PUEBLO CRISIS / Operation Combat Fox
(College Cadence deployment
Operation Combat Fox – The USAF Response
By John A. Okonski / 51st Fighter Wing Historian

At approximately 1345 hours on 23 January 1968 (Korea Time), North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, a US Navy intelligence-gathering vessel, in international waters of the East Sea near Wonsan, North Korea. One USS Pueblo crewmember was killed in the boarding, with 82 taken POW, and later held captive for 11 months.


The seizure took place two days after a North Korean commando team attempted to assassinate Republic of Korea President Park Chung Hee in Seoul. These incidents only highlighted ongoing provocations by the North over the previous several years which had been known as the "Second Korean War."


The USS Pueblo seizure shocked the Free World with strong public sentiment in the US calling for firm retaliatory action against North Korea. However, the US was deeply involved in the South Vietnam conflict which required enormous amounts of military assets. Yet, the seizure served as a catalyst to strengthen US commitment to South Korea over the following months.


Once word was received by the civilian and military leadership in Washington DC that the USS Pueblo was boarded and seized by the NK forces, they immediately weighed their options in attempting a rescue and recovery of the crew and ship. Outright military action was considered, but deemed too risky. Complicating the situation was the beginning of the Battle of Khe Sanh in South Vietnam followed by the Tet Offensive at the end of the month. Concerned that military action would put the crew at risk, President Lyndon B. Johnson began a diplomatic campaign to free the men through the United Nations Security Council. However, he also ordered a buildup of USAF forces on the Peninsula on 26 January to include activation of Air National Guard (ANG) units.


When the USS Pueblo was taken, USAF combat forces on the Peninsula were limited to rotation of fighters to Osan and Kunsan ABs from bases in Japan. The fighters had been on special alert, and would not have provided immediate air coverage. 


Within 2 hours after the USS Pueblo seizure, the Fifth Air Force commander, who was located at Fuchu AS, Japan, and had overall responsibility for operations for USAF activities on the Korean Peninsula, ordered the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing's (TFW) 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) with 34 F-105s to deploy from Kadena AB, Okinawa, to Osan AB, and the 475 TFW's 356 TFS with 14 F-4Cs to deploy from Misawa AB, Japan, to Kunsan AB. While partial deployment of both units occurred late on 23 January, the remainder of these elements arrived in South Korea on 29 January. The 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing's 82d Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), based at Naha AB, Okinawa, also was tasked to deploy to South Korea. The squadron arrived at Suwon AB on 30 January with 22 F-102s. A fourth PACAF unit-- the 12 TFW's 558 TFS, based at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam--further was tasked to deploy, and arrived at Kunsan AB with 14 RF-4Cs on 4 February, and then moved to Taegu AB on 10 March.


Once the National Command Authorities decided upon a course of action, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) ordered a buildup of USAF forces in South Korea on 26 January while directing three naval carrier groups which had been dedicated to the conflict in South Vietnam to take stations off the coast of South Korea.


The USAF response to the USS Pueblo crisis was dubbed Operation COMBAT FOX. It became a two-phase operation with initial deployment by active duty units followed by Air Reserve (AFR) and Air National Guard (ANG) units. Initial deployment of more than 180 combat aircraft to South Korea and Okinawa came from units within PACAF, Tactical Air Command (TAC), Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Aerospace Defense Command (ADC).


The following TAC units deployed to South Korea: the 4 TFW, based at Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina, deployed with three combat squadrons (334 TFS, 335 TFS, and 336 TFS) and 72 F-4Ds to Kunsan AB between 31 January and 4 February; the 363d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing's 19th Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, from Shaw AFB, South Carolina, deployed with six EB-66s to Osan AB on 3 February. The squadron, however, moved to Taegu AB on 12 February to make room for the 4537th Electronic Warfare Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nevada, and its six specially-configured F-105 Wild Weasel aircraft which deployed to Osan AB by 4 February.


