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The Marine Helicopter And The Korean War

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  • The Marine Helicopter And The Korean War


    In August of 1945 the world entered the Atomic Age at Hiroshima, Japan. The atomic created a new era in warfare and as a result of it the Marine Corps began to concentrate on ways to increase dispersion and reduce vulnerability to this new and very lethal weapon. In the years immediately following World War II, the Marine Corps pioneered and developed a new concept in the mobility of assault troops and logistical resupply with the advent of the helicopter. Vertical envelopment was conceived at the Marine Corps Base, in Quantico and proven during the Korean War.

    In 1946, Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger, Commanding General , Fleet Marine Forces , Pacific viewed the atomic tests at Lagoon. General Geiger felt strongly that atomic weapons would impact on how the Marine Corps conducted amphipbious operations. In a letter dated 21 August, 1946 that General Geiger sent to the Commandant he stated:

    It is quite evident that a small number of atomic could destroy an expeditionary force as now organized, embarked, and landed.. . [General Geiger urged the Commandant to] consider this a very serious and urgent matter [and that the Marine Corps] use its most competent officers in finding a solution to develop the technique of conducting amphibious operations in the Atomic Age.

    The Commandant, General Alexander A. Vandegrift, acted by referring General Geiger's letter to a special board of General officers with instructions to: ...propose, after thorough research and deliberation, the broad concepts and principles which the Marine Corps should follow, and the major steps which it should take, to wage successful amphibious warfare at some future date...

    On 16 December, 1946 the special board submitted an advanced report to the Commandant recommending that parallel programs be initiated to develop a transport seaplane and a transport helicopter. The board further recommended that an experimental Marine helicopter squadron be organized to train pilots and mechanics and that the Marine Corps Schools develop a tentative doctrine for helicopter employment.

    General Vandegrift concurred with the special board's results and began the actions to make Marine helicopters a reality. General Vandegrift visualized the Vertical Assault Concept as:

    With a relatively unlimited choice of landing areas, troops can be landed in combat formations and under full control of the flanks or rear of a hostile position. The helicopter's speed makes transport dispersion at sea a matter of no disadvantage and introduces a time-space factor that will avoid presenting at any one time a remunerative atomic target. It should also be noted that transport helicopters offer a means for rapid evacuation of casualties, for the movement of supplies directly from ship to dump and for subsequent movement of troops and supplies in continuing operations ashore.

    The Commandant's goal for 1947 was to organize one developmental helicopter squadron with 12 helicopters in order to study helicopter employment in amphibious operations.

    On 10 March, 1947 the Marine Corps Schools' Committee of the Academic Board headed by Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom submitted its report on "Military Requirements of Helicopter for Ship-to-Shore Movement of Troops and Cargo". The report stated: "... it is more realistic to approach the problem in increments, establishing initially the characteristics for a purely assault conveyance. . . " The Mogaboom report went on to list the specifications for the assault helicopter as:

    1. 5,000 pound payload
    2. 200 to 300 nautical mile range (500 miles with an auxiliary fuel tank)
    3. 100 knot cruising speed
    4. 4,000' hover ceiling
    5. external hook and hoist
    6. self-sealing fuel tanks
    7. overall dimensions to be able to fit on the hangar deck and elevators of the aircraft carrier.

    On 1 December, 1947, in compliance with the Commandant's goal, Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) was commissioned at MCAS Quantico, Virginia. Colonel Edward C. Dyer, who had been instrumental in establishing the Marine helicopter program, was the Commanding Officer. HQMC established the mission for HMX-1 as: "1. Develop techniques and tactics in connection with the movement of assault troops in amphibious operations, and 2. Evaluate a small helicopter as a replacement for the present OY aircraft. . ." On that first day of December 1947 Colonel Dyer was the sole member of HMX-1 and the squadron would not receive any aircraft until 9 February, 1948 when two Sikorsky HO3S-1's would arrive.

