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For the civil use of the facility, see Tan Son Nhat International Airportmarker
Ton Son Nhut Air Base (1955-1975) was a Republic of Vietnam Air Force Force (VNAF) facility. It is located near the city of Saigonmarker in southern Vietnammarker. The United Statesmarker used it as a major base during the Vietnam War (1959-1975), stationing Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine units there.

Tan Son Nhat International Airportmarker, (IATA: SGN, ICAOmarker: VVTS) has been a major Vietnamese civil airport since the 1920s.

Early history

Tan Son Nhat Airport was built by the Frenchmarker in the 1920s when the French Colonial government of Indochina constructed a small unpaved airport, known as Tan Son Nhat Airfield in the village of Tan Son Nhat to serve as Saigonmarker's commercial airport. Flights to and from Francemarker, as well as within Southeast Asia were available prior to World War II. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army used Tan Son Nhat as a transport base. When Japan surrendered in August 1945 the French Air Force flew a contingent of 150 troops into Ton Son Nhut.

After World War II, Ton Son Nhut served domestic as well as international flights from Saigon. In 1952, the French Air Force moved the 312th Special Mission Squadron to TSN from Nha Trang Air Basemarker, consisting of French Douglas C-47 Skytrains and Beechcraft Model 18s for carrying cargo and military passengers to support French forces.

VNAF Use of Ton Son Nhut Air Base

In 1953, Tan Son Nhat started being used as a military air base for the fledgling Vietnamese Armée de l'Air (VALA) (Air Department). However was not until 1956 that the headquarters for the VALA was moved from the center of Saigonmarker to Tan Son Nhat Air Base. But even before that time French and Vietnamese military aircraft were always in evidence at Tan Son Nhat.

On 1 July 1955 the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) was officially established as a separate and distinct military unit. The VNAF consisted of 58 aircraft and about 1,300 personnel. The French had made no effort to expand the SVNAF to a force able to defend South Vietnam. Aircraft consisted primarily of C-47 Skytrains, and Grumman F8F Bearcats. In May 1956, by agreement with the South Vietnamese government, the United States Air Force assumed some training and administrative roles of the VNAF. Teams from Clark Air Force Basemarker began in 1957 to organize the VNAF into a model of the USAF when the French training contracts expired.

By 1960 Tan Son Nhat Air Base was growing with more and more VNAF aircraft arriving from the United States such as North American T-6 Texans, Douglas A-1 Skyraiders, Cessna L-19 Bird Dogs, and Sikorsky H-19 Helicopters.

Starting in the early 1960s, the build-up of the VNAF caused air units to became very visible on the base. On 4 January 1964 the VNAF 3311th Wing was organized at Tan Son Nhut, and the number of air units grew rapidly. By the mid-1960s Tan Son Nhat Airport was reported as the busiest airport in the world, with a mix of air traffic that approached chaotic proportions.

Command and Control Center, use in coups

Douglas DC-6B VIP Transport - SVNAF 314th Special Missions Squadron - Tan Son Nhat Air Base
As the headquarters for the South Vietnamese Air Force, Tan Son Nhat was primarily a command base, with most operational units using nearby Bien Hoa Air Basemarker.

At Tan Son Nhat, the VNAF's system of command and control was developed over the years with assistance from the USAF. The system handled the flow of aircraft from take-off to target area, and return to the base it was launched from. This was known as the Tactical Air Control System (TACS), and it assured positive control of all areas where significant combat operations were performed. Without this system, it would not have been possible for the VNAF to deploy its forces effectively where needed.

The TACS was in close proximity to the headquarters of the VNAF and USAF forces in South Vietnam, and commanders of both Air Forces utilized its facilities. Subordinate to TACS was the Direct Air Support Centers (DASC) assigned to each of corps areas (I DASC - Da Nang Air Basemarker, DASC Alpha - Nha Trang Air Basemarker, II DASC - Pleiku Air Basemarker, III DASC - Bien Hoa Air Basemarker, and IV DASC - Can Thomarker Air Base). DASCs were responsible for the deployment of aircraft located within their sector in support of ground operations.

Operating under each DASC were numerous Tactical Air Control Party (TACPs), manned by one or more VNAF/USAF personnel posted with the South Vietnamese Army ground forces. A communications network inked these three levels of command and control, giving the TACS overall control of the South Vietnamese air situation at all times.

Additional information was provided by a radar network that covered all of South Vietnam and beyond, monitoring all strike aircraft.

The base was the headquarters of the Joint General Staff of South Vietnam, and was a key venue in various military coups, particularly the 1963 coup that deposed the nation's first President Ngo Dinh Diem. The plotters invited loyalist officers to a routine lunch meeting at JGS and captured them in the afternoon of November 1 1963. The most notable was Colonel Le Quang Tung, loyalist commnander of the ARVN Special Forces, which was effectively a private Ngo family army, and his brother and deputy, Le Quang Trieu. Later, Captain Nguyen Van Nhung, bodyguard of coup leader General Duong Van Minh, shot the brothers into their graves on the edge of the base.

