Part of the Flight's aircraft en route to the "Land of the morning calm"
War started on June 25 1950, when the communist forces of Kim Il Sung invaded
the Southern part of the Korean peninsula where a western type democracy was
established under the authoritarian leadership of Syngman Rhee. Kim Il Sung
aimed at the unification of the country under a communist regime. The North
Korean forces with the aid of the Soviet Union invaded South Korea, crossing the 38ο
parallel which had been established by the Allies at the end of WWII, as the
demarcation line dividing the country. The “Cold War” had just turned hot.
of the United Nations for military help to confront the invaders was answered
by many countries.
Greece responded with the dispatch of a
reinforced Army infantry battalion and a RHAF flight of transport planes. The
seven C-47s of 13th Flight departed from Eleusis air base at 08.30 of November 11,
1950.They belonged to the 355 Transport
Sqdn, known for its participation in the civil war. The majority of the
officers and NCOs of this first mission were experienced airmen, veterans of
the Middle East campaigns of WWII and the
Greek civil War.
At noon of
the 3rd of December, 1950 the first Greek aircraft landed on Korean
soil. Immediately the Greek flight was attached to the 21st Troop
Carrier Sq. (later renamed 6461 TC Sq.) of 374th Wing of the USAF.
The legendary 92622 which was named "Neptune" (in English on the port side and Greek on the starboard)
in a break from operations, is serviced. RHAF and Greek Army personnel pose in front of the aircraft.
In the center, wearing black flight jacket major Fragoyannis, commander of the Squadron who was later killed
in a tragic accident.
While the US and the rest of the U.N forces (at this point
British and Turkish) were advancing on the Yalu river, on the borders of North Korea and China, the leader of that country
Mao Tse Tung decided to act. That was something the U.S president H.Truman was
afraid of. Those fears were not shared by the commander of the U.S Forces in
the Far East General Douglas McArthur. What
none of them knew though, was that almost half a million of Chinese troops were
secretly crossing the Yalu river, advancing south.
28 1950, 20000 U.N. troops in the area of
the Chosin Reservoir (mainly the US 1st Marine Division, the US 7th Infantry Division, and 41
Independent Commando Royal Marines) were attacked by more than 120.000 Chinese,
who pinned them down. In very short time the numerically superior communist
forces had taken the surrounding hills and established control over the only
road that the troops could be supplied and reinforced .The U.N forces were retreating from valley to valley and from
hill to hill. All this was happening under polar temperatures of -30 C°.
In order for
the remaining combat-capable US
forces to be able to resist and repel the advancing Chinese, they had to be
urgently reinforced, but also to evacuate the thousands of their wounded, whose
numbers were steadily increasing with every nightly Chinese attack. The only
available way to achieve these two goals was by air.
“air-bridge” had to be established between the positions of the beleaguered
Marines and the rear bases for the re-supply and the evacuation of the dead and
wounded. Only in Hagaru-Ri , a village near the Korea-China border 100 miles south of Manchuria
almost a thousand wounded were waiting their rescue.
evacuation the trapped Marines prepared a 2.200-feet landing ground out of the
frozen fields. This will be used by the
C-47s called to save them from certain
death. Three of those C-47s belonged to the 13th Flight of the Royal
Hellenic Air Force.
The Greek Airmen remember
unit had only being in Japan
for two days before they were called to assist in the dangerous operation of
disengagement of the US
troops. Under normal conditions the Greek crews would have to go through
an “adjustment” week, during which would
fly familiarization flights. But the Chinese attack changed all that.
packaging crews were working non-stop in the Ashiya air-base in Japan, preparing all kinds of material
from food, water and medical equipment to ammunition, loading C-119 cargo
aircraft of the 314th Troop Carrier Group, while at the same time
Commander of the Greek mission was named
Flt Lt Evangelos Tzovlas and his co-pilot was assigned Flt Lt Ioannis
Papandreopoulos.The other members of the mission were: Fg Off Vlassis Dedes with co-pilot Plt Off Dimitrios Kouris, Fg Off Haris Paraskakis with co-pilot Plt Off
Anastasios Stampouzos, Plt Offs Adam Agapakis, Ermis Vyzantios and Antonis
Patrinelis, FS Yannis Papantoniou,
Andreas Artsitas, Anastasios Yannakouris, Ioannis Kapotopoulos, Loukas Kypraios
and aircraftmen Nikos Geranas, Nikos Lyrintzis, Alkis Panagiotakos and Nikos
Captain (ret) Haris –“Charlie”- Paraskakis remembers today, “On December 4,
1950 at dawn while asleep, an American comes in, wakes me up and tells me that
next morning at 06.00, I have to report at the Operations Office.
gathered there, without knowing the reason, in a “war atmosphere”.The first
question of the American officer was:-“Don’t you have anything warmer to wear?”-Warmer,
why?-we asked puzzled.-Where are we going?”
going to fight in North Korea!
