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by Bud Farrell - 19th Bomb Group

mig15
After the disastrous B-29 vs. MiG-15 air battle of October 23, 1951, which later became known as Black Thursday, with the loss of several 307th B-29's to MiG-15's over Namsi, North Korea, the 3 B-29 Groups (the 19th Bomb Group, and 98th and 307th Bomb Wings) had to revert to night missions and rely on the cover and protection of darkness, with very few daylight raid exceptions for the balance of the war which ended on July 27, 1953.
The MiG-15 had made the B-29 obsolete, and there was no immediate replacement aircraft yet available or appropriate for the type of missions required. B-29's had flown everything from frontline support, dropping on enemy troop concentrations, bombing of rail lines, road supply truck routes, bridges, refineries, factories and last, but NOT least, North Korean airfields.

The vulnerability of the B-29s, even under cover of darkness, was further proven on the night of June 10, 1952. Over the relatively innocuous railway bridge targets of Kwaksan, MiG-15's destroyed 3 and badly damaged several others of the 19th Bomb Group out of Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. All were caught in searchlights and then jumped by MiGS! Our crew arrived in the 19 Bomb Group on June 21 1952 -- 10 days later

The apprehension from recent losses was very great and very unsettling to us "rookies". There was a great deal of gallows humor about "you won't need this or that very long".
takeoff
I, of course, was, and shall forever more be, commonly imposed on the new kids on the block! We had our turn six months later as we were getting ready to go home! But now it was " our turn in the barrel".

radio-op

After several orientation flights and related sessions with the Group Flight Surgeons Office on how to give in-flight blood transfusions etc, with the blood plasma kits we carried aboard the aircraft, we were ready for our first combat mission as a full crew. One of the first and most shocking briefing instructions to the Gunners, (including the Bombardier/Nose Gunner) was that we were "absolutely NOT to fire unless we were clearly fired upon"!. This went against the grain of everything we had been trained to do - a year and a half of intense Gung Ho "slug -it -out" simulated attacks with gun camera passes by F-51 Mustangs and F-80 Shooting Star Jets over Colorado, Wyoming, Texas and Louisiana. What the hell is this.... " DON'T SHOOT-"

Pic at left: Joe Whisman (radio op) and Bud (left gunner)

We were initiated on the night of July 3/4th. On our first mission, a MiG-15 appeared just off our left wing flying formation with us, very close in! The more senior gunner on the crew we were replacing, Brownie, said "Watch this", and he took an Aldis lamp ( similar to the current Q-Beam Sport Type plug- in Spot Light) which was used for visual checks in the darkness for wing and control surface damage, engine checks, etc., and he held it in front of his face and under his chin . like we did as kids playing "flashlight'. He clicked it on, damn near blinding us in the gunners' compartment, and was making faces and giving the MiG the FINGER!

"What the hell ......"

With that, the cockpit light of the MiG comes on. The MiG drops its landing gear to slow down, is flying superb formation with us at our left wing tip and now HE is giving US the finger! My heart is in my throat and these two are playing an early version of "road rage" I On the way back to Okinawa (about a 4 hour trip) I got a REAL briefing and the following was what was going on.

arlier fighter aircraft, prop or jet propelled, had to fly what is called a "pursuit curve" - the manuever so frequently illustrated in pictures - of a pilot's two hands making a pass at each other, with one having to make constant adjustment to the movement and changes in direction of the other

bud1

.This "leading", or pointing of the nose of the attacking aircraft then required some distance from the target in order to make the adjustments while spotting, sighting, and making a firing pass. If the guy in close attempted to point his nose at you, he was past you before he could even bring the fighter's gun platform to bear! Too CLOSE to the target and he was past the target before firing. Too FAR out in the dark and he had NO target, due to loss of visual sighting. There were then, in 1952, no air-to-air heat seeking or guided missiles, only ballistic missiles which went directly where they were pointed until they burned out and fell to the ground if missing the target - another aircraft.

props
Thus if the target, a bomber, had a fighter find it in the darkness by chance, following a slightly visible exhaust stack torch, spotted in a bright moonlight, or whatever, the fighter could stay with the bomber, fly close in and attempt to draw fire as another Bogey sat off a little ways getting vectored in with altitude, airspeed, heading, from the "Decoy". He could then make a pass - a pursuit curve -firing at the flashes from the multiple 50's of the bombers turrets, as the decoy dropped or dashed away to safety. No fire, no flashes. No damage, no losses!


