Part of Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF)|
South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF)
Pacific Air Forces (USAF)
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Joint Civil/Military Airport|
|IATA: none – ICAO: none|
|Elevation AMSL||33 ft / 10 m|
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Da Nang Air Base (1957–1975) was a Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) facility. The United States used it as a major base during the Vietnam War (1959–1975), stationing Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine units there. The ZIP Code for Military mail for Da Nang Air Base was APO San Francisco, 96337
It is now known as the Da Nang International Airport.
Known as Tourane when it was under French influence, Da Nang Air Base was the most northerly major air base in the Republic of Vietnam.
The base was located in the northeast coastal area, 85 miles (137 km) south of the Demilitarized Zone where the 17th parallel separated the two Vietnams. It is best remembered by the Vietnamese as the strike base from which the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) made its first strike into North Vietnam, on February 8, 1965, with a squadron of Douglas A-1 Skyraiders.
The air base began in November 1957 as Air Force Support Base 4, providing logistics support for that remote part of the country 400 miles (644 km) north of Saigon.
Situated on flat, sandy ground on the south side of the major port city of Da Nang, the area was ideal for an airfield, having unobstructed approaches to its north/south runways. Once little more than a provincial airfield, the base expanded to 2350 acres (95 1 hectares) with two 10.000 ft (3048 m) asphalt runways with concrete touchdown pads, parallel taxiways, and a heliport. It was under the control of the VNAFs 41st Wing, which was established there on January 1, 1964 as the major Vietnamese air element in I Corps.
The base became a joint operating airfield when U.S. Forces came to the aid of the South Vietnamese. As the number of VNAF units at Da Nang continued to increase, so did those of the USAF, and U.S. Marine air units swelled the capacity of the base beyond its limits. Covered and open aircraft revetments were constructed on concrete and asphalt parking aprons.
In addition to these permanent assigned combat units, the airfield was an on-and off-loading port for the huge C-141s, C-5s, and contract commercial flights of the Military Airlift Command, as well as a civil terminal for the various domestic airlines.
Da Nang became the world's busiest airport in the single runway category. In the mid-1960s, 1,500 landings and takeoffs were recorded on peak days, besides having two extra traffic patterns for helicopters at the edge of the airstrip.
When a parallel runway was added in 1966, Da Nang rivaled Tan Son Nhut as the world's busiest airport. By 1968 an average month saw the number of takeoffs and landings of fixed-wing aircraft exceeding 55,000. With helicopter activities added, the figure approached 67,000. During the winter monsoon at least 4500 of these landings were normally ground-controlled approaches.
For the air war over North Vietnam, Da Nang was considered the most suitable diversionary airfield in case of emergency. Landings of this nature became commonplace for Thailand-based USAF fighter bombers. reconnaissance aircraft, strike aircraft from the Navy aircraft carriers stationed in the South China Sea, and damaged aircraft of all air units stationed throughout South Vietnam.
VNAF use of Da Nang Air Base
Da Nang Air Base was one of the four air bases inherited from the French at the conclusion of the French Indochina War and the formation of the Air Department, Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces on 1 July 1955. At the time of its creation, however Torane Air Base, as Da Nang AB was called at the time, was devoid of any military aircraft. The VNAF having some training aircraft at Nha Trang AB and an air depot at Bien Hoa AB. There were also a few C-47 Skytrains at Ton Son Nuht Airport. The first VNAF aircraft to arrive at Da Nang were some United States Military Assistance Program (MAP) Cessna L-19 Bird Dog observation aircraft in January 1956. They were assigned to the 1st GAO (Group, Artillery Observation) In 1961 North American T-28 Trojans arrived at Da Nang in a fighter-bomber configuration and formed the nucleus of the 516th Fighter Squadron. By 1963, the 41st Tactical Wing had been formed at Da Nang, the 516th Fighter Squadron equipped with T-28s, the 213th Helicopter Squadron with H-34 Choctaws and the 110th Observation Squadron with O-1 Bird Dog observation aircraft.
Tthroughout the 1960s, A-1s operated from Da Nang as the main attack aircraft of the VNAF. As the war continued and the VNAF was expanded by the United States, more fighter units and more Skyraiders were added. The next two squadrons were the 526th and 528th which were formed with A-37 Dragonfly jets in the late 1960s. However the ability of the VNAF to use the A-1s remained and the 530th Fighter Squadron was activated in 1970 with Skyraiders.
