Corsairs over Korea

SPEARHEADING THE INCHON LANDING



The days come and go. Day in, day out, it's up and on your plane by 0400, work until all hours at night, sleep where and when you can.



15 September 1950.

The First Marine Division landed at Inchon. VMF-214 was there in support.

Tragedy on the hanger deck today. TSgt. George Underwood was killed by a 20 mm misfire. He was sitting on the right side of the cockpit on a plane that was parked in the forward most spot on the port side of the hanger deck. He was there helping the plane captain, who was in the cockpit, do a cockpit check on a discrepancy report. WE 17 was spotted all the way aft on the port side of the hanger deck. An ordnance man was checking the guns on WE 17, standard procedure, prior to reloading ammo. When he started his inspection of the guns in the right wing one of them fired. The bullet struck TSgt. Underwood in the back of his head. All guns are cleared by an ordnance man when the plane lands. How this terrible accident happened no one will ever know.

16 September 1950.

Lt. Andrasco returned safe. Today was a busy day for Sicily, my plane, WE 18, flew 3 sorties. VMF-214 killed 6 NKPA tanks.

Captain Simpson was killed today (WE 23). He was making a run on an ack ack nest. His napalm blew when he crashed.

Major General James M. Gavin, famed World War II Commanding General of the 82nd. Airborne Division came aboard by helicopter. He has been on the bridge most of the time. He is fascinated with flight deck operations. That's true with most.


MajGen James M. Gavin, USA & Capt John S. Thach, USN,
aboard USS Sicily (CVE 118), Sept. 1950.

18 September 1950.

Flight quarters sounded at 0430 this morning. Another long day. Scuttlebut says, Red Chinese Army is massing in Manchuria across the Yala River. The question is, are they going to cross the Yala? If they do we might as well register to vote out here because it will be a long time before we get home, if ever. If the Chinese don't help NK the war should be over in another month. There's a chance we could be going home by Thanksgiving.

The Marine Division assaulted Kempo airport last night and secured it this morning. Scuttlebutt says they are only 6 miles from Soul. VMO-6 has been operating off a stretch of road in that area. We have heard great things about VMO-6 and their outstanding work ever since they got to Korea. They are an important part of the winning team.

Scuttlebut says some NKPA Yak planes hit a British carrier and got a close miss on one of our cruisers. The Yaks got away. Who's asleep?

20 September 1950.

MAG-33 arrived at Kempo with squadrons, 542, 212, 312, HQSQ and Service Squadron (SMS). More Scuttlebut. General Field Harris said VMF-214 would go to Kempo soon as the Group gets set up there.

24 September 1950.

This has been a long haul and it's beginning to tell on some of the men. The day's come and go, day in day out it's up and on your plane by 0400, work until all hours at night, sleep where and when you can.

Another pilot went down in the rice paddies yesterday. Major Ken Reusser, new with the squadron, in (WE 17). I don't know him, but all of us hurt when someone goes down even when they are ok. The NK attempted to catch the Major but he ran through the rice paddies and our Marines got to him first. After running through the paddy he smelled really bad. So the report says. That makes 3 WE 17's lost. 2 down with pilots lost and one tail section collapse. Plus TSgt. George Underwood was killed by that 20 mm. misfire from WE 17. Col. Leishide said there will be no more WE-17. Some of us wonder about him saying that. When the CO gets superstitious it's not good. But I don't believe he's superstitious, he's a pretty tough Marine.

Scuttlebut says Doctor King, squadron flight surgeon, sent another letter requesting relief for the squadron. Badoeng Strait went to Inchon day before yesterday to take on ordnance, she refueled at sea. We are supposed to be going in on the 26th.

We haven't had a mail call since 6 September.

25 September 1950.

Our CO, Lt Col. W. Leishide went down with his plane this morning. He was trying to make it to Kempo airfield after being hit when his plane exploded. Maj. Keller is now CO.

The pilots are noticeably weary. Operations continue all out. We're all very tired. I know that for sure. We are up on the flight deck before 0400, work all day, then go until every available plane is ready for the next day's operations.

Still no mail. First Lieutenant Joseph R. Bibby, a replacement pilot, crashed coming aboard. He's all right, just shook up.


LtCol W.E. Lischeid.
KIA in plane crash near Kempo.

26 September: INCHON INVASION A SUCCESS.

Scuttlebutt says, everything is on hold waiting for the UN to decide about going north of the 38th.

