Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter
Author - Ernest H. Giusti
Reprinted from the May 1952 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to The Korean War Educator.
The Marine company commander had a critical problem on his hands. It was the second day of the bitter
fighting for Obong-ni Ridge, and the attack of his right flank platoon was pinned down on a barren slope by
deadly machine gun fire. The source of his trouble was a partially defiladed and well-emplaced enemy
position which defied the efforts of ground supporting fire to destroy it. Without hesitation, he requested
aid from another powerful, but more flexible, weapon at his disposal—Marine air.
In five minutes a Corsair plummeted down on the target. A 500-pound bomb struck only a hundred yards from
the tense Marines, scoring a direct hit. The Marines left their scant cover and swept up the slope. As they
passed over the target area, they found that the remarkably accurate Marine pilot had wiped out a nest of
four machine guns with their crews. In another few minutes the Marines of the left flank platoon had wrested
the important hilltop from the enemy.
This incident was not an isolated one. From 6 August to 5 September 1950, Marine aviation, flying in
support of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (reinforced), carried out similar missions again and again.
Variations were only of time, place, and target.
In the Pusan Perimeter, Marine air, like other supporting arms, was committed primarily to the mission of
assisting ground troops to move over more real estate faster and at a smaller cost in lives. And the
gratifying results of its close air support were no accident.
In the years between World War II and the Korean conflict a large part of the Marine Corps’ physical and
materiel resources was poured into a great effort to perfect the Marine air-ground team. The lessons of
close air support in the Solomons, the Philippines, and Okinawa were carefully studied, and new doctrines
and techniques emerged. Emphasis on the training of Marine tactical squadrons swung rapidly toward the
development of aviation as a closely coordinated arm of Marine ground forces.
At TTU Pac and TTU Lant, Marine aviators pursued intensive courses designed to train them as forward air
controllers—the vital links which synchronize the air and ground components of the team. Other Marine
aviators attended Marine Corps Schools at Quantico where they studied the problems and combat requirements
of the infantry and its supporting arms. Here they learned the theory and practice of air support, and
observed its application in practical demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the squadrons of the 1st and 2nd Marine Air Wings constantly practiced air support with
elements of the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions. From El Toro and Cherry Point, Marine aviators were sent to
Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune. There they had the opportunity to observe and learn, at first hand, the
problems of the infantry and the effectiveness of air support. They carried this experience back to their
squadrons, and the effort to improve the quality of air support was unremitting.
Periodically, the air support proficiency of the two wings was tested in large scale maneuvers. During
the intra-war period, wing units operating from carrier or land bases participated in maneuvers off the
coast of California, in the Hawaiian Islands, in the Caribbean, and even under cold weather conditions in
Alaska and Argentia [sic].
So when the real test came, and aggressor X became the North Korean army and the dummy pillbox in the
impact area at Camp Pendleton became a strong point holding up Marines on the road to Chinju, Marine pilots
were ready. And they carried out their missions with such confidence and skill that even an observer unaware
of their preparation must have guessed at their extensive training.
In the Pusan perimeter two carrier-based Marine squadrons, VMFs-24 and 323, and half of Japan-based
VMF-513(N), made up wholly of regular Marines, comprised the tactical units of MAG-33 which preceded the
bulk of the wing to Korea by approximately a month. These units, plus Ground Control Intercept Squadron-1,
Tactical Air Control Squadron-2, and supporting units combined to give the group a strength of about 1,500.
The first news that Marine air units were to be committed came after the Korean conflict was only 10 days
old. As early as 2 July, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of UN forces in the Far East, had requested a
Marine RCT with appropriate air for employment in Korea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved this request on
the same day. The 5th Marines of the 1st Marine Division was selected as the basic unit of the RCT-MAG
force, and MAG-33 of the 1st Marine Air Wing as the air component.
On 5 July the Commandant designated the ground-air team as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade
(reinforced), and Brigadier General Edward A. Craig was appointed CG. Brigadier General Thomas J. Cushman
was appointed CG of the reinforced air group.
