Canadian Airmen and Airwomen  
in the Korean War

By Carl Mills

At the time of the Korean War, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was committed to providing F-86 fighter squadrons to the Cold War build-up in Europe. Except for the participation by 426 Transport Squadron, Canada chose to support this commitment rather than a large-scale contribution to the Korean air war.  In spite of this, Canada provided a significant number of RCAF flight nurses, fighter pilots, and others, along with contributions from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), various regiments of the army, and civilians to aid in the air war.

Canadian built aircraft flown in the Korean War included the Canadair North Stars flown by 426 Squadron on the airlift portion, hundreds of (L-20) deHavilland Canada Beavers, in service with the US Army, and 60 older model Canadair F-86 Sabre aircraft. During Operation HAWK, 426 Squadron flew 599, round-trip flights between McChord AFB (Tacoma, WA) and Haneda airfield (Tokyo) while working with the USAF on the airlift. Although Canadians did not fly the Beavers in Korea, deHavilland sent a technical representative to service the aircraft.  About 20 per cent of all combat missions by Canadian pilots were flown in Canadian built Sabres and included some MiG kills.  

RCAF flight nurses attended classes and practical training courses at Gunter AFB, Alabama, for seven weeks. This was followed by a three-month tour of duty carrying out medical air evacuations from in theatre in the South Pacific. All nursing graduates (USAF, USN and RCAF) flew with the 1453 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron and were stationed in Honolulu. They flew U.S. and Canadian wounded between Haneda Airfield, through Honolulu, to Travis AFB (near San Francisco). The RCAF flight nurses program was continuous from November 1950 to March 1955, and involved some 40 nurses.  

The RCAF's 435 Squadron, stationed at RCAF Station Edmonton (and later Namao), was tasked with the delivery of the Canadian wounded from McChord. The Squadron was equipped with DC-3 Dakotas specially equipped to carry 16 litter patients complete with oxygen. Occasionally, Ottawa's 412 Squadron (also equipped with the Dakotas) and 426 Squadron would participate in the evacuations from McChord. Flight nurses who served in the U.S. or South Pacific were stationed at various Canadian airfields and always accompanied RCAF medical evacuation flights in Canada.  

Twenty-two RCAF fighter pilots were sent to Korea for F-86 combat duties, serving from November 1950 until November 1953. They flew exclusively with either the USAF's 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (FIW) at Kimpo or the 51st FIW at Suwon. RCAF pilots served for six months or on 50 combat missions, whichever came first. It usually took three to four months to fly 50 missions.  On arrival at their assigned squadron, pilots were usually given an introductory flying program called AClobber College, before going into combat.  

Missions consisted of flying 200 miles over enemy territory to the infamous MiG Alley (near the Chinese border), patrolling, contact and fighting with the Communist MiG-15s, and returning home. Although there were no Canadian fatalities, there were many close-calls during combat. One RCAF pilot, S/L Andy Mackenzie, ejected after being shot down by a friendly aircraft, and was taken prisoner.  RCAF pilots accounted for nearly 900 combat missions with nine MiG kills, two probables, and ten damaged. High scoring pilots included F/L Ernie Glover with three MiG kills and three damaged and S/L Doug Lindsay (KVA) with two kills and three damaged. RCAF pilots received eight U.S. DFCs and ten U.S. Air Medals. Glover was the last RCAF pilot to be awarded the Commonwealth DFC.  

Just two weeks after the North Koreans invaded, 426 Transport Squadron was alerted to move to McChord AFB (near Tacoma, WA) to participate in Operation HAWK. The squadron, with 12 war strength North Star aircraft, would integrate with the USAF's Material Air Transport Service (MATS), cease all non-essential domestic flights, and operate into Japan but not into Korea. This was the beginning of a new era for the squadron. Flights over the North Pacific called for careful planning due to the severe and unpredictable weather, and flights over the South Pacific required precision to deal with the long legs over open water.  In addition to the authorized airlift flights, there were several unauthorized flights into Korea. Although there was one aircraft destroyed and several close calls and incidents, there were no fatalities and no cargo was lost during the airlift.  

One RCN pilot was assigned to the USN for combat duty in Korea. After a strenuous work up for combat duties, the squadron was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, one of up to four carriers in Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan at that time. Because of his background, Lieutenant Joe MacBrien was appointed the squadron's weapons officer. His missions included combat air patrols over the fleet, photo escort missions, armed reconnaissance, and close air support. MacBrien flew 66 combat missions and was awarded the U.S. DFC for his courage and leadership in a difficult ground attack mission he led in February 1953.  

