Night Illumination of Chinnampo & Kunsan
by Charles Pomeroy
The exact date has fallen through cracks in my memory as I write this in August of 2003. After all, some 53 years have passed. The night itself-moonless with stars providing the only illumination--remains clear in my memory, however. It was in late July or early August of 1950, the desperate Pusan Perimeter days as I recall, although I have no exact date (lost my old log book decades ago). The squadron commanding officer, Cdr. Art Farwell, took over as PPC of Crew 7 and our P2V-3W for a night illumination mission of two targets: Chinnampo and Kunsan on the west coast of Korea. We were accompanied by a P2V-3, although, like the date, I’ve forgotten the number and the crew who flew her. Perhaps someone who was also on that joint mission will read this and provide further details.
During the flight up the west coast of the Korean peninsula, with blackout curtains secured to the windows and the interior limited to red-light illumination, we were cruising around 9,000 feet or so followed by our wing man a few miles aft, off the port side. Chief W.E. Margerum, ATC, was glued to the APS-20 radar. As low man on the Radio totem pole, I was on the circuit aft of the wing beam while my mentor, Jack Remington, ALC, was up in the nose working with the ECM gear. C. Walter Diem, AT3, who was teamed with Margerum (and technically should have been on the ECM gear), was stuck in the tail turret as a lookout. P.R. Foster, AD1, our Plane Captain, was in his usual position in the cockpit doorway, while the 2nd Mech, whose name escapes me, was in the top turret, although my memory is hazy in this regard. (It could have been Jack Lively--both he and Foster were lost in the November ’51 shootdown near Vladivostok.) C.V. Miller, AO1, was in the afterstation preparing to load flares into the retrolaunchers in preparation for the forthcoming drop.
About half way or more to Chinnampo, our first target, Margerum picked up a bogey at 6 o’clock, 20-some miles and closing. Leaning back and looking forward over the wing beam, I could see the navigator, barely visible in our black-out conditions, checking the scope over Margerum’s shoulder. Diem in the tail turret reported that he couldn’t see anything. In the meantime, the navigator had returned to his position and began clocking in the target. Margerum continued to call out the range: 18...15...12...10...8...and on in until he lost the bogey in the sea return at about three miles.
Nav picked up from that point, counting down the bogey’s approach and calling out the timed ranges: a mile and a half...then a mile...a half mile. At the half-mile mark, Farwell chopped the throttles and pushed the nose over--weightlessness and pressure against my seat belt set my heart into overdrive. We dropped like a rock for the proverbial eternity, starting to pull out somewhere under 5,000 feet as Foster told me later, and leveled off about 1,000 feet or so. Then, within minutes, we saw tracers aft and high on the port side. The Skipper broke radio silence to check the status of our wingman. His response: they were test-firing their guns. Farwell informed him of a night fighter in the area and suggested he come down and join us.
This incident, however, was just a warm-up for the evening. The strategy for the illumination was simplicity itself. The lead plane would fly in at 4,000 feet on one side of the harbor and drop its flares-those ten (two?) million candle power babies-which were set to go off at 2,000 feet., while the other plane would come in at 2,000 feet on the opposite side of the harbor to do the recon. Worked fine at Chinnampo. We were the lead plane and the North Koreans were firing wildly into the night sky-not even close. Night turned into day when the flares went off-allowing more than enough time to have a good look at the harbor, where among other shipping we saw a tanker sitting in the channel. Sinking it would have blocked the waterway for a long time, but we lacked the ordnance to do the job even if orders had allowed it.
Unscathed, we then proceeded to Kunsan, where our roles were reversed. Our wingman went in first at 4,000 feet and dropped his flares, set, again, to go off at 2,000 feet. We came in behind at 2,000 feet on the other side of the harbor-or so we thought. But much to our consternation the flares illuminated our plane as well as the harbor. Yes, one of the radar operators had failed to line up on the target accurately, making us a visible target. C.V. Miller, our ordnanceman, told me later that he thought the North Koreans had us in a searchlight for a while, which may have accounted for it seeming so bright.
Needless to say, the flak was more accurate. I had earlier pulled down the blackout curtain in front of me and could now see tracers coming up, seeming to flow up and over just off the starboard wing right in front of my eyes. Looked like glowing golf balls, but we knew these represented only a third or a fifth of what was coming up. Evasive action was immediate as the Skipper turned and dove toward a mountain top just behind the harbor. How do I know it was a mountain top? As he wheeled around in a hard port turn, I looked out the window on the port side and clearly could see flashes from small-arms fire. That’s how close we were. Farwell then swooped down through the middle of the harbor and out to sea. Hair raising.
Not being privy to the higher levels of information, I heard no follow-up information on the provenance of the night fighter. Miller suggested that it was probably flown by a Soviet pilot, since the North Korean air force had been pretty much wiped out by then. And I never heard who screwed up at Kunsan-in fact, didn’t really want to know because we were all aware of the difficulty involved. More importantly, we all got home safely with the mission accomplished.
As an aside, it was also during this time-frame that we used our ECM gear to triangulate a radar target, a site that planes from Task Force 77 took out the following day, I learned later. However, I’m uncertain now whether this was on our night illumination or a subsequent mission. The events themselves are clear in my mind, although the dates are less so. Whether or not that radar site had anything to do with the night fighter remains unclear.
Clarifications or comments from anyone with clearer memories or log books are welcome.