Attack on the Sui-ho Dam

Attack on the Sui-ho Dam

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Attack on the Sui-ho Dam
partof=Korean War

date=June 23June 24, 1952
place=Sui-Ho (Sup'ung-ho), Choshin (Changjin, Fusen (Pujǒn), and Kyosen (P'ungsan), North Korea
result=United Nations victory
combatant2=flagicon|North Korea North Korea
flagicon|USSR Soviet Union
combatant1=flag|United Nations
flagicon|USA|1912 United States
flag|South Korea
flagicon|Philippines Philippine Air Force
flagicon|South Africa|1928 South African Air Force
commander2=G. Lobov
commander1=Otto P. Weyland
strength2=325+ MiG interceptors,
87 major AAA guns
strength1=670 USAF, USN, USMC fighter-bombers
casualties2=Destruction of 90% of generating capacity
casualties1=2 fighter-bombers,
No personnel casualties
The attack on the Sui-ho Dam was the collective name for a series of air attacks by United Nations Command air forces on 13 hydroelectric generating facilities in North Korea that took place June 23 and June 24, 1952, during the Korean War. The attack was intended to apply political pressure at the stalled truce negotiations at Panmunjeom. [Futrell, p. 485]

The attacks were conducted jointly by fighters and fighter-bombers of the United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and South African Air Force, the first time in 21 months that the separate air arms had worked together on a massive scale. It was followed within two weeks by another series of joint attacks on the capital city of Pyongyang. [Field, Chapter 12, Part 2] The attacks succeeded in permanently destroying 90% of the facilities struck and completely knocked out power in North Korea for two weeks, as well as reducing available power to northeast China by 23%. North Korea, however, built new facilities but did not restore its previous capacity until after the armistice in 1953. Their effect on the truce talks was also nil, as highly-publicized repercussions in both the UK and the United States Congress undermined their impact. They were repeated on a limited scale in the spring of 1953 and may have played a role in bringing about the eventual truce.

Background and plans

North Korea's power systems

The Sui-ho Dam (now Supung Dam or sometimes Shuifeng Dam) on the Yalu River (coord|40|28|N|124|58|E|), at the time the fourth largest in the world, had been constructed in 1941 by Japan. The concrete dam was 2,800 feet (853 m) in length, 300 feet (97 m) thick at the base, 60 feet (18 m) wide at the crest, and 525 feet (160 m) in height. Its reservoir storage capacity was more than 20 billion cubic meters, and the Japanese had built six turbine generators each with a capacity of 100,000 kilowatts. The dam's generating facilities provided power for much of western North Korea and for the Port Arthur and Dairen regions of northeast China. [Cressey]

Three of the five other hydroelectric systems were located in proximity to each other in South Hamgyong Province north of Hungnam. Each consisted of four plants 5–10 miles (8-16 km) apart along a thirty mile (50 km) stretch of river, numbered by planners 1 through 4, with plant 1 closest to its respective reservoir. The northernmost, the Kyosen (P'ungsan) system, was on the Namdae Ch'on with its terminus at Tanch'on. The Fusen (Pujǒn) system was due north of Hungnam on the Songch'on-gang, with its four plants close together but in mountain gorges. The Choshin (Changjin) ran south and then east in the mountain canyons from the Chosin Reservoir and connected with the Songch'on-gang south of Fusen Plant No. 4. [Series L552 Maps]

Planning history

North Korea had six hydroelectric systems and six small thermoelectric plants at the outbreak of the war, and all were on the list of strategically important targets compiled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). B-29 Superfortresses of the United States Air Force had begun bombing industrial targets in North Korea soon after the invasion of the South in the summer of 1950 but had not attacked any part of the power transmission grid. As early as August 23, 1950, while UN forces were still struggling to hold the Pusan Perimeter and well before the UN landing at Inchon, planners of the FEAF had asked if the hydroelectric system should be attacked, no decision had yet been made as to whether North Korea was to be occupied.