During the tenures of the various Canadian regiments in Korea, an air organization, informally known as the Mosquitos, evolved.  This was a USAF-run operation, formally known as the 6149 Tactical Air Control Group (TACG).  The Mosquitos consisted of two flying squadrons (the 6148th and the 6149th T ACS), and radio-jeep ground parties (the 6150th T ACP). The primary duty of the Mosquitos was to control all tactical air strikes between the front lines and the bomb line to ensure maximum damage. This was done by adequately marking targets with smoke rockets. The Mosquitos were extremely effective and, in addition to the destruction and devastation they directed upon the enemy, they saved countless UN ground forces' lives.  

This flying was conducted from unarmed, single-engine, two-seat, T-6 aircraft (a.k.a. the Harvard). Canada provided 16 army officers for back seat, forward air controllers (FAC from five regiments, between early 1951 to mid-1954. This activity was considered the most dangerous flying of the Korean War.  The enemy knew full well that if detected by the Mosquito, an air attack, delivered by fighter-bombers, would soon unfold on them. As a result, aircraft were holed on most missions that involved enemy contact. Fortunately, only two Canadians were wounded in the air and only one shot down but survived. Unfortunately, one Canadian was killed in a post-war training accident. Lieutenant Neil Anderson, QOR of C, is buried at the cemetery in Pusan, South Korea. Canadians accounted for 800 Mosquito combat missions and received four U.S. DFCs and five Air Medals.  

In 1952, the Canadian army began sending a string of four Air Observation Post (AOP) pilots to Korea to fly in Auster VI aircraft with the 1903 AOP Flight, RAF.  Captain Joe Liston was shot down and captured in August, on his 12th combat mission.  He was a POW for one year and was released under Operation BIG SWITCH (the war-end exchange of POWs) in September 1953. His replacement, Captain Peter Tees, was an energetic combatant and achieved 211 combat missions during his 12-month tenure. He supported Canadian artillery units that were, in turn, supporting Canadian infantry units along the Jamestown Line. Two other ACIP pilots followed Tees and achieved some combat flying, although they were substantially used in peacekeeping duties. Tees was the last Canadian to be awarded the Commonwealth DFC.  

When the Korean War broke out, Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA) was flying once-per-week flights from Vancouver to Tokyo.  It was a simple matter to convince the U.S. Army and the Canadian government the airline was capable of participating in the Korean War air­lift. CPA commenced four (later five) charter flights per week for the U.S. Army in August 1950.  Unlike the service of 426 Squadron, CPA flew only passengers. These flights continued, using first North Star, then DC-4s and then DC-6B aircraft, until March 1955, providing over 700 charter flights. In July 1951, one DC-4 with a crew of seven (including two stewardesses), two Canadian sailors and 29 U.S. Army and USAF passengers, disappeared off the coast near Juneau, Alaska. In spite of an intensive two-month search, no trace was ever found.  

Several other Canadian airmen were involved in observation duties, technical and supply support, photo intelligence, exchanged flying duties with USAF transport squadrons, some flew top-secret combat missions, while a number crossed the border to join the USAF directly.  In all, the Canadian airmen and airwomen did very well in Korea, flying over 2000 combat missions and more than 1500 round­trip airlift flights. They were awarded 57 Commonwealth and U.S. medals and commendations.  This account would have been higher except for a strange rule imposed by the Canadian military that only allowed one U.S. medal per Canadian.  

Carl Mills is from London, Ontario After two years in Air Cadets, he joined the RCAF Auxiliary, in 1955, with 420(F) Squadron and later 2420 AC& W Sqn .   He attended the University of Waterloo, graduating in 1965 as an electrical engineer, and rejoined the Air Force Reserves in Toronto with the Wing HQ and 400 Sqn.   After 24 years service, he retired from the Reserves in 1983 as a Lieutenant Colonel.   Since then he has become involved in Canadian aviation historical research and published the book, ABanshees in the Royal Canadian Navy” in 1991.

 His current project is the Canadian Airmen and Airwomen in the Korean War which has been underway for some six years and should be ready for publication by next year.  This project, as well as research and interviews, also involves the commission of eighteen original pieces of Korean War artwork which have just recently been completed.  

He is an Associate Historian with the Air Force Air Division, a member of the CAHS and the Air Force Association.   He is an Honorary Member of the Korea Veterans Association and an Honorary Life Member of the Canadian Naval Air Group.  

 

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