South Vietnam B-57 program
In 1964, the United States secretly agreed to supply a few Martin B-57Bs jet tactical bombers to the South Vietnamese Air Force. The United States had initially been reluctant to equip the Vietnamese Air Force with jet aircraft, since this would be a technical violation of the Geneva Accords and might further escalate the war. However, the US had already equipped other friendly nations in the region with jet aircraft, and pressure from the government leadership in Saigon coupled with a need to boost the sagging morale of the South Vietnamese people, led to a change of heart. The first VNAF B-57 crews began training in secret with 405th aircraft at Clark AB later in 1964. One of the students was none other than Nguyen Cao Ky, the commander of the VNAF and later president of the Republic of Vietnam. As the crews completed their training at Clark, they went to Da Nang Air Base and flew combat missions with the USAF 8th or 13th Bombardment Squadrons, whichever happened to be on station at the time. To gain combat experience, each new crewmember flew with an American pilot or navigator, whichever the case may be. Eventually, the VNAF crew members flew in VNAF-marked B-57s, but their combat missions always remained strictly under USAF operational control.
The VNAF provisional 615th Bombardment Squadron was formed at Da Nang in anticipation of the B-57's assignment, however South Vietnamese Air Force pilots had severe difficulties operating the B-57. Vietnamese crews suddenly began to complain of various illnesses, which grounded many trainees and brought their training to a standstill. In addition, on January 8, 1966 a B-57 was destroyed in a freak ground accident on February 23, 1966 at Da Nang. From this point on there was very little Vietnamese activity in the B-57 program. On April 20, 1967, the VNAF B-57 operation was formally terminated.
Projects Enhance and Enhance Plus
Projects Enhance and Enhance Plus were undertaken in 1972 to accelerate the delivery of equipment and improve the combat capabilities of South Vietnam's armed forces (VNAF). Project Enhance Plus was undertaken following the 1972 North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam to augment and modernize the VNAF.
Enhance Plus provided additional aircraft to VNAF as follows: UH-1 (286); CH-47 (23); AC-119K (22); A-1 (28); C-130A (32, resulted in turn-in of all C-123, C-47, and C-119K); A-37 (90, brought total strength up to 249); C-7 (4); F-5A and B (118 brought total strength to 153); EC-47 (23 added to 10 already in service); T-37 (24); O-2 (35, 1 for 1 exchange with O-1's.) This equipment was delivered via military sealift to several South Vietnamese ports, then sent primarily to Ton Son Nuht, Bien Hoa, Phu Cat and Da Nang Air bases as directed by the South Vietnamese Air Force in their table of organization developed as part of the program.
June 1974 Table of Organization
The 1973 cease-fire agreement in Vietnam signaled the end of the American advisory effort in that country. The senior officials of DAO scrupulously avoided any offer of operational advice to the Vietnamese with whom they worked intimately and continuously. The technical assistance provided by the military and senior civilian officials of DAO and by the contractors was essential to the RVNAF's modernization and expansion, but the South Vietnamese military would get no advice on military operations, tactics, or techniques of employment. The war belonged to the Vietnamese, and they were going to fight it. The RVNAF knew what to do but had to be provided the means. What they could not control was the steady buildup of North Vietnamese military power within their borders, a buildup which culminated in the final offensive of 1975.
Da Nang Air Base was the headquarters of the SVNAF 1st Air Division.
41st Tactical Wing
- 110th/120th Liaison Squadron Cessna O-1A, O-2, U-17
- 427th Transport Squadron C-7B
- 718th Reconnaissance Squadron EC-47
- 821st Attack Squadron AC-119K
51st Tactical Wing
- 213th/233d/239th/253d/257th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H
- 247th Helicopter Squadron CH-47A
61st Tactical Wing
- 516th/528th/550th Fighter Squadron A-37B
- 538th Fighter Squadron F-5A/B/E
Other known units
- 516th Fighter Squadron (1963–1970) T-28,A-1,A-37
- 213th Helicopter Squadron (1963–1970) H-34,UH-1
- 219th Helicopter Squadron (1970) H-34
- 233d Helicopter Squadron (1970) UH-1
- 110th Observation Squadron (1963–1970) O-1,U-17
- 120th Observation Squadron (1970) O-1,U-17
- 615th Strategic Mission Flight (1965) B-57
- Det 1, 6923 Radio Sqdn Mobile - USAFSS(January 1962 - )
- Det 2, 6925 Security Group / Squadron - USAFSS (1964–1965)
- Det 2, 6922 Security Wing - USAFSS (1965)
- 6924th Security Sqdn - USAFSS (1965-April 1971)
- 554 C.E.S. Civil Engineer Squadron " 554 C E S Red Horse " Oct 1970-71 (North side at Camp Swampy)
- Det 4, 51st FIS (1965–1966) C-130A Blind Bat (flare ships) TDY from Naha AB, Okinawa
- Det 1, 1507 Postal and Courier Service (serving Dananag AB and Monkey Mountain)
- Det 1, 820th Red Horse 1966-1970---Hq 820th Jan1970-72-
- AFRTS (American Forces Radio and Television Service) AFVN (operating from Monkey Mountain)
- Det 9, 30th Weather Squadron - USAF - Several USMC personnel were also assigned to the detachment to support USMC aircraft operations.