    At the request of Lieutenant Colonel Victor H. Krulak, the Assistant Director of the Senior School of the Marine Corps Schools, HMX-1 participated in Operation Packard II during May of 1948. This operation was an amphibious command post exercise developed and planned by the Marine Corps Schools. The operational plan was prepared by the student staff and provided for an element of the landing force, the staff of a regimental combat team (RLT), and HMX-1 to be embarked on escort aircraft carriers. Utilizing 5 HO3S-1s, HMX-1 flew a total of 35 flights carrying 66 Marines and a considerable amount of communications gear ashore from the ship. Operation Packard II provided the framework that proved helicopters could play an integral part in amphibious operations.

    The Marine Corps Schools, by November 1948, had developed the world's first manual entitled Amphibious Operations--Employment of Helicopters (Tentative). This book was numbered 31 in a series of publications on amphibious operations. Phib-31 detailed many of the advantages of the helicopter and vertical assault, but more importantly it projected the concept of vertical envelopment well into the future, far outreaching the current capabilities of the helicopters the Marines were flying in 1948. Lieutenant Colonel Krulak describes the approach that the Marine Corps Schools used in preparing Phib-31:

    ...a propspective military philosophy. It consists of thinking in terms of the next war instead of the last ,. . . This means starting with ideas, when you have nothing more tangible, and developing them into the concepts, procedures and weapons of the future. Although, the Marine Corps was the last American military service to have helicopters it became the first to institute a long-range program of working out helicopter combat techniques. (Phib-31 was copied by the U.S. Army, almost word for word, in its first helicopter manual.)

    The months between 1948 and August of 1950 saw HMX-1 and the Marine Corps Schools continue to work on both the concept of vertical envelopment and the machines used to fly it. There were more Packard Operations, new helicopters like the HRP-1 and HTL-3, continued test and evaluation, and a Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration for President Harry S. Truman and the members of Congress.

    On 25 June, 1950 eight divisions of the North Korean People's Army (NKPA), crossed the 38th Parallel brushing aside patrols of the army of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and rapidly moved south in order to unify the Korean peninsula into a Communist state. In response to the Republic of Korea's request, on 28 June 1950, the United Nations ordered military sanctions against the North Korean invaders and by 7 July the U.S. Marines were ordered to activate a Regimental Combat Team. The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was activated under the command of Brigadier General Edward A. Craig and was built around the 5th Marine Regiment and the 33rd Marine Air Group (MAG-33) of the 1st Marine Air Wing. 6,534 officers and men prepared to go to Korea.

    HMX-1 was ordered, on the 7th of July, to send 8 officers and 30 men to the 1st Provisional Brigade for assignment to Marine Observation Squadron 6 (VMO-6) of MAG-33. These Marines would fly and maintain four HO3S-1 helicopters and would be the first helicopter unit organized for combat.

    14 July, 1950 saw VMO-6, commanded by Major Vincent J. Gottschalk, embarked on the USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116) bound for Korea. After only 31 months of evaluation for both the concept of helicopter employment and the aircraft themselves the Marines were on their way to war for the first time with helicopters.

    The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade landed at Pusan, Korea on 2 August, 1950. The next morning General Craig made a reconnaissance of the area in a HO3S-1. This flight began a new era in command and control. General Craig eventually came to call the helicopter the "emergency weapon" of the Brigade command and staff. The Brigade maneuvered rapidly with the intent of counterattacking and stopping North Korean penetrations. The helicopters of VMO-6 proved their worth. General Craig said of them:

    Marine Helicopters have proven invaluable. . .They have been used for every conceivable type of mission. The Brigade utilized them for liaison, reconnaissance, evacuation of wounded, rescue of Marine flyers downed in enemy territory, observation, messenger service, guard mail at sea, posting and supplying of outguards on ting terrain features and resupplying of small units by air.

    General Joseph L. Stewart recalled the use of the helicopter when he was a Lieutenant Colonel and the G-3 of the 1st Provisional Brigade at Pusan, Korea:

    ...I was the G-3 of the brigade in Korea that employed the first helicopters in combat. . .It was really dramatic to observe those who hadn't seen a helicopter operate before, to see the reactions and expressions of those who saw for the first time how the helicopter could be of such great assistance to us in planning these fast moving, put-out-the-fire type of operations.

