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Tom Cleaver
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Meng 1/48 F-51D Mustang, 2 Squadron SAAF, Korea

September 20, 2019 · in Aviation · · 22 · 2.9K


Following the outbreak of war in Korea on June 25, 1950, and the UN Security Council resolution of June 26 calling on North Korea to cease its aggression and requesting that UN members come to the defense of South Korea, the South African government decided on August 4, 1950, to commit armed forces to the Korean War.

The decision was taken to send No 2 Squadron, known as “The Flying Cheetahs,” to represent South Africa in the war. The squadron had been formed in the early days of the East African campaign in World War II and served there and in the Western Desert, Sicily and Italy. The task of forming the squadron for overseas service was given to Cmdt S. Theron, DSO, DFC, AFC, a veteran fighter pilot of World War II. A call for volunteers was made by the Director General of the Air Force and the response was overwhelming not only from members of the Permanent Force but from the Citizen Force and ex-members of the SAAF. A decision was made that no aircraft or supporting equipment would be sent from South Africa, but that it would be purchased from the United States and made available to the squadron when it arrived in the Far East.

On 5 September, 49 officers and 157 other ranks reported for duty at AFB Waterkloof A small liaison staff under Cmdt J. D. Pretorius, AFC, left for Japan on 10 September and on 25 September the squadron left for Durban where they set sail for Japan, arriving in Yokohama on 5 November. By now, the situation in Korea had changed radically, with the UN forces poised to “roll back communism” by invading North Korea. The squadron moved to Johnson AFB, where conversion training on to the F-51D commenced.

On 8 November the first pilotsBEGAN flight transition training and fared so well that on 12 November it was decided to send an advance ground party and five aircraft to Korea for further operational training. On 16 November this advance party arrived at K-9 Airfield near Pusan. The squadron was attached to 18th Fighter Bomber Wing, with which they would serve for the duration of the war.

The first SAAF operation in Korea occurred on 19 November when Cmdt Theron and Capt Lipawsky took off from K-9 airfield to bomb and strafe Communist supply lines, the Mustangs landing at K-24 airfield, Pyongyang East Airfield in North Korea. The remainder of the detachment moved up from K-9 on 20 November and commenced operations the next day. Conditions at K-24 were primitive, with personnel living in tents in bitter winter conditions. No transport was available and all equipment had to be manhandled. The mess hall was an ex-North Korean Air Force hangar with gaping holes, while the dirt floor was damp and cold. The one short runway was soft and rough, which made operations very difficult.

On 24 November 1950, the Eighth Army Yalu "Victory" Offensive began with UN forces attacking north from the Chongchon River. The weather by now was so cold that tank engines had to be run throughout the night; when they were ordered to move out in the morning many tankers found their tracks frozen to the ground and could only move after being pushed by another tank. Ice floes were seen in the rivers.

The advance lasted a day. At 2200 hours on 25 November, Second Division soldiers in bivouacs and vehicle parks all along the Chongchon Valley were awakened by a cacophony of bugles, whistles, drums and rattles, followed by gunfire, as Chinese assault units smashed through unprepared perimeters and overran position after position. By dawn on 26 November, Second Division had been driven back two miles down the valley. The UN forces faced 200,000 troops of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, formerly the Ninth Army of the People's Liberation Army. The Chinese intervention in the Korean War would lead to what then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson later called “The worst defeat of American arms since the Second Battle of Bull Run,” and what historian Sir Martin Gilbert later described as “the most thorough defeat of a previously-victorious army in recorded history.”

The morning of 26 November, the Mustangs of the 18th FBW, including 2 Squadron, were called to support the stunned ground forces. However, the enemy was so well-camouflaged in the forests that it was nearly impossible for air support to find and attack them.

After hard fighting, Second Division was finally able on 28 November to organize its units and commence a retreat to Kunu-ri. Chinese units were already attacking positions south of the line of retreat, since they had flowed through the UN lines to block retreat. The division was ordered to continue directly south to Sunchon. To this point, the Chinese had allowed American units to escape once overrun. Colonel Paul Freeman, commander of the 23rd Regimental Combat Team which became the rearguard of the retreat, later saw the initial attacks as having been a test of American strength and will. “They came tongue in cheek at first, to see what we would do. Then they found what a thin line we had, how easily the South Koreans cracked. They saw what a pushover we were. Then they became very aggressive, very bold - and stayed that way.”

