The history of VF-54 begins when the United States Navy redesignated Fighter Squadron One Hundred Fifty Two (VF-152) as Fighter Squadron Fifty Four (VF-54) on 24 February 1950. This change took place while the Squadron was based at NAS North Island, San Diego, California. The first VF-54 Commanding Officer was LCDR Douglas K. English.
Following the redesignation to VF-54, the squadron had a new insignia approved by CNO on 14 February 1951. The insignia's design was based on the statement "through Hell or High water". The nickname: "Angeli-Inferni" or Hell's Angels stems from the 1930's Howard Hughes movie classic about a Navy dive-bomber squadron.
The new Squadron did not take long to establish excellence and high standards with a "can do" attitude. The pilots of the new fighter squadron had given up their AD Skyraider aircraft shortly before the redesignation took place and were assigned the F4U-4B Corsair. It was with this aircraft that VF-54 made its maiden voyage, 01 May, 1950, to WESTPAC on board the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) as part of Air Group 5 (CVG-5). On 25 June 1950 when hostilities erupted in Korea, the Squadron was enroute from Hong Kong to Subic Bay.
Departing the Philippines, after being resupplied, the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) was ordered north where VF-54 aircraft conducted a sweep along the western coast of Formosa (Taiwan) due to the concern that the North Korean invasion of South Korea might be a prelude to an invasion of that island by the Chinese Communists. Then, arriving off the coast of Korea, the USS Valley Forge provided the first and, for a while, the only effective air support against the North Koreans.
The initial air strikes were targets in Pyongyang, North Korea on 03 July 1950. The action continued up and down the Korean peninsula for the next five months from the Pusan beachhead to the amphibious assault at Inchon. Before returning home to San Diego in December 1950, VF-54 had flown 1,102 combat sorties.
Upon return to the States, the squadron took on the more capable AD Skyraider in place of the F4U Corsair. This time the squadron was led by LCDR Paul Gray who later achieved a degree of immortality as the "Bald Eagle of the Essex".
The Squadron resumed combat operations from the USS Essex (CV-9) on 23 August 1951. By this time the war had evolved: China had entered the war pushing the front south, Seoul changed hands twice more, and Gen. McArthur was out. The squadron still provided close air support to the front line battles, but its mission was becoming more and more one of interdicting the supply stream from the North.
CDR Gray, while leading this highly motivated group of pilots, took them on many missions that still seem to be made of more fiction than truth. Not only was CDR Gray shot down and/or had to ditch his crippled Skyraider more than most, it became somewhat of a standing joke. In fact, after his last ditching in the icy waters, one person posted a big sign: "Use Caution When Ditching Damaged Airplanes in Wonsan Harbor. Don't Hit Commander Gray." The Junior Officers renamed Wonsan Harbor as "Bald Eagle Bay".
Yet for all the times CDR Gray did not return with his aircraft, he is perhaps most well known for leading two missions in particular. The first was a raid that eventually became fictionalized in the book (and later the film) The Bridges at Toko-Ri. CDR Gray took eight ADs and eight F4U Corsairs into a well defended target and found success. The bridge was destroyed with just the loss of three aircraft. The second raid, that was perhaps the most satisfying to all that took part, was also led by CDR Gray. The attack on Kapsan was one of the most daring raids of 1951, and maybe the whole Korean War.
Intelligence sources had learned that a high-level meeting between North Korean and Chinese Communist officials was to take place at a base located near the foot of a mountain slope by the Yalu River in North Korea. Located 300 miles from the USS Essex, CDR Gray led his flight on a low level mission to the target and was able to avoid the triple A (anti-aircraft artillery) and radar warning system. From the coast line to the target at tree top level the flight was able to arrive undetected and with complete surprise.
With a rapid climb to 5,000 feet, the flight followed CDR Gray into the attack using 500 pounders and napalm and they completely burned and leveled the site. All ordnance was expended inside a city block square. Days later intelligence sources reported that the attack was extremely successful and that 510 of the enemy were killed. There were no American losses.
In March 1952 VF-54 returned home and commenced making two changes: Moving from NAS North Island to the Master Jet Air Station at Miramar, and a new Commanding Officer, LCDR Henry Suerstedt.
From November 1952 until June 1953 the Squadron was on board the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) when it returned to action in Korea. By now the Chinese and Koreans had dug in and the battle line had stabilized. During this time the Squadron continued to press the attack and then with the arrival of the Korean Truce settlement imminent, the Squadron's deployment ended and it returned to NAS Miramar.
With the end of Korean hostilities, it fell to CDR Christian Fink, who took over as Commanding Officer July 1953, the rather unstimulating task of creating a fighter squadron with no one to fight. But train they did and were well prepared when VF-54 next put to sea aboard the USS Philippine Sea, (CVA-47) in March 1954. What was to be a "peace time" deployment turned into something else.
On July 26, 1954, off Hainan, while searching for survivors of a downed British-Cathay Airliner, pilots of VF-54 were jumped by two ill-advised LA-7's. Five minutes later all Communist planes were suffering from an aggravated condition immediately diagnosed as salt water in the intake stacks.
The next tour of VF-54 was to be led by CDR Donald E. Bruce who, due to an unfortunate family tragedy, was compelled to relinquish the command to CDR Frank M. McLinn just prior to shipping out in October 1955. But with CDR Bruce's preparation and CDR McLinn's leadership another successful tour of WESTPAC, on board the USS Kearsarge (CVA-33) was completed in May 1956.
June 1956 brought a new Commanding Officer, CDR William A. Lewiston to VF-54. He maintained command through one WESTPAC deployment on board the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31). During this deployment, the Squadron operated in the vicinity of Taiwan in response to a buildup of Chinese Communist forces on the mainland opposite Taiwan.
Upon VF-54's return to NAS Miramar in December 1957, the Squadron began to transition from the faithful AD-6 (A1) Skyraider propeller aircraft to the F9F-8B Cougar and the jet age came to VF-54.
April 1958 while at NAS Miramar, VF-54 was decommissioned.
Throughout the years that VF-54 served the nation, it lived up to it's motto and nickname:
"YOU NAME IT, WE'LL CARRY IT" for indeed the men of VF-54 were "ANGELI-INFERNI" or "HELL'S ANGELS!'"
It was never found wanting in skill or fighting spirit.