Published May 12, 2015
"Korea not only presented a different kind of war for military planners and politicians, it also presented a different kind of place for aerial reconnaissance to prove itself."
- Brig. Gen. George W. Goddard, pioneer of modern air reconnaissance
U.S. Air Force reconnaissance units in the Far East were undermanned and under-equipped, and jet aircraft fitted with World War II-era cameras posed new problems. Even so, Air Force aerial reconnaissance provided almost half of ground intelligence gathered, proving its worth during the war and ensuring its support in the years to come.
When North Korea invaded, the Air Force had few tactical reconnaissance assets. This created problems in knowing where the enemy was, and what his next move might be. Only one RF-80A reconnaissance squadron and a handful of other types operated in the Far East. The few Air Force reconnaissance and photo development personnel available did their best to track the rapid North Korean advance.
In January 1951 the situation improved with the arrival of reconnaissance expert Col. Karl "Pop" Polifka. He instituted many positive changes, beginning with the activation of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. Polifka also made the best use of the limited forces under his command by creating a priority system assigning reconnaissance missions to those most in need.
The Air Force flew reconnaissance missions for the Army, and also conducted other important photo missions. Aerial reconnaissance played an important part in identifying and rating potential bombing targets as well as their respective antiaircraft threats. Reconnaissance also determined post-strike bombing damage, and detected enemy efforts to repair airfields, bridges, and factories.
The key to the UN counter-offensive in 1950 was a surprise amphibious landing far behind enemy lines at Inchon. Timely reconnaissance contributed to the landing's stunning success. Shortly before the landing, US Navy planners needed to know the precise heights of Inchon's sea walls at low and high tides. Four RF-80 missions quickly delivered 2,100 photos that provided the measurements and greatly aided the landing.
Click on the following links for more information about reconnaissance during the Korean War.
1st Lt. Bryce Poe II
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