November 14, 2014

1950. "Notes on the Air War in Korea" by Edward R. Murrow

This Is Tokyo
"Tokyo, December, 1952: CBS commentator Edward R. Murrow, center, and Washington bureau chief Bill Downs, right, are welcomed to Tokyo by Japan-Korea bureau manager George Herman" (source)
Transcript issued by CBS on August 18, 1950:

As Broadcast over CBS from Tokyo After Flight with Bombing Mission over Korea
This is Tokyo: A few notes on the air war. A few hundred yards away, a GI, manning a Bofors antiaircraft gun, lies on his back, with the warm, soaking rain falling on his chest and face.

Most of the slit trenches have been dug by the Japanese. They're works of art, by people who love the soil, deep and neat, with little steps for walking down. The sod has been carefully cut and then replaced over the heaped-up earth—the most finished and inviting slit trenches I've ever seen.

Hiroshima from a thousand feet looks much like other Japanese towns, except there seems to be all open space for parks, where people used to live, and those areas are brown and dusty, and the air over Hiroshima was turbulent, as though still protesting.

But back to this war. You don't get much news of the world or the war down in those western airfields, but it's easy to follow the flow of battle by the calls for air power. Yesterday the go-and-go jets and the B-26's were out from dawn to dark.

Here's what it looked like for three bombers of the front bomb group. We were briefed for a low-level mission against four bridges. No fighter escort. Those B-26's carried 4,000 pounds of bombs, 16 machine guns firing forward, plus 14 five-inch rockets under the wings. Major Ed Shuck was flying lead. During a briefing he cautioned the other two boys to keep an eye out for power lines when they came in to bomb the bridges. I thought that was just for my benefit, but I learned better.

Yesterday was a big day, because Major Shuck has designed himself a new bomb, and we were going to try it out for the first time. They'd been having trouble with five hundred and thousand-pound bombs from low levels. They kept skipping out of the target area; sometimes half a mile or more before they'd explode. So the major cut the tailfins off and rigged four small parachutes on the tail of each bomb. That, he thought, would pull the nose down, slow up the bomb and keep it on the bridge. Those bombs looked like something designed by Rube Goldberg. We took off; got over the Korean Straits at 6,000; the guns were tested. The fishhook formation was tucked in, wingtips almost touching. After crossing the coast at Pusan, we went up over broken cumulus.

The air was full of fighter talk. One boy got a tank; another said to the ground control officer "My feet are dry at 2240. Got any targets from me?" We started to let down through the clouds. Major Shuck called and asked if there were any of our little friends in the target area, and the welcome word came back that six F-80's were rounded up. We broke out at 4,000, picked up our muddy, shallow river, and at 10:00 o'clock on a lovely summer morning went down for our first bridge. The altimeter fell off at 1,000, then 500. The clock read 320 miles an hour.

We lifted over a small hill. There was a Korean trying to hide behind a tree no thicker than my wrist. We went in over the bridge at less than 100 feet. The lead ship bombed. Over a little village I saw one man take a running dive into a drainage ditch. We went back to look at the bridge. One span was down. There was a railroad about forty yards downstream. The major said we should take that one. So we moved over to the center and lined it up. And went in again with a B-26 on each wing. The bombs were times for six-second delay, in order to give us a chance to get clear. I heard our bomb hit the bridge and was frightened, because I thought it was the belly of the ship that hit it. When we pulled out, I asked the pilot how low we were, and he said "About sixty feet." The bridge was down.

We went up through the overcast for our next target. There were a dozen B-29's stooging around up there, looking for a hole and a target. We sighted a bridge and looked it over from about 3,000 feet. The three pilots decided it was defender. There were fresh pits at each end. We were flying on the right wing now. It was decided that the two wingmen would go in with all 16 50-calibers working, to make them keep their heads down, while the middle ship bombed. And with everything rattling, we made the first pass—and missed it; went back and tried it again. And only the pictures will tell whether we got it.

We pushed on up the west coast, swung wide over the water and came out over a little hill for our last target, a highway bridge. We couldn't get a straight run on it; then the tracers began coming up at us. Major Shuck slipped his ship in and bombed, and when the smoke had cleared we could see he had missed. The boys talked it over and decided to go back. And so there we went again with machine guns hammering. It was our turn to bomb. Our pilot pulled up thick, bullet-proof glass across in front of his face, and we went for it at about 100 feet. The smoke from the earlier bomb was drifting toward us and we missed. A third time, those youngsters decided to try for it, talking it over very calmly. On the third time it was no good.

My pilot had one bomb left. And, said Lieutenant Stringer to Major Shuck, "What about my having to try from the other end?" The major thought it over and said "OK, but don't get too low. I was unhappy. But a lineup from the other end went flying straight at the 600-foot hill, which was just beyond the bridge. I didn't think a fighter could bomb level and pull out of there.

Lieutenant Stringer pushed the nose down, wiped his eyes and shoved everything forward. I can report that bridge was floored with 12 by 6 planks and that there was a rusty oil drum at the north end. When the bomb went, he pulled everything back into his lap and I closed my eyes. And then through the head phones the other two pilots were quietly saying that they thought that one did it. Then we started home. When we got there, the ground crew swarmed around to find out how Major Shuck's bomb had worked.

It seemed to me, and the pictures will prove it, that it worked right well.