Chapter 29



Service details

"Ray" Trebilco joined the Royal Australian Air Force(RAAF) in January 1945. He was a linguist in British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF)until 1948, graduating as a pilot from 1 Flying Training School in 1949 and was posted to77 Squadron in Japan for commission in 1950. He assumed a number of flying andintelligence postings up to 1982 with overseas experience in Japan, Korea, United Kingdom,Europe, Malaya, Thailand and the United States of America. His senior appointmentsincluded Officer Commanding RAAF Butterworth, Director General Recruiting, Air OfficerCommanding Support Command and Chief of Air Force Personnel. He was awarded the DFC in1950 and the AO in 1982. He was appointed Administrator Norfolk Island in 1982 and was OTCrepresentative for Japan in 1987. He is now retired on the Gold Coast Queensland and is amember of the Korean Memorial Committee.


I was in Iwakuni for six months prior to the start of the Korean warand having served two consecutive tours during the height of both the North Korean andChinese attacks, I was fortunate in having an overview of all the early encounters. MiltCottee and I were posted to 77 Squadron in December 1949 after graduation from No.1 FTS(Flying Training School) followed by a quick conversion to Mustangs at No.21 Squadron atLaverton Victoria. We were the first of the new NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) air-crewsystem which classified air-crew according to their experience and not rank.

On base I was eligible to enter the Sergeants' Mess, but foradministrative purposes I was equal to a Corporal, which was lower than a Corporal fordisciplinary purposes. If this sounds confusing, it was and it led to unacceptableoperational conditions after war broke out. What it meant at Iwakuni was that, initially,after a day's missions over Korea, we would return to find ourselves rostered forguard duty, not even as Corporal of the Guard but as one of his roving picquets! Asubsequent parade to Wing Commander Spence to protest led to part of the anomaly beingredressed in that we no longer had to carry out guard duties. The ridiculous 'P'system, however, continued for some further time and caused great confusion and a deal ofresentment since it was a proficiency system designed to grade air-crew and wasincompatible with the normal administration and discipline of the Service.

I flew a total of 424.50 operational hours on 172 missions. 101missions were flown on Mustangs for 328.10 operational hours and 71 missions on Meteorsfor a total of 96.40 operational hours. I was fired at many times by AA (anti-aircraft)and small arms and even by MIGs (Chinese fighter aircraft) but fortunately I was neverhit.

In the early days when the situation was really critical and there wasdoubt as to whether or not the precarious UN toehold could be sustained around the PusanPerimeter, we were operating from Iwakuni. A pre-dawn take-off would see us at thesouthern shores of Korea at dawn for the first mission in support of the UN (UnitedNations) troops. We would then land at K2 airfield Taegu, on the 2700' strip, re-armand re-fuel, take off for a further mission, sometimes even contacting an airbornecontroller during the climb and rolling straight in on a target very close to theairfield, land back at Taegu for re-arming and re-fueling again (perhaps even twice more),complete a further mission and finally return to Iwakuni. All this was done on 'deadreckoning', a combination of time and distance, airspeed and course and a cockpitfull of military topographical maps of differing scales: 1:1,000,000, 1:500,000 andI:50,000. We had no navigation aids other than mental calculations and map readingabilities. Our radio was a 4-channel VHF (very high frequency) set, one channel of whichwas dedicated to the emergency frequency, one to our air traffic control frequency leavingonly two channels for operational contacts. When being passed from controller tocontroller as might be required by the developing ground situation, flight to a new gridreference for visual contact meant a new struggle with target maps and a renewed battlewith terrain and weather.

After the landing at Inchon and the breakout from the Perimeter by the8th Army, the navigational requirements for successful missions and for anydiversions during such missions became even more demanding.

However, August was the really critical month in my log book. I flew 25missions for 58.05 operational hours and dropped 500lb GP (general purpose) bombs, 260lbFrag (fragmentation) bombs, and napalm (incendiary) tanks, fired 60lb warhead rockets andstraffed with .5 calibre ammunition. The Perimeter held, reinforcements were able to reachKorea and UN forces were able to cross to the offensive. During this critical phase, allmissions were different, hazardous, unusual or successful and I wouldn't want tohighlight any particular one.

For the rest of the Mustang days to April 1951 when we returned toIwakuni to convert to the Meteor, the nearest the war came to the intensity and tension ofthe Pusan Perimeter days was during the relatively brief close support effort we gave tothe US Marine 10th Corps around the Changjin Reservoir north of Hamhung and tothe beleaguered US 2nd Division on the road south of Pyongyang. At that stagewe were based at Hamhung where we had moved to shorten the travel distance in pursuit ofthe fleeing North Korean Army. There was an eerie quiet for a while and then the Chineseentered the war and everything changed.