    Major Gottschalk, the Commanding Officer of VMO-6, stated, with historical significance, that the helicopter brought back a personal element to command and control on the battlefield that had not been seen in modern times:

    ...perhaps the most important use of the helicopter in the early months of the Korean War concerned command and control. The flexibility provided the Brigade Commander to control his forces, change direction of movement, give personal instructions to subordinate commanders, and observe the resultant battlefield movement in a dynamic fast moving situation provided a new dimension to tactical control of the battlefield in a difficult terrain setting.

    Major Gottschalk said, speaking of medevac flights, that:

    the availability of the helicopter to pick up wounded from units that were cut off some distance from the main body improved the morale of the men in the lines. [He added that rescue missions also] helped the morale of the fighter pilots in support of the Marine brigade.

    The night of August 8th found Captain Victor A. Armstrong flying the first night medevac by lifting a wounded regimental surgeon to safety.

    The HO3S proved to be a rugged aircraft that could continue to fly regardless of hard landings in rough terrain and taking enemy small-arms rounds. Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., Commanding General, FMFPac, after observing the helicopters operate in Korea, said:

    Later in Korea I saw helicopters come in with a dozen bullet holes in their wings and bodies--unless they are hit in a vital part, they will continue to fly.

    During the month of August 1950, the helicopters of VMO-6 logged 580 flights and a total of 348 flight hours with their HO3S's.

    General Craig was such an advocate of the use of helicopters he wrote the following regarding their use in Korea and in future conflicts:

    VMO-6 was flown to Pusan from Japan. These aircraft have been invaluable in reconnaissance and the helicopters are a Godsend in this type of terrain, not only for reconnaissance but for supporting of combat patrols in mountainous terrain; for supply of food, water, ammunition; but also for the evacuation of casualties. . By separate dispatch to you.. .a request has been made to bring out elements of the Helicopter Transport Squadron. It is believed that this innovation will meet with outstanding results in combat in this mountainous terrain for the landing of patrols on top of mountain ranges.. .The helicopters presently available have been invaluable beyond expression ...[However) I feel they will not be able to sustain all the demands.

    In September, 1950 VMO-6 prepared for the amphibious assault at Inchon. The helicopters of VMO-6 would play no part in the landing because there were not enough of them to lift the assault troops. On 16 September, D+3, Captain Armstrong landed his HO3S at the newly captured Kimpo airfield with General Shepherd and Colonel Krulak as his passengers. VMO-6 relocated to the airfield at Kimpo and began flying a dawn-to-dusk schedule in support of the 1st Marine Division as it fought its way across the Han river and on to northwest approaches to Seoul.

    Seoul was officially liberated on September 29, 195O and on 12 October the Marines of the 1st Marine Division were backloaded on ships at Inchon to be moved to the other side of Korea for a new adventure.

    After a noncontested landing at Wonsan, Korea the 1st Marine Division, in November of 1950, was so extended that it had units at Hagaru, some 50 miles from the division CP at Hungnam. Major General Oliver P. Smith, the Division Commander, realized that he had unusual command and staff problems. General Smith ordered that the Main Supply Route to the Chosin Reservoir be strengthend and that an airstrip be constructed at Hagaru. As a result of Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) attacks in late November the 1st Marine Division was divided into five self-contained perimeters. The helicopters of VMO-6 provided the only means of contact between these isolated groups.

    The night of December 1st saw the Marines come out fighting their way from Yudam-ni to Hagaru, 14 miles that would take 59 hours to cross. On 6 December, 1950 the 1st Marine Division began its breakout attack from Hagaru to Koto-ri. By the evening of the 7th of December with the 7th Marines leading and the 5th Marines covering the division fought its way to Koto-ri. From there the division marched to Hamhung with the lead elements reaching the sea late on the 10th of December. Every day of the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir the aircraft of VMO-6 were on call. Although the altitude reduced payloads and the bitter cold added to the difficulties of upkeep and repair, the helicopters of VMO-6 saved lives by flying medevacs and bringing in medical supplies.

