From my Air Force friend (who did his share of flying in Vietnam)
50 years ago the first counter-air mission against SAM sites – 27 July 1965.
“Forty-six men reached and delivered their ordnance on the first counter-air SAM mission in the history of aerial combat,Spring High. It was supposed to be 48 but two aborted with major aircraft problems. If the problems had been minor, those two dedicated pilots would have most likely continued the mission. Three pilots were killed attacking the two SAM sites, and one more was killed in action 16 months later. One Lt. Colonel, eight Majors, 36 Captains, and one 1st Lieutenant flew the mission. Out of these pilots, one rose to the rank of General (Four Stars), another to Major General (Two Stars), and a third to Brigadier General (One Star). Fourteen other pilots retired at the rank of Full Colonel, twelve as Lt. Colonels, and two as Majors. Eleven other pilots elected to separate from the Air Force sometime after Spring High to pursue other careers. Since this historic event, 13 participants in the mission are known to have Flown West, leaving 29 current survivors.”
Three years ago on this date, this newsletter published an account of this first USAF attack on Soviet Surface-to-Air Missile sites in North Vietnam. As one of the participants said: “It was not the best of days”. This is the way we introduced the story at that time:
“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 shoot down 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…”
Those who flew combat over North Vietnam in later years will, no doubt, be shocked that this mission was directed in the Frag Order to deliver suicidal types of ordnance in fingertip formation from 50 feet and 360 knots! It should be remembered, however, that this is exactly how we had been trained and practiced for years. Remember all those low-level nape-of-the-earth navigation routes we flew? Or how about multiple 50′ passes at the skip-bomb target on peacetime practice ranges while puking off one simulated nape at a time? Low-level penetration might be a valid concept on the first day after the Big Balloon goes up, but not day after day against an alerted and forewarned enemy. Postwar documentation has confirmed our suspicions that our own government notified the enemy about our intended strikes. At least the flight leaders took the initiative and pushed up the speeds
Today, exactly 50 years after the tragic event, through the efforts of world-renowned “Supersonic Wetback” Vic Vizcarra and videographer John MacKay, we can vicariously go back to that fateful day and hang on the wing through flak-filled skies once more.”