Tag Archives: Vietnam War

26 November 1968

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

3478The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Major Leonard A. Gonzales (AFSN: 2227075), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F gunship helicopter of the 20th Special Operations Squadron, Nha Trang Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Duc Co, Republic of Vietnam, on the night of 26 – 27 November 1968. On that date, Major Gonzales went to the aid of a six-man Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, well-armed hostile force. Major Gonzales made continued minigun and rocket passes at treetop level, even after his wingman had been hit. His aggressive attacks sufficiently quelled the hostile fire to allow a transport helicopter to pick up the beleaguered patrol. Through his superb airmanship, aggressiveness, and extraordinary heroism, Major Gonzales reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Action Date: November 26 – 27, 1968

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 20th Special Operations Squadron

Division: Nha Trang Air Base, Vietnam

For a more detailed account, see:

http://www.vhpa.org/KIA/panel/battle/68112600.HTM

Two U.S. Air Force UH-1P Hueys of the 20th Special Operations Squadron, the "Green Hornets." (U.S. Air Force)
Two U.S. Air Force UH-1P Hueys of the 20th Special Operations Squadron, the “Green Hornets.” 65-7929 is closer to camera. The second Huey is 63-13162. Both helicopters are armed with two door-mounted M93 7.65 mm “miniguns” systems: electrically-driven M134 rotary machine guns capable of a 4,000 round-per-minute rate of fire. On each side of 7929 are 7-tube rocket launchers for 2.75-inch (70 mm) FFAR rockets. (Captain Billie Dee Tedford, United States Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 November 1968

1st Lieutenant James P. Fleming, U.S. Air Force, 1968. (Gallery of History, Inc.)
1st Lieutenant James P. Fleming, U.S. Air Force, 1968. (Gallery of History, Inc.)

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to

CAPTAIN

JAMES PHILLIP FLEMING

AIR FORCE

Rank: Captain
Organization: U.S. Air Force
Division: 20th Special Operations Squadron
Born: 12 March 1943, Sedalia, Mo.
Entered Service At: Pullman, Wash.
Place / Date: Near Duc Co, Republic of Vietnam, 26 November 1968

For service as set forth in the following:

CITATION:

Captain James P. Fleming, U.S. Air Force
Captain James P. Fleming, United States Air Force

“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Captain [then First Lieutenant] James Phillip Fleming, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 20th Special Operations Squadron, 14th Special Operations Wing, in action near Duc Co, Republic of Vietnam, on 26 November 1968. Captain Fleming distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport helicopter. Captain Fleming went to the aid of a six-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that one helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Captain Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Captain Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Captain Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Captain Fleming’s profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.”

For a more detailed narrative, see:

http://www.vhpa.org/KIA/panel/battle/68112600.HTM

Colonel Fleming had also been awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and eight Air Medals. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1996 after thirty years of service.

The UH-1F was originally tasked with supporting Stratgic Air Command missile bases. (U.S. Air Force)
The UH-1F was originally tasked with supporting Strategic Air Command ICBM missile bases. This helicopter, 66-1235, c/n 7311, was sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in 1977. It was later registered as a restricted civil aircraft, VH-LIP, used for aerial firefighting by McDermott Aviation, Queensland, Australia,  (U.S. Air Force)

The Bell UH-1F Iroquois (best known as the “Huey”) was was unique to the U.S. Air Force and was initially intended for missile base support. It used the airframe of the UH-1B (Bell Model 204), combined with the 48-foot-diameter main rotor system, transmission and longer tail boom of the UH-1D (Model 205). The Air Force required that it be re-engined to use the General Electric T58-GE-3 turboshaft engine. This was the same engine used in the Sikorsky HH-3E and commonality was desirable, but the T58 was also much more powerful than the Lycoming T53 engine of the UH-1B and UH-1D. The use of the T58 gave the UH-1F/P the distinctive side exhaust exit that identifies it from other Huey variants.

