Lt.Col. George Lieberberg, Signal Section, Headquarters Eighth Army
The organization of communications in Korea developed on a logical, common-sense basis within the urgency of the situation. The conflict was not anticipated, and so the troop list of Far East Command was not prepared.
Communications were vital. There wasn't enough time to plan troop assignments in detail. It was a matter of moving from Japan to Korea those units which were most needed. At first, signal troops would be necessary to handle communications from Japan to Korea and maintain the Mukden cable. After Eighth Army was in Korea, tactical communications would become essential.
Eighth Army signal troops on duty in Japan consisted of a signal operation battalion, two signal construction companies, two radio relay companies, a signal depot organization, and various signal service detach meets. FEC signal troops consisted primarily of a signal service battalion. Because this was also a critical period for communications in Japan, with drawal of signal troops from their tasks had to be handled carefully.
The 8052d Post Signal-Detachment was activated during the first week of July 1950, and sailed immediately for Pusan. Within a matter of days, half of the 304th Signal Operation Battalion, the 522d Signal Construction Company, and the 8035th Signal Service Company (Very High Frequency) arrived in Korea. These units established Eighth Army's communications system, and tied in with Far East Command's signal troops who were operating in the vicinity of the 24th Division. By the time the 25th Division was committed (approximately 12 July 1950), Eighth Army was supplying communications to its subordinate major commands. Just before Taejon fell, the FEC signal unit returned to Pusan. This unit was later organized into the 8226th GHQ Long Lines Service Group, and furnished communications between FEC and Eighth Army. Personnel of the 8226th operated side by side with Eighth Army troops.
In the first days the troop assignments to Korea were primarily the responsibility of Col. Thomas A. Pitcher. So accurately did he judge future signal needs that these detachments formed in miniature the structure later established. Col. Emil Lenzner joined Eighth Army as signal officer in September 1950. Under his guidance, the section became an efficient operating unit.
As Eighth Army moved to Korea, its headquarters split. The forward echelon advanced with the troops while the rear command post remained in Yokohama. This Yokohama headquarters acted variously as a communications zone agency and an over-all troops and logistical planning headquarters. Col. Paul Neal, the senior Signal Corps officer remaining in Yokohama, planned the requisition of signal units after comparing the troops in a type field army with those currently at hand. Adjustments were made for the unique elements of the Korean situation and a priority established, but the troops arrived in the order of their availability. So much of the high-level planning was done in Yokohama during the first month that Eighth Army's signal section was able to limit its activities to planning and constructing combat communications, and carrying on such routine operations as the preparation of signal operating instructions.
The signal troops requisitioned in early July began to arrive from the States in August and September. It was soon realized that a signal group headquarters was required to administer and support these units. A provisional group was activated early in 1951. This provisional group was later reorganized under an authorization by the Department of the Army. All Eighth Army signal troops were attached to the signal headquarters.
Other problems of signal organization arose from local conditions. One factor was the structural peculiarities of Eighth Army itself. Until August 1950, Eighth Army had no corps. This forced us (under signal doctrine of supporting to supported) to provide communications to each division, and to each regiment in army reserve. This required more terminals and, therefore, more strength, than were anticipated in the establishment of a signal section for a type field army.
Capt. John W. Pierce, 24th Signal Company
Although U.S. Army doctrine teaches that wire is the primary method of signal communication, I did not find this so in Korea. Here we
had to depend more often on very high frequency radio. Distance, speed, terrain, and road nets limited the use of wire.
Road nets in Korea were so limited that sometimes three divisions would have to depend upon a single two-lane road for their main supply road. As a result, so many lines were laid along the road that the wires became jumbled. They were difficult to identify, follow, or repair. The poplar trees, which closely bordered most roads, made it difficult to get a hastily laid line off the road. Even the use of an improvised wire boom did not help much.
When the communications lines were long we had real difficulties. Even spiral 4 cable (4 wires wound to form a single cable) has an operational limit of twenty-five miles unless the wave is amplified, but division signal companies do not have repeater equipment for amplification.
Most often when the 24th Signal Company (24th Infantry Division) was called upon to provide dependable communications, we turned to VHF radio. VHF is not problem-free, but we were able to solve most of our problems. Location of terminals is the major difficulty. Since VHF operates on the line-of-sight principle we had to install our equipment on high, and often isolated, areas. The isolation of our stations was normal when the distance between our terminals was great or a large hill mass was in our way, but the sites were often extremely difficult to establish and maintain. Some parts of a VHF station cannot be broken down for hand-carry to less than 330 pounds, and an entire station weighs two tons. Resupply of food and fuel was a continuing problem.
