by John Oshant
My 4 year tour at Moody AFB as an instructor ended in May of 1958, with orders assigning me to the 26th FIS at Clark AB. There were two squadrons at Clark - the 26th FIS equipped with F-86Ds, and the 72nd TFS, later changed to the 510th, flying F-100's which had recently received their target assignments for nuclear war. Both squadrons were directly under 13th AF operational control.
Various mysterious events occurred around Clark Field during this time. Some bordered on genius, others were amazing but questionable. The ones I describe may have some details missing. However those I describe will give you examples of the no threat-country club attitude that prevailed around Clark in 1958.
The two fighter squadron operations buildings were similar flat roofed masonry buildings, located a short distance from the flight line. Early one morning, the 510th CO is going to work very early. He unlocks the front door, enters and turns on the lights. The room is vacant! All the furniture and safes are gone! As it was getting lighter outside, someone discovers furniture on the roof. They soon realize the furniture arrangement on the roof is almost an identical arrangement they occupied inside. Safes containing top secret information were still locked and standing in the same position they occupied inside. It's amazing that classified data was removed and placed in an unsecure area without any repercussions. To my knowledge no one was charged with any offense or disciplinary action taken. The suspected perpetrator was a well-known pilot in the 26th.
Next is the story about the night the F-100 crash-landed on Clark's parade ground. To set the stage for the next happening, imagine you are viewing the parade ground at Clark. At the right was 13th AF HQ and on the left was Wing HQ In-between was the parade ground over a half mile long. with the 0-Club located centrally on one side.
The story begins one Saturday night. The Ops Officer drives to the alert pad and `borrows' some crew chiefs. Next they go to the base salvage yard, which contained an F-100 that had crash-landed previously. It was beyond repair but appeared intact except for broken-off landing gear, doors, torn flaps and a few other pieces. Somehow they commandeered a very large flatbed trailer, a truck to pull it, and a device powerful enough to lift the F-100.
Meanwhile, back at the parade ground there's a bulldozer scraping the parade ground turf on a heading that points towards 13th Hq. The loose turf is piled up just short of the 13th AF Hq. as it might appear if the F-100 was sliding to a stop on its belly. That's the spot where they 'plant' the F-100. Then, for added effect they position the broken-off gear, flaps and other pieces along the scraped path.
Every Sunday morning at 06:00 sharp the 13th AF Information Officer rode his scooter to his office to file his weekend report. When he turns the corner it brings into his view the 'crashed' F-100. The I0 must have felt that his assignment to report timely and accurate news to PACAF in Hawaii was in jeopardy. His reaction to seeing the 'crashed' F-100 which stopped short of damaging 13th AF Hq. probably included disbelief, confusion, panic, anger and amazement before returning to normal.
8 AUGUST 1958
THE SECOND STRAITS OF TAIWAN CRISIS
With the exception of December 7th and 9/11, I recall the date 8 August 1958 more than any others. I was scheduled as alert pad commander beginning at 0800 the day before. There were four of us on alert, two on 5 minute and two others on 15.
Very early on the morning of the 8th, the peace and quiet in the alert shack ceased when the scramble phone rang. One of my pilots answered the call. I was half awake in my bunk and heard just bits and pieces of the conversation It was definitely not a normal scramble order. It was a request for a flight of six of our 86 Dogs to fly to Chia-yi, Formosa - a scramble order none of us had ever heard of - to fly to another country and land. We didn't have any passports or special entry papers. I don't recall if we used an authentication code for verification.
At that time the CO and Ops Officer of our squadron were in Okinawa at the PACAF rocket meet, and not available for advice. After some delays by 13th AF, it was after noon before I landed at Chia-yi AB, a flight of 514 miles. Five other pilots from my flight, plus our ground support and crew chiefs, made up the detachment.
At Chia-yi I was met by a senior officer of the Chinese Nationalist Air Force (CNAF), and he informed me that he was my Liaison Officer. His first instructions were where to go and what to do when the air raid sirens sounded. I noticed he said "when", not "if", which certainly added realism to the situation. In any case, he wanted me to accompany him to their Ops Center. Our immediate task then was to establish a communication line from their ops center to our detachment. Then I was met by a USAF colonel from 13th AF(Advanced), located in Taipei. He said his staff would brief my men on the situation as soon as I could make them available.
At the briefing the colonel said that the Chinese Communists had moved IL-28 medium bombers to airfields opposite Formosa. Also the Chicoms were shelling the islands of Quemoy and Matsu whenever re-supply ships approached.
