A note from Col. Ed Haerter. Read and wonder what kind of men willingly take on such tasks for their country.
A sampling of what we did after departing the tanker initially and coming back for enough fuel to get home.
Amazing that everyone wasn’t killed, in view of the incompetent national leadership, and the spineless senior military officers who wouldn’t stand up and say that what had been proposed was utter and total bullshit.
There was nothing worse for a fighter pilot than to have to fly straight in against a target, without any defensive movement or airspeed deviation.
I remember one mission, in NVN, where we were flying flak supression for a couple of F-4’s who were laying mines into a river. We had to fly at 450K, 500′ AGL straight and level down the side of the river dropping CBUs on the gunsites. Stuff was flying by the cockpit really heavy, and unconciously I had evidently been pushing up the power, because when I hit the ocean the A/C had accelerated to over 600K. Probably, I actually bent the throttle forward, if the truth be known.
First SAM Strike – Vic Vizcarra
On 27 July 1965, 46 F-105D’s struck two North Vietnam Surface to Air Missile (SAM) sites in Route Pack VIA. The strike was in retaliation for the first SAM shoot down of an F-4C three days earlier. Prior to this mission, SAM sites had been off limits under the overly restrictive rules of engagement micromanaged by Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara in the Johnson Administration. On 26 July 1965, authorization to strike all known SAM sites was received from the JCS with the FRAG order for simultaneous attacks on the morning of the 27th. It was going to be a maximum effort involving both F-105 Wings. A master mission brief was conducted predawn on the 27th which covered every SAM site scheduled to be hit and the criticality of de-conflicting so many flights. We were briefed the status of the SAM sites would be transmitted real time with the code “Blue Bells are singing” or “Blue Bells are silent” depending on whether the SAM sites were up or not. At completion of the mass briefing, we broke up for our individual flight briefings which were quickly interrupted with the news that everything was on hold. It turned out that SecDef. changed his previously approved order to the JCS and gave authorization to only strike the two new SAM sites suspected of shooting down the F-4C. This change in the overall mission at the last minute required drastic re-planning. Six flights of four from each of the two Wings with varying loads of CBU-2/A’s and BLU-27 napalm were now assigned to hit a specific SAM site simultaneously with two and a half minute spacing between flights. For the Takhli target, the first three flights were to hit the actual SAM site, while the last three flights would hit the site’s support facilities. Of major concern was the potential for mid-airs since our Takhli group’s flight path attacking from the northwest down the Red River Valley, would cross the Korat Wing’s flight path coming up from the south to hit their target only a little over two miles away. In addition, the new FRAG called for the attack to be conducted in fingertip flights! I think my flight lead was one of few flight leaders that planned to attack as directed by the FRAG, the majority choosing to split their flight up at the IP for individual attacks from slightly varying run-in headings. I was flying as number two in “Rambler” flight so Lead planned to have me on the side of the Korat flight approaching from our right. He briefed that as soon as we released our ordnance, I was to take the lead and go into an immediate hard right turn to avoid crossing Korat’s flight path. We hit the tanker just before crossing into Laos and proceed towards North Vietnam at 17,000 feet. The “Blue Bells” calls started coming in over the radio and alternated between “singing” and “silent” as we proceeded towards our target. Approaching our let down point crossing into Nam, we heard a series of calls from the first flight to reach the target. Two had been hit and Lead was coaxing him to try and get over the next ridge before bailing out. Unfortunately, he only made it to the Black River when he had to eject and was not recovered. As we leveled off at 100 feet headed for the Black River, the third flight struck the target. More radio calls, again number two in the third flight had been hit. No chute seen or beeper heard as two went in. Our turn at the Red River was kind of hairy as it involved a 120 degree heading change at 100 feet and the turn was into me. Even anticipating the turn and lagging back a little, the required steep bank momentarily blanked out the rest of the flight from my sight during the turn. Once rolled out, I was surprised that we were in perfect loose spread as we descended to less than 50 feet and pushed it up to 500 Kts. The tempo of the mission intensified during our 50 mile dash down the Red River Valley. Approaching the target area, Lead of the flight in front of us transmitted with profanity that they were lined up with the SAM site instead of the support facility. In those moments of high stress, number two answered Lead’s call with, “Well don’t make another pass!” In retrospect now, a humorous call. There were other radio calls coming from different flights. Someone was transmitting, “Let’s get the hell out of here”. Whoever was transmitting, either momentarily froze with his thumb on the mike button or it got stuck because for the next several seconds there was an open mike and all we could hear was heavy breathing. When we hit the support facility, we were in tight fingertip and dropped on Lead’s count. I immediately broke right as briefed and lead the flight out of the area. Once clear of Korat’s flight path, Lead re-took the lead and took us to the tanker. After refueling, Invert directed us back to an orbit point south of the target area to assist with Search and Rescue as there were several Thuds down.
Forty-eight F-105’s were scheduled for the strike mission but aborts resulted in only 46 reaching the two targets. Six Thuds were lost in the mission, four to AAA and two to a collision while doing a battle damage check during their RTB with both pilots killed. Three of the four pilots shot down were listed as MIA; the fourth one was miraculously rescued within 27 miles of Hanoi. Two of the MIA’s were later confirmed as POW’s.
The final straw occurred approximately a week after the mission when a 2nd Air Division O-6, with obvious no tactical experience, chaired a meeting with all the pilots who participated in the strike. He began the meeting by berating us and claiming we had not hit the target because as he stated, “you let a little flak scare you off”. As proof of missing the target, he threw up a slide of a BDA photo showing a perfect SAM site lacking any evidence of having been hit. An astute pilot in the audience questioned why the photo was dated two days after the attack. The O-6 responded with “Heck, we didn’t dare send in a recce right away, there was too much flak”. This ridiculous and obvious contradiction to his earlier statement of why we had missed the target caused the audience to burst out with laughter and cat calls. The meeting quickly went downhill after that with the O-6 losing all credibility. Finally when he asked for suggestions on the best way to attack SAM sites, someone from the back of the audience sarcastically yelled out, “Let SAC do it!
The ZPU-4 14.5mm anti-aircraft machine gun fires a projectile carrying twice the energy of the .50 cal. Browning Machine Gun at the rate of 10 rounds per second. Bad Ju Ju for aircraft…
The Elusive Target
The Fate of Dogwood 2 – Frank Tullo
It was the first day I had my Captain bars on. The night before, we had a small party at the so-called “O” club at Korat. Jim Hostetter and I had both made Captain the next day.
The next morning had all the earmarks of a large mission. Everyone was running around with their hair on fire. We found out we were going inside the 30 mile “Restricted” zone around Hanoi on the first mission against SAMs the USAF had ever flown.
As the frag came down I found I was flying on Maj Bill Hosmer’s wing. Hoz was to lead a flight of eight aircraft as the last strike flight of the day and our mission was to recce all the targets and clean up anything left over. I had flown on Hoz’s wing many times and felt I was bullet proof when I flew with him. As Dogwood #2 I felt safe doing anything. He was the best pilot in our squadron.