At 0130 hours on 30 November, with the defensive perimeter at Kunu-ri shrinking under assault, Second Division was ordered to move out and run the road south to Sunchon. The vehicle convoy soon became a nose-to-tail traffic jam on the narrow six-mile road as they ran into a storm of machine-gun and mortar fire from the high hills of the pass to either side. Trucks keeled over and caught fire as men ran for their lives. Tanks blew up when hit by bazookas the Chinese captured from the Americans. Overloaded jeeps roared down the road, careening into the ditches as their drivers were killed. “The Death Ride From Kunu-ri,” as the event was later recalled by the survivors, was one of the grimmest events in the history of the U.S. Army.

Vehicles sought to smash their way through the blazing wreckage of those hit before while a deathly paralysis of command and discipline overtook the division. Survivors later reported passing men who sat motionless in their vehicles, overcome by the force of the attack and unable even to rouse themselves to return fire as they waited for death. The mortaring and machine-gun fire continued throughout the night as Chinese troops came down out of the hills and soon there was desperate hand-to-hand fighting as the Americans realized the enemy intended to kill them all. Some men escaped in small groups by taking to the hills, though many become prisoners. The majority of UN POWs held by the Communists through the war were captured during the retreat out of North Korea.

Even the coming of daylight and American fighter-bombers did not save things as the survivors crawled out of the pass. In the one afternoon and evening of 29 November and the night of 30 November, Second Division lost 3,000 men and nearly all its equipment on the road between Kunu-ri and Sunchon. The division fell apart almost completely during the following days as the retreat became a rout, and it would be six months before Second Division was considered capable of re-entering combat. On the morning of 1 December 1950, Colonel Freeman turned to his Executive Officer and said bitterly, “Look around here. This is a sight that hasn't been seen for a hundred years - the men of a whole United States Army fleeing from a battlefield, abandoning their wounded, running for their lives.” Freeman's 23rd RCT would be the only unit in Second Division considered combat-ready at the end of the month.

During all this, the Mustang pilots flew 2-3 missions a day, with their ground crews refueling and rearming the aircraft in the open at Pyongyang East, as the biggest and worst Siberian blizzard to hit North Korea in 144 years brought daytime temperatures down to 10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, while snow storms made flying difficult.

On the road south from Sunchon to Pyongyang, panic spread throughout the Eighth Army. Major John Willoughby of the 1st Middlesex of the British 27 Brigade was shocked to attend a briefing at which his American counterpart warned, “Remember, if you see a red Verey light, just get everybody you can together and head south.” On December 1, the vast supply dumps at Pyongyang were set afire to prevent their capture by the enemy. Between 25 November and 2 December 1950, the Eighth Army took 11,000 casualties, killed, wounded and missing.

The night of December 1, the decision was made to evacuate Pyongyang. The Mustangs at Pyongyang East were fueled and armed for takeoff at first light on December 2. Once the aircraft were in the air, the ground crews set fire to everything on the field that could not be taken in the trucks, and the men joined the line of refugees in what would turn out to be the longest retreat in the history of the US Army, 109 miles to Seoul, hoping to hold the enemy at the Han River. What was later remembered by the survivors as “The Big Bug Out,” saw U.S. units retreating so far, so fast, that they outran their pursuers. This was a good thing, since the units were in no shape physically or mentally to stand and fight.

An officer of the 8th Royal Irish Hussars wrote of the retreat from Pyongyang, “The march out of Pyongyang will be remembered mainly for the intense cold, the dust, and the disappointment. Nothing appeared to have been attempted, let alone achieved. Millions of dollars' worth of valuable equipment had been destroyed without a shot being fired or any attempt made to consider its evacuation. Seldom has a more demoralizing picture been witnessed than the abandonment of this, the American forward base, before an unknown threat of Chinese soldiers - as it transpired, ill-armed and on their feet or on horses.”

The ground crews finally reached K-13, Suwon Air Base, 60 miles south of Seoul, on December 4. The Mustangs of the 18th and 35th Fighter Bomber Wings were joined on the field by F-80s of the 8th and 51st wings, to provide air cover for the UN forces along the Han River. The most important contribution of American air power at the end of 1950 was the interdiction of enemy supply routes, which prevented the Chinese from converting battlefield superiority into full-scale destruction and defeat of the UN forces.