Sicily
entered the Inchon anchorage today. Many ships here, including the battleship Missouri. We keep busy catching up on chores and washing aircraft. Scuttlebut says, North Korea wants a conditional surrender. If so it indicates they are beaten. There's no longer a "bomb line" south of the 38th. parallel.

28 September 1950.

The pilots departed Sicily for a liberty run at Kobe. We gave them a big cheer when they left. It came none too soon in my opinion. They are dog tired and have earned much more than just a few days off. They should be going home. After they were gone we had a spell of, "poor little me." Some of us feel like we have been forgotten since Colonel Leishide is gone.

30 September 1950.

Lt. Bibby went ashore yesterday and came back today with four sea bags full of cloths he scrounged in Inchon. We need dungarees bad. It made us feel better to have someone do something for us. Everybody has been too busy to think about things we need.

Scuttlebut says, everything is on hold waiting for the UN to decide about going north of the 38th. Expecting some word around 3 October.

The pilots returned from Itami this morning. They had a good time and looked it. They brought a lot of whiskey. One of the lieutenants gave Fred Darby a bottle of Canadian Club. Fred now has friends he never knew before.

2 October 1950.

Still we sit here off Inchon going nuts.

This morning the South Korean fleet paraded by on their way into Inchon. Must have been more than a hundred of them, small high-hull wooden ships. It was an event to us after sitting here for a week festering in our misery.

3 October 1950: NORTH KOREAN ARMY DEFEATED IN THE SOUTH

General MacArthur issued an "end-of-war" announcement. Scuttlebut says we will be home for Christmas.

At 1100 hours Sicily hoisted anchor and sailed for Sasebo. Dear dear Sasebo by the sea. That's where dry land and lots of beer wait for me. We are so sick and tired of this ship it surely must show. It's no fault of Sicily, we have simply had enough. We are tired, homesick, disgusted with the way the war is becoming a political game, wondering where and how it's all going to end. Hopefully we can wash away some of these problems in Sasebo. Japanese beer is good and the natives are friendly.

4 October 1950.

The sea has been very rough all day. I get seasick pretty easily and was glad to get to Sasebo. Liberty call went at 2040. By the time boats were available it was too late to go ashore, although a few guys did. They have really put a knot in the rope of life. Liberty by duty section. That's cruel and unusual punishment. Why don't they schedule port and starboard, meaning two duty sections go each day. My section is off today but it was too late for me to go ashore. My next liberty will be on the 7th. What a kick in the bucket. Scuttlebut says, with so many ships here the Admiral don't want too many sailors and Marines ashore at one time.

There is a British carrier anchored near us. They have entertainment on the fantail every night. Some of us go on the flight deck and watch. We have ringside seats. Seems their pay don't go very far ashore so they don't go on liberty like we do. The duty section is responsible the entertainment on British ships.

Scuttlebut says, Badoeng Strait is going stateside soon. Rumor oh rumor, how can it be? Please don't do this to me! All we have done in Sasebo is sit and process rumors. Must admit, I started a few good ones myself. A big rumor that seems to grow is, "THE CHINESE ARE A COMING!"

13 October 1950.

News today says ROK soldiers have secured Hamhung.

16 October 1950.

Sicily, Badoeng Strait, and escort, departed Sasebo this morning. The announced mission was a couple of days gunnery run. Since when do the carriers do gunnery drill?

Once we were in deep water Sicily's executive officer announced we are on our way to cover an invasion by the 1st.MarDiv.

20 October 1950.

General Mac Arthur issued a "end-of-war" announcement. Scuttlebut says we will be home for Christmas.

25 October 1950.

The 1stMarDiv. landed at Wonsan after sitting aboard ship for days waiting for the Navy to clear the harbor of mines. They didn't need our help this time. South Koreans have been there and gone on north. Scuttlebut says, Bob Hope was entertaining at the Wonsan airfield when the Marines showed up.

First Marine Division has been ordered north from Wonsan.

26 October 1950.

News reports say US and ROC forces have been attacked and suffered heavy losses. The US 8th. Army has been stopped cold. We wonder what's going on.

Sicily's Corsairs are flying daily, going from target to target providing close air support. We work our routine as always, up early, work late. We don't know how the pilots can keep going.

WE18 didn't return from a mission. I took care of that beautiful Corsair for two years. Now she is gone. I'll never forget WE18. Lt. Joe Bibby was the pilot. He made a wheels-up landing near our Marines. He is ok. They threw a few hand grenades inside the fuselage and cockpit to complete the destruction.