I’m not ashamed to say I was plenty scared that day. Just a few days prior the SAM site had shot down an F4C and damaged three others. We may has well have telegraphed our intentions, which was typical of the tactics we were forced to use under the Johnson Administration. It was to be a maximum effort, 24 aircraft from Korat and the same from Takhli.
Wen I went out to my aircraft that day I was surprised to find a 650 centerline hung in addition to two 450’s and two 2.75 rocket pods. My crew chief told me the aircraft was scheduled to ferry back to Kedena that day but it had changed because of the mission. It was full of fuel and there was no time to de-fuel. Because of this the flight had to fly over the bomb dump area after takeoff so I could jettison the tank before we went to the tanker.
As we started our let down into the target area somehow we knew there were downed aircraft. I don’t remember hearing a beeper, but we knew. The adrenalin was flowing. We were northbound low and fast between 100 and 200 feet coming up to the first SAM site. We were un-pressurized so I could smell the gun smoke in the air and there was a haze layer of gun smoke over Hanoi.
I was on Hoz’s right wing and I remember him saying something about salvoed missiles when he broke hard left. As I followed him I flew through a cloud of white smoke and when I looked down I saw four barreled guns spewing embers and white smoke. It looked like they were on flat bed trucks but later I found out they were ZPU 14.5 MM guns on wheeled carts. When I looked back into the cockpit I was greeted by a big red FIRE light. I told lead I had a light about the same time the other members of the flight told me I was on fire. Hoz reminded me to jettison my load which I did.
For some unknown reason I was convinced that all was going to be OK and the fire would go out and I’d go back to Korat. Not to be! I took the lead going straight west and I had my eye on a mountain or hill that I was hoping to make it to. I kept ignoring the calls to eject because things didn’t look that bad. All my instruments had failed but I still had the emergency gages. The small airspeed indicator was pegged at 400 kts which was as high as it goes.
I heard small explosions and when I pulled back on the stick NOTHING HAPPENED! I told lead “everything just turned to shit” and started the ejection sequence. When I pulled up the handles and the canopy went I was astounded by what happened. The noise of the rushing air at that speed and the engine noise from the intakes just outside the cockpit stopped me cold. I was almost blinded by all the dirt and loose debris that flew out of the cockpit. There was a few seconds delay between the canopy going and me ejecting. Some in the flight thought I was waiting for the right location but that wasn’t the fact.
I don’t remember anything between squeezing the triggers and feeling the chute open. As I told the PE Sgt. when I got back, everything worked perfectly. When I felt the chute open I was in a completely different world. The silence was deafening. I didn’t see or hear my aircraft and I might have heard my flight off in the distance but it was really, really quiet. When I looked up to check my chute I could only see with my right eye – didn’t concern me one bit – I was alive!
I was in the chute just a few seconds but I did see a U shaped farm house and field off in the distance to the west and the city of Hanoi to the east. When I looked down, the blood and flap of skin above my left eye cleared and I could see with both eyes again. I landed in elephant grass six or seven feet tall near a large tree. My first concern was to disappear. I stuffed my chute under the grass and grabbed my radio. When I turned it on all I heard was my own beeper, which I silenced. About then I heard the flight and Hoz’s voice calling me. I reported that I was in a great place for a pick up but I had lost my cigarettes in the ejection. I was on the side of a hill and to the north was the top so I told Hoz I was going to climb to the top.
I clearly remember as they capped me that whenever they strayed too far to the east I could hear gun fire and I think I heard rounds falling short around me. The next thing Hoz told me was something I didn’t want to hear. He said he had been ordered to RTB and said “looks like it will be an all-nighter.”
Then it real got quiet. I found myself breathing shallow, to be as quiet as possible. Every little noise got my full attention. I remembered that I had not deployed the emergency pack attached to the harness so I pulled the handle and to my surprise the life raft started to deploy. The rush of air into the raft was really loud so I pulled my knife and attacked it. It took at least three stabs to deflate it. It got quiet again. (often wondered what a NV would have thought about the “air pirate” killing his raft)
I decided to climb to the top. I gathered all my emergency equipment and started up. I had gone less than 100 feet when I realized I couldn’t make it. The elephant grass was impossible to move through. I was exhausted, completely drenched with sweat and dying of thirst, I was sweating so much that the bandage over my eye fell off. I decided to stop there and wait for a chopper. I took the ball ammo out of my pistol and loaded tracers.
After a short period I heard prop engines. I turned on my radio and made a call. Canasta flight, two Navy A1’s (Ed Greathouse and Holt Livsay) were in the area and I guided them to my position. Canasta lead had a very soothing voice and when I told him I was looking up his wing at him he said “I got ya”, that was real good news. He said they had to leave but there was an effort to get a chopper for me.
A while later I heard jets. A flight of two F-105’s flew near my position and I guided them over me. Lead asked me to pop smoke and I told him in no uncertain terms I would not. He told me to “relax” and then said he saw busses unloading troops at the bottom of the hill I was on. They left without doing anything about the busses.
I stayed as quiet and still as I could for a long time and then I heard it. It started out just a few gun shots but built to a crescendo of fire. It stopped and then it was quiet again. I could hear voices working their way up the hill toward me and the shooting started again. They fired salvo’s a few more times and at one time I saw the top of an old man with a conical hat within 75 or 100 ft below me but moving west. For some unknown reason they stopped climbing up the hill and started moving west chopping their way away from me.
I kept myself busy arranging my emergency equipment. I kept all the signal equipment lying out in front of me and I had everything else in the carrying bag that came in the emergency kit so I could move quickly if necessary. I tried to keep from drinking all the water I had but I was real thirsty. Then I heard the noise I had been hoping for. It was Canasta flight coming right at me. I turned on the radio and called. Canasta lead said he had a chopper right behind him. “You do good work” was my reply.
It was an aircraft I had never seen before, not what I was expecting but unbelievably welcome. It was Jolly Green One (flown by George Martin) and he was coming directly at me. I fired the pen flares and popped red smoke. He said he didn’t have me so I emptied my pistol tracers straight up. He said he had me and soon he was directly over me lowering the sling. I grabbed my carrying bag and got into the sling. They raised me about 10 feet off the ground and stopped. I hung there for quite a while when they finally pulled away with me hanging well below the chopper. I dangled there for what seemed an eternity, my arms hurting more and more as time went by. Whenever I looked down I saw little white puffs of smoke everywhere so I stopped looking down.
I then saw a rope coming out of the chopper door and understood they wanted me to tie the rope to the sling. When I did this I noticed that I was loosing feeling and control of my hands, it felt like I had boxing gloves on. I saw two or maybe three guys looking out the door and felt the rope lifting me. They were able to lift me three or four feet but then stopped. The good thing was the original cable became a loop in front of me and I was able to put my foot in that loop and release some of the pressure off my arms.