Two U.S. Air Force UH-1P Hueys of the 20th Special Operations Squadron, the "Green Hornets". (U.S. Air Force)
Two U.S. Air Force UH-1P Hueys of the 20th Special Operations Squadron, the “Green Hornets.” 65-7929 is closer to camera. The second Huey is 63-13162. Both helicopters are armed with two door-mounted M93 7.65 mm “miniguns” systems: electrically-driven M134 rotary machine guns capable of a 4,000 round-per-minute rate of fire. On each side of 7929 are 7-tube rocket launchers for 2.75-inch (70 mm) FFAR rockets. (Captain Billie Dee Tedford, United States Air Force)

119 UH-1Fs were built by the Bell Helicopter Co., Fort Worth, Texas. A single-engine, medium-lift helicopter, it is configured to be operated by a pilot and co-pilot and can carry 10 passengers. The first aircraft, originally designated XH-48A, s/n 63-13141, made its first flight 20 February 1964. The first production UH-1F was delivered to the Air Force 23 September 1964. Twenty UH-1Fs were modified to UH-1P as special operations helicopters.

The fuselage of the UH-1F/UH-1P is 44 feet, 7 inches (13.589 meters) long. With blades turning, the overall length of the helicopter is 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters), and it is 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters) high. The main rotor has a diameter of 48 feet, 0 inches (14.630 meters) and turns counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor has a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) and is mounted on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the tail rotor’s axis of rotation.)

20th Special Operations Squadron UH-1P Hueys refueling at Dak To. (Don Joyce/VHPAP.org)
20th Special Operations Squadron UH-1P Hueys refueling at Đắk Tô, Central Highlands, Vietnam. (Don Joyce)

The UH-1F has an empty weight of 4,403 pounds (1,997.2 kilograms), and its maximum gross weight is 9,000 pounds (4,082.3 kilograms).

The UH-1F is powered by a single General Electric T58-GE-3 turboshaft engine. The T58 is an axial-flow engine with a 10-stage compressor, single combustion chamber and 3-stage turbine (2 low- and 1 high-pressure stages. The low-pressure turbine drives the compressor, with a maximum speed of 26,300 r.p.m. (N1). The high pressure turbine drives the engine’s output shaft, with a maximum r.p.m. of 19,500 r.p.m. (N2). The T-58-GE-3 is rated at 1,070 shaft horsepower, but is capable of producing 1,325 shaft horsepower. The T58 is 4 feet, 7 inches (1.397 meters) long, 1 foot, 8.2 inches (0.513 meters) in diameter, and weighs 305 pounds (138 kilograms).

The UH-1F/P has a maximum speed of  138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour), with a normal cruise speed of 123 miles per hour (198 kilometers per hour). It can lift a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) payload. The helicopter has a service ceiling of 24,830 feet (7,568 meters), can hover out of ground effect (HOGE) at 15,700 feet (4,785 meters) and in ground effect (IGE) at 18,700 feet (5,700 meters). With maximum fuel, its range is 392 miles (631 kilometers).

UH-1F and UN-1P helicopters remained in service with the Air Force until the early 1980s when their mission was taken over by the twin-engine UH-1N (Bell Model 212).

Bell Helicopter Corp. UH-1P Iroquois (converted from UH-1F-BF) serial number 64-15476, marked as 1LT James Fleming’s UH-1P, 64-15492, which he was flying during the action of 26 November 1966. The actual 64-15492 was shot down 13 February 1969. This helicopter is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell Helicopter Corp. UH-1P Iroquois (converted from UH-1F-BF) serial number 64-15476, marked as 1LT James Fleming’s UH-1F, 64-15492, which he was flying during the action of 26 November 1968. The “Green Hornet” of the 20th Special Operations Squadron is painted on the helicopter’s tail boom. The actual 64-15492 (c/n 7042) was shot down 13 February 1969. This helicopter is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Coloenel james P. Fleming, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Mrs. Fleming.
Colonel James P. Fleming, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Mrs. Fleming. (MSNBC)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 May 1938–24 November 2011: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jerome Maitland Boyle, U.S. Army