On September 21, 1950, FEAF attacked a plant of the Fusen system near Hungnam, completely destroying its transformers, and recommended that all the plants be destroyed. General Douglas MacArthur directed the attacks to proceed, but before that happened the JCS authorized MacArthur to enter North Korea and advised that targets of "long-term importance" including the hydroelectric plants should not be destroyed. [Futrell, pp. 193–194] A ban on bombing the Sui-ho (Sup'ung) Dam was put in place on November 6, 1950, at the direction of the U.S. State Department, to avoid providing a provocation for entry in the war by China. Even after China's massive intervention in the following month the ban was never rescinded, and it was reiterated by the UN Command when the truce talks began in July 1951. [Hermes, p. 320–321]

On March 3, 1952, when the peace talks appeared to be near stalemate, Air Force General Otto P. Weyland, commanding Far East Air Forces, recommended to UN commander General Matthew Ridgway that the hydroelectric plants be attacked to "create psychological and political effects to our advantage." [Futrell, p. 481.] Ridgway rejected the plan and also informed the JCS that he was unwilling to use force except as the last resort.

On April 28 President Harry Truman announced that Ridgway was being replaced as commander in Korea by General Mark Clark, and UN negoiators at Panmunjom made a compromise proposal on the stalemated issues. The next day the JCS asked Weyland to provide target information and recommendations in the event of complete stalemate, and he repeated his recommendation to bomb the hydroelectric plants. Ridgway objected to the JCS on May 1, stating that no attack should be made except on his recommendation, to which the JCS agreed. The next day the communists totally rejected the UN proposal, and while the talks continued, the UN took the stance that their position was irrevocable. [Futrell, p. 482]

Clark took command on May 12, the first of a series of key changes in the military command in Korea. On May 19 Vice Admiral Joseph J. Clark became commander of the 7th Fleet, on May 30 Lt.Gen. Glenn O. Barcus took over the Fifth Air Force, and on June 4 VAdm. Robert P. Briscoe became commander of Naval Forces Far East. All brought a new aggressiveness to their commands and were desirous of attacking the hydroelectric plants. Briscoe made the recommendation to Clark on June 6, followed by Weyland the next day.

At Clark's direction, FEAF prepared two attack plans on the system, one of which included bombing the Sui-ho Dam while the other did not. The three systems in South Hamgyong were targeted, while two smaller systems—one near the border with the Soviet Union and the other immediately behind the battleline—were excluded. The plans, submitted to Clark on June 11, included both FEAF and Task Force 77 units, and Clark approved the lesser plan on June 17, naming Weyland as "coordinating agent".Futrell, p. 485] However in reviewing the plans, the JCS recommended to Truman that the Sui-ho Dam also be attacked and he approved. The JCS authorized the attack on June 19, and the alternate plan was put into effect with a tentative date of June 23 or June 24, which would allow Admiral Briscoe to use four aircraft carriers in the operation. The operations plan was finalized when Admiral Clark proposed to Weyland that naval aircraft, originally slated only for the eastern complexes, be added to the attack on Sui-ho.

UN air order of battle

thumb|right|200px|F-86 Sabresof the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group

The following air combat units were assigned to the attacks on the North Korean hydroelectric plants:
*Far East Air Forces - Lt.Gen. Otto P. Weyland
**"Fifth Air Force" - Lt.Gen. Glenn O. Barcus
***4th Fighter-Interceptor Group - Col. Royal N. Baker
****334th FIS, 335th FIS, 336th FIS
***51st Fighter-Interceptor Group - Lt.Col. Albert S. Kelly
****16th FIS, 25th FIS, 39th FIS
***8th Fighter-Bomber Group - Col. Levi R. Chase
****35th FBS, 36th FBS, 80th FBS
***18th Fighter-Bomber Group - Col. Sheldon S. Brinson
****12th FBS, 67th FBS, 2 Sqd SAAF
***49th Fighter-Bomber Group - Lt.Col. Gordon F. Blood
****7th FBS, 8th FBS, 9th FBS
***136th Fighter-Bomber Group -Lt.Col. Donald F. Sharp
****111th FBS, 154th FBS, 182nd FBS
**"1st Marine Aircraft Wing" - Maj.Gen. Clayton C. Jerome
***Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12)
****VMA-121, VMA-212, VMA-323
***Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33)
****VMF-115, VMF-311
*Naval Forces Far East - VADM Robert P. Briscoe
**"Seventh Fleet" - VADM Joseph J. Clark
***"Task Force 77" - RADM Apollo Soucek
***Carrier Division One - RADM Herbert E. Regan
****Carrier Air Group Seven (CVG-7), embarked on USS|Bon Homme Richard|CV-31|2 - CDR G. B. Brown
*****VF-71, VF-72, VF-74, VA-75
****Carrier Air Group Eleven (CVG-11), embarked on USS|Philippine Sea|CV-47|2 - CDR J.W. Onstott
*****VF-112, VF-113, VF-114, VA-115
***Carrier Division Three - RADM Soucek
****Carrier Air Group Two (CVG-2), embarked on USS|Boxer|CV-21|2 - CDR A.L. Downing
*****VF-24, VF-63, VF-64, VA-65
****Carrier Air Group Nineteen (CVG-19), embarked on USS|Princeton|CV-37|2 - CDR William Denton, Jr.
*****VF-191, VF-192, VF-193, VA-195SOURCES: USAF Historical Study No. 72 "USAF Operations in the Korean Conflict 1 November 1950 - 30 June 1952" and "History of Naval Operations, Korea"