The chopper began to move to the west and to my horror I realized they were going toward the little U shaped house. As I looked around off in the distance to the west I saw a large group of fighters, I’m even positive I saw a B-57. As we approached I could see there was a dry rice patty next to the house and that’s where we were headed. When we got close a bright colored rooster ran across the field. I was set down in the field and George maneuvered the chopper off to the side. My eyes were glued to the house and when the chopper landed I took off. As I approached the chopper door I heard an automatic weapon firing from the house.
I dove into the chopper and when I looked toward the cockpit I saw both pilots ducking to the center as they applied takeoff power. We were off and I was safe. I thanked the pilots and then the PJ wanted to take care of my eye. My flight suit was soaking wet with sweat and as we climbed up it got colder and I began to shake. I’ve always blamed that on the cold but I’m sure it was shock. They covered me as well as they could, gave me water and a cigarette and I eventually stopped shivering. I don’t know how many holes there were in the chopper but there were holes.
We landed at Lima Site 36 in the dark guided by 55 gallon drums filled with burning gasoline. I was greeted by a blond haired American with a fifth of White Horse scotch in his hand, and was lifted out the next morning by Air America.
I was taken to Vientiane Laos and debriefed by two L/C’s. They weren’t exactly nice to me, insisting I saw more than I was telling them. The debriefing was interrupted by a generals aide. I was told that PACAF commander 4 Star General Hunter Harris was at the Officers Club with all the base dignitaries and wanted to see me. I entered the club and was seated next to General Harris who was genuinely interested in what had gone wrong. I had been sweating in my flight suit for two days and slept on the dirt floor of a bunker at Lima Site 36 so I couldn’t have been good company.
He insisted I have lunch, which I eagerly slam dunked, and listened to my story. When lunch was over he asked if there was anything he could do for me and I told him I just wanted to get back to my squadron. He told his aide to make sure I was on the KC 135 he was flying to Korat that afternoon.
On the ride into Korat he had me sit in the cockpit and when we got close he made me call my squadron on our freq to tell them I was aboard.
When we landed and taxied in I left the cockpit and stepped into the cabin, not wanting to be in the way. The shiny 135 stopped in front of all the base dignitaries, the door opened and stairs brought up. General Harris called me and made me go out the door first. There I was in all my stinky flight suit Glory.
Korat had taken a beating the day before, having lost 4 aircraft. They were glad to see someone return. The General went to the O’club with us and we all downed a cool one. Finally someone told me I stunk like a goat and should go take a shower.
We had taken off around 1430 from Korat and I landed at Lima site 36 around 2000. It was when I was on the ground that I found out how many Thuds had been shot down that day. My good friend Percy was bagged and became a POW. Of the six 105 pilots shot down that day, I was the only pilot rescued.
The Chopper pilot, Hoz, the two Navy A-1 pilots, and I have had 30 and 40 year reunions and I will be “eternally grateful” for their bravery.
Bad Day at Black Rock – Bill Sparks – Once Charlie Foxtrot Three
It was easily the worst mission I ever had to fly. Wrong ordnance, wrong courses, horrible tactics, all topped by McNamara having printed the coordinates of our targets in the US times. Not one Flag objected and no one fell on his sword. I have never been as angry or felt as abandoned in my life. We were poorly commanded and even worse, were not properly trained or equipped. I think that the first SAM raid epitomizes the whole damned mess that lasted so long. For whatever it’s worth I am sending my version of what I remember of that debacle. I wrote it for my family several years ago and I still am as angry as I was when I landed from that F****** mess. I looked all over Takhli for a Full Bird to punch out and could not find one on the base. This may give you a slightly different look at the First Sam Raid. I am still mad as hell!
In early May, Al Logan landed from a mission near Hanoi and reported that A SAM SITE was being built about 15 miles south of Hanoi! My reply was that “The rules are that we get all of the technology, they get all the Elephants, and they’re cheating.” Russ Violette and I both flew to that area in the afternoon and someone was indeed building a SAM site. We went to our boss, Major Jack Brown, and reported our concerns. Jack took a flight to the same area early the next morning and found the first of many sites. He called all of us together and told us to get a plan ready to kill the SAM and left the next day for Saigon. He returned two days later with his tail between his legs, carrying a message to not fly within five miles of ANY SAM site. The word was not to ‘disturb’ any activity because it might anger the Russians who were doing the construction. A few days later, a directive came down from 2AD ordering everyone to not over-fly or disturb any SAM activity in North Vietnam (NVN). The penalty for noncompliance would be courts-martial.
Takhli received a squadron of EB-66 aircraft in May who had the mission to track all electronic activity in the North. The EB-66 had four Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs) sitting on downward-ejecting seats in the bomb bay that kept track of any and all electronic emissions. It was an underpowered, old, clunky aircraft, but they did a hell of a job that has never been properly recognized. Our EB-66 friends kept track of the SAM and all other radar activity and reported daily the progress in building missile capability in the North. We continued to receive directives not to bother the Russians. The number and activity of the SAMs continued to increase.
My Flight Commander, an Edwards Test Pilot type with almost no operational time was killed on a mission in Laos about this time. His replacement was Captain Paul Craw, AKA Charlie Chicken Expletive-deleted, one of the very best, most aggressive, natural Fighter Jocks ever born. Paul was a firm believer in flying with the same people every mission. He was mean enough and strong enough to make it happen. D-Flight became ‘Charlie Foxtrot’ Flight and flew 39 consecutive missions together. For those missions, Paul Craw was lead, Kyle Berg was Two, I was three, and Marty Case flew as four. We grew to be very competent, totally confident in each other, and were sure that Charlie Foxtrot Flight was the meanest SOB in the valley.
The reports from the B-66 EWOs convinced us that the SAMs were ready to shoot at any time. By the first week of July ’65, the EWOs announced that all of the SAM component systems were operating, had been checked out, and were fully operational. At that time 2AD issued a code phrase to be used when a SAM was being launched, ‘Bluebells are Singing’. They also reiterated the ban on any attempt to take out the threat. To say that we were nervous is an understatement.
On July 24, Paul was leading the Charlie Foxtrots south of Hanoi after having hit a target nearby when I heard an EB-66, on guard channel, saying, “Bluebells are Singing, repeat, Bluebells are Singing, south of Hanoi.” I was on Paul’s left wing looking north and saw a Guideline Missile, followed by a second, lift off and climb into the clouds at about 5,000 feet. The Russians had finished the checkout of their systems. The target for the SAMs was a flight of F-4C aircraft from Ubon that were in close formation penetrating the weather. The F-4 flight had switched off guard channel and was hit with no warning. One aircraft was blown away and the other three were badly damaged. The damaged birds managed to make it back to Udorn and land where one was written off. It is amazing that all were not lost. The missile is 20 feet long, smokes along at almost MACH 3, and has an almost 500-pound warhead.