There are trapped U.S Marines there!”
collected all the available warm clothes and in the briefing, we were told that
after crossing the 40th parallel, we will be over enemy territory and
we will have to switch off all communication and radio-compasses, so the enemy
radar won’t detect us. We left with a heavy heart, because we were going into
RHAF C-47 92620 in an unknown airfield, during troop transport operations.
In the foreground air-navigator and veteran of the desert war captain Th.Carvounis.
Yon Po, between Hugnam and Songjin on the
north-east coast of the peninsula, a little over the 42nd
parallel. There you’ll get your orders for the evacuation of the Hagaru-Ri.
Don’t expect any airfield there, the Marines have just cleared a strip on an
uphill road. The surface is uneven, frozen and slippery. Three of our aircraft
were destroyed, only yesterday..”
hours of preparations and loading of the aircraft with supplies and ammunition
and after they were issued with heavy winter clothing, the Greek crews were
flying over the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula, crossing the sea of
Japan from south to north. It was noon of Monday, 4th of December
1950 when they landed at Yon Po…
-“Greeks! Come to see the Greeks!”-The USAF airmen who approached first the Greek
aircraft, shouted. They were very soon disappointed because contrary to what
they expected…..the Greeks were not “Evzones” and were not wearing
-remembers H.Paraskakis- in an abandoned enemy airfield. There, we were
informed that we will have to sleep in some ruins. There was no roof and no
windows. Luckily, it wasn’t snowing, but the temperature was around -20 C°. We were issued with blankets
and were ordered to put double sentries, because there was the fear of enemy
infiltration during the night. They insisted that there should be one
officer in every watch and that we
should shoot at the first suspicious movement and without warning. Then, they
showed us the food storage huts and told us to help ourselves with whatever we
went to the makeshift operations room where we were addressed by an U.S
colonel: -“Gentlemen,-he started- in Hagaru there are over a thousand wounded U.S
men, trapped.They are surrounded by hills full of Chinese. The Marines have
made a sort of runway 2000 ft long and 45 ft wide. There is no control tower,
and no room for many aircraft. They will have to take turns in landing and
taking-off. You will fly 10 miles away and when you get the message that the
aircraft on the runway is taking-off
you’ll start your landing procedure. You will do this, until all the
Marines are taken out. You are not going to need navigators, or radio
operators, so they will stay behind because we need all the space available in
In each of
the three Greek C-47s US radio operators were attached. They were the captains
Stores, Drew and Mino.*
realized how dangerous the mission was, when the colonel asked who among them
was married.-“I am-I replied-.So, he ordered me to compile a will for my wife,
in case something happens to me!
So, I wrote
a few words on a piece of paper for my wife, wishing that it would never end up
in her hands”.
“Then, the US officer told us to avoid the mountain
peaks because they were occupied by the enemy and that we should be specially careful during the approach,
since the hills on the left are heavily occupied by the enemy and they can
shoot us down from there even with..a shotgun! In any case, you will be covered
by U.S.Navy fighters which will be hitting those hills.”
At dawn, the
Greek pilots and crews were ready in their aircraft. The weather was good and
the temperature -19C°
twenty minutes they were flying over Hagaru ri valley. Smoke and explosions on
the ground were the only indications that something was wrong in the “Land of
the morning calm”.
us in the port of
Hugnam, ships were
waiting for the valuable cargo that was retreating.
and the village were covered in thick fog, while 10-15 fighters were hammering
the hilltops. I could see them as they were swooping down like hawks on the
Chinese positions and remembered our own dives a few years ago. Strapped
now on a lumbering “Dakota” having on my right
liaison officer Thomas Mino and standing
between us, my co-pilot Demetrios Kouris,
I was flying over the Chinese, trying to
avoid the diving “friendlies” and the
point, the Greek pilot glimpsed the runway through the fog. ”I banked, put the
C-47’s nose down and using some points
on the surrounding hills as reference, I was the first on the final approach,
with too great rate of descent. In the meantime, the landing strip had
disappeared in the fog. So, now I had on my left the top of the most
treacherous hill. Instinctively I crouched, thinking how good a target I was
presenting to the Chinese. Luckily, I had lost quite a lot of height and I was
“crawling” to the runway, the start of
which I was hoping to see soon through the fog! ”Thinking the short length of
the strip and the ice on it, I was reducing my speed constantly which must have
dropped to a critical point. A pull at the throttles was enough to bring the
C-47 in contact with the uneven runway. At the same time, a huge explosion on
our right- which momentarily made us think we lost the starboard engine- gave
us a warning of what it means to be in the “front line “ on the ground.
doors opened and the loading of the
wounded started the earth around
the runway was shaking from the exploding Chinese mortars. There was the
unforgettable sight of the unshaved, with frozen eye-brows and beards, red eyed
from lack of sleep, exhausted and
combat-weary Marines, running and firing with any weapon available into
the surrounding hills.