Recruiting Center

VNAF Women's Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) personnel with USAF Captain Mary A.
Marsh, June 1968.
Captain Marsh would eventually retire as a USAF Brigadier General on 1 May 1986.
General Marsh was the first Air Force woman assigned as an adviser to the Vietnamese air force.
Another function of Tan Son Nhat Air Base was a South Vietnamese Air Force recruiting center. Unlike the ARVN, the VNAF was an all-volunteer service, remaining so until its demise in 1975. Recruits were given a screening test, followed by a physical examination.

Basic requirements for service in the VNAF was to be a Vietnamese citizen; at least age 17; minimum age 25 for flight training; no criminal record; the equivalent of a US 9th grade education for airmen; 11th grade for those entering pilot training or a 12th grade for non-rated officer.

If a volunteer met all the qualifications, the recruit was then sent to basic training at the ARVN training base at Lam Song. Non-commissioned officer (NCO) training was held at Bien Hoa Air Basemarker. After two months of training, or four months for aviation cadets, the recruit was given an aptitude test and progressed to specialized technical training. From there, he was sent to one of the ARVN wings for journeymen training. Aviation cadets pursued three additional months of specialized training after completing their initial four-month training course. Some were sent to the United Statesmarker for advanced pilot training while non-rated officers pursued training in South Vietnam for their non-flying assignments. This training lasted about nine months, whereupon a cadet served in an operational unit for about a year before receiving a commission as a second lieutenant.

Women also served in the VNAF. The Women's Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) was formed to fill non-combat duties beginning in December 1965. Women were assigned to VNAF wings, Headquarters, the Air Logistics Wing, performing duties as personnel specialists, secretaries and other administrative roles.

1968 Tet Offensive

Tan Son Nhat Air Base was the target of major communist attacks during the 1968 Tet Offensive. The attack began early on 30 January with greater severity than anyone had expected. When the communists attacked much of the VNAF was on leave to be with their families during the lunar new year. An immediate recall was issued, and within 72 hours, 90 percent of the VNAF was on duty.

The first enemy rounds that hit Tan Son Nhat Air Base struck at approximately 2 a.m. on 30 January. The chapel on the base was one of the early direct hits. The base was under the command of Air Force Colonel Farley Peebles.

If not for the work of the United States Air Force 377th Security Police Squadron in the early hours of the attack the entire base may have been in danger. Four USAF Security Policemen lost their lives at Bunker 051; those four and two other Combat Security Police members received the Silver Star for their valor. The Security Police, despite being outnumbered, with help from the United States Army Helicopter and ground units, killed nearly 1,000 enemy combatants. The base was secured by American and ARVN/VNAF forces by 12 noon on 31 January 1968.

Over the next three weeks, the VNAF flew over 1,300 strike sorties, bombing and strafing communist positions throughout South Vietnam. Transport aircraft from Tan Son Nhat's 33d Wing dropped almost 15,000 flares in 12 nights, compared with a normal monthly average of 10,000. Observation aircraft also from Tan Son Nhat completed almost 700 reconnaissance sorties, with VNAF pilots flying O-1 Bird Dogs and U-17 Skywagons.

Vietnamization and the 1972 Spring Offensive

In 1970, with American units leaving the country, the VNAF transport fleet was greatly increased at Tan Son Nhat. The VNAF 33d and 53d Tactical Wings were established flying Fairchild C-123 Providers, C-47s and De Havilland C-7A Caribous.

By November 1970, the South Vietnamese Air Force took total control of the Direct Air Support Center (DASCS) at Bien Hoa Air Basemarker, Da Nang Air Basemarker and Pleiku Air Basemarker.

At the end of 1971, the VNAF were totally in control of command and control units at eight major air bases, supporting ARVN units for the expanded air-ground operations system. In September 1971, the USAF transferred two Fairchild C-119 squadrons to the VNAF at Tan Son Nhut.

In 1972, the buildup of the VNAF at Tan Son Nhat was expanded when two Lockheed C-130 Hercules squadrons were formed there. In December, the first VNAF C-130 training facility was established at Tan Son Nhat, enabling the South Vietnamese to train its own Hercules pilots. As more C-130s were transferred to the VNAF, older C-123s were returned to the USAF for disposal.

As the buildup of the VNAF continued, the success of the Vietnamization program was evident during the 1972 Spring Offensive. Responding to the communist attack, the VNAF flew more than 20,000 strike sorties which helped to stem the communist advance. In the first month of the offensive, transports from Tan Son Nhut ferried thousands of troops and delivered nearly 4,000 tons of supplies throughout the country.