- "A" Flight, 4th Air Commando Squadron (ACS) / Special Operations Squadron (SOS), AC-47 Spooky (Puff, The Magic Dragon) Gunships (1968 - 1969)
- 1972nd Communications Squadron (1965 - 1973
North Vietnamese capture of Da Nang Air Base
With the capture of Ban Me Thuot and the Central Highlands by North Vietnamese forces in late March 1975, the disastrous retreat by the ARVN had a profound effect on the South Vietnamese troops and civilians around Huế, Quang Tri, and Da Nang.
Conflicting orders from Saigon caused confusion, lowered morale, and led to troop movements which defied any logic. As rockets and artillery fire began to hit Da Nang Air Base on March 28, the 1st Air Division was ordered to evacuate. Those ARVN soldiers who did not desert to assist their fleeing families, but instead chose to stand and fight, were overrun.
The troops who somehow managed to escape capture then joined the crazed mob attempting to leave Da Nang on anything that floated. Chaos ruled the streets of Da Nang Easter weekend 1975 as military deserters armed with their combat weapons attempted to dictate the terms of their departure. Before the weekend ended some of the most disciplined members of the armed forces would use their weapons against their countrymen in order to gain passage from Da Nang.
At the Da Nang airport, a Boeing 727, against the advice of many pilots, landed on 29 March in an attempt to evacuate some civilians, and was met by about 300 South Vietnamese soldiers, armed with rifles and grenades, who forced their way aboard the jet. Other people, seeking to flee the beleaguered city, lay in front of and under the airplane to keep it from leaving. The transport, operated by World Airways, was mobbed by soldiers as it taxied off the runway to the ramp. At least one soldier was seen firing his pistol at the cockpit. The jet finally took off. To avoid destruction, it took off from the taxiway rather than from the runway; the pilots found the runway jammed with people.
A big part of one wing-flap was damaged when it reached Saigon. The pilots said after landing that the damage had been done by a grenade. Aviation authorities, however, said it appeared that the damage was due to an obstacle in the path of the airplane's wheels, not to an explosion. The pilots said they knew of no deaths resulting from this. But aviation experts said after talking to passengers and stowaways on the airplane that between 20 and 30 persons had probably been killed—some run over on take-off, some dropping away from the wheel wells and the cargo hold. The aviation authorities said the body of one soldier had been found in a wheel well on arrival at Saigon; others on the flight said that unknown numbers of others had dropped off the airplane in flight. It was the last western aircraft to leave Da Nang Airport prior to the seizure of the airport by Communist forces. By March 30 one of the largest cities in South Vietnam and its huge airfield were under communist control. Approximately 130 South Vietnamese military aircraft managed to evacuate but over 180 were left behind along with huge stocks of fuel and ordnance. Abandoned by the South Vietnamese Air Force were thirty-three new Cessna A-37 Dragonfly ground attack aircraft; F-5 Tiger II fighter-bombers; Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters of several configurations, and other aircraft, most of which were captured intact by the Communist Forces.
Coming so soon after the loss of Kontum and Pleiku, the fall of Da Nang caused widespread panic and desertion within the South Vietnamese armed forces. The North Vietnamese, sensing that victory was theirs, deployed their reserves and immediately began pushing south along the coast in what was known as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign, the final push toward Saigon.
Use of Da Nang Air Base by the United States Air Force
Military Assistance Advisory Group
On August 19, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy approved a long-range radar facility to be sited near Da Nang to observe and report Soviet flights across the Laotian border. On September 11, 1961 the deployment of a mobile combat radar system began from the 507th Tactical Control Group at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
On June 15, 1962 personnel of project Mule Train arrived at Da Nang, operating two Fairchild C-123 Providers. These C-123s delivered supplies to distant outposts established by the Army Special Forces along the border with Laos, and to drop South Vietnamese parachute troops in operations against the Viet Cong. They were designated Tactical Air Force Transport Squadron Provisional-2.
By early 1963, Okinawa-based Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16) had established a satellite base at Da Nang, including a squadron of UH-34D troop transport helicopters, O1-E light aerial reconnaissance aircraft and support personnel, including a 30-man security platoon from the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. In an operation code named "Shufly," the Marines ferried ARVN troops on combat operations, evacuated the wounded, helped keep supplies flowing to ARVN units in the field as well as Special Forces outposts in the rugged mountains along the Laotian border, and provided an air search-and-rescue capability in I Corps region of Vietnam well into 1964. Humanitarian efforts were also part of the Marines' mission, including medical clinics by U.S. Navy doctors in remote villages and Christmas parties for Da Nang children orphaned by the war.
