Page 026

Page 26(The Bitter End)

the reintroduction of U.S. forces into Southeast Asia, rescue of any POWs found, and coordination of numerous monitoring and intelligence-gathering operations."9

Hollowing the cease-fire in Vietnam in January 1973 and the bombing halt in all of Southeast Asia eight months later, the U.S. Air Force withdrew its augmenting units from Thailand. Some went to the Philippines where they were placed under the operational control of the Commander Thirteenth Air Force, Major General Leroy Manor, who in 1970, when a brigadier general, had been the air commander during the unsuccessful raid to liberate U.S. prisoners of war at Son Tay* General Manor commanded all Air Force units in the Southeast Asia area of operations, except in those instances when a unit was committed to Thailand to support USSAG. For that specific period, the commander USSAG/Seventh Air Force exercised control.10

The units comprising the Seventh Air Force provided the same conventional capabilities that the rest of the United States tactical air arsenal possessed. Heavy ordnance and the ability to deliver it on a continuous basts was the province of the 307th Strategic Wing and its B-52 heavy bombers and KC-135 tanker aircraft stationed at Utapao. Sharing this seven-year-old, picturesque base (south of Bangkok near the Gulf of Thailand) was the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing. It flew the cargo workhorse of Southeast Asia, the C-130 Hercules. Keeping separate company, the tactical fighters of the 347th and 388th Tactical Fighter Wings (TFW) called Korat Air Base in central Thailand home. Equipped with the oldest fighter in the Air Force, the F-4 Phantom, the 388th shared the field with the newest fighters, the F-llls of the 347th which included the 428th and 429th Tactical Fighter Squadrons.** Additionally, an attack aircraft, the A-7 Corsair II of the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, used Korat as "homeplate." The 432d Tactical Fighter Wing located at Udorn Air Base in north-central Thailand also flew the F-4 Phantom.

The remaining units of the Seventh Air Force, specifically the 56th Special Operations Wing (SOW), and the 3d Aerospacc Rescue and Recovery Group (ARRG), were based at Nakhon Phanom Air Base. During most of the war, the 56th SOW had been engaged primarily in covert operations. One of the wing's squadrons, the 21st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) or "Knives," flew CH-53C helicopters specially fitted with two 750-gallon gas tanks for extended range.*** Collocated at Nakhon Phanom with the 21st SOS and an integral part of the 56th SOW was the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS). The 23rd's pilots flew OV-10 Bronco aircraft, callsign "Nail." Some of the Broncos, "Pave Nails," were equipped with laser designators which enabled them to fix targets for laser-guided weapons.**** The Air Force also used these aircraft to locate downed airmen, especially in bad weather or at night. The 23d TASS was one of the largest squadrons in any air force, numbering 65 aircraft compared to a Marine Corps squadron of 12 to 18 planes. The third component of the 56th SOW, the l6th Special Operations Squadron, called Korat home-base and operated the AC-130 "Spectre" gunships.***** In July 1974, the USAF administratively transferred the l6th SOS from the 56th SOW to the 388th TFW, but its location remained the same.

The 3d ARRG, a Military Airlift Command unit, had two squadrons under its control. One, the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS), flew the HH-53, commonly known as the "Jolly Green Giant"; these helicopters were homebased at Nakhon Phanom.11 The other member of this group flew HC-130 Hercules aircraft and bore the title 56th Aerospacc Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS). The HC-130s were used to perform a dual mission: in-flight refueling of the HH-53 helicopters and coordination of rescue operations from a command console in the

*A tactical success, the raiders found no POWs at Son Tay. For more on the Son Tay operation, see Eart H. Tilford.Jr., Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia, 1961-1975 (Washington: Office of Air force History, 1980),

**The F-lll bomber designed and built by General Dynamics in the mid-1960s
was never given a name designation. In recent years, it has been called the
Aardvark. Nalty Comments.

***Lieutenant Colonel Edward A. Grimm recalled that the CH-53Cs had 750-gallon ferry tanks which USSAG had identified as extremely vulnerable to small arms fire. He said, "An attempt was made by ComUSSAG during the summer of 1974 to 'foam' the tanks with Eagle Pull in mind. PacAF turned down the request." Grimm Comments. The former commander of USSAG, General Vogt, was PacAF commander until 30 June 1974 and General Louts L, Wilson, Jr. replaced him on l July.

****A means or accuracy enhancement, the laser-designator il-luminared the target with a laser beam which the bomb then followed to its mark if released within a specified time window or "basket." If delayed too long, the lock would be broken and the bomb would not home on the target. Nalty comments.

*****0ne of the Spectre models, the AC-130E was armed with 20mm guns, a 40mm gun, and a 105mm howitzer. The U.S. Air Force called this gun system Pave Aegis. Jack S. Ballard, The United States Air Porce in Southeast Asia: Development and Employment of Fixed-Wing Gunships, 1962-1972 (Washington: Office of Air force History, 1982), pp. 172-174.

Page 26(The Bitter End)