The Navy has long been known for its ability to adapt its striking forces quickly to handle the constantly varying circumstances of combat. One such instance occurred on 1 May 1951, during the Korean War.
In late April, the Communist Spring Offensive began with a thrust down the center of the Korean peninsula as part of an attempt to carry out a double envelopment of the South Korean capital of Seoul. After initially losing some territory, U.N. forces had stabilized the front at the Pukhan River on 29 April.
At this point, the U.S. Eighth Army’s biggest concern was the Hwachon Reservoir Dam, since the Communists’ control of its waters could greatly impede the offensive activities of U.N. forces in the area. Earlier in the year, an attack on the dam conducted by U.S. Air Force B-29 bombers equipped with six-ton guided bombs had failed.
Accordingly, on 30 April 1951, the Navy was given the assignment to destroy the dam’s sluice gates any way it could. That afternoon VA-195, an AD Skyraider squadron on board USS Princeton (CV-37), was given the mission.
It was evident to LCDR Harold G. “Swede” Carlson and his pilots that an effective attack on Hwachon would require using aerial torpedoes, but it would take a number of hours to get them ready for use.
The planned strike took off from Princeton on the morning of 1 May. Eight ADs armed with torpedoes, led by Air Group commander R. C. Merrick and Swede Carlson, attacked the 20-foot high, 40-foot wide Hwachon Dam in two-plane section run-ins. The torpedo drop points had to be highly accurate, and they were. Six of the eight torpedoes ran true, completely destroying one flood gate in the center of the dam and punching a ten-foot hole in a second. The pent-up water in the reservoir was released to cascade harmlessly down the canyon.
In the one and only time that aerial torpedoes were used in Korea, the Navy’s carrier aviators had demonstrated their ability to adapt to circumstances.