Category Archives: Vietnam

So Far, A Balanced Documentary

Vietnam

 

I was among the last of the draftees to be inducted during Vietnam.

September, 1972, which was the 2nd to last group to be drafted. December was the last group.

I can remember getting up at 04:00 with my father taking taking me to the pickup point for the bus to take us to the induction center in Oakland.   Those of us going had to wade though 100s of protesters all chanting that we didn’t have to go.

But we went.

In a bit of bureaucratic irony the Army ended up sending me to Germany, but for the intervening 45 years (this month) I’ve had my own thoughts on the subject.

I believe that this is a subject that will forever divide my generation, the effects which are still around today.

It is a subject that has been difficult not to politicize, so I started watching the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam with some trepidation.

Having just finished the 2nd episode, I have to say so far I have been pleasantly surprised.

Episode 1 dealt with the end of WW2, the French trying to reassert their rule in the area, and the rise of the Viet Minh.

Episode 2 tonight took us through 1963, and the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem. At the age of 13, I remembered the circumstances, but I got a lot of background added this evening.

If you can see it, I’d recommend it.

I’ll be interested how they cover the Tet offensive in 1968.

So far the program seems to present the history in an objective manner.

On your PBS station.

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Filed under Vietnam

ROE

I’m ten years older than Lex was, and Vietnam to me is still on my mind.

I remember something he said in one of his posts, about a time he was playing golf at Miramar with a retired Naval Aviator who served in Vietnam .

His partner  said that around the beginning of the war in Vietnam everyone was gung-ho (which is I believe a military expression Claire Chenault and his pilots brought back from China)

Towards the end of the war with so many targets determined off limits those who flew through some of the heaviest and most dangerous AAA just wanted to finish their tour and go home. Many of them died doing this. Dying from targets that could have been destroyed.

Our military has always had some form of Rules of Engagement but it seems since WW2 it has been overly restrictive. The civilians control the political side while the military controls, obviously, the battlefield side.

Truman was right in that the civilians – and President in particular – are in charge. But was MacArthur right in wanting to take  the war to the Chinese? Truman was worried, obviously, about starting WW3.

Should Truman have given MacArthur more freedom?

After all, 60 some years later there has never been a truce signed and we are still worried about the North Koreans. Now we are worried about them having nukes. Would we be doing this today if MacArthur had captured Prongyang and secured Korea from the Yalu River?

(For that matter let’s speculate how the Cold War would have been different had Patton gone to Berlin. On the positive side I have read that some historians consider one of the reasons Truman dropped the Bomb on Japan was to keep the Russians out of Japan. Imagine a partitioned Japan, like Germany,  for 60 years.)

What made me think of this was just seeing a movie on Netflix, Hyena Road. It is  a Canadian film from a Canadian perspective on the war in Afghanistan, but I doubt that it was much different from American units.

Two of the main characters are an intelligence officer who is back at Begram and a sniper team. The sniper is constantly radioing back to headquarters asking for permission to shoot a target. The intelligence officer sees “the bigger picture” and the sniper wants to shoot an obvious belligerent.

Where’s the balance?

It’s an open question.

 

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Filed under Perspective, Politics, Terrorism, Uncategorized, Vietnam

USS Ranger Flight Ops Off Vietnam 1972

From the good old days. The heart aches for the variety of aircraft on the flight deck in those days (ok I wasn’t born in ’72 but still).

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, you can have that Viggie trap at the end. That quite frankly scared me a little and gave me a few gray hairs.

h/t to Comm Jam for the Facebook post.

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Filed under Airplanes, Are we having fun yet?, Carriers, Flying, Good Ships, Good Stuff, Naval Aviation, Navy, Vietnam

USAF MiG-21F-13s at Tonopah.

Before you read on if you haven’t been in-briefed on Have Doughnut go read.

MiG-21f-13 "Fishbed-C". Image credit Wikipedia.

MiG-21f-13 “Fishbed-C”. Image credit Wikipedia.

Have Doughnut was the combat evaluation of the Soviet-built MIG-21F-13 (NATO codenamed) “Fishbed-C.” The F-13 version of the -21 is an early version of the ubiquitous MiG-21 family. It was the first short range day fighter version of the -21 to be placed in mass production and was the first variant to use the K-13 air-to-air-missile. The -21F13 was also in service with the North Vietnamese Air Force and saw regular combat against USAF and USN combat aircraft in-theater.

Constant Peg was a training program that took Have Doughnut a step further an under the auspicies of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Force. The “Red Eagles” as they became known, equipped with the MiG-21F-13,  provided a somewhat formalized training environment, for both USAF and USN fighter pilots that saw the MiG as the primary threat aircraft.