    From October 28 to December 15 VMO-6 flew 1,544 flights for a total of 1,624.8 flight hours.

    The 1st Marine Division was backloaded from Hungnam, between 10 and 24 December, by the Navy ships of TF-9O. The division was taken back to Pusan, which had been the first assembly area of the Brigade. In five months the Marines had managed to fight all around the Korean peninsula.

    The spring of 1951 saw VMO-6 continuing to support the 1st Marine Division as it had in 1950. General Shepherd again spoke of helicopters by saying:

    Due to the rugged terrain it would have been most difficult to operate in Korea without helicopters. They were a Godsend to the Marines.

    In the summer of 1951, as the first year of Korean operations drew to a close, Marine helicopters had flown every mission except the one that had been envisioned for them--vertical envelopment during an amphibious assault. The remedy for this lack was to be filled by Marine Transport Helicopter Squadron (HMR) 161. HMR-161 was commissioned 15 January, 1951 at MCAS El Toro, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George W. Herring.

    With 43 officers, 244 men and 15 Sikorsky HRS-1 helicopters HMR-161 sailed for Korea on 15 August, 1951. The HRS-1 was a transport helicopter capable of carrying five or six combat Marines.

    HMR-161 arrived at Pusan, Korea on 2 September, 1951 as the 1st Marine Division launched an attack in the Punchbowl area in eastern Korea. HMR-161 moved to the front and shared Field X-83, near Chondo-ni, with VMO-6. The observation pilots of VMO-6 briefed the transport pilots of HMR-161 on the flying conditions in Korea.

    On 12 September, 1951 HMR-161 indoctrinated the Marines of the 1st Shore Party Battalion in the techniques of loading and giving landing instructions to the large transport helicopters. The next day, in preparation for Operation Windmill I, supplies were sorted into 800 pound loads. At 1550 that day seven HRS-1 helicopters lifted with supplies suspended below each aircraft to fly a seven mile route in order to resupply the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. Upon landing each helicopter picked up battle casualties and the wounded Marines were admitted to a hospital facility only 30
    minutes after being wounded.

    Operation Windmill I consisted of 28 flights for a total of 14.1 flight hours. 18,848 pounds of cargo were lifted and 74 casualties were medevaced.

    On 20 September, 1951 the first helicopter-borne landing of combat Marines took place in Operation Summit. Despite dense fog, HMR-161 lifted 224 fully equipped Marines to the objective--Hill 884. The HRS-1's also transported 17,772 pounds of cargo in support of Operation Summit. The entire operation consisted of 65 flights, 31.2 flight hours, and took a total of four hours overall. The official report of Operation Summit, read in part:

    These initial efforts have demonstrated strikingly the great contribution to tactical and logistical flexibility that the assault helicopter offers ...[The report went on to say that]...helicopter functions will be progressively enlarged as time passes, and that the aircraft type must be recognized as a requisite component of a balanced military force.

    On 27 September HMR-161 conducted the first night troop lift of combat Marines in Operation Blackbird. The HRS-1's lifted 200 Marines of "E" Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines to the Punchbowl, on a night with no moonlight, in two hours and ten minutes. Operation Blackbird was not an unqualified success but many lessons were learned. The official report stated:

    ...night troop lifts in mountainous terrain are feasible provided a daylight reconnaissance of the landing zone together with the avenues of approach and retirement can be effected. Present equipment indicates that under present conditions in Korea these night lifts should be limited to movements within friendly territory.

    Operation Blackbird was the only large scale night lift of combat Marines in the Korean War.

