Cold War Era

F-80 Vs Po-2 “Bedcheck Charlie:” the NKPAF Biplanes used in Nocturnal Harassment Raids against US Pilots during the Korean War

‘The Po-2 bi-wing trainers quickly became a royal pain in the arse! Nicknamed “Bedcheck Charlie”, they would arrive around midnight and drop a few small bombs [grenades]. During my time, they never hit a significant target, but they sure managed to interrupt our sleep!,’ Budd Butcher, F-80 Pilot.

By the spring of 1951, the North Korean People’s Air Force (NKPAF) aerial target threat consisted almost exclusively of two-seat Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes. As told by Warren Thompson in his book F-80 Shooting Star Units of the Korean War, these were increasingly used in nocturnal harassment as Far East Air Force (FEAF) units started to move back to airfields in South Korea. The 49th FBG had been the first F-80 equipped group to fly back in from Japan, recommencing operations from Taegu on Feb. 24, 1951.

8th FBS pilot 1Lt Budd Butcher was amongst those to experience the Po-2 threat firsthand at this time:

‘The bi-wing trainer types quickly became a royal pain in the arse! Nicknamed “Bedcheck Charlie”, they would arrive around midnight and drop a few small bombs [grenades]. During my time, they never hit a significant target, but they sure managed to interrupt our sleep! Slit trenches during the winter months in the middle of the night were not the most comfortable. A nightfighter must have got them eventually, because their harassment ceased after a while.’

Polikarpov Po-2

Sometimes, the F-80 units would neutralize the Po-2 threat themselves. Although the Shooting Star’s arsenal of weaponry remained virtually unchanged throughout the war, occasionally the targets for its bombs, rockets and napalm would be altered in order to counter an emerging enemy threat such as “Bedcheck Charlie.” In the spring and early summer of 1951, the F-80 squadrons bombed some of the lesser known grass strips in North Korea that were deemed suitable for these aircraft to operate from.

2Lt George R Veazey of the 36th FBS remembers flying a few of these sorties:

‘On some special missions we carried four 1000-lb bombs and no tip tanks, these weapons usually being dropped on the crude grass fields that could be used by “Bedcheck Charlie’s” bi-wing Po-2s. They were constantly harassing our major bases by flying over at night and dropping grenades or small bombs. Our bombs on these missions were equipped with a combination of instant and time-delay fuses – some of the delays were up to 12 hours or more. The airfields were rendered inoperable by our attacks, and aircraft could only use them again after urgent repair work had been carried out. And this became a dangerous proposition thanks to the delayed-action fuses.’

Amongst the airfields routinely attacked by Po-2s was Kimpo, which was home to the 8th FBG from Jun. 25, 1951 – exactly a year after the Korean War had started. In that time the group had been credited with destroying at least 45 enemy aircraft, 256 tanks, 1916 artillery positions, 4026 vehicles, 48 locomotives and 6026 buildings, and killing 14,684 enemy troops. The group would transfer to Suwon two months later, where it continued to be visited by “Bedcheck Charlie.”

F-80 Shooting Star Units of the Korean War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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