CW2 Jerry Boyle, Apache Troop, First of the Ninth, Air Cav, "hot refueling" (engine running, rotors turning) his Bell AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter, somewhere along the Cambodian border, circa 1971. Jerry is the aircraft commander; his seat in the rear cockpit is empty. 1st Lt. Jeff Cromar, Jerry's co-pilot and gunner, is in the forward cockpit.
CW2 Jerry Boyle, Apache Troop, First of the Ninth, Air Cav, “hot refueling” (engine running, rotors turning) his Bell AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter, somewhere along the Cambodian border circa 1971. Jerry is the aircraft commander; his seat in the rear cockpit is empty. 1st Lt. Jeff Cromar, Jerry’s co-pilot and gunner, is in the forward cockpit. (Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry via facebook)
Jerry Boyle
Jerry Boyle

In February 1984, I first met Jerome Maitland (“Jerry”) Boyle. I was a newly-hired commercial helicopter pilot for a Southern California-based Part 135 Air Taxi Commercial Operator. The company specialized in supporting range operations in the offshore Pacific Missile Test Center, headquartered at NAS Point Mugu (NTD). After an initial checkout in one of the company’s helicopters, the chief pilot told me, “Just follow Jerry. He’ll show you what to do.”

Jerry was a big man with reddish hair and a moustache. He was sort of hunched over from years of sitting at the controls of a helicopter. He often wore a black, U.S. Army-issued, V-neck wool sweater over a white shirt. I never saw him without a cup of coffee and a smoldering cigarette, even when flying. This had left him with a raspy voice and a chronic cough. Jerry was always cheerful, and had a great sense of humor, and he told great stories. He wore an Omega Speedmaster Professional wrist watch and drove a well-used white 1976 Corvette Stingray.

I did as instructed and followed Jerry’s Bell 206L LongRanger everywhere with my own helicopter as he showed me the ropes of dealing with Range Operations (“Plead Control”), transporting personnel and equipment to the numerous sites throughout the Range and California’s offshore Channel Islands. Most of our time was spent supporting the Surface Targets Directorate with their remotely-controlled World War II-era destroyers which were used as targets for anti-ship missiles. Jerry also taught me how to locate and recover the Northrop BQM-74 Chukar target drones that were used for aerial targets. After plucking them from the ocean, we returned the drones to NTD for servicing.

This photograph was taken from my helicopter while a talk a new pilot through a drone recovery in the Pacific Missile Test Range. During an actual recovery, we rarely found the ocean so calm. (U.S. Navy)
This photograph was taken from my helicopter while I talked a new pilot through a drone recovery out on the Pacific Missile Test Range. During an actual recovery operation, we rarely found the ocean so calm. (Author’s collection)
After recovering a BQM-74 drone from teh Pacific Ocean, it is dropped off at NTD to be readied for its next flight. Jerry Boyle flew this helicopter, Bell 206B-3 JetRanger N5006Y, on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona. (U.S. Navy)
After recovering a BQM-74 drone from the Pacific Ocean, it is dropped off at NTD to be readied for its next flight. Jerry Boyle flew this helicopter, Bell 206B-3 JetRanger III N5006Y, with a “hot shot” helitack crew on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona. (Author’s collection)

We flew other government contracts as well. We carried National Park Service employees and their guests out to the Channel Islands, and Federal government inspectors to oil drilling and production platforms on the outer continental shelf. We flew construction crews and materials to new radar and telemetry sites being built out on the range. We flew surveyors and fought fires all over the Western states and Alaska, the occasional medevac from remote locations, flew government SWAT teams on patrols of nuclear sites, carried sling loads and long-line, and all of the other things that are part of the life of a commercial helicopter pilot.

As the years passed, I gained more experience and became the company’s chief flight instructor, FAA-designated check airman and eventually, chief pilot. Jerry began looking to me for information and advice, and we always “crammed” together before a required check flight. Our relative positions within the company changed but our friendship didn’t. Even after he had retired and I worked elsewhere, we stayed in touch and spoke by telephone often.