Pic at let: Pulling props

Tracking of bombers by fighters following up on vapor trails in cold weather, and in the brightness of moonlight, was another matter; and climatic conditions were well considered in the timing and altitude of bomb runs in order to preclude the creation of vapor trails whenever possible. But many aircraft were still lost or damaged under such unanticipated and changing conditions from briefing time to time over target, 4 or 5 hours later! We experienced many similar incidents of non-firing passes in the darkness on our next 24 missions, and of course we had some of our other 'friendlies" up there too - B-29's and fighters, another good reason for strict fire control.

 

engine-start

Waiting for engines to start

But the air battles included a great deal more. With Radar Directed AAA (anti Aircraft Artillery) fire of 88s, 90s, 105s, and supposedly up to 120 MM heavy guns putting up a box barrage in front of and at the altitude known for the bomber stream (through recon aircraft, radar etc.), flying in single trail, a SHORAN RADAR ( Short Range Radar Navigation) Arc, each plane flying the same arc, 30 to 60 seconds horizontal and 500 foot vertical separation, of up to as many as 66 B?2'9s on a max effort target up along the Yalu River. If flak, searchlights, enemy aircraft dropping illuminating parachute flares above us, and MiGS, aren't a part of an air battle, then we weren't in many!

In WW II, great formations of hundreds of aircraft were fired at by hundreds of heavy guns. The B-29 crews, for at least a few minutes on some targets, had EVERY gun concentrating on ONE aircraft -- "yours"! The searchlights from the I.P. (Initial Point) to the target were essentially to illuminate the B-29's for orbiting MiG's, not particularly to light up B-29 targets for the ground gun crews since most AAA guns were radar controlled anyway. While radar controlled searchlights "locked on" B-29's, frequently "coning" one B-29 at the apex of the lights,


Bud in bomb site

MiG's would pounce on the B-29 like Yellow Jackets out of their disturbed nest. The Antung MiG Base just across the Yalu/Border and within visual sight of most major Yalu River targets was operating up to 300 MiG-15's that could not be taken out on their Chinese/Manchurian Base Refuge due to the political vagaries of the Korean War.

That aircraft was directly in front of us and we reported at debriefing 5 hours later that there was "'little or no possibility of survivors" and we were WRONG! The Right Gunner, 1 out of the 12 crew members aboard, had survived, evaded capture for 12 days, was a P.O.W. for 12 months, was repatriated in August of 1953 and I talked to him at Thanksgiving, 1998. But that's another story, the most incredible that I could relate!

After Suiho, we started to get Marine Night Fighter cover by F3D Sky Knights a side by side tandem seat radar jet fighter from


Bud in his gunner seat
Marine Squadron VMF(N)-513. On major Yalu targets the F3D's flew at higher altitudes, orbiting between the I.P. and target, waiting for calls for assistance from the vulnerable B-29's flying their straight and level NO evasion bomb runs! The security of having this cover was a great morale boost and we frequently had them fly and play almost in our prop wash in the dark, knowing that we, by agreement, were the "gang that couldn't shoot !!!!!!!! It was great practice for their radar tracking skills but initially a little unnerving having an unidentified Bogey virtually on our tail!


Bomb bay

On one mission our Radar Observer shouted on interphone, "2 bandits (MiG's) comin' in at 10 o'clock, my side!"

Heart in my throat, I reacted, "'High or low-"

" I can't tell you that, our radar only shows azimuth (horizontal plain), NOT vertical or altitude!"

Peeled eyeballs never saw either of them but our flight engineer looking out his escape hatch window saw 2 rocket tail flames pass just above us on their way to our 4 o'clock level. We NEVER fired!

That same night at debriefing, reports of action and log position reports proved that one B-29 crew had also impulsively fired at an unidentified aircraft - another B-29 in our group, with a .50 caliber round stopping in the seat and underlying flak jacket of our Group Executive Officer, Capt. Eugene Smith!

