The forgotten war … South African “mud movers” in Korea

To many South African participation in the Korean War is unknown, but as part of United Nation contributions to the war effort South Africa sent a squadron to South Korea to fight in the Korean War. Here are South African Air Force F51D Mustangs in Korea circa 1951.

The focus of the photograph shows a SAAF 2 Squadron machine which is seen here on its way to the main runway at K10, Chinhae Airbase in South Korea during the war.  Fully armed this SAAF F51D Mustang is setting off on what is properly a ground support role in close support of American troops.  Bombing enemy defensive positions in close support of ground troops is often sarcastically referred to as “mud moving” and highly dangerous as the aircraft has to get right into the battle at very low altitude and speed (the high attrition of South African pilots lost in this role during the war is testimony to that).

Its rare to see such a quality original colour photograph of South Africa’s involvement in the Korean War and much thanks to Ian Pretorius whose shared this magnificent image from his father’s personal collection, then Lt M S (Mike) Pretorius.

Much can be said of South Africa’s involvement in the Korean War and more is to follow on this blog.  For the time being enjoy this great photograph.

Photo copyright Ian Pretorius

The SAAF’s Mustangs baptism of fire and the urgent need for jet powered fighters

Korean War and the urgent need for the South African Air Force participating in the war  to change from piston driven Mustangs to jet power.

Prior to the SAAF 2 Squadrons deployment to Korea the pilots of the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ underwent concentrated training on Spitfire Mk IXs. Before they were placed at the disposal of the United Nations. They converted to the F-51D Mustang at Johnson Air Force Base, Tokyo, and were attached to the USAF 18th fighter bomber wing at K-9, Pusan and K-24 Pyongyang.

The squadron flew into action to stem the Communist invasion swarming in from the North, the head-long advance forcing it to fall back to K-10 near Chinhae, which remained its permanent base for the next two years.

In this war the SAAF received its baptism of fire from Russian made MiG jets and intensive ground fire – this was party due to the nature of the SAAF sorties at the beginning of the war – close air support to ground troops – coming in low and relatively slow in a highly vulnerable position to ground anti aircraft fire to hit ground targets. Sarcastically these USAF and SAAF pilots were called “mud movers” by pilots and ground troops alike, as at times this is all they seemed to do when dropping bombs or rocketing well defended lines.

In operations using the Mustangs, the SAAF carried out 10 373 sorties, and lost 74 of its 95 aircraft. The high rate of loss is testament to the bravery and commitment of the pilots, but also testament that the SAAF had to convert to jet power to have a fighting chance.

It was this baptism of fire which required a change in tactics and it moved the SAAF from a piston-engined air force into the jet age – and from flying F-51D Mustangs to F-86 Sabre fighter jets.

Image of a crashed SAAF F51D Mustang in Korea – copyright ipmssa.za.org Cooke & Owen Collection

Flying Cheetahs – the South African Air Force in the Korean War

Not many South Africans are aware that South Africa took part in the Korean War, well here is a rare original colour photograph of a North American F-51D Mustang fighters of No. 2 Squadron of the South African Air Force in Korea. Here they are seen conducting run-ups during the Korean War in 1951. This F-51 Mustang No. 346 crashed on 29/11/1951 tragically killing the pilot Capt Janse van Rensburg.

This rare photo courtesy and thanks to Ian Pretorius from his Dad’s collection, then Lt M S (Mike) Pretorius.