A "nice easy shoot" in Korea
Name: Dick Turner
Unit: 77 Squadron RAAF
Having lied about his age to join the Army in 1942, Dick Turner was serving in New Guinea when the truth was discovered. He was only 16 and had told the recruiting officer he was two years older than that. Of course he was sent home.
Two years later at the age of 18 he joined the RAAF and travelled to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme where he eventually qualified as a pilot just as the war in Europe was ending.
Disappointed that he had not been able to contribute to the cause, he became a civilian but rejoined the RAAF in 1949 and was serving with 77 Squadron in Japan for almost 12 months before the Korean War started.
Dick Turner had two tours of duty with RAAF, the first based in Japan flying Mustangs and the second based in Korea, flying Meteor jet fighters. In all he flew 244 individual sorties in a wide range of weather conditions and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Having taken part in so many missions it was inevitable that some would be more memorable than others but Dick recalls one in particular, a raid on a railway tunnel, with some embarrassment.
"During a pilot's operational life events occur which not only cause instant fear but trigger a mental response which, on later reflection, can only be described as crass stupidity," Dick said.
"Being human, the tendency is to banish both the fear and the response into the deepest recesses of the mind, revealing them to no one, especially the 'stupidity' bit. Only after many years can the mind be persuaded to give up its darkest secrets to public scrutiny. In psychiatric circles it is known as the 'what the hell' syndrome.
"During the early desperate days of the Korean War, we were carrying out a ground interdiction role from a PSP strip at Taegu, with the front line no more than five miles [8km] away. The North Koreans were resupplying by train during the night, avoiding daylight air attacks by running the trains into the mountain tunnels until nightfall.
"Our intelligence quickly became aware of this tactic and constant efforts were made to seal both ends of the tunnels, hopefully with the trains still inside. At a briefing on one such mission we were told that the expected enemy 'flak' would be 'light to non-existent'.
"Heartened by this I confidently settled into my rocket dive, retrimmed the aircraft, put the 'pipper' on the tunnel entrance and prepared for a nice easy 'shoot'.
"Suddenly the side of the mountain seemed to erupt...streams of tracer poured up...lazily at first, then with frightening rapidity, flicking over both wings and around the fuselage. All thoughts of an accurate strike disappeared (frightful admission), I was only concerned as to how the hell I was going to get out of this situation," he added. "Now comes the stupid part.
"Although the flak was intensifying by the second, I had not been hit. Displaying a remarkable capacity for self-deception (based on illogical thinking) I convinced myself that I must be in some sort of 'safety cone' and all that was necessary to ensure my survival was to continue along the existing flight path, without deviation, and all would be well - so I did and it was. The principle of exquisite, masterly inactivity carried out to perfection.
"Releasing my rocket load at approximately the right height, I hauled back on the stick, tightened the sphincter, slipped over the mountain top and headed for home - unscathed.
"Over the years I have frequently thought about this mission and my feelings during it. I am grateful that the episode went largely unobserved, by people on our side anyway. Another set of eyes may have seen it differently - you know the sort of thing...'complete disregard for own safety...relentlessly attacked the target through a storm of...etc, etc.
"It would have been humiliating, having to say to the Monarch at the Investiture. 'I'm sorry, Ma'am, I cannot accept this...it didn't happen that way at all'.
"Having read the above, you will readily understand my reluctance in bringing the matter forward. Never, in the whole history of aerial warfare has such a saga of poltroonery and irrational behaviour been brought to the attention of one's peers. I'll try to do better in the next war."
Whatever Dick Turner may have written about that particular incident, there was little doubt that on other occasions he knew exactly what he was doing.
"On 6 September 1952, his squadron was called upon to attack a vitally important target, consisting of a dangerous build-up of enemy troops, in the North Eastern sector of Korea," according to the official citation for his award of the DFC.
"Flying Officer Turner led this raid, and despite adverse weather conditions and intense, accurate anti-aircraft fire, brilliantly led the attack, and the squadron destroyed the target."
It went on to say that F/O Turner had displayed courage and tenacity of the highest order.
Dick Turner returned to Korea in April 2001 as a member of the 50th anniversary commemorative mission that included representatives of all services that served in the Korean War.
More than 17,500 Australian men and women saw service in the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force from 1959 to 1953, including 1216 who were wounded, 29 taken prisoner of war and 339 killed.
The material for this article was supplied by Dick Turner of Victoria
8/01/2002 10:32:56 AM