HomeVisitMuseum ExhibitsFact SheetsDisplay

Special Operations: In the Enemy's Backyard

Special operations during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Special operations during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

One of two loudspeaker-equipped C-47s. This one was named "The Speaker" and the other "The Voice." (U.S. Air Force photo)

One of two loudspeaker-equipped C-47s. This one was named "The Speaker" and the other "The Voice." (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force H-19 helicopter used for special operations Korea. They could be identified by the lack of “RESCUE” markings on the side of the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force H-19 helicopter used for special operations Korea. They could be identified by the lack of “RESCUE” markings on the side of the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force special operation aircrews experimented with “snatching” personnel from the ground via a hook on a low-flying C-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force special operation aircrews experimented with “snatching” personnel from the ground via a hook on a low-flying C-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Humorous “award” given to Orlen Somerville from the “Honoured and Venerable Associated Night Operators” or “HAVA-NO” for his OPERATION FIREFLY flare-dropping missions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Humorous “award” given to Orlen Somerville from the “Honoured and Venerable Associated Night Operators” or “HAVA-NO” for his OPERATION FIREFLY flare-dropping missions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force used 85-foot crash rescue boats to insert agents in North Korea. This boat was damaged by enemy fighter aircraft near Cho-do island off the coast of North Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force used 85-foot crash rescue boats to insert agents in North Korea. This boat was damaged by enemy fighter aircraft near Cho-do island off the coast of North Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force boats used on special operations mounted additional machine guns. These unarmored boat crews relied on speed, firepower and skill to accomplish their missions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force boats used on special operations mounted additional machine guns. These unarmored boat crews relied on speed, firepower and skill to accomplish their missions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force operated this unusual “mother ship” to supply special operations boats at sea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force operated this unusual “mother ship” to supply special operations boats at sea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"We started dropping people way up north. We would fly eight-hour missions in a C-47, dropping people all over."
- Capt. (later Brig. Gen.) Harry "Heinie" Aderholt

During the Korean War, Air Force personnel conducted highly-classified special operations in enemy territory, including partisan insertions, intelligence gathering, flare-drops, and psychological warfare. Airmen participated in these dangerous missions at great risk, and could expect particularly brutal treatment from the enemy if captured.


One important top secret mission inserting Korean agents and guerillas into North Korea under the code-name OPERATION AVIARY. "Special Air Mission" aircrews dropped hundreds into North Korea by parachute from C-46s, C-47s and B-26s. Others were inserted by C-119s, B-29s, UH-19 helicopters, SA-16 amphibians or Air Force crash boats.

These special missions demanded exceptional skill. To avoid detection, aircrews flew at low altitude at night in mountain valleys -- the slightest error in navigation could cause them to fly into a cliffside. Flying at this level also made them vulnerable to ground fire.

Air Force-inserted partisans sabotaged key infrastructure like bridges, attacked enemy forces, and gathered vital intelligence on enemy military strength. The guerillas not only disrupted the enemy, but they also provided warning of impending attacks.

Air Force aircrews orbited above the partisans at prearranged times to relay radio messages and drop supplies. If a guerilla survived the mission, they made their way back to friendly lines on foot (in the first year of the Korean War, about 70 percent returned safely, but this number dropped later in the war).

The Air Force also carried out psychological warfare against the communists with leaflet drops and loudspeaker broadcasts over North Korea. These missions often targeted the enemy's will to fight by enticing them to surrender or face annihilation (a legitimate concern -- 82 percent of captured enemy soldiers said they feared air attack more than anything else). Some leaflets and broadcasts also warned civilians to leave an area for their own safety.

OPERATION FIREFLY flare-dropping missions helped deny the enemy cover of night. Air Force flare-dropping aircrews could be found both over the battlefield, and behind the lines illuminating enemy convoys for bombers to strike. The enemy rarely moved or attacked during the day because of swift and deadly air attacks from UN air forces.

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

1st Lt. James Pragar
Tech. Sgt. James H. Ledford
Korean War Leaflets and Safe Conduct Passes

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.

 

Find Out More
Line
Related Fact Sheets
Douglas B-26C (A-26C) Invader
B-29 Walk-through Fuselage
Curtiss C-46D Commando
Douglas C-47D Skytrain
Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar
Sikorsky UH-19B Chickasaw
Line
Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.

Featured Links


Plan Your Visit
E-newsletter Sign-up
Explore Museum Exhibits
Browse Photos
Visit Press Room
Become a Volunteer
Air Force Museum Foundation