25 June 1950: The U.S. Government asked for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to consider the invasion of the Republic of South Korea launched by North Korean forces early in the morning of the 25th (Korean time). The Council, meeting later the same day, adopted a resolution calling for the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean forces above the 38th parallel, and also calling on all members to assist the United Nations in the execution of the resolution.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this — having just completed an epic, worldwide and world-changing war barely four years earlier the expectation for conflict just wasn’t there.  Veterans who had trod the sands of Tarawa and Omaha Beach, endured kamikazes off Okinawa and murderous flak and fighters over Berlin were back home and applying themselves to the booming post-war economy.  The advent of the atomic bomb seemed to be the ne plus ultra of combat, obviating the need for the large standing (and expensive) conventional forces of the last decade.  Delivered by the newest service, the Air Force, the atomic bomb rendered moot centuries of strategy and planning.

Except the Soviets didn’t get the memo.

Two years prior they had tried to shut down access by the US, Britain and France to Berlin — and a massive airlift had side-stepped that blockade.  Last year (1949) they detonated their first atomic bomb, almost a decade ahead of when the intelligence community figured they might.  China had fallen to the communists led by Mao, underscoring the impression of a single, relentless Communist front bent on world domination (southern Europe had been saved — barely, from this fate by massive infusions of American cash and aid, beginning with Greece).  And now Communist North Korea had invaded South Korea, presumably at the behest and under the watchful, benevelant eye of Uncle Joe.

For it’s part the US was caught flat footed.  The post-World War 2 draw-down (or “peace dividend” if you will) had seen a significant portion of its armed forces put in mothballs or scrapped altogether.  For the US Navy and Marine Corps it was exceptionally hard:

US Navy and Marine Corps: 1945 – 1950
Category 1945 1950
Personnel (Navy) 3,400,000 500,000
Personnel (Marines) 475,000 75,000
Major Combatants 1200 237
Aircraft 40,000 4300

As  the US scrambled to mobilize its Reserves and reconstitute forces (like the USS Essex, CV-9 shown in mothballs at Bremerton in the photo above), a small naval contingent swung into action to support the forces ashore who were in retreat under the North Korean onslaught.  Part of that presence was the sole carrier in the Far East — the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) with Air Group FIVE (CVG-5) embarked, part of the Seventh Fleet’s Task Force 77.  An Essex-class carrier completed after the war, Valley Forge was anchored in Hong Kong bay, receiving the astonishing news of the North’s invasion on 25 June.  Rapidly getting underway, she made for Subic Bay to replenish and take on ammo stores and arrived off Korea on 3 July. In addition to the Valley Forge, the light anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CLAA-119) was available with her 8″ naval rifles.  Besides those combatants, everything else in the theater had only 5″ or smaller.  None of the new Midway-class carriers were available (nor would they be as the decision was made to keep them in the Med and on the East Coast since they were Navy’s only means of providing nuclear strikes at the time).  CVG-5 consisted of:

Modex Squadron Aircraft
100 (S) VF-51 Screaming Eagles F9F-2
200 (S) VF-52 Knightriders F9F-2
300 (S) VF-53 Blue Knights F4U-4B
400 (S) VF-54 Copperheads F4U-4B
500 (S) VA-55 Torpcats AD-4/4Q
(NP)xx VC-3 DET.C Blue Nemesis F4U-5N
AD-3N
(ND)xx VC-11 DET. . AD-3W
(UP)xx HU-1 DET. Pacific Fleet Angels HO3S-1
(AZ)xx MAW-1 HEDRON-1 DET. . F4U-5P

VC-3/Det C were the night fighter/attack component to CVG-5, while VC-11 provided AEW services and HEDRON-1 DET provided camera-equipped F4U-5P’s for pre- and post-strike recce.

The USAF’s Far East Air Force numbered some 1200 aircraft – incorporating five fighter and two bomber wings, a transport wing, and miscellaneous support units. Spread throughout the theater, the FEAF was dedicated to the defense of Japan, Okinawa, Guam, and the Philippines, and was reflective of the transition that aviation was presently undergoing.  Of the 553 aircraft in organized units, 365 were Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star’s — America’s first generation of jet fighters.  These aircraft had recently replaced the piston-engined North American F-51 Mustang, a fifth generation piston fighter and easily the most famous of the previous decade.  Performance of the F-80 was astounding compared to that of the F-51 except in two areas — combat radius (without tanks, 100 miles) and with tanks, no external ordnance could be carried.  Additionally, while the Mustang could operate from relatively primitive airstrips, the F-80s required long, paved runways.   B-29s of the 19th Bombardment Group were based in Guam and re-deployed to Yokota, Japan to be closer to the action and would be supported by RB-29’s   from the 31st Recon squadron, 5th Reconnaissance Group.  In the following days more B-29s would deploy from stateside locations to Japan as the new Strategic Air Command mustered its forces.

