SHORAN

High Tech Bombing in Korea

In so far as B-26 crews were concerned 'high technology' and 'Korean War' were an oxymoron. The one exception was SHORAN (SHOrt RAnge Navigation), a beacon navigation and bombing system introduced during the closing days of WWII in the ETO. SHORAN was initially installed in B-26's in January 1951, but it was not until 2/17/51 that the B-26's flew the first SHORAN missions in Korea. It was something less that satisfactory due to:
  • (a) ground stations located too far from the targets,
  • (b) inadequate maintenance of both ground and airborne equipment,
  • (c) insufficient training of operators and maintainers
  • (d) inadequate geographical knowledge of Korea, among other things.
Until the MIG's drove the B-29's from the daylight skies, the SHORAN system languished in neglect. In June 1951 when the B-29's switched from daylight to night operations, SAC became interested, and when SAC became interested in any project, improvements were generally forth coming. As a result of SAC intervention, the ground stations were moved to islands off the west coast and to mountain tops just behind the battle lines in eastern Korea (closer to the targets), maintenance and maintainer training were improved, better geographical information was obtained and operator training was improved. In addition the computation of critical bombing parameters was concentrated in the Tokyo area were better facilities were available. By November 1952 these changes had developed SHORAN into a reliable accurate blind bombing system which was used by B-29's and B-26's for the remainder of the war.

By January of 1953 the Korean War had settled into a WWI type of fixed battlefront and the primary objective of allied forces was to reach a peace settlement which retained the integrity of South Korea. In a stagnant war, well-defended strong points are the norm, and the main UN objective was to prevent the enemy from building up to the point he could launch an all out victorious offensive. The CCF and NK forces took advantage of the "peace talks" to re-supply and re-stock their war material. One of the methods used by the CCF was to locate the main supply points close to POW camps to discourage bombing attacks. Another objective of the CCF and NK forces was to re-establish airfields in North Korea, so that just prior to the armistice an overpowering AF could be stationed in North Korea. By mid April 1953, photo recon showed that there were 200 IL-28 twin engine jet bombers stationed in Antung just across the Yalu from Sinuiju. Countering these objectives, the USAF initiated a sustained airfield campaign and a sustained interdiction campaign. Precision results were obtained by relying on the SHORAN system. The B-26 force was used to supplement the B-29 force because the number of B-29s (with its 12 sorties per night capability) did not provide for a sufficient number of sorties to keep all of the airfields neutralized. In addition, the B-26 SHORAN attacks could be used to lure the MIGs away from the more vulnerable B-29s. The CCF was developing an effective night-fighter capability against the B-29s, which was ineffective against the B-26s, because of their small size and lower operational altitude.

In March 1953, Fifth Air Force concentrated the B-26 SHORAN capability in the 17th Bomb Wing, and initiated extensive training of the SHORAN Operators for a proposed maximum effort beginning in May, in support of precision interdiction and airfield destruction. Being an engineer I was fascinated by the" high tech" SHORAN system and believed that its precision capability made trips up "North" more worth while; therefore I volunteered to become SHORAN qualified. Because SHORAN targets were considered more difficult and escape from the SHORAN compartment of the B-26 was considered improbable if not impossible in case of emergency, Shoran operator was an all-volunteer endeavor. Even when the May/June offensive came and emphasis of the B-26s shifted from night interdiction to close air support, the level of the SHORAN effort in the 17th Bomb Wing stayed at a 10 to 12 % of all missions.

Note: The WWII 17th Bomb Group flew some of the earliest SHORAN missions during WWII

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