The restrictions on hitting SAMs remained in effect and we were restricted from flying within 30 miles of Hanoi. This was a totally stupid reaction that deserves to be questioned by anyone with any knowledge of the use of force. Two days later Paul brought a clipping from the Bangkok paper quoting McNamara. The main point was that “We can take out the Surface-to-Air Missile systems at any time we desire.” The quote also contained the coordinates of two sites. In the same article “Dr Strange” stated that we had too many fighter pilots and that we should reduce the number. Paul commented on the article in rather foul language and pointed out that a good way to reduce the number of fighter pilots was to print where they were going. We also couldn’t understand why TWO sites when only one had fired.
I was told that a message was delivered to the South Vietnamese Headquarters by DOD directive on July 25 that listed, in detail, two SAM sites to be attacked, date and times, route of flight to and from each target, ordnance, speeds, and altitudes that would be flown. Since anything given to the South Vietnamese would be in Hanoi in hours, I am convinced that any such directive constitutes at least Dereliction of Duty, if not Treason since 2AD, and everyone else in Saigon, knew of the leaks from the South Vietnamese HQ.
About 0600 on July 27 1965, I felt a hand shake me awake and tell me that I didn’t need to get up for my scheduled mission brief since I was now on Iron Hand One, the first SAM raid. I pretended to be asleep for as long as possible to be cool and then went to the CRUB for a breakfast martini with Paul. We left for INTELL as soon as we could and found the mission order. It was the absolute most incredible bunch of crap imaginable. The 563rd was to hit a SAM site, the one that had fired a few days earlier, using three flights of four F-105Ds in trail with only one minute spacing between flights. The ordnance listed was rear-dispensed bomblets (CBU-2) dropped from 50 feet and at 360 knots. My Grandmother knew more about targeting than that! The next two flights were ordered to carry Napalm and also drop from 50 feet and 360 knots. The idiocy of DOD was now apparent to all. If you tell anyone that you are going to hit him, and then give him almost a week’s notice, any half-wit can figure out that the place will be empty and/or well defended. To over-fly an extremely well defended complex at 50 feet and 360 knots is a suicide order. The Japanese had better sense when they sent out their Kamikaze. To exacerbate an already insane order, have all aircraft fly at the same altitude, airspeed and attack from the same direction, with close intervals. I may have been a Slick Wing Captain, but I certainly knew better that that.
HQ USAF, HQ PACAF, and 2AD all passed this load of excrement down without demur. I had been taught that you were supposed to, or at least try to, keep some of your troops alive. This is the Light Brigade all over again.
We truly bitched, whined and moaned. Major Brown got on the horn and tried to talk to Saigon at least three times. The Yakota Squadron Commander also gave it his best shot, all to no avail. Korat called as well. What we asked was to change the ingress and egress, change the altitudes, and increase our drop speed to at least 500 knots. At no time did we ever request not to hit the site. We were ordered to go as directed WITH ZERO CHANGES! The 563rd was to launch 12 aircraft to the SAM site. 12 aircraft from the Yakota squadron were to hit the ‘Supporting Barracks’. Korat had the same order for a SAM site and support area less than five miles from ours. The Times-on-Target (TOT) for both sites was the same and the directed routes to and from insured that we would be almost head on with the Korat aircraft. It appeared that DOD also tried to schedule a mid-air collision.
We realized that we could either comply with this stupid order or mutiny, so we went to the squadron and briefed the insanity. Major Brown led the first flight, Major Harris led the second, and Paul was leader of the last flight. All of the wingmen were volunteers. Paul never spent much time on routine details and this day his briefing was very brief. He said, “Well, we’re going to takeoff with four. I wonder how many will land? Let’s look at the photography and figure out what the hell we might be able to salvage.” Jack Brown stuck his head in the briefing room and told us to screw the airspeed restriction and to hold 540 knots from our letdown point to the target. We completed what little we could and suited up for the debacle. We were not happy campers.
Tahkli was most fortunate to have an outstanding Chaplain, Father Frank McMullen. Father Mac started the Takhli tradition of blessing, complete with sprinkling, every aircraft that took off anytime day or night. This day Father Mac, who often attended our briefings and flew with the B-66 guys, came to the line and blessed each pilot before takeoff. He climbed up the ladder of my Thud just before start engine time and gave me absolution along with his blessing. I was raised as a Methodist and was definitely not used to having a guy wearing a shawl to either bless or absolve me. I decided that I needed all the help I could get and was truly thankful for the gesture. We launched on time and headed north.
We flew into central Laos at 28,000 feet and then let down below 50 feet above the terrain, held 540 knots, and headed for our Initial Point (IP), Yen Bai, on the Red River. In July ’65, Yen Bai had more guns than Hanoi; yet, it was a mandatory checkpoint in the tasking message. DOD strikes again. Paul did not over-fly Yen Bai since Paul is at least as smart as a chicken, we hit the Red River below 50 feet and started for the target two miles back from the second flight.
Almost immediately we started to have 37MM flak burst directly over our flight path. 37MM guns do not have a fuse that will detonate on proximity, ergo; all of the rounds had to have been manually set to detonate at a fixed time after they were fired. The time corresponded with the expected range from gun to target. It was absolutely obvious that they knew we were coming and at what route. The reason that the 37MM rounds were high was that the guns could not be depressed any lower. We flew either down the Red River or over its edges for about 40 miles, always with 37MM bursting over us. When we hit the confluence of the Red and Black Rivers, we left the river and flew over rice paddies for the next 25 miles to the SAM site. A B-66 took a picture looking down on one of our flights and it was leaving rooster tails in the paddies. We started to take hits from small arms and .50-caliber equivalent Automatic Weapons as soon as we left the river. I was hit 12 times between the IP and target, all .30 and .50 caliber equivalents. As we neared the SAM site, we came under fire from the 37MM and 57MM weapons that had been brought in to protect the site. We counted over 250 37mm and 57MM guns and a horde of Automatic Weapons around each site when we finally got the post-strike photography. Korat’s experience was similar to ours. We underwhelmed the Bad Guys a ton. I saw what looked like a Missile propped up against a pole and a couple of huts in the cleared area of the site when we were about a mile out. There were no vans or other service equipment normal to a SA-2 site. Surprise, Surprise, it was a dummy site! It was hard to see much since Jack Brown’s flight had hit the area with eight CBU-2s with all 19 tubes dispensing bomblets. Major Harris’ flight had dropped 24 Napalm cans. We dropped 24 more cans into the mess. As our first flight hit the target, Walt Kosko, flying TWO, was hit, started burning fiercely, and only made it back to the Black River before he had to punch out. As I dropped, I saw Kyle Berg’s aircraft on fire from in front of the inlets past the ‘burner’. The aircraft slowly pulled up, rolled right and went in. Marty Case, who had gone through Cadets with Kyle, called “Bailout, Bailout” and then “No way, he went in!” Paul started to pull up through a hail of bursting flak to cover Kyle and both Marty and I yelled at him to stay down and get the hell out of Dodge. Paul stayed on the deck, accelerated to 600 and wheeled for the Black. I found out after the POW return in 1973 that Kyle was hit just as he pickled off his Napalm, burst into flames, and ejected. He went out at 50 feet, 540 knots and blew several panels in his ‘chute. We passed Major Brown as he was trying to CAP Walt’s parachute and dinghy in the Black River. He ordered both Paul and Major Harris to go home. He alone stayed to see if Walt could be found for 30 minutes, went out to a tanker, and returned for another 30 minutes, still all alone. Walt was never recovered.
