Radar bombing during rolling thunder--Part II: Combat Lancer and Commando Club.
On October 2 and 3, 1967, an advance party from the 4481st TFS from Nellis AFB visited the 355th TFW at Takhli to coordinate the arrival of six F-111As under "Combat Lancer." Capt. Malcolm D. Winter, an F-105 pilot from the 354th TFS who also worked as a staff officer at Takhli, had been planning the wing's reception of the F-111A since August. (108) The F-111A fighter-bomber was in operational testing at Nellis and a combat deployment was part of its test program. The planes, with their superior radar and low-level terrain navigation systems, were expected to provide a night, all-weather bombing capability over North Vietnam comparable to the Navy's A-6A and an improvement to the Commando Nail F-105Fs being flown by the 388th TFW at Korat.
Lt. Col. Edwin D. Palmgren, a former F-105B Thunderbird pilot, was the F-111A survey team chief from Nellis. Capt. Al "Mike" Michael, a Wild Weasel EWO, who with his pilot Maj. Jim Mirehouse began flying F-105F Commando Nail missions from Korat in July, recalled, "Jim Mirehouse and I [flew] into Takhli to brief Lt. Col. Palmgren.... We spent some time explaining our tactics, targets, and defenses we had encountered. He indicated that he envisioned a whole new approach to the night, single ship, low level mission. He thanked us, but made it clear that the ball was in his court now." (109) Takhli's wing history recorded a key agreement on their hosting the Air Force's most modern aircraft. "One of the operations items coordinated with this survey team involved the command and control relationship between the 355th TFW and the F-111 detachment after its arrival at Takhli. The F-111 representative expressed a desire for 'autonomous operation with only liaison as required with the 355th TFW'." Operations officers of the 355th TFW and Hq 7th AF agreed with this concept although wing Intelligence officers were to work closely with their counterparts in the F-111A detachment. The F-111s were projected to arrive at Takhli on February 1, 1968, but their arrival would be delayed by six weeks. (110)
The Fourth Commando Nail F-105F Crashes
On October 5, 1967, a Commando Nail crew (using call sign "Splendid") and their aircraft, F-105F (63- 8346), disappeared during a night attack against the Lang Con RR Bridge (JCS target 18.26) in Route Pack 5. The crew was Maj. Morris Larosco McDaniel, Jr. and his EWO Capt. William Allan Lillund. They had arrived at Korat in July with the first set of Wild Weasel crews who had trained at Yokota as replacements for the Ryan's Raider dual-pilot crews. (111)
Repeating the reaction after the second loss on May 15, this third loss to combat resulted once again in restricting F-105F Commando Nail missions to North Vietnam's lower route packs. From their first mission on April 26 to this one, Korat's Commando Nail crews had flown 415 sorties in Route Packs 1, 5, and 6A. (112) Nearly every night until the end of Rolling Thunder, the 44th TFS scheduled two to four F- 105F Commando Nail missions into the southern portion of North Vietnam to interdict the flow of supplies to North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. (113)
A Sky Spot Ground Radar Goes into Northern Laos
With Korat's Commando Nail missions no longer going to the Delta region of North Vietnam, the Air Force again needed another way to reach critical northern targets during the 1967-1968 monsoon season. As described earlier, the existing MSQ-77 Sky Spot radars in South Vietnam and Thailand allowed radar bombing up to 196 nautical miles from the stations, which limited them to targets only as far as Route Pack 3. However, this ground-radar guidance technique was proving to be a means of flying sorties despite bad weather and the Air Force came up with a new location for one of these radar stations that would enable planes to reach targets around Hanoi.
As early as November 1966, the Air Force and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been working on establishing a Sky Spot radar station on a mountaintop in northern Laos, 12 miles from the North Vietnamese border and 125 miles from Hanoi. In a memorandum dated April 25, 1967, the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, that an MSQ-77-type radar be installed at Lima Site 85 (LS-85), the TACAN Channel 97 site on the 5,800-foot mountain called Pha Thi in Laos. The JCS contended that a Sky Spot radar at LS-85 would provide guidance during bad weather for the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against targets in North Vietnam. Despite objections from William H. Sullivan, the U.S. Ambassador to Laos, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved the proposal. The Air Force issued a contract to Reeves Instrument Corporation to develop an air-transportable ground radar system designated TSQ-81. (114)
The PACAF briefing to CINCPAC for the period September 18-30 anticipated the benefits of using the Sky Spot radar at LS-85.
Although deteriorating weather will continue to degrade strike efforts for the next several months, operational status of Site 85 in northern Laos will allow strike forces to exert continuous pressure against important targets in NVN as well as targets in the Barrel Roll area. Site 85 is scheduled to be operational on 12 October. The present ECM and strike tactics will permit a sizeable strike force to fly formation in high threat areas during daylight hours. Maximum ECM support will be employed in conjunction with the MSQ missions. Weapons available in support of this effort include all high explosive bombs as well as CBU munitions. Bombing altitudes of 18,000 to 25,000 feet are most suitable for all targets out to 175 miles from Site 85.
The briefing listed eight targets that PACAF considered suitable for bombing using the radar at Site 85. Five of the targets were on the JCS target list. (115) The PACAF briefing concluded, "We feel that the application of air power under MSQ control during the forthcoming period of poor weather will add to the disruptive effects of the air campaign. The appearance of bombs raining through the clouds will certainly have a unique psychological effect, which will present a new problem for the enemy." (116) This comment became bitterly ironic in view of what happened on the first major bombing mission using this radar.
In mid-October, a team of forty-eight men, Air Force technicians but working under cover as employees of Lockheed Aircraft Service Company, arrived at Udorn, Thailand. Crews of nine men at a time shuttled in shifts to LS-85 to operate and maintain the TSQ-81 radar station installed at LS-85. Other technicians supported the Channel 97 TACAN equipment, which had been providing navigation signals for combat missions over North Vietnam since September 24, 1966. The Top Secret program was code-named "Heavy Green" and the TSQ-81-directed bombing missions over North Vietnam were called "Commando Club." (117)
Once the site was up and running, Seventh Air Force in Saigon tasked the 355th TFW at Takhli to fly two weeks of radar-guided bombing missions over North Vietnam to help calibrate the TSQ-81 Sky Spot radar. Col. John C. Giraudo, the wing commander, led the trial missions. The tests began over Laos and progressed to a final mission to bomb the Yen Bai railroad yards northwest of Hanoi. After completing the tests, Col. Giraudo objected to the missions as being too hazardous to his F-105 pilots who couldn't employ the successful ECM jamming pod defenses that the wing had developed. In a personal meeting with the commander of 7th Air Force, General William W. Momyer, Col. Giraudo requested that the 355th TFW be exempt from further Commando Club missions. General Momyer approved Col. Giraudo's request and assigned the first large-scale mission to the 388th TFW at Korat. (118)
First Combat Using Commando Club Radar
On November 1, 1967, the TSQ-81 radar at LS-85 in Laos was ready to support bombing missions over North Vietnam's delta region. Despite Col. Giraudo's request to exempt the 355th TFW from Commando Club missions, the wing did fly them. For example, on November 15th, pilots from the wing's 357th TFS struck the Yen Bai airfield in Route Pack 5 then returned to the same target on November 22 and again on the 1st and 23d of December. The wing history for the period commented on these missions and reported that there was "no BDA possible due to the techniques utilized (Commando Club radar bombing)." (119)
The 388th TFW, however, flew their first Commando Club mission on November 18, 1967. It was the first of seven such missions they flew in November. The mission turned into the disaster that Col. Giraudo had feared. Korat's target was the MiG-airfield at Phuc Yen (JCS Target 6), 14 nautical miles northwest of Hanoi in Route Pack 6A. Using regular daylight bombing attacks, both Korat and Takhli had hit Phuc Yen, the home of MiG-21s and IL-28 bombers, for the first time on October 24 and 25. (120)
The mission on November 18 included the large force typical of those assembled for conventional strikes against major targets in North Vietnam. Since clouds obscured the target, sixteen F-105s from Korat, flying at 18,000 feet, were to bomb the airfield shortly after 8 a.m. using the Commando Club radar. The F-105s carried a total of 27 ALQ-71 ECM pods that, when flown in a specific pod formation, had proven effective in jamming SAM radars. The force also included one flight of Wild Weasels from Korat with call sign "Waco" consisting of three F-105Fs and an F-105D. The Weasels flew 25 miles ahead of the strike force to suppress SAM sites around the airfield. Also protecting the strike force were four F-4Ds from Ubon for MiG CAP, three EC-121s with surveillance radar using call signs "Ethan Alpha" flying off the coast of North Vietnam to warn of MiGs, and five EB-66s for jamming SAM and AAA radar signals. (121) To help conceal the location of the Commando Club radar in Northern Laos, one of the EC-121s acted as a communications relay between the strike force commander and the radar controller at LS-85 who used the call sigma "Wager Control".
