by David Lane
During the night of December 27, 1951… 1st Lt. Raymond Koch was seated behind the table at his Navigator/Bomb station… located in the aft gunner’s compartment of Invader 313… my aircraft… (once named Junio by the 730th Bomb Squadron) when suddenly, “All Holy Hell” broke loose.
Only hours earlier…. and back at the 730th Bomb Squadron Headquarters at K-9, Pusan, South Korea.. 313’s four flight crew members (Pilot, Bombardier, Gunner and Nav) had been assisted into into their respective positions by Crew Chief.. Byron “Curly” Davis prior to their nightly bombing mission which would AGAIN take place somewhere over Communist held North Korea.
Douglas B-26 Invaders from three Long Beach based squadrons (app. 30 servicable aircraft total) were launched 7 days a week year round during the night time hours from South Korea’s K-9 air base, pictured above, each in fifteen minute intervals. This gave the Crew Chief’s (assigned to the aircraft of each respective squadron) 45 minutes between launches to prepare their Night Interdiction Invaders and crew for their nightly missions. This obviously was a very busy time for all concerned.
Once Curly’s ten to twelve B-26 Invaders from the 730th Squadron had roared off the steel covered runway and uneventfully into the night sky toward their North Korean targets.. he would then retire to the “Crew Shack”… brew up a couple of pots of strong coffee, snack on rice crackers and read magazines while patiently awaiting the return of the 730th fold during the wee hours of the morning.
However on this night… December 27, 1951… things would be different.
Invader 313 had not returned on schedule… usually around three and a half to four hours after launch. And once his watch indicated that 4 hours, 30 minutes had elapsed, Curly knew that Invader 313 could no longer be airborne due to its fuel load limitation. And so he made a phone call to K-9’s air traffic control tower and asked if they could find out what had happened to 313?
The tower later got back to Curly and reported that 313 had diverted to an airfield just south of the North Korean demarcation line but was safely on the ground.
However, what Invader 313’s Crew Chief did not know at the time was…..
Invader 313 had taken a direct hit into its fully loaded bomb bay by a (probable 40mm) anti-aircraft shell. The explosive round had entered the belly of Invader through its open bomb bay, and then exploded/ricocheted off one its aft loaded 500 pound bombs. Hot schrapnel (in part) had pierced the aft bulkhead between the bomb bay and the Nav/gunner’s station where 1st Lt. Koch was seated, badly injuring him. Fire, a loss of hydraulic fluid/pressure and most of all…. Koch’s serious injuries forced the crew to divert to the closest field available. However, since the 500# bomb had not been armed.. it remained intact and 313 landed using the alternate hydraulic system (via hand pump to lower the gear) as well as using every bit of the emergency brake system’s air bottle’s pressure to get the stricken aircraft stopped.
So fast forward to almost 60 years later…
Here I was this afternoon, sitting in Invader 313’s aft compartment that was once occupied
by 1st Lt. Koch when schrapnel came thru the bulkhead, shredding both of hands and wrists
which were positioned on the Nav table (once mounted right of center) along with producing other collateral bodily damage…
I took out a red Sharpie that I had brought along and drew the outlines of the damaged areas that had been repaired years ago prior to Invader 313’s return to service a month or so later. Upon its return to service.. Invader 313’s name was changed to “The Magnet” by the 730th Bomb Squadron and rightly so. According to Curly Davis, who I met and spoke with last month at his Tuscon home… “Some of our pilot’s would fly 50 missions without ever seeing so much as an “Orange Golf Ball” coming up at ’em…. And then there were others, like the crew of 313, who were not so lucky as welll as the others who never came back.
With that thought in mind, I just went and located my Korean War B-26 Invader MIA Crew List given to me by the daughter of one of the missing crewmen.
There are over 260 B-26 Invader Crew MIA’s on this list alone… whose remains have never been recovered….
And this…just a small fraction of U.S. losses during the “The Forgotten War” which PBS will highlight in a related/special program tomorrow night.
So here’s to you, 1st Lt. Raymond Koch…this Memorial Day 2011.
May we never forget the brave sacrifices that you and the many thousands like you have made or will make in order ensure the freedom of the people of this great country… we proudly call the United States of America.
God bless and keep the faith,