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by Charles Hinton
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|Lt. James Van Fleet was assigned to the 13th sometime about March 15. Its tough to be a young Lt. in a Tiger Squadron when your father is the Commanding General of the Theater. Van Fleet went down on April 3rd while on his 4th mission. With him went navigator John MacAllaster and gunner Ralph Phelps. I think the search lasted three days. || |
"James Van Fleet, Jr."
"the 7th Chadwick"
|When the moon was up we searched for trains and lost airplanes. "How's the moon?" "Full"! "There'll be battle damage tonight." When the moon is down you search for trucks. Hard nosed airplanes could be dangerous when the moon was up because you had to get down low to use them on trains. |
|Hard nosed airplanes could be dangerous when the moon was down because you had to get down low in the black to use them on trucks. Or you might work under the flares so you could see the roads when the moon was black. Then the Commies could see you as well as you could see them. It sounds corny now, but we really called them "Commies". |
|Some people said the trains had stopped running during this period. Not so! On back-to-back missions on May 4th and May 5th with Capt. Ayotte we found and damaged trains. Ayotte was a Tiger. The rail-cut program only stopped trains for a while. The fighter-bombers dropped delayed action fuses on the rail lines during the day and the Commies tried to fix the rails so the trains could run at night. On April 12th I flew with an administrative pilot to rail-cuts on Purple 11. || |
|Captain "Smith" was a Pussycat. When we got to our rail-cut coordinates south of Chonju we found the rails were already cut. There were three trains end-to-end waiting for the rails to be repaired. We never got close to the trains with our bombs but the pilot called in the strike report that we had hit the trains. The next pilot in the area looked for the trains and never found them. I'll bet he didn't look in the rail yards in Chonju. I wouldn't have wanted to! |
|When the moon was full and you got down to look for trains you would always find flak. North Korean gunners would be firing 20 mm or 40mm guns at us with tracers. They looked like they were squirting up little red golf balls. I remember a mission with Jim Braly when we were stooging around east of Pyong-yang at 7,500 feet and some anti-aircraft fire hosed up our way. I announced to Jim, "No sweat on the flak. They only have a range of 6,000 feet." As I said this I HEARD (that's right, I said HEARD) the shells pass over the canopy with a 'whit...whit.. whit.whit.whit.whit. I'd forgotten the hills were 3,500 feet in that area. |
|People said the Commies were stringing cables between the hills to snag airplanes. I never believed it. Oh, we hit cables all right but we forget that North Korea was an industrial country. Those were power lines we were hitting, but they were just as effective as cables. |
There was always flak around. When the action on Purple-11 became too hot we would circle around a big island off the coast south of Chonju, which was always secure. Then when we thought the gunners had gone out for tea we would go back in for a few more quick passes. There were many searchlights in this area - not always in use. On May 5th, Lt. Soefker flew home with his rudder shot out. Then on May 30th he came back with mud all over the front of the airplane from rocket blasts. Soefker was an F-51 pilot. He once told me he flew the B-26 like his F-51.
|On May 25th I learned what the searchlights were for. Capt. Jim Braly was my pilot on this night and we flew all over Purple-11 and no one shot at us. Not a single burst. There were searchlights everyplace. Finding no targets to attack, Braly began to shoot out searchlights. You can't comprehend the brightness of a searchlight beam. After 40 minutes in the light we saw an enemy prop fighter caught in his own searchlights. Then we knew why there was no flak. |
In early June my 50 mission tour was coming to a close. The moon was full on June 5th & 6th. Braly and I had discussed flying our own special mission for several weeks. (Surely the statute of limitations has run, hasn't it?) We would go far up north where they didn't even know there was a war going on. On June 5th it was my 49th mission. We were going up Purple 5 - all the way up the long canyon to Kangye and reccy the railroad west from Kangye to the reservoir. I called it Purple 5 North double North. It was a beautiful night to fly - not beautiful in regard to visibility but beautiful in regard to the white cumulous clouds and the rugged landscape and the bright moonlight.
We had scarcely left Kangye going west when we found the first train, but in a place we couldn't get to. South of the railroad was a shear cliff several thousand feet high. The track ran along the base of the cliff and a train was parked in a bowl. There was no way to make a run at it.
In desperation Braly finally made a run toward the cliff, made a sharp right banking turn into a near high speed stall and tried to throw the bomb onto the cliff to start an avalanche. According to my diary we spotted six trains that night but couldn't work them because of the low cumulus clouds and the rugged terrain. Since we were not working our route I don't know what we reported.