Col. Edward Burdett, the 388th TFW commander, led the strike force as "Garage 1". He was on his 37th mission over North Vietnam and flying F-105D 62-4221. En route to the target, he talked on his radio over the UHF strike frequency using the awkward relay to Wager Control about details of setting up the strike formation for the bomb drops. Unfortunately, their lengthy radio discussions blocked three MiG warning calls from Ethan Alpha. Suddenly, two silver-colored MiG-21s swooped down on the Wild Weasels who had failed to hear Ethan Alpha's MiG alerts. The first MiG fired a missile at Waco 4 and the second launched one at Waco 1. Both missiles hit their targets and the MiGs headed north at high speed-a hit and run tactic that was becoming all too successful. (122)
Waco 1 was F-105F 63-8295 with Major Oscar Moise Dardeau, Jr. and EWO Edward William "Tiny" Lehnhoff, Jr. from the 44th TFS. Their plane immediately began shedding parts and trailing black smoke then disappeared into the clouds below. Both men died in the crash. (123)
Waco 4 was luckier. He was Lt. Col. William N. Reed from the 469th TFS (flying F-105D 60-0497) who managed to nurse his crippled plane to Laos. He ejected near the Commando Club radar site at LS-85 where a Jolly Green HH-3 helicopter picked him up. (124)
The strike force continued toward the target but with the loss of the Wild Weasels, became more vulnerable to the SAM sites protecting Phuc Yen airfield. The F-105 pilots were even more vulnerable than they realized. In recent months, the North Vietnamese had developed a track-on-jam tactic for their SAM operators who used it this morning when the Commando Club formations made it even more effective. (125)
As the first of the four strike flights approached the target, the pilots in the flight closed their formation from a 1,500-foot separation between their planes to 500 feet so their bombs would hit in a tighter cluster. Unfortunately, the maneuver degraded their precisely spaced ECM pod formation, which sharpened the jamming patterns on the radar screens of the SAM operators. With their track-on-jam technique, SAM crews from six missile battalions fired 13 missiles. Two of them found their targets. One hit Garage 1, Col. Burdett, and the other blasted Vegas 3, Maj. Leslie John Hauer from the 469th TFS. Maj. Hauer was killed and Col. Burdett was captured but died as a POW. The remaining strike force jettisoned their bombs before reaching the airfield and headed southwest out of the target area. (126)
The 388th wing history for the period tried to put a positive spin on this tragic event that resulted in the loss of their wing commander and one fifth of the F-105s on the mission. "The first COMMANDO CLUB attempt ... used the entire strike force to execute level bombing against Phuc Yen airfield. This mission was significant in that it resulted in the revision of COMMANDO CLUB tactics due to the degradation of ECM pod effectiveness when the entire force closed up from the normal pod formation to decrease bomb dispersal; and resulted in the shooting down of four aircraft (two by SAM and two by MiGs) including the wing commander. After this experience, COMMANDO CLUB missions were executed in single flights in high threat areas and the standard pod formation was adhered to." (127)
The Air Staff Evaluates Commando Nail and Commando Club
One day after this disastrous mission against Phuc Yen airfield, a high-level group of Air Staff officers from the Pentagon concluded a 10-day visit to SEA bases. Lt. Gen. Glen W. Martin, Hq USAF DCS/Plans & Operations, led the group. The officers visited 11 bases in South Vietnam and 7 in Thailand including Takhli and Korat. Their trip report included the status of Commando Nail and Commando Club. (128)
For Commando Nail, the Air Staff reported that there were six aircraft and seven crews in the 44th TFS flying Commando Nail missions and that, since the beginning of the program in April, over "... 600 missions have been flown against 70 targets--41 targets in RP 1, 21 in RP 5 and 8 in RP 6. 3,594 bombs (1,349 tons) have been dropped." General Martin's report included statistics of the poor accuracy of these night bombing missions. "KA-71 camera evaluation of 14 sorties indicated a 3,300' CEP. Evaluation of radar-scope film was made for 45 sorties and indicated 3,100' CEP. Pre and post strike photography on 6 sorties revealed a CEP of 2,910'." The report, however, gave a positive assessment of the Commando Nail program. "... Crew morale is high since EWOs have been assigned for back seat duties. It is believed that this system has possibilities for employment in the pathfinder role using a formation similar to that developed for Commando Club." (129)
The Air Staff report also detailed the Commando Club program. At the time of the staff visit, twenty-five targets had been approved for Commando Club strikes. "This system ... has met with only very limited success. Operations have been plagued with poor weather and communications problems. From 18 Oct 67 to 16 Nov 67, 48 attempts have been made to hit selected primary Commando Club targets." The report indicated that 22 missions hit their primary or secondary targets, 10 attempts were cancelled or diverted due to weather, and nine more were ineffective due to I communication problems between strike pilots and the relay aircraft and ground controllers. Other missions had been cancelled or diverted for other reasons including heavy defenses such as those encountered in the Phuc Yen attack. The report included rough measures of bombing accuracy. "Bomb hit reports ranged from zero to five miles. CEA based on 14 runs was 867 feet based on photo and FAC evaluation. Confidence in this figure is not high." The Seventh Air Force Vice Commander, Major General William C. Lindley, Jr., was tasked to solve the Commando Club communication problems, his only responsibility until the problems were resolved. Fixes included installing a third UHF transmitter at Site 85, moving the relay aircraft orbit from the Gulf of Tonkin to Laos, and relieving the relay aircraft from MiG-warning responsibility. "Until further evaluation, all Commando Club strikes in the high-threat area have been suspended by 7th Air Force." (130)
One day after Korat's first disastrous Commando Club mission, the Air Force and Navy flew numerous combat missions over North and South Vietnam. Aircraft losses on November 19 were even worse than the day before. Nine Air Force and Navy planes, six of them over North Vietnam, were lost to MiGs, SAMs, and AAA. On November 22, Hq PACAF convened a nine-day conference to determine ways to counter the increased effectiveness of North Vietnam's defenses. At the conference, PACAF decided to restrict Commando Club missions from the high-threat area of Route Pack 6 and to use single flights, not the large formations used in Korat's Phuc Yen raid. (131)
Commando Club Missions Continue
Once again, the winter monsoon weather severely restricted the Air Force's Rolling Thunder campaign. During the rest of 1967 and the first three months of 1968, the Air Force relied heavily on Commando Club missions. On December 21, due to the availability of the Commando Club radar and the increasing risk of sending EB-66s over North Vietnam, Seventh Air Force stopped using EB-66s for radar pathfinder missions. (132)
At this point, the Commando Club ground radar in northern Laos, the six Commando Nail F-105Fs at Korat, and the trained Commando Nail F-4D crews at Ubon, provided most of the Air Force's capability for delivering bombs through the low-lying clouds that obscured targets in North Vietnam.