On the peninsula, the situation was desperate.  The North Korean forces were rapidly overtaking and capturing allied airfields and so air support had to come from the distant US airbases found in Japan, or from aircraft carriers.  Two pressing missions had to be accomplished by airpower — provide persistent, close air support to buy the allied ground forces time to withdraw and re-group and strikes against the transportation and support infrastructure in the rear to cut off supplies to North Korean troops in the south.

3 July 1950: Carrier aircraft went into action in Korea for the first time. Valley Forge, with Air Group 5, and HMS Triumph operating in the Yellow Sea, launched strikes on airfields, supply lines, and transportation facilities in and around Pyongyang, northwest of Seoul. This was the first combat test for the Grumman F9F Panther and the Douglas AD Skyraider. It was also the occasion for the first Navy kills in aerial combat during the war and the first shoot-down by a Navy jet, as F9F pilots of VF-51, Lieutenant (jg) L. H. Plog and Ensign E. W. Brown shot down two Yak-9’s on the first strike over Pyongyang.


In the days and weeks that followed, more aircraft arrived from the states and the Princeton (CV-37), the 13th Essex-class built (and ironically, initially named the “Valley Forge“) was hastily  de-mothballed in Bremerton (she would deploy in November 1950 with CVG-19).  Reserves were mobilized (some) but there wouldn’t be a national dedication of effort to this “police action,” the first of the wars which were limited to all except those in the line of fire.

At Taejon, it would be anything but a police action — the 24th Division suffered 3,602 dead and wounded and 2,962 captured, including the Division’s Commander, Major General William F. Dean. Overhead, the KPAF shot down 18 USAF fighters and 29 bombers; the USAF shot down five KPAF fighters.

We weren’t ready.  We’d cashed our chips after the last war, banking on sole possession of the atomic bomb and the only means to deliver the same as our ace-in-the-hole to keep the Soviets at bay, along with large standing forces in Europe.  Peace and prosperity, aided and abetted by reduced defense spending.

30 June 2010:  Debt, Deficits, & Defense – A Way Forward. (h/t: ‘Phib)  In chapter V, under “Options to Save in 2011-2020” may be found:

Table 2 (page 13) provides a quick summary of our central recommendations. These options might be implemented either individually or as a set in order to maximize savings – as much as $960 billion for the 2011–2020 period.  As an integrated set, the options would entail:

• Reducing the US nuclear arsenal to 1000 warheads deployed on 160 Minuteman missiles and 7 nuclear submarines,

• Curtailing nuclear weapons research and the planned modernization of the nuclear weapons infrastructure,

• Curtailing national missile defense efforts,• A reduction of approximately 200,000 military personnel, yielding a peacetime US active-duty military of approximately 1.3 million personnel,

• Capping routine peacetime US military presence in Europe at 35,000 and in Asia at 65,000, including afloat,

• Reducing the size of the US Navy from its current strength of 287 battle force ships and 10 naval air  wings to a future posture of 230 ships and 8 air wings,

• Rolling back the number of US Army active-component brigade combat teams from the current 45 to between 39 and 41,

• Retiring 4 of the 27 US Marine Corps infantry battalions along with a portion of the additional units that the Corps employs to constitute air-land task forces,

• Retiring three US Air Force tactical fighter wings,

• Ending or delaying procurement of a number of military systems – the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MV-22 Osprey, KC-X Aerial Refueling Tanker, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle – and fielding less expensive alternatives,

• Reducing base budget spending on Research, Development, Test and Evaluation by $5 billion annually,

• Resetting the calculation of military compensation and reforming the provision of military health care,

• Implementing a variety of measures aiming to achieve new efficiencies in DoD’s supply and equipment maintenance systems, and

• Setting a cost reduction imperative for command,support, and infrastructure expenditures.

I think we’ve been down this road before…

2 Comments

  1. YN2(SW) H. L. Gauthier III

    You’re right we have been down this road before. After every one of our wars we’ve had significant reductions in our forces. The thing about it, is that each war ended before we considered reducing forces. The Global War on Terror is not even over. Hell, I am writing this right now from Kandahar! Also, our ability to pull mothballed equipment and place it back into active duty is not what it used to be–unless I am mistaken. Can we put the ex-USS KITTY HAWK back into service in anything less than a year? Is it even possible to bring aircraft back to life?

    Our military is priceless because we can’t replace it in short order. I wish we realized that.

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