Corsairs over Korea


VMF-214 struck the first blow for the Marines in the Korean War.

3 August 1950

At about 1330 hours our planes landed aboard. We launched two strikes this afternoon. My plane, WE 18, was a backup on the first flight. I was holding my breath until WE 10 and 11 both aborted and #18 launched with First Lieutenant Alvin R. Reider as pilot. That was the first blow struck for the Marines in the Korean war and my WE-18 was there.

During the night Sicily sailed around the southern tip of Korea then north into the Yellow Sea. Scuttlebutt says we were only about 100 miles from Seoul.

Our routine is set. When the last plane is recovered at the end of the day the flight deck is stacked for tomorrow's flights. Two and three flights are spotted and made ready for missions. Plane captains "tie down" their plane using steel cables, folded wings are secured using a device we call a "jury" strut that screws into fittings on the wing and fuselage locking the wing in the "up" position, all systems are checked and serviced. Ordnance crews check and clear the 20 mm cannon, load ammo and external weapons. The plane captain stays with his plane until it is secured, serviced, loaded, and ready for the next mission.

Back with his plane before 0400 the plane captain does an inspection of his plane then stands by in the cockpit. A plane captain gets to know his plane like he knows his rifle. He can find it in the dark and completely prep it without using a light. When all plane captains are in their cockpit the word is passed to the bridge and on order all engines are started. Engines are cycled through operating checks to determine if the engine and components are functioning properly.

4 August 1950

We launched 4 strikes today. Ordnance used was napalm, 5" rockets, and 500 pound bombs. The first launch went off at dawn to hit Kempo Airport near Seoul. They caught three NK aircraft on the ground. 3 kills. Our pilots reported seeing a USAF F-80 shot down by ground fire. All strikes reported good targets and heavy damage.

Major R. P. Keller had trouble landing today. He hooked a cable ok but his right gear was in the starboard catwalk. The plane stopped just short of the island. Major Keller was ok. One sailor, an unauthorized on-looker, was injured. Nothing serious, the spinning tire pretty well scalped him. You could see his skull bone. Only those persons actually involved in flight operations are authorized to be on the flight deck , including catwalks and gun tubs, except when at general quarters. But they still come to watch.

Major Keller's accident and two collapsed tail struts, WE 17 and 20, are the only accidents we have had. Hope our luck holds. The metalsmiths have been busy repairing skin damage from ground fire. One plane had wing damage that' s beyond repair. A replacement wing came off Major Keller's accident. Sicily had no time to take on spare parts for the Corsair so we scavenge parts from a plane that can't be repaired.

Pilot TSgt. Monk Taylor scored a direct hit on a bridge today.

5 August 1950

Operations continue, hot and heavy.

We frequently see debris in the water alongside the ship. They say that's what's left of NK fishing boats after a collision with US Navy ships. We also see bloated bodies floating among the debris. There is no shortage of NK boats in the area. None of them carry NK navy markings. On some of the boats antennas can be seen so it is assumed they are surveillance boats reporting on US activity. A Quartermaster 2nd class from the bridge said it often happens that the Sicily and DD escort can't avoid ramming them at night. Poor visibility.

We have seen some of the worlds largest Portuguese Men-of-War (a type of jelly fish), so says an ex-tuna fisherman. These creatures often look to be 30 to 50 feet across with tendrils hanging deep into the sea possibly longer than their width. And there is a lot of them.

The hassle we usually face aboard navy ships seems to be behind us. Sicily's ships company has accepted us and go out of their way to be helpful. Captain Thach let it be known that all hands are here to support the pilots. He seems to think our pilots are gifts from God, which they are. He pulls all stops to make it as easy for them as he can.

Captain Thach comes on the hanger deck at all hours of the night where we are working to talk with us. The first night he asked if we needed anything, "How about coffee?" He sent his MA (Master at Arms) to break out the duty cook to make coffee. He authorized rations for anyone working at night. The Mess Chief assigned a cook to the night watch to make sandwiches and coffee for us.

The Captain's attention is good for our morale. At night conditions on the hanger deck are extreme. The engines are usually hot to begin with. It's like an oven with the hanger deck shut tight and no ventilation. It's so hot we keep an eye on one another and go outside for fresh air once in a while. The work must be done, there's no sleep until it is.

Captain Thach pays close attention to the pilots. He often visits the pilot's ready room to listen in on the action. When asked he will give advice. The pilots respect him as a veteran pilot and listen to what he has to say. The Captain invented what became known as the "Thach weave." A maneuver done by leader and wingman that allows maximum visual coverage of the flight zone. Captain Thach once said he knows the "weave" works, he was shot down while doing it.

VMF-214 is laying down a blanket of fire and steel on North Koreans targets. Sicily ranged far up into the Yellow Sea then worked back south to be in position when the First Marine Brigade moves on line.

Back in Japan VMF-323 flew FCLP (field carrier landing practice). When Badoeng Strait was ready to sail -323 moved back aboard. Once at sea -323 Corsairs landed aboard and commenced carrier qualifications. It didn't take a lot of time, -323 pilots are old hands on carriers.

"Take a break when you can."


The Badoeng Strait with VMF-323 aboard joined us today. It's good to see her out there. Welcome VMF-323.

7 August 1950

Both Sicily and Badoeng Strait were on station in support of the Brigade when they jumped off early today. VMF-214 and VMF-323 delivered close air support that wrote a whole new chapter in the record book.

Pilot reports are good. They have good targets and the Brigade units are using their services. You can see it in the eyes of the pilots when they talk about it. Some of the Corsair deliveries are made so close to our troops the pilots can see them in their sights. No reports of hitting our own troops. The pilots fear that most of anything they face.

