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Airlift: Combat Cargo


"The airdrops were a godsend."
- Marine Sgt. Lee Bergee, a survivor of the Chosin Retreat

At the beginning of the Korean War, the value of large-scale combat zone airlift had yet to be tested. As the war went on, Air Force transports gave ground commanders new flexibility, proving the crucial importance of USAF airlift.

At the outbreak of the Korean War, U.S. Air Force airlift capability in the Far East suffered from a lack of numbers and central direction. In August 1950 the situation improved considerably with the arrival of additional airlift units and Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, who had recent experience running the successful Berlin Airlift. Tunner created Combat Cargo Command to perform all intra-theater airlift duties, including landing and dropping supplies, troop transport, dropping paratroopers, psychological operations, medical evacuation and air rescue.

Airlift provided quick response in both offensive and defensive circumstances. After the Inchon landing, Combat Cargo supplied the 8th Army by air after it rapidly outpaced its ground supply. This allowed the Army to continue pursuing and pressuring the North Koreans.

During the first Chinese offensive in November 1950, aerial resupply often meant the difference between survival and destruction. Combat Cargo conducted the largest airdrops in history up to that time in support of retreating UN ground forces. During the second Chinese offensive in the spring of 1951, Combat Cargo again supported UN troops on the ground, delivering an average of 1,100 tons of supplies (including about 600 tons of artillery shells) daily during peak periods.

The final tally for Combat Cargo was impressive. With an average of 140 operational transports, it flew 210,343 missions, brought in 391,763 tons of materiel, airdropped 18,000 tons of supplies, and carried 2,605,591 passengers. USAF Combat Cargo Command illustrated both the critical importance of a unified theater airlift command and the combat flexibility airlift provided to commanders on the ground.

Click on the following links to learn more about airlift during the Korean War.

Chosin Reservoir
Operation Kiddy Car

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.