    11 October, 1951 saw HMR-161 make history and headlines again. Operation Bumblebee began that morning at 1000 when the lift of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and it equipment commenced. The statistics tell the story of Operation Bumblebee:

    Number of helicopters: 12.
    Number of flights: 156.
    Total flight time: 65.9 hours.
    Over-all time: 5.5 hours.
    Number of Marines lifted: 958.
    Average weight per man: 240 lbs.
    Total weight lifted: 229,920 lbs.

    HMR-161 continued to support the 1st Marine Division in operations like: Bushbeater, Rabbit-Hunt, Switch, Farewell, and logistical support in Muletrain. As 1952 passed HMR-161 grew both tactically and in their ability to respond to the needs of those they supported.

    On 23 February, 1953 the Marines of HMR-161 began Operation Haylift II. This operation proved that the helicopter was destined to have a unique place in logistical support of combat Marines. Over a four day period, an average of 12 HRS-1's, flew from dawn to dusk carrying a combined total of 31,589 pounds per hour. Each aircraft made 27 round trips of the 15 mile leg and carried 11 tons of supplies. It would have taken a large fleet of trucks to provide this type of support and it would have taken four times as long.

    Again HMR-161 and the helicopters from VMO-6 continued to provide tactical and logistical support to the 1st Marine Division in 1953 until the armistice was signed on 27 July, 1953.

    Helicopter pilots and aircrewmen suffered a total of nine operational s in Korea, proving that their machines were not overly vulnerable.

    HMR-161, from the first landing in Korea to the Armistice in 1953, flew a total of 18,607 flights, 16,538 flight hours, lifted 60,046 people, and transported 7,554,336 pounds of cargo. The transport squadron also evacuated 2,748 casualties in its 23 months in Korea. VMO-6 flew out 7,067 casualties during its 35 months in combat.

    As a newcomer to Marine aviation, the helicopter proved to be a valuable tactical weapon in Korea. It met and exceeded the expectations the pioneers of vertical envelopment had for it. The tactical technique of hit and run had proved most effective when used in major troop movements and not when used in small lifts. The concepts developed at Quantico, Virginia in the late `4Os by HMX-1 had stood the test of war and had been proven in Korea.

    Amphibious operations of the future would owe much of their success to the pilots and men of VMO-6 and HMR-161 who flew in Korea.

    For the Marine Corps today, perhaps the words of helicopter designer Frank N. Piasecki spoken in 1953, are exceptionally pertinent:

    The most dramatic progress will be increased speed of vertical-lift aircraft, [during the next half century]. This will come from two directions: helicopters designers will add speed to their machines; conversely, airplane designers will add vertical-lift capabilities to their high-speed aircraft. The result will be a blending of the two types of flight into machines fully capable of both helicopter flight as we know it today and high-speed flight at velocities far beyond today's experimental supersonic speeds. . .

    The Marines of today have as great a challenge ahead of them as the Marines of HMX-1 and the Marine Corps Schools had in the years between WW II and the Korean War.


  • #2
    Helicopters/Korea & After

    Thanks for a great posting of the Beginning of our Marine Helicopters. Having the privledge of being a Marine since Apr 1942 & participated in several operations in the Pacific in WW2 Helicopters certainly were the answer to many operational advancements.I was very happy to be part of HMX-1 1950/51 & later 1953 VMO-6 , A-9 ,1st MARDIV, 1953 in Korea. Had many memorable events with helicopters from that time in 1950 thru 1994 when I was finally retired from Helicopter operations as a Senior Advisor in Cairo Egypt. Was in VMO-2 when it formed as the first unit at LTA, later MCAF Santa Ana, early 1951. Watched HMR-161 loaded aboard a train to San Diego for the Korea operation Aug 1951. Joined VMO-6 in Korea 1953/54. Joined the Rescue Det at Atsugi Japan 1954. Was assigned to NATTC Memphis Tn. 1955 for establishing the Helicopter training school.Later assigned to the Mobile Training unit 1093 UH34D 1959-61 at MCAF Santa Ana. Than to MAG-16 at Okinawa 1962/63 until retirement 1963. (shipped UH34D Helicopters to Danang aboard USAF C124 AC from H&MS-16). Accepted contract four years 1964/68 as Advisor to VNAF Sqds at Danang, Nha Trang, Saigon & Binh Thuy in the Delta ( designated as Advisor Test Pilot). Assigned to Malaysia AF 1969/1971 SH3D helicopters. Than to NAS Alameda to the USMC Reserve CH53A sqd as Sikorsky Rep 1971/1973. Than assigned to MAG-36 Okinawa as Senior Sikorsky Rep 1973 thru 1987. Was privlidged to be on the "Frequent Wind" operation Apr 1975 & 14 years of the yearly "Team Spirit" Ops in Korea & deployments to PI etc. Retired from Sikorsky Mar 1987 at MAG-36 and accepted a Senior Advisor slot for An IRAN Wessex SH3 helicopters in Helwan Egypt, 20 miles out of Cairo in the desert 1993. Ended activity writting Rebuttals for an International Tribunal in Geneva Switzerland in 1994. I wish to express my eternal thanks to the Marine Corps for permitting me to have all these great experiences . I would gladly do it all again without changing anything!!! Semper Fi PM