10 August 1950

10th and 11th in Sasebo, Japan. We had a beach party the first afternoon. Drank lots of beer and felt a lot better for it. Had liberty on the 11th. Had a good time, drank a little beer, enjoyed seeing part of the city.

12 August 1950

We left Sasebo. Back to work.

WE 12 returned from a strike with a large hole in the left wing butt. The right wing butt wrinkled on landing. It was scratched so it's now spare parts.

Combat damage to Corsair.

13 August 1950

WE 4, WE 9, and WE 18 are tied for lead in missions flown. WE-18 is down for an electrical problem. I'm trying hard to get it back in commission so not to lose a mission today. Our pilots have flown 180 missions in 10 days. We wonder how long they can go at this pace.

The situation has become very serious on the Pusan perimeter. There is talk of a total collapse and evacuation.

The Brigade is fighting in the Chin-Ju area now. Scuttlebutt is we will move onto the air strip there if all goes well. I hope so.

"Seoul City Sue" announced on the radio that USS Sicily with its "Blacksheep" squadron of Marines will be wiped out to avenge the people of Free Korea. She said any man from the squadron they capture will be given a slow cruel death for using fire bombs on their people and coming back so often. She said we should go home to live and enjoy our Navy "E" because the fight in Korea is none of affair. The NKPA has passed the death sentence on any Marine captured. She called us "blood suckers." We feel pretty good that they know our identity and that we are giving them such a hard time.

All afternoon our planes covered the withdrawal of the Brigade. The word is the Army Command has ordered the Marines back to another area more critical to the defense of the Pusan Perimeter. We feel pretty bad about this turn of events. I can imagine how the Brigade Marines feel.

WE-18 launching off USS Sicily (CVE-118), Sept 1950.

14 August 1950

TSgt Monk Taylor, flying WE 20, went down on the last strike today. The engine took a hit and lost its oil. He is ok.

15-16 August 1950

have been bad news days. Nothing but bad news from the Pusan perimeter. Scuttlebutt says every ship available is standing by off Pusan ready to evacuate US Forces when the word comes down. The Brigade has been moved to another attack position to shore up the defense.

17 August 1950

Strange things are going on along the Pusan perimeter. Our pilots can't find targets and Army control gives them none. The NKPA seems to he in hiding. Our pilots have been dumping their load in the ocean. Only in extreme emergency will they land with ordnance aboard. Our XO said this morning that if the situation don't change today there will be a withdrawal from Korea by all hands.

19 August 1950

Operations continue about the same, working around the clock. The Brigade is busy again and Marine pilots are helping. It's a good feeling getting the job done. The Brigade is being moved around to plug holes. Last I heard they were re-working the Masan area. Again.

Corsair providing close air support.

20 August 1950

Scuttlebutt is the Brigade has moved to an assembly area in reserve. It's about time they had a break. This last week has been a ball buster for them the pilots tell us.

26 August 1950

We are having landing gear failure. WE- 4, 6, 22, and 23 will fly away to Japan where the MAG service squadron will do repairs. The planes will fly with gear down.

Sicily made Sasebo. Good liberty but much too short. It was a treat to get off the ship and look around a bit. Me and my buddies drank some beer and shopped for bargains.

27 August 1950

Departed Sasebo 1700 hours

28 August 1950

Back to work. The Badoeng Strait went to Sasebo today. VMF-323 will go to Kyoto for a rest period. Scuttlebutt says -214 will get a rest break early in September.

29 August 1950

Today we set a new record for sorties flown in one day from a CVE with a total of 47. Through the 29th. VMF-214 has flown 2360 hours

31 August 1950

August 29, 30, and 31 have been busy. From 20 to 31 August, VMF-214 was in action 10 days and flew 203 combat sorties. In the same period VMF-323 was in action 7 days and flew 145 sorties. Sicily has been operating close to Pusan. We could see land off and on. A pilot told me it's only 12 minutes to the targets. Captain Thach believes in "close air support." We were surprised when the word came out we were going to Sasebo. I figure it's more scuttlebut.

When a pilot climbs into a cockpit we get him strapped in and help him get set to go. When he is directed onto the catapult he is locked into a system that will send him from a dead standstill to flight speed in a few short feet. When the "cat" fires there is an instantaneous pressure to the rear. The pilot must be firmly against the backpack, head against the headrest, right upper arm solid against his side with hand firmly on the stick. The left hand must hold the throttle full forward for maximum power. To hold the throttle forward the left arm will be extended with no support. The force of the "cat" shot has resulted in a pilot's arm being snapped back pulling off the throttle resulting in a "cut" of power and an embarrassing "splash" off the bow. To give the pilot a fail safe throttle forward a fold-away handle has been provided. When the pilot pushes the throttle forward he crooks his thumb around it and hooks his four fingers around the handle. This locks the throttle forward. Once up and away the handle can be folded away.

Plane captains standby in the catwalk. Often a plane will not start. That usually means a low battery. Batteries must be serviced daily still they go bad. If the prop moves at all you can bet it's the battery. Along the flight deck catwalk there are power outlets. In the belly of the aircraft there is a plug-in receptacle. We use a heavy 50 ft. jumper cable to jump a start. It has become a game with us to see who can get a booster cable plugged in the quickest. Yesterday a pilot with a low battery had the jumper cable in his plane so quick he was one of the first started. An aircraft that wont start can tie up the deck and delay the launch. When a plane wont start all hands are up on deck to push the plane clear. We do all we can for the pilot and to keep the deck moving.

Captain James English was lost to ground fire today. No chance he survived. He was a strong man among strong men. A good man and a great Marine. He will be missed.


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