Once more Marines were called upon to prove that the “ready to fight” quality attributed to the Fleet
Marine Force was no myth—and they did. The brigade, including its air component, was formally activated on 7
July; loading began on the 9th, and on 14 July approximately 6,500 well trained ground and air Marines set
sail for the Far East “ready to fight.”
By the latter part of July the situation in Korea had reached a critical point. The enemy was threatening
to break through the Pusan perimeter, and the Marines were needed urgently. Instead of staging through
Japan, as had been originally planned, the ground elements of the brigade went directly to Pusan, arriving
on 2 August. The air components continued to Japan by faster transportation and landed on 31 July.
VMF(N)-513 became land based at Itazuke, but VMF-214 embarked aboard the USS Sicily and VMF-323 aboard
the USS Badoeng Straits, the two CVEs of Task Group 96.8, commanded by Rear Admiral Richard W. Ruble, USN.
The Sicily was commanded by Capt. John S. Thach and the Badoeng Straits, by Capt. Arnold W. McKechnie, two
of the outstanding CVE “skippers” of the US Navy.
Immediately upon departure from Japan for Korea the CVEs launched combat air patrol sorties. Thereafter,
whenever the carriers were at sea two Marine planes protected the task group throughout the daylight hours.
Though combat air patrol sorties lowered the available of strike planes, they performed a necessary task.
Since there is frequently no wind off the Korean coast during August and September, planes often had to be
launched and landed with only a 20-knot wind across the flight deck. This was a serious handicap, and one of
the duties of combat air patrol aircraft was to search for winds which could be utilized by the CVEs to make
flight operations less hazardous.
The privilege of striking the first blow for the Marine Corps in the Korean conflict fell to a flight of
eight VMF-214 Corais which bombed, rocketed, and strafed enemy concentrations at Chinju and Sandon-ni on 3
August—less than a month after receipt of official orders to the Far East.
Three days later VMF-323 staged a series of strikes against enemy troops, buildings, vehicles, bridges,
supplies, and railroad installations, and on 7 august VMF (N)-513 joined the act with a strike against the
town of Kumchon.
Exactly one month from the date of MAG-33’s activation as the air component of the brigade, all three of
its squadrons were engaged.
These first missions were interdiction and deep support efforts. But it was not long before the two
carrier-based squadrons were called upon to give the type of close support to ground troops for which they
had trained so long and so hard. On the ground, the 1st Brigade, as part of the Eighth Army’s Task Force
Kean, was making a limited objective counterattack towards Chinju, designed to blunt an enemy attack driving
on Pusan from the west.
Following the jump-off on 7 August the Task Force was held up by bitter enemy resistance at a road
junction three miles west of Chindong-ni. During the three days of this engagement, Marine planes flew well
over 100 sorties, most of them in close support. VMFs-214 and 323 quickly worked out a flight schedule which
would keep planes constantly available to the brigade during the daylight hours. Relieving each other on
station, flights from one or both squadrons were on tap above the front lines to strike strong points within
a matter of minutes.
The pattern of attack followed the established doctrine of the Marine air-ground team. Air and artillery
preparation softened up enemy positions in the objective area, and the closely following infantry assault
finished the job. As far as Marine air was concerned, however, air preparation was only half its task.
Corsairs hovered overhead ready to blunt enemy counterattacks, to strike a particularly stubborn strong
point, or to cut down retreating North Korean troops before they reached new defensive positions.
By the evening of 9 August the core of enemy resistance was broken and the brigade advanced rapidly.
Enemy opposition proved light on 10 August, and the brigade moved through Paedun-ni and almost to Kosong.
On 11 August, Marine air had its day, a day which gratified Marine pilots and won the admiration of their
fellows on the ground.