Jerome Maitland Boyle was born in Los Angeles, California, 28 May 1938, the second son of Walter David Boyle, a civil engineer, and his wife, Marguerite E. Boyle. The family lived in a small rented home on N. Kenmore Avenue in the East Hollywood area of L.A. When Jerry was just three years old his father died and his mother moved the family moved to the San Fernando Valley, a few miles to the north.

By 1961, Jerry was a licensed private pilot and skydiver. He had moved to the beautiful Ojai Valley and was employed as a police officer for the City of San Buenaventura, California (or, more commonly, simply Ventura). He enjoyed the work and was a member of the California State Police Pistol Association. He won both the state and national championships. In 1965, he married Cathie L. Birch. They had two sons.

Jerry seems to have found an alternate weapon, a .30-caliber M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, the BAR. (Bullwhip Squadron Newsletter, May 2012, Page 24)
Jerry seems to have found an alternate weapon, a .30-caliber M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, the BAR. (Bullwhip Squadron Newsletter, May 2012, Page 24)

From 1961 to 1968, Jerry Boyle served in the U.S. Army Reserve, where he was trained as a combat medic. In 1969, Boyle was sworn into the United States Army as a warrant officer candidate and was sent for primary helicopter flight training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and then Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he underwent advanced training in the TH-13 Sioux (Bell Model 47) and learned to fly the legendary UH-1 Iroquois. (One of Jerry’s instructors at Fort Rucker, CW2 Barrie Turner, would later be a co-worker of ours.) After graduating, Warrant Officer Boyle was next assigned to Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, Georgia, to be trained on the new Bell AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter.

By 1970, Jerry was in Vietnam where he was assigned to Troop A (“Apache troop”), 1st Squadron, 9th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. For the next few months he flew as the co-pilot/gunner in the Cobra’s forward cockpit. He learned to fly combat missions under the more experienced Cobra pilots. After six months Boyle was qualified as an aircraft commander. He named his personal Cobra Cathie’s Clown, after a popular ’60s song by the Everly Brothers, but in “honor” of his estranged and soon-to-be ex-wife, Cathie. He flew with the radio call-sign, “Apache Two-Four.” Jerry also flew with Troop B, with the call sign, “Sabre Two Four.”

Jerry and Cathie divorced in 1973. He then met his “soul mate,” Andrea J. Balch. They were married in 1974. They continued to live in the Ojai Valley until Jerry retired from aviation.

Jerry Boyle told his own story of his first months of combat in Vietnam and Cambodia in a Random House book, Apache Sunrise, which was published in 1994. He had intended to follow with Apache Noon and Apache Sunset. But that was not to be.

Jerry Boyle (back row, center with cap, sunglasses and black v-neck sweater) and I (slighty taller, to Jerry's right) with Gerneral Dynamics and Surface Targets technicians waiting for our next flight atop San Nicolas Island, offshore Southern California. (Autor's collection)
Jerry Boyle (back row, center, with cap, sunglasses, white shirt and black V-neck sweater) and I (slighty taller, no hat, mustache, just to Jerry’s right) with General Dynamics and Surface Targets technicians waiting for our next flight, on the summit of San Nicolas Island, offshore Southern California, some time in the last century. . . The helicopter is a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger III, N39049. (Author’s collection)

Jerry retired to a cabin north of Kalispell, Montana, located on the bank of a stream, with a small dock and a black Labrador Retriever, where he could fish whenever he wanted. One of his closest friends from the Vietnam War flew a medical helicopter from the nearby regional hospital. But Jerry became ill, and he died at Whitefish, Montana, 24 November 2011.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jerome Maitland Boyle, United States Army, was awarded the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals (Valor) and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Combat pilot and aircraft commander, Bell AH-1G Cobra; commercial pilot, Bell Model 206B-3 JetRanger, Bell 206L and L-1 LongRanger, Hughes Model 369 (“500”) helicopters; California state and National police pistol champion; fisherman, story teller, author, Apache Sunrise. My friend.