During this period, Commando Club missions from both Takhli and Korat focused on area targets. The history of the 354th TFS from Takhli described their missions during December 1967. "December saw increasing weather over North Vietnam that frequently prevented visual bombing missions. Emphasis was shifted to radar-controlled 'Commando Club' missions, to keep the pressure on selected North Vietnamese targets. These strikes were launched against large storage areas, troop barracks, rail yards, and airfields. On the few times when it was possible to get visual BDA, our pilots reported these strikes as very accurate and successful." (133)
Many of the Commando Club missions flown by both Korat and Takhli between November 1967 and March 1968 were repeated attacks against the MiG airfields at Hoa Lac and Yen Bai. Their wing histories and other sources documented 15 Commando Club missions against Yen Bai and 10 against Hoa Lac. Bombing these airfields became important. MiG activity, as the 388th TFW history reported, increased significantly in January 1968. "It was noted during the month that the MiGs were showing greater aggressiveness in their attacks and were flying further from their home bases. MiG sightings were made as far south as the 'fishes mouth' in RP-III and as far west as thirty miles from North Station in RP-V." (134) In keeping with the practice adopted after November 18, most were single-flight attacks against these area targets. The relatively few bombs dropped on each mission, bombing inaccuracies, and the rapid damage repair by the North Vietnamese, required returning to the airfields again and again. (135)
During the first two weeks in January, only four days were clear enough for visual bombing so that Commando Club missions continued to be one of the only means available to attack the MiG bases and other targets. "Although weather prevented visual strikes in the northern sector on all but four days of the period, 12 Commando Club targets were fragged as alternate missions to primary visual strikes. Of these, 7 were struck using the Commando Club radar delivery tactic." (136)
Weather worsened in February and March 1968. "February brought the poorest flying conditions in three years, and March was little better with the Northeast Monsoon prevailing nearly the entire month." During February 1968, "... the weather conditions caused attack sorties to drop to a low of 3,349." The Air Force flew 22 sorties in RP 5 and 19 in RP-6A. "The majority of the sorties in RPs V and VIA used Commando Nail (aircraft integral radar bombing system), and the Commando Club (ground controlled radar bombing system) techniques." (137)
On February 10, sixteen-F-4Ds from the 8th TFW at Ubon bombed Phuc Yen airfield using the Commando Club radar. The North Vietnamese had based IL-28 bombers at Phuc Yen that had sufficient range to reach bases in South Vietnam and the attack was intended to remove this threat. This large-scale attack, supported by EB-66s and Wild Weasels from Takhli, used cluster bombs, and a different method of attack from the one Korat used in their first F-105D Commando Club level-bombing attempt in November. Along with the Commando Club ground radar, the strike used the more versatile F-4D weapons release computers. Five miles from the target, the planes pulled up in a toss-bomb maneuver that lofted their bombs onto the airfield then escaped without encountering North Vietnamese defenses. (138)
The 44th TFS Gets Improved Commando Nail F-105Fs
Combat Bullseye radar bomb testing in the spring and summer of 1967 at Eglin AFB included two F-105Fs with modifications developed by Republic Aviation. Test results showed that these "Republic Mod" aircraft had significantly better radar bombing accuracy than all tested aircraft except the F-111A. (139)
The modification consisted of "... removal of the control stick from the rear cockpit and the installation of a blind bombing pedestal control." The modification replaced the original Direct View Storage Tube (DVST) radar scope with a larger cathode ray tube (CRT) that gave better resolution, "... and several changes [were] made in the radar controls and toss bomb computer." The modification also installed a radar altimeter (the same model used in the Navy's A-6A) and included the changes made to the F-105Fs under the original "Yokota" modification that the Ryan's Raiders and Commando Nail crews had been flying. (140)
Six F-105Fs from Korat received this modification at Kadena AB, Okinawa under modification number 1F-105F-2098, called the "2098 mod". The first two of these improved aircraft arrived at Korat on February 14, 1968. Two more 2098s arrived at Korat on February 22 and two more on March 5. Unlike the original aircraft that had both Commando Nail and Wild Weasel systems, these six planes did not have the Wild Weasel equipment so they could only fly Commando Nail or conventional bombing missions. "The [44th TFS] crews were sent two at a time to Kadena for five training flights and ground training to qualify with the new modifications. Those crews unable to go to Kadena were qualified locally with a training program, which included three training flights and eight hours of ground school. The locally qualified crews had been previously qualified in radar bombing and simply needed a check-out with the new equipment." (141)
On February 17, three days after receiving their first two aircraft, the 44th TFS flew the first Commando Nail night radar bombing missions using their 2098-modified F-105Fs. "During the month [of February], a total of 11 combat and 14 training sorties were flown in the new aircraft. The eleven combat sorties were "against nine different targets in RP-1. No secondaries were noted and a total of 24.75 tons of ordnance (or sixty-six 750-pound bombs) was dropped." (142)
On February 20, 1968, the 44th TFS converted to an all F-105F squadron to fly only Wild Weasel and Commando Nail missions. The squadron gave up their F-105Ds and their strike pilots transferred to the two other fighter squadrons at Korat--the 34th TFS and the 469th TFS. The squadron's fleet of "Fs" "included six '2098s' (night radar bombing modification), five 'Combat Martin' (special electronic countermeasures), and 12 'Wild Weasel III' aircraft.... Six of the 'Wild Weasel III' aircraft were dual capable in that they also possessed the radar equipment to perform the COMMANDO NAIL (night radar bombing) mission."
The squadron flew fewer Commando Nail missions in their dual-capable aircraft, preferring to fly these missions in their six more accurate 2098-modified aircraft and to use their dual-capable planes for Wild Weasel missions. (143) "In March, 58 of the 75 Commando Nail sorties flown were with the '2098' aircraft, although all were not flown with full '2098' capability due to equipment reliability problems." The new equipment lacked spare parts and technical data, and the new CRTs had a high failure rate. "By the end of March six of the CRTs had failed and at that time only two of the '2098s' had the CRT installed. The other aircraft had the standard DVS tube reinstalled, which ... downgraded the aircraft's mission capability. Extensive coordination was continuing between the 388th, the [depot at McClellan AFB, California] and the manufacturer, to work out a solution to this problem." (144)
A Fifth Commando Nail Aircraft is Lost
On February 29, 1968, the 44th TFS lost its fifth Commando Nail aircraft, this one to a SAM. The plane crashed in RP 6B, North Vietnam. The crew, "Ozark 03", was providing Wild Weasel support to a strike against a Hanoi vehicle facility. Maj. Crosley James Fitton, Jr. and his EWO Capt. Cleveland Scott Harris both died. Their aircraft, F-105F 63-8312, was one of the squadron's six dual-capable planes and one of the original four Ryan's Raider aircraft that had arrived at Korat from Yokota on April 24, 1967. (145)
JCS Approves F-111 Deployment
On the same day the 44th TFS lost its fifth Commando Nail aircraft, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the deployment of six F-111s from Nellis to Takhli under Combat Lancer. "Aircraft deployment is planned for 15 March 1968 with initial deployments of supporting equipment and personnel commencing 1 March 1968. A total of 385 personnel are approved." (146)
In Combat Bullseye tests at Eglin between March and June 1967, the F-111A had achieved the most accurate radar bomb drops of all aircraft tested including the B-58. The Air Force's latest planes were expected to provide a night, all-weather bombing capability over North Vietnam that was superior to Commando Club bombing accuracy and to the accuracies of the Commando Nail missions being flown by F-105Fs from the 388th TFW at Korat and the F-4Ds from the 8th TFW at Ubon. (147)
North Vietnam Destroys Site 85
Six days before the F-111As arrived at Takhli, in the early morning hours of March 11, 1968, a North Vietnamese sapper unit attacked and destroyed the Commando Club radar station and killed or captured eleven Air Force technicians at LS-85 in Laos. The attack also destroyed the Channel 97 TACAN station. (148)
North Vietnam had threatened the site before. On January 12, 1968, four Soviet-built AN-2 fabric-covered biplanes had attacked the mountaintop radar station. Two of the AN-2s had dropped bombs that knocked the Channel 97 antenna out of alignment, putting the frequently used TACAN signal out of commission for several days. The bombs had not damaged the Commando Club radar. A CIA civilian crew flying a UH-1 helicopter had fired an AK-47 rifle, shooting down one of the biplanes. A second AN-2 had crashed on a nearby mountain while trying to escape. (149)
The loss of the Commando Club radar station was a severe blow to the Air Force's radar bombing efforts. The site's radar had guided F-105s and other aircraft over targets in North Vietnam for only 18 weeks but had become one of the Air Force's primary means of conducting air strikes in Northern Laos and North Vietnam during bad weather. Between December 1, 1967 and March 11, 1968, the Air Force had flown 300 Commando Club sorties against North Vietnam. (150)
During this time the Air Force increasingly flew more Commando Club sorties against targets in northern Laos than it did against targets in the upper route packs of North Vietnam, the expected use of the Commando Club radar. For example, between January 1 and March 11, 1968, the 388th TFW flew only 24 missions into North Vietnam's Route Packs 5 and 6A, all in January and February. However, the wing had flown 85 missions in the Barrel Roll region of Northern Laos, 29 in March alone. Many of these attacks in Northern Laos were to defend LS-85 itself from encroaching North Vietnamese forces. (151)
F-111s Arrive at Takhli
On March 17, 1968, the six Combat Lancer F-111As from Nellis AFB, Nevada, landed at Takhli. The group was designated Detachment 1 of the 428th TFS. Col. Ivan H. Dethman commanded the detachment that included 49 officers and 298 airmen. Lt. Col. Ed Palmgren, who had coordinated the deployment during his visit to Takhli in October 1967, was the detachment's Operations Officer. (152)
Takhli's base newspaper trumpeted the reception that heralded the arrival of the airplanes. "Heading the list of dignitaries on hand for the Southeast Asian debut of this new multi-mission weapon system were Gen. John D. Ryan, Pacific Air Forces commander-in-chief; Lt. Gen. Joseph H. Moore, U.S. Air Force inspector general; Maj. Gen. Ralph G. Taylor, Jr., commander of the Tactical Fighter Weapons Center at Nellis AFB, Nev.; and Col. Rachsin Vasharat, Royal Thai Air Force's 4th TFW commander." (153)
Despite his having completed 100 F-105 combat missions in January, Maj. Malcolm D. Winter who had helped the 355th TFW plan the arrival of the F-111s, was also at Takhli when the planes arrived. "The F-111 pilots insisted on hooches on the same side of the base as the rest of the pilots. [The] only problem [was] that everyone else flew days and they flew nights. Needless to say, this made it hard for them to sleep. After about a week of that ... they relented and were moved to quarters on the other side of the base where the noise would be less." (154)
Like the early Ryan's Raider crews, both F-111A crewmembers were pilots. Lt. Col. Joseph T. Guastella, an experienced SAC radar bombardier, was assigned to the All-Weather Attack Branch at Headquarters 7th Air Force when the F-111s arrived at Takhli. In a Corona Harvest interview conducted on December 11, 1968, he commented on this arrangement.
