Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 15, 2017

North Korean Landings

Sometimes Google fails you. A couple of weeks ago I found a reference to an amphibious invasion during the Korean war in a document. Any combination of Googling brings up one of two results. The Inchon landings or modern stories about North Korea. Luckily, I managed to get back down to the archives and get some more documents and details. What follows is the Communist amphibious invasion of Changin Do. 

Changin Do is one of the many islands in the estuary of the Yalu River. At sea the Communist forces didn't have much to challenge the UN naval power, although these ships couldn't be everywhere. On land the allies used advisor's to lead local Korean guerilla forces. These US Special forces reconnaissance teams were run under an operation codenamed HEMONG. Irritatingly the reports all use period terminology and codenames, and one of the leaders of an operation in the area is only referred to as "LEOPARD", without giving a clue who LEOPARD is. Equally there are areas of operation and they're all referred to by their code names, same with locations, which makes the modern-day historian really confused. Which, I guess is the entire point, you don't want the uninitiated from guessing what you're talking about.

The communist forces were conducting an island hopping campaign using three motor and eleven sailing Junks, with about a battalion of troops to fight for control of the islands. These had by July 1952 pushed the HEMONG teams back.  
Changin Do lay near the mainland, and was considered a prime place by LEOPARD as a jumping off point for his teams and agents. Equally if it was captured the neighbouring islands of Kirin Do, Ohwa Do and Sunwi Do (I'm sure you've spotted it, but Do = Island) would be unsupportable and fall. Changin Do had already changed hand several times. If this cluster of islands fell then the strategically important Paingyong Do would be under threat.  
About 0200, 15th of July about 300 North Korean Army troops had landed on Changin Do. Although after the battle it was estimated that the number was half the reported 300. The landing force was carried in two sailing Junks and four foldable boats. The latter were about 15 feet long, 5 feet wide and just three feet deep. They were made out of rubber and light woods, with an outboard motor on them. An LMG could be mounted forwards. To carry them eight men would be needed per craft, or three could be loaded into an Ox cart. The outboard motor was too powerful for the construction however, and caused the boat to shake and leak as it was used. These had been used elsewhere and were of interest to the Allied intelligence as they'd never ever recovered a sample.
HMS Belfast

The first reports of the islands capture reached Allied naval forces about 0915, the two nearest ships were quite famous ones. HMS Belfast, whom had been heading back to base to refuel, and HMS Amethyst, of the River Yangtze fame. These two ships immediately steamed at best speed for the captured island, with HMS Belfast arriving first at 1000 and HMS Amethyst arriving shortly afterwards. Both ships launched a boat apiece, armed with machine guns and a few Royal Marines. They were dispatched towards the beach where the enemy were estimated to have landed, with the intention of obtaining a sample of the folding boats. As the two boats approached they saw a large number of civilians taking cover in caves, and turned towards them, however the communist forces were also there. The communists were on the top of the cliffs above the caves, and they began to fire at the boats with everything they had including mortars. The Royal Marine boats broke away and returned to their parent ships, with only one marine wounded through the leg. 
On its way back, the boat for HMS Belfast picked up a naked Korean from a small rocky islet. He was a local who had ferried DONKEY agents about. He had been carrying two agents overnight and had run into the Communist forces just after landing the agents, they had chased him, and to escape he had swum out to the rock where he had lain exhausted.
HMS Amethyst

At this point LEOPARD decided to mount an operation to re-capture the island with local forces, but it wouldn't be ready until the morning of the 16th. The Royal Navy ships were asked to hold station and keep the sea lanes secure. About 1645 while sailing around the island, a battery of 76mm guns on the mainland began to fire at HMS Amethyst. Sensibly she retreated, while returning fire. One of her shells caused a secondary explosion and one hostile gun ceased to fire on her. During the run to be outside the batteries range, which was some 12000 yards, about 45 rounds were fired at her, some landing as close as 20 yards. In return HMS Amethyst sent back some 78 rounds. HMS Belfast in the meantime couldn't see the battery, due to Changin Do being in the way. But she could reach the site with her main guns. HMS Amethyst walked the fire onto the target and with just 26 silenced the battery. 
A similar incident occurred about 1945, when a battery began to fire directly onto HMS Belfast, getting some twenty rounds off, but the nearest was seen to land about 200 yards away. HMS Belfast didn't miss, and one salvo silenced the enemy battery.

