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Korean War Memories

by Major General (USAF Retired) John W. Collens

I was assigned to the 6166th Air Weather Flight of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 5th Air Force, PacAF from March to October 1951 flying 75 combat missions in RB-26 aircraft. Our missions varied from weather/intelligence collection to pure weather reconnaissance over hostile areas.

Some missions were flown westward over the Yellow Sea to the peninsula that juts out from China northeast of Tsingtao thence over international waters close to shore down to near Shanghai. Those missions were two-fold: count shipping, deck cargo, etc headed up the coast toward Port Arthur (Dairen) on the Gulf of Chihli, and gather weather data. These were daylight sorties flown at 1000 Ft MSL, often as low as 300-500 feet above the ocean when entering an intense low pressure system (e.g.,edge of tropical storm).

Other daylight missions were flown well above the bombline into North Korea. On one such mission we were either struck by flak or sustained structural failure of the plexiglas nose when in a dive to check cloud bottoms. The navigator, positioned in the nose, sustained injuries. I had a small cut across the bridge of my nose that only warranted a Band-Aid. That navigator (later, MajGen Ret Click Smith) became a pilot, attended test pilot school at Edwards AFB, amassed over 13,000 flying hours, became a MAC wing commander, and retired as Director of Transportation, Hq USAF.

On another daylight mission north of 40 degrees latitude we were hit by flak and the radio operator was wounded. His crew position (aft of the bomb bay) could not be reached in-flight. However, his injuries were not life threatening.

Nighttime missions were also conducted to obtain weather conditions for pre-strike, early daylight missions by fighters and bombers. One such mission took us overland up the East coast of North Korea close to Valdivostok, USSR where we were close enough to see the rotating beacon of that city's airfield.

On other nighttime missions we had a ringside perch to observe the ground fighting at Seoul as the allies fought to regain that city. On several occasions we witnessed the effort of hardnose B-26s attacking road and railroad targets down below.

After Seoul was recaptured and 5th Air Force relocated, we also moved the reconnaissance unit from Taegu to Seoul (Kimpo airfield).

Our tactical weather reconnaissance missions complemented that of the WB-29s flown by units of the Air Weather Service. Their weather data gathering effort was more thorough than ours, whereas we covered the more hostile areas. In today's Air Force both types of weather reconnaissance are more likely to be provided by on-orbit satellites as was the case in Vietnam and Desert Storm.

I still recall that Korea had the most miserable weather - Spring, Summer, Winter, of any place I was stationed. Life in the tents at Taegu and Kimpo was no picnic. Mess kit eating environs and outhouse accommodations added to the misery of Kimpo.

My career varied widely: a B-17 pilot in WW II, shot down on 25th mission, pre-Korean War weather forecaster, tactical reconnaissance pilot (RB-26, RF-80), C-141 pilot in Vietnam conflict, wing commander, Air Weather Service commander, MAC Chief of Staff, Deputy Inspector General Hq USAF."