As the fast moving Marines came within sight of Kosong, an artillery concentration fired into the town by
brigade artillery flushed major elements of the North Korean 83rd Motorized Regiment. Severely pressed by
3/5 and its supporting fires, the enemy attempted a hasty withdrawal along the Kosong-Sachon road under a
bright afternoon sun. They discovered their mistake quickly—but too late. They fell prey to a division of
VMF-323 Corsairs led by Maj. Arnold A. Lund. This flight, after reporting to the forward TACP, had been sent
on a search and attack mission beyond the town. Just west of Kosong they spotted the road-bound enemy column
composed of approximately 200 vehicles, including trucks, jeeps, and motorcycles carrying troops, equipment,
Swooping down, the Corsairs made their first attacks as low-level strafing runs along the length of the
column in order to halt and disorganize it. This tactic worked admirably. The column telescoped to a
grinding stop, and vehicles took off in every direction. They crashed into each other, bounced into ditches,
and tried for cover on the hillsides while the troops scattered for concealment. The Marine pilots then
turned their attention to individual targets with rocket and 20mm attacks. By this time the enemy had begun
to fight back. The Corsairs encountered intense automatic and small arms fire, but they persisted in their
attacks and had the satisfaction of seeing approximately 40 vehicles burning before they were relieved in
the attack by another flight of VMF-323 Corsairs and Air Force F-51s.
The original attacking flight did not escape unscathed. Two of the four planes, piloted by Capt. Vivian
Moses and 2nd Lt. Doyle Cole, were badly damaged by the enemy fire and forced to make emergency landings.
Captain Moses, the first Marine aviator killed in Korea, died in an attempt to land his crippled plane in
enemy territory. Lt. Cole was more fortunate and reached a small bay just behind the enemy lines where he
made a water landing. Within five minutes he was recovered by a helicopter. Lt. Cole is reported to have
greeted the elderly “sergeant” who helped him into the helicopter with a slap on the back and “Thanks a lot,
Mac. I sure am glad to see you.” It was only after landing that he discovered the “sergeant” to be General
When the Marines of 3/5 reached the place of the enemy’s debacle, they found many serviceable vehicles
among the wrecked transport and dead that littered the area. These they put to good use, as they had been
suffering from a shortage of organic transport.
At 0630 on 12 August, Corsairs roared off the flight decks of the escort carriers to furnish close air
support for 1/5, which at that time was passing through 3/5 in continuation of the advance. But since no
resistance developed the planes were sent ahead of 1/5 to attack targets of opportunity. During the morning
and early afternoon, pilots discovered concentrations of troops and vehicles at Sachon, Tundok, and Chinju
and struck heavy blows with bombs, napalm, rockets, and 20mm fire.
By 1400 the brigade spearhead had advanced 16 foot-slogging miles to the vicinity of Changchon, only
three and a half miles southeast of Sachon, the battalion objective. At this point the road curves to left,
and front; Changchon itself lying between the hill on the left (202) and the high ground to the front.
Planes of both squadrons were overhead when, at approximately 1300, the battalion point unmasked enemy
intentions to permit the whole column of 1/5 to move into the defile, then open with interlocking fire from
positions A, B, and C. As the 15 men of the Recon Company detachment entered Changchon, they observed two of
the enemy taking cover and opened fire. In turn, the point was immediately taken under fire by trigger-happy
North Koreans in position B.
When the enemy opened fire, the 1st Platoon, B Company had just entered the defile, and the rest of the
company was about to follow. All remaining enemy positions now joined the fire fight. The 1st Platoon was
ordered forward to aid the point and the 2nd Platoon moved up to the rear of the 1st. At this time enemy
personnel were observed moving on the hill of position B, and a strafing attack was requested in the general
area. Almost at once two VMF-214 Corsairs left the orbiting circle of planes and under the direction of the
forward air controller strafed the area with 20mm fire. As the air strike lifted, the 3d Platoon moved
across the rice paddies and attacked up the slope of the hill.
