Friday, April 4, 2014

The Friday Flyby - 04 April

The Thud
In spite of a troubled early service life, the F-105 became the dominant attack aircraft early in the Vietnam War. The F-105 could carry more than twice the bomb load farther and faster than the F-100, which was used mostly in South Vietnam. In a foreshadowing of its Wild Weasel role, the first F-105D combat mission of the war involved an attack on 14 August 1964 against an anti-aircraft artillery site on Plaine des Jarres. This mission was carried out by aircraft of the 36th TFS, 6441st Tactical Fighter Wing deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. The first Thunderchief lost in the war also occurred during this mission, although the pilot managed to return the aircraft to Korat. The first strike mission took place on 13 January 1965 with the destruction of the Ben Ken bridge in Laos. In early 1965 additional F-105 squadrons were deployed to Korat and Takhli air bases in Thailand. At the start of Operation Rolling Thunder in March 1965, large numbers of F-105Ds were shipped to these bases to participate in intense bombing missions. - Wikipedia
 The F-105 Thunderchief, or Thud as it was more commonly known, was a big aircraft, weighing up to 18 tons fully loaded. She needed to be big to shoulder the load in the skies over North Vietnam.

The Morning Go

Rolling...

Rolling Thunder
Robert Taylor

Dodging AAA

Shack!

Let's gas up and go home...

And get ready to do it all again tomorrow...

The Thud, in it's two-seater version, was also used in the Wild Weasel role -
The Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile was already well known to US intelligence when the Vietnam War began. It had brought down Francis Gary Powers in a CIA U-2 spyplane over the Soviet Union in 1960 and an Air Force U-2 during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The SA-2 had a range of about 25 miles and accelerated to Mach 3.5 as it closed on the target. It was deadly against aircraft at medium and high altitudes. Its NATO code name was Guideline, but to the airmen who faced it in Southeast Asia, it was simply "the SAM," or sometimes "Sam."

The first SAM sites in North Vietnam were detected in April 1965. US military commanders wanted to destroy them right away, but Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused permission, fearing that Soviet technicians might be killed and the conflict would escalate. John T. McNaughton, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, ridiculed the need to strike the SAMs. "You don’t think the North Vietnamese are going to use them!" he scoffed. "Putting them in is just a political ploy by the Russians to appease Hanoi."

McNaughton’s surmise was soon discredited. On July 24, 1965, an SA-2 shot down an Air Force F-4C, the first of 110 USAF aircraft lost to SAMs in Southeast Asia. The White House approved a retaliatory air strike, but by the time it got there, the SAM batteries were long gone. Instead, dummy missiles had been placed at the site as a "flak trap." The attacking aircraft were lured within range of concealed air defense guns, which shot down four of them.

In August, US Pacific Command set up an operation called "Iron Hand," in which Air Force and Navy aircraft would try to destroy or defeat the SAMs. However, Iron Hand did not yet have the necessary tools, which were developed through a rush Air Force project named "Wild Weasel." Two-seat F-100F fighters were outfitted with radar homing and warning (RHAW) gear to detect emissions from the SAM’s fire control radar. The F-100F was armed with a 20 mm cannon and rockets to mark or attack the target. Navigator/electronic warfare officers were recruited from Strategic Air Command to fly in the backseats and operate the special equipment. 
In November, the first Weasels reported to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat AB, Thailand, where they teamed up with F-105D fighter-bombers for Iron Hand missions, and began flying missions in December. The Weasels found and marked the SAM sites, and the F-105s attacked them with missiles and bombs. It worked reasonably well. The Weasels flew as escorts with F-105D strike flights, and when in SAM territory, they moved out in front. The main problem was that the F-100, flying at 400 knots, was too slow. The F-105s, coming along behind at their preferred speed of 500 knots, had to weave to keep from overtaking the Weasels.
The obvious solution was to use the fast and sturdy F-105—known to all as the "Thud"—as the Wild Weasel aircraft. A number of two-seat F-105F trainers were promptly modified for Weasel duty. Like the F-100s, they had 20 mm cannons, but instead of target-marking rockets, they carried Shrike missiles, which homed on the SAM’s radar signals. - Air Force Magazine
F-105G Wild Weasel in the Air Force Museum
Check out that unit patch - YGBSM!

Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F
Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967.
Now that particular Weasel crew had one hairy mission in '67. Here's what Wikipedia has to offer -
On April 19, 1967, Major Thorsness and his Electronic Warfare Officer, Captain Harold E. Johnson, flying F-105F AF Ser. No. 63-8301, led Kingfish flight (three F-105F Weasel aircraft and an F-105D single-seater) on a Wild Weasel SAM suppression mission. The strike force target was JCS target 22.00, the Xuan Mai army training compound, near heavily defended Hanoi. Thorsness directed Kingfish 03 and 04, the second element of F-105s, to troll north while he and his wingman maneuvered south, forcing defending gunners to divide their attention. Thorsness located two SAM sites and fired a Shrike missile to attack one, whose radar went off the air. He destroyed the second with cluster bombs, scoring a direct hit.

After this initial success, matters turned for the worse. Kingfish 02, crewed by Majors Thomas M. Madison and Thomas J. Sterling, flying aircraft F-105F 63-8341, was hit by anti-aircraft fire and both crewmen had to eject. Unknown to Thorsness, Kingfish 03 and 04 had been attacked by MiG-17s flying a low-altitude wagon wheel defensive formation. The afterburner of one of the F-105s wouldn't light and the element had disengaged and returned to base, leaving Kingfish 01 to fight solo.

As their F-105 circled the parachutes of Kingfish 02-alpha and 02-bravo, relaying the position to Crown, the airborne search and rescue command HC-130, Johnson spotted a MiG-17 off their right wing. 8301, though not designed for air-to-air combat, responded well as Thorsness attacked the MiG and destroyed it with 20-mm cannon fire, just as a second MiG closed on his tail. Low on fuel, Thorsness outran his pursuers and left the battle area to rendezvous with a KC-135 tanker over Laos.

Thorsness described the incident:

It appeared the MiG was going after the chutes so I took off after him. I was a little high, dropped down to about 1000 feet, and headed north after him. We were doing about 550 knots and really catching up fast. At about 3000 feet (range) I fired a burst but missed. I lined him up again and was closing very fast. I was a bit below him now. At 700 feet or so I pull my trigger and pulled the pipper through him. Parts of his left started coming off. Suddenly I realized that Harry Johnson was frantically trying to get my attention. There were a couple of MiGs on our tail! If I had hit that MiG dead on, we probably would have swallowed some of his debris. But we got him! I lit the burner, dropped down as low as possible, and ducked into the hills west of Hanoi. The MiGs could not keep up with us.

As this occurred, the initial element of the rescue force—a pair of A-1E "Sandies"—arrived to locate the position of the downed crewmen before calling in the waiting HH-53 Jolly Green helicopters orbiting at a holding point over Laos. Thorsness, with only 500 rounds of ammunition left, turned back from the tanker to fly RESCAP (rescue combat air patrol) for the Sandies and update them on the situation and terrain. As Thorsness approached the area, briefing the Sandies, he spotted MiG-17s in a wagon wheel orbit around him and attacked, probably destroying another that flew across his path.

He commented:

One of the MiGs flew right into my gunsight at about 2000 feet (range). I pulled the trigger and saw pieces start falling off the aircraft. They hadn't seen us, but they did now! Johnson shouted at me that we had four more MiGs on our tail and they were closing fast. I dropped down on the deck, sometimes as low as fifty feet, hit the burner, and twisted through the hills and valleys trying to lose them.

Pairs of MiGs attacked each propeller-driven Sandy as it came out of its turn in search orbit, shooting down the leader (Maj. John S. Hamilton in A-1E 52-133905) with cannon fire when he failed to heed warnings from Sandy 02 to break into the attack, and forced the wingman into a series of repeated evasive turns. Sandy 02 reported the situation and Thorsness advised him to keep turning and announced his return.

Although all of his ammunition had been depleted, Thorsness reversed and flew back to the scene, hoping in some way to draw the MiGs away from the surviving A-1. However as he re-engaged, Panda flight from the 355th TFW strike force arrived back in the area. It had dropped its ordnance on the target and was en route to its post-strike aerial refueling when Kingfish 02 went down. Panda had jettisoned its wing tanks, making the rescue radar controller reluctant to use it to CAP the rescue effort, but it filled its internal tanks and returned to North Vietnam at high altitude to conserve fuel.

Panda's four F-105s burst through the defensive circle at high speed, then engaged the MiGs in a turning dogfight, permitting Kingfish 01 to depart the area after a 50-minute engagement against SAMs, antiaircraft guns, and MiGs. Panda 01 (Capt William E. Eskew) shot down a MiG, during which the surviving Sandy escaped, and he and his wingman Panda 02 (Capt Paul A. Seymour) each damaged one of the others. Two other MiGs were shot down by members of a third F-105 strike flight, Nitro 01 (Major Jack W. Hunt) and Nitro 03 (Maj Theodore G. "Ted" Tolman), in another of the 17 MiG engagements on this mission.