As darkness began to approach the South Korean patrol boat 702 (Named the Kum Kang San) appeared. Belfast had ordered her to attend to help with the blockade as shallows between the island and the mainland were no go areas for HMS Belfast or HMS Amethyst. The PC 702 along with HMS Belfast's armed boats blockaded this area all night.
Patrol Boat 702

The next morning was planned for the 200 guerillas to land from Ohwa Do. Transport problems occurred straight away. The guerillas only had one motor junk, and it was only using 1.5 of its normal cylinders, the others being broken, and was being used to tow sailing junks. The previous night the two US advisors had arrived and asked for a tow from the British ships, but they'd all been needed to blockade the island. As dawn broke the channel element couldn't remain under the enemy guns and so was withdrawn, with PC702 being sent to tow the junks. The tow rope however, was rubbish. Rotted through it kept on breaking as soon as PC702 started to move, as she couldn't actually go slow enough to pull the other junks. So LEOPARD's motor junk had to resume meaning that the landing was some 3.5 hours past its time. This actually proved a boon as due to the delay planes from the USS Bataan were able to arrive to provide close air support. The guerrillas split up into two companies and began to move opposite ways around the island, supported all the way by air strikes and point-blank gun fire from the warships. This liberal amount of support actually worked against the counter attack, when about 1000 the main defensive position was reached. The North Koreans were dug in on ah hill that dominated the entire island. Both HMS Belfast and the air strikes tried to blast the communists out of their position but failed. However, the guerillas wouldn't assault as they thought it wasn't their job. To that end after two hours of bombardment, at 1200, the planes from the USS Bataan were called off, and HMS Belfast left the area to complete her refuelling. The withdrawal of most of the support had the desired effect, one of the companies of guerillas encircled the enemy position and then both attacked. After five hours of fighting the position was silenced and the island was back in Allied hands.
USS Bataan
 HMS Belfast was back on the scene about 1800, and overnight she and HMS Amethyst provided medical support to the wounded from the fighting. HMS Amethyst even had a US doctor flown on board to assist the ships medical personnel, and some fifteen personnel (including one of the US advisor's and a female) were treated. There was one more incident, PC702 was back patrolling the channel overnight when she found six North Korean soldiers swimming for the mainland. In an incredible quirk of fate, the captain of PC702 knew the officer in charge of the group, they had gone to school together, however as he was an ardent communist he had joined the North Koreans. Of the 156 North Koreans landed, 80 were killed, 42 captured, thirty drowned while trying to regain the main land by swimming, and five unaccounted for.

Now I'm going to try something different. Sometimes I have extra information related to a story. But it would make the article too long. For that reason, I have set up a Patreon where I can put the bonus material. This is in part to deal with some of the costs of this work (which up until now I've been paying out of my own pocket).

Don't worry I'm not going to put the ending of the article behind a pay wall or anything like that. You will still get a complete story every week free. However occasionally I will stick some extra details up on the Patreon.
 Today is a perfect example of what I mean. The main article above is already nearly 1500 words long, which is close to the point when I'd cut it into two articles. However, I still have the story of an earlier invasion of Korean islands by communist forces, the fate of LEOPARD's motor junk and HMS Belfast getting ambushed a week later. While related, they are not part of this story, and too short to make a full article out of. Therefore I've placed the stories of LEOPARD's junk and the earlier North Korean Amphibious raid on Patreon. Later this week, Wednesday most likely, I'll post up the HMS Belfast incident on my Facebook page (which I recommend you follow as there are changes afoot).