The spring offensive also resulted in additional deliveries of aircraft to the VNAF under Project Enhance. New VNAF units came about with the introduction of Fairchild C-119K gunships at Tan Son Nhut, along with Boeing CH-47 helicopters, along with additional C-130 transports and numerous O-1 and O-2 observation aircraft.

Also, fighter aircraft arrived at Tan Son Nhat for the first time in the Northrup F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and the F-5E Tiger II. The F-5s were subsequently transferred to Bien Hoamarker and Da Nang Air Basesmarker.

1973 Cease Fire

[[Image:Vnaf-c130a-57-0460.jpg|thumb|Lockheed C-130A-45-LM Hercules Serial 57-460 of the South Vietnamese Air Force. The aircraft served with the VNAF from October 1972 to April 1975. During the fall of Saigon, it was flown from Tan Son Nhut Air Base to Singaporemarker, carrying about 350 Vietnamese.

Returned to USAF service in August 1975, it was assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailandmarker, then used by the United States Air Force Air National Guard for many years before being retired in 1989.

Today, this aircraft is part of the National Air and Space Museummarker, given its historic past.]]The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 brought an end to the United Statesmarker advisory capacity in South Vietnam. In its place, as part of the agreement, the Americans retained a Defense Attache Office (DAO) at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, with small field offices at other facilities around the country. The technical assistance provided by the personnel of the DAOs and by civilian contractors was essential to the VNAF, however, because of the cease-fire agreement, the South Vietnamese could not be advised in any way on military operations, tactics or techniques of employment.

It was through the DAO that the American/South Vietnamese relationship was maintained, and it was primarily from this source that information from within South Vietnam was obtained. The VNAF provided statistics with regards to the military capability of their units to the DAO, however the accuracy of this information was not always reliable.

From the Spring Offensive of 1972, it was clear that without United States aid, especially air support, the ARVN would not be able to defend itself against continuing communist attacks. This was demonstrated at the fighting around Pleikumarker, An Locmarker and Quang Tri where the ARVN would have been defeated without continuous air support, mainly supplied by the USAF.

The ARVN relied heavily on air support, and with the absence of the USAF, the full responsibility fell on the VNAF. Although equipped with large numbers of A-37 and F-5 attack aircraft, to conduct effective close air support operations, during the 1972 offensive the USAF relied on the heavier McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II supporting ARVN forces dealing with those targets.

Numerous violations of the Paris Peace Accords were committed by communists beginning almost as soon as the United States withdrew its last personnel from South Vietnam by the end of March 1973.

The North Vietnamese and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam continued their attempt to overthrow President Thieu and remove the U.S. supported government. North Vietnamese military forces gradually moved through the southern provinces and by the spring of 1975 were in position to capture Saigon and form a government of national unity.

The U.S. had promised Thieu that it would use airpower to support his government. On January 14, 1975 Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger stated that the U.S. was not living up to its promise that it would retaliate in the event North Vietnam tried to overwhelm South Vietnam.

When North Vietnam invaded in March 1975, the promised American intervention never materialized. Richard Nixon was no longer President. Watergate proved to be but one in a succession of scandals that undermined support for further involvement in Southeast Asia. Revelation of the My Lai massacremarker, in which American soldiers had murdered unarmed civilians suspected of aiding the Communists, raised questions about the morality of the war. Publication of The Pentagon Papers, essentially a documentary history of the American decision-making while Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense, revealed imprecise thinking and a succession of flawed judgments. The secret bombing of Cambodiamarker came to light, as did a series of unauthorized aerial attacks on North Vietnam prior to the 1972 invasion. Reports of drug use by service personnel in Southeast Asia‹and rumors that South Vietnamese officials profited from dealing in drugs‹also helped turn the American public against the Saigon leadership.

Congress reflected the popular mood, halting the bombing in Cambodia effective July 15, 1973, and reducing aid to South Vietnam. Since Thieu intended to fight the same kind of war he always had, with lavish use of firepower, the cuts in aid proved especially damaging.

Capture of Tan Son Nhat Air Base

NVA troops overrunning the base area of the 429th Transport Squadron at Tan Son Nhut air base - 30 April 1975.
A C-47 with tail code MJ can be seen, indicating it is an EC-47D belonging to the 716th Reconnaissance Squadron.


In early 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to achieve its goal of re-uniting Vietnam under communist rule, launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.

On 8 January the North Vietnamese Politburo ordered a major People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) offensive to "liberate" South Vietnam by NVA cross-border invasion. The NVA general staff plan for the invasion of South Vietnam called for 20 divisions, because, by 1975, the Soviet-supplied North Vietnamese Army was the fifth largest in the world. It anticipated a two year struggle for victory.