The Wing HQ and MAG-12 are now at Wonsan. MAG-33 at Itami.


WE18 was forced down by enemy ground fire in the Chosin Reservoir area.


29 October 1950: WINTER ARRIVES IN NORTH KOREA

Not only does the extreme cold hamper people, it makes aircraft maintenance more difficult.

Summer has turned to fall quickly followed by winter. The most severe winter in many years they say. Frigid winds come roaring out of Siberia, blowing unmercifully across the flight deck. Flight deck operations are severely hampered by the increased hazards of snow, ice, rough seas and fog. On the flight deck whirling propellers are deadly and unforgiving. "Take care," is the watch word

It's impossible to keep your face and hands dry. Spray comes over the flight deck when the ship is heading into the wind, which is necessary for flight operations. Your goggles get covered with ice. It's much harder to move around the deck when it's so cold. Bulky clothing further hampers movement. It's a real trick to climb up a sloping Corsair wing to get to the cockpit. Without flight deck shoes (Shoes with soles designed to squeegee water and hold onto a slick surface. Something like suction cups.) it would be impossible. We wipe the wing as dry as we can while the pilot is making his "once around check" so he don't slip and fall.

Not only does the extreme cold hamper people it makes aircraft maintenance more difficult. Soon after the weather became very cold engines began pumping oil out the exhaust stacks and oil leaks were in abundance. Pilots have started reporting engine power loss. What is happening?

The Pratt &Whitney R 2800 reciprocating aircraft engine used on the F4U Corsair has a vented crankcase. It vents overboard to the atmosphere through a quarter inch aluminum tube. Vapors from inside the hot engine escape through that tube. When vapors reach cool air they condense and become moisture. At altitudes where it's much colder the moisture freezes at the end of the tube, soon plugging it, disallowing the crankcase to vent. That causes pressure to build inside the engine and oil leaks occur where they normally wouldn't. It was a puzzling problem until someone noticed ice on a couple of vent tubes. My buddy John Scanlan came up with a fix. He cut off the breather tube up inside the engine cowling where it's normally hot during flight and attached a length of rubber tubing long enough to hang out in the air stream a few inches. In flight the flexible tubing whips around shaking off the droplets. They aren't there long enough to freeze. A simple solution to a serious problem. That's what Marines are good at, improvising.

We have been sailing around out here along the 40th parallel since 16 October. Some food items are expended so it's beans, rice, and spam for the past few days.

The pilots continue flying missions, responding to requests for close air support from all units. Our pilots tell us the Marines are a long way up north in the hills finding little or no resistance from the enemy. Scuttlebut says, over and over, the Chinese are crossing the Yala by the thousands.

1 November 1950.

Scuttlebut says, more UN ( ROK and US) losses up north.. No one seems to know where the enemy comes from.


Corsairs en route to targets in Korea.

2 November 1950.

Radio Peking announced Chinese volunteers are in Korea fighting for NK. General Mac Arthur says it's too little too late, the communist in Korea are whipped.

Our pilots tell us the 7th Marine Regiment, some distance ahead of the rest of the Division, was attacked by Chinese forces. The Chinese hit and ran and the 7th continued its march.

7 November 1950.

The 7th Marines arrived at Koto-ri.


DD 746 Escort delivering mail.

10 November.

We celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday. Major Keller held a squadron formation on the hanger deck after the last flight returned. He spoke about what our Corps means, reminding us that the birthday ceremony brings all Marines together on our birthday because, around the world, no matter where they are, Marines observe the Corps' Birthday. He spoke about what we are doing out here and thanked all hands for our loyalty and dedication to the mission at hand and wished us a happy birthday. We paid special tribute to our Marines who are no longer with us. Captain Thach and a lot of the ships crew attended our ceremony. Major Keller invited the Captain to say a few words and he did. His words were inspirational and flattering. He said some mighty good things about us, and about the whole Marine Corps. He told us it has been his privilege to serve with us and we will always have a home aboard Sicily. He said he and ships company will never forget "Sicily's Marines." After the ceremony was over I asked my buddy John Scanlan what he thought. "Best Marine Corps Birthday I ever stood," was his answer. I had to agree. I went back to work feeling pretty good.



NEXT:
MOVING ASHORE IN NORTH KOREA


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