60-year Air Superiority milestone: No U.S. ground force losses from enemy aircraft

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew S. Bright
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
On the night of April 15, 1953, two United States Army Soldiers died on the small Korean island of Chodo. They died at night in their tent, victims of a North Korean air attack by Po-2 biplanes.

The two men were assigned to a U.S. Army anti-aircraft artillery battery deployed to protect Chodo and neighboring islands from enemy air attacks. United Nation's forces maintained critical radio, radar and intelligence stations on Chodo and other islands, stations that played pivotal roles in UN operations.

"The deaths of those two soldiers in 1953 are a tragic but remarkable milestone in U.S. military history - they are the last confirmed U.S. ground personnel lost to an enemy air attack," said Charles Nicholls, Pacific Air Forces historian.

The North Korean aircraft were fabric-covered, Soviet-made Polikarpov "Kukuruznik" Po-2 biplanes used in nighttime raids against U.S. and United Nations forces.

"Our troops called these missions 'Bed Check Charlie' attacks; they exploited an asymmetrical weakness in [the U.S.'s] air defenses," Nicholls said. "We had not prepared an effective way to counter a light aircraft at night."

U.S. fighters and anti-aircraft gunners had to rely on visual acquisition when they tried to intercept Bed Check Charlie's since the Po-2s didn't show up on radar, said Nicholls. In many cases, if the aircraft were spotted at all, U.S. jet fighters could not engage them because the jets could not fly low and slow enough to line up and fire on a maneuvering light aircraft.

"However, our bombers did strike the 'Bed Check Charlie' airfields on several occasions and in that way we reduced the number of attacks on our forces. Another successful tactic was to send up four U.S. Navy F-4U Corsairs and their pilots from Task Force 77. These older, propeller-driven fighters could successfully engage the Bed Check Charlies. In fact, the Navy's only fighter ace from the Korean War was one of these Corsair pilots - Lt. Guy Bordelon."

Though the Air Force had deployed the latest in radar and communications systems to keep our aircraft flying and sister service ground forces protected during the Korean War, the technology then pales in comparison to current capabilities.

"Obviously tactics and technology differ between the 1950s and today," Nicholls said. "Looking at the history of air campaigns, something to remember is that you can get too sophisticated. You can leave yourself vulnerable if you don't maintain some kind of capability to operate in the environment and at the technological level that your enemy is still using."

Airmen gained operational and tactical knowledge and experience from the Korean and Vietnam Wars that further developed airpower tactics and procedures.

"The Air Force trains better, plans better and maintains the most advanced aircraft, communications and intelligence systems," said Brig. Gen. Patrick C. Malackowski, Pacific Air Forces director of programs, analyses, and lessons learned. "Our Airmen are the best-trained Air Force in the world."

Since 1953, American Airmen have continued to evolve and are credited with zero U.S. service member casualties from enemy air attack.

"Though it was sixty years ago, we gained valuable insight and acknowledged the need for air superiority," Malackowski said. "Today, we strategically posture our forces throughout the area of responsibility to overcome the vast distances and challenges faced in PACAF."