    • #3
      Old Corps Paul!

      If any of you guys wanna know what is was like in 19XX, Paul is the guy to ask. He's the real deal and a great guy, besides. I'm proud to have his aquaintance as my friend. Now with this Korean forum, he can share that much more information with us, 'cause he's been there and done that for sure! A Line Chief over 50 years ago, Paul's experience is abundant.
      Semper Fi, Sir
      Last edited by Joe Reed; 03-23-2006, 17:37.
      Semper Fidelis

      Phu Bai tower:
      YW-11 for Phu Bai DASC-
      Remember, These are "A" models!
      YW-11 BuNo-151939
      '65 Model CH-46A


      • #4
        Marine Helicopter Image Landing in Korea

        This is a copy of a slide that was in my late father, Ned Scheetz, Korea folder. It is on a hill in Korea I believe. I have several images of these flights where they were transporting supplies. My father flew off the carrier U.S.S. Salerno Bay. If anyone visiting this post has more info please write, Thanks for your interest, Jeff
        Attached Files
        Last edited by; 04-04-2006, 10:29. Reason: additional information


        • #5

          Jeff I recall the name however did not serve with him. In fact not sure what billet he was, Crew Chief, Pilot what? Your photo is without a doubt HMM-161 in Korea back 1951-1954. I was with VMO-6 at that time in Korea and the HRS-3 (H-19) helicopters were supplying and moving Marines to all the MLR sites. I was at A-9 and often saw their helicopters. That could be any one of many mountain tops. Is there more info with the photos? SF PM


          • #6
            Jeff, it's from HMR 161. I crewed that same helicopter in late 53 and early 54.
            We had HRS 1, 2, and 3's in that squadron. I can't recall the landing zone its been a long time ago.


            • #7
              Ned Scheetz

              Originally posted by pm3777
              Jeff I recall the name however did not serve with him. In fact not sure what billet he was, Crew Chief, Pilot what? Your photo is without a doubt HMM-161 in Korea back 1951-1954. I was with VMO-6 at that time in Korea and the HRS-3 (H-19) helicopters were supplying and moving Marines to all the MLR sites. I was at A-9 and often saw their helicopters. That could be any one of many mountain tops. Is there more info with the photos? SF PM
              Ned was a pilot flying off the U.S.S. Salerno Bay. I have no more info about the slide other than it was a Korean Gun site I think. My Dad joked about the Koreans building him a cement landing pad! Jeff
              I have the following images for you guys. The one of the fighter in the desert was marked VMF 514 Mojave if that helps. The rest I assume are Salerno Bay images, Jeff
              Last edited by; 08-01-2017, 12:28. Reason: images no longer working


              • #8
                Neds photos

                Would like to view the photos. Expect Jack Ubel would know some details there. SF PM


                • #9
                  Doing some new research today, I do not see my images here anymore so let me upload those again for you, thanks everyone..Jeff
                  Last edited by; 08-01-2017, 12:31.