While this was going on, two other Corsairs whose time on station was drawing to a close were directed to
search beyond the village and attack any profitable target discovered. Immediately these planes spotted
enemy transport and personnel approximately a half mile west of Changchon. They attacked at once, dispersing
the troops and destroying an undetermined number of vehicles. Traffic on the Sachon-Changchon road was
heavy, and soon a division of VMF-323 planes found and attacked an estimated 65 vehicles on the short
stretch between the two villages.
The intense interlocking fire from cleverly concealed and well positioned machine guns prevented the 3d
Platoon from reaching the hill crest of position B, and the platoon was ordered to fall back while company
60mm mortars worked over the hill. But positions at B constituted the enemy’s main point of resistance, and
he was so well entrenched that the 60mm mortars used up almost all available ammunition without success. It
became necessary to call for another air strike.
This time the Corsairs of VMF-323 attacked with all available ordnance, blanketed the area, and succeeded
in destroying the positions.
While the planes were engaged, a battery of brigade artillery had been delivering concentrations on the
high ground of Hill 202, and Marine infantrymen had seized the high ground on both flanks. By 1700 all enemy
positions had been silenced except A. This was in partial defilade and difficult to bring under supporting
arms fire, with the exception of air. Therefore, five VMF-214 Corsairs were called to destroy it under
direction of the forward air controller, and quickly accomplished their mission with 20mm cannons.
B Company was now directed to seize and occupy the high ground on the left flank. But before the Marines
could move out, the enemy reoccupied position B and brought them under automatic weapons fire. Again
Corsairs were called on, and again the position was silenced.
By this time darkness was fast approaching, but there was still time for a VMF-214 flight to do one more
job. Observers had spotted the enemy massing behind the crest of position B, and the 1/5 battalion commander
requested a strike against this concentration. The Corsairs attacked at once, killing or dispersing these
troops. The best indication of the effectiveness of this last attack was that the Marines were not troubled
from this direction for the remainder of the engagement.
During the night, the brigade received orders to withdraw to Chindong-ni, and 1/5 was directed to pull
out at 0630 on the morning of 13 August. However, before dawn and before Marine air appeared on the scene,
enemy forces launched a strong counterattack on B Company’s left flank from close-in and well concealed
positions. With the coming of daylight, for the first time in the Korean fighting the brigade turned
supporting arms, including the newly arrived Corsairs of VMF-214, to the task of helping Marines withdraw.
All wounded personnel were grouped, and the company moved down the slope escorted by the fires of supporting
arms. No casualties were suffered during the withdrawal, and upon reaching the roads the Marines started
back whence they had come.
They had waged a determined struggle to come within striking distance of their objective, and turned
their backs on Chinju with understandable regret. But the “fire” brigade was urgently needed elsewhere. By
13 August, North Korean bridgeheads over the Naktong River in the west central front posed a serious threat
to Taegu and the Pusan-Taegu MSR. As part of the counter-attack force, the Marine unit was assigned the
mission of clearing the enemy from strongly entrenched positions in the bulge area west of Yongsan and just
east of the Naktong River.
With almost no respite, the brigade was lifted from Chindong-ni to Miryang on 14 August, moved into
attack positions on 16 August, and prepared to jump off on the morning of the 17th. Objective 1 was Obong-ni
Ridge, a key terrain feature of the forward screen protecting the bridgehead. On this barren elevation,
pockmarked with rocks and crevices, the North Koreans chose to fight it out, and fight they did—with a
ferocity that recalled the fanatical Japanese resistance of World War II.
Cleverly they had fortified two lines of positions: one forward of the crest, and a second dug into the
reverse slope. When supporting fires lifted, the enemy was able to move into the forward positions to man
defenses and replace casualties. In this situation, good napalm coverage would probably have proved
decisive. Unfortunately, the stock of napalm tanks had fallen to a point where they had to be carefully
rationed, since the long flight from the carriers and the time on station made it necessary that the planes
utilize these to carry extra fuel for themselves.
Of the 18 Corsairs participating in the original bombardment of objective 1, only four carried napalm
tanks, and one was dropped out of the target area while another failed to ignite.