The isolation also brought a serious security problem. When a terminal station was located near a headquarters, that headquarters normally maintained the security. This was often done even when the terminal was not inside the security perimeter. But with no headquarters nearby, we sometimes requested help from the Korean National Police. I did not have much faith in the personnel of this force, and in some cases it was better to use our signalmen as guards.
The 24th Signal Company did not have any of its terminals attacked by guerrillas, but one terminal was hit by enemy troops in July 1950. We were new in the Taejon area, the situation was confused, and the station had not established adequate security. The North Koreans hit so fast that no one actually knows what happened. One man was killed and two wounded, and the terminal had to be destroyed to keep it from falling into enemy hands.
We learned that we had considerable leeway in the location of our stations. When we couldn't get line-of-sight we tried expedients before we went to the trouble of establishing relay stations. One solution was to try a change of frequency. Lower frequencies would bend easier than the higher ones. We learned to locate our VHF stations in river beds or valleys that had steep banks. So long as the path did not make an acute
turn, and so long as both stations were located some distance from the first obstacle, we could expect that the signal would bank off one hill after another. The Signal Corps manuals don't tell you how to make bank shots with VHF radios, but we used them frequently in Korea.
3. Flexibility of VHF
Capt. Frank D. Secan, 304th Signal Operation Battalion
The VHF radio communications in Korea exceeded all expectations. The 304th Signal Operation Battalion used sets AN/GRC-3 and -4, and operated them at ranges far beyond their 25-mile line-of-sight specifications. This was especially valuable to us during the rapid advance after the breakout of the Naktong perimeterand until the Mukden cable could be rehabilitated.
The longest leg of a VHF radio circuit that I ever made was 90 miles. We were transmitting messages 140 air miles from Seoul to Taegu. The first leg crossed two mountain ranges and came to a relay station on a peak in a third range. The distance was so great that we couldn't even see the mountain our terminal was located on. We just sighted from a rooftop in Seoul toward a white-capped mountain in the first range. How the wave got beyond that mountain I don't know. Ninety miles was an extreme range, however. We got some dimming and blurring right at sunrise and sunset, but we used the arrangement successfully for a month.
The first maps we had of Korea were especially poor in the vertical scale. When a signal officer made a map reconnaissance for a VHF circuit, he could seldom rely on the result. I once planned a relay station on a mountain between Pyongyang and Anju. When my installation party reached the map location of the relay site they encountered a slight difficulty: there was no mountain. The nearest real elevation was fifteen miles away.
In teaching about VHF radio, instructors often place more emphasis on the difficulties of line-of-sight than is necessary. VHF waves bend, bounce, and do many other tricks. I have aimed such waves up valleys, through mountain passes, and once directed my beam directly at a large mountainyet had the signal clearly received.
This last case occurred during the Naktong perimeter fighting, when my signal platoon was called on to provide communication between Eighth Army headquarters and the 19th Infantry. This was an unusual arrangement, but at that time the 19th was one of the major reserves of Eighth Army. The distance was twelve air miles, but there was a mountain between us.
We would not have thought of trying VHF radio except that someone near the 19th Infantry turned on his VHF set and heard Eighth Army. We knew that if one person could get the signal we could too. I had a radio team at the CP of the 19th, but they had difficulties. The regimental communications officer refused to allow the team to place their radio on any high point because it might attract attention. The men were ordered to establish their station in a creek bed which had steep banks. The antenna reached no higher than the top of the bank. No reception was possible. I took the matter directly to the army signal officer, and our radio men were directed to select their own site.
Eighth Army's terminal was established at 300 feet, the 19th Infantry's at 600. The mountain between us was 2,100 feet. We picked a low wave length. Our technical calculations told us that our circuit couldn't workbut reception was perfect.
As a result of worry about line-of-sight, I have seen a number of VHF stations located on the topographical crests of hills and mountains. Sometimes this is necessary. Most often, though, you can accomplish line-of-sight without sitting on the summit. On the slope you can get out of the wind, with its consequent technical troubles and personal discomforts. It is more accessible and makes installation, supply, and displacement much easier. It is less likely that the enemy will find you. Whenever you can avoid the crest, do so.
Major Dale H. Shick, 2d Logistical Command
The provost marshal section in Pusan was extremely busy in August 1950. Aside from normal duties, it had to run five POW camps, control refugees, and protect communications at the critical period of the perimeter fighting. Inadequate communications hindered effective handling of these missions.
In Pusan it is difficult to use frequency-modulated radio because of its line-of-sight characteristic. Military police vehicles mounted FM radios, and sometimes, though they operated close to one another, they still could not communicate with one another or their headquarters because of the intervening hills.
The provost marshal turned to the signal officer of Pusan (later 2d) Logistical Command for a solution. The signal offficer (Lt.Col. George Callahan) ordered me to install a central radio transmitter that would give the provost marshal section continuous contact with its vehicles and installations.
