1/7518 Captain L.K. (Keith) Hatfield
The formation was officially designated "The Mosquitos", a name derived from the term used by the Chinese to describe the sound made by Group aircraft, which was quite distinctive.
The aircraft being operated by the Mosquitos were mainly T6Gs. equipped with smoke rockets for the purpose of marking targets on the ground. The role of the Formation was the direction of Close Support Fighter Bombing in close proximity to our own forces. The enemy were often dug-in only a few hundred metres from our own lines, and bombs had to be placed with great accuracy to avoid getting onto 'Friendlies'.
In consequence, the marking had to be absolutely 'spot-on', and the bombing aircraft strictly controlled. These requirements also demanded that the Mosquito fly low and slow.
The enemy had for some time tended to disregard the presence of the Mosquito during Air-Strikes, and had concentrated their fire on the much more difficult target presented by the Bombing aircraft, but once they realized that if the Mosquito was shot down the strike would either be delayed, or put in elsewhere, they concentrated much of their fire onto the Mossie. With much improved ACK ACK they set about giving us a 'Right Royal' pasting whenever we showed up. We suffered heavily in consequence, and often went home to base full of holes of one kind or another. Life was anything but boring.
The area of operations taken in by the Mosquitos extended from one side of the Country to the other, taking in the Main Line of Resistance, and extending further North to Forward Bomb Line.
Peace negotiations had been dragging on interminably at Panmunjom, as the enemy sought to regain territory lost on the Eastern Front, before accepting a Cease Fire. Their efforts were creating a lot of 'Heat in the kitchen' so to speak.
Having been assigned to a sector of the Front at Briefing, the Mosquito crews would ready-up, and depart K47, in time to make RV in the target area, as required.
At 0600 hours on the morning of 17th May 1953, Captain Frank E. Winner, with whom I had not previously flown, and I attended the first briefing of the day, and were assigned to the 'remote Sector', which was on the central Front. We were allocated LTA5555 ( 'Triple Nickel' ), an aircraft for which I had an affection, having flown in her on numerous occasions without incident. We were to use the call-sign 'Mosquito Exile One'. We took off on time, and on approach 'Remote Control', called 'in-bound' and were directed to an area known as the 'Dog's Head', and en-route were given the target Co-ordinates for the Strike we were to put in, once we had the fighters in the area.
I discussed the target with Winner and we flew over to take a 'look-see.' I was satisfied, but he wasn't, so we went back for another look, and that was when the 'fun started.'
As we orbited over the target, and straightened up to return to the MLR, wait for the fighters, there was a loud thump, the aircraft bounced upwards, and acrid smelling white smoke quickly filled the cockpit. Winner cracked the canopy open, and as he did so the entire space from the firewall to the rear cockpit became a blazing inferno.
With no time to talk he stood up, and bailed out over the port side.
As the flames were then extending to the tail plane on the port side, I left the aircraft from the starboard, but because of the heat, did not exit properly, and found myself on the horizontal stabiliser - my first experience of that kind ( and hopefully my last too!!)
My next concern, once my descent was under control, was to look for friendlies, and establish which way I would have to go to evade capture. I was relieved to find a friendly wind was carrying me in the direction I should go. I had just begun to congratulate myself on how well things were going when I became aware that the air around me was cracking with the sounds of fire being directed at me by some of my 'Oriental Customers' to whom I had planned a delivery.
There was little I could do there and then, but hope they were all 'crook shots', but when I hit Mother Earth, and he put a burst into the base of a tree about 20 yards away, I decided I'd had enough of his company, and I took off for home and Mother, at a great rate of knots, ( Move aside John Landy I'm coming through!)
I didn't have all that far to go before I drew the attention of a Battalion of the 3rd Capitol ROK Division which was holding that section of the front above where I had come down. Their assistance at that point consisted of shouting 'Hubba, Hubba,' which translated means 'Go like buggery.' I thought that was what I had been doing!
I eventually found my way up to the top of the Ridge, having negotiated a Mine field en-route, and was then taken to the Battalion command post, where the colonel was kind enough to allow me to sit in his 'Hutchi' and get my breath back, and take stock of the situation.
I asked for Winner and was told his chute had caught on a cliff face, and as the enemy were shooting at him suspended there, he had released his harness, and fallen some distance onto rocks.
Therefore there had been a fire fight between the enemy and friendlies to decide who would get him and friendlies won - they said he would soon appear.
In the meantime I tried to make contact with 'Remote Control' using the call sign 'Dodo Exile One,' without success. (A Dodo is a bird that doesn't fly, and we were authorized to use that call in such circumstances).
When Winner finally arrived he was a stretcher case, and in a very bad way. He had smacked into the tail plane front on, and as was later found, had ruptured his spleen. He also had bad burns, and a broken arm from falling amongst the rocks at the base of the cliff.
In due course a Bell 47J, suitably equipped, flew in and we were taken to 44 MASH, with Frank strapped to a litter on the side.
Frank took some time to mend, and was eventually evacuated back home. I stayed the night at the MASH, and the next day Major HANK HANSEN, C.O. of the 6148TH flew in, and took me back to K47 where I also was hospitalized in our own sick Bay.
I was grounded for a time, due to burns received when my flying suit melted with the heat. During that time I accepted an invitation from a 'friend' to go after an F86 Pilot who had been shot down on the Central front. We found him alright, but we copped a burst through the starboard mainplane, and nearly joined him there and then. But that is a story for another day.
The foregoing episode and others relating to the . Mosquitos', appeared in Argosy Magazine, entitled 'Slow Run to Hell'. The episode above was also used in an ABC radio Broadcast Series to do with 'Our Servicemen on active Duty.'
Post script: Keith returned to active duty and completed 75 missions. He was no stranger to war having served as an Infantry Platoon Commander in New Guinea and as a Platoon Commander and Company Commander on attachment to the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in Burma during World War 11. This British army service extended to the Malayan insurgancy in 1949 prior to his return to Australia.
A retired Colonel, Keith lives in Park Orchards Victoria. His civilian working revolved around private flying and the Aviation industry, at 80 years of age he retains his Pilots License.
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