INDIAN SPRINGS AIR FORCE AUXILIARY FIELD, Nev. – A B-1 Lancer performs a fly-by during a firepower demonstration here recently. The bomber is from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

President Nixon’s entry into the White House in early 1969 resulted in a new administration far more sympathetic to strategic bomber development. Melvin Laird, the new Secretary of Defense, drastically cut back procurement of the FB- 111, the bomber version of General Dynamics’ swing-wing aircraft, and accelerated AMSA study efforts. Before the end of the year, a new RFP went out to the three AMSA contractors plus Lockheed. In June 1970, the Air Force announced the selection of Rockwell to develop the new bomber, now designated the B-1. According to the official Air Force history, the Rockwell submission won because of “superior technical proposals, as well as lower cost estimates.” (Knaack, 1988, p. 581.) In a stark contrast to their reaction to the outcome of the TFX/F-111 competition, Boeing officials reportedly recognized that the Rockwell design was clearly more responsive to Air Force requirements than their company’s submission (Serling, 1992, p. 202).

Boeing’s poor showing on the B-1 competition combined with the experience of the commercial SST competition from the mid-1960s may provide additional interesting insights into the issues of supersonic R&D experience and the relationship between bombers and commercial transports. As far back as 1957, Boeing had begun investigating commercial supersonic transport (SST) concepts. Early in the Kennedy administration, the Federal Aviation Administration had begun pressing for a government-supported R&D program for an SST. The Air Force had opposed this effort, because it feared that such a program could threaten the XB-70 program, but Congress approved a government-funded program early in the Johnson administration. The major competitors were North American, Boeing, Lockheed, and Douglas. Douglas soon withdrew from the competition, and surprisingly, North American was eliminated later. According to the industry press, the Lockheed design was heavily favored to win. This was in part because the Boeing design proposed a swing wing, which most industry observers-as well as the other three competing prime contractors- believed would be too heavy and too complex and would cause configuration problems for any future SST. The purpose of the swing wing was to permit slower landings speeds to reduce noise. Like North American, Lockheed had proposed a delta-wing design that was not dissimilar to that of the XB-70.

To the great surprise of most industry observers, Boeing won the competition in December 1966. The airlines simply had more confidence in the Seattle company and liked the low-noise feature. The problem was that Boeing had proposed a swing-wing design concept “that simply was beyond the state of the art.” (Serling, 1992, p. 273.) As Boeing engineers launched into detailed design development, they encountered more and more problems. Eventually, the Seattle firm dropped the swing-wing design and adopted a delta-wing con- figuration like its competitors. But as time passed, mounting environmental objections to SST development and cost-growth problems fatally undermined the program. Congress ended funding in May 1971, just as Boeing was about to begin cutting metal for the first prototype.

The SST program is interesting because it appears to illustrate both the differences between bomber and commercial aircraft development and the importance of experience. North American was clearly the most experienced developer of large military supersonic aircraft. But few airlines or other officials believed it would be the best choice to develop a commercial airliner. As the premier developer of commercial transports, Boeing was handed the job. Yet its lack of experience in the design and development of supersonic aircraft-particularly large ones-led it to promise a technological solution that was impractical and beyond the state of the art. North American’s B-1 design proposal had many advanced and novel features and was intended to produce a strategic bomber with performance capabilities that far surpassed those of the B-52. Yet the El Segundo firm had a strong experience base in bombers and supersonic fighters on which to build and did not need to worry about the commercial requirements that drive civilian transport development. Equipped with VG wings, variable inlets, and GE F100 turbofans with afterburners providing a very-high thrust-to-weight ratio, the B-1 would be able to take off from short runways, fly out at supersonic speeds, cruise at high altitude at over Mach 2, and approach enemy targets at very low levels at near-supersonic speeds. Nonetheless, the basic B-1 airframe-engine combination could not be considered groundbreaking in the same sense as the B-58 and XB-70, in that it did not push out the boundaries of aerodynamic or engineering knowledge. Many of its design features, such as swing wings, variable inlets, and blended-body wing design, had been incorporated on other aircraft.

The importance of related R&D experience and the close relationship between fighter and bomber R&D continued on the B-1. Rockwell clearly drew heavily on its experience from the XB-70 and other earlier programs. The variable air inlet design and the under-wing engine configuration and pods were patterned after those developed for the XB-70 effort. (Jones, 1980, p. 239.) The low-altitude ride- control system was also derived from the same aircraft. (Godfrey, 1970, p. 53, and 1975, p. 62.) The B-1’s blended-body wing configuration owed much to the extensive design work and wind-tunnel testing Rockwell had conducted to develop the losing advanced fighter design it submitted for the F-X (F-15) competition in the late 1960s (Gunston, 1993, p. 270.)