The man on the right side who was making the radar release was not a fully trained radar bombardier like we know them in Strategic Air Command.... We had some great pilots ... but they were pilots in the right seat trying to be radar bombardiers. ... Also the pilot in the 111 would transition every thirty days from the right seat to the left seat: for thirty days he was a pilot; the next thirty days he was a bombardier
In the final analysis it still takes a highly trained individual to ascertain what a target looks like and to place his cross-hairs on that target and to set up his switches and set up his ordnance so that it will release at the right time, and you just don't get this overnight. You develop it through years of experience, and I think TAC is learning it, and they're starting to put radar people in the back seat of some of their aircraft and the program is moving along as a result of this.
As a result of their comparatively low experience, we utilized the 111 in ... Route Pack 1--we put them in a fairly permissive area. (155)
On March 25, 1968, eight days after arriving at Takhli, Detachment 1 flew its first mission into North Vietnam. The crew of F-111A 66-0018 was Col. Dethman, commander of the 528th TFS detachment, and Capt. Rick Matteis in the right seat. Using their system radar on a night Commando Nail mission, they struck the Vung Chau truck park and storage area in Route Pack 1. (156)
An article in the newspaper from Las Vegas, Nevada, the location of Nellis AFB and the F-111's hometown, described the mission in glowing terms.
America's newest warplanes, the 1,500-miles per hour F-111s flew their first combat mission Monday through dark and overcast skies over North Vietnam--the kind of weather the Air Force says the radar-guided, swing-wing aircraft are designed to overcome.
Pilots and their bombs were on the targets--bivouac and truck and storage areas northwest of Dong Hoi, a coastal city 35 miles north of the demilitarized zone.
I think the only time they knew we were there was when the bombs went off." said Lt Col Edwin D. Palmgren, 41, of Atlanta, Ga., who flew one of the all-purpose jets.
The F-111s flew from the U.S. air base at Ta Khli, Thailand, where the first six of the new aircraft had arrived March 17. The number of planes on the mission was not announced, but Air Force flights usually include four.
Because of darkness and overcast, the nighttime strike was made wholly under radar controls. F-111s carry sophisticated radar equipment that permits them to fly automatically toward a chosen target at night and in all kinds of weather.
The lead plane was piloted by Col. Ivan H. Dethman, 48, of Seattle, Wash., commander of the 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ta Khli, and Capt. Richard M. Matthis [sic]. (157)
Two F-111As Go Down
Ten days after their arrival at Takhli, on March 28, 1968, an F-111A was lost on a mission over North Vietnam. F-111A 66-0022 (call sign "Omaha 77") did not return from a night strike on the Chanh Hoa Truck Park in Route Pack 1 and its crew, Major Henry Elmer "Hank" MacCann and Capt. Dennis Lee Graham, were missing. (158)
Two days later, the second F-111A (tail number 66-0017) crashed in Thailand en route to a combat mission to North Vietnam. Its two-man crew, Maj. Sandy Marquardt and Capt. Joe Hodges (call sign "Hotrod 76") escaped injury when they ejected in the cockpit module and were picked up by helicopter. After this crash, combat missions of the F-111A were temporarily halted. Investigation revealed this second plane crashed due to a structural failure of an actuating valve in the stabilator system. (159)
These losses began restrictions on F-111A operations that minimized their contribution to the Commando Nail night radar missions.
Commando Nail Missions to North Vietnam Continue
By the end of March 1968, F-105Fs, F-4Ds, and F-111As had flown 1,987 Commando Nail sorties in North Vietnam. During March, their first month of operation from Takhli, the F-111As flew 19 of them, all in Route Pack 1. (160)
In contrast to the F-111s being restricted to targets in Route Pack 1, F-105F and F-4 Commando Nail aircraft in March were attacking targets in the greater threat areas of North Vietnam. For example, the 44th TFS flew 58 Commando Nail sorties with their "2098"-modified F 105Fs striking forty-one different targets in RP 1, fifteen in RP 5 and seven in RP 6. During these missions, they dropped 369 750-pound bombs but reported only three secondary explosions. (161)
Also during March 1968, F-4s from the 8th TFW at Ubon and 432nd TRW at Udorn, supported by Wild Weasel crews in the 354th TFS at Takhli, flew Commando Nail missions against major targets in the delta region of North Vietnam. The F-4s struck Yen Bai airfield, Ha Dong boatyard, Ha Dong Army barracks (JCS 31), Hanoi Vehicle Repair yard, Phuc Yen airfield (JCS 6), and targets on the northeast railroad. F-4Ds flew the Phuc Yen airfield strike on March 28 with four F-4D strike aircraft supported by eight F-4Ds for MiG cap and eight F-105 Iron Hand aircraft with three EB-66s that jammed early warning and GCI radars and dropped chaff. "The strike force encountered no MiGs, SAMs, or AAA fire." (162) An Air Staff report pointed out that F-4Ds had flown six times as many Commando Nail missions over the past several months as the F-105Fs from Korat, an indication of the growing importance of the F-4s for flying these radar missions. (163)
On March 30, F-105Fs from the 44th TFS "... flew a successful day Commando Nail mission against the Thai Nguyen thermal power plant (JCS 82.16).... Aircrews released 20 M-117s over the target but adverse weather prevented BDA." (164)
President Johnson Restricts Rolling Thunder
In a television broadcast from the White House on March 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a bombing restriction against North Vietnam and declared that he would not seek reelection as President. The restriction went into effect on April 1. All Rolling Thunder missions were limited to targets below the 20th parallel, 11 nautical miles north of Thanh Hoa in North Vietnam. (165)
However, three days later, on April 4, President Johnson, reacting to criticism by Senator J. William Fullbright, an opponent of the Vietnam War, further constrained Rolling Thunder by moving the restricted area 60 nautical miles further south to the 19th parallel. The move compressed all Commando Nail and other Air Force and Navy strikes into Laos and Route Pack 1, an area of North Vietnam 150 miles long by 50 miles wide that contained only two sizeable cities, Vinh and Dong Hoi, as well as the infiltration route of Mu Gia Pass. (166) Over the next three months, with few radar-significant targets in Laos, the 44th TFS flew over 300 Commando Nail night missions into Route Pack 1. (167)
Their Third Loss Stops F-111 Combat Missions
The 428th TFS Detachment 1 at Takhli lost their third F-111 in a combat mission on April 22, 1968. F-111A 66-0024 (call sign Tailbone 78) did not return from a night strike against the Phoung Chay highway ferry in North Vietnam. Its crew, Lt. Col. Edwin David Palmgren, the unit's Operations Officer, and Navy exchange officer, Lt. Cdr. David Leo "Spade" Cooley, were missing in Laos. After this third loss, six weeks after the F-111A detachment's arrival at Takhli, the Air Force again grounded the planes. They remained grounded until June 21 when they began flying training routes within Thailand. (168)
The F-111As had flown 55 combat sorties into Route Pack 1. "The bombing accuracy for the fifty-five aircraft that reached their targets was not good. Ten completely missed; another fourteen may have done the same. The remaining thirty-one achieved an average error of 1,050 feet." (169)
This third loss resulted in the 355th TFW being forced to take operational control of the F-111As. The initial arrangement that Lt. Col. Palmgren negotiated when he had visited Takhli on October 2, 1967, had been for maximum autonomy for the F-111 operation. On June 21, when they started flying again, the Combat Lancer crews flew check rides in the rear seats of Takhli's F-105Fs. When they were released to fly their F-111s, they flew 6 functional check flights, 14 recurrency checks, and 11 retraining missions each of which was chased by an F-105F with a Combat Lancer crewman in the back seat. Combat Lancer crews flew terrain-following training flights over pre-surveyed routes in Thailand but never returned to combat. (170)
Lt. Col. Jack Sherrill Takes Over the 44th TFS
On May 5, 1968, Lt. Col. Guy J. "Jack" Sherrill replaced Lt. Col. Robert A. "Red" Evans as commander of the 44th TFS at Korath Evans had replaced Lt. Col. Jim McInerney on November 2, 1967 when McInerney had completed 101 combat missions and was assigned to the Operations Plans Division at PACAF Headquarters. Sherrill had arrived at Korat on March 14, 1968, without taking the Wild Weasel course at Nellis. However, he was an experienced F-105 pilot and quickly learned to fly both Wild Weasel and night Commando Nail missions. Capt. John A. Stetson became his EWO. Capt. Stetson was already at Korat and had flown 57 missions with his original pilot, Capt. Harry N. Gainer, who had developed an untreatable ulcer and had returned home. (171) Despite being the squadron commander with many administrative tasks, Col. Sherrill continued to fly Wild Weasel and Commando Nail night missions that he had been flying since his arrival in March. Col. Sherrill was to be the last commander of the 44th TFS who flew night Commando Nail missions as well as Wild Weasel missions. (172)
The First Commando Nail Wild Weasel Class Graduates at Nellis
On May 8, 1968, the first class of Commando Nail pilot/EWO crews graduated from their combined Wild Weasel and Commando Nail training at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Wild Weasel Class 68WW III-20, assigned to the 4537th FWS, had started on February 9. This class graduated over a year after 7th Air Force had approved Lt. Col. Jim McInerney's concept of Wild Weasel crews flying Commando Nail missions to replace the original Ryan's Raider dual-pilot crews. After graduation, the seven crews of pilots and EWOs all reported to the 44th TFS in the 388th TFW at Korat. (173)
One of the pilots, Capt. Ronald L. Shepard, described his Commando Nail training. "Some of our WW training flights at Nellis were (relatively) low altitude simulated radar bombing missions. Since most of the EWO's had not played radar navigator in some time, if at all, it was a learning experience for them as well.... The commando nail training missions taught me one thing, based on watching the EWO try to use the manual terrain avoidance mode on the radar. Any mission I was involved in at night would be flown at least 500 feet above the highest terrain within 50 miles." (174)
Air Staff Recommends Ending Commando Nail Missions
In May 1968, the Air Staff published a secret report on the Commando Nail program in South East Asia. Their report, dated May 9, covered the period from April 1967 when the program started as Ryan's Raiders to March 1968. After reviewing Conunando Nail operations of the F-105F, F-4D, and F-111A, and noting major limitations in "USAF tactical air power identified by the Commando Nail experience to date", the report made three recommendations:
1. Commando Nail type missions employing currently available weapon systems be limited to occasional harassment strikes and that further missions employed for the sole purpose of acquiring or validating data be discontinued pending availability of vastly improved all-weather / night capable weapons systems.