The JCS also directed that SAC deploy a squadron each of B-52s and KC-135As to Kadena AB. Strategic Air Command's 91st Bombardment Wing, Glasgow AFB, Montana, deployed its 322d Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron and 907th Air Refueling Squadron with 15 B-52Gs and 10 KC-135As to Kadena AB in early February.


Of note, ADC's 318 FIS, flying F-106s based at McChord AFB, Washington, deployed on 11 February with stops at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and Naha AB, Okinawa. The squadron landed at Osan AB on 18 February., and was the first ADC unit ever to deploy overseas.


Aside from combat units being deployed, civil engineering Prime BEEF teams made up of personnel in the Continental United States (CONUS) rushed to South Korea to provide immediate facilities construction and support. Concurrently, HQ USAF activated the 557th Civil Engineering Squadron (Heavy Repair) (RED HORSE) in February 1968, quickly manned it with personnel from CONUS units, and provided them with special construction and weapons training before deployment to Osan AB by 24 March 1968. The 400-man squadron then sent detachments to four other bases (Suwon, Kunsan, Taegu, and Kwangju) to augment the PRIME BEEF teams in construction of facilities and quarters for approximately 8,000 TDY personnel.


To ensure that the deployment of combat and support units was accomplished safely and efficiently, HQ PACAF's 315th Air Division, based at Tachikawa AB, Japan, directed airlift operations for the contingency. Aside from its C-130 fleet, the division was augmented by the C-130-equipped 38th Tactical Airlift Squadron (TAS), Langley AFB, Virginia, and 779 TAS, Pope AFB, North Carolina for intra-theater airlift.


Military Airlift Command (MAC) supported the massive airlift operation of personnel and equipment with C-124s, C-133s, and C-141s at Osan, Kimpo, and Kunsan ABs. During the first three weeks of Operation COMBAT FOX, MAC aircraft moved 7,861 passengers and nearly 12,800 tons of cargo in 836 missions to Korea and Japan.


By the summer of 1968, most of the deployed units returned to their home bases as other active duty, AFR, and ANG units arrived in South Korea. When President Johnson approved the initial deployment on 26 January, he also signed mobilization orders for 12 ANG units of which two--the 127 TFS and 166 TFS--later deployed with F-100Cs to Kunsan AB in July 1968. Additionally, a number of AFR and ANG personnel deployed to each base to serve in base support activities.


As the USAF established its forces on the Korean Peninsula, negotiations between the United Nations Military Armistice Commission and North Korea continued at Panmunjom through the year. Eleven months after the seizure, North Korea repatriated the USS Pueblo crew and one set of remains to the US through Panmunjom on 23 December 1968. The ship remained in the Wonson Harbor, North Korea (The ship later was transported to Pyongyang in 1999). It is the only active duty USN ship to be held in captivity by a hostile foreign power. Operation COMBAT FOX wound down by early 1969 after the release of the crew; however, rotational deployments of combat units to South Korea continued indefinitely.


What seemed like a weak and indecisive response to the USS Pueblo seizure, in reality, was a signal to North Korea that US military forces would be brought to bear against any designs to invade the Republic of Korea. Headquarters Fifth Air Force had been aware of the Pueblo mission, but it had not been a part of any contingency planning; yet, it still responded almost immediately to deter any further provocations by North Korea. The crisis further engendered a renewed commitment by the US to strengthen not only the USAF on the Peninsula, but also those of the ROK Air Force. The USAF fighter deployments continued after Operation COMBAT FOX, and eventually led to the permanent basing of the 3 TFW at Kunsan AB on 15 March 1971.

318 FIS IN Operation COMBAT Fox

Darts Deploy to Korea !

McChord Defender / Thursday, March 21, 1968


Overseas deployment to Osan Air Base Korea, by F-106 Delta Darts of the 318th Fighter interceptor Squadron was announced this week by Lt Gen. Arthur G. Agan, Commander, Aerospace defense Command (ADC).


