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Airlift: Combat Cargo

C-46 Commando transports on the flight line in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

C-46 Commando transports on the flight line in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Rugged, versatile C-119 Flying Boxcars were instrumental in Combat Cargo operations. They were designed for easy loading and large capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Rugged, versatile C-119 Flying Boxcars were instrumental in Combat Cargo operations. They were designed for easy loading and large capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The World War II-era C-46 continued in service in Korea, where it airlanded supplies and supplemented C-119s during paratroop drops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The World War II-era C-46 continued in service in Korea, where it airlanded supplies and supplemented C-119s during paratroop drops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The ever-present C-47 Skytrain proved to be the only multi-engine transport able to fly from the smaller forward airfields in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The ever-present C-47 Skytrain proved to be the only multi-engine transport able to fly from the smaller forward airfields in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The enormous C-124 Globemaster entered the USAF inventory in mid 1950, and had unmatched carrying capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The enormous C-124 Globemaster entered the USAF inventory in mid 1950, and had unmatched carrying capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Rugged Korean terrain, seen from the back of a C-119 during a supply airdrop.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Rugged Korean terrain, seen from the back of a C-119 during a supply airdrop. (U.S. Air Force photo)

C-119s delivered most airdropped supplies in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

C-119s delivered most airdropped supplies in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen drop ammunition and radio equipment to Army forces on the ground from a USAF C-47, November 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen drop ammunition and radio equipment to Army forces on the ground from a USAF C-47, November 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Supplies stand ready at an air base in Japan. This food and fuel will be loaded onto C-119s and dropped to front-line forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Supplies stand ready at an air base in Japan. This food and fuel will be loaded onto C-119s and dropped to front-line forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Army paratroopers prepare for an airdrop by USAF C-119 Combat Cargo Command aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Army paratroopers prepare for an airdrop by USAF C-119 Combat Cargo Command aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

C-119s drop soldiers of the 187th Regimental Combat Team and will later supply them with food, vehicles, artillery and ammunition. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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C-119s drop soldiers of the 187th Regimental Combat Team and will later supply them with food, vehicles, artillery and ammunition. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Damaged aircraft like this C-47 were often stripped for parts to keep others flying. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Damaged aircraft like this C-47 were often stripped for parts to keep others flying. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Difficult was normal: The USAF operated a helicopter and crash boat rescue station at remote Cho-Do, an island off the west coast of North Korea. C-47s landed on the beach at low tide to resupply the isolated post. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Difficult was normal: The USAF operated a helicopter and crash boat rescue station at remote Cho-Do, an island off the west coast of North Korea. C-47s landed on the beach at low tide to resupply the isolated post. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Because Japan was nearby and safe, troops could periodically enjoy 5-day rest and relaxation leaves there. These troops await USAF transport on a C-124 to Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Because Japan was nearby and safe, troops could periodically enjoy 5-day rest and relaxation leaves there. These troops await USAF transport on a C-124 to Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airlifting Airmen: These USAF personnel await instructions in Japan during Operation Santa Claus, a Combat Cargo effort to rotate some Airmen home by Christmas 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Airlifting Airmen: These USAF personnel await instructions in Japan during Operation Santa Claus, a Combat Cargo effort to rotate some Airmen home by Christmas 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Soldiers return to Korea from a much needed five-day rest in Japan, transported aboard a USAF C-124. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Soldiers return to Korea from a much needed five-day rest in Japan, transported aboard a USAF C-124. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, World War II hero and first UN commander in Korea, with his pilot, Lt. Col. Anthony Storey. Combat Cargo transported VIPs as well as supplies and troops. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Gen. Douglas MacArthur, World War II hero and first UN commander in Korea, with his pilot, Lt. Col. Anthony Storey. Combat Cargo transported VIPs as well as supplies and troops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur named his VC-121A transport "Bataan" after his World War II experiences in the Philippines. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Gen. Douglas MacArthur named his VC-121A transport "Bataan" after his World War II experiences in the Philippines. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. James Van Fleet, third UN commander after Gens. Macarthur and Ridgeway, steps off his VC-47D at Pusan East in January 1953. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Gen. James Van Fleet, third UN commander after Gens. Macarthur and Ridgeway, steps off his VC-47D at Pusan East in January 1953. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Nose of Gen. James Van Fleet's VC-47D, painted in UN blue. “NIKH” is the Greek word for victory. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Nose of Gen. James Van Fleet's VC-47D, painted in UN blue. “NIKH” is the Greek word for victory. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"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.

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