Helion's Fury from the North: The North Korean Air Force in the Korean War

Author/Artists: Douglas Dildy


Helion  Publishing


$29.95 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 80 pages, softcover, over 100 images
ISBN 978-1-912390335

After WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided pretty much as it is today, along the 38th parallel. The north and south were supposed to be united with free elections choosing the leadership. However, this never came to pass with both sides having leadership pretty well chosen by the controlling powers.

It was the desire of Kim Il Sung to forcefully unite the two halves, but he could not do so without military help from the Soviet Union and China. He was eventually given the OK after planning with both Moscow and Beijing, but told to be patient regarding the date to start. He jumped the gun.

One of the main reasons he was told to wait was that he did not have a fully trained air force. After WWII, little was available to either North or South Korea in terms of aircraft other than leftover Japanese stuff. Some of the initial pilots in the North Korean Air Force (NKAF) had actually flown with the Japanese. But there were not enough pilots or aircraft to make up a reasonable air force. After discussions with the Soviets and Chinese, plans were made to have these nations provide training while the Soviets provided piston driven aircraft; mostly Yak trainers, La-9/11 fighters and IL-2/10 attack bombers.

However, training is not an instantaneous thing and takes a goodly amount of time. Though a small force had been collected by June 1950, the pilots, for the most part, were not trained for war. Still, the NKAF was in much better shape than the south's ROKAF which had little more than a few T-6s and a handful of pilots. When the North invaded, the NKAF was actually quite active and successful, especially as there was nothing in the air to oppose them. The USAF did have some aircraft in Japan, but it took time to get things organized and meanwhile the North rapidly advanced down the peninsula.

Once the USAF and British got forces in the area, their air power was quite effective in destroying a goodly part of the NKAF on the ground, but it never fully wiped the force out. Units were decimated only to be reformed with newly supplied equipment. The NKAF basically moved north into China from where it continued with operations, albeit nothing on the level of the UN.

When the Chinese entered the war to push the UN forces back down the peninsula, it allowed the NKAF to once again do some operations from their former bases. The addition of Soviet and Chinese AF units that entered the war were also a major concern, especially the Soviets for the Chinese were not much better trained than the North Koreans. These latter forces were not allowed to fly anywhere that a downed plane could be examined by UN forces. Thus began 'MiG Alley'.

This book covers the operations of the North Korean Air Force better than any other book I've read on the subject. Though the NKAF was not a major player after the first few months, it was never out of the fight and flew offensive operations throughout the war. Thanks to the sleuthing of the author and his friends, we get a fascinating look into their functions during the war. Of course, if the North Koreans would allow research into their archives, a much better picture could be obtained, but through the use of Russian, USAF, and CIA archives we know a lot more than before. I learned a huge amount and had quite a few myths exposed as just that from reading this book. Very highly recommended. 

November 2019

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Review book courtesy of  Casemate Publishing, where you can order your copy at this link.

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