THE AIRFORCE - KOREA
On 25 September 1950, 2 Squadron, the Flying Cheetahs, sailed for Japan. On arrival at Yokohama the squadron proceeded to Johnson Air Base near Tokyo where they completed their conversion and OTU on F-51D Mustangs supplied by the USAF. 2 Squadron served as one of the four squadrons of the USAF 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing and flew their first mission in Korea on 19 November 1950 from K-9 and K-24, Pyong Yang.
The SAAF flew with the distinctive Springbok in the centre of the roundel, introduced when 2 Squadron, was sent to Korea. Their role was close air support against enemy positions to soften them up for ground attacks, interdiction against the enemy's logistic and communication lines, providing protective cover for rescue operations, reconnaissance flights and to a lesser extent, interception of enemy aircraft. During the southward advance of the Chinese Communist forces these pilots attacked enemy troops, trucks and supplies daily in near zero temperatures. On 30 November the squadron moved to further south to K-13 from where they were evacuated further back to K-10, an airfield situated on the edge of the little bay close to the town of Chinhae. This was to be their permanent base for the next two years.
While equipped with Mustangs, the squadron flew 10 373 sorties and out of a total 95 Mustangs acquired, no fewer than 74 were lost due to enemy action and accidents. Twelve pilots were killed in action, 30 missing and four wounded.
In January 1953 the squadron received USAF F-86F Sabre jet fighter-bombers. Pilots and ground crew had to undergo courses in Japan to adapt to the aircraft. The first Sabre mission was flown on 16 March 1953. This marked the entry of the SAAF into a new era of jet warfare. Operating from K-55, the Flying Cheetahs took part in fighter sweeps along the Yalu and Chong-Chong rivers as well as ground targets. The squadron flew a total of 2 032 sorties in the Sabres. Only four Sabres were lost out of 22 supplied.
Once again the SAAF proved its worth. Serviceability in 2 Squadron was better than that of the other three USAF squadrons in the wing. The SAAF ground crew were volunteers and mostly WWII veterans, while the USAF ground crew were drafted to Korea. When there was a shortage of aircraft, three Mustangs that had been written off were cannibalised to make one. The work took a month and as the SAAF paid for aircraft issued, this aircraft was 'free' to the SAAF.
The war ended on 27 July 1953. 34 SAAF pilots had lost their lives and eight taken prisoner of war, including the future Chief of the Air Force, General D Earp. 74 Mustangs and 4 Sabres were lost. Prior to returning to South Africa, the Sabres were returned to the USAF.
In recognition of their association with the Flying Cheetahs, the OC of 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing issued a policy directive 'that all retreat ceremonies shall be preceded by the introductory bars of the South African national anthem. All personnel will render the honour to this anthem as our own'.