Hamhung was our second base in Korea. We initially deployed to K3Pohang, to reduce flying time to the fleeing NKA (North Korean Army) before the Chinesecame in. Their retreat, however, was rapid and most of our missions from Pohang were armedreconnaissance or strike missions; no close support missions were flown during thisperiod. At Pohang we lived in tent lines and only had summer sleeping bags even though thenight temperatures were way down. We wore a lot of extra clothing to keep warm. We did,however, have an Australian army design outdoor fuel-burning shower which was the sourceof great envy by the Americans with whom we were co-located. Outside our tent lines we hada couple of fuel-burning stoves as well and these were often the source of a hot breakfastin the form of a heated tin of Smorgans sausages.

But the distances were too far for effective missions from Pohang asthe North Koreans moved beyond the Chongchong River at Sinanju and so we moved to Hamhungon the 40th Parallel and well inside North Korea. It was a snowbound field inwinter and far colder than Pohang. It was the first experience for most of us to fly froma snow-covered strip and take off techniques had to be adapted for the blinding snowflurries of a preceding aircraft. Landings on the ice covered runways also needed somecare. I should add at this point that when the war started, we were flying in light weightflying suits suited to the temperatures of Iwakuni and not the winter of Korea. Had it notbeen for the issue by the USAF of fur pile hats, winter jackets, all-weather boots withdouble insoles, warm socks, gloves, trousers, arctic underwear, etc, we would have frozenin Chosen (Korea- nicknamed "Frozen Chosen"). And what is more, the ground staffcould not have done the magnificent job they did, particularly in Hamhung, of preparingour Mustangs in sub-zero temperatures and blizzardly conditions early in the mornings forthe first flights without these items. The metal skins of the Mustangs were so cold thatto touch them with bare fingers meant leaving skin stuck to the metal. Yet the groundstaff endured these conditions uncomplainingly and our aircraft were always serviceable ontime and completely reliable. It was so cold that by the time we, the pilots, startedtaxiing, the extremities of our feet and hands were entirely without feeling. It was onlyduring the subsequent climb out, as heat flowed into the cockpit, that we went through theagonizing pins and needles and burning sensations in our fingers and toes before regainingfull feeling. I think that is why we felt so sorry and helpless for the Marines on theReservoir, totally outnumbered by the bugle and whistle-blowing Chinese and fighting arearguard action that saw limbs lost through frostbite as much as through wounds.

And so to K9 Pusan airfield on the 3rd of December before wewere overrun at Hamhung by the Chinese. Our final missions from the base en route to K9were flown in support of the US 2nd Division retreating along the road fromPyongyang. Pusan was different. While cold, it was not snowbound and we were not living inwindowless concrete buildings on frozen concrete floors in summer sleeping bags. We werequartered in wooden huts and had the ubiquitous fuel stove for warmth. We also hadstretcher beds for the first time and these saw many a game of bridge in off hours.

There was a bar at the end of the hut and many games of liar dice(learnt from the Americans) and Rosie Rosie (acquired from the Brits I think) playedduring our spare time. From memory, there were no other diversions except watchingdeparting and returning missions which we did endlessly. It was not an easy airfield toland at and the transport aircraft, especially the C46s of CAT (china air transport-Chennault Flying Tigers ) airlines, frequently just could not cope with the cross winds.That, plus the newly arrived US F9F (Shooting Star) jets blowing away the under surface ofour PSP (pierced steel plank) runway as they ran up engines for take off, all made forinteresting viewing.

Although we flew many missions in support of the UN forces under attackby the Chinese, the intensity of the war had changed dramatically from the Pusan Perimeterdays. There were still heavy actions which required immediate close support, but a lot ofour time was spent looking for targets. The Chinese were extremely clever and innovativein camouflaging their vehicles. Despite the UN's air supremacy and the difficultiesfor the Chinese of hiding large vehicles in flat snow covered areas, we had greatdifficulty in finding hidden targets. We could see numerous tracks in the snow where theChinese had assembled during the preceding night, but not a trace of the vehicles was tobe seen, at least initially. Finally, we found some of the answers, but perhaps not all ofthem. The Chinese would drive a vehicle through the side wall of a Korean building andreplace the wall with white canvas or something similar. Napalm on the thatched roof wheretracks were visible would reveal the burning truck or heavier vehicle underneath.Snow-covered haystacks in fields, with or without the revealing tracks were frequentlycamouflaged vehicles which you saw, either accidentally or by virtue of a change in theangle of view or in the lighting. Once one was detected, others popped into view with asuddenness like the arrival of the fairy penguins from the sea in Victoria.