oviet air order of battle

The Soviet Air Force order of battle on June 23, 1952, was four fighter aviation divisions (USAF wing-equivalent), totalling 13 regiments or from 325 to 470 MiG 15s. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = Soviet Air Order of Battle| format = | work = | publisher =| accessdate = 29 Dec| accessyear = 2006] cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = Soviet Air Aces| format = | work = | publisher = Ace Pilots| accessdate = 29 December| accessyear = 2006] Per the first source, the Soviet fighter aviation regiment was the equivalent of an over-sized USAF squadron or an under-sized USAF group (24-36 aircraft).
*97th Fighter Aviation Division (VVS)
**16th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**148th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment
*133rd PVO Fighter Aviation Division
**147th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment
**415th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**720th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**578th Fighter Aviation Regiment (Naval)
*190th Fighter Aviation Division (VVS)
**256th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**494th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**821st Fighter Aviation Regiment
*216th PVO Fighter Aviation Division
**518th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**676th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**878th Fighter Aviation Regiment
**781st Fighter Aviation Regiment (Naval)

Air strikes

Target assignments

SOURCE: "The United States Air Force in Korea", p. 487

SOURCE: Carrier and Air Group Action Reports

First day missions

Task Force 77 had four aircraft carriers available for the attacks. The USS|Philippine Sea|CV-47|6 was already on the line during the planning process, joined by the USS|Princeton|CV-37|6 on June 2 and the USS|Boxer|CV-21|6 on June 9. Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek was aboard "Boxer" and took operational command of Task Force 77. When Weyland approved Navy participation in the Sui-ho strike, the USS|Bon Homme Richard|CV-31|6 sailed from Yokosuka, Japan, on June 21 to provide the added force needed, arriving early on June 23.

The mission was to be launched at 08:00 June 23 (all times local time zone), with strikes beginning at 09:30 at all targets. However weather reconnaissance aircraft reported unbroken clouds over the Yalu River, and Weyland postponed the attack at 07:40. [Action Report CVG-11] As the morning passed, however, the weather system moved south, and Weyland immediately reversed himself and at 13:00 ordered the attacks to proceed, using the heavy clouds as concealment for the attackers en route to their targets, with a new attack time of 16:00.

Aircraft from all three services were a mixture of propeller-driven and jet aircraft, and in general the propeller aircraft launched up to an hour earlier than the jets to coordinate their arrival over the target together. The carriers launched their propeller aircraft at 14:00 and their jets at 15:00. Air Force fighter-bombers, having the longest distance to fly, took off at 14:30. Because the Sui-ho Dam was located less than forty miles (65 km) from the MiG 15 fighter base complex at Antung/Tai Ton Chao/Phen Chen in China, where 250 MiGs had been counted by the weather reconnaissance, a coordinated simultaneous arrival over the targets was crucial to limiting the effectiveness of any defensive reaction.

The carrier aircraft of TF77 crossed the Korean coast at Mayang-do northeast of Hungnam and flew low over the mountains at 5,000 feet (1,500 m) to mask their radar signature. The propeller and jet divisions rendezvoused approximately 50 miles (80 km) east of Suiho shortly before 16:00 and climbed to the attack altitude of 10,000 feet (3,000 m) for a high-speed run-in. [Fields]

Eighty-four F-86 Sabres of the 4th and 51st Fighter-Interceptor Groups (assigned to the 4th and 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wings respectively) were the first to arrive in the Sui-ho target area, to provide cover against MiG attack and, according to one participant, with part of the force ordered to keep MiGs from taking off by flying low over their bases, cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = Blesse interview page 2| format = | work = | publisher = Ace Pilots| accessdate = 20 Dec| accessyear = 2006] even though officially UN aircraft were not allowed to cross the Yalu except in hot pursuit. However 160 MiGs that took off before the arrival of the covering force flew deeper into China, possibly fearing the airfields were the targets, and none attempted to intercept the strike force. [Futrell, p. 487] Three divisions of MiG pilots operating in Korea had replaced the veteran 303rd and 324th Fighter Divisions in February and the fourth in May, and their inexperience in combat may explain their reluctance to oppose the massive raid.

