Operation Crippled Chick Korea

Operation Crippled Chick

ACB 1 Builds Emergency Airstrip Behind Enemy Lines


By Steve Karoly


A flight of seven Vought-Chance F4U-4 Corsairs slowly circles over Wonsan Harbor. Each pilot in turn glances at his fuel gauge. With fuel reserves short, they realize that their only option is to bring the fuel-starved birds down onto the deck and ditch them into the icy waters off Wonsan, North Korea.


But this option does not comfort the flight leader or any of his squadron mates. To ditch, they risk injury. And these pilots realize that their squadron, VF 193 from the USS Princeton (CVA 37), would loose half its complement of precious Corsair fighter planes.


After a fruitless afternoon searching for a downed naval aviator near Hungnam, the flight leader’s immediate concern is to find sanctuary for his flight. But they had spent too much time searching for their downed comrade. As they flew over the small task group of American destroyers and minesweepers, they knew they would be quickly plucked from the frigid water of the Sea of Japan by waiting boats.




Seabees refueling seven Corsairs on Yo Do on July 15, 1952. Note the bold white "B" on the starboard wing of the first Corsair. Five squadrons used this tail code. They included VF 191 (aircraft: F9F-2), VF 192 (F4U-4), VF 193 (F4U-4), VF 194 (F4U-4) and VF 195 (AD-4).


This option, later described as one that pits you "between the Chinese Dragon and the deep blue sea," would not be exercised that afternoon. For soon Radio Yo Do began broadcasting the call "Steak for dinner." Once he heard those comforting words, VF 193’s flight leader instructed his flight to bank their planes toward a 2,400-foot runway in the middle of Wonsan Harbor.


The fighters landed at half past two on a rainy afternoon on an Allied-occupied island located some four and a half miles off shore in a harbor belonging to the enemy. Although North Korean gunners could, at any moment, lob hundreds of 76 and 105-mm. shells onto the runway, the pilots knew their chances of survival were greater on the island than in a yellow life raft.


A small team of Seabees quickly refueled three of the Corsairs so they could return to the Princeton that evening. The remaining four were refueled in the morning before taking off for the aircraft carrier. The Corsairs and their pilots flew off so they could return to battle again.


This was a day of jubilation for the Seabees. They had worked 19 long days to complete the emergency landing strip, dubbed Briscoe Field in honor of the commander of the 7th Fleet. The seven Corsairs of VF 193 were the first planes to make an emergency landing on the strip.


How the airfield came to be


The assignment to build the emergency landing strip on Yo Do fell to ACB 1’s Det. George. Led by Lt. T.E. Rowe, Det. George was composed of one warrant machinist, six chief petty officers and 69 Seabee enlisted men. Six of these Seabees proudly wore the blue, yellow and red ribbon for the Presidential Unit Citation, which was awarded to ACB 1 for the landing at Inchon almost two years earlier.


A month after the September 15, 1950 landing at Inchon, ACB 1 moved to the east coast of Korea and again supported the 1st Marine Division. This time they landed at the port city of Wonsan as part of the 1st Marine Division’s shift from the Inchon-Seoul area to the northeast coast of Korea. While the Marines moved north to positions in the Chosin Reservoir area, the Seabees built piers and unloaded ships.


Later that month, as elements of the 8th Army reached the Yalu River, the tide turned for the Allies when the Chinese Communist Army struck the 8th Army in late November. The 1st Marine Division came under attack on November 27, 1950. For the next three weeks, the Marines made their famous "advance to the rear" as they evacuated Chosin Reservoir.


The 8th Army lost all the territory they had gained as they fell back. Inchon and Wonsan were evacuated and Seoul fell on January 4, 1951. By the end of November, all Seabees but one had evacuated Wonsan. This time Wonsan would remain in enemy hands for the rest of the war.


To keep the Communists from using Wonsan, Navy Task Force 77 stepped its air interdiction efforts in the spring and summer of 1951. In the sixteen months since the evacuation of Wonsan and Hungnam, the Navy waged a campaign of destruction along the northeast coast of North Korea. Almost daily, pilots struck key transportation and supply points.


But by the spring of 1952, the Navy recognized a problem. Scores of aircraft had been lost to the antiaircraft guns around Wonsan. One ship, the converted helicopter landing ship USS LST 799, had plucked 24 Allied aviators from the Sea of Japan. Most of these aviators were rescued in the vicinity of Wonsan. Destroyers waiting in the bay picked up many more aviators.


These pilots had a choice: They could crash land in North Korea and face capture by the Communists or ditch their craft in the icy waters alongside an Allied ship. If a ship’s boat crew or rescue helicopter reached the pilot before hypothermia set in, he had a chance of survival. Although the plane was lost to the Sea of Japan, the pilot lived to fly again.


But Lt. Col. Richard G. Warga, commander of the US Marine garrison on Yo Do Island in 1951, had a better idea. After interviewing several pilots who had ditched in the bay in the summer of 1951, Warga and his naval liaison, Lt. James S. Lampe, Jr., reasoned that the approaching winter would make survival difficult. So they recommended that the Navy build an emergency airfield on the island.


