featured photo

MCARA Units >VMJ-1 (1952-1958)

Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron One (VMJ-1) History

This is at best a placeholder write up for one of the Marine Corps’ most famous recon units. It was not commissioned until 25 February at K-3, Pohang, South Korea under Major Robert R. Reed but soon set about building a record of being the best photo squadron in Korea and doing the lion’s share of the work especially against targets in the high threat areas defended by hoards of Mig-15s (ex.an average of nearly 400 sightings per day in February 52!). After Korea, under their CO and WWII ACE Lt. Colonel Marion Carl, the squadron’s reputation and their CO’s was further enhanced by their clandestine missions over mainland China in 1955.

F2H-2P BansheeVMJ-1’s standup in late February, 1952 finally brought together all the Marine photo reconnaissance assets that had been operating as a section of the 1st MAW Hedron or under MAG-33’s Headquarters Squadron since July, 1950. According to Top Secret by J.T. O’Brien, from whom most of this write up is drawn, the squadron had 11 aircraft assigned at stand up including, 5 F2H-2P Banshees, 4 F7F-2P Tiger Cats, 1 F9F-2P Panther, and one F4U-5P Corsair, a logistical nightmare to say the least. At that time VMJ-1 had the greatest number of enlisted pilots as any squadron in the Marine Corps. Over time the Banshee became the most used aircraft although not as fast as the Migs which resulted in many engagements and near misses of being shot down until finally the Air Force began to frag flights of F-86s to cover them. Not sure whether that was all for protection or to capitalize on the unarmed Banshees as Mig bait for the eager fighter pilots. At least they were noticed as was evident from a mission to photograph the Suhio reservoir hydroelectric power plant deep in North Korea when two Banshees were escorted by two squadrons of F-86s! The squadron was credited with taking over 800,000 feet of film in support of the Marines and the FEAF for which it flew over half its missions.
(above from a 2003 Leatherneck article by Maj. (ret) Al Bevilacqua, “Changing the Guard”.)

VMJ-1 patchIn 1954, after the Korean War was over the squadron moved to NAS Atsugi, Japan where it was to remain until being relieved by VMCJ-3 in 1958. In May, 1955 the squadron now under Lt. Colonel Carl was ordered by COMSEVENTHFLT to conduct clandestine photo reconnaissance flights over the Fukien Province of mainland China from Taiwan searching for evidence of a build up of Chinese forces for a potential invasion of Taiwan. It flew these missions at altitudes of 30-40,000 feet with their Banshees and had to evade Migs who could spot them by their contrails by diving down to low levels. The squadron was ordered back to Atsugi after flying 77 missions.

(Above write up by Col H. Wayne Whitten USMC (ret) from sources listed)