On Oct. 8, 1963, tragedy struck MAG-16 when nine Marines, a Navy doctor and two Navy corpsmen were killed when their helicopters encountered hostile fire and crashed in rugged mountains some 45 miles southwest of Da Nang. The two Marine choppers had been trying, at dusk, to locate and rescue a U. S. Air Force pilot and his Vietnamese observer, whose aircraft reportedly had gone down on a bombing run that afternoon. The names of the 12 Marines and Navy personnel, as well as the Air Force pilot, are among those on the first panel on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
The success of project Farm Gate and the Vietnamese AD-6s at Bien Hoa Air Base led to an expansion of the mission. This success eventually moved the SVNAF 1st Fighter Squadron to stage two AD-6s at Da Nang, flown by American pilots during 1962.
During April 1963 the arrival of the 777th Troop Carrier Squadron from the 464th TCW (Pope AFB, North Carolina) with sixteen C-123s augmented the airlift of the twenty-nine C-123s at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to support the US Special Forces in Vietnam.
By June Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) had 16,652 people, 4,790 of them Air Force. On the 28th, United States Secretary of Defense McNamara froze MACV strength.
23d Air Base Group
To clear up the confusing array of USAF units, PACAF formed new ones without expanding manpower authorizations. At Da Nang, the 23d Air Base Group was created to organize the USAF advisory units stationed there. The "Mule Train" C-123 Provider unit became the 311th Troop Carrier Squadron as a detached component of the 315th Troop Carrier Group at Tan Son Nhut AB. It specialized in missions to remote mountain airstrips and drop zones and flights into the A Shau Valley using junior but more experienced C-123 pilots specially trained at Pope AFB, North Carolina. On March 8, 1965 it was re-designated the 311th Air Commando Squadron of the 315th Air Commando Group at Tan Son Nhut. It remained at Da Nang as a Geographically Separated Unit (GSU) until its inactivation on 5 Oct 1971.
8 March 1965, two battalions of Marines land ashore at Danang as the first American combat troops setting foot on the Asian mainland since the Korean War and a milestone in the U.S. military buildup.
Operation Rolling Thunder
During 1964/65 the 23d Air Base Group supported various USAF deployed squadrons through mid-1965. As a result of the announcement of "Operation Rolling Thunder" after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, North American F-100 Super Sabre squadrons began deployments from Tactical Air Command bases in the United States. Squadrons deployed to Da Nang AB were:
- 522d Tactical Fighter Squadron, 13 December 1962 - 1 June 1963; 16 March-6 May 1964 (TDY from 27th TFW, Clovis AFB NM)
- 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 15 November-30 December 1964 (using 522d TFS Assets)
- 615th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 1 June-30 September 1964; 1 April-30 June 1965 (TDY from 401st TFW, England AFB LA)
- 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 1 August-30 November 1964 (TDY from 401st TFW, England AFB LA)
- 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 1 September-15 November 1964 (TDY from 401st TFW, England AFB LA)
- 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 15 November 1964 – 30 July 1965 (PCS from 401st TFW, England AFB LA)
- 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 15 March-15 June 1965 (TDY from 405th TFW, Clark AB PI)
The last of the rotational F-100 squadrons were moved out by mid-1965, with Da Nang Air Base being programmed to receive the new Tactical Air Command F-4C Phantom II tactical fighter which was by then in full production by McDonnell aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri.
F-104 Starfighter deployment
During the early days of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965, North Vietnamese fighter aircraft became a problem for attacking USAF and US Navy strike aircraft. On April 3, 1965, three North Vietnamese Mig-17s attacked a strike package near the Dong Phuong Thong bridge and damaged a Crusader and then escaped unscathed. The next day, two MiG-17s attacked a flight of four F-105s and shot two of them down. In response, the 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing from George AFB, California sent fifteen F-104 Starfighters to Da Nang in April 1965. Their job was to fly MiG combat air patrol (MiGCAP) missions to protect American fighter bombers against attack by North Vietnamese fighters. They flew these missions armed with their single M61A1 20-mm cannon and four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The 476th would rotate with the 435th TFS in 180-day deployments.
The effect of F-104 deployment upon NVN and PRC MiG operations was immediate and dramatic—NVN MiGs soon learned to avoid contact with USAF strikes being covered by F-104s. During the entire deployment of the 476th only two fleeting encounters between F-104Cs and enemy fighters occurred. From April 20 to November 20 of 1965 they carried out 2,927 missions of machine-gunning, bombing and escorting strike aircraft, sometimes in North Vietnamese air space.
On August 1, two F-104Cs were lost to enemy SAMs in a single day, and it was concluded that it was too dangerous to operate the F-104C in support of Wild Weasel missions, especially when they were not equipped with ECM gear. It was decided to withdraw the F-104C from support of strike missions over North Vietnam, unless and until the MiG threat reappeared. By late August, these F-104Cs were involved in airstrikes against targets in both Laos and South Vietnam, exchanging its role of air superiority for that of ground attack. However, losses were heavy, with three F-104s being downed by ground fire and SAMs in the next couple of months. The F-104C was not very well suited for the ground attack role, being incapable of carrying an adequately large offensive load. In addition, it could not carry out operations in bad weather and could not sustain a lot of battle damage.