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Strange War

In 1891 family of Dorset farmers welcomed a new son into the world. His name was Louis Strange. Educated at St Edward's school he joined its yeomanry regiment. During manoeuvres with this unit, in 1912, at the age of 21, Louis saw something in the air. It was the British airship Beta 1. Imagine if you will the idea of never having seen anything larger than a bird in the air, then seeing a 31 meter long airship hanging in the sky, and the effect such an imposing bulk would have had. Later in the exercise he saw a few of the Royal Flying Corps aircraft puttering about above the troops. From this point onwards Louis decided he was going to fly. By October 1913 Strange had managed to qualify for the RFC, and in April 1914 he was listed as one of only five pilots to be members of the "upside down club", which was pilots who had flown a loop. Just a few months later the First World War broke out and Strange was posted to France.
Louis Strange
Strange was one of the first pilots to up gun his aircraft by mounting a Lewis gun on it. However his first attempt at using it was utterly unsuccessful. Three enemy aircraft were flying at 5000 feet, and his plane loaded with the extra weight of the gun was unable to climb to meet them. This mounting was Strange’s idea, and he soon came up with another, a type of incendiary bomb filled with petrol, which he used against a column of Germans on the 28th of August. Strange continued to work on his inventions, next came a strap that when worn by the observer allowed the observer to stand up and fire a machine gun through a much increased arc. Equally a machine gun was dangled from a crossbar fitted under the upper wing of his Avro 504. The standing observer could then point the gun in any direction, even directly behind. So armed Strange and his observer forced down a German Aviatik, on 22nd of November, who made a safe landing. Strange then tried fitting a bomb chute to his plane, the idea being that small bombs could be dropped with more accuracy. On the first operation a live bomb jammed in the chute. Strange conducted an emergency landing in a corn field, with a live bomb sticking out the bottom of the chute. By a stroke of luck the rough landing ripped the fuse and detonator from the bomb without triggering it.
In February 1915 Strange was promoted to Captain, and sent to 6 Squadron, and had a new plane to fly a Bristol BE.2c. His first mission was with another new bombing aid, a set of racks slung under his plane carrying several bombs. At a height of 46 meters he came barrelling towards Courtrai railway station. Around it were a large number of Germans soldiers, who sent up a storm of rifle fire. Cpt Strange's low level bombing raid knocked the station out of service for three days and caused 75 casualties, for which he won a Military Cross.
Cpt Lanoe Hawker
 While Louis was able to come up with ideas he wasn't an mechanically minded or an engineer. However while at 6 Squadron he met someone who was. Cpt Lanoe Hawker was a officer of the Royal Engineers who had been attached to the RFC. Hawker's previous claims to fame was an attack on a German airship shed with hand grenades. During which he had used a barrage balloon to shield him from ground fire while he made repeated attacks lobbing mills bombs at the Zeppelins. Later on Cpt Hawker was wounded in the foot. He refused to be grounded until the major battle he was fighting over had finished and had to be carried to and from his aircraft for each sortie.
So we have two very inventive minds, and one of whom is a dedicated engineer, faced with lots of problems. For example one of Cpt Hawkers later, joint, inventions was the double deck Lewis gun drum, which at a stroke doubled the amount of firepower the Lewis gun had. Lewis guns were the subject of this pairs next invention. Between them they created a mount which placed the Lewis gun beside the cockpit at an angle, allowing the pilots to fire forward(ish) and even aim to an extent.