2. F-4 and F-105 aircraft currently being employed in Commando Nail operations be returned to the primary strike role.
3. Continuing emphasis be placed on the accelerated development of a broad spectrum of highly accurate internal all-weather systems to include terminally guided weapons which will provide integral acquisition, attack and ECM protective capabilities. (175)
The Air Staff was acknowledging the limitations of radar bombing as well as the improved blind bombing technologies that were being developed, some of which would be introduced in the last stages of the Vietnam war.
Despite the Air Staff's recommendations, the 44th TFS continued to fly Commando Nail missions. The squadron commander, Jack Sherrill, flew many of them himself. In addition to Commando Nail night missions, he often flew night Wild Weasel missions that supported Commando Nail missions. Throughout May and June 1968, he and his EWO, Capt. John A. Stetson, flew 9 Commando Nail missions and 14 Iron Hand missions. (176)
Between June 9 and June 11, 1968, four more Wild Weasel crews who had completed Wild Weasel training at Nellis arrived in the 44th TFS and began flying F-105F Commando Nail as well as Wild Weasel missions. (177) The senior pilot, Lt. Col. Richard A. "Dick" Haggren had been an Air Staff officer in August 1965 and had participated in the Wild Weasel Task Force led by Brig. Gen. Kenneth C. Dempster that established the first Wild Weasel program in response to the introduction of SAMs in North Vietnam. He had helped develop and test anti-SAM systems for the F-100F and the F-105F Wild Weasel programs. Haggren had also flown F-105 tests at Eglin during the plane's development in the early 1960s. He became Operations Officer in the 44th TFS shortly after his arrival at Korat.
Navigator-Bombardiers Join Commando Nail Crews
In early 1968, the Air Force once again changed the crew composition in the F-105F Commando Nail program by having radar-bombardiers instead of Wild Weasel EWOs fly in the rear cockpit. F-105 RTU classes at McConnell rather than the Wild Weasel courses at Nellis provided this third change in F-105F Commando Nail crews. After graduating from their F-105 RTU training, selected pilots stayed at McConnell for additional training with a navigator-bombardier who had recently graduated from navigator school at Mather AFB, California. These crews received further training together in Commando Nail radar bombing. (178)
The 4519th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) conducted McConnell's new class under Course 111506K (called "Combat Nail" instead of Commando Nail). Lt. Col. Harry W. Schurr commanded the squadron. He was previously commander of the 469th TFS at Korat where he had earned the Air Force Cross for leading the 388th TFW's F-105s on the first strike on Hanoi's Paul Doumer Bridge on June 11, 1967. (179)
The first class started flying on June 20, 1968 in Class 69ARS under the squadron's "E Flight" led by Maj. Gayle D. Williams, Jr., a former Thunderbird pilot. Students flew 13 training sorties in the F-105F and 4 training sorties in the T-39B for the navigator-bombardier. McConnell's two F-105Fs that supported the training were similar to Korat's -2098 aircraft without the control stick in the rear cockpit. (180) "... The present syllabus requires the crews to fly five night missions on radar bombing sites, three daytime radar bomb missions, and three daytime missions on the Smoky Hill gunnery and bombing ranges." (181) McConnell's second Combat Nail class, 69BRS, began training on August 23 and graduated on November 8, 1968. (182)
Korat Loses Their Sixth and Seventh Commando Nail Airplanes
On July 15, 1968, AAA claimed a sixth Commando Nail F-105F during a Wild Weasel mission in Route Pack 1. Flying as "Bass 02", F-105F 63-8353 was one of the 44th's dual-capable planes that had been Commando-Nail modified at Kadena in 1967. The pilot, Maj. Gobel Dale James, became a POW and his EWO, Capt. Larry Eugene Martin, was KIA. (183)
On September 7, 1968, another Commando Nail F-105F from the 44th crashed when its engine failed on a Commando Nail mission. This seventh loss was the second due to engine failure. The crew, Maj. Eugene A. Bonfiglio and EWO Maj. Lorne F. "Jack" McCormick (call sign "Packard") attempted an emergency landing at Udorn but had to eject when the engine's #3 bearing seized. The crew had graduated in May from the first Wild Weasel class that had received Commando Nail training at Nellis. F-105F 63-8289 was one of the six 2098- modified Commando Nail planes assigned to the 44th. "Maj. Bonfiglio suffered a compression fracture of the vertebra and Major McCormick suffered a hairline fracture of the collar bone." (184)
The 44th TFS Continues Commando Nail Missions
For the remainder of Rolling Thunder, the five remaining 2098-modified Commando Nail F-105Fs at Korat continued to fly night missions into Route Pack 1. The 44th TFS scheduled an average of four missions each night, some of which they flew in their six less-accurate dual-capable Wild Weasel III aircraft. "A typical CN frag consisted of four different targets with time over targets (TOT) five to ten minutes apart. These targets were truck parks, storage areas, petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) dumps, and road interdiction points." The 388th TFW looked upon Commando Nail missions as harassing North Vietnamese road repair crews rather than destroying specific targets. "The CN mission contributed to the success of the 7th AF road interdiction program by the night radar bombing of specified interdiction points, which had been struck visually by fighter bombers the previous day, thus giving the enemy little time for rest or rebuilding." (185)
From, the beginning of Ryan's Raider operations in April 1967 through March 31, 1968, Korat's Commando Nail aircraft had flown 617 sorties into North Vietnam, 64% of them in Route Pack 1. From April 1968 through October 1968, they flew an additional 707 sorties. Therefore, during their Rolling Thunder combat period, Korat's Commando Nail aircraft flew 1,324 bombing sorties against North Vietnam, 83 percent of them in Route Pack 1. (186)
Their bombing accuracy was poor. Since truck parks or road intersections provided no radar returns, the crew used a prominent terrain feature as an offset aiming point that could be as far as 20,000 feet from the actual target, a distance that severely degraded accuracy. Since all sorties were at night, strike camera photos to confirm bomb impacts were not available. Accuracy measures published in 388th TFW histories were based largely on analysis of photos taken by radarscope cameras. For the period April through September 1968, the numbers show an average CEP of 1600 feet and a CEA of 3900 feet. (CEA was the average of all bombs dropped and CEP was the middle bomb of all bombs dropped, excluding gross bombs. Gross bombs were those that missed the target by 10,000 feet or more.) The squadron also tracked individual pilot CEA scores that ranged from 167 feet to 19,250 feet. (187)
The 44th continued contending with reliability problems with their 2098 systems. The Cathode Ray Tubes in the aft cockpit failed on the average of every 42 hours of operation, a figure that ranged from 3 hours to 119 hours. Those tubes that maintenance sent to the depot for rework and return to Korat were even less reliable lasting only 34 hours before failure. The original Direct View Storage tubes were temporarily installed when CRTs weren't available. However, by September 1968, most of the reliability problems had been resolved and all five remaining 2098 Commando Nail planes were equipped with the sharper CRTs. (188)
On July 12, 1968, Lt. Col. Joseph T. Guastella from Seventh Air Force, probably anticipating the arrival of the navigator-bombardier crews being trained at McConnell, visited Korat and flew a Commando Nail combat mission. As Deputy Chief of the All-Weather Attack Branch that oversaw radar-bombing programs in South East Asia, he was a highly experienced navigator-bombardier who had flown B-58s for seven years. It was a routine mission. He flew in the rear cockpit of F-105F 63-8281, one of the dual-capable Wild Weasel III airplanes, piloted by the 44th squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jack Sherrill who was flying his 45th combat mission. They flew as "Machete", one of three Commando Nail single- ship missions into North Vietnam. They reached their target at 6:55 p.m., dropped six bombs, and then returned directly to Korat without post-strike refueling. (189)