By late 1966, all F-104s in Southeast Asia had received APR-25/26 RHAW gear under Project Pronto, and once again began flying escort missions over North Vietnam. The Starfighter took part in Operation Bolo on January 2, 1967, which was a successful attempt to lure North Vietnamese fighters into combat. However, the F-104s were not used to actively entice and engage MiGs, but were used instead to protect the egressing F-4 force. The F-4 Phantoms scored heavily during this engagement.
The Air Force decided to replace these F-104Cs by more efficient McDonnell F-4D Phantoms starting in July 1967. The 435th was then rotated back to George AFB for the last time.
6252d Tactical Wing
The 6252d Tactical Wing was activated at Da Nang on July 18, 1965, taking over from the 23d Air Base Group. The 6252d was responsible as the host unit and for operational squadrons assigned to Da Nang. Squadrons assigned were:
- 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron July 18, 1965 – November 30, 1965 (F-104)
- 8th Bombardment Squadron July 18, 1965 – April 8, 1966 (B-57)
- 13th Bombardment Squadron August 16, 1965 – April 8, 1966 (B-57)
- 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron October 29, 1965 – April 8, 1966 (F-4C)
- 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron February 1, 1966 – April 8, 1966 (F-4C)
In late May 1965 the surviving B-57B Canberras from the TDY 8th and 13th Bombardment Squadrons at Bien Hoa AB that had been operating from Tan Son Nhut AB after the Bien Hoa runway disaster were moved up to Da Nang AB to carry out night interdiction operations over North Vietnam and Laos. In order to make up losses incurred at Bien Hoa, some B-57Bs had to be transferred to Vietnam from the Kansas Air National Guard, and 12 B-57Es had to be withdrawn from target-towing duties and reconfigured as bombers to make good these losses. Operating on rotating deployments from the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AB, Philippines, the B-57s carried out attack on trails used by Communist trucks, storage and bivouac areas, bridges, buildings, and AAA sites.
With the conflict in Southeast Asia escalating, the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed to Asia on 29 October 1965 from Holloman AFB, New Mexico. While officially assigned to Da Nang Air Base, the unit actually operated from Clark AB, Philippines until 17 November 1965 when it made the move to Da Nang. From 29 October 1965 through 7 April 1966 the squadron served as a component of the 6252d Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang. It was the first F-4C squadron deployed to South Vietnam, as previously Air Force Phantom II squadrons had deployed to Ubon RTAFB in Thailand. The 390th was joined by the Holloman-based 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron in February 1966 as part of USAF buildup of forces. The F-4C Phantom II was capable of attacking enemy targets in North Vietnam, while the mission of the F-100 Super Sabre squadrons were changed to providing tactical air support in the South supporting ARVN and United States ground forces.
35th Tactical Fighter Wing
On March 14, 1966, the 35th Fighter Interceptor Wing was redesignated the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. Two weeks later, on 8 April it wa activated at Da Nang Air Base to replace the provisional 6252d Tactical Wing in a name-only move. The 35th TFW was activated primarily to give the USAF units at Da Nang a permanent USAF organization, along with a history and lineage. Its operational squadrons were:
- 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron April 8 – October 1, 1966 (F-4C)
- 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron April 8 – October 1, 1966 (F-4C)
- 8th Bombardment Squadron April 8 – August 15, 1966 (B-57)
- 13th Bombardment Squadron April 17 – October 1, 1966 (B-57)
- 64th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron June 10 – October 1, 1966 (F-102)
The B-57 squadrons remained on temporary rotational duty from the 405th FW at Clark AB, Philippines. However, combat attrition in the B-57 force plus the increasing availability of higher performance fighters to carry out the air war against the North caused the bombers to be withdrawn from operations against North Vietnam in October 1966 and relocated to Phan Rang AB along the central South Vietnamese coast. The F-4C 390th and 480th continued their missions of tactical bombing strikes at enemy targets in North Vietnam. In its ground attack mission, the Phantoms carried the AGM-12 Bullpup, the AGM-45 Shrike, and the AGM-65 Maverick. Unguided rocket launchers could also be carried, and a load of retarded and unretarded bombs (conventional, cluster, fire, chemical, or leaflet) could be carried. The Phantoms also flew cover for Thailand-based F-105 Thunderchief strike aircraft, offering numerous opportunities for aerial combat with North Vietnamese MiG aircraft. When challenged by North Vietnamese MiG-17s, Four AIM-7D or -7E Sparrow missiles were mounted in recesses underneath the fuselage. Four AIM-4D Falcon or AIM-9B or -9D Sidewinder infrared homing air-to-air missiles were also carried externally on the inboard underwing pylon.