The 2d Battalion jumped off in assault at 0800 on the morning of 17 August and soon encountered an
unhappy train of circumstances. As the men started up the slope, resistance quickly proved that the
preparatory fire leveled at objective 1 had been inadequate. From the heights of the ridge and both flanks
came a hail of mortar and machine gun fire. Nevertheless, the Marines pressed home the attack with the
forward air controller directing Corsairs on continuous strafing runs in front of the advancing troops and
tank fire hitting visible enemy positions.
Despite heavy casualties a handful of Marines fought their way to the top on three separate occasions,
but each time were overwhelmed. Lacking a third (reserve) company, the battalion simply had too few men for
the task. Early in the afternoon the remnants of the two assault companies were forced to withdraw and dig
in about midway down the slope, and /5 was directed to relieve 2/5 in assault.
Meanwhile the Corsairs continued to pound the enemy on the heights. Repeated attacks with bombs, rockets,
and 20mm guns worked over the top of the ridge and the positions on both the forward and reverse slopes. But
once again the lack of napalm proved a serious deficiency. The enemy employed extensively the deep stand-up
and cut-back foxhole which was often impervious to strafing and difficult to pinpoint with rockets and
general purpose bombs.
At 1600, the 1st Battalion renewed the up-hill attack. Again the Marines paid dearly for every bit of
ground. But aggressive platoon action and the heavy weight of air and ground supporting fire gradually
turned the tide. By nightfall B Company had wrested the two northern crests (Hills 102 and 109) of Obong-ni
Ridge from the enemy, and A Company was just short of the high ground on the adjoining hill (117).
The defensive positions set up for the night extended from the nose to the right of Hill 102 to the
saddle on left of Hill 109, along the east slope of Hill 117 and down to the low ground. The expected
counterattack came during the dark early morning hours of 18 August. The enemy succeeded in temporarily
isolating one platoon on the east slope of 117, penetrated positions on both sides of 109, and forced back
the left flank. But the Marines refused to surrender possession of the hilltops, and with dawn the Corsairs
came to help restore positions.
At 0700, following heavy air strikes on Hill 117, A Company resumed the assault to seize the crest.
Initially progress was good, but the attack soon ran into trouble from a particularly stubborn enemy machine
gun that covered the main avenue of approach and effectively pinned down the company’s right flank on the
east slope of the hill. So well emplaced was this position that it defied destruction by supporting ground
Capt. John R. Stevens, A Company commander, requested an air strike. In approximately five minutes the
request had passed through channels and a Corsair plummeted down on the target. The Marines held their
breath as the plane’s bomb struck less than a hundred yards forward of their lines. But it scored a direct
hit and the attack was resumed immediately. As the Marines passed over the destroyed position, they
discovered that instead of one gun the emplacement had actually sheltered a nest of four, all of which had
been wiped out.
In a matter of minutes Marines were on Hill 117 in force. Hardly stopping to catch their breath, they
started down the slope of 117 to assault adjoining Hill 143. They succeeded in moving down the slope and
across the saddle between the two hills, but here heavy fire from the crest of 143 first slowed and then
pinned them down.
Once again a rush call was sent to the Corsairs. This time the lethal airborne ordnance and the accurate
mortar concentrations proved too strong a dish for North Korean stomachs. They fell back without coming to
grips with the advancing Marines. By 0830, 1/5 held four crests of Obong-ni and had two to go: 147 and 153.
Now, with the enemy off balance, both the ground and air elements of the brigade combined to keep up the
unremitting pressure. Coordinated supporting fires were brought to bear on the two remaining hills, and
after a short respite 1/5 jumped off in attack, advancing south along the ridge top.
It soon became apparent that the enemy’s main line of resistance had been penetrated, and numerous
observers reported detachments of North Korean soldiers leaving their positions. By afternoon 1/5 had seized
Hills 147 and 153 against light to moderate opposition.
