18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Korea

Part 17: Korean Tales Unsung Heroes of the Korean Air War by
Duane E. 'Bud' Biteman, Lt Col, USAF, Ret

1Lt. Lieutenant HARRY C.MOORE - F-51 Mustangs vs MiG-15's Jets = 'NO CONTEST '

Yalu River, North Korea, May, 1951

Korea in 1950 and 1951 were vintage years for Courage, Valor and Heroism.

And, while I was serving with the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group and the pilots of those old derelict F-51 Mustangs, I can proudly state that: ... I ate with heroes ... I drank with heroes, and to a certain extent, a part of me died with many of those heroes..

Perhaps another of the personal experiences which I describe here will help to explain what I mean....

As the full-time Squadron Intelligence Officer and part-time Combat Pilot, it didn't take me long to realize that our gallant, but feeble efforts, initially flying ten derelict F-51 Mustangs from the dirt airstrip at Taegu, South Korea, were having little effect in slowing the North Korean's relentless offensive drive toward Pusan. Things improved considerably early in August, with the arrival on the USS Boxer, of a shipload of 150 'new' F-51 Mustangs and a batch of experienced fighter pilots fresh from the 'States.

We had been fortunate, at first; we didn't experience our first fatality for almost ten days after beginning our daily routine of intense ground attack combat operations against the North Korean enemy ...Second Lieutenant Billie Crabtree was unable to avoid his bomb blast hitting the crest of a hill near Kwangju, near the west coast of South Korea.

But then there were others... many, many others, for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group lost... killed or Missing In Action, thirty-five good young fighter pilots during just that first year of combat in Korea.

After these many years the details of their individual passing have mercifully faded from memory. Some remain more vivid than others; either because they were closer friends, or because the specifics of their passing seemed so startling or seemed so unfair to me at the time. Many of those pilot officers were young and inexperienced, but many were seasoned veterans: Lieutenants to Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels.

The close aerial support tactics, necessitating minimum altitude, on-the-deck attacks, were the only way to slow the enemy thrust, even though those low level tactics were universally acknowledged to be, by far, the most dangerous to the pilot, of all forms of aerial warfare.

But none of our fighter people stopped to ask "Why can't the B-29 bombers hit those targets from high, safe altitudes?"

We knew that there weren't enough B-29s in the theater, or it would take too long to coordinate the Strike Request ...or we all knew that we alone had the better weapon for the job, the F-51 Mustang. And we knew, too, that the war wouldn't "wait"; our ground troops were depending on us. If we didn't do it, it wouldn't get done!

Our honor roll, included names the likes of which could be found on any personnel roster, or any list of college or church volunteers.

But these young men were special ... they were true heroes who died at very young ages ... in the prime of their lives, because they believed in what they were doing!

We had lost a good, common mixture of All-American names like Haines, and Thomas, and Webster. There was Bob Hook and Bob Smith, Art Hutchinson... who was another of my assistants in the Intelligence office, and died later in the crash of an F-80. Don Flentke, who was hit near Wonsan just before the Marines took the area; Don Bolt, Ramon Davis, and a Major Muritt Davis, Alex Padilla... who was on temporary duty with the Army when they were captured, and killed. There was Danny Leake... who had to bail out of his crippled '51 and was fatally injured when struck by the tail surface on the way out. Ross Cree, Jack Lightner, Bill Stark, Major Scanlon, Barney Pearson, Malcolm Edens, "Pappy" Sternard, Lt. Col. Gloesner, Harry Middleton, Bob Seguin, ' Coleman, 'Thompson, Walt Pittman ..who started his combat tour with a chain of 100 links, and would clip one off after each return; I believe he had about four links to go when he was killed. Ray Carlson, Bob Howells, Lou Sebille, who was awarded the first Air Force Medal of Honor of the Korean War, all fine officers, husbands and fathers... I commend them, "Heroes all".

