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A number of Polikarpov Po-2s were delivered before the outbreak of the war. The Po-2 was a flight training and light utility biplane, built from wood and fabric, dating from the late 1920s, and originally designated as the U-2. Usually operated for primary flight training, the Po-2 could be used for a wide variety of missions, including as communications, casualty evacuation and light bombing aircraft. Eighteen Po-2s were stated to remain in service in July 1950.
They were used on night nuisance raids, earning them the nick-name “Bed-check Charlie”. The night nuisance raids were initiated on 28 November 28, 1950, when one solitary Po-2 attacked Pyongyang airfield, then in UN hands. Further attacks occurred in mid-1951 against Suwon and Inchon areas, but discontinued thereafter. However, in October 1952, these raids began anew and continued until mid-June 1953. The last raid occurred on 16/17 June, when no less than 15 Po-2, Yak-18 and La-11 fighters attacked Seoul, with five million gallons of aviation fuel being destroyed.
The nightly nuisance raids did not cause much material damage, although during one raid, on 17 June 1951, one Po-2 dropped two fragmentation bombs over K-13 (Suwon) air base with one F-86F Sabre belonging to the 335th Squadron being destroyed, and four others being badly damaged, the psychological effect of continued North Korean presence in the air being substantial.
The tactic of conducting night nuisance raids was similar to the one performed by Russian units during WW II. The U-2’s proved to be very difficult to shoot down, with only six being lost to US aircraft during the war. This was due to several different reasons. The Po-2 had low speed, simply flying too slow for the fast-moving jet fighters, while its wooden construction meant that radar lock-on was difficult to achieve. Being slow and difficult to see, the ancient-looking Po-2 actually was one of the most successful DPRKAF aircraft of the conflict. Indeed, one of the seven Po-2s claimed as shot down during the war was in fact brought down by accident, when the intercepting F-94 Starfire collided in mid-air with its intended victim.
The sole B-26 Invader crew credited with a ‘kill’, shot down a Po-2 on the night of June 23, 1951. A further three Po-2s were shot down during 1951 by USMC pilots. One Po-2 was shot down on 30 November 1952 by a USMC F3D-2 Skynight crew. The final Po-2 loss to US aircraft was shot down on June 15, 1953.
It is unclear how long the venerable Po-2 remained in North Korean service, but it may be presumed that the final aircraft were withdrawn from use in the early 1960s due to lack of spares and general deterioration. No information on individual aircraft is available.
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See other operators of the Polikarpov Po-2 'Mule'