On 5 December. 2 Squadron lost its first Mustang when rockets fired by Captain Davis struck a railway truck loaded with explosives which blew up with a terrific explosion and Davis was temporarily knocked unconscious. His aircraft had been severely damaged and he was forced to crash land. His wingman, Captain Lipawsky, called for rescue. A US L-5 Sentinel arrived and the pilot, Captain Lawrence, landed on a narrow road adjacent to the crashed Mustang. The observer, Captain Millet, gave up his seat to Davis. This was an outstanding act of bravery as the area was surrounded by enemy troops. When the L-5 returned, Millet had disappeared. Lawrence later returned and just before dark found and rescued Millet.

The Chinese were now the victims of extended supply lines. Hu Seng, senior staff member to Marshal Peng Duhai, later wrote, “While we wished to continue to push the enemy, we could not open our mouth too wide. China was unprepared for the new military situation created by the deep advance. We were now in a position where we could not continue to reinforce our army in Korea, because we could not supply more men.” By early December, the People's Volunteer Army was not the force it had been when the offensive had begun on the Chongchon River. Over the course of the offensive, the PVA had suffered 40 percent casualties, with more to frostbite and starvation than to battle. The Chinese offensive exhausted its momentum by the end of the year, though Seoul would fall to the communists a second time just after the New Year before the advance ran completely out of steam.

The first three months of 1951 saw nearly unremitting combat for the fighter-bombers as the UN ground forces attempted to hold the Chinese and then to push back. The Mustang was not the best airplane for battlefield air support, since its liquid-cooled engine and radiator were vulnerable to ground fire. American and French units stopped the Chinese in the Battle of Chipyong-ni between 13-15 February, later called “The Gettysburg of the Korean War,” since it marked the high water line of the Chinese advance into South Korea.

On 2 February Lieutenant W. F. Wilson was hit by small arms fire and bailed out over the sea only to disappear, while on 7 February Lieutenant D. R. Leah was killed when his aircraft was seen to strike the ground while strafing enemy vehicles on the road south of Yonhung. On 15 February Lieutenant Doveton's F-51 was shot down by ground fire while he was strafing enemy positions in the Kaesong area and he was killed. On 27 February the outstanding work which had been carried out by the squadron under the most difficult conditions was acknowledged when Cmdt S. v. B. Theron and Captains J. F. O. Davis, H. O. M. Odendaal, G. B. Lipawsky and W. J. J. Badenhorst were awarded American Distinguished Flying Crosses.

2 Squadron would continue to fly battlefield close air support in Mustangs until early 1953, when they and the rest of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing were re-equipped with F-86F fighter-bombers. During the war, 2 Squadron flew 12,067 sorties of which 10,373 had been flown on Mustangs and 1,694 on Sabres. The cost had been high as 74 out of 95 Mustangs had been lost as well as 4 Sabres. The price in lives was also high as altogether 34 pilots and two ground crew were killed, while eight pilots held as prisoners of war were returned by the Communists in August 1953.


released their some two years ago. The model is advertised as having a snap-tite glue-free assembly. While this is indeed the case, the model is best assembled with glue for a more permanent construction.

The kit provides both the cuffed Hamilton-Standard propeller and the uncuffed Aeroproducts prop, allowing a modeler to create a P-51D or P-51K. As a P-51D, the model represents a P-51D-15 or later Mustang. Both the US metal 75-gallon drop tanks and the paper 108-gallon tanks used in the ETO are provided. There are no other underwing stores. The kit provides both the “Los Angeles” and “Dallas” sliding canopies. These are a bit thick and will have to be modified to sit properly in the open position.

Surface detail includes engraved panel lines and rivets. While these are heavier than the surface detail found in the new Eduard kit, they are not so bad that the proverbial “coat of paint” will not diminish them.

Decals are provided in this release for the P-51D “American Beauty” of the 308th Fighter Squadron 31st Fighter Group of the 15th Air Force flown by Captain John Voll, leading ace of the group, and for the P-51D “Short-Fuse Sallee,” flown by Captain Richard E. Turner of the 356th Fighter Squadron of the 354th “Pioneer Mustangs” Fighter Group. The decals are of excellent quality and include stenciling.


Construction of this model is considerably different from the more normal kit, due to the “positive attachment” of the “glue-free” design. This can involve some industrial-strength pushing and shoving to get the parts into position, but they snap into position in the end, and it is impossible to fit them wrong. This is a good thing for those modelers who are “Mustang gear challeneged” regarding the proper placement of the main gear.