At 16:00, 35 Navy F9F Panthers began runs to suppress the anti-aircraft fire from 44 heavy caliber gun and 37 automatic weapons emplacements reported around the dam. Twelve AD Skyraiders of VA-65 off the "Boxer" then began their dive-bombing runs on the Sui-ho generating stations, followed by 23 Skyraiders off the "Princeton" and "Philippine Sea", releasing 81 tons of bombs in little more than two minutes. [Carrier Action reports] [Werrell, p. 180]

Between 16:10 and 17:00, U.S. Air Force jets added 145 tons of bombs on the Sui-ho generating plant with 79 sorties by F-84 Thunderjets of the 49th and 136 Fighter-Bomber Groups (49th and 136th Fighter-Bomber Wings) and 45 by F-80 Shooting Stars of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group (8th Fighter-Bomber Wing).

At almost the same time, 52 F-51 Mustangs of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group (18th Fighter-Bomber Wing) and the South African 2 Squadron struck Fusen plants 3 and 4, west of Hungnam, while 40 Marine Skyraiders and Corsairs of MAG-12 bombed Choshin No. 4, and 38 Panthers of MAG-33 hit Choshin No. 3. The lower Fusen plants and the Kyosen complex were bombed by 102 Corsairs, 18 Skyraiders, and 18 Panthers off the carriers. In all on June 23, Task Force 77 flew 208 strike sorties and FEAF 202. [Field claims 230 sorties, but the figure 208 is specifically mentioned in the action report of "Boxer", CTF-77's flagship.] At 19:00, two RF-80 photo-recon aircraft of the 67th Reconnaissance Wing, escorted by six flights of F-86s, returned to Sui-ho, while Marine F2H-2P Banshee photo-recon planes of VMJ-1 and Navy F9F-2P Panthers of VC-61 overflew the eastern systems to assess damage. [Futrell, pp. 487–488.]

An F4U-4 flown by the squadron commander of VF-63 (from "Boxer") was heavily damaged over Kyosen No. 4 and made a water-landing in which the pilot was rescued, the only plane lost. A VA-115 Skyraider (from "Philippine Sea") had its hydraulic system damaged by flak over Sui-ho and diverted to K-14 airfield at Kimpo, South Korea, for a wheels-up landing, and another from VA-75 was severely damaged when it was struck by debris from a bomb explosion but recovered aboard "Bon Homme Richard". The only other battle damage reported by the attacking units was by Carrier Air Group 11 off the "Philippine Sea": a Corsair hit in an accessory compartment over Kyosen No. 3, and a Skyraider at Sui-ho struck by small arms fire. [Action report CVG-11]

Followup strikes and damage results

Although interpretation of reconnaissance photos and assessments by returning pilots indicated heavy damage to the Sui-ho, Choshin, Fusen, and Kyosen No. 1 and 2 plants, most of the targets were re-struck the next day in both morning and afternoon missions.

In the morning missions, Air Force F-84s and Navy Skyraiders attacked Sui-ho, judging it totally destroyed, with one Skyraider suffering minor damage. "Princeton" aircraft bombed Fusen, Mustangs of the 18th FBG hit the unscathed Choshin plants 1 and 2, [the USAF official history notes that the targets had been "reserved" for attack by B-29s that night to mark the 2nd anniversary of the start of the war but that the Mustangs over-zealously struck them] Futrell, p. 488.] and planes off "Boxer" and "Philippine Sea" struck the remainder of the Kyosen plants.

In the afternoon "Princeton" completed the destruction of Kyosen No. 3, losing a Corsair of VF-192 in the process, although the pilot was rescued at sea. Aircraft from the other three carriers struck transformer stations along the power grid at Chungdae-ri, Naemǒkpang, and Man'gyo-ri, in the vicinity of Kojǒ (Kangwon Province), and at Yuchǒn, Haeju, Chaeryong, Kaishu, and Chang-yôn in North Hwanghae Province. Choshin and Fusen were bombed by smaller numbers of Air Force fighters on both June 26 and June 27 to complete the attacks. Total bombing sorties were 730 by Air Force and Marine fighter-bombers and 546 by Navy aircraft. F-86 Sabres flew an additional 238 counter-air sorties to protect the force from MiGs.