The new plan was to re-supply the two islands at night using CNAF transport aircraft to drop the supplies by parachute. The CNAF provided top cover in the daylight hours. Our six F-86D's would provide top cover at night and protect the transport aircraft if they were threatened.
A question about Rules of Engagement with the Chicoms provoked a blank stare from the 13th AF colonel. Specifically, the question was "Could we chase an enemy aircraft into China and fire our rockets at them?" Within a few days the question was answered by the highest authority - President Eisenhower. Basically his message was, "If they fired at us we could fly in `hot pursuit' of the attacker and fire at them, and if necessary, cross the border into China to do so."
A few days after our arrival my CNAF liaison officer gave me a tour of Chia-yi airbase. There was plenty of evidence they were expecting an attack. Anti-aircraft weapons were positioned all around the airfield. Every gun position was fully manned with troops and ready to fire.
Back to the briefing with 13th AF (Advanced). "Additionally," he said, "Chi-com troops are massing along the coast and an invasion of Formosa was expected at any time." After the briefing, the 13th AF Colonel took me aside and told me they really didn't know what the situation was. I was surprised when one of his staff asked if we carried bombs with our F-86's! I thought this guy should be clued in. It might prevent some F-86D jock from being sent on a wild goose chase.
The D carried just 24, 2.75" rockets in a retractable pod located beneath the pilot. This all means the D's `one G/wings level' requirements make it a sitting duck in day VFR combat. My assessment of the situation was that the temperature of the cold war was rising rather rapidly and our all-weather Interceptors were not exactly the weapon of choice in the current situation.
After the briefing, my new liaison showed us where we would operate from and where to park our aircraft. Then we went about activating our scramble communication system. The CNAF was standing strip alert on the warm up pads next to the active runway. We couldn't use their scramble communications for two reasons. One was no space for of our aircraft and the second one was very uncommon. My CNAF liaison said it was because of defecting pilots in the CNAF. In the past, some CNAF pilots had defected to the mainland at night using stolen CNAF aircraft.
To prevent reoccurrences, every evening before dark they put barrels full of cement across the runway to prevent night takeoffs. So our scramble system had to include an order to remove the cement barrels. Our scramble times seemed in jeopardy because my Liaison Officer said another vital communication line was required. CNAF had placed guards at both ends of the runways at night with orders to shoot the pilots of any aircraft not designated in the scramble order. We checked the system thoroughly before we put it to use. The final test was when I taxied out for my first night take-off. I slowed my taxi speed as I neared the area where the guard was positioned. He suddenly appeared in my taxi light, saluted my aircraft and I breathed a sigh of relief, returning the salute as a chill ran down my spine.
After take off and climbing to our assigned altitude, usually 30,000 feet, the wingman would position his Dog five miles behind Lead. We called it `in-trail position.' Ma-kung, our ground radar site, would direct the flight leader to a position just east of Quemoy where we would set up a race track pattern. On some nights, when there were thin undercuts, city lights were visible glowing beneath the clouds. The bandits usually remained on the ground when clouds were present.
On some missions it became more exciting when the weather on the mainland was clear. Shortly after we arrived on station the runway lights of an airfield on the mainland would come on just long enough for their fighters to take off. Within a few minutes, Ma-kung radar would advise; "Agony 88, bandits at 10 o-clock, 15 miles climbing thru angels 13." After acknowledging, I continued flying a racetrack pattern and Ma-kung would advise us the Migs were doing the same. Occasionally we had them on our airborne search radar. Neither of us made a pass at the other. The rules of engagement wouldn't permit us shooting first. The bandits were usually flying close to our same altitude.
My first night mission was uneventful. We returned to Chia-yi without hostile contact with neither enemy aircraft nor their anti-aircraft artillery. The MIGs didn't come up very often. Weather was undoubtedly the primary reason.
Some mornings while still on pad alert, we would fly a `Dawn Patrol' checking the weather over the straights and passing it to Chia-yi tower. After departing Chia-yi very early one morning when the weather was low stratus overcast, the bad guys to the West turned on a powerful radio beacon emitting Chia-yi's frequency non-directional beacon from a location west of Chia-yi, attempting to lure us to land in mainland China. I think we used Chia-Yi's D/F steer facility to return to land at Chia-Yi after their GCA picked us up. The date was July 21, 1956 which was 2 years earlier.
