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On January 24, 1952 Headquarters USAF in Washington decided to commit the 319th FIS to the Korean War. The 319th had been the first of the five Continental Air Command F-82 squadrons to re-equip with the F-94A, and were considered the most experienced F-94 squadron. Interestingly enough, they left their F-94As behind and picked up F-94Bs (specs) that had previously been assigned to Air National Guard squadrons which had been activated during the Korean war call-up, primarily the 101st and 113th Fighter Wings. The 319th was based at Larson AFB, Washington when the Warning Order came down and within three weeks they were aboard CVE-86, the carrier Sitkoh Bay, enroute to Japan. After a 17 day sea journey they were off-loaded at Yokosuka, barged across the bay to the large Far East Air Material Command base at Kisarazu, where they were inspected for salt water corrosion, had their fuel and hydraulic systems purged and avionics checked, and then were flown to Johnson Air Base for final checks prior to the two-stop 830 mile trip to (K-13) Suwon Air Base, Korea under the Far East Air Force.
The 319th FIS became operational at Suwon on March 23, 1952 with the assigned task of providing Combat Air Patrols (CAPs), during the hours of darkness or adverse weather, to protect United Nations interests, to provide fighter escorts for strategic or tactical bombers as required, and to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft. With this assumption of duties, the 68th FIS was relieved of its assignment to Korea and along with the 339th FIS ( www.339thfightersquadronassociation.org )were now tasked with the protection of Japan.
For almost a year after the F-94s were operational in Korea they were not even permitted to operate anywhere near the enemy ground forces. There was a great fear that the security of the F-94's system, as well as National security would be compromised if this system was captured and analyzed by the communists. In fact, most sensitive repairs to equipment took place at Itazuki AFB at Fukuoka, Japan where the rear echelon shops were located. The 319th FIS historian railed against FEAF'S restrictive policy of not permitting them to cross the Main Line of Resistance, even to attack known enemy aircraft. When the restriction was lifted they became far to busy in their rolls as all-weather fighters to become involved with tactical ground support or interdiction work.
Although the ground war had slowed to a crawl, the air war had not. It was said that North Korea had more anti-aircraft guns than Germany had during all of WWII. At first it was suspected they were the cause of losses on night bombing missions over North Korea , but with the increase in contacts against communist jets a revision in the F-94 tactics were required in the later months of the war. Many B-26s and B-29s were lost to unknown causes during night missions over North Korea. At first it was suspected that these losses were due to heavy flak, and later to enemy aerial activity. To counter the threat, on November 1, 1952 General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, USAF Chief of Staff, personally rescinded the restriction that would not permit the F-94 to operate north of the bombline. Lt. Colonel Robert V. McHale, Commanding Officer of the 319th FIS received orders releasing his squadron to go on the offensive patrols that same day.
The first encounter with a MIG-15 during one these missions was on January 30, 1953 when Lt. Alexander Rankin and his RO Lt. Allen Washburn were CAPing B-29 mission and were vectored by the radar site on Chodo Island against a fast moving target. Washburn got a radar lock-on and directed Rankin in close enough to pick up the target on his own repeater scope. Just as they closed to firing range they approached the southern bank of the Yalu River. Rankin fired and observed strikes, the MIG-15 split-essed, and they had to let him go, claiming only a "damaged."
That night another F-94 scramble resulted in the first air-to-air kill for the F-94, Capt. Ben Fithian and RO Lt Samuel Lyons were ordered airborne in 51-5449 from K-13 to escort back an 8th Fighter Bomber Group F-80 that had lost its pitot tube. After this had been accomplished, and since they were still fat with fuel, Fithian contacted the GCI site at Chodo to see if there was any thing going on. At the time, another F-94 was in the area but it was having radar problems and could not find the target that Chodo was trying to vector him in on. Chodo continued the vectors and ordered a descent until they had reversed course and were heading southeast, west of Pyongyang. They dropped down to tree-top level, made contact on their AI radar at a five mile range, all the while reducing speed to maintain a reasonable overtake rate. As they closed to 1,200 feet Fithian fired, but did not observe any strikes. They closed further, to six hundred feet, and Fithian fired again, easing the control stick around in tight circle to spray the target with .50 caliber ammunition. The enemy aircraft, officially identified as "Prop," burst into flames and crashed without its pilot attempting to escape.
