Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North
How the Republic F-105 got good at a mission it was not designed to fly.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE US AIR FORCE
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the hapless jock who strayed into a 20- to 30-mile buffer zone along the Chinese border.
Pilots could defend themselves from attacking MiG fighters, but could not hit them on the ground. Surface-to-air-missile sites were fair game if they were active; while under construction, they were safe. Targets were selected in Washington, often over a White House lunch, when the president and secretary of defense, sometimes aided by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mulled over the military’s proposed target list, picked some out, and had them relayed back down the line to Saigon and, eventually, to Korat and Takhli. Once something became a target, it remained one. If it wasn’t wrecked on the first raid, it would be attacked again and again until it was. Most Sundays the Thuds went downtown.
Rolling Thunder escalated so gradually that the North Vietnamese were able to harden their defenses and hide critical supplies. Their web of anti-aircraft guns and Soviet surface-to-air-missile sites was soon the most sophisticated air defense system in the world.
The word among Thud pilots was that by their 66th mission they would have been shot down twice and picked up once. Put another way, they had about a 60 percent chance of completing the 100 missions north they were required to fly. (Their frequent sorties into Laos didn’t count.) For pilots on permanent assignments, 100 flights took about six months to accrue. For those rotating in from Japan, the requirement could take a couple of years.
Whether on permanent or temporary duty, a Thud pilot knew that he was in a knife fight with his good hand tied behind him.
at first light, the morning forces at Takhli and Korat would begin assembling for breakfast, briefing, and a good deal of study, with each four-ship flight learning what fragment, or “frag,” of the total day’s work Saigon had given them. By mid-morning, the pilots were on their way to their aircraft, wearing about 80 pounds of G-suit, parachute, and survival gear. Once the fliers were strapped into their machines, they taxied to an ordnance pit, where ground crews removed the red-flagged pins from the bombs.
“On PAK VI, we’d have eight [750-pound bombs] on the wings,” says Guild, or combinations of 500-, 1,000-, 2,000-, and 3,000-pound bombs. “I liked the 3,000. They
didn’t work for bridges, but for taking out flak pits….” He smiles, his hands describing a big blast wave propagating outward. “I dropped CBUs [cluster bombs]. You could see them down there, pop pop pop pop, but the guns just kept shooting.” He wasn’t fond of napalm. “God knows where it’s going to go.”