Meanwhile 3/5 was making excellent progress in its attack against brigade objectives 2 and 3, the ridge
mass beyond Obong-ni. Air, artillery, and mortar fire support paved the way. As the afternoon wore on, the
attack encountered only sporadic opposition. With the constantly advancing brigade troops hot on their
heels, and a devastating combination of air and ground supporting fire precluding any attempt to rally, the
enemy’s ability to resist deteriorated rapidly. As the Marines gained forward momentum, so did the North
Koreans—but in reverse.
What the Marines had struggled and hoped for now happened. The small groups scuttling to the rear flowed
together, but deadly tank, artillery, and air fire turned the stubborn defenders of Obong-ni Ridge into a
panic-stricken horde no longer recognizable as soldiers. Withdrawal had become retreat, and retreat—headlong
Until the afternoon of the 18th of August pilots of VMFs-214 and 323 had been attacking terrain features
and barely discernible entrenchments, but now an abundance of lucrative targets appeared—enemy troops on the
slopes of the hills leading down to the Naktong, on the narrow roads and paths, on the exposed shore of the
river, and in the river itself. Many had cast away their equipment and arms, but their speed was obviously
no match for that of the Corsairs. Field pieces, vehicles, and tanks fell prey to the eager pilots. And for
a change the results were visibly rewarding. The North Koreans paid for Marine casualties 15 to 20 times
over. One four-plane flight of VMF-324 alone accounted for more than a company of enemy dead. This flight,
led by 1stLt Sidney Fisher, was also credited with the destruction of two enemy tanks, one machine gun
position, and a vehicle.
Concurrently, Marine planes also delivered close air support for 3/5’s attack on objectives 2 and 3. By
nightfall the battalion had seized both of these positions with the exception of one small pocket of
Estimated enemy casualties for the day credited 1,400 to the Marine carrier-based squadrons and 500 to
the ground elements of the brigade.
On the morning of the 19th, the Marines found that the enemy had had enough. Resistance had evaporated,
but Marine planes were still finding lucrative targets along the Naktong. Throughout the day both
controlled, and search and attack strikes took a heavy toll of the disorganized remnants of the routed enemy
forces. Even the scattered groups which had succeeded in crossing the river during the night were given no
peace. West of the river, along the roads and trails and in small villages, the Corsairs harried these
survivors until nothing resembling a military unit remained.
In the afternoon Marine patrols sent to the river reported large quantities of abandoned arms,
ammunition, equipment, and supplies, but no enemy contact. Therefore, later in the same afternoon the
brigade was released from the operational control of the 24th Division and reverted to EUSAK reserve.
In three days of fighting, the 1st Brigade had succeeded in blunting and then turning the threatening
penetration of a numerically superior force into a disorderly rout, and in the process inflicted
approximately 4,000 casualties on the enemy. The North Koreans had not lacked courage, defensive ability, or
materiel, yet the Marines had prevailed.
Even a general explanation of this success would have to encompass training, caliber of troops,
leadership, equipment, supply, and other contributing factors. But one factor—the highly skillful
combination of air and ground fire support—emerges as a salient feature of the operation. And the air
portion of this combination, VMFs-214 and 323, played a vital role in its achievement.
In a three-day period, 17 through 19 August, the pilots of these two squadrons flew a total of 135
sorties: 129 directed by Marine tactical air control parties, and six in support of the Army’s 24th Division
on the brigade’s right.
By itself, a sortie statistic means little. The assorted airborne ordnance carried on each was not
unloaded in one attack, but delivered piecemeal, depending on the vulnerability of a particular target to a
particular type of armament. In addition, Marines learned quickly that the North Koreans had a great fear of
the gull-winged Corsairs, whose mere presence often caused them to seek cover, thereby diminishing their
volume of fire. Marine planes, therefore, interspersed dummy runs with live runs and often continued making
the former even after they had expended their ordnance. Thus, it was not uncommon for a single Corsair to
make from 10 to 15 or more runs against enemy targets, each contributing separately but distinctly to the
advance of assaulting ground troops.