During August and September 1968, the 44th TFS began receiving crews who were qualified to fly only one type of mission--either Wild Weasel or Commando Nail. The first crews who were qualified for only Commando Nail were the four pilot and navigator-bombardier crews who graduated from McConnell's Combat Nail training in August. These crews arrived at the 44th TFS on September 19. These single-mission crews caused scheduling problems. "Prior to this new concept, all crews flying the F-105F were qualified to fly both IH [Iron Hand] and CN [Commando Nail] missions, with the crew consisting of a pilot and EWO." Beginning in August, crews arriving at Korat served for one year rather than 100 missions. (190)
On October 3, 1968, the first of these pilot and navigator-bombardier Commando Nail crews flew their first combat missions in Route Pack 1. "The in-squadron checkout program was comprehensive and well carried out, due to the efforts of all those crews with Commando Nail experience. The CN mission, supported by IH when weather permitted, continued to contribute greatly to the success of the Seventh Air Force road interdiction program by the night all-weather radar bombing of specified interdiction points." (191)
During October 1968, their last month of Commando Nail missions, the 44th TFS flew 121 Commando Nail sorties and dropped a total of 210 MK-82, 300 CBU-24s, and 16 MK-117 bombs. In an all-too-common refrain, the wing history reported, "Bomb damage assessment (BDA) was handicapped by cloud cover over target areas. However, 14 CN crews observed five secondary explosions and 16 secondary sustained fires." (192)
President Johnson Ends Rolling Thunder
At midnight on November 1, 1968, President Johnson halted all bombing of North Vietnam bringing to a close the Rolling Thunder campaign that he had started in March 1965. The halt ended the F-105F Commando Nail radar bombing missions from Korat. After November 1, Commando Nail crews reverted to Skyspot missions over Laos using the radar ground stations in Thailand. F-105Ds equipped with radar beacon transponders led flights of two or four Commando Nail F-105Fs in day and night missions. (193)
On November 8, the 23d TFW at McConnell cancelled their third Combat Nail class, 69CRS, which they had scheduled before the bombing halt on November 1. The eight navigator-bombardiers from the first two classes were the only ones trained for the F-105F Commando Nail program. (194) However, McConnell's F-105 RTU program continued because the Air Force still needed F-105 pilots for its stepped-up Laotian campaign.
On November 19, after flying 55 Commando Nail missions in Route Pack 1 during their eight months at Takhli, the Combat Lancer crews of Detachment 1, 428 TFS, returned home to Nellis with their five F-111As. (195)
Despite the cancellation of Commando Nail bombing of North Vietnam, the aircrew pipeline didn't stop. The 44th TFS received their last 4 Commando Nail aircrews on December 16 and 17. These men were from McConnell's last Combat Nail Class 69BRS that had graduated on November 8. Since the bombing halt three weeks before their arrival, these four crews with only Commando Nail training no longer had a mission. The 44th TFS squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jack Sherrill, recommended to 7th Air Force that the eight Navigator-Bombardiers in his squadron be "... cross-trained in-country to F-4Ds and assigned PCS elsewhere in Thailand." (196)
Between December 8 and December 20, 1968, over the objections of Lt. Col. Dick Haggren the 44th TFS Operations Officer, Korat transferred the five 2098-modified Commando Nail F-105Fs to the 23d TFW at McConnell for F-105 RTU training. The transfer was a result of a message, dated 5 November 1968, in which the Air Staff requested that CINCPACF provide additional F-105s to support McConnell's RTU program. CINCPACAF, through 7th Air Force, directed the transfer of the five 2098 F-105Fs. (197)
Lt. Col. Guy J. "Jack" Sherrill flew his last combat mission March 9, 1969, and completed his year as commander of the 44th TFS. Since his arrival at Korat on March 14, 1968, he had flown 126 combat missions and 333 hours involving both Wild Weasel and night Commando Nail missions. He remembered his final mission as a song to the tune of Wabash Cannonball.
Hello there Apache, this is Vampire number one, I'm comin' 'cross the Mekong, My flyin' here is done. This is my final mission, and a sore ass I have got. Jus' let me land this big ol' Thud, On the runway at Korat.
When he landed, his troops greeted him with a "helluva parade. After two bottles of champagne the troops blockaded me in the squadron area with a fire truck and demanded chug-a-lug of a 6-pack for passage. A lot of it got spilled and the truck hosed me down after all. After climbing out of the pool, I rang the bell, had a martini, and went to the hooch to get on dry clothes. (198) Three days later, he relinquished command of the 44th TFS to Lt. Col. Herbert L. Sherrill (no relation to Jack) who had arrived at Korat with his EWO Maj. Jerry W. Hargis on December 26 after completing Wild Weasel training in Class 68WW III-25 at Nellis. (199)
Shortly after the transfer of the 44th TFS's five "2098" F-105Fs to McConnell, 7th Air Force initiated a Commando Nail program for night radar bombing of targets in Laos. Despite relatively few radar-significant targets in Laos, Seventh Air Force directed the 388th TFW as well as the 366th TFW at Da Nang, along with the 8th TFW at Ubon and 432nd TRW at Udorn, to begin F-4 Commando Nail missions. "The wing commander will identify crews to be qualified for CN bombing in Laos. Selection will be based on operator experience and past CN bombing records. Replacement crews will be extensively trained using camera attack scoring prior to selection as a CN crew.... Commando Nail targets will be approved by 7 AF and listed as approved CN targets in the daily frag. Only fragged targets will be struck using CN procedures. CN bootleg activity will not be allowed." At Korat, the mission was assigned to the F-4Es that had replaced the F-105Ds in the 469 TFS on November 17, 1968. Korat's "... F-4E crews commenced training to become fully qualified in CN bombing techniques." (200)
Over the next three years, Korat's five 2098 Commando Nail F-105Fs remained with the 23d TFW at McConnell who had received approval from HQ TAC on January 23, 1969, for their F-105 RTU students to fly the Commando Nail F-105F aircraft despite the lack of a flight control stick in the rear cockpit. In October 1969, the 23d received a change to their training syllabus that allowed them to use Commando Nail planes in place of F-105Ds. The change in TAC Syllabus 111106B allowed "more scheduling flexibility.... The syllabus programs for each student to fly 17 dual F-105F sorties and 62 solo F-105D sorties; however, an F-105F may be substituted for the F-105D as necessary." (201)
Although the Commando Nail F-105Fs supported McConnell's RTU mission, their lack of Wild Weasel equipment delayed McConnell's 561st TFS when it gave up its RTU mission in April 1970, and picked up the Wild Weasel mission with F-105Gs--modified F-105Fs with advanced Wild Weasel equipment. The squadron transferred out all its F-105Bs and Ds that they had used for pilot training and, by June 30, 1970 had eight F-105Fs and nine F-105Gs. However, none of the Gs had all the programmed Wild Weasel equipment and five of the nine F-105Fs were the Commando Nail aircraft without aircraft controls or Wild Weasel equipment in the rear cockpit. (202) It took until 1972 for the Air Force to modify these five unique planes to F-105G Wild Weasels. After they were modified in the depot at McClellan AFB, California the planes supported training at Nellis and the 1972 Linebacker bombing campaigns that ended the war. (203)
The Air Force's radar bombing programs during Rolling Thunder--pathfinder, Sky Spot, Commando Nail, and Commando Club--had very limited success. The first three programs, due to heavy enemy defenses in North Vietnam's heartland and the inherent limitations of their systems, ended up being restricted to targets in the lower regions of North Vietnam and in Laos. All four systems suffered from inaccurate bombing.