From the Wikipedia page:

By the late 1970s, United States MiG operations were undergoing another change. In the late 1960s, the MiG-17 and MiG-21F were still frontline aircraft. A decade later, they had been superseded by later-model MiG-21s and new aircraft, such as the MiG-23. Fortunately, a new source of supply of Soviet aircraft became available, Egypt. In the mid-1970s, relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union had become strained, and Soviet advisers were ordered out. The Soviets had provided the Egyptian air force with MiGs since the mid-1950s. Now, with their traditional source out of the picture, the Egyptians began looking west. They turned to United States companies for parts to support their late-model MiG-21s and MiG-23s. Very soon, a deal was made. According to one account, two MiG-23 fighter bombers were given to the United States by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The planes were disassembled and shipped from Egypt to Edwards Air Force Base. They were then transferred initially to Groom Lake for reassembly and study.[2]

In 1987, the U.S. Air Force bought 12 new Shenyang F-7Bs from China for use in the Constant Peg program. At the same time, it retired the remaining MiG-21F-13 Fishbeds acquired from Indonesia.[citation needed][3]

The United States operated MiGs received special designations. There was the practical problem of what to call the aircraft. This was solved by giving them numbers in the Century Series. The MiG-21s and Shenyang F-7Bs were called the “YF-110” (the original designation for the USAF F-4C), while the MiG-23s were called the “YF-113”.[2]

The focus of Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) limited the use of the fighter as a tool with which to train the front line tactical fighter pilots.[1] Air Force Systems Command recruited its pilots from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, who were usually graduates from either the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards or the Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Tactical Air Command selected its pilots primarily from the ranks of the Weapons School graduates at Nellis AFB.[1]

The 4477th began as the 4477th Test and Evaluation Flight (4477 TEF), which began 17 July 1979. The name was later changed to the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (4477 TES) in 1980. The 4477th began with three MiGs: two MiG-17Fs and a MiG-21 loaned by Israel, who had captured them from the Syrian Air Force and Iraqi Air Force. Later, it added MiG-21s from the Indonesian Air Force.

Here are some newer photos of those MiG-21F-13s at the Tonopah Test Range sporting Soviet Air Force markings and cavorting about the Tonopah Test Range, probably in the 1970s.

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Several of these photos are probably in Steve Davies “Red Eagles” and Gail Peck’s “America’s Secret MiG Squadrons.” According to both of these books, after the aircraft reached the end of their useful lives, they mysteriously appeared at several museums throughout the United States. Reportedly, as the aircraft were dropped off, curators were told not to ask any questions about the aircraft.

If you haven’t read either “Red Eagles” or “America’s Secret MiG Squadrons” you should. You’ll get more information than what you read on the Wikipedia page.

Apparently, I have a cutaway drawing of the -21F-13 so if you’re wondering what it looks like under the skin, here ya go:

mig21f13

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Filed under Air Force, Airplanes, Naval Aviation, Navy, Red Flag, Tomcats Forever, USAF, Vietnam

Cmdr. Charles Beauchesne: Flying the A-6 Intruder Over North Vietnam.

blog1 Ever wonder what it was like to fly the Tadpole A-6 Intruder over Route Pack 6 (yes, I know TF-77 had RPs 2,3,4, and 6B)? Commander Charles Beauchesne gave an interesting hour long lecture at the San Diego Air and Space Museum on what it was like to fly and fight the A-6 over North Vietnam. You’ll get the skinny on the tactics, weapons and, most interestingly you’ll learn how evade the SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile.

BTW, if you aren’t subscribed to the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Youtube channel, you’re really missing out. They have a lot of very interesting content.

Also, our very own xbradtc‘s father is an A-6 aviator.

UPDATE: Image courtesy of Pete Weman Art. My apologizes for not including that earlier.

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Filed under Airplanes, Flying, History, Naval Aviation, Navy, Vietnam

VFP-63 Patches

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I’ve got an extensive collection of patches, mostly VF patches. As I’ve learned more about the history of NAVAIR, I’ve come to appreciate that colorful history reflected in patches.

Here are pics of some I’ve seen from VFP-63. VFP-63 was established in 1962 and did a WESTPAC deployment in July I that year. They made numerous deployments to WESTPAC and Vietnam till disestablishment in June of 1982. They operated the RF-8 Crusader and were known as “The Eyes of The Fleet.”

Here are some patches from -63s various deployments. Warning, some of these are pretty salty but that’s what makes them interesting 🙂

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Filed under Airplanes, Flying, History, Naval Aviation, Navy, Uncategorized, Vietnam

Operation End Sweep (part 1)

CH-53 MK-105 Sled

AN HM-12 CH-53D tows a MK 105 sled during Operation End Sweep

On 8 May 1972, as part of Operation Pocket Money (itself a part of Operation Rolling Thunder), 3 A-6 Intruders (from VMA(AW)-224) and 6 A-7 Corsairs (from VA-22 and VA-94) launched from the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) to deploy mines within the vicinity of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam.