Again low on fuel and facing nightfall, Thorsness was headed towards a tanker when Panda 03 (Capt Howard L. Bodenhammer), an F-105 of the flight that had rescued Sandy 02, transmitted by radio that he was lost and critically low on fuel. Thorsness quickly calculated that Kingfish 01 had sufficient fuel to fly to Udorn, near the Mekong River and 200 miles closer, so he vectored the tanker toward Panda 03. When within 60 miles of Udorn, he throttled back to idle and "glided" toward the base, touching down "long" (mid-runway) as his fuel totalizer indicated empty tanks.
For his actions that day, Major Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor.


The President of the United States in the name of the Congress takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor to


LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

for service as set forth in the following citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F-105 aircraft, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the two crewmembers abandoned their aircraft.

Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker.

Upon being advised that two helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MIGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted four MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MIGs, damaging one and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely.

Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.
Captain Johnson was awarded the Air Force Cross for this same mission.

From here.
F-105G taking off from Korat, 1972

I don't think it's a coincidence that "Thud" rhymes with "stud".

16 comments:

  1. A great plane which did great things in the hands of real men. Thorsness, Rasimus, Broughton, Sparks and others brought the war to our enemies despite the best efforts of Johnson, Macnamara, Fonda and others. Had the Russians pushed things too far in those days, these planes and their crews would have laid waste to many targets in the Soviet Union. That's what they were originally designed for, not tactical use in Asia.

    A most excellent post, sir.

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    1. Thanks Murph. One of the books I recall reading as a kid was "Thud Ridge". The Thud and the men who flew them have always been my heroes.

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  2. Gotta love the THUD and those who flew them into battle!

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  3. The last time I saw an F-105 in flight, I was in an exercise and was escorting a F-105G. We picked up some aggressors trying to sneak in behind us, so asked the Weasel to push it up. He did. Literally, that was the LAST time I saw him. That bird was fast!

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    1. Wow, that's a pretty cool story.

      I knew the Thud could move, but that puts things in perspective!

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    2. BTW, I think the "let's gas up and go home" comment may have been what they were thinking, but I don't think it's what they were doing unless the mission got cancelled. (bombs still on board)

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    3. Um, call it poetic license?

      I wanted a pic to show that they'd hit the target and were tanking up (probably over Laos) before the run home.

      Guess I should have found a photo where the birds weren't still carrying bombs.

      I keep forgetting my audience is cognizant of those "minor" details. And it was late when I put this all together.

      I will strive to do better next time. (At least I think I have the whole "period, comma inside the quotes thing" mastered at this point. I admit though, it's nice having readers who pay attention and correct me on this stuff. Makes for "more better stuff" as Suldog likes to say. Heh.)

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    4. I did enjoy that picture though. When I was starting out, I read a book entitled "Fighter Pilot" by Kelly Rollins ( a pseudonym). In it there's a part that starts with the preflight briefing and the altitude they were going to refuel at, 28K or something. One of the comments went "we'll be standing on our tails like a mongoose at that altitude." Seeing that picture and noting the angle of attack, I now know what a mongoose standing on its tail looks like.

      As always, the Flyby makes Fridays, just that much better!

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    5. Thanks Juvat.

      (I also noticed that in the photo above captioned "Rolling...", that's supposed to be the strike heading out. Guess what? Yup, no bombs. Geez. I need to fire my editor!)

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    6. Darn, you always have something interesting!

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    7. Actually, Sarge, I think those are Mk-84s on the outboards. It looks like the front of both of leads are painted yellow and the tapering and fins on the back look more like a bomb than a tank. So, I think you're good to go on that one.

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    8. Juvat, after pulling out the old "zoom in" tool, I think you're right. Those Thuds do indeed have explosive ordnance on those pylons.

      I feel all better now.

      ;-)

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  4. The F-105 was one of my favorite plastic models that I built when I was a kid. It looked so futuristic compared to the F-86 and even the F-100. It always reminded me of the Jet in the old Jonny Quest cartoons.

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    1. Same here Bob. My F-105 model was camouflaged.

      And Jonny Quest, wow, that brings back some good memories. I loved that show!

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