A map reconnaissance of the Pusan area seemed at first to indicate that the transmitter must be set up on the harbor island of Mokto. This location would be ideal for line-of-sight, for the island formed an apex to the V-shaped Pusan valley, but Mokto's sharply rising 1,300-foot hill has no road to its summit. All equipment, housing, food and fuel would have to be laboriously carried to the summit. Further, the distance to the transmitter site would rule out the use of remote control from the provost marshal headquarters. All messages would have to be relayed. Enough personnel to operate around the clock would be required, and gasoline and rations would have to be packed to the summit of Mokto indefinitely.
I made a reconnaissance which took half a day. From the crest I could see the entire panorama of Pusan. But I was more impressed with the difficulties that Mokto would present than with its advantages.
Next day I surveyed the low hills inside Pusan, and on the Kumgang Temple Hill I found a site that I believed might work. A road led up the slope, and on the eastern side I found a 90-foot pole. It seemed to me that communications could be established if we placed a whip antenna on the top of this pole, even though our antenna would not reach the crest of the hill.
I borrowed two jeeps which mounted SCR-610 radio sets. If an SCR610 at our proposed transmitter site could communicate with another SCR-610 going about the Pusan area, then surely the more powerful SCR-608 with a high antenna would do even better. Trials showed that contact could be maintained, and I knew I had the site I was looking for.
I reported my decision to establish a transmitter on Kumgang Temple Hill and pointed out the many advantages of the site. Colonel Callahan doubted that this would work, but he did not give me a direct order to stoponly a strong indication that I had better be right.
It took a full day of preparation, and then a day of work, to set up the transmitter. We took power from a nearby electric line, and ran a remote control the two miles from the provost marshal's ofiice using a combination of spiral 4 cable and two metallic cable pairs. This gave us a radio circuit and a telephone circuit. A large crate from which we had recently unloaded an AN/GRC-26 was easily made into an operator's shack.
Everything worked perfectly when we turned on the power switch. One night I happened to tune in and picked up a military police jeep patrol. This patrol had a roving assignment, and the operator was describing the women he saw as the patrol moved from one area to another.
Looking back on that job, I realize I was lucky. I know there was a great deal of wave bending to get our signal all the way out to the airport. I know it was stretching our luck to install that remote over a twomile circuit, when specifications list a remote as being good only for half a mile. But all the equipment worked better than performance schedules
list. It surprised Colonel Callahan when the radio workedand I got more and more relieved that night each time that operator described another woman.
5. Relay Station on Hill 1157
Lt. Jasper Lupo, 101st Signal Operation Battalion. (Interview by Capt. Pierce W. Briscoe, 2d Historical Team.)
The divisions of IX Corps were advancing rapidly, and it was obvious that they would soon be out of radio range. Therefore, on 23 May 1951, the Radio Relay Platoon of the 101st Signal Operation Battalion was ordered to erect four VHF relays on Hill 1157.
Next day, at 0500, the detachment moved out with two 2-1/2-ton trucks of radio equipment; a 2-1/2-ton truck carrying twenty-five Korean laborers, their A-frames, and rations; and a 3/4,-ton truck carrying Lt. Jasper Lupo and a six-man relay team. Leaving the MSR, the detachment drove over a narrow, rocky trail. This trail crossed a stream five times, but led to the western slopes of Hill 1157. Four miles from the MSR, the vehicles could go no farther. A base camp was established.
It took an hour to divide the equipment and to load everything needed for the first two VHF relays on the Koreans' A-frames. On each trip they carried 3 power units, 6 transmitters, 6 receivers, and other supplies. The loads averaged over 300 pounds!
Lieutenant Lupo and his Korean interpreter moved ahead of the bearers during the climb. Because the group might run into enemy stragglers, a warning signal was agreed upon. Three miles up the trail, scattered small-arms fire came close to the lieutenant, but the march was not delayed.
After an eight-hour climb, the bearers reached the mountain top at 1730. Lieutenant Lupo had already selected the radio relay site. The Koreans immediately began their return march, laying field wire along the trail to the base camp as they descended.
Eight 25-foot antennas were erected and oriented by compass. Locations for eight more were selected. Equipment was unpacked, assembled, checked, and by 1900 the first two relays were ready for operation.
Meanwhile, the Koreans had reached the base camp and had loaded the remaining equipment. They returned to the crest of the mountain at 0200, 25 May. The signalmen worked throughout the night and assembled the second two relays. The VHF station was completed and
all four relays were operating by 0600. Eight tons of Signal Corps equipment and other supplies had been carried to the top and assembled on Hill 1157.