1st. Lieutenant Harry Cecil Moore .... was another case worthy of relating in more detail: he, too, had been with us in the 67th Squadron at Clark, and had come north with Lou Sebille and the rest of the Squadron in early August, '50. His wife, Lois, remained at Clark Field awaiting his return.

In October, 1950, through a mix-up of names, Lois had been officially notified that Harry Moore had been killed in action ... on a day when he had not even flown. He had by then completed almost fifty combat missions and, because no mission 'tour' had yet been established FEAF Headquarters allowed Lieutenant Harry Moore to return to Clark Field to be with his distraught wife. He remained at Clark, in the 44th Squadron, until May '51, when an extreme shortage of fighter pilots ... caused by overly-optimistic Personnel forecasts during General MacArthur’s "Home by Christmas" euphoria prior to the November entry of Chinese forces on the side of North Korea, caused a panic in FEAF Headquarters, and they decreed that all fighter pilots who had flown any combat missions whatsoever in Korea, must go back to complete the full 100 mission Tour before rotation to the 'States... no matter how long they had been in the theater, or other extenuating circumstances.

Lieutenant Harry Moore reluctantly returned to the 67th Squadron at Chinhae, Korea, during the first week of May, 1951, while his twenty-two year old wife, newly-pregnant with their first child, remained at Clark Field.

The Chinese army's massive Spring Offensive, 1951, was just beginning. Until the entry of the Chinese into the war, in November and December, 1950, and the early months of 1951, Red air opposition had been almost nil. Then, with the startling reinforcements streaming across from Manchuria, an occasional MiG-15 would venture a few miles south of their sanctuary north of the Yalu River.

Although our propeller-driven F-51 Mustangs were no match for the fast jets in air-to-air battles, we knew from our simulated 'dogfights' between our F-80 jets and the Mustangs, that the '51 could survive a jet confrontation ...but only if strict, disciplined defensive tactics were applied, with very precise timing of each defensive maneuver.

For example: the great speed advantage of the jets could be somewhat offset by the much tighter turning radius of the Mustang. So, when attacked by jets, the '51 pilot would have to keep a close eye on the attacking enemy fighter and make an abrupt, tight turn into the attacker at just the precise moment before the jet came into firing range. In that way the Mustang would have equal opportunity to fire at the jet in a head-on pass... trading gun for gun and for the moment, eliminating the enemy's advantage of speed.

Then, when the jet sped past, swinging wide because of his excess momentum, the '51 pilot would have to immediately dive into a very, very tight descending spiral ...racing to get down close to the ground as quickly as possible. If the jet set up for another attack before the Mustang could get down to the deck, amongst the mountains, it might be necessary to synchronize yet more head-on passes to keep the jet from making clean, deadly stern attacks.

Finally, when the Mustang was able to get down into the mountain valleys, he could try to "scrape off" the high-speed, wider-turning jet in the narrow canyons ... still pulling up to meet each attack head-on, trading gun for gun, until ultimately the jet must run low on fuel and return to base, leaving the '51 pilot with plenty of remaining fuel to high-tail it for home ...badly shaken, but still safe and still flying!

Lieutenant Harry Moore and his wingman, while flying at about 5000 feet ... just high enough to be out of range of most small arms fire, were jumped by a pair of Russian-built MiG-15 jets south of Yong-ju, near the mouth of the Yalu River. When they were attacked, instead of turning to meet the attackers head-on, and use the defensive tactics we had devised, they turned away and put their noses down, turning south as if to try to out-run the jets. The MiGs blasted both Harry and his wingman out of the sky on their first firing pass.

Harry Moore was shot down and died within just minutes of the time that his friend and Squadron mate, Ross Cree was killed by ground fire just a few miles further south.

Once again his wife Lois, still at Clark Field, was informed that Harry had been Killed in Action; that time it was true!

Duane E. 'Bud' Biteman,
Lt. Col, USAF, Ret
‘...One of those Old, Bold Fighter Pilots’
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