Approximately 90% of North Korea's power-production capacity was destroyed in the attacks, with 11 of the 13 generating plants put totally out of operation and the remaining two doubtful of operating. China suffered an estimated loss of 23% of its electric requirements for northeast China, and other intelligence estimates stated that industrial output in 60% of its key industries in the Dairen region failed to meet production quotas. For two weeks North Korea endured a total power blackout.

Both China and the Soviet Union immediately sent technicians into North Korea to repair or re-build loss generators. For much of the summer of 1952 only approximately 10% of former energy production was restored, primarily by its thermoelectric plants.

Political effects

What effect if any the attacks had on the communist hierarchy and its representatives at the truce talks was immediately negated by reaction of the left wing in London. In the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Labour Party leaders Clement Attlee and Anuerin Bevan attacked the operation as risking World War III, even though there were no allegations of territorial violations or objections that the plants were non-military targets.Futrell, p. 489.] Hermes, p. 322.]

The Labour Party saw an opportunity to cripple the ruling Conservatives and immediately called for a vote in the House of Commons to censure the Churchill government, but based on the British government's "failure to secure effective consultation" from the U.S. beforehand (The Minister of Defence, Lord Harold Alexander, had been in Korea when Clark first approved the FEAF plan but had left Korea before the JCS input). The government barely survived the vote after U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson publicly took the blame, stating the U.S. was at fault for not consulting the British "as a courtesy", although the price for this stance was undercutting General Clark and the Panmunjom negotiators. Field commented that cooperation between the services was much smoother than between the allies.

While conferring with Lord Alexander, General Clark had already agreed in principle to British requests for a representative of the UN staff, and Churchill's designee was appointed as a deputy chief of staff on July 31, 1952.Hermes, p. 324.]

The other factor crippling the political effect of the strikes occurred in the United States and was just the opposite of that in Britain. Critics of the Truman administration in Congress quickly seized on the military success of the strikes to question why the attacks had taken almost two years to be approved. General Clark, who agreed, so advised the JCS. Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett, to whom the inquiries were made, cited seven factors, but some were long obsolete by the time of the attacks and others clearly badly estimated. [Hermes, p. 323]

Despite the lack of political effect on the truce talks, and the widely-publicized negative reactions on both sides, the campaign against the hydroelectric system had become an accepted tactic. Minor raids were staged against the lesser systems to limit their usefulness. Sui-ho was struck again on the night of September 12 by 32 B-29s, an attack that while effective was also costly: one B-29 shot down by a combination of damage from MiG 15 and flak, and one that crashed en route to the target, with twenty airmen killed.cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = Suiho-Debriefing| format = | work = | publisher = Korean War Documentary| accessdate = 24 Dec| accessyear = 2006] Fighter-bombers twice attacked the Sui-ho generating plant in 1953: a low-level attack by 24 F-84s of the 49th FBG on February 19 and 8 Thunderjets of the 474th FBG on May 10, both attacks moderately successful and without losses. The purpose of the strikes was to remind the communists that the UN intended to make continuation of the war as expensive as possible for them, although the second attack had too few aircraft to knock out the plant. [Hermes, pp. 399–460]



*cite book
last = Futrell
first = Robert F.
authorlink =
year = 1983
title = The United States Air Force in Korea
publisher = Office of Air Force History
location =
id = ISBN 0160488796

*cite book
last = Hermes
first = Walter G.
authorlink =
year = 1966
title = Truce Tent and Fighting Front (Volume 2, US Army in the Korean War)
publisher = Center of Military History
location =
id =

*cite book
last = Field
first = James A., Jr
authorlink =
year = 1962
title = History of U.S. Naval Operations, Korea
publisher = Department of the Navy
location =
id =
[ on-line copy]
*>cite book
last = Werrell
first = Kenneth P.
authorlink =
year = 2005
title = Sabres over MiG Alley
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location =
id = ISBN 1-59114-933-9

* Background for Sui-Ho Dam description

External links

* [ Satellite image of Sui-ho/Supung Dam]
* [ Chronology USN Operations 1950-1953]
* [ Carrier Action reports ] Mission assignments and data, commanders
* [ Carrier Air Group Action reports] Mission assignments and data

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