We stayed low past the Black and then climbed to 35,000 and flew back to Takhli. For the first time in my life, I completely lost all control of myself. I bawled, raved, beat the canopy, and totally acted like a fool. I have never been so very angry. Luckily, I could put the Thud on Autopilot and indulge my childish behavior. I finally got myself under control about the time we crossed back into Thailand. In the meantime, I heard various radio calls indicating that Korat had lost four F-105s. We had lost at least two Thuds. We actually lost six F-105s in less than three minutes, an RF-101C was shot down with the pilot killed while photographing the same site 2 days later. Of the 46 F-105s from both bases in the attack, we lost five of the six pilots flying #2 and one leader. I was so damned angry, I was spluttering. I am still almost as angry as I was then.
Kosko, Farr, and Bartlemas were all killed. Berg and Purcell were alive, captured, and spent an eternity in Prison. A Rescue helicopter picked up Tullo from East of the Black River and took him to Laos. To drive the spike in a bit further, Kyle told me in ’73, after he was released, that I had rolled some Napalm under him before he hit the ground. I had a major problem with the Thud losses that day. The F-105 community was so small that we either knew the drivers or knew someone who knew them. Jack Farr had been in the 8th Squadron with me for three years. Kyle and Walt were at Spangdahlem the same time. Purcell was from Louisville, my hometown, and Black Matt and I had been friends for over two years.
It was a very bad day at Black Rock.
Paul landed at Takhli with three Charlie Foxtrots and we counted holes. Of the twelve 563rd aircraft that went on the mission, two were shot down, nine had multiple holes and only one was not hit. My aircraft, 169, had 12 holes and was one of only four flyable aircraft in the squadron had the next day. When I parked my bird, the first one up the ladder was Father Mac. He handed me a French 75, slightly warm, and blessed me again. I told him that if he ever came up my ladder again, I would jump off and abort. He laughed, kissed my forehead, and said, “It worked, didn’t it? Be thankful!”
I joined Paul and Marty for an INTELL debriefing and noticed that the Intelligence folk seemed to be afraid of us. We were on a short fuse and irked at everyone. We grabbed a jug of ‘Old Overshoes’, mission whiskey, from a poor Lieutenant and waded through the debriefing. We then went to the squadron and covered the mission taking the Old Overshoes.
How do you debrief an insane mission? Paul said that he would never again allow anyone to dictate such a stupid set of rules. Marty and I agreed. I promised myself that I would never, ever allow anyone, regardless of rank, to waste so many folk. I owed it to the people I flew with to take better care of them than that. Every one of us would have volunteered to go on a mission to whack SAMs. To be thrown away by idiots is another thing. I flew my second tour as a Weasel and never allowed anyone to put my flight in that kind of a bind. Rank or position cannot excuse incompetence. I decided that being promoted mattered much less than caring for my troops. What was anyone going to do to me, make me fly to Hanoi?
Number Two… Who, me? – Jack Redmond
I remember very clearly the calls about Hudson 2, Dogwood 2 and Healy 2 being shot down. That is when John Atkinson ( # 2 in my flight) called out that he is changing his call sign to Valiant 5!
Editorial Comment: It was indeed a very Bad Day, one of many that resulted from the combination of a determined and clever enemy, rules of engagement and tactics dictated by leaders who were driven by fear of annoying our enemies while either unaware of or unconcerned with the operational realities of aerial combat, plus our own years of unrealistic training. Yes, as Sparky intimates, it seemed that too many of our leaders were more concerned with promotion or political power than the conduct of the war or welfare of the warriors. “Leaks” of our plans, deliberate or otherwise, helped not at all and apparently continue today.
The reader will no doubt understand that the infamous “Fog of War” coupled with the fallibility of 47-year memories resulted in some variation in details in these accounts. We have made every effort to resolve any differences including reference to official records where possible.
The Flight Surgeon with the 12th TFS at the time of this mission, Lowell “Doc” Peterson, has written an excellent and poignant book “The Birds were Silver Then” containing much more detail and interviews with additional participants, as well as a brief but cogent account of the political and military history of Indochina that was to lead to escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Historical Significance & Flight Lineup – Howard Plunkett
 “Spring High” was the name given to the 27 July 65 mission. Some have reported that this mission was called “Iron Hand 1”. However, the Navy flew the first anti-SAM mission with the Iron Hand name after an A-4 pilot was shot down by a SAM on 11 Aug 65. Lt JG Donald Hubert Brown, Jr. was KIA. His was the second U.S. loss to a SAM during the war. The first “Iron Hand”was a Navy two-day mission, 12 -13 August 65, in retaliation for Brown’s loss. Results were similar to the Air Force’s Spring High — five planes lost and 11 damaged, no SAM sites found. The Air Force then adopted the Navy’s Iron Hand name for their anti-SAM missions throughout the war.
The stories from the guys who were there are the brave and tragic aspects of this first SAM raid. But after 47 years, where these stories have been told and retold, I think it’s time to also include the historic significance of what they did.
As screwed up as it was for the guys who flew it, here’s my take on the result of their mission. SAMs changed air warfare. We had no way to deal with these beasts. The mission got the Air Staff’s attention on how woefully deficient our ability to counter SAMs really was. The mission kicked off an explosion of anti-SAM technology programs, all of which are still used in some form today. On 13 August 1965, Brig Gen Kenneth C. Dempster, AF/RDQRT, directed the programs. They were tested at Eglin as the highest priority of all their testing at the time. Contractors and Gov’t agencies worked together, cooperatively, based on recognized urgency and trust. The first F-100F Wild Weasels arrived at Korat on 25 Nov 65. They proved the Wild Weasel concept by killing a SAM site less than a month later. RHAW for F-105s arrived in early December 1965. The first F-105F Wild Weasels got to Korat on 22 May 66; the first to Takhli on 4 July 1966. Shrikes, a Navy missile, became available to the Air Force in March 1966; ECM jamming pods in September 1966. This stuff worked but the crews who first took them into battle suffered severe learning curves just as the Spring High pilots did.
