THE MOSQUITOES OF KOREA
AE "Gus" Breen was educated at Waverley College, Sydney, 1942-47. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in December 1951 and was allocated to the Corps of Infantry. Posted to 1 RAR Korea as a Reinforcement Platoon Commander (Lieutenant) he saw further service with 2 RAR when it relieved 1 RAR.
Seconded to the 6148 Tactical Control Squadron, 5 USAF, April 1953 as an Aerial Observer.
GS03, Headquarters, Australian Army Component - Japan 1954, Adjutant, Queensland University Regiment 1955-58 and then transferred to the CMF. For his Korea War service Gus was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (USA) and the Air Medal (USA).
Post military career includes Marketing and Chief Executive, appointments in a number of National and International companies. Directorships in Australia and South East Asia complemented these responsibilities. He retired in 1991 but continues to work in a consultative capacity. He lives in the Sydney suburb of Lane Cove
Fly! Who me? My log-book told the story, AE (Gus) Breen. Two previous missions, Qantas, Sydney (Australia) to Iwakuni (Japan), RAAF, Iwakuni to Seoul (South Korea) before jointing 1 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) on the infamous Hill 355, "Little Gibralter", thence to 6147 Tactical Control Group, Chunchon, Central Korea, the home of the "Mosquitoes", the American aerial observation group. I'm sure my compatriots, Lieutenant "Bruce" Boys of 1 and 2 RAR and Captain "Keith" Hatfield 3 RAR would agree that this was a posting 'extraordinaire'. Three months flying as an Aerial Observer with the Americans, spotting for the jets on their close air support strikes. Nervous? In hindsight, we were, just a little, certainly excited. A three hour jeep-ride to the well established base on the edge of the town to see a 5000 feet sealed runway, tented accommodation, mess and administrative buildings all housed in Quonset Huts, the aircraft stowed in sandbag revetments.
Australians were a rare breed in this part of the country, our slouch hats attracting more than their share of interest. We became a very popular photograph for many war-time albums. Our first appearance in the Officers' Club brought introductions all round, an unprecedented welcome with a rapid initiation into the wiles of rolling dice for drinks. The acceptance and integration procedure took fully five minutes. It was Easter Sunday 5th April, 1953.
Week 1 was something of an anti-climax with medical examinations, issue of flying gear, Ground School and in general learning the routine. To say that we were "chomping at the bit" to chalk up that first mission would certainly have been the understatement of the decade. Mine came on Friday 10th April 1953, Keith and I being assigned to IX Corps sector based on the Chorwon Valley and the Iron Triangle, areas over which the Americans had been fighting for some time. Bruce went to I Corps embracing the Commonwealth Division.
Our aircraft were T6 Harvards, a two-seater World War II trainer (by no means a jet) with a climbing speed of a cumbersome 85 mph. Unarmed, except for twelve white phosphorous rockets used to mark targets, they were a heavy low-winged monoplane, over-burdened with two radio transmitters, cruising at 130 mph, with a ceiling of 8000 feet. Our personal weaponry, a .45 Colt pistol, shoulder-holstered for effect. The job during this dawn to dusk vigil was to find, identify and mark targets across the Chinese forward defences (FDL's) then contact the jet fighter bombers and direct each jet, in turn onto its bombing run. After the hit and whilst the jets headed for home we cruised back for a post-strike damage assessment. The targets were artillery, mortar, anti aircraft positions, personnel shelters, trench-work, bunkers, storage caves, an occasional vehicle or tank and once for me some troops in the open.
The air-crews were all. American pilots, some World War II veterans but mostly young intrepid, no nonsense aviators who had trained on jets only to find the "No Vacancy" sign for jet squadrons.
