What Dave Cable remembers most about that night was the torrential rain. On February 26, 1967, a flight of seven Grumman A-6A Intruders, led by Commander A.H. Barie of squadron VA-35, took off from the USS Enterprise. The A-6s were loaded with Mk 50 and Mk 52 mines, which would be dropped into the Song Ca and Son Giang rivers in North Vietnam in an attempt to stop the flow of supplies and men into South Vietnam.
According to U.S. military officials, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times on February 27, the non-floating mines were meant for sampans and junks, and posed “no danger to deep water maritime traffic.” Hanoi radio, on the other hand, called the mining of rivers “a new escalation of the war by U.S. imperialists.” Either way, it was the first time mines had been dropped from the air since World War II, and the first time mines were dropped from jet aircraft.
Eight A-6s had been scheduled to depart from the carrier, but one aborted on the flight deck; its replacement aborted in flight, and returned to the Marine Air Station at Da Nang, South Vietnam.
“I remember so distinctly our pre-flight,” says Cable (above, right, with navigator/bombardier Stuart Johnson), who was a pilot with VA-35 that night. “The worst part of the flight from my standpoint was sitting on the flight deck, canopy open, in a downpour, soaking wet and cold. And we had to wait an extra amount of time because we had to get the system up and running, and get our inertial platform [navigation equipment] aligned.”
See the gallery below to learn more about this historic mission.
The A-6 crews on the Enterprise (pictured) were told about the assignment the day before. Stuart Johnson remembers, “The air intelligence people showed us where they wanted the mines, and turned it over—somewhat begrudgingly, I think—to the squadron as to how we would get [the mines] there. So the first part of the planning process was taking the plot of the minefields from the intelligence community, and converting that into a flight plan. The second part was when the crews got together and decided ‘This is where we're all going to be’ so we don’t run into each other at night going over the target.”
Rear Admiral Bruce Bremner was a young lieutenant at the time of the mission. “It was relatively uneventful compared to the many strike missions I had flown previously and flew subsequently,” he recalls. “We didn’t fly a complicated, devious approach to the target, but flew straight to the planned release point, flying a little over 400 knots and about 500 feet above the water. I don’t remember the weight or designation of the mines, but I do remember they were like speed brakes and had the aerodynamics of a safe.”