My well-worn copy of Jerry Boyle's 1994 book, APACHE SUNRISE (Ballantine Books). Jerry had planned to follow this with two sequels, "Apache Noon" and "Apache Sunset". This 259-page book is no longer in print, but Amazon.com, this morning, lists "1 New" for $131.02. "Apache" refers to Troop A, 1/9 Air Cav, a unit in which Jerry served. Later, as a civilian pilot, Jerry flew helitack missions with a "hot shot" crew of Apache firefighters from the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. Jerry wrote that they "taught me the true meaning of 'Apache'."
My well-worn copy of Jerry Boyle’s 1994 book, APACHE SUNRISE (Random House/Ballantine Books). This 259-page book is no longer in print, but Amazon.com, this morning, lists “1 New” for $163.05. “Apache” refers to Troop A, 1/9 Air Cav, a unit in which Jerry served. Later, as a civilian pilot, Jerry flew helitack missions with a “hot shot” crew of Apache firefighters from the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. Jerry wrote that they “taught me the true meaning of ‘Apache’.”

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 November 1972

A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress dropping a load of bombs during the Vietnam War. The B-52D could carry up to 108 MK82 500-pounds bombs. (U.S. Air Force)

22 November 1972: The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers began combat operations in the Vietnam War with ARC LIGHT strikes against enemy troop concentrations and supply lines in June 1966. The B-52s flew so high and fast that they could neither be seen nor heard on the ground. It was more than six years before the first of the eight-engine bombers would be lost to enemy action.

Boeing B-52D-65-BO 55-0110 at U Tapao RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52D-65-BO Stratofortress 55-0110, weapons loading. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Norbert J. Ostrozny, U.S. Air Force

B-52D-65-BO 55-0110, call sign OLIVE 2, was assigned to the 96th Bombardment Wing, Heavy. It flew combat missions from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and the U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand. On 22 November, -110 was crewed by Captain Norbert J. Ostrozny, aircraft commander; Captain P. A. Foley, co-pilot; Bud Rech, radar navigator; Captain Robert Estes, navigator; Larry Stephens, electronic warfare officer; and Staff Sergeant Ronald W. Sellers, gunner.

Near Vinh, on the central coast of North Vietnam, OLIVE 2 was struck by an exploding S-75 Dvina surface to-air missile (NATO identified the S-75 as the SS-2 Guideline, commonly referred to as a SAM). The S-75 is a Soviet two-stage command-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile. It is 10.60 meters (34 feet, 9.3 inches) long and 0.7 meter (2 feet, 3.6 inches) in diameter. It is liquid-fueled and has a maximum speed of Mach 4 and range of 24 kilometers (15 miles). The missile has a 200 kilogram (441 pound) fragmentation warhead. The loaded weight is 2,300 kilograms (5,071 pounds).

OLIVE 2 was seriously damaged and on fire, and the flight crew turned toward the airfield at U-Tapao.

North Vietnamese missileers prepare an S-75 Dvina (NATO: SA-2 Guideline) for launch. (Popperphoto/Getty Images)

After crossing the Thailand border, Captain Ostrozny ordered the crew to eject from the stricken bomber. All six crewmen escaped the doomed Stratofortress and were later rescued by a Sikorsky HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant search-and-rescue helicopter.

55-0110 crashed 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. It was the first Stratofortress lost to enemy action in more than six years of combat.

Boeing B-52D-30-BW Stratofortress 55-662 crosses the perimeter fence on approach to U-Tapao Airfield, Thailand. OLIVE 2 did not return from its final mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52D-30-BW Stratofortress 55-662 crosses the perimeter fence on approach to U-Tapao Airfield, Thailand, 30 October 1972. OLIVE 2 did not return from its final mission. (National Archives and Records Administration/U.S. Air Force)

The United States Air Force flew more than 125,000 combat sorties with the B-52 from 1966 to 1973. During that time, the bombers delivered 2,949,615 tons of bombs against enemy targets. A total of 31 B-52s were lost during this time. 73 crewmen were killed in action and 33 captured and held as prisoners of war.

