Striking Force (Task Force 77)
Various shoulder patches for TF-77.
June 25, 1950
The outbreak of war in Korea caught U.S. military services in the midst of a transition. The establishment of the Department of Defense in 1947 and its reorganization in 1949 required readjustments within the services to which none had become completely acclimated. Successive decreases in the military budget and the prospect of more to come had reduced the size of all services, and a reorganization of operating forces to keep within prescribed limits was in process.
New weapons and equipment had not been completely integrated, and tactical doctrine and new operating techniques for their most effective employment were still being developed. This was particularly apparent in Naval Aviation, where the introduction of jet aircraft had created a composite force in which like units were equipped with either jet or propeller-driven aircraft having wide differences in performance characteristics, maintenance and support requirements, and tactical application.
Combat requirements in Korea were quite different from those of the island-hopping campaign of World War II. Only the landings at Inch'ŏn, two and a half months after the shooting began, followed the familiar pattern. The UNís intention to confine the battle area to the peninsula resulted in a limitation of air operations in support of troops. This was a normal enough mission for carrier air, but the need to sustain it for extended periods over an extremely large landmass made quite a difference.
Carrier forces also flew deep support missions; attacked enemy supply lines; roamed over enemy territory looking for targets of opportunity; bombed enemy bridges; interdicted highways and railroads; attacked refineries, railroad yards and hydroelectric plants; and escorted land-based bombers on special missions. All were carried out effectively, but were new experiences for units trained to interdict enemy sea-lines of communication and ward off attack by enemy naval forces.
The see-saw action on the ground as the battle line shifted and as action flared up and quieted again required great flexibility of force and demanded the ability to carry out a variety of missions, but after the first six months of the war, the overall air campaign developed into a monotonous, although serious, routine. It was a battle described by Commander Task Force 77 in January 1952 as "a day-to-day routine where stamina replaces glamour and persistence is pitted against oriental perseverance."
Compared to World War II, Korea was a small war. At no time were more than four large carriers in action at the same time. Yet in the three years of war, Navy and Marine aircraft flew 276,000 combat sorties, dropped 177,000 tons of bombs and expended 272,000 rockets. This was within 7,000 sorties of their World War II totals in all theaters and bettered the bomb tonnage by 74,000 tons, and the number of rockets by 60,000. In terms of national air effort, the action sorties flown by Navy and Marine Corps aircraft rose from less than 10 percent in World War II to better than 30 percent in Korea.
There was another and perhaps greater difference between the two wars. Support of forces in Korea required major attention from the planners and of units assigned to logistic supply, but action in Korea was only a part of the total activity of the period. Outside the combat area fleet forces continued their training operations on the same scale as before, and fleet units were continuously maintained on peaceful missions in the eastern Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Research and development, although accelerated, did not shift to emphasize projects having direct application to the war effort but continued on longer range programs directed toward progressively modernizing fleet forces and their equipment with more effective weapons. New facilities for test and evaluation were opened. Advances in guided missiles reached new highs indicating their early operational status, and ships to employ them were being readied. Firings of research missiles like Lark, Loon and Viking from shore installations and from ships provided both useful data and experience. Terrier, Talos, Sparrow, Sidewinder, and Regulus passed successive stages of development.
Research in high-speed flight, assisted by flights of specially designed aircraft, provided data leading to new advances in aircraft performance. The carrier modernization program continued and was revised to incorporate the steam catapult and the angled deck, together representing the most significant advance in aircraft carrier operating capability since World War II. In a period when Naval Aviation was called upon to demonstrate its continuing usefulness in war and its particular versatility in adapting to new combat requirements, it also moved forward toward new horizons.
June 25, 1950
The Fleet's principal base of operations was on the island of Luzon, where the Navy, following the war, had developed new facilities at Subic Bay and an airfield at Sangley Point. Peacetime operations of the Seventh Fleet were under the control of Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, Admiral Arthur E. Radford, but standing orders provided that, when operating in Japanese waters or in the event of an emergency, control would pass to Commander Naval Forces Far East. There were, however, certain problems implicit in this arrangement: Admiral Radford's area of responsibility included potential trouble spots outside the limits of the Far East Command; lacking an aviation section on his staff, the control of a carrier striking force and of patrol squadrons would present problems for ComNavFE; Admiral Struble was senior to Admiral Joy.