F-105 Pilots on the 27 July 1965 SAM Site Strikes
With a few uncertainties, here are the pilots who flew this mission against the two SAM sites:
SAM Site 6 from KORAT
“Pepper” (357 TFS)
#1 – Maj Jack Graham Farr. 357 TFS Ops Officer. On this mission, KIA in mid-air collision with wingman Bill Barthelmas. Farr’s name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Panel 02E Line 44.
#2 – Capt William “Black Bart” Barthelmas, Jr. KIA in mid-air with Farr. First man to die in the Vietnam War from his hometown, Circleville, OH. A city park and AMVETS Post 2256 in Circleville were dedicated to him. His name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Panel 02E Line 44.
#3 – Capt Robert T. Saffel. Completed 100 missions in Feb 66 with the 354 TFS from Takhli after flying with the 469 TFS from Korat. Last flew the F-105 in June 1967 with 1070.4 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.–
#4- Capt George M. “Squeeks” Weeks III. Flew his 100th mission on 26 Jan 1966 with the 354 TFS at Takhli after flying with the 469 TFS from Korat. Last flew the F-105 on 29 April 1973 accumulating 969.1 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
“Willow” (357 TFS)
#1 – Capt William Thomas “Willy” May. On this mission, received 53 flak puncture holes on TOP of his plane. Completed 100 missions on 15 January 1966 with the 469 TFS from Korat — his last flight in the F-105. He had 516.1 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Lt Col on 1 August 1977. Died 22 Jan 2006.
#2 – 1Lt David L. Ferguson. On this mission, engine intake damaged by flak. Became a Wild Weasel pilot with the 44 TFS at Korat. Flew his 100th mission on 2 April 1968. Last flew the F-105 in May 1972 accumulating 908.4 hours. Retired as a Lt Col in 1979. Joined Lockheed “Skunkworks” as a test pilot. Was the second pilot to fly the F-117 Stealth Fighter and the first to fly the F-22. Twice received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Retired from Lockheed in 1999 with over 6,000 hours in 60 different aircraft. Died 10 August 2011.
#3 – Capt John C. Gordon. Flew his 100th mission in Feb 1966 with the 354 TFS at Takhli after flying with the 469 TFS from Korat. Resigned from the Air Force in March 1966 and flew for TWA. Flew F-105Bs in the NJ ANG for three years. Last flew the F-105 on 29 May 1969 accumulating 982.8 hours in the airplane.
#4 – <Unknown>. Aborted.
“Lemon” (357 TFS)
#1 – Capt William T. “Bill” Ramage. Flew his 100th mission and final F-105 flight on 15 January 1966 with the 421 TFS at Korat. Accumulated 795.6 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Lt Col.
#2 – Capt Larry C. “Muff” Mahaffey. Shot down and rescued on 18 November 1965 while flying with the 469 TFS at Korat. He also flew with the 354 TFS from Takhli until April 1966. Instructor pilot for Continental Airlines. Died 4 February 2011.
#3 – Col William D. Ritchie, Jr. First commander of the 6234 TFW at Korat between April and Dec 1965. Served in WWII and Korea. Died 18 March 1995 at age 76.
#4 – Capt Gilbert Bruce Holmes, Jr. Completed 100 missions on 15 January 1966 with the 469 TFS at Korat. Instructor pilot in F-105 RTU in 561 TFS at McConnell. Died in a house fire in Wichita on 17 January 1967.
“Cedar” (12 TFS)
#1 – Lt Col Charles W. Reed. 12 TFS commander. Last flew the F-105 in August 1968 accumulating 421.3 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#2 – Capt Robert Baldwin “Percy” Purcell. Shot down on this, his 25th, mission and became a POW. Released 12 Feb 1973. Went through requalification flight training at Randolph and retired as a Colonel. Died 6 Dec 2009 at age 78. Buried at Arlington on 29 April 2010.
#3 – Maj Paul M. Kunichika. On this mission, air aborted on tanker due to ATM failure. Last flew the F-105 in April 1971 with 1207.5 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#4 – Capt William H. Joyce. Had flown F-105s since 1963.
“Hickory” (12 TFS)
#1 – Maj Ralph H. Bowersox. 12 TFS KILO Flight Commander. Last flew the F-105 in June 1967 accumulating 635.1 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#2 – <Unknown>
#3 – Capt Raymond V. Moss. Resigned from the Air Force on 20 June 1966.
#4 – 1Lt James K. Sandin. This flight was his last combat mission of the war. Temporary loss of hearing in his right ear sent him back to Kadena. He resigned from the Air Force in November 1968 and flew for Continental Airlines for 32 years.
“Dogwood” (12 TFS)
#1 – Maj William J. “Bill”Hosmer. As an F-100 pilot, flew left wing with Thunderbirds in 1961. 12 TFS LIMA Flight Commander. Last flew the F-105 in March 1968 accumulating 474.3 hours in the airplane.
#2 – Capt Frank J. Tullo. Shot down and rescued on this mission. First rescue in North Vietnam by a CH-3C helicopter that later became known as Jolly Green Giant. Flew 33 years for Continental Airlines.
#3 – Capt Allen L. “Andy” Anderson. In 1966, reassigned to the 44 TFS and then the 13 TFS at Korat. Last flew the F-105 on 18 July 1974 having accumulated 1215 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#4 – Capt Robert Norlan Daughtrey. Shot down on 2 Aug 1965 and became a POW. Released 12 Feb 1973. Died 20 July 2005 in Albuquerque.
“Chestnut” (12 TFS)
#1 – Capt Charles R. Copin. 12 TFS commander of INDIA Flight. Last flew the F-105 in May 1968 with 627.9 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#2 – Capt Vernon E. “Gene” Frank. Last flew the F-105 in December 1967 having accumulating 830 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Lt Col.
#3 – Capt Matthew J. Kelch, Jr. Shot down and rescued by an Air America helicopter on 10 Aug 1965.
#4 – Capt George A. Bogert. Became a Ryan’s Raider pilot at Korat in May 1967. Retired as a Lt Col with 2469.2 hours in the F-105.
“Redwood” (357 TFS)
#1 – Maj Roger B. Myhrum. Mission planner on TDY from 333 TFS from Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. Flew F-105s at Spangdahlem beginning in 1961. Last flew the F-105 in March 1967 with 1163.7 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#2 – Capt Charles A. “Chuck” Horner. Mission planner on TDY from 335 TFS from Seymour. Became four-star general who planned Desert Storm air campaign. Co-author of Tom Clancy book, “Every Man a Tiger”.
#3 – Capt William S. Koenitzer. In January 1966 became one of the first F-105 pilots to complete 100 missions with the 469 TFS at Korat. Was an F-105 RTU instructor pilot at McConnell. Last flew the F-105 on 7 October 1969 with 1403.6 hours in the airplane.
#4 – Capt Richard William Cullen. Flew F-105s at Bitburg in 1961. Last flew the F-105 in June 1967 with 802 hours in the airplane. Died 6 February 1970 in Wichita, KS, at age 34. Buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, CA.