Permit me a little nostalgia as I stroll down memory lane with "Jim" Sullivan, McKeesport, "Pa"; "Hal" Roth, "NY", "Duane" Billmeyer, "Royal Oak", "Mi", "Bill" Roob, "Tabb", "Va" and "Earl" Marsh, "Pittsburgh PA". You remember names when you sit in the back-seat totally dependent on the guy up-front. Every of these guys was a character. Brave, skillful, full of adventure and worthy of a book each. The Observers, officers and non commissioned officers (NCOs) from the ground forces, the majority with no flying experience, mostly American but with an occasional "foreign order" from Australia, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Would you care to "fly a mission"? The Operations Room Notice Board commanded centre stage, for, it was there that the crews' mission, aircraft number and take-off time were prominently displayed, daily. A comprehensive briefing preceded each mission highlighting the previous night's front-line activity in each Corps sector. Map Reference and description of the target, time over target, fighter-bomber call sign, number and type of aircraft, bomb-load, recommended direction of attack, ground panel identification, distance to and position of the nearest friendly troops and emergency air-strip, ground controller (T.A.C.P.) radio frequency and finally, the weather. Absorb this then move to the Parachute Room, a short truck-ride to the aircraft, an exchange of pleasantries with the Crew Chief, aircraft inspection, taxi, cleared for take-off and another mission was on its way. Five aircraft, one into each Corps sector. After about twenty minutes to the front line, we checked-in with the tactical air controller on the ground (TACP), cruise the Chinese hills, slipping, jinking, an occasional falling leaf turn, probing for activity, dodging flak, recording the findings. The fighter bombers checked-in, four silver specks at 15000 feet. We talk to the flight leaders and ask them to circle. Describe the target area and have each jet identify. Call for coloured artillery marker smoke; it's off target. The wind is strong, it's up to the Mosquito (aircraft) Down for a smoke rocket run, more evasive action; weave; under 1500 feet; in, fire and out. Fast turn over friendly "real estate". Our captive audience, the jet flight, watched round one. Then it was their turn. Accurate target recognition from the rocket marker, then a call for flak suppression. Start the dive-bombing run, correcting each aiming point from the preceding jet's bomb burst. Clear the jets break-way, firstly over the enemy lines, no hung bomb, then back over ours. Assess damage. Wait for the next flight or home for de-briefing. 17th May 1953 dawned fine and clear. It was a routine affair, concluding at 7.30am, we were relieved by "Keith" and his pilot Captain "Frank" E Winner in aircraft LTA 555 ("triple nickel"). At base we learnt that our mates, "triple nickel", had gone down in flames, two parachutes but no further news. A 20mm cannon shell had ripped through their wheel well and exploded the belly-tank. As Winner opened the forward hatch to bail-out the rear instrument panel burst into flames, fire billowing from the cockpit floor. Keith "hit the silk". Machine-gunned on the way-down, he tried to slip his chute towards friendly lines but didn't make it. Instead he landed some four hundred metres in front of a ROK position, in the minefield. Keith has never had any pretensions to being an athlete of note but he claims his record over that quarter-mile still stands. He forgot that his nylon flying suit had burnt so quickly, it had almost exploded. His hands, arms and legs were raw, his right ear skinless. Urged on by friendly shouts of "Hubba Hubba" from the South Korean (ROK) infantry and helped by them over the final stages Keith survived. Winner with a ruptured spleen, five broken ribs and a broken arm, shockingly burnt, hung-up in a tree six hundred metres out, thankfully to be rescued by a ROK stretcher-party.
Nine days later 26th May, 4pm, with Lieutenant "Danny" Reale, I too survived a crash-landing on a U.S. artillery emergency "L Strip" when the motor quit at 30 feet, seating us none too elegantly in a paddy field. An abrupt end to Mission Number 52. Each mission lasted approximately three hours or longer, if ground activity warranted additional strikes. Aptly named by the Chinese for the distinctive drone of their engine the "Mosquitoes" were revered by the jets and enjoyed a remarkable rapport with their ground-based or carrier-borne cousins. They were their "seeing-eye dog". Blinded by their own speed, with fuel consumption a built-in hazard the fighter bombers with their two one-thousand pounders found target identification almost impossible. The Mosquitoes filled that void, their record of 40,354 missions, two US Presidential citations, one Korean Presidential citation in their brief history, being testimony of their effectiveness and efficiency. On 5th July 1953, sadly, our tour of duty was over. Each of us had flown 75 missions in around ten weeks. It was back to earth, back to our Battalions, for Bruce and I , the "Hook" (a savage battalion battle position) our home for the final three weeks of the war. Thanks for the memories!
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