Due to bombing inaccuracies and concerns for collateral damage, radar-bombing missions were more suited to area targets such as storage and vehicle parking areas instead of the high-value point targets of industrial buildings and bridges that constituted most of the JCS targets of the Rolling Thunder campaign. Bombing inaccuracies combined with the scarcity of bomb damage assessment due to darkness or weather conditions required repeated attacks against the same targets.
Commando Nail night missions, the longest lasting of the programs flown by F-105Fs, F-4s, and F-111s, were largely harassment missions against relatively minor targets rather than effective bombing of specific major targets.
The Air Staff was well aware of the limitations of Air Force systems for radar bombing but still instituted the programs. Radar technology was clearly not suited for the required bombing accuracies. What success the Air Force achieved was due to the brave aircrews willing to fly the missions. Unfortunately, many dedicated men lost their lives in carrying out these programs.
The Air Force's experience during Rolling Thunder was the springboard for later successes in precision and blind bombing that the Air Force applied in the Linebacker campaigns of 1972 and in subsequent wars. The targeting and bomb-guidance technologies that the Air Forced lacked in 1968 that were developed over the next 30 years included forward looking infrared systems, laser target designators, precision guidance adapters for conventional bombs, electronic low-light optical systems such as night vision goggles, and aircraft navigation and bomb guidance from satellite signals. These technologies were far more capable than radar for precision night and bad weather bombing. They led to today's F-15s, F-16s, and F-117s, descendents of the F-105s, F-4s and F-111s from Vietnam, "owning the night."
(108.) Combat mission log of Malcolm D. Winter transcribed by his son, Mike Winter.
(109.) A. L. Michael, e-mail to author Feb 5, 2006.
(110.) 355 TFW history Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO464, frames 0565-0566.
(111.) Navy CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF loss 709, page L23. Neither man's remains have been returned. Both names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, panel 27E line 49.
(112.) Dennis R. Jenkins, F-105 Thunderchief, Workhorse of the Vietnam War, pg 101.
(113.) Michael, Ryan's Raiders Corona Harvest report, pg 32.
(114.) Timothy Castle, One Day Too Long, Top Secret Site 85 and the Bombing of North Vietnam, pp 27-35.
(115.) The eight targets were:
1. Phuc Yen airfeld (JCS 6)
2. Kinh No railroad yard. "The adjacent Nguyen Khe storage area (JCS 51) could also be targeted depending on activity."
3. Kinh No motor vehicle repair.
4. Hanoi Transformer station (JCS 82.24).
5. Hanoi/Duc Noi PPS. "This facility has a current residual capacity of 1900 MT."
6. Yen Vien Classification yard (JCS 19).
7. Hanoi railroad car repair shop and marshalling yard (JCS 20).
8. Hanoi storage area at Bac Mai.
(116.) PACAF briefing to CINCPAC for the period 18-30 September 1967.
(117.) Castle, pp 26 and 50-51.
(118.) Ibid, pp 52-53.
(119.) 355 TFW history, Oct 67-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO463, frames 1029 and 1583.
(120.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Dec 67, Vol II, USAF microfilm NO584, frames 0030-034. Chronology of Seventh Air Force, 1 July 1967-30 June 1968, pg 5.
(121.) Thompson, pp 103-104. USAF Fighter Weapons Center Report, Red Baron II, Vol IV, Event 59, pp 67-72.
(122.) Red Baron II, Vol IV, Event 59, pp 69-70.
(123.) Navy CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF loss 752, page D24. Dardeau's and Lehnhoff's remains were returned to the U.S. on November 25, 1987. Dardeau's name is on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, panel 30E line 14; Lehnhoff's is on panel 30E line 16.
(124.) Navy CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF loss 755, pg E24.
(125.) Merle L. Pribbenow II, "The-Ology War: Technology and Ideology in the Vietnamese Defense of Hanoi, 1967", in The Journal of Military History, Jan 2003, pp 194-195.
(126.) Red Baron II report, Vol IV, Event 59, pg 71. Pribbenow, pg 195. Thompson, pg 104. CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF losses 753 (Hauer) and 754 (Burdett), page D24. Col Burdett was confirmed captured on January 16, 1968. His remains were returned on March 6, 1974. His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, panel 30E line 13. Hauer's remains were returned in September 1990. His name is on the Wall's panel 30E line 16. Col Jack C. Berger, the Assistant Deputy Commander at 7/13 Air Force Headquarters at Udorn, moved to Korat as interim wing commander to replace Col Burdett. On November 22, Col Neil J. Graham replaced Col Berger 388 TFW History, Apr-Dec 67, USAF microfilm NO583 and Vol II in microfilm NO584, frame 0030. 388 TFW history, Jan-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO584, frame 0622.
(127.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Dec 67, USAF microfilm NO583 and Vol II in microfilm NO584, frame 0030.
(128.) AFXOPG "Report on Staff Visit to Southeast Asia" for period 9-19 Nov 67. AFHRA call number K143.152-1.
(129.) Ibid, pp 9-10.
(130.) Ibid, pp 10-12.
(131.) Chris Hobson, Vietnam Air Losses, Midland Publishing, pp 126-127. PACAF Rolling Thunder briefing to CINCPAC for period 16-30 November 1967.
(132.) 42 TEWS history in 355 TFW history, USAF microfilm NO463, frame 1606.
(133.) 355 TFW history, Oct 67-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO463, frames 1572-1573 and 1583.
(134.) 388 TFW history, Apr 67-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO584, frames 0494 and 0495.
(135.) 355 TFW history, Oct 67-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO463, and 388 TFW history, Apt 67-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO584.
(136.) PACAF Rolling Thunder briefing to CINCPAC for period 1-15 January 1968.
(137.) Project CHECO, Rolling Thunder, Jan 1967-Nov 1968, pp 18-20.
(138.) 355 TFW history, Jan-Mar 1968, USAF microfilm NO463, frames 1652-1653. Thompson, pg 127.
(139.) Combat Target report, Annex N, pp i-ii.
(140.) Combat Target report, Annex N, pg N-31. The "Yokota" modification described in 388 TFW histories was called the "Nellis" modification in the Combat Target report. 388 TFW history, Jan-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO 584, frames 0461 and 0519-0520.
(141.) 388 TFW history, Jan-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO 584, frames 0461 and 0519-0520.
(142.) Ibid, frames 0522 and 0646.
(143.) Ibid, frame 0467 and Apr-Jun 68, frames 0713 and 0718.
(144.) Ibid, frames 0462, 0522 and 0545-0546.
(145.) Navy CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF combat loss 834, page C25. Fitton's remains were returned in 1977. His name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall panel 42E, line 5. Harris' remains were returned in April 1985. His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, panel 42E line 6.
(146.) Chronology of Seventh Air Force, 1 July 1967-30 June 1968, pg 12. 355 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, Vol III, USAF microfilm NO464, frame 1615.
(147.) Combat Target report, Annex N, pp i and N-11.
(148.) Castle, pp 121-123.
(149.) Castle, pp 76-77. Red Baron II report, Vol IV, Event 90, pp 398-399. Pribbenow, pg 199.
(150.) Pribbenow, pg 199.
(151.) 388 TFW history, Jan-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO584, frames 0462 and 0525. Pribbenow, pg 199. The 354 TFS at Takhli was one of the F-105 squadrons affected by the loss of this radar site. "During the first portion of the month before the loss of this valuable site, many Commando Club missions were flown in northern Laos in support of the Royal Laotian Forces. Afterwards, the weather forced 354th pilots to restrict their attacks to targets in Laos and the lower route packages of North Vietnam." 355 TFW history, Oct 67-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO463, frame 1822.
(152.) 355 TFW history Apr-Jun 68, Vol I, USAF microfilm NO464, frames 0540 and 0575, and 1615.
(153.) Takhli Times, weekly base newspaper, Mar 22, 1968.
(154.) Mike Winter, son of Malcolm Winter, e-mail to author, July 31, 2003.
(155.) U.S. Air Force Oral History Interview of Lt Col Joseph T. Guastella, Corona Harvest Oral History #76, AFHRA call number K239.0512-076, pp 13-16.
(156.) F-111 Web site at www.f-111.net on Jun 1, 2000.
(157.) Las Vegas Review-Journal, Tuesday, March 26, 1968.