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An illustration of the Southeast Asia are of Operations.

The A-6 flight led by the CAG (Commander, Carrier Air Wing), Commander Roger Sheets, was composed of USMC aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Commander Len Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Captain William Carr, USMC, the bombardier navigator in the lead plane established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H.

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A-6A Intruder from VMZ(AW)-224.

Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment. All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President’s public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy’s ability to continue receiving war supplies.

Operation Rolling Thunder itself served as a way to get the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table in Paris. Prior to Operation Pocket Money, the US Navy planning offices had studied minesweeping operations off Haiphong but the assets to conduct minesweeping were not properly maintained.  However some sweeping had taken place off Saigon in preparation for a non-combatant evacuation. Most of the minesweeping assets in theatre were devoted to Operation Market Time in South Vietnam. Most of the minesweeping equipment dated from the Korean War era. In 1970 the US Navy had made a decision to place more emphasis of minesweeping from helicopters due to the increasing cost of MSO (ocean-going minesweepers).

There were about 8 months between the time that CINCPAC (Commander-In-Chief Pacific) had received orders to begin minesweeping and the time the task force remained on-station to conduct sweeping operations. This allowed time for development of equipment, tactics and training.

Between the dates of May 9-11 of 1972, as assessment of problems was conducted. There were no oceanographic charts of the operational area off Haiphong, there was no data to give accurate predictions of equipment losses that could occur during operations, there was a lack of specialized personnel and training (both in the officer and enlisted ranks).

In 1972 mine countermeasures for both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets were combined was under one type commander – Commander Mine Warfare Force, based in Charleston, South Carolina. What follows is a list of operational resources that were in this organization:

-One Mobile Mine Countermeasures Command (MOMCOM). This was the command structure to provide worldwide airborne and other support of minesweeping operations.

-Three Mine Flotillas. Each Flotilla was composed of a number of MSOs.

-One Helicopter minesweeping squadron. Helicopter Minesweeping Squadron 12 (HM-12) was the airborne component to the task force.

-One squadron of minesweeping boats (MSB and MSL).

-One Mine Force Support Group. They were responsible for training and equipping personnel for minesweeping operations.

HM-12 was equipped with 12 CH-53Ds. 2 of the helos were in use at the Naval Coastal Systems Laboratory. The CH-53Ds were on loan from the USMC and were configured with towing strong points required for mine countermeasures towing.

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HM-12 patch

These helos towed the MK-103 gear for sweeping moored mines, the MK-104 gear for acoustic mines and MK-105 hydrofoil for sweeping magnetic mines.

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Schematic drawing of the MK-105 minesweeping sled, showing the major components of the device.

 Other airborne assets that didn’t necessarily belong to MOMCOM but were tasked to them were USAF C-5A Galaxies that were used to airlift the CH-53Ds to the theatre.

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An example of an MSO used during Operation End Sweep, the USS Constant (MSO-427).

Most of the surface born mine sweeping assets were the 172 ocean minesweeper (MSOs). By 1972 most of these ships were 13 to 19 years of age with 5 in the Western Pacific, 17 on the west coast and 11 on the east coast another 17 were in the Naval Reserve Forces and 13 were in an inactive status.  14 of these MSOs had received new engines to improve their useful lives and decrease the maintenance necessary for effective operation. Other vessels were the eleven 144 foot coastal minesweepers and nineteen 57-foot minesweeping boats.

The minefields off Haiphong were too shallow for sweeping operations by any of these types of vessels. However sensors towed by these vessels like the AN\SQO-14 sonar gave these vessels the ability to map the bottom of the ocean at sufficient resolution to detect mines. The only capability these vessels had to dispose of the mines were EOD divers.

The Naval Scientific Assistance Program (NASP), provided solutions to problems of immediate concern. For example, the NASP developed simulators for use in training and automated minesweeping planning software. As a side note, the NASP expressed a concern of solar flare activity in August of 1972. NASP thought these flares caused a large number of mine detonations of Destructor mines in US minefields off North Vietnam.

There were other problems concerning preparation for Operation End Sweep. Among them being a general lack of funds for training and equipment (which admittedly was a problem throughout all US forces at the time. Problems specific to minesweeping forces detailed to Operation End Sweep were reliability problems for degaussing, sonar (AN/SQO-14), and engines on the MSOs. There was no equipment for precision navigation and mapping of minefields. There was no oceanographic data for sea floor in the vicinity of Haiphong. The was no protection for the CH-53Ds that were involved in minesweeping.

