Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On May 10th in military history....in 1972

On May 10th in military history….in 1972. The United States starts large-scale bombing operations against North Vietnam at the start of Operation Linebacker when Lt. Randy Cunningham/Lt. (Jg) William Driscoll shoot down three North Vietnamese fighters to become the first aces of the Vietnam War and USAF aces, Capt. Steve Richie/Capt. Chuck DeBellevue get their first kills.

In May 1972, in order to coax the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table in Paris, the United States military launches the Linebacker air raids against North Vietnam. On the 10th of May, the US Navy and the US Air Force launched a series of coordinated attacks against targets in and around the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. Early in the morning, the US aircraft carriers USS Coral Sea, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation (Lt. Cunningham’s ship) launch their air wings against targets around Haiphong. Lt. Cunningham was supporting flak suppression over the Hai Dong railyards when he responded to a call for help from some A-7 fighter-bombers. He engaged two MiG-17 "Frescos" and downed one with a Sidewinder shot. His second victory came when he destroyed a MiG, which was closing on the fighter wing XO.

His third victory came after one of the more memorable air-to-air combats of the Vietnam War. Most Vietnam War air victories did not involve much in the way of maneuvering. If either of the pilots did not gain the advantage quickly, they would break for home. However, while Lt./ Cunningham was heading back out to sea and home, they encountered a MiG-17 heading straight for them. The MiG started firing at them, so Lt. Cunningham pulled his Phantom straight up, expecting the MiG to break off since MiGs usually avoided climbing contests with Phantoms. However, this time, the MiG stayed with him, matching his maneuvers in a classic, airborne chess game. The advantage passed back and forth between the two pilots until finally, the Vietnamese pilot decided he had had enough dogfighting for one day and tried to disengage at the top of one a vertical rolling scissors by nosing his aircraft over and diving straight down towards the ground. Unfortunately, this maneuver gave Lt. Cunningham’s Phantom a perfect view of his tail, so all he had to do was pull his aircraft over into a dive to get into firing position. Lt. Cunningham wasn’t too sure that a Sidewinder shot would be successful, but he launched one anyway. He was about to launch his second Sidewinder shot when black smoke started pouring out of the MiG and it crashed into the ground.

It has been reported that the third MiG was piloted by Vietnam’s leading ace, Colonel "Toon", but no documentation has ever been found to support this. Whoever was the pilot, this was the longest aerial dogfight of the war.

However, the day was not over for Lt. Cunningham and his RIO, Lt. (Jg) Driscoll. On the way back to the USS Constellation, a SAM hit their Phantom over Nam Dinh. Although he tried to fly the aircraft back to the USS Constellation, they were forced to bail out over the South China Sea, not far from the Vietnamese coast. A helicopter from Okinawa later rescued them.

Because of his heroism and airmanship and being the only American of the war to shootdown three MiGs in one day, Lt. Cunningham received the Navy Cross for his actions on the 10th of May. Adding the three aircraft shot down to his two previous victories made LT. Cunningham the first ace of the Vietnam War.

Later in the day, Capt. Steve Richie got his first kill of the while piloting an F-4D armed for air-to-air combat. His kill came against a Chinese J-6 (a kind-of MiG 21 variant) that he brought down with a two Sparrow, ripple-shot, but not before another Vietnamese fighter brought down his flight leader with guns.

The North Vietnamese Air Force had its worse day of the war, loosing eleven aircraft to US fighters, eight of them to the US Navy and six of those eight to fighters from the USS Constellation. Although the result was outstanding, from reading the various accounts of the action, there were many occasions that US fighter pilots found themselves in "kill" positions on Vietnamese fighters, but were too close for missiles. If the fighters had been armed with guns of some type, the numbers of enemy fighters shot down would have been much greater. The Vietnamese fighters knew this and took advantage of the F-4’s lack of guns. The best US "MiG-killer" of the war, the F-8 Crusader or "Gunfighter" which was flown by the US Navy and US Marine Corps, was armed with four 20mm Vulcan cannons along with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. The F-8 was the last fighter designed with guns as it’s primary weapon, and was envisioned as being a close-in, highly maneuverable "dogfighter". The F-4 Phantom by contrast was to attack incoming bombers with long-range missiles and maneuverability was not emphasized in it’s design. As a result, the F-8 kill-to-loss ratio was 19:3, where although most of it’s kills came from missiles, the ability to use guns when required and maneuverability combined to make this the "MiG-Master" of the fleet.

1 Comments:

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Rosemary said...

That sure was a helluva day! :)

 

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