Communism again shattered the peace in June 1950 with a vicious invasion of South Korea. With free world militaries depleted in five years of optimism that the defeat of Fascist Germany, Italy, and Japan had rid the world of evil empirical aspirations, malevolent communist forces rampaged down the peninsula, driving Korean and allied forces before them. US Navy Task Force 77 was positioned to support United Nations forces with air support. TF 77’s jet was the Grumman F9F Panther.
A gracefully contoured if somewhat portly jet, the blue Navy and Marine jets, with WWII-era F4U Corsairs and post-war AD Skyraider propeller planes, ranged over the land desperately trying to slow the swarm of invaders. Flying from aircraft carriers and eventually land bases ranging as far as Pyongyang and the Yalu River, the jets first had to fight underpowered engines and seasons of terrible weather before braving ever increasing antiaircraft fire above harsh terrain occupied by vicious communists. Then came the MiGs. With swept wings and the powerful Nene engine developed by Great Britain, the frightening MiG-15 outperformed the Panther jets. Panther pilots relied on training and experience to not only survive, but also to counter the MiG.
F9F units rained bombs, rockets and 20mm cannon fire upon the communist hordes. They helped prevent the collapse of the United Nations defenses.
If I have a favorite Korean War jet, F9F is it. Perhaps that is because of the movies The Bridges At Toko Ri
and Men of the Fighting Lady
, two Technicolor movies full of flying F9Fs? So I was excited when I saw F9F Panther Units of the Korean War
was to be released. Author Warren Thompson penned this 103rd title of Osprey’s Combat Aircraft series to reveal the role this Grumman jet played in the Korean War. The story is told through six chapters and sections in 96 pages:
• US Navy Panthers strike early
• The war drags on
• More missions and more MiGs
• Interdiction, RESCAP, CAP and more MiGs
• Marine panthers enter the war
The book is well written and easy to follow. Sources appear to be combat logs and after-action reports and squadron histories, as well as recollections, diaries, and interviews with pilots. This book shed much light on the Panther’s participation in roles I had not considered.
The Panthers, escorting carrier-based AD Skyraiders and F4U Corsairs, penetrated as far north as Pyongyang, where they bombed and strafed targets that the North Koreans thought were out of range. The Panthers also took the battle all the way to the Yalu River, long before the MiG-15s became a threat. The F9F’s basic tasking was aerial supremacy and combat air patrols, but they also excelled in bombing and strafing attacks. - Osprey
Panthers were greatly inferior in flight performance to the Soviet MiG-15 yet held their own surprising well. On 21 July 1951, three Marine F9Fs were bounced by 15 MiG-15s, yet made it home with only one loss. Several accounts demonstrate how difficult it was for MiGs to interdict Panther missions, including an account of a flight on a dive-bombing mission which, after being bounced by a superior number of the communist jets, continued with their bomb run before engaging the MiGs, with all F9Fs returning home. Missions are described in many ways: raw numbers of sorties; ordnance expended; unit deployments on carrier cruises. Mr. Thompson also illuminates operational and tactical details, such as methods and challenges of spotting and operating F9Fs on carrier decks, including warloads depending on the type of catapult (H-8, H4B) installed on specific ships. Grumman’s jet was not without problems over Korea and we learn about problems with the guns, TJC (Turbo jet controller), weapons pylons, and even tragic failures with different weapons and fuses.
Low-level F9F fighter-bomber tactics are described with altitudes and airspeeds; adaptations to different numbers of aircraft in a flight; Panther RESCAP methods for downed aircrew. There are no tables relating speeds, rate-of-climb, nor ranges, or a comparison to the vaunted MiG-15. There are bits of data seeded through the text, i.e., fuel load of the ‘Dash-5’ with tiptanks installed. However, mention is made for the number of air-to-ground weapons and weight of ordnance carried for different models of the F9F, as well as specific bomb pylons and shackles (Aero 14A launchers, Mk9 and Mk51 racks, etc.). Ammunition mix for the 20mm is recounted, too, as is mention that most flak damage came from 37mm hits.
Those details enhance the daily narrative. Modelers and artists will delight in some stories in the book, an experimental natural metal finish on some F9Fs, and the story of ‘The Blue Tail Fly’ – a hybrid blue and silver Panther cobbled together from badly damaged jets.
