Welcome to my blog!

News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
or on Mastodon @balkandave@mastodon.scot, or Threads @davewatson1683

Monday 25 September 2023

Air Campaign: Korea 1950-53

 This is a new Osprey book by Michael Napier covering the strategic bombing campaign in the Korean War. Timely, as I am planning to add the air warfare dimension to my Korean War project, using Blood Red Skies and the new Wing Commander supplement. It's on my Partisan show list.

Air power was crucial in shaping the Korean War battlefield and applying strategic pressure to North Korea and China. This book describes the strategic employment of air power by the United Nations Command (UNC). While this book covers strategic bombing, the limited theatre of operations meant that strategic and tactical operations could be blurred. 

Several features of North Korea made bombing challenging. The flying weather is often poor in the summer, so October to March was ideal. The railway system was a key target, but it was designed by the Japanese builders to be more robust. North Korean engineers were also good at quickly repairing damage, as this was the primary method of moving supplies to the front. Bombing bridges is, in any case, a challenging target, made especially difficult with the crosswinds, even in winter. 

The US Far East Air Force led the bombing campaign with their B-29s, operating mainly from Japan. They were initially unopposed other than a handful of Yak-9s. However, introducing Soviet Mig-15s forced the bombers to fly higher and switch to night bombing with less accuracy. The Soviets had experienced pilots dressed in North Korean uniforms, and their regiments were rotated through the theatre. Chinese pilots, in contrast, were inexperienced and quickly withdrawn. US Fighter escorts were added using the F-84 Thunderjets, and when these proved ineffective, the F-86 Sabre. The F-84 was switched to ground attack in formations as large as 60 aircraft.

Tactically, there were similar disagreements to the Normandy campaign of WW2. The air force objected to being used in close support missions, and there were political restrictions on bombing China or the Soviet Union. Both sides were trying to avoid escalating the war. This meant much of the fighting occurred near the North Korean airfields, in an area known as 'Mig Alley'. The air force eventually ran out of industrial targets and switched to military training facilities. There were also attacks on the dams that drove hydro-power stations, deploying naval aircraft from carriers.

Overall, the bombing campaign had mixed results. As North Korea could call on China and the Soviet Union, the destruction of its industry didn't have the same impact as the bombing campaign against Germany in WW2. Thanks to its breadth and complexity, North Korea could also repair its supply networks.

The author highlights five lessons to be learnt from the strategic bombing of North Korea:

1. A World War II-style bombing campaign against a partially industrialised economy is unlikely to prove decisive.

2. Interdiction against a wide and complex resupply system routed through difficult terrain requires massive force numbers to be effective.

3. Neither strategic bombing nor interdiction can be fully effective if much of the enemy industrial base or source of resupply exists in a neighbouring country where it cannot be attacked.

4. It is essential to deny the enemy the opportunity to operate its aircraft freely within its own borders.

5. The ingenuity and ability of the enemy to repair damaged infrastructure must never be underestimated.

It might be argued that all five lessons had to be relearned during the Vietnam War in the subsequent decade.

This book has all the elements you would expect from the Osprey series. Concise text, plenty of period illustrations, good maps and colour plates. It is a really useful addition to the Korean War library.