HM-12 conducted training from May to November 1972 off of Charleston, South Carolina. The CH-53Ds operated from an LPD (Landing Platform Dock) and crews learned how to rig the minesweeping equipment to the helo. LCVPs (Land Craft Vehicle and Personnel or “Higgins Boat”) carried the MK-105 sleds to the waiting hovering helos. The sleds were then attached to the towing strong points on the aircraft.

Training of both surface and air forces for Operation End Sweep as done off of Panama City, Florida. Most of these tests were to test the accuracy of the Raydist. EOD teams also conducted training with surface minesweeping forces.

On 6 November 1972, Task Force 78 deployed to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Forces kept a low profile on base because TF-78 was being used as a bargaining chip in the Paris peace talks. The CH-53Ds were deployed to Subic via USAF C-5 Galaxy.

In January 1973 the Paris Peace Treaty was about to be signed and TF-78 forces ramped up training. Crews from HMM-165 trained with HM-12 aboard the USS Ogden and USS Dubuque. MSOs USS Fortify, USS Force, USS Impervious and USS Engage began sweeping the anchorage for the TF, some approaches to Haiphong. Operations were being monitored by the Soviet Intelligence Collection Ship, Protractor.

By 26 February, airborne units from HM-12 were ready to be deployed aboard ships. HM-12 was divided into 4 detachments, each aboard 4 ships in the task group. Dets Alpha and Bravo embarked aboard the USS Ogden, USS Dubuque, and USS New Orleans. Dets Charlie and Delta embarked aboard the USS Inchon (LPD-12) and USS Cleveland (LPH-7).

General planning for sweeping operations in Haiphong actually started in 1972 as part of general contigency planning on the part of JCS. By mid-1972 however clearing the mines in Haiphong become a diplomatic issue at the Paris Peace Talks. The initial planning for End Sweep were known as Formation Sentry I and Formation Sentry II. These plans differed from End Sweep through the numbers and assets to be used. The Sentry plans were completed by 1972 but held ready by CINCPACFLT (Commander-In-Chief Pacific Fleet).

Imputes to expand Formation Sentry I into Formation II occurred because of what became known as the Warrington incident in June and July 1972. While conducting naval bombardment 10 to 20 miles northeast of Dong Hoi, the USS Warrington was damaged by an underwater explosion that was determined to have been possibly caused by a Destructor mine laid as a result of an aircraft navigation error.

This incident led the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) to determine that MSOs were particularly suited to ocean-sweeping operations in this area and prompted a danger zone to be established in the area. The area was never swept because a Naval Oceanographic team was trying to survey the area and was fired on by shore batteries. The area was never cleared (except for the self-destruction of the mine). The Warrington incident did bring increased interest of Minesweeping to the JCS and the appropriate planning offices were notified.

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Ships of Task Force 78 at anchor in the Gulf of Tonkin.

By 24 November 1972 Task Force 78 (TF-78) was activated. TF-78 consisted of the following:

-Surface Support Group (Task Group 78.0) consisting of LPH and LPD types to serve as helicopter platforms and supporting ships such as the fleet ocean tug and salvage ship. Five helicopter platforms were available plus a flagship-maintenance platform. An amphibious squadron commander led the Surface Support Group.

-Mobile Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.1) the airborne group, contained the 4 airborne units (A,B,C,D), the special minesweeper Washtenaw County and various other units. Commander TG-78.1 was in overall command of sweeping in coastal and port areas.

-Surface Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.2) consisted of the 10 MSOs assigned to End Sweep. TG-78.2 acted as control ships for the helo minesweeping operations.

-Advanced Base Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.3) was stationed at Subic Bay. This group provided maintenance, repair and supply to the entire task group; trained Marines in MCM and coordinated installation of sweeping kits and the Swept Mine Locator Camera System on the helicopters. Civilian technical representative from the various contractors were also part of this group.

-Contingency Mine Countermeasures Group (Task Group 78.4) was activated later and primarily responsible for sweeping the inland waterways in North Vietnam. They were also primarily responsible for supervising North Vietnamese sweep personnel.

-Salvage Group (Task Group 78.5) was responsible for finding and disposing buried mines in the Haiphong Channel.

On 27 January, MSOs began sweeping the anchorages of Haiphong where the main ship in TF-78 would be operating. On the 29th, the Paris Peace Agreement was formally signed by representatives from the United States, The Republic of Vietnam, The Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front.

By May of 1972, the largest mine countermeasures force the world had ever seen, up to that time, had assembled and was ready for action.

In the next part of this series we’ll get into the minesweeping equipment used in Operation End Sweep and the operation itself.

This was my first attempt to tell some “non-aviation” history that I felt needed to be told.  If I’ve missed something or said something in error as usual you feedback is more than welcome.

 

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Filed under History, Naval Aviation, Navy, Vietnam