This story is fortified with many excerpts from pilots. Perhaps the most exhilarating is the recently declassified 18 November 1952 dogfight between two Navy Panthers and seven Russian MiGs while a Siberian blizzard raged below a 500-foot ceiling with cloud tops near 25,000. In an incredibly long dogfight predominately without a wingman, Lt Royce Williams alone fought his slower, less maneuverable and underpowered F9F against six MiG-15s, knocking down four – a feat not achieved since WWII, or since. Lt Williams took many hits yet only broke off when a 37mm tore through his wing into his engine, crippling his flight controls. That epic fight covers over 3 pages, including Lt Williams’ own words;
’Finally, the leader and his wingman went off to the right while I went after the section leader of the aeroplane I’d shot down. He went into the sun and I lost him, then I saw the leader and wingman come around for a diving attack on me, and we went past belly-to-belly as I raked him with a long burst. He went down on fire.’
‘I was tracking another wounded MiG when suddenly I spotted one of the others as he slid into my six. He fired a burst with his 37mm cannon and hit me in the wing. The shell went into the engine…I suddenly lost rudder and flaps, and only had partial aileron control.’
Yet he managed to land is crippled jet aboard his carrier, where it was shoved overboard after 263 holes from 23mm and 37mm hits were counted.
As amazing as that event was, perhaps the most extraordinary episode was the blinded pilot who was talked to, then onto, his carrier after a strike. One can only wonder if such a feat would have been possible in a jet other than the F9F?
The book is not perfect, containing just one minor typo concerning an F9F sent to depot for rebuild. The text states it was sent to one depot while the photo caption states it went to a different one.
Art, Photographs, graphics
I was delighted when I first cracked the cover! An exceptional visual treat! With most of my aviation interesting from the black-and-white era, the abundance of vivid unfaded full color photographs mesmerized me! While many sunlit color photos actually loose detail in deep shadow, most of these clearly display all manner of detail. What a treat for modelers and artists! Some shots even show to perfection how dirt and grime weathered the otherwise glossy Midnight Blue finish, and some jets appear to be a simple “blue” blue. One of the most fascinating scenes does not even contain an airplane, rather a “Sea of Green”: pilots of VF-72 in their Class 1-A uniforms. The Navy pilots’ uniforms are olive while their USAF exchange pilot wears USAF blue! Those color images also show to advantage many details of ship colors, from superstructure to the wooden deck staining and markings. I would buy the book just for the photos!
Many black-and-white photos supplement the color ones and all are equally satisfying. Most of the photos appear to have been exposed by professionals. There are some “grab shots” and aerial images, including some dramatic gun camera shots.
F9Fs were designed to pop open for maintenance and modelers may be thrilled by the many views into the brains, guts and teeth of the Panther. Several internal views are the result of battle damage, clearly demonstrating that, unless hit in a critical spot, F9F could absorb a lot of commie firepower. The “Grumman Iron Works” legend lasted beyond the Hellcat!
Illustrator Jim Laurier produced 33 original color plates of notable and anonymous F9Fs for the book. This favorite feature of Osprey books is a boon to modelers and historians and each has a narrative in the appendices. That section also features F9F Carrier Deployments: Ship, date, CVG, squadron, tail code
with the following tables:
A. US Navy F9F Korean War Losses (Combat and Operational): Date, squadron, ship
B. US Marine Corps F9F Korean War Losses (Combat and Operational): Date, squadron
USAF F-86 Sabres grabbed the headlines from Korea with their epic battles with MiG forces that tried to stop UN air support. USN’s own better performing Banshees often covered F9Fs. Yet the beautiful Grumman, seemingly designed more for aesthetics than for the warrior it was, earned everlasting fame interdicting communist forces at times and places that USAF and Allied air forces could not fly.
An exciting and interesting book, F9F Panther Units of the Korean War
is well written and easy to follow. The amount of detail about the aircraft and the missions it flew should be valuable to historians and enthusiasts. An exceptional visual treat awaits readers due to the number of high quality color and black-and-white photographs. Those are further supported by Illustrator Jim Laurier’s 33 original color plates of notable and anonymous F9Fs.
F9F Panther units helped prevent the collapse of the United Nations defense of South Korea. Their story deserves to be told. This book does an excellent job of that and I heartily recommend it to historians, modelers, enthusiasts and artists of the F9F, the Korean War, and Navy and Marine air operations of the conflict.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE