Academic journal article Air Power History

The Korean People's Air Force in the Fatherland Liberation War: Part I

Academic journal article Air Power History

The Korean People's Air Force in the Fatherland Liberation War: Part I

Article excerpt

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To Build an Air Force--First You Get Some Airplanes ...

To build a modern, effective air force is a daunting undertaking--and was so even in the middle of the twentieth century, when World War II-surplus warplanes abounded all around the globe. After "the Great Leader" Kim Il-Sung established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on September 9, 1948, that is exactly what its Communist government attempted to do. Having been established the previous August, when Kim organized his personal Communist paramilitary force (called the "Constabulary Discipline Corps") into the "People's Army Group," the NKPAF was commanded by Gen. Van Len and was to consist of an aviation (or "flying") corps and an anti-aircraft artillery corps. (1) The former, under Maj. Gen. Wang Yong, was intended to consist of one "aviation division" comprised of three to five "aviation regiments," each with three squadrons and a statutory strength of forty-four aircraft. (2)

General Wang was a forty-year old, Soviet-trained, bomber crewman who was ably assisted by Maj. Gen. Lee Whal as his vice-commander. Lee was a six-foot tall, imposing figure; a dashing thirty-five-year old pilot sporting a handlebar mustache. One of the few experienced pilots in Korea, and one of a very few with any college education. Early in 1946, Lee volunteered his services to the Korean Communist leadership in Pyongyang to help establish an air force and train its first pilots. Coming from a wealthy family, he generously donated classrooms, dormitories, and a dining hall (well before they would have been confiscated by the Communists) to provide the nascent air arm with training facilities. Although he had flown for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) during World War II, his generosity proved his patriotism and he was readily accepted by the North Korean leadership and its army. (3)

Major General Lee knew that a modern, effective air force is based on effective aircraft, trained personnel, and adequate support facilities and personnel. For the North Koreans, getting aircraft was the easiest of these three. While USAF Intelligence reported the NKPAF inventory to be a polyglot assortment of war-surplus Soviet aircraft, including Lend-Lease Bell P-39/63s, only two combat types were initially included in the NKPAF inventory: the Yakovlev Yak-9 fighter and Ilyushin Il-10 assault, or ground attack, aircraft. During 1949, the Soviets shipped some 145 military aircraft to the DPRK, the bulk of these being Yak-9s and Il-10s. (6)

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The Yak-9P (P for pushyechnyi, or cannon) was the final development of the World War II Yak-9D, the Soviets' relatively unrefined equivalent of the USAAF's North American Aviation (NAA) P-51D Mustang (soon to be redesignated the F-51D once the USAF became an independent military service), being of a similar configuration: a low-wing monoplane, powerful inline engine, "bubble canopy", and belly-mounted coolant radiator. The post-war Yak-9P was armed with a single 23mm VYa-23 cannon firing through the propeller hub and a pair of synchronized ShVAK 20mm cannons mounted atop the engine. First appearing in 1946, it was slower than the Mustang but had a superior climb rate and a heavy, bomber-killing punch, making it more of an interceptor than an air-superiority fighter. (7)

The Soviets' initial shipments of the type included nine Yak-9V two-seaters; twelve old, original Yak-9s; and forty-two new Yak-9Ps. The fighter--a very complicated aircraft incorporating a complex liquid-cooled engine, constant speed propeller, and retractable landing gear--suffered high attrition at the hands of the neophyte Korean pilots. Before starting the Klimov V-12 engine, it was necessary to hand-crank a small cockpit-mounted oil pump twenty-five times to provide initial lubrication; skipping this vital step resulted in inevitable engine failures during the takeoff roll and initial climb, causing several accidents. …

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