The first battle of Naktong Bulge had passed into military history. On 20 August the ground elements of
the brigade moved to the assembly area at Changwon. Though they had paid a high price for it, the Marines
were glad to be quit of the area. Little did they suspect that they would contest the same ground again—and
For the air component of the brigade, however, the days following the successful close of the fight
brought no change in operations. Other UN forces were still engaged and needed the air support which the
pilots of MAG-33 could deliver.
For the remainder of the month the Corsairs of VMFs-214 and 323 ranged along the perimeter in support of
US Army and ROK units. Maintaining the same high peak of performance they had achieved in support of the
brigade, they struck wherever the going was hardest and the need for their special talent greatest. During
this period Marine planes were largely directed by airborne Air Force controllers and Army ground
controllers. Targets attacked were of the greatest variety, ranging from troop-sheltering mine shafts,
railroad tunnels, and underwater bridges to the familiar mortar, machine gun, and artillery positions.
From 20 to 31 August VMF-214 was in action 10 days and flew 203 combat sorties. In the same period
VMF-323 was in action seven days and flew 145 sorties.
The end of August found VMF-323 in Japan, enjoying its first real rest since its arrival in Korea.
VMF-214, too, was scheduled for a short rest early the following month. But this squadron was destined not
to have its respite for some time to come. By 1 September a persistent enemy, employing new forces, had
again penetrated east of the Naktong, recaptured Obong-ni Ridge and moved all the way to Yongsan. Once more
he was seriously threatening the rear of the UN perimeter. And another rush call for the “fire” brigade was
News of its projected recommitment reached the brigade in the morning of 1 September, an awkward time.
The ground elements of the brigade were toiling to transfer heavy equipment and supplies to Pusan for the
amphibious counterstroke which was soon to be inscribed in military annals as the Inchon-Seoul operation.
Also, the indispensable air component was not immediately available. The Badoeng Straits was paid up in
Japan, the Sicily en route there for replenishment and rest. And time was very short.
Despite these obstacles, the machinery for assembling the team was set in motion. The bulk of the brigade
ground elements hastily donned their combat equipment and in the early afternoon started for Miryang, a few
miles east of Yongsan, where they arrived by 0630 the next day.
Meanwhile, in Japan, decisions and movements concerning the employment of VMFs-214 and 323 were equally
swift. Ashiya, a convenient airbase in Japan proper was selected as a temporary home roost for the Corsairs
of MAG-33, and an urgent directive went out ordering the squadrons to report immediately.
The first news of their pending commitment reached the squadrons in the afternoon of 1 September, and
caught them with their planes down—literally.
After an early morning flight from the Sicily, all planes of VMF-214 were at Itami Air Base being
checked. The ground echelon, after leaving the Sicily at Sasebo, was airborne in transports en route to
Itami when its destination was changed to Ashiya.
VMF-323 received the news at Kyoto, with most of its personnel on leave and its planes also at Itami.
Word came by telephone at 1600 on 1 September, and by 2200 all but 12 members of the squadron had reported
The planes of both squadrons left Itami for Ashiya the next morning. They arrived about noon, and in the
afternoon of the same day were back hammering the enemy in the threatened area of the perimeter.
With only a short pause at Miryang, the brigade went on to Yongsan, which had been recaptured by the 9th
Infantry of the Army 2d Division. At 0300 of the next day the Marines moved out at dawn to attack positions
to the west. Before they arrived, however, the enemy had pushed back friendly forces, and they were
compelled to fight their way to the planned line of departure.
By 0845 the assault units were in line and advancing against determined enemy resistance. For the first
time in its Korean experience the brigade attacked with two battalions abreast: 1/5 to the left of the main
road and 2/5 on the right. During the day both made steady headway against an enemy strongly armed with
machine guns, mortars, artillery, AT guns, and tanks.
But the Marines, too, had these weapons, and in addition—air. As an example of the skillful use made of
close air support by infantry units, the experience of 1/5 on 3 September is outstanding. While crossing
rice paddies at 0925, B Company was halted by intense automatic weapons fire. A called air strike
materialized almost immediately and destroyed the enemy positions with rockets and 20mm shells. The advance
continued. A few minutes later, A Company was slowed by heavy small-arms fire from high ground to the left
front. This time a napalm attack was delivered on the target, and the advance picked up speed.
