In the summer of 1950, South Korea's air power was represented by the Far Fast Air Force (FEAF), which was the U.S. Air Force based in Japan and Okinawa. Fighter-bomber groups were the 8th (Itazuke), 18th (Okinawa), and the 49th (Misawa). With the 35th Fighter-Interceptor Group at Johnson AB (near Tokyo), these were the FEAF fighter units. There were no American aircraft based in Korea.
Communist North Korean troops and tanks crossed the 38th parallel and invaded the Republic of Korea during the early hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950. During the early days of the war, F-80Cs from the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group flew cover for hard pressed friendly ground forces. On June 27, 1950, F80Cs from the 8th counterattacked against North Korean pilots flying Yak fighters escorting IL-10 bombers. Lieutenant Robert H. Dewald downed an IL-10. This was the first kill recorded by an American jet fighter. During July and August, F-5lDs and F-80Cs attacked North Korean armor and supply lines being used against South Korean forces. The Far Fast Air Force soon regained air superiority over South Korea. Both types also flew escort missions for B-29 bombers. By September 1950, the North Korean Peoples Army had been generally destroyed after almost controlling the entire country earlier in the war. In December, Chinese forces entered the war, and a new phase began.
The MiG-15 appeared over Korea in November 1950 and threatened American air superiority. The MiG-15 was 100 miles per hour faster than the F-80C and 300 miles per hour faster than the F-51D. "MiG Mley" (near the Yalu River) was soon considered off limits for both the F-51 and the F-80.
F-86As from the 4th Fighter Group were rushed to Korea in November/December 1950 and immediately demonstrated their superiority over the MiG-15. Several 4th Group Sabres flew close air support and armed reconnaissance air-to--ground missions in January 1951. Ordnance consisted of two 5" HVARs (High Velocity Aircraft Rocket) in addition to the normal six .50- calibre machine guns. These were experimental missions that confirmed the Sabre's air-to-ground shortcomings at that time.
In May1952, preparations were made to transfer the 39th Squadron to the 51st Fighter Wing from the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group. During the summer of 1952, the F-86F was introduced into the combat in Korea. The first F-86F Sabres went to the 39th Squadron of the 51st Wing at Suwon. Because the F-86Fwas designed as a fighter bomber, the remaining F-51D and F-80C units prepared to re-equip with the F-86F. This would add two fighter-bomber groups with Sabres, the 8th (F-80C) and the 18th (F-51Ds). The 8th Fighter-Bomber Group was made up of the 35th, 36th and 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons. The 18th Fighter-Bomber Group was made up of the 12th and 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons, plus the South African Air Force's No.2 Squadron. No. 2 Squadron had flown F-5lDs since the Korean War started, and they were highly experienced.
On December 26, 1952, the 18th Group and No.2 Squadron moved from Chinhae on South Korea's southeast coast near Pusan to the unfinished jet fighter base at Osan, 35 miles south of Suwon, below Seoul.
In early 1953, the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group converted from F-5lDs to F-86Fs. The 12th and No.2 Squadrons received their Sabres on January 12, 1953, while the l8th's other squadron, the 67th, continued flying Mustangs. The 12th received two experienced Sabre pilots from both the 4th and 5lst Groups to assist with training. The 67th Squadron converted on January23. At first, the l8th's pilots learned fighter-interceptor tactics before relearning their previous fighter-bomber duties. On February 25, 1953, the 18th and No. 2 Squadron flew their first Sabre combat with part of the 4th. By March, the 18th was flying only fighter-bomber missions. On March 27, Major James P. Hagerstrom of the 67th became the 28th Sabre ace. His score in Korea came to 8.5 kills plus 6 from World War Two. By March 31st, the 12th Squadron had 25 F-86Fs. The 67th reached its full complement of Sabres by April 17. Jet trained pilots from Nellis Air Force Base soon began replacing the Mustang pilots of the 18th.
The 8th Fighter-Bomber Group from Suwon had an easier transition into F-86Fs than the 18th as the 8th had been flying F80s. The 36th Squadron began F-86 training on February 22, 1953, and the 35th on March 14. The 80th Squadron was the last to fly Shooting Stars. They transitioned on May 1. The 8th flew its first combat on April 7th along the Yalu River. They were flying fighter-bomber missions by May. The 8th was at full Sabre strength by June 4, 1953.
This Is a surnmory of fighter-bomber Sabre activities in Korea as compiled by your editor. You are asked to fill in the blanks. Updates will be published in future issues of Sabre Jet Classics.
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