The McChord based supersonic jet aircraft according to officials, scored a first when they flew to the critical area along with tactical air units. Using in-flight refueling, the F-106s were flown to Korea as a part of the Air Force's buildup triggered by the crises perpetrated by North Korea.


The move, including more than 400 maintenance and support personnel in addition to the aircraft, marks the first time the Dart has operated in an overseas area. It is the only century series jet in the USAF operational inventory that has not been tested under fire in Southeast Asia.


Flight leader for the deployment was Lt. Col. Fredrick M. O'Connor, 318th FIS Commander.


The Delta Darts rendezvoused with the giant KC-135 Stratotankers from the Strategic Air Command for refueling during the 6,686-mile flight.


The 318th was the first F-106 unit in ADC to develop this refueling capability, which in effect gives them unlimited range.


The 62nd Military Airlift Wing from McChord airlifted a 400-man element of maintenance, supply, and medical personnel for the 325th Fighter Wing in the giant C-141 StarLifters to support the fighters. They went complete with aircraft spare parts, specialized maintenance equipment and everything else to keep the 1,400 mile-per-hour interceptors in operation.


The General's statement was the first public announcement by the ADC task force which played a vital role in the build-up.


Armed with supersonic air-to-air missiles, the Convair-built fighters arrived at their destination prepared to assume a combat-ready posture. The planes were immediately placed on alert to provide air defense for other forces in the area.


The F-106 is an all-weather interceptor equipped with MA-1 electronic guidance and fire control systems. Under interceptor conditions, this automatic control guides the aircraft to the attack to locate and destroy other targets.


With its ability to fly long-range refueling missions while carrying its full compliments of Falcon and Genie air-to-air weapons, the F-106 is prepared at all times to engage enemy aircraft in battle.


Discharging the USAF responsibilities for aerospace defense of the United States and providing for defense of overseas land areas as required is the mission of the Aerospace Defense Command. ADC's 91,000 personnel are stationed at 480 different units around the globe.

318 FIS F-106's in Operation cOMBAT Fox

An already tenuous situation for the US in Southeast Asia became worse after the capture of the US Navy's USS Pueblo and her crew by the North Korean military on 23 January 1968. With a great deal of the USAF’s tactical assets tied up in the war in Southeast Asia, the F-106 was called upon to defend the airspace over Korea. In a secretive movement ASSOCIADE,

On 9 February 1968,the 318th with the assistance of C-141's from the 62d Military Airlift Wing at McChord, deployed 18 F-106's and 400 personnel to Osan AB, on 9 February 1968 history’s first combat deployment of an ADC F-106 Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. Below you will find a list of the 18 F-106's deployed to defend the airspace above Korea and the 6 aircraft that remained at McChord maintaining the squadrons alert commitment at the Pacific Northwest.


At the end of their Combat Fox (College Cadence) rotation assignment, the 318th returned to McChord without their aircraft, leaving their F-106's for the next unit, the 48th FIS. At McChord, the 318th flew F-106's assigned to the 48th FIS until the end of that squadrons rotation assignment in December of 1968.


Before their Korean deployment, the 48th FIS was temporary assigned to McChord bolstering the cadre of pilots & crew performing home station alert duties of the 318 FIS. The 48th FIS performed their "Cadence" assignment between July and December 1968.

56-0465 56-0466 57-0234
59-0051 59-0054 59-0057
59-0058 59-0059 59-0065
59-0110 59-0127 59-0141
59-0141 59-0143 59-0144
59-0146 59-0148 59-0151
56-0457 56-0459 57-0243
59-0108 59-0145 59-0152
48TH "Tazlanglian Devil" loaners  
56-0453  56-0458  56-0462 
57-0241  58-0792 59-0024 
59-0112  59-0116  59-0122 
59-0123  59-0126  59-0128 
59-0130  59-0132  59-0133 
59-0135  59-0136  59-0137 
59-0157    59-0158