On the tenth of May 1915, Cpt Strange took his Martinsyde S1 up, fitted with one of the Forward facing Lewis guns. The S1 was a horrible plane unreliable and underpowered, to the extent the total number built was only 60. During his patrol he spotted an Aviatik two seater and launched an attack on the German. After several passes Cpt Strange's drum was empty, and he reached up to change the drum. However the drum was jammed, having become cross threaded. Gripping the stick between his knees, Cpt Strange placed both hands on the drum he gave it a good hard twist, at which point the S1 stalled, flipped upside down and dove for the ground.
Cpt Strange was now hanging from the Lewis gun drum in a dive from 8500 feet, and hoping that the drum hadn't been loosened. Cpt Strange began to kick wildly trying to regain his cockpit as he did so his flailing legs smashed all the instruments. Suddenly he had a foot over the edge of the cockpit. Hauling his body towards the cockpit he felt the stick between his legs again, and managed to flip the craft upright, allowing him to clamber into the cockpit. Taking it under full control Cpt Strange pulled up and levelled off just a few hundred feet above the ground. His commanding officer was later to complain about Cpt Strange's actions causing unnecessary damage. The Germans were also reportedly unhappy, as they claimed him as shot down, and spent the whole day frantically searching the area for his crashed plane.
Cpt Hawker's Bristol Scout C, with the experimental mounting.
 On the 25th of July Cpt’s Strange and Hawker hatched a new plan. Louis was to fly along as a decoy, and await to be attacked. Meanwhile Cpt Hawker would loiter with intent In a Bristol Scout C, fitted with a forward firing Lewis gun. Then, when the Germans attacked Strange, Hawker could get the drop on them. During the next sortie, three Germans attacked Strange, and Hawker shot all three down. This feet won Hawker the Victoria cross.
Hawker would not survive the War however. In 1916 he met Von Richthofen. Despite the Germans superior plane Hawker led him on a merry dance for some time, until he began to run low on fuel. Von Richthofen had fired some 900 odd bullets at Hawker and his guns were running hot. As Hawker tried to break off Von Richthofen fired another burst, but his guns jammed. The final bullet of the burst hit Hawker in the head killing him instantly.
Strange was promoted through the ranks after a spell in the UK he returned to the front and finished the war commanding a wing of Aircraft. In-between the wars he settled on a farm, for a period. Or was otherwise involved in small aircraft companies.
Strange in RAF uniform
Strange returned to service for the Second World War. At the time he was aged 49, but was sent to the RAF's only transport squadron. They were immediately sent to France to the aerodrome at Merville. Their mission there was to retrieve what equipment and planes they could from the abandoned airfield. During the few hours they were there they managed to get two Hurricanes flying again, and promptly stuck unhorsed RAF pilots in them to get them back to the UK. Then a Soldier from the Durham Light Infantry sprinted onto the airfield. He had been a lookout at the nearby church steeple. He reported that the Germans were about 500 yards away and about to arrive. The remains of the squadron evacuated, apart from Strange. There was a single battered hurricane left. It was flyable, technically. But was missing minor things such as all its guns and instruments. There was also the minor point that Strange had never ever flown in a Hurricane.
Strange got it off the ground before the Germans arrived, and set course for home. He had to climb to 8000 feet near St, Omer when fired upon by AA fire. The AA fire had however attracted the attention of a nearby flight of Germans, who dived on Strange. The first aircraft made a pass, with a burst of gunfire which surprised Strange who had been engrossed in trying to learn how to fly this new craft. The next five Germans overshot his plane all missing. Strange took the only course he could, he dove. He flew so low he described it as "flying along the main street and through the chateau front door", however the Germans stuck with him, each trying to hit him with a burst of fire. Ducking over the Chateau, he followed a wooded valley twisting and turning as he went with the contours of the valley, the pack of Germans snapping at his heels. Suddenly a band of sand dunes flashed past him and he was over the Sea, with no cover. Strange spotted a British warship and turned towards it. The pack of Germans right on his tail. Luckily the Warship saw what was happening and put up a barrage of flak, which scattered the German pursuit. From there Strange made it back to the UK safely.
Louis showing off another invention, a jet powered grass drying machine on a farm in Dorset.
After this escapade Strange was then sent to setup the Central Landing School, which trained parachute landings, by war's end this school would train some 60,000 pupils from the RAF and Army on how to land in a parachute, this total included a number of the Para's dropped during D-day. However Strange was busy elsewhere, inventing, testing, and creating a school for CAM ship pilots.
Stranges' final wartime activities were to run several of the airfields in the Normandy Bridgehead, before being posted to SHAEF before demobbing in 1945. Louis Strange died on 15 November 1966 in Poole, Dorset.

