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Unknown Air Force
The Korean Air Corps
© Lennart Andersson

At the end of the First World War, the people of Korea tried unsuccessfully at the Paris Conference to gain independence from Japan. On 1 March 1919 a proclamation of independence was signed and an independence movement started to spread throughout the country. As a result thousands were killed, wounded and imprisoned by Japanese troops. On 8 April 1919, a Korean Provisional Government in exile was established in Shanghai and Rhee Syngman was elected president. In September General Yi Tong Whi took over the premiership, but the government soon split into two groups: Yi's who favoured military action with Soviet backing, and Rhee Syngman's which favoured help from the USA.

In the meantime guerrilla fighters started to operate and independence armies were set up. The strongest resistance groups operated in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and in April 1921 an attempt was made to unite the different Korean independence armies. This conference developed into the Council of National Representatives that held its first meeting in Shanghai in January 1923. What is unknown to most people is that the Korean independence movement set up a small air force of their own in the USA in 1920. The driving force behind this was a person who's name the Alta Vista online translation service translates as "Scull Hundred Lin the General" (see source below). Unfortunately I know no Korean who could help with translation, but perhaps someone who reads this can provide the correct names.

""Scull" selected six young Koreans and sent them to a civil flying school in California and I believe they graduated on 5 February 1920. According to the internet site mentioned below five of these Koreans were Chang Byun Hoon, Hahn Jang-ho, Charles Lee, Young K Lee and Peter Och (Many Chinese and Koreans Americanised their names when living in the United States), and the school where they trained was the Redwood Aviation School.

The plan was that these pilots would form the basis of the air force that the independence movement intended to set up. Koreans living in the USA were asked to donate money and the funds raised were used to buy aircraft. Money collection started, but the discrimination of Asians, including Koreans, was a problem. Anyhow funds soon were increasing, an instructor was invited and new students could be recruited. The school that was founded was to teach flying, aircraft maintenance and English. After some hesitation "Scull" and "Kim Bell Rim" finally decided to purchase training aircraft. On the advice of the first pilots, three Curtiss JN-4D Jennies were bought and were delivered on 22 June 1920 to the airport at "Willow Su" (Willow Springs or Willow Creek?) in California.

What is very interesting and, as far as I know, hitherto completely unknown, is that these aircraft were marked with Korean national insignia! The Korean yin-yang roundel (probably same colours as today) was painted on the rudders and the letters "KAC" appeared on the fuselage sides. KAC almost certainly stood for Korean Air Corps (probably patterned on the US Army Air Corps title). The first course of 25 students graduated on 7 July 1920 and it is said that the Korean pilots were dreaming of the day they would take off to bomb the Japanese islands. If I understand correctly, "Scull" left for Shanghai, where the Korean Provisional Government was situated, in July 1921. A second course graduated at the flying school in 1922 and in 1923 the Korean flying activities in California reached its peak. Another pair of Jennies (the total obtained was five) had been acquired through the efforts of the general and "Kim Bell Rim". The American economy now quickly deteriorated, however, and the KAC funds were soon drained. The flying school was finally closed and dissolved about 1925.

"Scull" apparently met with a traffic accident in Shanghai and died on 22 January 1926 and thus ended this air force, which must be one of the smallest that ever existed. The main source for this article is an excellent website on aviation in Korea, unfortunately in Korean only, but with a number of interesting photos:

Korean aviation history site

The Redwood Aviation School   (Seach: Redwood aviation school)

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(c) Lennart Andersson