Since I hadn't built a model like this before, I decided to commit the radical act of following the instructions as regards the assembly sequence. This turned out to be a good thing, since there were a couple places where I thought to skip ahead and use my experience in determining what to do, only to discover that one almost cannot assemble the kit out of sequence without causing major fit troubles later on.

I had decided from the outset that I didn't want to try to fill all that surface detail on the wings, which led me to decide to do a Korean War Mustang, since quite a few of those F-51Ds had the putty and lacquer stripped from their wings. The decision was aided by the fact that the interior detail of the cockpit is not as good as either the Airfix or Eduard kits, and thus painting it black would cover the lack of detail. I did, however, scratchbuild a throttle quadrant from Evergreen stock, since what is in the kit is really deficient.

My decision to make a Korean War airplane allowed me to use the uncuffed Hamilton-Standard prop provided in the Airfix F-51D kit, as well as the 500-pound bombs from the Airfix kit. I decided to use the underwing rockets from the Eduard kit, and drilled out holes in the lower wing to mount them. In researching the airplane I was going to do, I saw that it had the “Dallas” canopy. After determining that the kit canopy is pretty thick and needs to be scraped around its lower edge to allow it to sit right, I decided to use the Dallas canopy left over in the Eduard kit, since it is thin and fit correctly without any modification.

I assembled the cockpit sides and the floor with seat and fuel tank, then airbrushed everything with Tamiya “NATO Black,” after which I picked out detail with a white and a silver artist's pencils. I used the instrument panel decal provided in the kit.

I then assembled the fuselage. Meng has a very interesting kit design, with the upper engine cowling, the rear upper fuselage aft of the cockpit ahead of the vertical fin, the lower cowling and the rear lower fuselage as separate pieces, done on panel lines, which when assembled solves the problem of a centerline seam to fill, since it isn't there. The air scoop is also ingeniously designed with the parts separated on panel lines to avoid that seam there, too. The rear wheel well fits to the lower rear fuselage part before further assembly and requires that you attach the tailwheel leg at this point.

Meng's kit was the first P-51 kit to get the main gear well correct, with the well extending inside to the main spar. This part is not as well detailed as either the Airfix or Eduard kits, which also accomplish this, but it looks good enough when placed in the wing. The assembly requires you to attach the main gear legs at this point, since they have long tangs that slip inside the wing to the rear of the wheel well, holding the gear leg at the proper angle and giving it a lot of strength; one is unlikely to be breaking this gear off accidentally. The assembly also requires you to attach the dropped flaps to the upper wing half before proceeding with the assembly of the lower wing and upper wing parts. I attached the ailerons and let things set up.

Attaching the wing sub-assembly to the fuselage sub-assembly is very easy, and the two fit together tight. I didn't need to use any filler anywhere in this project. I then attached the lower cowling, which includes the lower wing area ahead of the gear well, and finished off by attaching the horizontal stabilizers.


I gave the model an overall coat of thinned Tamiya X-18 “Semi-Gloss Black” as a primer coat for the Vallejo metallic paints. I masked off the anti-glare panel; the color photos I had of the airplane I was modeling show it had the post-war black panel.

I shot an overall coat of Vallejo Aluminum. Once that was dry, I brush-painted the area of the cowling around the exhaust, the wing fuel tanks and the area of the scoop around the radiator with Vallejo Duraluminum, painted the rudder with Vallejo White Aluminum, then did a few other panels with a 50-50 mixture of White Aluminum and Duraluminum. The really nice thing about Vallejo metallic paints is that once the base coat is applied with an air brush and dry, you can brush paint other panels and not have any brush marks in the paint. This way you don't have to risk pulling up any of this thin paint masking off with tape.

I painted the spinner gloss white, then scored the areas of the stripes with a #11 blade and carefully hand-painted the yellow, blue and red colors with a 0000 brush. The prop and back plate were left black as I had airbrushed them. When done, I unmasked the anti-glare panel and the windshield and canopy.

I had long wanted to do an SAAF F-51D, and the Xtradecal sheet 48177, “F-51D Mustangs in Foreign Service” has the plane flown by Commandant Theron during “The Big Bug Out.” As usual, the decals went on without problem under a coat of Solvaset.

I attached the wheels, the exhausts, and the underwing ordnance. I fitted the canopy in the open position.


Overall, I have to rank the Meng kit as number three behind the Eduard and Airfix kits, which are in a close tie in which cost is the deciding factor for a modeler in deciding which is #1 and #2. All three kits are very close in ranking, with the Meng ending up in third place due to it being nearly twice as expensive as the Airfix kit, and even more expensive than the new Eduard kit, while not providing details in similar quality to those kits.