By shortly after noon, 1/5 had reached the ridge which was its objective 1, but with the enemy still dug
in on the reverse slope. Here the battalion began to receive increasingly heavy fire from the next high
ground. Once more the commander requested an air strike, and in a few minutes Corsairs were working over the
With the Marine planes pounding the high ground to their rear, enemy troops began retreating from the
reverse slope of objective 1. They attempted to move along a road which skirted the high ground under attack
by the Corsairs and led to objective 2. Immediately artillery took them under extremely accurate fire, and
they broke into disorganized flight. Few, if any, reached the sanctuary of the next ridge line.
As 1/5 prepared to renew the attack, an air strike was run on objective 2. Thirty-two rockets struck
positions on the ridge, and after an additional five minutes preparatory fire by artillery, the Marines
moved out. They advanced rapidly against light and scattered resistance until late in the afternoon when
directed to halt and consolidate. By nightfall both battalions were dug in approximately 3,000 yards west of
In the morning of 4 September, 3/5 relieved 2/5 on the right and the Marines jumped off. They soon found
that, though the opposing forces had plenty of well-equipped troops, these seemed to have lost their stomach
for battle. Corsairs dealt with such points of resistance as did slow the advance, with artillery fire
usually following up the air attack. And the combination of the two wrought such havoc that the enemy was
unable to make a stand. On four occasions during the day, North Koreans broke from defensive positions into
the open, where they invariably fell prey to strafing runs and artillery concentrations. Marine pilots
agreed that they had never before seen the enemy so clearly, but these were scattered over such a wide area
that it was difficult to estimate accurately the casualties inflicted. However, admittedly conservative
estimates placed the figures at several hundred.
Through the day the rapidly-advancing Marines passed scenes reminiscent of the carnage they had
encountered west of Kosong. Added testimony to the enemy’s hasty flight was the capture of two Russian-type
T-34 tanks, both unmanned but in excellent operating condition. By later afternoon the brigade had moved an
average of approximately 3,500 yards, and at dark it dug in 1,000 yards forward of objective 1.
The next day, 5 September, the brigade continued its advance, but for the first time in a month of combat
operations there were no Corsairs overhead after 0830. During the morning, foul weather moved in over the
battleground, making close air support impossible.
Fortunately, the Marines encountered light to moderate resistance that day, and ground supporting arms
proved more than adequate. By evening they had advanced another 2,500 to 3,500 yards and once more faced
Obong-ni Ridge, with the Naktong River less than 2,500 yards away.
At midnight, however, the brigade was relieved by elements of the 2d Infantry Division. Something new and
big was in the wind, and the Marines knew that a prominent role was being reserved them. They moved to
Yongsan and then to Pusan where they began outloading for what was obviously a Marine-style operation—an
During the two full days of flight operations, 3 and 4 September, VMFs-214 and 323 flew 70 sorties. The
total number of runs made against enemy targets by these sorties was 827, and the majority of these were
controlled runs in close air support of the Marine ground units.
Though flight statistics have limited significance and an accurate estimate of the damage inflicted upon
the enemy by Marine pilots is difficult to compile, one thing was certain. The long laborious months of
training had been fully justified. And no one knew it better than their fellow Marines on the ground. Gen.
Craig said: “Close air support furnished by Marine airmen was a marvel to everybody concerned, including the
Marines. We had never seen anything like it even in our practice….”
In effect, the end of the brigade’s participation in the Pusan perimeter fighting signaled the beginning
of a new operation. And aboard the CVEs, in Japan, and in Pusan, Marines set about their preparations with
high confidence. The Marine air-ground team, forged in sweat and tested in the crucible of combat, had
exceeded its highest expectations. Now it was ready for a more demanding test. And it came only 10 days