There was close
combat going on, on the nearest of the hills and big artillery pieces were
firing from the perimeter on the enemy positions, while machine-guns nearby
were adding their fire to the effort of keeping the Chinese from overrunning
remembers how he followed V.Dedes’ aircraft. ”When he was ready for take-off, he signaled me to take his position in loading the wounded and dead”. The Greek
crews were helping the casualties to board the plane and with the loading
of the dead bodies. A hard task, made even harder by the terrible cold
which froze the fingers and made the securing of the stretchers difficult.” We
took the wounded -remembers H.Paraskais, today- and placed them on the bare
floor. Maybe forty or fifty of them, one
on top of the other! We loaded dead also, frozen and covered with blankets and
parachutes. Blood was frozen on their uniforms and faces”
or fifty” persons that H.Paraskakis mentions,
is a load almost twice as much as a C-47 is allowed to carry.
to the log-book of V.Dedes’ co-pilot
Demetrios Kouris, on the second day of their mission their aircraft carried 43
wounded! As V.Dedes writes: ”Laying on stretchers, sitting on the side benches
and the floor and others standing, holding on the roof cable, reminded me of
bus passengers during the rush hour! I felt sorry I didn’t take a few more
correspondent of the Athens
daily “Acropolis”, Kostas Triantafyllidis noted on December 7, 1950 that he was
helping with the wounded on H.Paraskakis’
aircraft, on its return from Hagaru-ri. One of the wounded, named Van Thomson
from Florida said to him:” Last July I was in Greece. I could
never imagine that Greeks will save me from this hell!” Someone else nearby
kept saying, sobbing:” We were one against ten, how could the boys manage?”
their arrival and departure, all the US and Greek aircraft were
receiving a hail of small arms fire and there was not even one without the bullet
marks to prove it.
Again 92622 at the beach of K-53
to Hagaru-ri continued until December the 6th, 1950. According to
V.Dedes, the last day’s mission was unforgettable.
briefing in Yon Po the day before, the Americans announced that the main body
of the US Marines will have to withdraw during the night and that the defenders
had to keep the runway open at all costs until 21.00 hrs.Only three to four
aircraft will be needed to carry the wounded of the “last stand”. One of these
aircraft would be V.Dedes and D.Kouris’ C-47.
Greek aircraft was the first to take off. There was no fog
that morning, but also no radio on the runway, so the crew had no idea what
awaited them on the ground.
strip secure, or was it taken over by the Chinese?
landing, the Greek C-47 received machine-gun
fire on the port side, but the crew were relieved to see “tall figures”(US
Marines) approaching, when the doors
was on fire, as was a US C-47.”Two big trucks were waiting when I landed”-
writes V.Dedes-“They were both full of dead from the last night’s fight.
Hurriedly, we loaded 18 bodies all of them frozen, with tragic expressions on
their faces. We covered them with
colorful parachutes and treading
through them we headed for the cockpit ”After a while, the unfortunate** “Dakota” 2612
left the runway of the burning Hagaru-ri and the brave Marines who had
to keep the Chinese back and then head for the port of Hugnam.
contribution in the operation to save the US Marines of Hagaru ri, the Greek
flight was awarded with a citation by the US President, while the Air Medal was
awarded to the 9 officers, 6 NCOs and 4 airmen, by the Combat Cargo Command: “Because they
showed unparalleled courage and self
sacrifice during the execution of many
war operations, under adverse weather conditions and in enemy air space, under
imminent danger of attack by the enemy Air Force”.
Korean War Hagaru-ri was the only place where the Greek aircraft came under
enemy fire. Fortunately they had no casualties on those missions (the 13th
Flight lost 12 men in Korea).
It has to
be noted, that the greatest danger during the units’ stay in the “Land of the
morning calm”, from December 1950 until May of 1955 (two years after the end of
the war) came from the extreme weather conditions and the primitive landing
As Akrivos Tsolakis, very aptly writes in his book “Korea”,
quoting from the notes he kept during the war:”Any similarity
of those strips with a surface prepared for the landing of
aircraft, is coincidental!”
* Name spelling can be wrong, as it is translated from Greek verbal testimony.
** Unfortunate because she was to crash in Taezon, outside aerodrome K2 on May 26, 1951,
killing the pilot Plt Off
Anastasios Vamvoukas, co-pilot Lieutenant Plt Off
technicians Sergeant Andreas Aritsas, corporal Spiros Economopoulos and South Korean 2nd
lieutenant Yank Pok.