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Reconnaissance

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

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

Ground crew prepare to fit the RF-80 "Emma-Dee" with nose cameras as reconnaissance pilots  watch. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Ground crew prepare to fit the RF-80 "Emma-Dee" with nose cameras as reconnaissance pilots watch. (U.S. Air Force photo)

RF-51Ds flew reconnaissance missions at or near the front. The camera porthole is visible on the right bar of the national insignia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

RF-51Ds flew reconnaissance missions at or near the front. The camera porthole is visible on the right bar of the national insignia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

RB-26Cs carried cameras in the nose and in the fuselage behind the wings. (U.S. Air Force photo)

RB-26Cs carried cameras in the nose and in the fuselage behind the wings. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A few RF-80s received an experimental olive drab paint job to be less visible to communist MiG fighters. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A few RF-80s received an experimental olive drab paint job to be less visible to communist MiG fighters. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The jet-powered RB-45C supplemented the slower RB-29 for reconnaissance over “MiG Alley.” Only one RB-45 was lost, but communist fighters nearly shot down a number of others. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The jet-powered RB-45C supplemented the slower RB-29 for reconnaissance over “MiG Alley.” Only one RB-45 was lost, but communist fighters nearly shot down a number of others. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A few F-86 fighters were modified into RF-86 reconnaissance aircraft for dangerous unescorted missions over MiG Alley. Shown here in 1952, RF-86A "Honeybucket" was lost on a later mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A few F-86 fighters were modified into RF-86 reconnaissance aircraft for dangerous unescorted missions over MiG Alley. Shown here in 1952, RF-86A "Honeybucket" was lost on a later mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At great risk, an RF-80 pilot shot this remarkable low-level photo of the Suiho dam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At great risk, an RF-80 pilot shot this remarkable low-level photo of the Suiho dam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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

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

Copy of a letter to USAF reconnaissance pioneer Amron Katz confirming the predicted height of the Inchon sea wall. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Copy of a letter to USAF reconnaissance pioneer Amron Katz confirming the predicted height of the Inchon sea wall. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Karl “Pop” Polifka, whose efforts improved reconnaissance effectiveness in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Col. Karl “Pop” Polifka, whose efforts improved reconnaissance effectiveness in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This post-strike photo of the Wonsan petroleum refinery shows 95 percent damage after B-29 bomber strikes in August 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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This post-strike photo of the Wonsan petroleum refinery shows 95 percent damage after B-29 bomber strikes in August 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Sgt. James Kindseth examines communist anti-aircraft positions through a magnifying loupe. In the foreground is a well-equipped stereoscope. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Sgt. James Kindseth examines communist anti-aircraft positions through a magnifying loupe. In the foreground is a well-equipped stereoscope. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Map of Inchon showing the landing beaches. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Map of Inchon showing the landing beaches. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Pre-landing reconnaissance photo of Inchon taken by an RF-80 on Aug. 31, 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Pre-landing reconnaissance photo of Inchon taken by an RF-80 on Aug. 31, 1950. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"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.

Inchon
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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