Lt. David S. Howard, 532d Signal Construction Company
From the moment the 532d Signal Construction Company arrived in Korea on 10 July 1950, we got calls for telephones. It seemed at first as though there were more staff officers in Eighth Army headquarters than troops in the fieldand every one of them wanted a phone. We put in phones as fast as requests came in and laid lines from them to the switchboards. But we didn't have enough drops (spaces) on our boards to tie in all these local lines. It was so bad we just had to throw the unconnected lines on the floor. And whenever some officer did fight through a priority for his phone, we had to pull someone else's line off the board.
This wasn't because we didn't try. Our officers and men worked with absolutely no regard for shifts. When you were finally exhausted, you slept for a couple of hours and then came back. Even the signal officer of Eighth Army (Lt.Col. Thomas A. Pitcher) went out with the wire crews and helped string the lines.
Our wires, equipment, and methods were the same as those we had used in World War II. But we did make far more use of spiral 4 wire; even the divisions were using it. This soon put spiral 4 in very short supply, but it greatly reduced our signal maintenance.
As the Naktong perimeter became smaller, the number of telephone lines in each unit rapidly increased. This usually happens in a stable defense. But in the perimeter this "defensive stability" only applied to certain units. Others shifted very often. The 24th Infantry Division, it seemed to me, was the one that moved the most, and we had a hard time keeping wire in to them. At one time the 24th was west of Kochang and we were ordered to tie them into the Mukden cable at Miryang, about forty road miles away. So we sent out two crews and started laying two spiral 4 cables from each end toward the middle. But by the time these crews met and ran their test calls, the 24th had moved.
The Mukden cable was of great use to us, but unfortunately it was not located centrally. From Taegu to Yusong the cable runs west-northwest; then it turns north along the western edge of Korea. To get communications to the central and eastern sectors we used every open wire
line we could find. The wires above ground suffered more from combat and needed far more work than the Mukden cable did, and even when repaired they were of poor quality.
Rather than patch the old open wire circuits indefinitely, Eighth Army started to build new lines in February 1951, when our troops began their second drive to the north. We connected with Mukden cable at what was then the closest point (Chochiwon), then went northeast to Chungju, and on to Wonju. From there, the open wire line followed close behind the troops. Eventually this line was made a center-of-peninsula trunk, tapping the Mukden cable at Taegu and moving north through Hamchang for a connection with the older open wire line at Chunju.
Communication wires went up everywhere in Korea. Today it isn't like it was in those early days when we had to throw the local lines on the floor of the switching central. Everybody has a telephone now.
Capt. Wayne A. Striley, 71st Signal Service Battalion
I flew from Tokyo to Korea with 3 other officers and 19 enlisted men of the 71st Signal Service Battalion. We landed on 4 July 1950.
Our mission was to keep in operation the Mukden cableKorea's key telephone-telegraph system. The cable and repeater stations were of Japanese construction, now run by the Ministry of Communications of the Republic of Korea. The cable contained ten quads, each consisting of two twisted-pairs of wires. It was buried one meter into, and one meter under, the Pusan-Seoul-Pyongyang-Mukden highway. In South Korea there were repeater stations at Miryang, Taegu, Kumchon, Yusong, Chonan, and Osan.
When we arrived at Pusan the cable was operating as far as the front lines. My job was to learn as much as I could about it and to service it in the forward area. I left Pusan on 5 July with a wire foreman and a cable splicer. At Yusong we halted and I decided to go no farther. The military situation was too uncertain.
As U.S. and ROK forces fell back we had less and less cable to maintain. We did not destroy the cable or its repeater stations during the withdrawal that summer. We figured we would return and need that cable.
In September 1950 we were prepared for the breakout from the Naktong perimeter. Several communications groups worked on sections of the cable during the advance. My detachment kept right behind the
infantry, and until we reached Yusong we were able to operate the cable within several days after an area was captured. After Yusong the infantry outdistanced usespecially after they linked up with the forces moving south from Inchon and Seoul.
The cable was now in pretty bad condition, especially in those areas where the fighting had been heavy. Since it was buried right under the main supply road, and only one meter deep, it was cut at numerous places. Bomb explosions, artillery fire, and even mortar fire had cut it. Our operators could tell us within two miles where to look for a break, and we would search the road. Sometimes the North Koreans had tapped the cable and used a pair for local communications. When they withdrew in the fall of 1950, they did not repair the cable. Short circuits were frequent. Generally, some pairs of the cable were good most of the way, but often they were not strong enough to work a carrier wave. When the entire cable was cut we made a hasty splice and returned later to do a finished job. This procedure was different from that of World War II, but in Korea the destruction of signal equipment was greater.
Cable splicing is a technical job, and we never had enough specialists. Many of the trained men had lost their skill during prolonged assignments as cooks or mess personnel. Eventually we had to import civilians from the United Statesand pay them fancy wages.