Image Credits:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

First Battle

It is fair to say the Fairey Battle has a horrible reputation, and it’s easy to see why. For the first few days of the Battle of France the Battle ran at a staggering 50% loss rate. With such numbers it's place in history was fixed as a terrible aircraft. But before the Battle of France the Battle had another claim to fame, and its tied into the fortunes of Jagdgeschwader 152, equipped with the Bf 109.  
While the Battle did badly it might have been more to do with how it was used. Before the war it was seen as sturdy light bomber that was very easy to fly with a roomy comfortable cockpit. It was able to carry considerably more bomb load than a Bristol Blenhiem, and be almost as fast. It lacked the Blenheim’s defensive fire-power however. When thrown against the advancing German spearheads unescorted it was doomed to die, any bomber would have been. But what about before the fall of France during the Phoney War?
The day before Britain declared war on the 3rd of September the Advanced Air Striking Force was dispatched to France, in it were ten squadrons of Fairey Battles. During the Phoney War one of the missions that the Battle undertook was photo reconnaissance. For these missions three aircraft would take off, conduct their mission and return. On the 20th of September three Fairey Battles took off from Mourmelon-Le-Grand at 1000. These planes belonged to 88 Squadron. Their target was a reconnaissance mission near Aachen. Things started to go wrong before the flight had crossed the border. French AA guns began to fire at them. Then after completing their mission they were attacked by three Bf 109's from JG 152. The first German attacked and its target went down in flames, then the situation was repeated on the second Battle. In the last Battle Sgt L.H. Letchford stood up in the rear of his aircraft and manned the single .303 Vickers K gun. A Bf 109 hurtled towards him and he opened fire. The 109 peeled away and crashed. This was the first claimed kill during the Second World War by the RAF, and it went to the Fairey Battle. At the time there was no confirmation on it, but later on French sources confirmed it. Or did they?  

But first we should look at the second Battle to be shot down in this incident. It was flown by Pilot Officer Reginald Cubitt Graveley. After being hit, the ruggedness of the Battle came into play and PO Gravely managed to set the stricken plane down. Somewhere along the line the plane had burst into flames. PO Graveley struggled out of the plane, very badly burnt. However, he found that the rest of the crew were still trapped inside. He then raced back to the burning plane and rescued the rear gunner and dragged his burnt body to safety. Then he returned for the third crewman. PO Graveley found his recumbent form and struggled to free him, all the while the plane was burning around him. Unable to free the crew man, and determining he was dead PO Graveley got out of the plane. It took him seven months before he was released from hospital. For his actions PO Graveley received the George Cross. 

A week later another three Fairey Battles, this time from 103 Squadron, took off for a similar mission. The airfield of departure was Challerange and the time was 1220. The exact story of events is conflicting. About 1330 just as the planes were finishing their reconnaissance a flight of three Curtis H-75's belonging to the French Air Force attacked the Battles. A volley of recognition signals was fired and the French planes broke off. Shortly afterwards four German Bf 109's from JG 152 attacked. One of the Battles dove steeply pursued by one of the Bf 109's who had just shot down one of the other Battles. The gunner, Leading Aircraftman John Ernest Summers, held his fire until the last possible moment when the Bf 109 was as close as possible, before opening fire, shooting the German down. The Battle had not survived unscathed though. One of the crew was wounded and the engine was spluttering. Spotting an airfield, the pilot put the Battle down immediately and the wounded crewman was rushed to hospital, although he was to die later.  
While standing next to their damaged aircraft a French policeman approached and pointed to a pillar of smoke in the distance and said that was the 109 they had been attacked by. 

However, did you notice the similarities between both incidents? Three Battles attacked by JG 152's 109's, and French confirmation of kills after the event. Some sources say there was no loss on the 20th to JG 152, although I haven't been able to confirm this. The fight on the 27th is much more detailed and confirmed however. Equally on the 20th only three German planes are reported, normally the Germans flew in fours. While it’s not easy to make a count while getting shot at its a discrepancy. Could the reports have been muddled somewhere in history? Maybe even at the time with the French later confirming through channels that a Battle shot down a JG 152 plane, and both squadrons believing it was theirs? 
Either way the first RAF victory of World War Two was claimed by the Fairey Battle.