F-102 Air Defense Mission
In June 1966, the Air Defense Command 64th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (64th FIS) arrived from Paine Airfield, Washington. The 64th FIS part of the 142nd Air Defense Wing and was equipped with the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger arrived at Da Nang. The F-102 was part of the backbone of the United States air defenses in the late 1950s and 1960s.
In Vietnam, the F-102 was to achieve its only taste of combat. Initially it was deployed to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in March 1962 to provide air defense against the unlikely event that North Vietnamese aircraft would attack the South. By 1966, F-102As stood alert at Bien Hoa Air Base and Da Nang in South Vietnam and at Udon Royal Thai Air Force Base and Don Muang AB in Thailand.
Besides flying air defense sorties, F-102s of the 64th FIS at Da Nang accompanied SAC B-52s on combat air patrols over North Vietnam providing fighter cover against North Vietnamese MiGs. Although missions were flown over North Vietnam, the Southeast Asia-stationed F-102As are not thought to have actually engaged North Vietnamese Air Force fighters in air-to-air combat. In addition, F-102A actually did fly some close-support missions over the South, even though the aircraft was totally unsuited for this role. In these operations F-102s used their heat seeking Falcon missiles to lock onto heat sources over the Ho Chi Minh trail at night, often Viet Cong campfires. This was more of a harassment tactic than it was serious assault. They would even fire their radar-guided missiles if their radars managed to lock onto something. The pilots were never sure if they actually hit anything, but occasionally they would observe secondary explosions
The F-102A established an excellent safety record in Vietnam. After the better part of three years flying air defense and a few combat air patrols for SAC B-52s, the F-102s at Da Nang were eventually withdrawn in June 1969.
366th Tactical Fighter Wing
On 1 October 1966 the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing assumed jurisdiction of Da Nang Air Base, and the 35th TFW was moved to Phan Rang Air Base in name-only transfers. The 366th TFW was the third Tactical Air Command wing equipped with the F-4C Phantom II at Holloman AFB, New Mexico in 1965, and later that year the wing sent its first squadron to Vietnam, the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang. Initially deployed to the new USAF base at Phan Rang, it was decided to make Phan Rang an F-100 Super Sabre base. As the 366th was an F-4C organization at Holloman, and had its historical squadrons already at Da Nang, the switch was made on 1 October 1966 and the Wings were re-aligned. The assigned squadrons of the 366th TFW were:
- 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron October 1, 1966 – June 15, 1969 (F-4C/D)
- 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron October 1, 1966 – June 30, 1972 (F-4C/D)
- 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron October 1, 1966 – April 15, 1969 (F-4C/D)
- 64th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron October 1, 1966 – June 30, 1969 (F-102)
The 389th TFS was moved up from Phan Rang Air Base to give the 366th a full complement of three F-4C tactical fighter squadrons. That move also made Phan Rang a fully equipped F-100 base. While at Da Nang, pilots noted they were missing opportunities to shoot down enemy MiGs because the F-4C lacked a cannon and its missiles were ineffective at short ranges. So wing maintainers mounted an external SUU-23/A 20-millimeter Gatling gun pod on the F-4Cs, and in less than a month the wing's pilots had scored four MiG kills. The gun pod innovation and the MiG kills that followed earned the wing the nickname it carries today, the "Gunfighters." During this period, the wing earned a Presidential Unit Citation for shooting down 11 enemy aircraft in a three-month period.
By May 1968, the wing had upgraded to the F-4D aircraft, which was improved version of the F-4C. Although it was externally almost identical to the F-4C which preceded it, it was very different internally with improvements to the avionics, weapons systems and also the addition of a computing optical sight with amplifier and gyro. This system was designed to improve the effectiveness of the Phantom in air-to-air combat. The system combined information about speed, air density and angle of attack, and combined it with radar data about the velocity, direction and distance of the target to compute the lead angle needed to score a hit.
With the arrival of the 366th, squadron tail codes were assigned to the aircraft IAW AFM 66-1. Tail codes in the 1960s were a confusing affair and at the time there was no standard one assigned to the 366th TFW. They changed frequently, basically because of concern the bases of lost aircraft would be determined by the North Vietnamese. Identification of the Da Nang F-4 tail codes are as follows:
- 389th TFS: Aircraft identified by two small red one white stripe on rudder as squadron marking. Tail Codes began with "A" followed by a second letter for the individual aircraft. Recorded examples are F-4C: AA, AD, AG, AH, AS, AT, AW, AX, AY. F-4D: AD, AL, AW. Also used AB AK AJ AU AY, (HB 1969 - 71)
- 390th TFS: Aircraft identified by Blue stripe on rudder as squadron marking. Tail Codes F-4C: BT, BY. F-4D: BN BQ. Also used BD BF BL BY, (LF 1969 - 71).