By 14 March, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu decided to abandon the Central Highlands region and two northern provinces of South Vietnam and ordered a general withdrawal of ARVN forces from those areas. Instead of an orderly withdrawal, it turned into a general retreat, with masses of military and civilians fleeing, clogging roads and creating chaos.

On 30 March 100,000 South Vietnamese soldiers surrendered after being abandoned by their commanding officers. The large coastal cities of Da Nangmarker, Qui Nhonmarker, Tuy Hoamarker and Nha Trangmarker were abandoned by the South Vietnamese, yielding the entire northern half of South Vietnam to the North Vietnamese.

As the war in South Vietnam entered its conclusion, the pilots of the VNAF flew sortie after sortie, supporting the retreating South Vietnamese Army after it abandoned Cam Ranh Baymarker on 14 April. For two days after the ARVN left the area, the Wing Commander at Phan Rang Air Basemarker fought on with the forces under his command. Airborne troops were sent in for one last attempt to hold the airfield, but the defenders were finally overrun on 16 April and Phan Rang Air Base was lost.

The last of the 2d Air Division abandoned the airfield with the remaining flyable airplanes, leaving four AC-119s which had flown in from Da Nang and two A-37s to the North Vietnamese.

On 22 April Xuan Locmarker fell to the communists after a two week battle with South Vietnam's 18th Army Division which inflicted over 5000 NVA casualties and delayed the Ho Chi Minh Campaign for two weeks. With the fall of Xuan Locmarker and the capture of Bien Hoa Air Basemarker in late April 1975 it was clear that South Vietnam was about to fall to the North Vietnamese Army.

At dusk on 28 April, three captured A-37s, flown from the former VNAF Phan Rang Air Basemarker bombed Tan Son Nhat destroying a number of aircraft on the flight line. There are conflicting stories about who was actually flying these aircraft. One source insists they were VNAF pilots who were communists, another says they were VNAF pilots who were forced to fly the mission in return for the safety of their families, and NVA General Van Tien Dung claimed the A-37s were flown by North Vietnamese Air Force pilots.

Whatever the case, the A-37s escaped. despite being pursued by several VNAF F-5s. Although the physical damage to Ton Son Nhut was not extensive, the threat of further air strikes eliminated Ton Son Nhut AB for fixed-wing evacuation flights, further lowering what little morale remained in the capital.

Saigonmarker was now surrounded by thirteen NVA divisions and most Vietnamese realized it was only a matter of time until the entire country was in communist hands. On 29 April President Gerald Ford ordered Operation Frequent Wind, the helicopter evacuation of Saigon.

Vietnamese pilots now began flying themselves and their families out of the country in anything that could get off the ground. Some headed for the American rescue fleet just off the coast, while others flew to Thailandmarker.

On 30 April the last desperate combat sorties flown by the VNAF were carried out in defense of Tan Son Nhut. An AC-119 Shadow gunship, which had spent the night defending the base perimeter, landed for fuel and ammunition. After refueling and rearming, the Shadow took off again. The gunship orbited the air base firing on advancing NVA troops and was soon joined by a pair of A-1s. The Skyraiders made repeated runs over NVA positions until NVA gunners downed one with a SA-7. The second A-1 pilot continued his attacks until his fuel and ordnance were used up. All the while, the AC-119 kept its fire directed on advancing enemy forces.

About 7 a.m. the Shadow's luck ran out. Another SA-7 scored a direct hit and the AC-119 fell in flames. Three crewmen managed to bail out, but one chute became entangled in the flaming debris and carried its wearer to a flaming death.

In the final evacuation, over a hundred VNAF aircraft arrived in Thailand, including twenty-six F-5s, eight A-37s. eleven A-1s, six C-130s. thirteen C-47s, five C-7s, and three AC-119s. Additionally close to 100 VNAF helicopters landed on U.S. ships off the coast, although at least half were jettisoned. One O-1 managed to land on the USS Midway marker, carrying a South Vietnamese major, his wife, and five children. On 30 April 1975, Saigonmarker fell and all remaining South Vietnamese forces were ordered to surrender.

For the VNAF thirty-five long years of war had come to an end. Following the war, Tan Son Nhut Air Base reverted to its original function as a civilian airport.

Known SVNAF Units at Tan Son Nhat (June 1974)

Tan Son Nhut Air Base was the Headquarters of the South Vietnamese Air Force. It was also the Headquarters of the SVNAF 5th Air Division.