We began rotating flights back to Clark every week. A pilot shortage in the squadron resulted in hectic scheduling of activities. A few weeks later, 13th AF Ops asked the 26th if the F-86D could shoot rockets effectively while dog fighting. Somehow I became the person to answer the request. We scheduled a couple of flights loaded with rockets. I briefed how we would conduct the flight. One would lead and fire while pulling G's: the other would observe the rockets flight paths from a very loose wing position. Then we switched positions to give the other pilot a view. We flew out over the South China Sea gunnery range. It didn't take long to see what was happening. The answer to 13th Air Forces question was: "Firing rockets under G forces greater than one G result in flight paths well below and behind the target. Some rockets had erratic flight paths probably due to damaged folding fins."
After my report Major Harrison Fisher from 13th Air Force ops asked if I'd like a transfer to the interim TAC Provisional Group in the Air Defense section. I said yes after being assured I would still be flying the 86D. The Commanding General of 13th Air Force, Major General Thomas Morman, believed his staff that told him 13th Air Force had a good Air Defense System. Major Fisher told me my job was to convince the General with the facts. I was directed to plan, and conduct many air defense exercises, both large and small, of the Philip-pine Air Defense system, record the results, analyze the data, and present the summary to the General, all in less than six months.
Before beginning duty as the new Air Defense Ops Officer, I rotated back to Taiwan to fly more missions. Hsin Chu AB which is further north on the western Taiwan coast, became our new base of operation. The Chinats had a F-86F wing at Hsin Chu. I cannot recall the number of trips or rotations I made during the situation. However, this next trip to Hsin Chu remains in mind because another Dining In was scheduled and this time it actually occurred.
Primarily though, I recall the event because that same day the ChiNAT Air Force, flying F-86Fs out of Hsin Chu, shot down 10 to 12 MIGs with the GAR 8 Sidewinder missile. No one realized the significance of it at the time, but they were the FIRST successful air to air guided missile victories on this planet. That evening at the Dining In, our hosts certainly were not reluctant to repeat the fact many times that night that Gars were credited with the victories. That was the first and only time I heard of any claims by ChiNAT personnel.
As those years passed, questions kept popping into my mind concerning that Dining In and the first GAR victories and both events occurring on the same day. Was it co-incidental or pre-planned? I consider it as the most significant historical date in manned aerial combat. I label it as `The beginning of the end of air to air combat using bullets'. I also reminded myself it was the beginning of the era when a pilot can get a guided missile up his tailpipe with little or no warning. Also aerial victories will no longer be determined primarily by the victors flying skill.
On one trip to Hsin Chu I relieved our Asst. Ops Officer, Captain Floyd K. Taylor, as detachment commander. During our discussion on events and changes in operations and procedures he told me he'd encountered flak the previous night. He said it wasn't very accurate and appeared to explode at his altitude but at some unknown distance to the west. This was a first time event for us. He said he logged combat as the mission symbol on the Form 1 and recommended I tell my pilots and to log combat if they encounter flak.
I was quite anxious to get on with the missions after my arrival and Captain Taylor's update of the operation. On my next night scramble my two ship also encountered some flak near Quemoy. It didn't appear very close. After returning to Hsin Chu I began replaying the experience in my mind. I was curious about the distance where the bursts had detonated and devised a way to find that out.
We encountered flak again on my next flight. My #2 was 1/Lt. Bill Van Dine who was five miles in trail. After the first detonations I asked Bill where the bursts appeared. He replied 9 o'clock. That same burst appeared to me near my 7:30 position. My geometry is a bit rusty but good enough to recall the meaning of our observations. With Lt. Van Dine 5 miles in trail that places the bursts approximately 5 miles off his left.
One final tale. This occurred in Las Vegas at the 1997 Sabre Pilots reunion. After signing in, the receptionist told me to get in line to receive some freebies. The line was quite long. I got in line behind the last guy noticing he was very tall. We struck up a conversation which eventually got around to the F-86. Soon after the tall guy begins to talk about the `Dog'. Tall guy: "Most F-86 pilots think the `Dog' never experienced any combat." I paused with my reply saying "just a minute there". I hadn't discussed this with any former F-86 pilot for eons.
After I had my thoughts gathered I replied. "I experienced hostile action in the Dog." He asked where and when?. "I was out of Clark in the 26th FIS on TDY in Formosa". I replied. He leaned down and looked at my name tag and I looked at his. It was Bill Van Dine. He very excitedly replied "John Oshant! You were lead and I was your #2 when they were shooting at us." It'd been 39 years since our last conversation at Clark AFB. I guess that's what reunions are for. It sure made my day and Bill's too.
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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