View Full Version : Secret Naval Raids in Korea

04-04-05, 09:48 PM
Behind the Lines:
Secret Naval Raids in Korea

If you think the U.S. Navy's activities off Korea were limited to offshore bombardment and carrier strikes, you don't know JACK!

The Central Intelligence Agency sponsored a variety of activities during the Korean War, among which were behind-the-lines maritime operations. Yong Do Island, connected by a rugged isthmus to Pusan, served as the base for those operations, which were carried out by well-trained Korean guerrillas. The four principal American advisers responsible for the training and operational planning of those special missions were "Dutch" Kramer, Tom Curtis, George Atcheson and Joe Pagnella. All of them had been processed through the CIA's front organization, Joint Advisory Commission, Korea (JACK), headquartered at Tongnae, a village near Pusan, on the peninsula's southeast coast.


JACK's first commander was Army Colonel Albert R. Haney, until he was succeeded by a decorated 82nd Airborne Division veteran, Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort. They oversaw planning and support for the agency's sea, air and ground operations, to include insertion and extraction of agents, coastal and demolition raids, and support for the Far East Air Force's Escape & Evasion Program.

One of JACK's projects, code-named "Blossom," had as its objective the planting of anti-Communist personnel in the North who would "blossom" as pro-democracy advocates after the South won the war. Most of those political infiltrators did not survive.

A big, tough Marine, Major Vincent R. "Dutch" Kramer had served in the Pacific and with U.S. Naval Group, China, during World War II. As the Group's Camp 3 commander, he supervised the training of Nationalist Chinese guerrillas, then took the field with them for raids and ambushes against the Japanese.

Equally large and tough was Lieutenant Tom Curtis. A 15-year Marine veteran, he had served with the Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet's secret Scout-Observer Group, before joining the Office of Strategic Services. He earned Bronze and Silver Stars for sabotage and guerrilla missions in Greece and China.

An Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 3 officer, Lieutenant George Atcheson was in Japan heading up a 10-man detachment when the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. He subsequently participated in seaborne raids and recons with Amphibious Group 1's Special Operations Group. Atcheson had led the first attempted UDT raid of the war on August 5, when he and other Team 3 men paddled rubber boats into Yosu from the high-speed destroyer transport Diachenko (APD-123), but had to abort the mission under heavy enemy fire.


A veteran of two combat jumps in Korea, swarthy, powerful Sgt. 1st Class Joseph "Pag" Pagnella came to the island via the 187th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Airborne Regimental Combat Team. He later recalled his first meeting with Colonel Vandervoort who, upon seeing Sergeant Pagnella and other noncoms with him, exclaimed, "Now I've got me some sergeants!"

Kramer was in charge of Yong Do operations. His Korean counterpart was Major Han Chul-Min, who had recruited several hundred South Koreans and disaffected North Koreans to be trained for clandestine missions. Working together with Kramer, Atcheson and Pagnella, Han selected 40 men to become members of the Special Mission Group (SMG), which would be trained for prisoner snatches, ship-launched and -supported ambushes and the destruction of North Korean coastal railroad tracks and bridges. Assisted by Sergeant Pagnella, Lieutenant Atcheson was senior adviser and trainer for the SMG, whose Korean officer in charge was a Mr. O Pak, a former river pirate. Described by Pagnella as "a stately, middle-aged man with a light build, stringy mustache and beard and hair curling from beneath his Marine-emblemed fatigue hat," O Pak was a master of kendo and an accomplished boxer who taught even Pagnella a thing or two during martial arts training.


UDT men being briefed for an actual underwater mission off Korea. The officer is explaining the mission and its objectives to the men before they start to dress for the project ahead. They watch intently as the briefing officer describes, from the map, where they are to go and what the duties of each will be when they get there.


04-04-05, 09:50 PM
Atcheson handled all rubber boat training and amphibious raiding instruction, including swimming and demolitions. Pagnella served as weapons instructor, on everything from M-1 rifles to .50-caliber machine guns and 57mm recoilless rifles. He also trained SMG personnel in the use of hand grenades, mines, booby traps and instinctive fire. He later built a 1,000-inch range, a 250-yard rifle range and a parachute landing fall platform on the rocky terrain of Yong Do with the help and support of Atcheson and the SMG personnel, 25 of whom became airborne qualified. An expert pistol shot, Lieutenant Curtis gave separate classes in the .45 automatic and added his knowledge and expertise to unarmed combat instruction and classes in guerrilla warfare. Majors Kramer and Han, plus his staff, consulted on the entire training program, which included foreign weapons (Chinese and Russian), first aid, map reading, patrolling, ambushes, small-unit operations and mortars.

The SMG's principal mission platform was the destroyer transport, or APD. Fast and agile, with a shallow draft that enabled them to get close to hostile shores, high-speed destroyer transports, with their four 36-foot LCPRs (landing craft personnel, ramped) had proven themselves during World War II carrying Marine raiders and UDTs throughout the Pacific campaign. Four APDs served in Korea: Diachenko, Horace A. Bass (APD-124), Wantuck (APD-125) and Begor (APD-127). From 1951 through 1952, Horace A. Bass, Wantuck and Begor took turns supporting CIA-sponsored behind-the-lines operations.


Standard operating procedure for launching and recovering SMG teams was based on years of wartime experience and subsequent tactical refinement. An APD would halt on station several thousand yards off the target beach at night. In silence and darkness, LCPRs, or sometimes LCVPs (landing craft vehicle, personnel), were launched and tows engaged to guerrilla-laden rubber boats. About 500 yards from shore, the tow was released, after which the raiders started paddling their rubber boats toward the coast, stopping about 250 yards offshore. From there, swimmer scouts were dispatched to reconnoiter the target. If an "All clear" was signaled via infrared light, the guerrillas paddled on in for the mission.