- 480th TFS: Aircraft identified by Green stripe on rudder as squadron marking. Tail Codes F-4C: CH, CP, CW, CY. F-4D: CM CO CS CW CY. Also used CV (HK 1969 - 71).
In an attempt to obtain a peaceful settlement to the Southeast Asia war, on October 1, 1968, the bombing of North Vietnam was halted by President Lyndon Johnson except for the area directly north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separated North and South Vietnam. As a result, the Rolling Thunder campaign came to an end. Except for a few temporary exceptions (the so-called "Type III limited-duration, protective-reaction strikes"), the aerial campaign against the North was put on hold and 366th TFW aircraft turned to attacking ground targets in South Vietnam.
During the bombing halt, the new cannon-armed F-4E was introduced to the Southeast Asia theater. The biggest drawback to the "Gunfighters", however was that the podded cannon mounted on the centerline of the F-4D was relatively inaccurate, caused excessive drag and reduced the performance of the Phantom carrying it, and also took up a valuable ordnance/fuel station. In 1969, two squadrons of F-4Es joined the wing.
- 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron April 12, 1969 – October 31, 1972 (F-4E)
- Deployed from 33d TFW, Eglin AFB, Florida (Tail Code: LA)
- 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron April 16, 1969 – May 31, 1972 (F-4E)
The biggest change with the F-4E was the internal M61 Vulcan cannon. During the initial design of the Phantom, several proposals had been considered for a cannon-armed version. However the philosophy of the late 1950s was that the Air-to-air missile was the wave of the future and that the internal gun was an obsolete holdover from a bygone era. Consequently, the F-4C and F-4D Phantoms had been armed exclusively with missiles. However, the all-missile fighter had shown some serious drawbacks in the initial air-to-air battles over Vietnam. The earlier AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-47 Falcon, and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles did not perform up to expectations. They were expensive, unreliable, and vulnerable to countermeasures. Many an enemy MiG was able to escape unscathed because a Phantom-launched missile malfunctioned and missed its target
After the arrival of the F-4E squadrons, two of the F-4D squadrons, the 389th and 480th were reassigned to the 37th TFW at Phu Cat Air Base which was phasing out the older F-100 Super Sabre squadrons. The F-4Ds of the 390th TFS assumed forward air control duties, while the more advanced F-4Es concentrated on aircraft escort duties for the F-105s based in Thailand and conducted ground attack missions against enemy ground targets.
In 1969 the "Vietnamization" program of a phased United States withdrawal was announced by President Richard Nixon, and USAF squadrons began returning to the United States. Bases in South Vietnam began to close or be greatly reduced in the number of personnel and aircraft. By November 1971, the 366th was the only United States tactical fighter wing still stationed in Vietnam.
When North Vietnam launched its Easter Offensive on 30 March 1972, it had every reason to be confident of victory. US forces had been gradually withdrawing from South Vietnam for the previous three years, mass demonstration against American involvement in the conflict, and South Vietnamese failure during Operation Lam Son 719 added to the DRV's confidence. However, it was during this offensive that the North Vietnamese failed as the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) put up heavy resistance and inflicted much damage on their opponents, the result was a military disaster for North Vietnam.
In response to the offensive, On 2 April 1972, President Richard Nixon ordered that limited bombing of North Vietnam be resumed under Operation Freedom Train. Additional USAF units were deployed from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea to Da Nang to augment the effectiveness of USAF air power to South Vietnam. These were:
- 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, March 15 – June 27, 1972 (O-2A, OV-10)
- 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, April 3 – June 12, 1972 (F-4D Tail Code: WP)
- 362d Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, February 1 – June 27, 1972 (Moved from Pleiku AB) (EC–47N/P/Q Tail Code: AN)
The Freedom Train limited bombing campaign was replaced by Operation Linebacker, an all-out campaign to halt the invasion and bring North Vietnam to the conference table. Far fewer restrictions were in place than those imposed during Rolling Thunder The F-4Ds of the 35th TFS augmented the tactical fighter squadrons of the 366th, The EC-47s of the 362d ETWS were assigned an electronic countermeasures mission. The O-2s and OV-10s of the 20th TASS carried out a forward air control mission.
With the North Vietnamese offensive blunted by June, these augmentation squadrons returned to South Korea.
Beginning in May 1972, the forces of the USAF were drawn down at Da Nang.
- The 421st was transferred to Takhli RTAFB Thailand on May 31, 1972.
- The 4th TFS was also transferred to Takhli on June 27, 1972.
- The 390th TFS was transferred to the 347th TFW, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho and began converting to F-111F aircraft.
On June 30, 1972, the 366th TFW was moved to Takhli RTAFB, Thailand. Between 1966 and 1972, the Gunfighters logged 18 confirmed MiG kills in Vietnam. Upon the wing's returned to the United States in October 1972, Captain Lance P. Sijan, a 366th pilot shot down in 1967, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a prisoner of war.