That said, this kit makes up into a very nice model, and I highly recommend it to a modeler new to the hobby who wants to take a step up to a more complicated kit with the assurance that the assembled model will look good, due to the positive alignment fit design. This feature is also useful for a modeler who is returning to the hobby and needs assurance that it is indeed “like riding a bicycle.” Anyone who builds this kit will no longer have an excuse for not getting the main gear alignment correct when building an Airfix or Eduard kit, since this completed model will be a guide to getting it right on the others. I particularly liked the way the fuselage was designed to get rid of those pesky centerline seams.

Recommended for anyone from newbie to grizzled veteran. Another nice P-15D kit.


Historical section adapted from “MiG Alley: The U.S. Air Force in Korea 1950-53" available in November.

Reader reactions:
5  Awesome

13 additional images. Click to enlarge.

22 responses

  1. Hey Tom, what a fantastic build, Its great to see a SAAF build on the site, from a non South African. Great read as well. Not many people are aware of South Africa's involvement in the Korean war. Really enjoyed this post.

  2. As this days are full of them, at first I thought "...'another' P-51...". But having read your article and that excellent history part, I have to congratulate you. For the history, for the build, and for the 'package'! When someone presents a nice build plus its history (and/or story) that's AWESOME.


  3. What can I say Tom. Outstanding build as usual and the fact that you did a SAAF F-51 is just AWESOME. Maybe you should add a SAAF F-86 Sabre to your Korean War collection.

    • Only decals I can recall to do that was an old italerei release of their no so good Sabre.

      • One of my previous Imodeler posts have some nice photos of Korean War SAAF Sabres. Zane Jacobs from MAV decals in South Africa can make custom SAAF decal sets for any SAAF subject. You can e-mail him directly at [email protected]

        2 attached images. Click to enlarge.

  4. What a beautiful!

    Some close pic of the cockpit?

  5. Another great Mustang, Tom.

  6. Great seeing a SAAF F-51, not very often I reckon. Love the colours.

  7. Wow! It's fantastic Tom! I wouldn't have thought that Vallejo metals can be this good! Excellent finish!

  8. Lovely! I'm just getting ready to use Vajello metallics for the first time on some Phantoms, so nice tip about air/brush technique! Thanks.

  9. Nice all-around work on this, TC.

  10. Great story and build Tom!

  11. Knowing this place has a large contingent of very good South African modelers, I knew if I did this it had to "meet the marks," so thanks guys for letting me know it did.

  12. just before i opened the web i said i wonder what Tom posted today...opened i modeller and sure enough there you were right on top...scary...very well done SA bird...never seen a meng, heard it's expensive...i'll have to give youtube a stroll...i love american beauty...still remember randy lutz's striking beauty from years back...thank you

  13. A great job and history lesson!

  14. The one thing that I always appreciate about reading your articles TC, is that the first priority when giving a history lesson... it involves writing about the people who are the fabric of the story. They are not the latest Marvel Comic's movie characters, there not larger than life and made of C.G. and cellophane. There flesh and bone and they paid a price. Some of them left in frozen fields leaving behind mothers and family members who carry the burden of having lost a love one or they have a uncle,brother or father who can tell some great stories or remain silent in not telling the truth about war. Some of them are South African. Its not all about plastic and their story is deserving of being remembered.

    • I once had the honor to speak to one of the SAAF pilots that fought in Korea. After all those years the thing that was foremost in his mind about Korea was the cameraderie amongst the SAAF pilots who were all volunteers and many were WW II veterans who had flown Mustangs late in WW II, the bitter cold weather during the Korean winters, the SAAF and USAF co-operation within the 18th FBW. How two of the SAAF Mustangs landed at a Marine base due to bad weather and had such a great time with the Marine pilots at their Officer's Mess that they were only 'fit' to fly two days later.

  15. Good to see the Meng kit built in a different nation's markings. Personally, I would have thought more would have been built like the Tamiya Mustang.

  16. Glad you got around to checking out the Meng P-51. Anyone who has a thing for Mustangs should try this kit. Yours looks terrific! Same with the South African markings and valuable history lesson!

  17. Love the markings and story Tom. I gave the black semi-gloss a shot on the Ki-44 I posted a while ago, using the Vallejo Metallics as well and it turned out great. I'm about to do the same with a P-51 starting tomorrow

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