First Strike - Flying in Vietnam
Anytime I would start telling a “War Story”, my kids would say, “ Dad, you should write that down”. They were right. The memories are starting to fade and some facts I just no longer can remember. I have noticed at reunions that as the facts fade out, the tendency is for embellishment to take over. I hope that I will not fall into that situation. The problem is that while on active duty, the one thing I hated the most – was writing – anything. So here goes.
My memories (Or what’s left of them)
Sometime in late February of 65, the VC blew up something, so we were going to retaliate. In early March the Air Force came up with a strike on a supply depot in the southern part of North Vietnam. The B-57’s were included in this strike. (Yippee) At that time, the 57’s were operating out of Bien Hoa. There were two squadrons (8th & 13th) stationed at Clark AFB. Both squadrons were rotating crews on an individual basis, so we had mixture of both squadrons at Bien Hoa. As far as I can remember this was the first time the B-57’s had taken part in an operation like this. There were to be four or five different types of aircraft taking part in the mission.
As the luck of the draw would happen, I was at Bien Hoa when this took place. This means I was fortunate to be a part of this historic event. ( Yeah – Right.)
The briefing was pretty straightforward and we headed for the aircraft. The aircraft were full of fuel; bombs loaded and gun cans were full. What more could you have asked for? Steel plating around the cockpit comes to mind. We were putting 12, 16, or 20 aircraft on the mission. I don’t remember the exact number but it was a whole passel of aircrafts. (It’s that memory thing) Needless to say the “pucker factor” was pretty high. We were to be the last of the aircraft to hit the target. What we weren’t told was that the higher ups had calculated that the Big, Slow, B-57s would experience a 50% loss. Had this tidbit of info been passed down, the pucker factor would have been off the scale.
Take off, climb and cruise were normal. Except the take off roll was a little long (an understatement). But that’s another story. North of Danang, we started our descent down to the tree tops. Just north of the DMZ, we switched over to the strike frequency. Much to our consternation, rescue operations were already in full swing and we hadn’t even gotten to the target. Remember that pucker factor, it really shot up at that moment. Now we were at the point of getting all the switches in the right positions for the bomb drop. Rotate the selector switch to “bombs internal”- fly formation; arm the bombs - fly formation; bomb bay switches on - fly formation; get gun sight set - fly formation; rotate bomb door - fly formation; and watch out for the trees. OK – the last bit is an exaggeration – BUT WE WERE LOW. (Aircrew member were multi-tasking long before it was a business buzz word)
Planned attack was to use what I call the “Thunderbird Reversal”. Pop up from the deck, do sort of a wing–over, establish the dive bomb angle, drop the bombs and get “The hell out of Dodge”. This maneuver makes it a little more difficult for the gunners on the ground to track you. Altitude, airspeed and heading are all being changed at the same time. Being #4, there wasn’t anything on the ground to aim at because of all the smoke, so I just aimed for the middle of the smoke. There was some AAA because I’m sure I felt the tail of the aircraft lift-up a couple of times as I was coming over the top. After bomb release, it was full throttle and head for the deck and Oh-Yeah, close the bomb door.
Leveling off I picked up #3 and fell in behind, about one to two miles back. After a couple miles, I realized that I was not gaining on anybody and that was because they also had their throttles bent around the wide-open position. Down the road, lead backed off a little on the power, we joined up and started the climb out.
Now, in the pilot’s handbook (Dash One), there is a little obscure note that says, “ If the beak of the aileron comes in contact with the wing, a vibration will occur through-out the aircraft. (or something to that effect)”. About the only way this can happen, is to come off the hot jungle floor and make a rapid climb to altitude, which results in the metal of the aircraft to contract at different rates. Going through about 35,000 feet, guess what, the airplane starts vibrating. Since we had encountered some triple A, I just knew I had taken some hits. The other members of the flight checked me out and said everything looked good. Since the engines were running good and the aircraft was controllable, I stayed with formation. That way if anything bad had happened, they could at least mark the spot. Passing through 40,000 the vibrations eased off and shortly after level off it went away.
Fortunately, the remainder of the flight was uneventful with recovery at Bien Hoa. No aircraft had been lost and only a couple of aircraft had damage. Earlier I had mentioned that the higher ups had calculated that we would lose a bunch of airplanes. Since we had not, each aircrew had to write a narrative of what we had done, to avoid being shot down.
So ended the first strike, that is if you don’t include a trip to the bar. Charles (Chuck) Ramsey