Enemy air activity was inconsistent through the Spring of 1953 after which both the air and night air battles became intense. It seemed as if both the communists and the USAF knew that the war was drawing to a close and wanted to get their final licks in before it did.
On the night of May 3 2nd Lt's Stanton G. Wilcox and Irwin L. "Goldie" Goldberg were being vectored in on an unidentified aircraft by the Chodo site. They closed to firing range, and called "Splash," which indicated they had actually downed the enemy aircraft. At that instant their fighter, 50-887, disappeared from Chodo's radar, and it never was confirmed whether they dove into the water or had a mid-air collision with the wreckage of the aircraft they shot down. In another of the USAF's historical oddities, Wilcox is credited with the kill, but radar observers were not during the Korean War, although they were during WWII and Viet Nam. Goldberg is listed as Killed in Action, Wilcox is not mentioned.
A week later on the night of May 10th Captain John R. Phillips and radar observer Lt Billy J. Atto got the first Mig-15 to be destroyed at night by the F-94. They climbed up into Mig Alley under the control of the 606th AC&W site at Chodo. They climbed to 40,000 feet and then started a gentle let-down to thirty thousand, which gave them both a height and speed advantage. Atto spotted two southbound targets on his scope and directed Phillips into an astern position for positive identification of the type, as ascertained by the flame pattern from the MIg's tailpipe, while attempting to contact their Joint Operations Center for clearance to fire. Finally, radioed permission came through and Phillips selected his target and opened fire. The Mig's split and while Phillips went for the one on the left, the other one, either with some form of GCI guidance of his own, or acute night vision, swung around on the tail of the F-94. Phillips fired again and his target exploded and the other Mig broke away for Manchuria.
On June 7, 1953 Lt. Colonel Mchale and the squadron's lead radar observer, Capt. Sam Hoster were escorting a B-29 mission in progress when they encountered a Mig-15 near the Yalu. In dispatching this Mig they became the first jet night fighter in history to shoot down an enemy fighter while defending a bombing mission as it was taking place. Unfortunately, this team was killed on the night of June12/13 while attempting an intercept against a bogie southwest of Chodo. Their F-94 (51-5503) simply disappearing.
By far, though, the most severe loss incurred by the 319th FIS occurred neither with the F-94 nor from enemy action. It was the failure of a generator that caused and engine fire that brought down a C-124 at Tachikawa on June 18, 1953. Killed were a total of 129, including a dozen men from the 319th.
Another F-94, 51--5384, was lost on June 23 when it crashed twelve miles north of Suwon. Killed were1st Lt.'s David E. Leyshon and his radar observer James F. Aylward. The cause of the loss was never determined, and even though it was on a combat mission, the air crew is not listed among the USAF'S Korean War casualties.The 319th FIS's last encounter with an enemy aircraft occurred the following day when Capt. Wayne A. Melendrez and RO 2nd Lt. Joseph Smith were CAPing during a night B-29 mission near the Yalu River. They made several hits on what was assumed to be a Mig-15, but were only credited with a damaged. The last F-94 lost to the 319th FIS in a combat related incident was on July 8, 1953. Information furnished by Warren Hunt revealed that Capt. Jack Knight and his RO Lt. Walter Gillis were returning from a mission and while under GCA approach control, crashed into a mountain.
According to an article written in the "Invader" at Johnnson AB, Japan dated January 29, 1955 the 319th squadron flew a total of 1,689 counter-air patrols over Chodo Island, 128 missions against would-be attackers of the U.N. Forces and 145 bomber escort missions. In the bomber escort missions, due to the vigilance of the squadrons crew, the Far East Bomber Command did not lose a single plane to enemy action when protected by the 319th pilots. It was the first USAF aircraft to down an enemy aircraft through the use of radar targeting without visual contact. The feat was accomplished by Capt. Ben Fithian and RO Lt. Sam Lyons. Aerial Victories in Korea
Copyright © 1998 The 319th FIS Association. All rights reserved.
Credits-Special thanks go out to the following people for the use of their photos and material:
Marty J. Isham and David R. McLaren "Lockheed F-94 STARFIRE," David R. McLaren
"Black Widow" and "Double Menace", Michael O'Leary, Robert Arndt, Gary Sivak, James F. Smith and Joe Cupido.