The repeater stations were in good shape when we reached them, except at Kumchon, where the station had been destroyed by artillery fire. But all stations were without electric power and were as effectively out of action as if they had been destroyed.
However, this situation had been anticipated. In Japan the signal section built a number of mobile repeater stations in large trailers. These stations were a combination of CF-1, -2, and -3. In other words, they contained telephone terminals, telegraph terminals, and repeaters. The repeater vans were shipped to Pusan and followed the infantry closely, although the vans were difficult to maneuver on the Korean roads.
The mobile repeater stations were built of American equipment, but they functioned well in the Japanese circuits. I understand we could get only four circuits from each quad instead of six, but that was because of the different design of our equipment. When a van reached the approximate location of the repeater station, the construction men quickly tied both ends of the cable into it.
The Mukden cable advanced and withdrew with our forces. It was a great artery of communicationand a godsend to the Signal Corps. I don't know what we'd have done without it.
Col. Thomas A. Pitcher, Signal Section, Eighth Army
From the signalman's point of view, three things stand out in
First, the VHF radio companies provided the backbone of our communications system. This method of transmission was so flexible that it could keep up with the infantry in the rapid moves that characterized the fighting in 1950-51. VHF provided communication over mountains, across rivers, and even from ship to shore. It carried teletype. It gave clear reception at all timeseven when it was used at twice its rated range. After a headquarters was hooked up by wire, VHF remained as a secondary method of communication.
Second, the Korean campaign was an outstanding example of cooperation. Personnel and equipment of all units were pooled. Although the long-lines group in Pusan came under Far East Command for operations, they lent us cable splicers and other personnel. When Eighth Army began building an open-wire line trunk from Chochiwon to Wonju, the long-lines people provided almost as many construction men as we did. On the Mukden cable the long-lines group took over the repair of some sectors while Eighth Army worked on others. FEC made several of the cable repeater station vans. We never competed over personnel or services.
Third, the destruction of signal facilities in Korea was extreme. The open-wire circuits were so badly damaged that Eighth Army had to build its own lines. The Mukden cable was not damaged by the U.S. forces as they withdrew in the summer of 1950, but it was seriously damaged by combat near Kumchon and between Osan and Suwon. The cable was so close to the surface of the Pusan-Seoul road that it was cut by bomb explosions and mortar and artillery fire. Only the Kumchon repeater station was destroyed, but many other repeater stations were rendered unserviceable when soldiers and civilians stripped them. To prevent this, the signalmen made every effort to get to the repeater stations before our own troops ruined them. We got to the Sariwon station before the infantryand took seven prisoners.
The destruction of signal equipment was systematic during the withdrawal during the winter of 1950-51. We didn't know whether we were leaving Korea, but we took no chance of leaving anything behind which could aid the enemy. We did a thorough job of destroying the repeater stations, cable, and open-wire lines.
There has never been a U.S. theater of operations that taxed our
signal resources more. We were assigned many difiicult jobs, and we got them all done.
SFC Richard L. Albrecht, Headquarters, 24th Division Artillery
The bane of our message center was the M209 code converter. It was slow to operate and mistakes could be made very easily. Every day it had to be set up carefully, but a number of times a unit of the division was overrun and the signal operating instructions were compromised. Then we had to get a new code setting, and start our work all over again.
In their enthusiasm to get messages delivered, a number of message centers sent communications by several methods. All classified messages even those labeled RESTRICTED had to be encoded before they could be transmitted by radio. It always seemed we got our coded messages at night. It was normal most evenings for the code clerk to work several hours on messages, only to find that the same messages had already been received by courier and distributed.
Our artillery battalion agents were very conscientious men. They always got their messages through. If one route was cut by the enemy, they would try another. While we operated in South Korea the agent always carried a shotgun guard, but when we were in North Korea the commanding general ordered that only in an emergency would a vehicle travel alone at night. Usually we dispatched at least three vehicles along the same route at the same time.
When an artillery battalion displaced and division artillery did not, the agents made the move with their battalions. When both division artillery and the battalions moved simultaneously, the agents accompanied division artillery headquarters. Then the first trip an agent made to his battalion was especially hazardous because of the possibility of getting lost. Fortunately, we never lost an agent during the time I worked with message center.
Lt. Arthur J. Cramer, 7th Signal Company
I ran an excellent message center, and I was especially proud of my cryptographers. They worked under great difficulty, but they were excellent at encoding, decoding, and security. When we saw the lax handling of highly classified messages after we had guarded their security, we sometimes got a little discouraged. I saw so many security violations and made so many reports I finally turned my eyes the other way.
The entire cryptography system is cumbersome under the best conditions, but it is intolerable when it is not working properly. Typical of the conditions that slow up the system were the overclassified messages. We received so many five-day-old FLASH (highest priority) messages from X Corps that they became a joke.