(158.) Navy CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF combat loss 866, pg H25. Neither man's remains have been recovered. McCann's name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at panel 46E line 57. Graham's name is on panel 46E line 54. F-111 Web site at www.f-111.net on 1 Jun 00. 355 TFW history Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO464, frame 0638.
(159.) Navy CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF Operational Loss 241, pg 009. F-111 Web site at www.f111.net on 1 Jun 00. "Combat Lancer The F-111A's Introduction to War", USAF Museum Friends Journal, Vol 24, No 2, Summer 2001, pg 6.
(160.) "A Report on Commando Nail, April 67-March 68" by AFXOP, dated May 9, 1968, pg 3 and Tab A.
(161.) 388 TFW history, Jan-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO 584, frames 0509 and 0522-0523.
(162.) 355 TFW history, Oct 67-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO463, frames 1822 and 1826 and frames 1654-1655.
(163.) "A Report on Commando Nail, April 67-March 68" by AFXOP, dated May 9, 1968, pg 3.
(164.) 388 TFW history, Jan-Mar 68, USAF microfilm NO 584, frames 0463 and 0508.
(165.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO584, frames 0726 and 0740-0742.
(166.) Thompson, pp 140-141.
(167.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO584, frames 0726 and 0740-0742 and 1470.
(168.) CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF combat loss 882, pg K25. Their plane had arrived at Takhli on April 5, 1968, as a replacement for one of the two planes lost earlier. See F-111 Web site at www.f-111.net. Neither man's remains have been found. Palmgren's name is on the Vietnam Wall, panel 51E line 32. Cooley's name is on panel 51E line 29. "Combat Lancer. The F-111A's Introduction to War", USAF Museum Friends Journal, Vol 24, No 2, Summer 2001, pg 7. 355 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO464, frames 0603 and 0637. Chronology of Seventh Air Force, 1 July 1967-30 June 1968, pg 15.
(169.) Kenneth P. Werrell, Chasing the Silver Bullet, pg 29.
(170.) 355 TFW History, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO464, frame 0637, and Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO465.
(171.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO584, frame 1407.44 TFS history, Oct 18-Nov 30, 1967, USAF microfilm NO584, frame 0091. Jack Sherrill, email to John J. Revak, April 7, 2003.
(172.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, Vol I, USAF microfilm NO584, frames 0686 and 1407.
(173.) The crews were: Maj Thomas J. Phelan and EWO Maj Clarence J. "John" Toole, Jr., Maj Eugene A. Bonfiglio and EWO Maj Lorne F. "Jack" McCormick, Maj Ralph C. Budde and EWO Capt Robert L. Wilbanks, Maj Ronald L. Shepard and EWO Capt Richard R. Middleton, Maj James D. Clendenen and EWO Maj John D. Thornton, Maj William M. "Bill" Pugh and EWO Maj Tom Baughman, and Maj Richard P. Cisco and EWO Capt Robert G. Denison. Photo caption in Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Vol III, Turner Publishing, 2000, pg 52. Class Roster, Wild Weasel Class 68WW III-20 published by the 4537 FWS.
(174.) Ron Shepard, e-mail to author, Feb 5, 2005.
(175.) "A Report on Commando Nail, April 67-March 68" by AFXOP, dated 9 May 1968, pgs 12-13.
(176.) Mission cards of Lt Col Guy J. "Jack" Sherrill.
(177.) 44 TFS Aircrew Roster dated Sept 29, 1968 and Wild Weasel class roster for Class 68WW III-22. The crews, comprising the entire Wild Weasel Class 68WW III-22, were: Lt Col Richard A. "Dick" Haggren with EWO Maj William A. Smith, Maj George K. Bowling and EWO Maj Thomas P. McGowan, Maj Bernard C. Reck and EWO Maj Robert M. Clark, and Capt Jay N. Mitchell and EWO Capt James E. Logan.
(178.) 23 TFW history, Jan-Jun 68, USAF microfilm MO554.
(179.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Dec 67, USAF microfilm NO583, frames 1575 and 1576.
(180.) One of McConnell's F-105Fs that supported Combat Nail training was 62-4419. It was lost in an accident during Brass Strike V on October 1, 1969.
(181.) 23 TFW history, Jun-Dec 68, USAF microfilm MO555, frames 1622 and 1728-1729. Crews of this first Combat Nail class, who graduated on August 9, were: pilot Capt Larry B. McBride and Bomb/Nav Capt Richard E. Dolan, pilot Maj Grant V. Swinford and Bomb/Nav 1Lt James W. Dearing, pilot Maj Leonard A. Morgan and Bomb/Nav 1Lt George G. Giddens, pilot Capt John M. Brucher and Bomb/Nay 1Lt John M. Winston. 388 TFW History, Jul-Sep 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 0815-816.
(182.) The four pilots in this class were Maj William H. Stockton, Capt Thomas J. Doubek, Capt Robert L. Nesbitt, and Maj Thomas A. Dodd. 23 TFW history, 30 Jun-31 Dec 68, USAF microfilm MO555, frames 0167-0169. The Navigator-Bombardiers were Maj Delbert B. Duncan, Maj Eldon N. Deardorf, Capt Stephen W. Stafford, and Capt Eldon G. Caldwell. 388 TFW history, Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 1773-1774.
(183.) CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF combat loss 960, pg 126. Hanoi released Maj James on Mar 14, 1973. Capt Martin's name is on the Vietnam Wall, panel 52W line 36.
(184.) CNA Loss/Damage Database, USAF operational loss 279, pg D10. 388 TFW History, Jul-Sep 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frame 0080. After this loss, the 44 TFS had five 2098-modified Commando Nail F-105Fs: 638274, 63-8275, 63-8276, 63-8278, and 63-8363; and six that were dual-capable Commando Nail and Wild Weasel aircraft: 62-4424, 62-4428, 62-4446, 63-8281, 63-8285, and 63-8327. 388 TFW history, July-September 1968, USAF microfihn NO585, frame 0296.
(185.) 388 TFW history, Jul-Sep 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 0062-0064 and 0070-0071, 0101, 07420747, 0762, 0769, 1380, and 1404.
(186.) "A Report on Commando Nail, April 67-March 68" by AFXOP dated 9 May 1968, Tabs A and B. Specific figures included in 388 TFW histories for the period show the following monthly Commando Nail sorties in RP 1:
(187.) 388 TFW history, Jul-Sep 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 0062-0064 and 0070-0071, 0101, 0818, and 0834-0835.
(188.) 388 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO584, Vol I, frame 0931.
(189.) July 12, 1968 mission card of Lt Col Guy J. "Jack" Sherrill. Per Jack Sherrill's mission card, they were scheduled to fly in one of the 2098-modified aircraft, 638289, but it ground aborted. 388 TFW history, Jul-Sep 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 0815 and 0826.
(190.) 388 TFW history, Jul-Sep 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 0062-0064 and 0070-007, 0101, and 0811-0814.
(191.) 388 TFW history, Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frame 1770.
(192.) Ibid, frame 1067.
(193.) 388 TFW history, Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 1061-1066 and 1772-1773.
(194.) 23 TFW history, 30 Jun-31 Dec 68, USAF microfilm MO555, frames 0167-0169, 1622, and 1728-1729.
(195.) 355 TFW history, Apr-Jun 68, USAF microfilm NO464, and Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO465.
(196.) 388 TFW history, Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 1773-1774.
(197.) Ibid, frames 1051-1052, 1056-1059, 1086, and 1528-1531.
(198.) Jack Sherrill, e-mail to author, May 13, 2003.
(199.) 388 TFW history, Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frame 1774.
(200.) 7th AF DOC message 130916Z Dec 68 in 388 TFW history, Oct-Dec 68, USAF microfilm NO585, frames 1067 and 1532-1534.
(201.) 23 TFW history, Oct-Dec 1969, USAF microfilm MO555, frames 0398, 1056-1058.
(203.) Individual aircraft status records in USAF microfilm AVH-18.
W. Howard Plunkett is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. His twenty-year career as an aircraft maintenance officer began with F-105s in 1964. He was a distinguished graduate from Squadron Officers School and earned an MS in Logistics Management from AFIT Since his retirement in 1983, he has worked in the aerospace industry as a reliability engineer, in software support and quality assurance, as a logistics manager and technical writer, and in business development. His previous publications about the F-105 include an article in the Air Force Museum's Friends Journal (Winter 1994/1995) and a book, F-105 Thunderchiefs, published in 2001 by McFarland & Company, Inc., detailing the histories of all surviving F-105s in museums and on static display around the world. He wrote, "Ozark Lead is Out of the Aircraft, "published in the Spring 2005 issue of Air Power History.
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|Author:||Plunkett, W. Howard|
|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2006|
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