JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas –
As the U.S. Air Force celebrated its 70th Anniversary last September, 25th Air Force was looking ahead in anticipation of its 70-year milestone this year.
America’s march toward an independent Air Force began with the Army Air Forces in 1941, leading to the creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947. Not far behind in the move to an independent air power, the Air Force established the United States Air Force Security Service in Arlington, Virginia, as a Major Command tasked to perform the Service’s cryptologic operations and communication security functions.
Transferring four units, personnel and equipment, from the Army Security Agency in early 1949, USAFSS commenced providing operational and mission support to Air Force assets globally. Almost immediately, the USAFSS commander, Col. Roy H. Lynn, began the task of selecting a new location for the growing command.
“They were strongly advised to leave the Washington area,” said BJ Jones, 25th Air Force Office of History and Research. “Col. Lynn and his small staff toured potential sites around the country, from Chicago to Orlando to Colorado Springs, finally settling on Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio.”
After making plans for the move, Lynn received bad news.
“The Twelfth Air Force stole the location before USAFSS could get there,” Jones said “The staff was back at square one.”
A short time later, the Brooks Base commander called Lynn to offer the old World War I barracks and facilities on the other side of the base, Jones said Lynn accepted the offer and USAFSS made plans to move to Texas.
Setting up the Headquarters on Brooks accomplished the initial goal of leaving Washington, but the dated structures did not adequately meet the needs of the new command.
“An estimated $7 million rehabilitation plan was needed to bring the infrastructure to the standards required to operate USAFSS’ high tech equipment,” Jones said. Air Force Director of Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Charles P. Cabell, provided a solution, securing $4.8 million to build a new site overlooking the Kelly Air Force Base airfield, but construction would not begin in latter part of 1951. In the meantime, 1950 brought a new challenge to USAFSS operations as activity began to increase in a largely unknown place half a world away called Korea.
Tensions rose between North and South Korea along the 38th parallel, reaching a climax when the communists invaded the south on June 25, 1950.
Only five years after World War II, the United States military was largely unprepared, and the fledgling USAFSS was no exception, Jones said. Staffed at a mere 3,050, the command struggled to meet wartime demands for cryptologic products and communications security support.
“I’m going to tell you a war story about our guys in Korea,” said Jones. “Until now, it has never been told.” The information was just recently declassified.
“The 1st Radio Squadron, Mobile, received orders to deploy a detachment to Korea on Nov. 20, 1950. A week later, with only eight aircraft, 90,000 pounds of equipment, and 22 men, the unit was ready to deploy. The detachment split into two elements: four planes heading to Sinanju to take over the Korean Voice effort, and four to Pyongyang to establish Russian Voice and Chinese Morse collection effort, and a Direction Finding capability. During their flight to Korea, they learned Communist Chinese forces had just launched an attack, entering the war unexpectedly. The Sinanju-bound planes diverted to Pyongyang and regrouped.
“The next morning,” Jones said, “An Airman flew to Sinanju to assess the existing equipment before taking over the Korean collection efforts. But, it wouldn’t be that easy. Later in the evening, intelligence revealed Chinese forces would soon engulf Sinanju. Awaiting air evacuation Seoul, the Airman and his new team of Korean translators watched in horror as a radar team on an adjacent hill was brutally attacked. Meanwhile, evacuations were also underway in Pyongyang. The 1st RSM detachment set vehicles and half of their equipment on a Seoul-bound convoy, while the other half was loaded onto a C-46 to fly with the remaining personnel. The two elements reunited and quickly set up shop. It wasn’t long before the enemy was at Seoul’s doorstep. Taking no chances, the 1st RSM detachment split up again, leaving a small crew working in Seoul while a convoy set out for Taegu with equipment and personnel. The Seoul operation continued until the city began evacuations. The crew closed shop, loaded equipment, and boarded a plane bound for the new operations center in Taegu.
“Despite the severe cold, old equipment and several evacuations, the 1st RSM contributed significantly to United Nations’ and Far Eastern Air Forces’ operations, providing invaluable intelligence on enemy movements,” Jones said. “That intelligence allowed UN forces to thwart the enemy’s advance.”
“The command’s performance in the Korean War earned it a permanent spot at the table of American Intelligence. Several of our units, including the 1st RSM and 15th RSM, consistently provided vital air intelligence products that ensured the air-to-air kill ratio remained well in our favor,” said Gabe Marshall, staff historian in the 25 AF Office of History and Research. “It was USAFSS that enabled USAF F-86s to score their two largest single day enemy kill tallies against MiG-15s—Turkey Shoots.”
Following USAFSS’s first major utilization in support of operations in Korea, modern USAFSS airborne operations began. In 1952, command personnel made use of a converted B-29 Superfortress bomber for experimental missions.
Read more about USAFSS early years in Part II of this series.