Memories of No 2 Squadron
The war was considered a “Police Action” and was not taken very seriously in the beginning. The truth was it became a theatre of combat between the Western and Communist Worlds and signaled the beginning of the “Cold War”.
It was a vicious encounter with 1,250 million killed or missing in action in one year. The United Nations lost more than 142 000 men, and the USA lost 54 000 men in three years of fighting compared with 58 000 in eleven years of fighting in Vietnam.
Korea became the flashpoint of the Cold War when North Korea with the backing of China and Russia invaded the South on 25 June 1950. China got involved full time when it stemmed the UN’s advance on the Yalu River, invading North Korea on 25 November.
The war then turned into one of attrition until an armistice was signed at Panmunjom on 27 July 1953, effectively just halting the fighting, but not ending the war, which still simmers today.
In August the South African Government as a member of United Nations and the Commonwealth sent No. 2 Squadron “Flying Cheetahs” to Korea serving under the USAF 19th Fighter-Bomber Wing. Here the SAAF received their baptism if fire from Russian Mig 15 jets, and radar controlled anti aircraft batteries. They thus moved from a piston engined Air Force into the jet age- from flying P51 Mustangs to F 86 Sabre jets.
When the Flying Cheetahs left Korea, they had established a record which compared favourably with the best of the United Nations Forces. They lost 34 pilots in flying nearly 3,5 per cent of all fighter bomber sorties, destroying rolling stock, railway lines, tunnels, bridges and locomotives, military equipment, trucks, artillery pieces, planes and tanks, and accounting for hundreds of enemy troops.
Their bravery, fighting spirit and professionalism is reflected in the decorations earned, which included: 3 Legions of Merit, 2 Silver Stars, 50 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 40 Bronze Stars and 176 Air Medals, 152 clusters to the Air Medal, 797 Korean War Medals and one Soldiers medal.
General Ridgeway stated: “The 826 South Africans who served in Korea all contributed to a combat record unequalled by a force of similar size in previous conflicts”.
In honour of the Flying Cheetahs, 18th USAF Fighter-Bomber wing issued a Policy order: “In memory of our gallant South African comrades, at all retreat Ceremonies, the playing of the American National Anthem shall be preceded by playing the introductory bars of the South African National Anthem and that all personnel of the Wing will render the same honours to this Anthem as to our Own.”'
Back home and in the rest of the world the Korean War was regarded as the forgotten war. “If we did not win the war, then we must have lost it”
My talk reminds the audience why it should never be forgotten, as a major feat of arms by the SAAF and the sacrifice that the “Flying Cheetah” Squadron made in keeping the spread of Communism at bay.
By Professor D Dickens
Professor Dickens will be giving a U3A talk entitled "SA Participation in the Korean War [1950 – 1953]" in the Municipal Auditorium on the 13th of March @17h30.