Vietnamese Air Force Unit Emblems At Tan Son Nhat Air Base
33d Tactical Wing
  • 314th Special Air Missions Squadron VC-47, U-17, UH-1, DC-6B
  • 716th Reconnaissance Squadron R/EC-47, U-6A
  • 718th Reconnaissance Squadron EC-47
  • 429th/431st Transport Squadron C-7B
  • Det H 259th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H (Medevac)


53d Tactical Wing
  • 819th/821st Combat Squadron AC-119G
  • 435th/437th Transport Squadron C-130A


Use of Tan Son Nhut Air Base by the United States

Welcome to Tan Son Nhut - 1967.
During the Vietnam War (or Second Indochina War), Tan Son Nhut Air Base (then using the alternative spelling Tân Sơn Nhứt) was an important facility for both the US Air Force and the . Tan Son Nhut Air Base served as the focal point for the initial United States Air Force deployment and buildup in South Vietnam in the early 1960s. After 1966, with the establishment of the 7th Air Force as the main USAF Command and Control Headquarters in South Vietnam, Tan Son Nhut functioned as a Headquarters base, a Tactical Reconnaissance base, and as a Special Operations base, focusing on areal defoliation (Operation Ranch Hand). With the drawdown of US forces in South Vietnam after 1971, the base took on a myriad of organizations transferred from deactivated bases in the country.

Between 1968 and 1974, Tan Son Nhut Airport was one of the busiest military airbases in the world. During the last days of South Vietnam, Pan Am schedules from 1973 showed Boeing 747 service was being operated four times a week to San Francisco via Guam and Manila . Continental Airlines operated up to 30 Boeing 707 military charters per week to and from Tan Son Nhut Airport during the 1968-74 period.

It was from Tan Son Nhut Air Base that the last U.S. Airman left South Vietnam in March, 1973. The Air Force Post Office for Tan Son Nhut Air Base was APO San Francisco, 96307.

Military Assistance Advisory Group

In September 1961, the first permanent United States Air Force (USAF) unit, the 507th Tactical Control Group from Shaw Air Force Basemarker South Carolinamarker deployed sixty-seven officers and airmen to Tan Son Nhat to install radars and began monitoring air traffic and training of South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) personnel to operate and service the equipment. This organization formed the nucleus of what became a tactical air control system for a vast fleet of South Vietnamese and American aircraft.

During October 1961, four RF-101s and a photo processing unit from the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, based at Yokota ABmarker Japanmarker, arrived at Tan Son Nhut and joined the combat reporting post, with the reconnaissance craft flying photographic missions over South Vietnam and Laosmarker within a few days of their arrival.

The 67th TRW was soon followed by detachments of the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, based at Kadena ABmarker, Okinawamarker, which also flew RF-101 reconnaissance missions over Laos and South Vietnam, first from bases in Thailandmarker and then from South Vietnam. These reconnaissance missions lasted from November 1961 through the spring of 1964.

During January 1962 a detachment of a dozen Fairchild C-123 transports arrived in South Vietnam to deliver supplies to distant outposts, like those established by the Army Special Forces along the border with Laos, and to drop South Vietnamese parachute troops in operations against the Viet Cong. Called Mule Train, the unit operated ten C-123s from Tan Son Nhat Air Base and two from Da Nang Air Basemarker.

The Dirty Thirty

South Vietnamese Air Force DC-3 being flown by USAF "Dirty Thirty" pilots - 1962
Additional USAF personnel arrived at Tan Son Nhat in early 1962 after the VNAF transferred two dozen seasoned pilots from the 1st Transportation Group at Tan Son Nhat to provide aircrews for the newly activated 2nd Fighter Squadron then undergoing training at Bien Hoa Air Basemarker. This sudden loss of qualified C-47 pilots brought the 1st Transportation Group's airlift capability dangerously low.

In order to alleviate the problem, United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, on the recommendation of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Vietnam, ordered thirty USAF pilots temporarily assigned to the VNAF to serve as C-47 co-pilots. This influx of U.S. personnel quickly returned the 1st TG to full strength.

The Americans arrived at Tan Son Nhat during March and April 1962 and immediately began flying with Vietnamese crews. Unfortunately, problems arose between the Americans and Vietnamese and by August the situation had so deteriorated that the 1st Transportation Group commander. Nguyen Cao Ky urgently appealed for closer cooperation and understanding between the two groups. The situation seemed to gradually improve and although there were still problems, the two groups developed a closer working relationship.

Unlike the USAF Farm Gate personnel at Bien Hoa Air Basemarker, the C-47 co-pilots actually became part of the VNAF operational structure - though still under U.S. control. Because of their rather unusual situation, these pilots soon adopted the very unofficial nickname, The Dirty Thirty.

In a sense they were the first U.S. airmen actually committed to combat in Vietnam, rather than being assigned as advisors or support personnel.

The USAF 315th Troop Carrier Group (Combat Cargo) and 8th Aerial Port Squadron were activated on 8 December 1962, replacing the provisional transport units. The 315th Group had a strength of twenty-seven officers and twenty-one airmen, all of whom were on permanent assignment to Tan Son Nhat.