With the move of the 366th TFW, the 6498th Air Base Wing was activated by PACAF to supervise the transfer of United States assets to the South Vietnamese Air Force. Da Nang played a secondary role in the Linebacker II operations by the USAF in December 1972, operating as a turnaround and emergency landing base for combat aircraft from other units based primarily in Thailand, an emergency landing airfield for B-52s based at Andersen AFB, Guam and U-Tapao RTAFB as well for KC-135 Stratotankers. The 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron also operated out of Da Nang for the recover of downed pilots in enemy held territory
With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, the 6498th inactivated and the United States Flag was lowered at Da Nang Air Base on 20 March 1973
Other United States military units at Da Nang
The 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, variously operating HU-16s, HH-43Fs, HH-3Es and HH-53s, was assigned to Da Nang Air Base for most of the war.
The 4th Air Commando/Special Operations Squadron based at Nha Trang Air Base and later Phan Rang Air Base maintained a detachment of Douglas AC-47D "Spooky" aircraft, (nicknamed "Puff" as in Puff the Magic Dragon) at Da Nang through December 15, 1969 when aircraft were transferred under Vietnamization. The unit flew combat missions, primarily in defense of ground positions, night interdiction, pre-planned strikes against suitable targets, and forward air control.
The 6th Air Commando/Special Operations Squadron based at Pleiku Air Base maintained a detachment of Douglas A-1EH "Skyraiders" at Da Nang from April 1, 1968 – November 12, 1969. The unit flew combat missions, including air support for ground forces, air cover for transports, day and night interdiction, combat search and rescue support, armed reconnaissance, and forward air control. The 6th SOS was disbanded on November 15, 1969, Skyraider operations continued at both Pleiku and Da Nang in the form of 2 Detachments. On December 12 the Pleiku Detachment combined operationally with the Da Nang Operations as Detachment 2 with a total of 10 A-1 H and J models and 12 pilots on base. Then, on January 1 the Detachment operations became a permanent (PCS) operation named Operating Location Alpha Alpha (OLAA). OLAA was a specialized unit flying support for highly classified MACVSOG operations and Search and rescue missions (SAR's). The units invaluable operations were ultimately closed in mid-December, 1970, and all permanently based A-1 operations were assigned to Nakhon Phanom Thailand (NKP). In the following years, temporary duty (TDY) flights of two Skyraiders were rotated from NKP to Da Nang to support 37th ARR Jolly Green SAR operations.
The 6924th Security Squadron - USAF Security Service, was located at DaNang AB from January 1962 Until April 1971. The 6924th SS was subordinate to the 6922 Security Wing, Clark AB, PI, and the Pacific Security Region, USAFSS Hawaii. Its primary mission was Signal & Communications Intelligence. Its operations area and antenna field were located on the west side of the base in the middle of the USMC area. In April 1971 the 6924th SS relocated to Ramasun Station, Thailand.
- "8 March 1965 -The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) commanded by Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, landed at Da Nang. The MEB included two Marine Battalion Landing Teams (BLTs) - 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. McPartlin, Jr.) which landed over Red Beach 2, and 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Herbert J. Bain) which arrived by air from Okinawa. The 9th MEB mission was to defend the Da Nang Airbase. This was the first U.S. ground combat unit to land in RVN."
- A permanent detachment of Marines from VMGR-152 was located at the base. VMGR-152 was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa and flew the KC-130 Hercules. These Marines provided air transport for personnel and logistical material throughout the region. Additionally, air crews from the squadron flew night missions dropping aerial flares when called on by ground forces.
United States Navy: 3rd Naval Mobile Construction Brigade; Naval Support Activity. Construction for all branches of the armed forces in the Da Nang complex was managed by the Navy Officer in Charge of Construction Vietnam (OICC RVN.)
- Republic of Vietnam Air Force
- United States Air Force In South Vietnam
- United States Pacific Air Forces
- Seventh Air Force
- Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History, Viking Press (New York), p. 431. ISBN 0670842184
- Palmer, Dave Richard (1978). Summons of the Trumpet: The History of the Vietnam War from a Military Man's Viewpoint. New York: Ballentine.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.
- Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
- Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
- Mesco, Jim (1987) VNAF South Vietnamese Air Force 1945–1975 Squadron/Signal Publications. ISBN 0-89747-193-8
- Mikesh, Robert C. (2005) Flying Dragons: The South Vietnamese Air Force. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-2158-7
- Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
- USAF Historical Research Division/Organizational History Branch - 35th Fighter Wing, 366th Wing
- VNAF - The South Vietnamese Air Force 1951–1975
- USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present
- Bohren, Joseph F Dr. & Gilkerson, Mike (2006). 6924th Security Squadron (USAFSS) 40th Anniversary, Second Edition History, 1 October 1965 - 1 October 2005. 441 pages, Soft Cover. Private Printing.
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