Our cryptographers were overburdened with long messages that were also forwarded by some other (and often faster) method. Many times at night I would awaken my whole crew to get them working on a number of long messagesonly to find they had previously been received by telephone in the clear, or had been brought by courier.
Another difficulty was the lack of experienced cryptographers in several of the headquarters with which we communicated. The worst instance occurred in connection with the aerial resupply of one of our regiments. On 2 January 1951, the 7th Infantry Division's forward CP was located at Yongju, while its 17th Infantry occupied positions near Chechon. Between these towns the road winds through several long mountain passes. In one of these defiles the enemy established a roadblock. A decision was made to send an airdrop of food, ammunition, and medical supplies to the 17th Infantry.
A FLASH message to Eighth Army (through X Corps) was delivered to my code room at about 2300. My men gave the message their fastest handling and delivered the encoded message to the radio operator in ten minutes. From our headquarters the message was sent to X Corps headquarters. As we normally did in such cases, we asked for an acknowledgment from the addressee when the message was understood. Because of the importance of the message I violated channels and radioed it to our division's rear CP. From there it was to be delivered by courier to Eighth Army at Taegu.
By 0230 we still had not received an acknowledgment from either X Corps or Eighth Army, so we again requested an acknowledgment. Back came word that the message was still being decoded. They couldn't break the coded message. At 0500 we received an acknowledgment from Eighth Army, which had received the message through our secondary
channel at 0130. Early the next morning (3 January) the airdrop was carried out on order of Eighth Army. Four hours after the supplies were received I got an acknowledgment from X Corps headquarters that our message had been decoded. An investigation followed that incident.
From Signal, November-December 1951. (Copyright by and reproduced by permission of Armed Forces Communications Association, publishers of Signal.)
Events in Korea have just completed a strange cycle in military history. The Army Signal Corps, which hatched the Air Force by buying the first American military airplane from the Wright brothers before World War I, is now hatching a new but smaller air service. Today over the dusty, arid hills of Korea it is operating one of the world's biggest little airlines.
The midget airline performs an important job which is as old as warfare: getting the messages through. While most people think of battlefield messages flitting back and forth via telegraph, telephone, or radio, there is still a great bulk of documents, maps and photographs which must travel by messenger. In one recent month the airline hauled 34,000 pounds of messages between Eighth Army and its corps headquarters.
Carrying messages by plane is nothing new, but in Korea it has become important. Jeep, or motor messenger service, had always received more use until the Korean campaign made getting messages from one battlefield to another more difficult. There are few roads there, and all of them are rough. It doesn't take many miles of bouncing over Korean roads to ruin a vehicle even as tough as the Army jeep and with so many other military vehicles on the narrow, dusty roads it takes too much time to get from one point to another.
The answer to the bad roads was the light airplane, the L-5, or "mosquito." While it took a jeep two days to make a run from army field headquarters and back, the light airplane does it in four hours or less. In fact, the first plane the Signal Corps recruited for this kind of work put fifteen to twenty jeeps out of work.
Today with five planes, five pilots and a ground crew of seven, the Air Section of the 304th Signal Operation Battalion is a busy outfit. Since September, when it got into operation, it has hauled a total of 82,000 pounds in payloads. Charts in the operations hut show its planes are mak
ing eighty flights a month. Each pilot puts in about seventy-five hours of flying time a month, which means he has to make a flight every day of the week with few exceptions.
There is nothing fancy about the way the airline operates. Each day before noon a jeep brings out the messages in mail sacks and tosses them inside the door of the operations hut alongside the dusty airstrip. A clerk inside tallies them in and marks them for different corps headquarters. Sometimes there is a passenger, but the maximum payload is limited to four hundred pounds. At 1300 the pilots walk back from the little mess hall and climb into their planes. The ground crewone mechanic to a planehas already given the planes a final check and squared away the baggage in the rear compartments. With a wave from the pilots the planes waddle out to the end of the strip and take off.
If nothing unusual happens they will be back before sundown. They follow routes carefully plotted on the map in the operations hut. Each pilot picks his route from the weather information given him before taking off, tells the clerk which route he will use, and when he arrives at his destination he sends word back by telephone which route he will use on the return trip. These precautions are always taken so that if a pilot gets into trouble a search plane will know where to look for him.
Except for these measures, the Mosquito pilot is left on his own to get from one temporary landing strip to another with his cargo. There is no radio beam to guide him, and though he carries a radio its range is too short to be of much help and, even if it were longer in range, there is no one to listen for his distress signal.
He travels like an Indian scout, checking his position with known landmarks along the way. Rivers, mountains, roads, lakes and villages spread out below him in a great map. Usually he flies within view of main supply roads where he could get help if he had to make a forced landing. And, if he is forced to land, the broad, flat banks of the Korean rivers make good places to bring down a light plane in an emergency.