Although the 315th Group was an element of the 315th Air Division, the group's responsibilities included developing tactics and techniques and providing technical advice on airlift matters. Operational command of the group rested with the Commander, MACV, who in theory exercised control through his Air Force component command, the 2d Air Division.

The original Dirty Thirty pilots eventually rotated home during early 1963 and were replaced by a second contingent of American pilots. This detachment remained with the VNAF until December 1963 when they were withdrawn from Vietnam.

33d Tactical Group

Air Vietnam Caravelle airliner on the ramp at Tan Son Nhat, with USAF 33rd Tactical Group RF-101 in side-view mirror of photographer's vehicle - 1964
On 8 July 1963 the MAAG units were organized as the 33d Tactical Group. The Group was equipped primarily with cargo aircraft, C-54 Skymasters, U-3Bs, VC-47, andVC-123z.

Its mission was to maintain and operate base support facilities at Tan Son Nhat, supporting the 2d Air Division and subordinate units by performing reconnaissance of Vietnam from various detachments flying RB-26 Invaders, RB-57 Canberras, and RF-101 Voodoo aircraft.

The early months of 1964 were a time of expansion, training, and comparative quiet. By midyear, the South Vietnamese Air Force had grown to thirteen squadrons; four fighter, four observation, three helicopter, and two C-47 transport. The South Vietnamese followed the practice of the U.S. Air Force, organizing the squadrons into wings, with one wing located in each of the four corps tactical zones at Can Thomarker Air Base, Tan Son Nhat Air Base, Pleiku Air Basemarker, and Da Nang Air Basemarker

After the Tonkin Gulf incident, the USAF response was to deploy twelve F-102 Delta Dagger air defense interceptor aircraft, their number divided between Tan Son Nhat and at Da Nang Air Basemarker. In addition, eight F-100 Super Sabres joined the F-102s at Da Nang, and two squadrons of B-57 Canberra light bombers landed at Bien Hoa Air Base.

505th Tactical Air Control Group

USAF Cessna O-1 (L-19) "Bird Dog"
An O-2 Skymaster dropping leaflets over Vietnam
The 505th Tactical Air Control Group was assigned to Tan Son Nhat on 8 April 1964. The Unit was primarily responsible for controlling the tactical air resources of the US and its allies in South Vietnam, Thailandmarker, and to some extent Cambodiamarker and Laosmarker. Carrying out the mission of providing tactical air support required two major components, radar installations and forward air controllers (FAC's).

The radar sites provided flight separation for attack and transport aircraft which took the form of flight following and, in some cases control by USAF Weapons Directors. Forward Air Controllers had the critical job of telling tactical fighters where to drop their ordinance. FAC's were generally attached to either US Army or ARVN (Army of Vietnam) units and served both on the ground and in the air.

Squadrons of the 505th were located as follows:

The TASS units flew either the O-1G Birddog, O-2 Skymaster, or OV-10 Bronco.

Maintenance support was provided by the 505th Tactical Control Maintenance Squadron first based at Tan Son Nhut and later at Bien Hoa Air Basemarker

619th Tactical Air Control Squadron

The 619th Tactical Control Squadron was responsible from the Mekong Delta to Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands. Detachments of the 619th TASS were located as follows:
  • Det 1, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Da Nang Air Basemarker: 8 April 1964 - 22 December 1965
  • Det 1, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Duong Dong Army Airfield: 15 August 1967 - 20 December 1968
  • Det 2, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Basemarker: 8 April 1964 - 22 December 1965
  • Det 3, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Can Tho Army Airfield: 8 April 1964-30 Jun 1972
  • Det 4, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Udon Royal Thai Air Force Basemarker: 18 October 1964-22 December 1965
  • Det 5, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Basemarker: 10 Aug-22 December 1965
  • Det 6, 619th Tactical Control Squadron (Green Hill, Thailand): 10 Aug-22 December 1965
  • Det 7, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Tay Ninh Army Airfield: 10 August 1965-15 May 1968.
  • Det 8, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Ca Mau Army Airfield: 10 August 1965-15 May 1968.
  • Det 9, 619th Tactical Control Squadron [280671] Ban Me Thuot Army Airfield:1 October 1965-29 February 1972.
  • Det 10, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Pleiku Air Basemarker: 1 October 1965-8 November 1966.
  • Det 11, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Nha Trang Air Basemarker: 22 December 1965-29 February 1972.
  • Det 12, 619th Tactical Control Squadron Qui Nhon Army Airfield: 22 December 1965-8 November 1966


The unit was deactivated in place on 15 March 1973.

Operation Rolling Thunder

F-100D 56-3101 of the 429th TFS - 474th Tactical Fighter Wing - TDY at Ton Son Nhut Air Base - 1965
Attacks against Americans in South Vietnam continued. On Christmas Eve 1964, the bombing of a residence for American officers at Saigonmarker brought the United Statesmarker to the brink of bombing North Vietnam. The Johnson administration's reluctance to directly engage North Vietnam ended on 7 February 1965, when the Viet Cong attacked an American detachment near Pleikumarker, killing eight and wounding 104 American soldiers.