We re-deployed to Iwakuni on the 7th April 1951 to start ourconversion to the Meteor. The conversion period lasted a little longer than necessarybecause the Squadron was not given permission to return to operations until all aircrafthad been fitted with radio compasses. For those of us who had flown the length and breadthof the Korean peninsular without any radio aids other than a 4-channel VHF set, who hadparticipated in Squadron bad weather recoveries using the VHF/DF letdown, who had onlyoccasionally practised the luxury of a GCA (ground control) at Itazuke air-base in Kyushu,the southern island of Japan, and that only before the Korean War started, a radio compasswas a luxury indeed. Allied to this, the Meteor had two 10-channel VHF sets,pressurization to fly at high altitudes, an ejection seat and two jet engines. We werewell off indeed and felt that we didn't really need radio compasses other than tolisten to the US Armed Forces' radio broadcasts. However, no one asked us.Nevertheless, the radio compasses did prove useful for recoveries into Kimpo when theweather was foul and certainly freed the frequencies from much idle chatter.

I took part in the first Meteor mission from our new air-base in Korea,Kimpo, located just outside Seoul. Again, our accommodation was similar to that at Pusanand the ''choofer'' outdoor shower again drew favourable comment from our USAF(United States Air Force) friends, this time the 4th Fighter Interceptor Groupwith whom we were co-located. We fared well for food as we ate at the 67thRecce Tech (reconnaissance technical) kitchen. That was the first time that I had eatenbacon and 'over easy' eggs, with hot cakes (small pancakes) on top of all that,and the lot then covered with warm maple syrup! We also had in our hut our Ops(operations) Officer, Stan Bromhead, who would get up about 2am every morning to shootpheasant. He would pluck and clean them and throw them into a large container which wekept boiling continuously on our fuel stove in the hut. We would bring back vegetablesfrom the 67th, throw them into the pot and have a continuous and deliciouspheasant stew for whenever we felt like it. Stan's early rising also meant that theearly morning briefings were always prepared in plenty of time.

The first mission was flown on 29th July 1951 and was partof the fighter cover regularly provided by the F86s for the ground attack F80s and F84aircraft operating in North Korea. In retrospect, the fact that we flew top cover at35,000' for the F86s in aircraft markedly inferior to both the F86 and the Mig 15says a lot for British propaganda in regard to its vaunted high altitude fighterinterceptor! We did not see any Migs airborne on this mission which was flown parallel tothe Yalu River overhead Sinuiju; however, we did see Migs on the ground at Antung, justacross the river.

UN aircraft were forbidden to cross the Yalu under any circumstances, afact which gave the Migs the advantage of climbing to height unmolested, choosing the timeand place and the conditions of any attack and of being able to disengage when they feltlike it without fear of any hot pursuit. Later, when we did see them crossing, theyavoided us initially. Because they had been singularly unsuccessful against the F86s, andsaw us flying as top cover for the same F86s, when they did cross the Yalu they ignored usand dived to engage the lower F86s. Later, as they observed our failure to becomeinvolved, or perhaps even by chance, they did attack one day on their way through and RonGuthrie became their first Meteor victim.

Instead of being utterly useless at 35,000' and even at30,000', the Meteor found it could survive relatively comfortably around 20,000'and so later, fighter sweep missions were flown starting at 25,000' descending to20,000' in 5 legs keeping the Mach speed up and retaining full maneuverabilityoptions. For all that, however, the early Meteors had no spring aileron tabs and rollingat high speed was hard work and relatively slow. During our sweep missions it had beeninteresting to observe the tactics of the Migs which seemed to indicate that Antung wasbeing used as a four weeks' operational conversion unit. At least that was the viewof some of us. The first week would see no activity at all over the Yalu. The second weekwould see a few aircraft cross the Yalu but not engage. The third week would see somesporadic encounters with a quick retreat to safety across the Yalu, while the fourth weekwould see up to 150 Migs airborne and crossing the Yalu in waves to engage for protractedperiods. In all such encounters, one solitary Mig would position itself somewhere safeabove 40,000. We figured it could have been the senior instructor, perhaps a Russian, whowas directing the engagement but who also occasionally would make a pass at a loneaircraft and immediately climb to resume his position above the combat.