The little airline has an excellent record for both safety and faithful service. So far no plane or pilot has been lost. Yet, in a country notorious for poor flying weather, the pilots have admitted only ten times in eight months of operations that it was too dangerous to fly.
The light-plane messenger service fills a gap between jeep messengers and big-plane courier service. Most division and corps headquarters manage to clear a landing strip nearby, but there isn't always room enough for the big planes or the improvised fields may be too soggy after a rain. That's where the light plane "brings in the bacon."
In World War II light planes did a similar kind of job, but it was not recognized until recently that what was needed was genuine operateit-yourself, light-plane messenger service. Pilots and planes were recruited from the infantry and artillery, where the light plane has been in use as
an observation and spotter plane. The world's biggest little airline has been born and the Signal Corps has its early wings back again.
Capt. Cass J. Joswiak, 2d Signal Company
The inclusion of a photo section in the division signal company is a post-World War II innovation. One officer and 15 men are assigned and their mission is to take both tactical and publicity photographs. The men have both still and movie cameras, and there are three K-20 cameras for aerial work. The section has enough laboratory equipment to develop and print all its own still shots.
In Korea, under orders from General Headquarters, Far East Command, film processing was denied the division signal companies except in emergencies. It was understood that an emergency occurred when a VIP visited the division and publicity photographs were desired immediately. But our interpretation of this order provided an opening wedge for aerial photograph at the division level.
The main problem with aerial photography through the normal ArmyAir Force channels was that eight days elapsed between the time the 2d Infantry Division requested a photo and the time the prints were delivered. Usually the situation changed so radically during this period that the division either had no interest in the terrain photographed, or the enemy had changed his position.
Soon after the 2d Division arrived in Korea I told the G2 about the possibility of aerial photography by our photo section, but he was not very interested. Our first aerial shots were made in August 1950 on request of the division engineer. He wanted aerial photos of the Naktong River to use in planning river crossings. The pictures we produced were obliques, and they gave a clear view of the bridges, approaches, and far shore. In addition to terrain, they showed a considerable number of enemy installations.
From this time on we had many calls from G2 and others for aerial photos. Right after our first Naktong River shots we were asked for photos of Hill 409all the way around. This hill was between the 2d Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division, and we anticipated that our 2d Division would have to reduce it before we could cross the Naktong. The photos were taken one afternoon and handed to the photo interpreter team the next morning. They located enemy dugouts, bunkers, and foxholes on the photos.
Still later in August, we were called upon to help find out if any enemy build-up was taking place along the front of our division and that of the 25th Infantry Division. The PI team designated an area for us to search and for two days we made four daily photo runs over it. The results showed the arrival of a North Korean armored division just in front of us. In this way we were able to anticipate the thrust and limit the penetration by the enemy.
During the fighting along the perimeter, the 9th Infantry had a particularly difficult time with Hill 201. The regiment captured and lost that hill so many times there was a great deal of comment about the regiment and its abilities. The division commander (Maj. Gen. Laurence B. Keiser) ordered me to get complete aerial still and movie coverage of Hill 201"for posterity." Those pictures really showed what the regiment had been up against in the way of rough terrain and vicious close-in fighting. You could see the camouflaged enemy approaches, positions never discovered or captured, destroyed equipment, and the many dead littering the area.
In September, as the division was preparing to break out of the Pusan perimeter, the photo section was ordered to photograph the winding road the troops were to travel. We flew ten miles beyond the Naktong River to Chogye, shooting pictures all the way. These photos showed where to expect trouble from the enemy and the terrain. As soon as the attack got under way we photographed the road to Hyopchon, and we continued to photograph the route of the 2d Division until we were pinched off by other divisions.
The 2d Infantry Division did not get back into action again until November 1950. Because of the nature of the Chinese fighting methods hiding by day, fighting by nightwe could not help much with our photography. In January and February 1951, as we began to attack again, we were able to get very good spot photos for use by our commanders in their limited attacks. In addition, we made a daily photo sweep of the division's front.
We had several problems in our aerial photography. One was the demand for better photos than we could produce. We were frequently asked for mosaics with grid coordinates superimposed on the photo. This was far beyond our capability. We just took good obliques and pinpoint shots. Their value was in speed of delivery.
The second problem was getting the liaison pilots to fly close to what we wanted to photograph. At times we urged the pilots to bring the plane down within a thousand feet of the ground or lower, but it was no use. They flew no lower than three thousand feet over enemy territory, and then complained that they could hear bullets coming close. I never heard any, but I have seen holes in the wings after we got down.
From this account it should not be assumed that all our photos were
aerials. The photo section continued to take movies and stills of combat operations. We photographed our full share of VIPs, but we were especially proud of our aerial photographs.
