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Beau Wright
Beau Wright

The Spad: The Story of the AD Skyraider Units in Korea


AD Skyraider Units of the Korean War




The Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly known as the AD Skyraider) is an American single-seat attack aircraft that served during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Despite being a piston-engined, propeller-driven aircraft in an era of jet fighters, the Skyraider proved to be one of the most effective naval aircraft of the war, carrying out a variety of missions from carrier decks and land bases. The Skyraider was nicknamed "Spad" by its pilots, after the French World War I fighter.




ADSkyraiderUnitsoftheKoreanWarCombatAircraft



The Able Dog




The Skyraider was designed during World War II to meet the US Navy's requirements for a carrier-based, long-range, high-performance dive/torpedo bomber, to replace earlier aircraft such as the Douglas SBD Dauntless, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver and the Grumman TBF Avenger. Designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company, the first prototype flew on 18 March 1945, but it was too late to see action in World War II. The aircraft was designated AD-1 and entered service in 1946.


The Skyraider had a low-wing monoplane design with a Wright R-3350 radial engine that was later upgraded several times. It had large straight wings with seven hardpoints each, allowing it to carry a wide range of ordnance, including bombs, rockets, napalm, torpedoes, depth charges and nuclear weapons. It had excellent maneuverability at low speed and a long combat radius of over 1,000 miles. It also had a long loiter time for its size, compared to much heavier subsonic or supersonic jets. The aircraft was armored against ground fire in key locations and had a P-1 autopilot.


The AD-4 version and its sub-variants were the most numerous to serve in the Korean War, equipping attack squadrons in 17 of the 25 combat deployments undertaken by Skyraider units. The AD-4 featured an uprated engine, an improved cockpit windscreen, a modified tailhook and a P-1 autopilot.


First Blood




The first combat missions of the Skyraider in Korea took place on 3 July 1950, when four AD-4s from VA-55 attacked North Korean tanks near Suwon. The Skyraiders scored several hits with rockets and bombs, but also suffered the first loss of the war when one aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot, Lt (jg) Leo P. Hyland, was taken prisoner and later died in captivity.


One of the most notable missions of the Skyraider in Korea was the attack on Hwachon Dam on 1 May 1951. The dam was a strategic target that controlled the water level of the Pukhan River and flooded the valleys south of the 38th parallel, impeding the advance of UN forces. A joint strike force of 132 aircraft, including 20 Skyraiders from VA-195, was assigned to breach the dam. The Skyraiders carried 2,000-lb bombs and torpedoes and flew at low altitude to avoid enemy fighters and flak. Despite heavy fire, the Skyraiders managed to drop their ordnance on the dam, causing extensive damage and releasing a torrent of water that swept away enemy troops and equipment.


Countering the Chinese Wave




The Skyraider's role in Korea changed dramatically after the Chinese intervention in November 1950, which pushed back the UN forces and created a fluid front line. The Skyraider was called upon to provide close air support to ground troops and interdict enemy supply lines. The Skyraider proved to be a versatile and reliable aircraft, capable of delivering accurate and devastating strikes with a variety of weapons. It also had a high survivability rate, thanks to its armor and self-sealing fuel tanks.


One of the most famous Skyraider pilots in Korea was Lt Guy Bordelon of VC-3, who became the only US Navy ace of the war and the only propeller-driven ace of the jet age. Bordelon flew night missions with his AD-4NL, nicknamed "Annie Mo", equipped with radar and searchlights. He shot down five enemy aircraft, including two Yak-9s, two La-9s and one Po-2 biplane, between 29 June and 16 July 1952.


Stalemate and Strangle




As the war settled into a stalemate along the 38th parallel, the Skyraider continued to perform close air support, armed reconnaissance and night heckling missions. The Skyraider was often tasked with flying "Cherokee" strikes, which involved coordinating with forward air controllers on the ground to identify and attack enemy targets. The Skyraider also flew "heckler" missions at night, harassing enemy troops and installations with bombs, rockets and napalm.


The Skyraider also participated in Operation Strangle, a sustained campaign to cut off enemy supplies and communications by destroying railroads, bridges, tunnels and vehicles. The Skyraider was well suited for this mission, as it could carry a heavy load of ordnance and fly at low altitude to avoid radar detection. The Skyraider also had a reputation for being able to take a lot of damage and still fly back to base.


Blasting the Grid




In addition to interdicting enemy supply lines, the Skyraider also played a role in destroying enemy infrastructure and targets of opportunity in North Korea. The Skyraider flew missions against power plants, factories, dams, airfields, barracks and other facilities that supported the enemy war effort. The Skyraider also attacked targets that were not on the official target list, such as statues, monuments and propaganda banners.


One of the most daring missions of the Skyraider in Korea was the attack on Sui-ho Dam on 23 June 1952. The dam was a major hydroelectric facility that supplied power to North Korea and China. A strike force of 58 aircraft, including eight Skyraiders from VA-195, was assigned to breach the dam. The Skyraiders carried 2,000-lb bombs and flew at low level through heavy flak and fighter opposition. Despite losing one aircraft and having several others damaged, the Skyraiders dropped their bombs on the dam, causing severe damage and disrupting power supply.


Back to Interdiction




As the war dragged on, the Skyraider resumed its role in disrupting enemy rail and road traffic and attacking bridges and tunnels. The Skyraider used various weapons and tactics to accomplish this mission, such as skip-bombing, strafing, dive-bombing and napalm-bombing. The Skyraider also used special weapons such as Tiny Tim rockets, which had a 500-lb warhead and could penetrate concrete bunkers.