My thanks to Colonel Knox Bishop, U.S. Air Force (Retired), for contributing the additional details.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 November 1970

"The Raid, Blue Boy Element" by Michael Nikiporenko. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
“The Raid, Blue Boy Element” by Michael Nikiporenko. In this painting, a USAF/Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter, 65-12785, from 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, call sign BANANA 01, has intentionally crash-landed inside the prison compound at 0219 to insert the BLUE BOY element of Green Berets. (Son Tay Raiders Association)

21 November 1970: Operation Kingpin was a mission to rescue 61 American prisoners of war at the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. There were over 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers stationed within five miles of the prison. The ultra-secret mission was carried out by 56 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and 98 airmen aboard 28 aircraft.

Months of intelligence gathering, mission planning and meticulous training preceded the mission. Personnel were selected from more than 500 volunteers. Training was conducted at Duke Field, an auxiliary field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. A full-size replica of the prison was constructed and live-fire training was conducted. Aircraft formations flew day and night, following the precise courses and distances that would be flown during the actual mission.

Originally planned for October, the mission had to be pushed back to November.

 Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)
Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)

Two Lockheed C-130E(I) Combat Talons (a special operations variant of the four-engine Hercules transport), call signs CHERRY 01 and CHERRY 02, each lead a formation of aircraft for the raid. The assault group, consisting of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 65-12785, (BANANA 01) and five Sikorsky HH-53B/C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters (APPLE 01–05) carried the Special Forces team. The second formation was a strike group of five Douglas A-1E Skyraiders (PEACH 01–05) for close air support. The Combat Talons provided navigation and communications for their groups and illumination over the prison.

A C-130 Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
A C-130E Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
Soldiers of BLUE BOY element aboard the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, BANANA 01, at the start of Operation Kingpin. (Son Tay Raiders Association)

Because there was insufficient room to land a helicopter within the prison, it was planned to have BANANA 01, flown by Major Herbert D. Kalen and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Zehnder, and carrying a 14-man assault team, BLUEBOY, crash-land inside the perimeter. The Special Forces soldiers were tasked to locate and protect the prisoners and to kill any guards that might interfere. The larger helicopters first fired on the guard towers with their miniguns and then landed their soldiers outside the prison. The A-1 Skyraiders bombed and strafed nearby foot and vehicle bridges to stop reinforcements from making their way to the prison.

Assault Element Blueboy

Once inside the prison, it was quickly discovered that there were no American POWs there. The assault forces then withdrew. The total time from the beginning to the end of the assault was just 26 minutes. One American soldier suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The crew chief of BANANA 01 broke an ankle when it was hit by a falling fire extinguisher during the crash landing. As expected, BANANA 01 was written off. Between 100–200 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed.

A Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant, illuminated by the flash of an exploding surface-to-air missile, leaves the Sơn Tây Prison, 21 November 1970. Banana 01, the Sikorsky HH-3E, is visible inside the prison compound. (Air University, United States Air Force)

During the withdrawal from the area, North Vietnam fired more than 36 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. None were hit, though one Republic F-105G Wild Weasel, 62-4436, call sign FIREBIRD 05, was damaged by a near miss. This aircraft ran out of fuel just short of its tanker rendezvous and the crew bailed out over Laos. They were rescued by Super Jolly Green Giants APPLE 04 and APPLE 05, after they had been refueled by an HC-130P Combat Shadow, LIME 02.

Although meticulously planned and carried out, the mission failed because the POWs had been moved to another prison camp, closer to Hanoi (“Camp Faith”). Three days after the raid on Sơn Tây, they were again moved, this time to the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Jolly Green Giant

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This is the same type helicopter as BANANA 01. (U.S. Air Force)

Super Jolly Green Giant

This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Son Tay Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut, as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Combat Talon, Combat Shadow

This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, flying to Cannon AFB, New Mexico, where it will be placed on display. (U.S. Air Force)
This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, on its final flight. It is on static display at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. LIME 02, HC-130P-130-LM Combat Shadow 65-0991, is also displayed at Cannon. (U.S. Air Force)

Skyraider

This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. It is the same type aircraft as PEACH 01–05. (U.S. Air Force)

Wild Weasel

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel 63-8320 (converted from an F-105-1-RE Thunderchief) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This is the same type aircraft as the F-105G lost on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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