President Johnson approved an operation called Rolling Thunder, a limited and carefully paced program of air strikes that more closely resembled the graduated response to the presence of Soviet missiles in Cubamarker than the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a vigorous and extensive bombardment. Despite the reliance on gradual escalation, the Johnson administration struck directly at North Vietnam in an attempt to save South Vietnam unilaterally, regardless of the weakness or incompetence of the military government in Saigon, abandoning a policy of partnership with the South Vietnamese that worked toward political stability and economic progress as conditions leading to a military victory in the South.

The United States Air Force now had four distinct air wars on the mainland of Southeast Asia, as the offensive against North Vietnam took its place alongside the attacks in South Vietnam and in northern and southern Laosmarker. In 1965, United States Air Force was not fully equipped, suitably trained, nor doctrinally prepared for the situation in Southeast Asia. The transition from massive retaliation to flexible response and the shift from nuclear to conventional weapons remained incomplete.

As a result, the Air Force dropped high-explosive bombs from aircraft like the Thailand-based F-105 Thunderchief that had been designed for nuclear war and had to create and transport to Southeast Asia the stocks of conventional munitions needed for the conflict.

The first tasks facing the USAF, however, were to set up a workable organizational structure in the region, improve the area's inadequate air bases, create an efficient airlift system, and develop equipment and techniques to support the ground battle.

6250th Combat Support Group

Starting with the buildup in 1965, the Air Force, while continuing to conduct the four air wars, adjusted its structure in Southeast Asia to absorb incoming units. Temporarily deployed squadrons became permanent in November. A wing structure replaced the groups. On 8 July 1965, the 33d Tactical Group was redesignated the 6250th Combat Support Group

By February 1966, the reconnaissance force at Tan Son Nhut had grown to seventy-four aircraft of various types. Operational aircraft squadrons were assigned to the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing which was activated at Tan Son Nhut on 2 February 1966. The 377th Air Base Wing became USAF host base unit at Tan Son Nhut, replacing the 6250th Combat Support Group in April.

The 834th Air Division was established as the overall command organization for all USAF units at Tan Son Nhut, reporting directly to Headquarters, 7th Air Force, also at Tan Son Nhut.

460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing

RF-101C serial 56-176 of the 45th Tactical Recon Squadron - Tan Son Nhut Air Base - 1969
The 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing was activated at Tan Son Nhut on 2 February 1966. Its mission was to control and administer tactical reconnaissance resources in Southeast Asia.

Assigned and attached tactical reconnaissance and tactical electronic warfare squadrons, and squadron-size detachments flew day and night visual, photographic, radar, thermographic, and electronic reconnaissance to meet the combat needs of 2d Air Division until April 1966 and for the Seventh Air Force thereafter. The 460th TRW divided reconnaissance in Southeast Asia with the 432d Reconnaissance Wing, based at Udorn RTAFBmarker, Thailandmarker in September 1966.

A mission change in October 1966 put the 460th TRW in charge of depot-level aircraft maintenance responsibility for all USAF organizations in South Vietnam. Decorations awarded to the wing for its Vietnam War service include:

The wing was inactivated in-place on 31 August 1971. Its operational squadrons were:

RF-101C
Deployed from 39th Air Division, Udorn RTAFBmarker Thailandmarker. Inactivated in place.
Reactivated as an RF-4C squadron 15 October 1971 with the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom AFBmarker, Texasmarker.


RF-4C
  • 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron 2 September 1966 - 31 August 1971 (RF-4C Tail Code: AC)
Deployed from 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom AFBmarker, Texasmarker
Reassigned to 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom AFBmarker, Texasmarker
  • 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron 27 October 1965 - 15 March 1970 (RF-4C Tail Code: AE)
Deployed from 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom AFBmarker, Texasmarker
Reassigned to 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom AFBmarker, Texasmarker


EC-47
Deployed from 1st Air Commando Wing, England AFBmarker, Louisianamarker.
Reassigned to 1st Air Commando Wing, Hurlburt Fieldmarker, Floridamarker
  • 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 8 April 1966 - 31 August 1971 (EC-47N/P/Q Tail Code: AL)
Deployed from 1st Air Commando Wing, England AFBmarker, Louisianamarker.
Deactivated in place
  • 362d Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 1 February 1967 - 31 August 1971 (EC-47N/P/Q Tail Code: AN)
Deployed from 1st Air Commando Wing, England AFBmarker, Louisianamarker.
Deactivated in place


F-102A
  • 509th Fighter Interceptor Squadron 1968- July 1970
Deployed from Clark ABmarker, Philippinesmarker
Inactivated in place, 1970. Aircraft sent to Air National Guard units in the United States.