During the period I was at Kimpo, the Squadron was involved primarilyin fighter sweeps, initially at 35,000' descending to 30,000' over Sinuiju andlater at 25,000' descending to 20,000' over Sinanju. We still flew as part ofthe protection for the ground attack F80s and F84s, but in our new location we had theinitial protection of the F86s instead of the reverse as it had been when we were overheadSinuiju. We also escorted B29s, B26s and RF80 aircraft on photo reconnaissance missions.We usually received good warning of the imminent presence of Migs as their departure fromAntung was reported to us by our GCI (ground control intercept, GCA ground controlapproach ) controller as 'train No.1 is leaving the station', 'train No.2,etc'. This indicated that from 16 to 20 Migs had become airborne and were climbing toheight on the Manchurian side of the border. Obviously, when the count got to 'trainNo.6, 7, 8' we knew things were soon to become serious. When the crossing of the Yaluby the Migs had taken place, we would be told 'heads up all aircraft in the Sinanju,Pyongyang, etc area' and a quick look would quickly verify that the sky indeed wasfull of silvery flashes. The Migs always had height and numbers on their side since theF86s rarely had more than 24 aircraft in the air and we never had more than 16.

I have been fired on and have fired at Migs without results either way.If we saw the Migs, especially at the lower altitudes we were not in danger of being shotdown because of our rate of turn and turn radius. One could always force an overshoot, buta reversal was comparatively slow because of our aileron loads and the possibility ofbecoming an instant target for a second Mig. We were only able to get in long but openingrange shots unless the Mig committed some tactical error such as slowing down and tryingto stay with the Meteor's turn.

To my mind, 77 Squadrons' greatest contribution to the Korean Waroccurred during the Pusan Perimeter when the results were definitely critical andmeasurable. The situation was desperate and targets were numerous. Air power applied allround the small front helped repel all attempts by the NKA to cross the Naktong River andprovided just enough time for the relief forces in the shape of the US Marines to land atInchon and create a second front and for the US 8th Army to regroup and breakout of the Perimeter. We certainly contributed a lot during the desperate early days ofthe Chinese offensive when we operated from Hamhung, but that offensive continued despiteour efforts until their supply lines just became too long and operations south of Seoulcould no longer be supported. From being essentially a very professional and competentground attack squadron during our Mustang days, (and the red, white and blue spinner ofour Mustangs was always welcome in the tight ground battles), we changed to an air-to-airrole in which we were far less proficient.

Possessing an inferior high altitude fighter, with its limiting Mach of.84 (less than the speed of sound) and restricted rear visibility, and lacking specificair-to-air tactics which were not taught or practised until we acquired the Avon Sabre inthe mid to late 'fifties', we added numbers and enthusiasm to the air battleover North Korea but could hardly say we played a major role in deterring the Migs.

About the ground staff and their dedication - I can't speak toohighly of them. They slaved away day and night to keep our aircraft serviceable; in thedust and rain at Taegu; in the bitterly cold tented environment of Pohang; in the snow andsub-zero temperatures of Hamhung; and at Kimpo, again in bitterly cold and often snowconditions. They never complained; always took a great interest in the results of ourmissions; were saddened as we were at the loss of pilots they knew and liked; and filledus with the greatest confidence in the performance of our aircraft even when we wereflying five and six hour missions deep inside North Korea. They vicariously shared thesuccesses and fears of all our missions and in every way made us proud to be the unit wewere.

With regard to working with other nationalities, the only one withwhich we had close contact was the USAF when we were part of the 35th FighterInterceptor Group. They were a great bunch of people and our relations were warm andcordial in the extreme. I didn't get to know the 4th Fighter Wing too wellat Kimpo; they were very busy fighting the Migs and were across the other side of theairfield anyway. Nevertheless, we knew them in the air and there was a lot of mutualrespect in terms of professional recognition. We also had a lot of time for the bombercrews of the B29s and B26s which we escorted. They just flew straight and level throughthe flak to bomb their targets while we, the bomber escort, had the luxury of changingaltitude, course and speed to avoid the flak situation. There again, the flak suppressionboys of the F80s and F84s (ground attack), whose job it was to hit the flak positions justbefore the bombers bombed, also had our respect, but, unfortunately, we had no contactwith them on the ground.

There were many humourous and sad incidents in my 18 months' tour;however, in the rather limited circumstances in which we existed in Korea, most of thehumour related to people making mistakes which, although serious in many instances, wereseen by us almost as light relief rather than the opposite. To recount them in any detailwould involve names. Suffice to say that many pilots under stressful circumstances findtheir amusement in things that might appall armchair critics at home so I would prefer toremain silent with my own memories.


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