“In the cruise in, we’d be on altitude hold, autopilot,” says Rasimus. “Not a whole lot of threat. Once down, it was hand flying. You’d want to be jinking a little bit. In the target area at 540 to 600 knots: 4-G pull up, zoom climb, 4-G pull down on the [30- to 40-degree] dive angle, drop it at about 3,000 feet above ground, down to about 1,000 [feet above ground level], then 4 to 5 Gs recovering. After they left the target, it was everybody for himself.”
Enthusiasts then had a chance to go trolling for things to strafe with the Gatling gun. It took a while for everyone to see the folly of risking a multimillion-dollar airplane to whack a 10,000-ruble truck, or pitting the 20-mm Gatling against 57-mm artillery, or looking for dogfights. “A lot of people were lost who shouldn’t have been, screwing around with a MiG-17,” says Cooper. “We could depart from it faster than a missile could track, separating at the speed of light.”
That blazing speed made the Thud difficult to protect, says Brazelton. “One time they were thinking of sending F-4s on MiG escort. As we approached the target, we went a little faster, then a little faster. Pretty soon they couldn’t keep up with us. We were happier when the escorts stayed away. If there were any MiGs up there, there were plenty of -105 pilots eager to pull the trigger.”
Even with the disadvantages of the F-105’s weight and poor turning ability, when the smoke cleared, it was Thuds 27.5, MiGs 22, with 24.5 Thud victories credited to that fossil nose-mounted gun.
Going in or coming out, if someone got hit—and someone almost always did—the Thuds usually kept moving. “In 1966, when a guy got shot down, if he wasn’t picked up in the first 90 minutes, he wasn’t coming out,” says Rasimus.
“In PAK VI, if someone went down across the Red River, we’d continue on, but the wingman would stay with a crippled bird,” says Guild. “If someone went down on the way out, we would continue egress, try to get to him later. You don’t want to pinpoint the downed guy.”
Brazelton had almost finished his 100-mission tour when he got smoked. It was August 7, 1966, north of Hanoi. “I was dropping CBUs on a 120-mm anti-aircraft site,” he says. “A 57-mm must have hit me right in the belly. I rode it for a minute or so, told them I was ejecting. They couldn’t do anything, just too many guns. I didn’t ask them to.” (Brazelton spent the next six and a half years as a POW.)
Coming off the target, the F-105s stayed together and headed for the tankers. They took enough fuel to get back to base, where, some four hours after their takeoff, the afternoon shift was preparing the next charge against the Russian guns.
the 388th tactical Fighter Wing settled into Korat, the 355th into Takhli. As pilots and aircraft were lost at the rate of five or six a week, replacement air crews and aircraft flew in, the Yokota units to Takhli, Kadena units to Korat. Thud pilots from Europe also arrived.
There were rivalries. In his memoir, Thud Ridge, Colonel Jack Broughton, then vice wing commander at Takhli, refers to Korat as the “Avis wing.” Over at Korat, the word was that Takhli had some people interested in becoming heroes. Some accounts make both wings sound like Texas Aggies about to play the Longhorns. There are tales of the “pressure bar” at Takhli, where pilots recited stuffy Pentagon nonsense about their incompatibility with “normal management techniques,” yelled a few obscenities, sang some unprintable songs, and shattered their bottles on the floor.
The late Gene I. “G.I.” Basel, in his 1982 memoir, Pak Six, describes impromptu wakes at Takhli for lost comrades. Pilots from the day’s raid would run a gauntlet of hurled beer bottles, trying to reach the far wall, called Thud Ridge, unscathed.
Both bases adopted Australian bush hats and kept their missions tallied on the rims. Pilots tend to be superstitious. That bush hat couldn’t be left on the bed or on the dresser. Crickets in the wash room were not to be smushed. At Korat, a mustache rendered the pilot bulletproof; shaving it off was tantamount to suicide.
“We drank more than we needed to, but I always tried to get six or eight hours sleep before a mission,” says Cooper. “A hundred missions in six months: That’s 16 or so sorties a month. Every 16 days you’d get four days off. I tried to make Bangkok the center of my universe.”