Lt. Robert L. Strickland, 71st Signal Service Battalion. (Extracts from a letter written while Lieutenant Strickland accompanied the 1st Marine Division into Seoul in September 1950.)
We got across the Han River and caught an ambulance going up to the front. Almost from the time we left the river we were under sniper firenot just occasional shots, but heavy fire. And most of the roads were under mortar fire, which made the going rough.
When the ambulance turned off I got out and started walking. We went a few yards and got pinned down with a group of marines by mortar and small-arms fire. I got a few shots of jeeps running under fire.
From here we went up, one at a time, toward the real front. I hooked up with one outfit that was moving up and shot some scenes of them moving past a knocked-out North Korean tank. Then I got some shots of our tanks with flame throwers moving up with marines in the background.
The next shot was a lulu. I am afraid that silent film can't do it justice. The tanks started moving through an opening in the sandbag barrier. There was one marine Iying near the opening with his rifle pointed down the road. As the tanks moved through, all hell broke loose from the enemy antitank guns and rifles. The marine by the opening jumped almost straight up and ran like a bat out of Hades. The spot he had been Iying in had just got plastered, but I don't think he was hit.
After that I shot some scenes over the sandbag barrier at the burning building in the background. It was exploding periodically. I didn't get a good explosion shot but I caught one section of the building falling with a terrific roar amid clouds of smoke and dust.
In one of these scenes I really missed a bet. There was an old Korean woman sitting right in the middle of things, standing guard over an old man who had been wounded. It was impossible for me to get across the street for a close-up. The air was whipping with everything from flying stones to big antitank shells. When the sound boys get to this part they can dub in all the battle noises they can get and they still won't be realistic enough.
I shot my next stuff at a road junction where some marines were running across the open toward a small, triangular building. There was a
tank and a lot of buildings burning in the background. I finished shooting and ran across after them, stopping at the corner of the building to shoot again. About four men passed me from behind as I stood there shooting up the street. All of them ran right into a mortar shell and got hit, one of them seriously. He got the one that was intended for me.
I kept shooting while a couple of them picked up the seriously wounded man and helped him to hobble to cover. A few minutes later an antitank shell came close enough to my left arm to ripple the sleeve on my jacket. I stepped back and looked around. By now there was a wounded marine and a wounded North Korean Iying back of the burning building. Another marine with an automatic rifle was guarding them. I framed my picture so that they were in the bottom of the frame with the burning walls in the background. Then, right on cue, the wounded marine with his two buddies helping him along came hobbling into the frame for a great shot.
Right after this we got so much fire of all kinds that I lost count. There were more mortar shells, more antitank stuff and more small-arms fire and then it started all over again. In a few minutes the little area back of the burning building which gave us cover was crowded with wounded men. They lay there in pain among burning debris and hot embers, hugging the ground to keep from getting hit again.
There was only one medica Navy corpsmanso I put my camera aside and gave him a hand. I missed a lot of good pictures but there is no need to say the pictures were not that important. I have seen a lot of men get hit both in this war and in World War II, but I think I have never seen so many get hit so fast in such a small area.
I finally got free to start shooting again. By the time the corpsman and I got the first men fixed up the other corpsmen had run the gantlet of fire to help us. Those corpsmen really have the guts to go in any time and place to help a wounded man.
I started to get a low-angle shot of some marines coming across the road toward us. While I was getting down to shoot a mortar landed right in the middle of them. I missed the burst but I got the camera going again as the smoke cleared. The guys in the street were running like mad. They headed for our little area, running all over me, but giving me a nice "fade" by blocking the camera lens. I hung around long enough to get a shot of the litter bearers running for cover with one of the wounded men.
For the next half hour or so, I couldn't seem to get back to shooting again. I guess I was a little shaky. The fighting had moved on up the road from me, and once you get out of it you find it awfully hard to force yourself back again.
After fooling around for a while I worked down the road and stopped off in a kind of alley with a bunch of marines. I heard a tank coming up the
road and I got ready to shoot. Just as the tank got in the frame, one of the marines fired,a carbine about six inches from my nose. The camera lens went straight up and I was madder than a wet hen until I saw a sniper fall out of a tree behind me.
I took some final shots up at the sandbag barricade. There wasn't much to shoot at, just marines moving up and some shots of tanks firing into a concentration of North Koreans who were trying to encircle us. They were in front of us, on the right of us, and only about a hundred yards away on the left of us in a little village.
About that time the tanks started firing their 90s right over our heads. The blast was so terrible that I still can't hear well today. It was getting late and I had to get to the airport at 1700 to send back my film. I got one more long shot looking back toward where the marines were still fighting, and then left.
Page updated 30 May 2001
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