SAM Site 7 from TAKHLI
“Healy” (563 TFS)
#1 – Maj Jack F. Brown. 563 TFS Commander.
#2 – Capt Walter B. Kosko. KIA on this mission. First flew the F-105 in January 1962 and was assigned to the 7 TFS at Spangdahlem AB, Germany. Had been shot down over Laos and rescued on 5 June 1965. He had accumulated 861.9 hours in the F-105. His name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Panel 02E Line 44.
#3 – Capt Russell L. Violett. One of 13 pilots from McConnell sent to Osan AB, Korea, in reaction to the capture of the USS Pueblo in January 1968. Retired 1 June 1987 as a Maj General with 1274.3 hours in the F-105.
#4 – Maj Louis G. Pazel. On TDY from 80 TFS, Yokota AB, Japan, as Stan Eval pilot. Was spare who filed in for abort. Last flew the F-105 on 7 August 1967 with 555 hours in the airplane. Was 388 TFW DO in March 1972. Retired as a Colonel.
“Austin” (563 TFS)
#1 – Maj Everett Wayne Harris. First flew F-105s in 1961 with the 36 TFW at Bitburg, where he was Ops Officer for the 23 TFS. Survived a landing accident at Bitburg on 14 January 1964. In 1965, he was 563rd Ops Officer and later squadron commander. Commanded the 560 TFS at McConnell in 1966. Last flew the F-105 in January 1968. Retired as a Colonel with 1068.9 hours in the F-105.
#2 – Capt John R. Carson. One of six Wild Weasel instructor pilots with their EWOs from Nellis sent to Osan AB, Korea, in reaction to the capture of the USS Pueblo in January 1968. On 17 March 1969, he and his backseater survived an F-105F emergency landing accident at Tonopah Airport, Nevada. Last flew the F-105 in January 1971 with 1674.9 hours in the F-105. Died of a heart attack at age 38 on 6 March 1971.
#3 – Capt James M. Rhodes. A member of the first graduating class of the Air Force Academy in 1959. First flew the F-105 as a 1Lt in February 1962 at the 49 TFW at Spangdahlem and for the last time after he returned from Takhli with the 563 TFS in November 1965 with 968 hours in the airplane. Retired on 1 August 1988 as a Brig General.
#4 – Capt Jack L. Fowler. Began flying the F-105 in 1961 with the 49 TFW at Spangdahlem. Last flew the F-105 in January 1966, accumulating 976.9 hours in the airplane.
“Hudson” (563 TFS)
#1 – Capt Paul R. Craw. Became a Wild Weasel pilot who supported Operation Bolo MiG sweep on 2 Jan 1967. Shot down in an F-105D and rescued on 14 Apr 1967. Commanded the 4 TFS (F-4Es) at Da Nang during Linebacker in April 1972. Retired as a Colonel with 1841.5 hours in the F-105.
#2 – Capt Kile Dag “Red” Berg. First flew the F-105 in January 1962. Assigned to the 7 TFS, 49 TFW, at Spangdahlem. Ejected from an F-105 on 9 July 1962 while at Wheelus AB, Libya. Shot down in today’s mission and became a POW. Awarded Silver Star for the mission. Released 12 Feb 1973. Retired as a Lt Col.
#3 – Capt Billy Reed Sparks, Jr. First flew the F-105 in December 1961. Assigned to the 8 TFS, 49 TFW, at Spangdahlem. At McConnell, successfully ejected from an F-105D during a test flight on 1 June 1964. Flew combat as a Wild Weasel pilot with the 357 TFS at Takhli in 1967 and was a Wild Weasel IP at Nellis. Shot down over North Vietnam in F-105D and rescued on 5 Nov 67. Retired as Lt Col with 2066.9 hours and 145 combat missions in the F-105.
#4 – Capt Martin V. Case, Jr. On 6 August 1964, assigned to the 35 TFS at Yokota, he deployed to Korat with the 36 TFS in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, the first involvement of the F-105 in the Vietnam War. Retired as a Lt Col with 1844.5 hours in the F-105.
“Valiant” (80 TFS)
#1 – Maj Phillip A. Coll. After receiving F-105 training at Nellis, arrived in the 80 TFS at Itazuke in December 1963. Transferred to Yokota with the squadron in May 1964. Was 80 TFS Ops Officer at Takhli.
#2 – Capt John C. Atkinson. First flew the F-105 at Nellis in April 1963. One of the first three F-105 pilots in the 80 TFS at Itazuke. Last flew the F-105 in April 1971. Accumulated 918.7 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Colonel.
#3 – Capt Robert D. Reichart. First flew the F-105 and was assigned to the 80 TFS at Itazuke in December 1963. Transferred to Yokota with the squadron in May 1964. On 10 October 1969, successfully escaped from an aborted takeoff and crash of an F-105D as an IP with the 561 TFS at McConnell. Last flew the F-105 in June 1972. Retired as a Colonel with 1031.9 hours in the airplane.
#4 – Capt John W. “Jack” Redmond. Was an F-105 IP with the 561 TFS at McConnell. Survived the house fire that killed his roommate, Bruce Holmes. Became a Wild Weasel pilot who completed 100 missions with the 44 TFS from Korat in August 1968. Last flew the F-105 in March 1974 after accumulating 1417 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Lt Col.
“Rambler” (80 TFS)
#1 – Maj Arthur Stewart Mearns. KIA on 11 November 1966 while on TDY to the 354 TFS at Takhli from the 80th at Yokota. He had accumulated 787.8 hours in the F-105. His name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Panel 12E Line 55.
#2 – Capt Victor Vizcarra. On 6 November 1966, shot down in an Iron Hand flight with the 354 TFS. Rescued by a Navy helo. In 1971, was an F-105 IP at McConnell. Retired as a Colonel with 1119.6 hours in the F-105.
#3 – Capt James E. Hayes. Flew his 100th mission with the 34 TFS from Korat in October 1966 — his last flight in the F-105. Retired as a Lt Col with 576.9 hours in the airplane.
#4 – Capt Giles W. Gainer. Became a Wild Weasel pilot in 1967. Flew his 100th mission with the 333 TFS from Takhli on 11 Mar 1968. Last flew the F-105 in May 1968. Accumulated 902.5 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Lt Col.
“Corvette” (80 TFS)
#1 – Capt Ralph L. “Pappy” Detwiler. The oldest Captain in the 80th at the time. As a Major, he last flew the F-105 in May 66 having accumulated 525 hours in the airplane. Died 8 April 1993.
#2 – Melvin C. “Buddha” Boswell. Separated from the Air Force in the late 1960’s. Died 21 Jan 1977.
#3 – Maj Delbert F. Smith. Last flew the F-105 in May 1966 having accumulated 446 hours in the airplane. He retired as a Major in 1970.
