77 Squadron RAAF

"Swift to Destroy"

On 23 June 1950, after four years of commitment to the occupation forces in Japan, No. 77 Squadron pilots completed their last operational flights. The Squadron had been instructed to pack its aircraft in preparation for a return to Australia. The following day, squadron members began the first day of a pre-arranged three-day party to farewell friends in Japan. It was a rude awakening for revellers and guests alike on the morning of 25 June, when they were informed of the North Korean invasion of South Korea.

No. 77 Squadron’s commanding officer, Wing Commander Lou Spence, began immediate preparations to bring the squadron up to war readiness. Already a highly trained ground-attack unit, No. 77 Squadron was requested specifically by General Douglas MacArthur. Only days later, and led by Spence, the squadron flew their first combat operations over Korea on 2 July 1950.

The squadron suffered its first battle casualty on 7 July, when Squadron Leader Graham Strout was shot down and killed during a ground attack sortie. The remainder of July and August saw the squadron heavily engaged against North Korean forces that had pushed United States and South Korean troops back to a perimeter around the port city of Pusan.

September was a harrowing month for No. 77 Squadron. On 3 September, Pilot 3, Bill Harrop, was shot down and executed by North Korean soldiers; and on the 9th, Wing Commander Spence crashed during an attack on North Korean positions at Angang-Ni. His death rocked the squadron, and morale plummeted. His replacement, Squadron Leader Richard Cresswell, arrived from Australia in the middle of the month and took command of No. 77 Squadron for the third time in his career.

Following the US landings at Inchon and the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, No. 77 Squadron relocated in early October to Pohang, South Korea. Under Cresswell’s leadership, morale improved and the squadron flew numerous operations against the now retreating North Korean army.

With China’s entry into the war, it was quickly realised that the Chinese possessed MiG-15 jet fighters, which would pose a serious threat to 77 Squadron’s Mustangs. The task of acquiring a jet to replace the Mustang began.

On 5 November 1950, No. 77 Squadron flew support operations for Australian troops for the first time. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) called for preparatory bombardment of Chinese positions on a line of hilltops overlooking the Pakchon–Sinanju Road in the Taeryong Valley, before 3RAR launched their own attack. No. 77 Squadron was the squadron on call and responded, firing rockets and dropping napalm on the Chinese positions, before following up with strafing runs against Chinese troops fleeing their positions. After several hours of close fighting, 3RAR gained their objectives. The battalion’s second in command, Major Bruce Ferguson later described No. 77 Squadron’s close air support as “the closest I have ever seen” and commented, “It was an all Australian show … the boost to morale was amazing when we recognised the planes of 77 Squadron overhead.”

In December 1950, the Australian government purchased the Gloster Meteor F.8 jet fighter, which was known to be inferior in performance to the Russian made MiG-15. The Meteor was purchased largely because other fighters, such as the preferred f-86 Sabre, could not be delivered within a tight timeframe, whereas the Gloster Meteor was already in production and could be supplied quickly.

No. 77 Squadron flew its last sortie in Mustangs on 6 April and returned to Japan the following day for conversion to Gloster Meteors.

The squadron returned to active duty in Korea in July 1951 and flew its first combat missions in jets from Kimpo on 29 July. It was one month later when the Meteors of No. 77 Squadron clashed with MiGs for the first time. One Meteor was lost and another was badly damaged.

On 1 November 1951, No. 77 Squadron was awarded a Republic of South Korea’s Presidential Citation for “exceptionally meritorious service and heroism”. The squadron was the first non-US unit committed to the Korean War and it had garnered much praise for its role as a close-support squadron.

The heavy toll on the squadron in casualties and lost aircraft resulted in the squadron being switched to area control and close support operations, a role which they successfully carried out for the remainder of the war, although not without further losses. Ground fire during low-level attacks accounted for the deaths of more No. 77 Squadron pilots than air-to-air combat with MiGs.

The squadron’s war in Korea came to an end at 10 pm on 27 July 1953 when the armistice came into effect. In total, the squadron had flown 18,872 sorties, 3,872 in Mustangs and 15,000 in Meteors. Thirty-three Australian pilots were killed and another six taken prisoner. Owing to the shortage of trained RAAF fighter pilots during the Korean War, 37 pilots from the Royal Air Force served with No. 77 Squadron in Korea. Of these, six were killed in action and one shot down and captured.

No. 77 Squadron remained in Korea until 16 October 1954, when the Meteors were flown back to Iwakuni for the final time. The squadron was then packed down and returned to Australia aboard HMAS Vengeance, arriving at Sydney on 3 December.

Written by Michael Kelly, Military History Section.

Glossary

Equipment

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 39 killed (includes pilots listed as missing, presumed dead and 6 pilots of the RAF attached to the squadron who were killed)
  • 7 prisoners (includes the RAF pilot shot down and captured while serving with No. 77 Squadron over Korea.)
  • no wounded information available

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Korean War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • DSO: 3
  • MBE: 4
  • DFC: 47
  • Bar to DFC: 6
  • AFC: 13
  • Bar to AFC: 1
  • DFM: 18
  • AFM: 1
  • BEM: 2
  • MID: 96

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • O'Neill, Robert J. (Robert John), 1936-, Official History, Korea Vol.II: Australia in the Korean War 1950-53. Volume 2, Combat operations, (Canberra : Australian War Memorial and the Australian Govt. Pub. Service, 1985)
  • Out in the cold : Australia's involvement in the Korean War 1950-53., (Canberra : Commemerative Program, Department of Veterans' Affairs, c2000)
  • Stephens, Alan, The Australian centenary history of defence Vol. 2, The Royal Australian Air Force, (Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Wilson, David, Lion over Korea : 77 Fighter squadron, RAAF, 1950-53, (Belconnen, A.C.T. : Banner Books, 1994)
  • RAAF Historical Section, Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: a concise history Volume 2, Fighter units, (Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1996)