315th Air Commando Wing, Troop Carrier

C-123K Serial 54-0696 - 315th Air Commando Wing - April 1968.
This aircraft was turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1972
The 315th Air Commando Wing was activated on 8 March 1965 and became responsible until 15 October 1966 for all in-country airlift in the Republic of Vietnam, including control over all USAF airlift assets, aerial port squadrons, an aeromedical evacuation squadron, and a special air transport flight of the Royal Australian Air Force.

The 315th ACW was responsible for Operation Ranch Hand Defoliant operations missions. Flying specially-equipped C-123 providers, members of the squadron flew low and slow to reduce the risks to our soldiers on the ground and to expose the enemy. The Agent Orange controversy later became both a political and veterans' issue. On 15 October 1966, Ranch Hand became the mission of the 12th Air Commando Squadron.

In February 1967, Ranch Hand was ordered for the first time to fly missions over the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam. These missions helped uncover infiltration routes from the north and expose stockpiles of supplies hidden in the DMZ. By June, 1967, the number of UC-123s had increased to 20.

The Wing also performed C-123 airlift operations in Vietnam. Operations included aerial movement of troops and cargo, flare drops, aeromedical evacuation, and air-drops of critical supplies and paratroops.

Squadrons of the 315th ACW/TC were:
  • 12th Air Commando 15 October 1966 - 15 June 1967
  • 19th Air Commando 8 March 1965 - 15 June 1967
  • 309th Air Commando 8 March 1965 - 15 June 1967
  • 310th Air Commando 8 March 1965 - 15 June 1967
  • 311th Air Commando 8 March 1965 - 15 June 1967
  • Det 1., HQ 315th Air Commando Wing, Troop Carrier 1 August - 15 October 1966
  • Det 5., HQ 315th Air Division (Combat Cargo) 8 March - 15 October 1966
  • Det 6., HQ 315th Air Division (Combat Cargo) 8 March - 15 October 1966
  • Royal Australian Air Force Air Transport Flight, Vietnam 8 March - 15 October 1966.


The 315th ACW was transferred to Phan Rang Air Basemarker on 14 June 1967.

377th Air Base Wing

The 377th Air Base Wing was responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the USAF portion of the facility from April 1966 until the last USAF personnel withdrew from South Vietnam in March 1973.

In addition, the 377th ABW was responsible for housing numerous tenant organizations including Seventh Air Force, base defense, and liaison with South Vietnamese Air Force.

The 377th was also responsible for Binh Thuy Air Basemarker 12 May-1 July 1970. In addition, the Wing operated a Combat Crew Training School at Phu Cat Air Basemarker, with C-7 aircraft, 15 March - October 1972.

Units assigned to the 377 ABW were:
  • 834th Air Division (T-39, C-54, C-47, C-118, C-130)
  • 7th Air Force (C-47, C-123 and C-54)


In 1972 deactivating USAF units throughout South Vietnam began to administratively assign units w/o equipment or personnel to the 377th ABW:

From Phan Rang Air Basemarker:

From Cam Ranh Air Basemarker:
  • 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron 15 March 1972 - 23 February 1973


From Phan Rang Air Basemarker

All of these units were administratively inactivated in place at Tan Son Nhut.

An operating location of the wing headquarters was established at Bien Hoa Air Basemarker on 14 April 1972 to provide turnaround service for F-4s of other organizations, mostly based in Thailandmarker. It was replaced on 20 June 1972 by Detachment l of the 377th Wing headquarters, which continued the F-4 turnaround service and added A-7 for the deployed 354th Tactical Fighter Wing aircraft based at Korat RTAFB, Thailand on 30 October 1972. The detachment continued operations through 11 February 1973.

The 377th ABW phased down for inactivation during February and March 1973, transferring many assets to the South Vietnamese Air Force. Decorations awarded to the wing for its Vietnam service were:

When deactivated on 28 March 1973, the 377th Air Base Wing was the last USAF unit in South Vietnam.

Emblems of USAF Units at Tan Son Nhut Air Base

Image:505tcg.gif|505th Tactical Air Control Group
1964-1972
Image:619tass.gif|619th Tactical Air Control Squadron
1964-1973
Image:460trw.jpg|460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing
1966-1971
Image:315thsow.jpg|315th Air Commando Wing, Troop Carrier
1966-1967
Image:377abw.jpg|377th Air Base Wing
1966-1973
Image:Pacific Air Forces.png|United States Pacific Air Forces
1961-1973
Image:Maag-vn.jpg|Military Assistance Advisory Group - Vietnam
1961-1962
Image:2d Air Division crest.jpg|2d Air Division
1962-1966
Image:7th Air Force.png|7th Air Force
1966-1973


See also



References



External links






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