Friday, October 2, 2015

Meteors From Down Under... Over Korea

When one thinks of the air war over Korea, images of colorful U.S. Air Force F-86 Sabres, shiny, dark blue U.S. Navy F9F Panthers, or even gleaming silver MiG-15s are often the first that come to mind.

What does not often come to mind are images of  Royal Australian Air Force Gloster Meteors.

Yup... the Aussies were in on that shindig, too, and played just as important a role as their more numerous contemporaries. Initially equipped with P-51 Mustangs, 77 Squadron R.A.A.F., which was stationed in Japan as part of the occupation force put in place after the Second World War, was called to action. The outfit flew ground attack, close air support, and bomber escort missions...first from its base at Iwakuni, Japan, and then from a number of air bases located in Korea. The Aussie Mustangs roamed Korean skies, engaging North Korean ground forces and other targets at will.

Then the MiGs came.

When the first MiG-15s were encountered, it was clear to all the UN air forces that the aircraft they had been using up to that time, P-51s/F-51s, F-80s, F-84s, and other holdovers from the Second World War and immediate post-war period, would have to be either replaced with or protected by something more capable of countering the new threat. For the U.S. Air Force it was the F-86 Sabre. For the R.A.A.F, it was the Gloster Meteor, obtained from Great Britain's Royal Air Force. (The F-86 would have been the Aussies' first choice, but priority was naturally given to the U.S.A.F.)

Between April and June of 1951, 77 Squadron made the transition from the P-51 to the Meteor, and soon found out that their new mount was no match for the MiG-15. The outfit managed to destroy just three MiGs during its time in Korea, for the loss of at least five Meteors shot down and several more damaged.

If not up to the task of tackling MiGs, 77 Squadron's Meteors were ideal for ground attack, and the outfit excelled in this area, earning many an accolade and great respect from the combined UN forces. They paid a heavy price, however... numbers cited by our sources are in conflict, but it seems that 77 Squadron lost some forty pilots and a little more than fifty Meteors, mostly to ground fire.

Here's a small selection of photos showing 77 Squadron Meteors in Korea.


Meteor F.8s of 77 Squadron are refueled at Kimpo Airbase. In the foreground is A77-859, ex-RAF WK688, which crashed while on final approach to land at Kimpo in August of 1953.  In the background is A77-982, ex RAF WA950... this jet crashed during a ground attack mission during June of 1953.

Project 914 Archives

Two views of 77 Squadrom Meteors leaving Kimpo for missions up North...

Project 914 Archives

Australian War Memorial

Meteor F.8 A77-570 getting a bit of TLC at Kimpo Airbase, circa 1952. All of 77 Squadrons Meteors were ex-R.A.F. machines; A77-570 was deliverd to the Royal Air Force (serial WE890) on June 3rd, 1951 and was transferred to the R.A.A.F. on December 28th, 1951. This jet was was written off on March 18th, 1954.

USAF photo

On March 27th, 1953 Sergeant George Hale scored 77 Squadron's third and final kill, jumping what he thought was a lone MiG-15 near Sinmak, North Korea. He and his wingman, Sergeant David Irlam were then attacked by two more MiGs. His Meteor damaged, Irlam dropped out of the fight, but Hale mixed it up with the interlopers and damaged one of them before running out of ammo. He then hit the deck and returned safely to Kimpo.

Australian War Memorial

Fade to Black...

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