Night Hecklers, Nukes, Gators and Guppies




The Skyraider also performed some special missions that showcased its versatility and adaptability. One of these was the night heckler mission, which involved flying low and slow over enemy territory at night, dropping flares and bombs to disrupt enemy sleep and morale. The Skyraider was well suited for this mission, as it had a long endurance, a large payload and a low noise level. The Skyraider pilots who flew these missions often used psychological warfare tactics, such as broadcasting music or taunts over loudspeakers.


Another special mission that the Skyraider was capable of performing was the nuclear delivery mission. The Skyraider was one of the few aircraft that could carry the Mk 7 nuclear bomb, which weighed 1,600 lb and had a yield of 10-15 kilotons. The Skyraider pilots who were trained for this mission had to practice low-level delivery techniques and escape maneuvers. Fortunately, the Skyraider never had to use its nuclear capability in Korea.


The Skyraider also supported amphibious operations by flying with Marine Corps units that operated from escort carriers or land bases. These units were known as "Gators", and they used the AD-4N version of the Skyraider, which had a three-seat cockpit and a radar pod under the wing. The Gators provided air cover, close air support and night illumination for the Marine landing forces.


Another variant of the Skyraider that flew in Korea was the AD-4Q, which was used for electronic warfare. These aircraft were known as "Guppies", and they had a four-seat cockpit and various electronic jamming equipment. The Guppies flew with other Skyraiders or jet fighters to jam enemy radar and communications.


Bulldogs over Korea




The Skyraider was not only used by the US Navy and Air Force, but also by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA), which operated from British carriers in the Korean War. The FAA received 50 AD-4Ws, which were designated as Skyraider AEW.1s. These aircraft had a large radome under the fuselage and a two-seat cockpit. They were used for airborne early warning (AEW) and airborne control (ABC) missions, providing radar coverage and guidance for other aircraft.


The FAA also received 170 AD-4Ns, which were designated as Skyraider NF.1s. These aircraft had a three-seat cockpit and a radar pod under the wing. They were used for night fighter (NF) and night intruder (NI) missions, attacking enemy targets at night with rockets and bombs.


The FAA Skyraiders were nicknamed "Bulldogs" by their pilots, who painted bulldog motifs on their aircraft. The Bulldogs flew with distinction in Korea, earning several awards and decorations. They also participated in some joint operations with US Navy Skyraiders, such as Operation Moolah, an attempt to lure a defecting MiG pilot with a $100,000 reward.


Cherokee Strikes




The Skyraider also flew with the South Korean Air Force (ROKAF), which received 145 AD-4s from the US under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP). These aircraft were designated as A-1Hs by the ROKAF, and they flew from land bases in Korea. The ROKAF Skyraiders were used for close air support, interdiction and reconnaissance missions.


The ROKAF Skyraiders also flew "Cherokee" strikes with US Air Force Skyraiders, coordinating with forward air controllers on the ground to identify and attack enemy targets. The ROKAF pilots proved to be skilled and aggressive in flying their Skyraiders, often engaging enemy fighters and flak with their guns.


Conclusion




The Skyraider was one of the most successful naval aircraft of the Korean War, despite being an anachronism in the jet age. It performed a variety of missions with versatility and reliability, delivering accurate and devastating strikes with its heavy payload. It also had a high survivability rate, thanks to its armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. It earned the respect and admiration of its pilots and crewmen, who called it "Spad" or "Able Dog". It also earned the fear and hatred of its enemies, who called it "Firefly" or "Crazy Water Buffalo".


The Skyraider's achievements and legacy in the Korean War are impressive and remarkable. It flew over 70,000 sorties, dropped over 100,000 tons of ordnance, destroyed over 60,000 vehicles, damaged or destroyed over 30 bridges and shot down six enemy aircraft. It also rescued over 150 downed airmen, supported over 50 amphibious landings and participated in several special operations. It was the only aircraft that served with all four major air forces in the war: the US Navy, the US Air Force, the Royal Navy and the South Korean Air Force. It was also the only aircraft that carried both conventional and nuclear weapons in the war.


FAQs





  • Q: How many Skyraiders were lost in the Korean War?



  • A: According to official records, 266 Skyraiders were lost in the Korean War, including 154 to enemy action and 112 to operational causes.



  • Q: How many Skyraider pilots became aces in the Korean War?



  • A: Only one Skyraider pilot became an ace in the Korean War: Lt Guy Bordelon of VC-3, who shot down five enemy aircraft at night.



  • Q: How many Skyraiders were used for nuclear delivery in the Korean War?



  • A: Only a few Skyraiders were modified and trained for nuclear delivery in the Korean War. They belonged to VA-65 and VA-195, and they carried the Mk 7 nuclear bomb.



  • Q: How many Skyraiders were used for electronic warfare in the Korean War?



  • A: Only a few Skyraiders were used for electronic warfare in the Korean War. They belonged to VAQ-1 and VAQ-2, and they flew the AD-4Q version.



  • Q: How many Skyraiders were used by the Royal Navy and the South Korean Air Force in the Korean War?



  • A: The Royal Navy received 220 Skyraiders from the US, including 50 AEW.1s and 170 NF.1s. The South Korean Air Force received 145 Skyraiders from the US, all of them A-1Hs.



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