The EF-10B Skyknight which had a graffiti in Russian saying “Join the United States Marine Corps” painted on the fuel tanks so that Soviet MiG pilots could read it during intelligence missions
The Douglas F3D Skyknight was an early but effective attempt to combine new technology into a lethal assembly capable of operating on board a ship. While most fighters relied on speed and maneuverability, the portly right-winged F3D relied on three radars, four 20mm guns and, most importantly, darkness. First flying in March 1948, the Skyknight’s first taste of warfare came in September 1952, when Marine Night Fighter Squadron 513 [VMF(N)-513] deployed in Korea.
After the war, 35 Skyknights were converted to F3D-2Q Electronic Warfare (EW) aircraft.
As Joe Copalman recounts in his book F3D / EF-10 Skyknight Units of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, although the crews do “Shark Fin” missions. [as Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO) missions to collect intelligence on radar systems in China, North Korea and the Soviet far east] remained in international airspace and relied on remote receivers to collect intelligence, Communist air weapons in countries spied on regularly sent MiGs to intercept and investigate surveillance flights. In most cases, these interceptions involved MiGs safely flying an F3D-2Q before turning around. Recalling one of those peaceful interceptions, Skyknight pilot Chuck Houseman said;
âThe first time we were pulled over they reported that we were taking pictures of them while we were carrying 35mm portable cameras. Normally that would be on the pilot’s side where the interceptors were, and the ECMO would lean in and take pictures of them. And the Russians reported: âThey’re taking pictures of us. What should we do? âOne of the Russian controllers had a sense of humor and said,â Smile. âWho would have thought the Russians had any sense of humor?
As friendly as the interceptions with Soviet MiG pilots might be, pilots from other Communist countries in the region were decidedly devoid of humor. In his Top Secret book, ECMO JT ‘Jerry’ O’Brien wrote;
âWe did not greet the Chinese or the North Koreans. In fact, we have made every effort to avoid contact with Koreans and Chinese. On flights from Taiwan, we were usually covered by a flight of Chinese Nationalist F-86s.
On June 16, 1959, MiG-17s from the North Korean People’s Air Force (NKPAF) attacked a United States Navy P4M-1Q Mercator conducting an electronic reconnaissance mission 50 miles off the east coast of the Korea. While his crew managed to recover safely in Japan, despite the aircraft having been heavily damaged (it was later declared canceled) and the tail gunner injured, the attack – which then occurred that US Marine Corps Skyknight crews were on similar missions – drove home the serious turns these flights might take. Although the crews of the Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron (VMCJ) managed to avoid such inconvenience, one particular PARPRO mission drew fire of another kind from an unexpected source – the United States National Security Agency ( NSA).
In late January 1965, VMCJ-1 marked a single EF-10B with interesting graffiti that raised eyebrows both in the USSR and at home. Chuck Houseman, who flew the marked aircraft on a “Shark Fin” to Vladivostok, recalled;
“It was not allowed, but we thought we were going to brighten it up a bit, so we were able to somehow come up with the Russian language that said ‘JOIN THE AMERICAN SEA BODY’ and painted it on the side of the fuel tanks of the F-10 [the F3D-2Q had been redesignated the EF-10B in September 1962]. There was a conversation, we later learned, when the interceptors arrived – they got a little closer than usual and were reading it to the ground controller. They reported it, and there was no response, so they reported it again and there still was no response, so they dropped it.
âThe paint on the fuel tanks caused a great stir in the background in Washington, DC, with the NSA wondering what was going on. By the time the information got to us, the second flight was up there with those same markings, and they didn’t want to turn it around when it was already about to come out, but they spread the word, “Paint that damn thing and get rid of it.” ‘
Judicious flight helped prevent MiG encounters, with the pilots declining interceptions by starting their turn towards Japan before the relatively short-legged MiGs could close the distance over them. As an EF-10B pilot, then Capt Art Bloomer remembered his 1961-1962 tour with VMCJ-1;
âI have flown many ‘Shark Fin’ missions from Misawa, where we headed straight for Vladivostok, within 20 miles of it. I was never pulled over, as I was always shot before that, and we had MiGs on our heels. They followed us 50 to 60 miles offshore when we were heading back to Misawa, then they broke off and went somewhere else.
F3D / EF-10 Skyknight Units of the Korean and Vietnam Wars is published by Osprey Publishing and can be ordered here.
Photo credit: US Navy and US Air Force