Although early postwar policy had called for the maintenance of two aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific, the reductions in defense appropriations had made this impossible: for some time prior to January 1950 no carrier had operated west of Pearl; current procedure called for the rotation of single units on six-month tours of duty. In these circumstances Admiral Struble's Seventh Fleet Striking Force, Task Force 77, was made up of a carrier "group" containing one carrier, a support "group" containing one cruiser, and a screening group of eight destroyers. The duty carrier in the summer of 1950 was USS Valley Forge (CV-45), an improved postwar version of the Essex class, completed in 1946, with a standard displacement of 27,100 tons, a length of 876 feet, and a speed of 33 knots.
Flagship of Rear Admiral John M. Hoskins, Commander Carrier Division 3, Valley Forge had reported in to the Western Pacific in May, at which time her predecessor, USS Boxer (CV-21), had been returned to the west coast for navy yard availability.
June 25, 1950
Like all conflicts, that in Korea had its strange and unpredictable characteristics. One of these was the fact that, so far as control of the seas was concerned, the war started with the exploitation phase. It was never necessary to fight the convoys through. But of this no one could at first be sure, and with men and supplies in very large quantity committed to the ocean highways, and with the extent of opposition doubtful, insurance was necessary. To maintain sea control, should new enemy forces choose to dispute it, further combatant strength was needed .
Yet almost all the fighting ships west of the continental United States had already been committed. Statistically speaking, the division of the Pacific Fleet in June between ships operating in home waters and those to the westward was roughly an even one. One hundred and twenty-five naval vessels of all types were based on the west coast while another 128 were scattered between Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, the trust territories, and the Western Pacific. But the statistics are deceptive, including as they do auxiliaries, small craft, and local forces, and the distribution of major combatant types was very different. Of 86 active units, three-quarters were based on the west coast of the United States.
Of the three large aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet , one was with Task Force 77 and two were in the San Diego area, where the Fleet's two escort carriers also based. The Fleet contained no active battleship . Two cruisers were already at work in Far Eastern waters and the remaining four were on the west coast. Of a total of 57 destroyer types and 30 submarines, 12 and 6 respectively were operating outside of continental waters, 12 and 4 were operating under ComNavFE . Quite clearly any naval reinforcement had to come a long way.
July 1, 1950
two carriers, two cruisers, and ten destroyers,
July 5, 1950
On the 5th Admiral Andrewes, with HMS Belfast (C35) HMS Cossack (D-57) and HMS Consort (D-76) was detached to join the blockading forces in compliance with orders from ComNavFE, Admiral Struble flew to Tokyo by carrier plane, and Task Force 77 continued on to Buckner Bay. There it arrived on 6 July, and there it was retained until the 16th.
July 16, 1950
During the Korean War, Task Force 77 performed a number of combat deployments, where it provided air support and performed interdiction missions as part of the UN forces. Task Force 77 had carrier stations in both the Sea of Japan (East Coast Task Force) and the Yellow Sea (West Coast Task Force, designated Task Force 95), the latter consisting of carriers of the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and USN escort carriers due to its proximity to the People's Republic of China. Seventeen USN, one Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and five Royal Navy (RN) aircraft carriers served in United Nations carrier operations at some point in time during the Korean War.
During the Korean War,
Rear Admiral G.R. Henderson, USN, commanded Carrier Division Five (CARDIV FIVE) and served as Commander, Task Force 70 (CTF 70) and Commander, Task Force 77 (CTF-77) aboard USS Princeton (CV-37). Subsequent commanders of CARDIV FIVE moved back and forth between Yokosuka, Japan and the Korean Theater, serving as CTF 70 or CTF 77 on multiple occasions.
Cold War (pre-Vietnam)
Between conflicts, Task Force 77 was held in readiness for supporting French operations during the siege of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and off Formosa (now Taiwan) during the several Quemoy-Matsu Crises. It also conducted limited operations over Laos in 1962 and 1964 before the commitment of U.S. combat forces to the Vietnam War. Prior to the Vietnam War, the location of COMCARDIV FIVE moved between several Pacific ports and utilized rotating Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers from the West coast of the U.S. as its flagship.