Seabees build an airfield


The 7th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Robert P. Briscoe, carefully weighed all the factors involved. A 1953 Navy press release characterized this analysis much like an accountant gazes at a balance sheet. While there were concerns for how the North Koreans would react to construction of an airfield, Briscoe felt that salvage of a single plane was worth the effort. In the end, it cost the Navy $5 milllion to save nearly $10 million in aircraft.




An aerial view of the emergency airfield on Yo Do. You are looking at the runway from the harbor end. The runway is set on an approximate southwest to northeast axis. The southwest end of the runway is closest to the camera. This photograph is dated June 26, 1952, the day the Seabees finished the runway.


The balance sheet would not be complete unless you consider the human factor. Dozens of pilots were saved from capture and possible death at the hands of the Communists. Damaged planes landed on dry land, thus keeping them out of the frigid waters off Wonsan. The remaining factor cannot be measured, which can be called the "comfort factor." As pilots circled over their targets, they knew that all they had to do was fly a few miles to safety if their aircraft was crippled by antiaircraft fire or ran low on fuel.


On June 6, 1952, the Seabees initiated Operation Crippled Chick, the code name for the effort to build the emergency airstrip on Yo Do. Det. George, which was assembled for the job because all available mobile construction battalions were tied up building the airfield at Cubi Point in the Philippines, sailed on the USS LST 692 from Japan on June 3.


The first obstacle that confronted the Seabees was how to beach the pontoon causeway on a beach that had a very shallow gradient. Officers on the beach were concerned that the Seabees would not get causeway high enough onto the beach to anchor it properly.


But the Seabees had an answer: After they dropped the causeway sections into the water and had connected them together, these resourceful Seabees pushed the causeway onto the beach with the bow of the LST. An officer on the scene later commented that the Seabees off loaded their equipment in "jig time."


The plan was for Det. George to have a 120-foot by 2,400-foot airfield operational in 45 days. Nineteen days later, on June 27, Det. George boarded an LST and returned to Japan, their mission complete.




Seabees use a wagon-wheeled air compressor to drive the rock drills. It took four hours to drill to a depth of 18 inches in order to reach an adequate depth for blasting.


They filled in and leveled the only rice paddies on the island, the only possible location for an airstrip. The runway ran from one side of the island to the other, bisecting the island. For the first 12 days ashore, the Seabees worked 16-hour days. On June 15, two days after receiving their first of two shellings from North Korean batteries on the mainland, the officer-in-charge reported that the runway was 50 percent complete. At that point it was 80-feet wide and 1,600-feet long. Eventually, the runway was widened to 200-feet.


Det. George twice received shellfire from the North Koreans. On June 13, 21 rounds fell between 2015 and 2030. All it did was interrupt the Seabees’ work day. Det. George worked an extra hour to compensate. The log of the detachment again reported shellfire on June 21. This time 41 155-mm. rounds fell among the small boats kept on the island. There were no Seabee casualties.


Bridge-Building Team


By Cpl. Robert A. Clubb, USMC


The Seabees have landed and the Marines are happy again.


Their old affinity was renewed when a hard-charging crew of nine navy construction battalion men "nailed down" a horrible mountain road for a semi-isolated Marine ground control intercept squadron. The Marines were 21 miles from their source of supplies and were hampered for months by bridge washouts.


The Seabees were directed by Chief Builder Charles Gamble of Fitchburg, Mass. They worked in cooperation with 1st Lt. Roland O. Smith, the Marine squadron transportation officer, and built four bridges capable of supporting a heavy tank in two weeks.


The Seabees worked from dawn to dusk in five-below-zero temperatures. They had to strengthen several bridges before they could get at the real job. Their equipment: spikes, handsaws, hammers and four-by-12-inch timbers. Gamble took measurements and promised the Marines they could rebuild any of the bridges in six hours.


After dark, in their "spare time," the Seabees improved the Marines’ camp site. They built a cement sidewalk around the mess hall, an almost unheard-of luxury in Korea.


The Seabees have been in Korea since last October when they arrived from Guam and Saipan.


These Seabees were from Construction Battalion Detachment 1804, which was attached to Marine Air Group 33 of the 1st Marine Air Wing at airfield K-3 at Pohang, Korea. This article is taken from a Marine Corps press release, circa January 1952.


Always inspiring to read articles such as this. Keep em' rolling in Thurman! :armata_PDT_37:


The Seabees worked from dawn to dusk in five-below-zero temperatures. They had to strengthen several bridges before they could get at the real job. Their equipment: spikes, handsaws, hammers and four-by-12-inch timbers. Gamble took measurements and promised the Marines they could rebuild any of the bridges in six hours.
Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

Good jazz pun also..."Chick Korea"... :lol:





I just caught that too. Came back to see who posted today, and noticed the title. Didn't catch that the first time I posted. Chick Korea I said, and began to smile. Then I scrolled down to see who posted and sure enough saw your post. Great minds think alike.


For those who aren't familiar with our reference, Chick Corea is a jazz artist. This is taken from his site:


Considering the staggering volume of his recorded output over the past 40 years, it is no overstatement to call Chick Corea one of the most prolific composers of the second half of the 20th century. From avant-garde to bebop, from children’s songs to straight ahead, from hard-hitting fusion to heady forays into classical, Chick has touched an astonishing number of musical bases in his illustrious career while maintaining a standard of excellence that is simply uncanny.




There, now we've expanded your horizons. Just goes to show, learning is always linear.



Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

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