SA Air Force Museum’s Korean War Hall re-opens

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This week the Korean War Hall of Remembrance at Swartkop Air Force Base Museum in Pretoria was opened after a substantial upgrade. The Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Dong-Han Yang and Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, jointly officiated.

According to Commander Chulwoo Park, Defence Attaché at the Korean Embassy, his visit to the museum last year prompted the renovation of the Korean War Hall, for which he was appointed lead coordinator. Soon after, the Ambassador called upon the Korean Ministry of National Defence and a range of other entities, including the South African Air Force (SAAF) and both countries’ war veterans associations.

The SAAF approved the project in October last year, following the Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs allocating a budget for renovating the hall.

Commander Park said he hoped the Korean War Hall will be used not only as a memorial space to honour the sacrifices of Korean War veterans and their families, “but also as an important history education site.”

Ambassador Dong-Han Yang and Lieutenant-General Wiseman Mbambo unveiled a plaque inside the Collective Heritage Display Hall at the museum on Wednesday 20 March.

A key feature of the display is a replica Korean temple gateway, built by a local firm Tetra Cubic, under the guidance of its chief executive Mr Deokjo Kim. The original gateway in the display hall was incorrect, having been based on a photograph of two South African servicemen apparently taken in Japan during the Korean War. SAAF Museum historian Warrant Officer (WO1) Alan Taylor explained that the South African airmen participating in the Korean War were routed from South Africa through Tokyo and back.

In his address, Yang noted that the SAAF’s No 2 Squadron, represented so well in the display, “travelled a long distance and fought alongside the Korean military forces to save Korea in crisis 74 years ago.”

The crisis he referred to was the June 1950 incursion of North Korean forces across the 38th Parallel, established as the border between the two Koreas after World War II. This prompted the United Nations to call upon member states to assist the Republic of Korea.

In August 1950 South Africa, as a founding member state, agreed to send a volunteer force of the combat-hardened 2 Squadron “Flying Cheetahs” that was subsequently attached to the United States Air Force (USAF) 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing.

The squadron was equipped with American supplied F-51D Mustang aircraft, later replaced with F-86 Sabre jets. By January 1953, when the Mustangs were phased out, the South Africans had lost 74 of them. Of the 22 Sabres delivered to 2 Squadron between January and July 1953, six were lost. All the remaining aircraft were returned to the USAF.

South African Air Force F-51Ds in Korea.

Still, action in Korea introduced the SAAF to jet aircraft and in 1956 it took delivery of the Canadian-built Canadair CL-13B Sabre Mk 6. In the hall, a refurbished cockpit section from a Sabre Mk 6 is on display.

Ambassador Dong-Han Yang noted in his address that “a total of 826 soldiers were dispatched from South Africa to Korea,” of whom 36 died or were missing in action during the war.

The renovated display contains a roll of honour of all the South African personnel who served in the Korean War from September 1950 to December 1953.

Having visited the Korean War Memorial site at the Union Buildings shortly after his arrival in Pretoria in January this year, the Ambassador also inspected the renovations at the SAAF museum. He regarded the museum as the spiritual home of the South African Air Force.

“I hope that today’s friendship, which began over 70 years ago, will lead to further cooperation in the future,” he concluded.