to bid farewell to many of our old friends in the fighter commurity. The flight to McClellan was relatively short, so we remained at a fairly low altitude in a wide spread formation as we passed over my home town of Stockton, California.

We made it to McClellan by the deadline, and ground crews immediately went to work preparing our airplanes for loading onto the decks of four oil tankers for shipment to Japan. This consisted, in part, of rubbing down all exposed surfaces with a heavy oil which was intended to minimize salt water corrosion. The pilots were bussed to Fairfield-Suisun AFB (now Travis AFB) for overseas processing involving an untold number of innoculations.

Then it was on to Haneda Airport, Japan, via MATS, finally ending at Johnson AB, the rear echelon base of the 4th Fighter Wing in the Far East. Then, the bulk of the 336th began to reassemble, since most had been airlifted across the Pacific about the same time as the F-86 pilots.

On 5 December, the first six 336th Sabres arrived by tanker at Yokosuka, Japan. They were transferred to barges and eventually off loaded at Kisarazu AB across Tokyo Bay. At Kisarazu, a maintenance team from the Far East Air Material Command (FEAMCOM), along with 4th maintenance crews, prepared them for flight to Johnson AB. The oil coating applied at McClellan had provided little protection, and severe corrosion and damage had occured during the voyage. The maintenance crews at Kisarazu worked diligently to repair this damage. On 8 December the First aircraft was ferried to Johnson AB, to be followed by many others.

On 13 December, exactly one month after arriving at McClellan, the first flight of seven F-86s departed Johnson for the trip to K-14 (Kimpo) in Korea near Seoul. Led by Lt.Col. Meyer, the flight was delayed by weather at Itazuke AB, Japan, eventually arriving at K-14 on 15 December. Most ground crews and some of the pilots had gone to Kimpo ahead of the aircraft so the 4th Fighter Group was ready for combat!

(from the editor: OK, so we got your attention by alleging that the 336th Sabres used 'tankers' to cross the Pacific. We apologize for raising your blood pressure because everyone knows that the F-86 could not be refueled inflight: - could it? Although Col. Hinten was too modest to mention it, there is a fitting postcript to his story. On 17 Decernbex, Lt.Col. Bruce Hutton Kored the first F-86 victory over a MiG-15 in the Korean War.)


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