In this strange war, with stranger limitations - political AND practical - B29's dropped 167,000 tons of HE and Incendiary Bombs, more than the total dropped on Japan by B-29's in WW II, excluding the A-Bombs, of course. We lost 34 B-29's in combat, several others -perhaps even more- to operational accidents related to equipment failure, severe weather, etc. And we lost several B-29's in the night raids of late December, 1952 and through Spring of 1953, but the crews still saddled up knowing they couldn't shoot back unless clearly fired upon, letting the other guy throw the "first sucker punch. What a marvelous gutsy gang, that gang that couldn't shoot ........

 

red-hat

In one of the photographs within my service album, there is a picture almost too silly to merit any comment but I have had so many questions regarding it that I will try to explain it! I too was dumbfounded when I first saw it for the very first time in a crewmate's photo album at a reunion in St. Louis in 1986, 33 years after having last seen any of our combat crew members.

About half way through our combat tour someone in the 93rd Bomb Squadron thought it would be a great idea and morale booster to obtain RED (as our 19th Bomb Group Squadron Tail ID color) baseball type caps with the Squadron emblem on the front. And of course from there, there was a great deal of embellishment to these caps, many having crew position wings attached, names of places visited painted on, etc. And since we were not issued the World War II Leather A-2 Jackets upon which AirCrew members had painted their Aircraft Name, Nose Art, and bomb silhoettes symbolizing the number of missions flown, some of us painted small bomb silhoettes on the peak of the cap, one for each combat mission over North Korea.

At some point in our tour, I realized I was the only one on our crew wearing my li'l red hat on combat missions and that all others who had purchased these hats had apparently put them away in foot lockers to be preserved as a momento of their combat tour. I also found out that most of our crew thought I was crazy for wearing that hat on missions in the event of bailout and capture by the Chinese or North Koreans…..something that really hadn't occurred to me! I brushed it off with the thought that that hat would be long gone in the wind in a bailout, if not lost within the scramble to get out of a damaged falling aircraft, with the tearing off of headsets, oxygen masks etc. And that hat was worn only enroute or return anyway, never on a bomb run since we had to wear the old leather helmets with the built in headset and oxygen mask clamps on the sides - always being on oxygen while depressurized. I have since thought that the switching of that hat to helmet and helmet to hat was much like the football players we see today removing their helmet and immediately putting their team colors ball cap on while on the sidelines!

At any rate, after my crewmates raising the doubts about the advisability of having that hat either on, or even stuffed in a pocket, I DID have pause and second thoughts of carrying it again, but my ego, bravado, ,,,,,,and superstitious nature, got the best of me and after having about 15 missions marked on it I could not stop carrying it along on each mission….perhaps like the lucky penny or other artifact that I know each and everyone of us had on each mission! ANY change in routine might jinx us!

Having "whistled in the dark" on so many occasions in the past, I told my crewmates that if I got caught with the hat by the Gooks, I would just act crazy….perhaps like the legend of the American Indian not bothering mentally disturbed people whose spirit or soul they thought was possessed……and I acted out what I was going to do if captured…..thus the broom, the Air Force Issue Winter Overcoat ( the ONLY time I ever had that coat on in my whole Air Force career and this on Okinawa in warm weather), the crossed eyes….and the Li'l Red Hat!

Ironically, after receiving our orders for reassignment from Okinawa to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, a very warm desert climate, I left the overcoat, and all of my GI woolen long johns with the poor Okinawan houseboy that worked in our barracks, knowing I would never have use for these again since I never had before! The first thing that made me aware of the difference between the 19th Bomb Group, and its renegade character, and a disciplined SAC
(Strategic Air Command ) Bomb Wing, was the particularly "chicken shit" nature of the 43rd Air Refueling Squadron under a nonflying First Sergeant . He called a "Class A" Inspection , open Foot Lockers, to see if we had the exact and specific items originally issued to us two years previously….and all of our socks rolled right…..and of course I didn't ( but my socks WERE rolled right)…..and had to go to supply and buy exactly those items which I had given the houseboy…..including another winter overcoat which of course was never ever worn again either! That First Sergeant upped a lot of my other bad memories about the 43rd………I hope I "up his" with this!

As I sit here writing today, " dotting the 'T's ' and crossing the eyes", that li'l red hat hangs by my desk, and is a constant reminder of things both good and bad , but mostly that there ARE brighter sides to nearly everything ……………and humor is a VERY great salve for fear!

-Bud Farrell

 

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