#4 – Capt Gordon M. Walcott. Flew his 100th mission in October 1966 with the 34 TFS from Korat. Was the last commander of the 17 WWS at Korat in 1974. Flew the last F-105G from Korat on 29 Oct 1974. Retired as a Lt Col with 1522.3 hours in the F-105.
“Whiplash” (563 TFS) RESCAP for Capt Tullo
#1 – Capt Richard E. “Dick” Moore. First flew the F-105 in 1961 and was assigned to the 22 TFS at Bitburg. Retired as a Colonel.
#2 – Capt Philip D. Kiernan. Last flew the F-105 in Sept 1966. Accumulated 896.9 hours in the airplane. Retired as a Lt Col.
#3 – Capt Harold D. “Hal” Dortch, Jr. First flew the F-105 in February 1964 and for the last time in March 1969. Retired as a Colonel with 1177.2 hours in the F-105.
#4 – Capt Russell R. Schoonover. Ejected from an F-105D during an FCF from Takhli on 28 Sept 1965 while assigned to the 562 TFS. Commanded the 141 TFS, New Jersey Air National Guard. Flew for TWA for 25 years. Retired as a Lt Col with 2795.9 hours in the F-105. Died 9 June 2001.
The 2012 Wild Weasel Reunion will be held 28-30 Sep at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Hampton, VA (800-233-9527). The standard events are planned, with the final banquet to be held at the adjacent Hampton Air and Space Museum. The Event Code for the room rate at the hotel is “SWW.”
For more details contact Ed “Victor” Ballanco at email@example.com.
Thunder Falcon Special Commemorative Edition
27 July 2012
Here’s the account, from several of those who flew it, as well as a Japanese newspaper, of a heroic & tragic mission flown 47 years ago today to attack two SAM sites in North Vietnam in retaliation for the first SAM shootdown of a US F-4C three days before. I apologize that it is so long that you may want to spread the read over more than one sitting. In hindsight it can be seen that the tactics & weapons loads were not well suited for dealing with heavily defended missile sites, and the fact that these targets were approved and micro-managed from Washington probably contributed to the enemy being well aware the attack was coming. Later translations of NVN documents showed that both sites had been emptied of missile hardware and fortified as Flak Traps. None of this was known to those 48 warriors who “Girded their Loins” and rode forth to do their Nation’s bidding…
The First SAM Site Strike Mission – John Morrissey
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Forty seven years ago today 48 Thud Drivers saddled up for the world’s first aerial attack against Russian/Soviet surface to air missile sites.
It was not the best of days.
We lost six F-105s on that mission. Three F-105 drivers were killed. Two more Thud drivers were held prisoner in the draconian North Vietnamese prison system until February of 1973. The flight lineup below may not be perfect, but it’s as good as existing records and memories will allow. The mission was laid on very quickly. Detailed records were not kept for posterity. It was an early time in the war when all the squadrons were transitioning from temporarily assigned units to the new provisional wing. The usual administrative staffs were just not available to handle the historical aspects of our war.
Most of the flights from Korat that were tasked to hit the SAM site and associated barracks were loaded with BLU-27 Napalm.
Two of the SAM site attack flights from Takhli carried CBU-2A, dispensing BLU-3 “Pineapple” bomblets, each of which explodes on impact firing several hundred 3/16th inch steel balls at about 2000 feet per second. One more flight was to attack the site with Napalm. Two other flights were to strike the support facility with Napalm, while one would hit the barracks area with CBU. All the Thuds had 1,029 rounds of 20 mm ammunition.
The targets are also named – SAM Site 6 & SAM Site 7, and their associated Barracks.
There are some interesting comparisons to be made between that mission and the first WW II USAAF mission against the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania from North Africa. There were 40 B-24s on that WW II mission. There were 48 Republic F-105s on ours. Nine of the Liberators were lost (vice 6 Thuds). Both were very low level missions. Both had a mid air leaving the target. And those two missions were the only two in the recorded history, that I can find, where everyone who got across the target received a DFC.
I also find chilling command and control similarities between the attack on those missile sites and the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava during the Crimean War. I include that piece last under for comparison.
All were real heroes that day. A few of the names on the flight lineup may be of interest. Redwood Three was Chuck Horner. Chuck is featured in Tom Clancy’s Every Man a Tiger. He was the Air Component Commander during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and was the CentCom vice Commander under General Schwarzkopf. He was my boss who stood by my side when I retired from the Air Force in 1985. He was, and is, a fire breathing fighter pilot. Chuck Reed, Cedar Flight Leader, was my Squadron Commander. Chuck had a considerable portion of his stomach removed about six weeks before the mission. He could easily have remained off the flight schedule. He was an ace in WW II who flew P-47s in Europe and in the Pacific. Lemon Three is Col. Bill Ritchie. He was the brand new provisional Wing Commander at Korat, a West Point graduate ~ 1941, a squadron Commander in 9th Air Force flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in direct support of our Troops on D Day and all the way into Germany. You can read about him in Robert Dorr’s Hell Hawks. I had the honor of checking him out in the F-105 a few weeks prior to the mission. He had the Thunderchief, grandson of Thunderbolt, figured out in short order. He had been a full colonel for over twenty years when he first flew the Thud at Korat. He was the real deal.
These days, especially with our Republic floundering, I just felt it important to write something to help us remember that day and the legacy we owe to those who gave so much, and expected so little in return.
“Health, Wealth, Youth, and Fame Bloom & Fade,
But Honor Lasts Forever” 
27 July, 1965…13:59…South of the Confluence of the Red & Black Rivers… 30 miles west southwest of Hanoi… Hot, Humid, Hazy, Calm, and Disarmingly Quiet…
But not for long…
Forty eight F-105s loaded with wall to wall napalm and CBU inbound at 600 knots, (or more), at 100 feet, (or less), for the world’s first attack on two Russian surface to air missile sites……. Forty eight men with hearts of steel in 48 Silver Steeds of Tin  flew well and true…
onward into a trap…
…the missiles were phone poles painted white….all approaches to target lined with Russian high rate of fire 14.5 mm ZPUs and AAA of all calibers from barrels lowered to tree top level …flak from the left, flak from in front, and flak from the right….deadly, intense & continuous fire…Russian guns thundered & steeds and heroes fell…six F-105s mortally wounded in less than two minutes…..warriors dead, warriors dying, and warriors imprisoned….they who had fought so well….
“One of my most vivid memories was of looking at the target area as we approached at 100′. The area was nothing but smoke and a wall of ground fire….” Jack Redmond – # 4 in Valiant Flight from Takhli, Thailand…
...Parachutes in the air…pilots ejecting…105s burning and dying…napalm cans on their way…CBUs exploding…and Russian Flak answering back….
“What really sticks in my memory is the smell of gun smoke. I have never smelled it that strong before or after…” Frank Tullo – # 2 in Dogwood Flight, shot down & the only one recovered in the target area.
And as quickly as it all began, it was suddenly over…once again hot, hazy with some black smoke in the air, calm, and disarmingly quiet.