The greatest technological challenges facing the B-1 program, how- ever, would come from avionics development and integration. The early 1970s witnessed the beginnings of an explosion in computer, sensor, radar, and other electronics technologies. Electronics took the place of aerodynamics and engines as the area of most rapid technological advance. Sophisticated sensors, avionics, and other major electronic subsystems, such as automatic terrain-following radar and integrated electronic warfare suites, would be critical for the effectiveness and survivability of the B-1. The technical challenges and complexity of developing and integrating the necessary avionics would be great. Avionics costs would grow to nearly half the R&D costs of modern combat aircraft.

Recognizing the growing risk and complexity of avionics development, the Air Force separated B-1 avionics into offensive and defensive functions for the purpose of selecting contractors for avionics integration. As an indication of the high technological demands made by the program requirements, only five contractors responded out of 27 companies solicited for offensive avionics integration. In April 1972, Boeing received the contract for developing the offensive avionics and integration of avionics subsystems. Boeing’s selection may have been related to the major avionics upgrades and integration efforts that it was involved with in the early 1970s on the B-52. Only two companies responded out of 23 for the defensive avionics, an extremely complex system development effort. Airborne Instrument Laboratory eventually won the contract. These avionics were not fully developed, however, before the entire B-1 program was canceled. (See Bodilly, 1993.)

A military and political consensus supporting the need for a new penetrating strategic bomber failed to coalesce in the 1970s. The doubts that had first arisen in the late 1950s about the basic role and cost-effectiveness of the manned bomber lingered on. In addition, antimilitary sentiment flourished in Congress in the wake of the Vietnam War, while the B-I R&D program experienced cost overruns and schedule slippage. In 1977, President Carter canceled the pro- gram after three prototypes had been built, in part because he expected development of the stealthy Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB). Continued flight testing of B-1 prototypes verified the basic design of the engine-airframe combination, but the avionics were not fully developed and tested. (Bodilly, 1993, pp. 4-5.)


Thus, as the 1970s drew to a close, it became increasingly clear that a full two decades would pass without the development of a single new strategic or dedicated medium bomber. Strategic bomber develoment had never recovered following President Eisenhower’s decision in 1959 to downgrade the XB-70 effort to a prototype demonstration program. Fighter-bombers, such as the McDonnell-Douglas F-4E, and dedicated CAS aircraft, such as the Republic A-10, had taken over the role of dedicated medium bombers, although the General Dynamics F-111 and FB-111 could legitimately be considered to be medium bombers in the pre-1960s sense. But with the cancellation of the XB-70 and the B-1, no new strategic bomber would emerge fully developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, the B-52, whose original design dated from no later than 1948, remained in service decades longer than originally anticipated and was continually upgraded and modified with new equipment and munitions. Indeed, the development of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), which provided the B-52 with a long-range stand-off capability, was one reason opponents of the B-1 argued that no new strategic bomber was needed.

At the end of the 1970s, Rockwell appeared to stand out as the most credible, if not the only credible, bomber developer and seemed to have few real competitors. With its XB-70 and B-1 programs, it was the only company to have demonstrated system-specific capabilities by having worked on strategic bomber development throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, Rockwell had evolved increasingly into a contractor specializing in heavy bombers and spacecraft, since it failed to win any new fighter contracts following the cancellation of the F-107 and the F-108 in the late 1950s. Since this was a period of less-revolutionary change in airframe and propulsion technology than in the 1940s and the 1950s, system-specific capabilities were of particular importance.

General Dynamics could claim with some accuracy that it had continued the Consolidated and Convair traditions of bomber development and that it thus maintained system-specific capabilities-at least in the area of medium bombers-with the F-111 and FB-111 programs. At the same time, General Dynamics remained very prominent in the area of fighter development, having produced the F-16 aircraft in the early 1970s, which would become the most numerous fighter type in the Air Force inventory. Although Boeing worked on several large aircraft programs and developed numerous new commercial transports, it appeared to be pretty much out of the game with no new bomber or fighter development programs since the early 1950s.

All of this was to change dramatically, however, with the emergence of a revolutionary new technology approach to military aircraft in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Firebash over the Reich

Mosquito, Philip E. West

The quaint English locomotive steamed through the enchanting Norfolk countryside, tugging its carriages behind it. In one of the first-class compartments, Winnie Winn DFC, 141 Squadron Commanding Officer, en route to his station at West Raynham, sat opposite a USAAF officer. They were alone in the compartment and were soon in animated conversation, the American exchanging pointers on the daylight air war, and Winn extolling the merits of night bombing. During the course of the conversation the American told Winn that the 8th Air Force intended to drop napalm gel (petrol thickened with a compound made from aluminium, naphthenic and palmitie acids – hence ‘napalm’ – to which white phosphorous was added for ignition) on enemy installations. Winn was excited at the prospect of using this lethal weapon on enemy airfields. Before the day was out, the dynamic RAF officer had obtained permission to use his squadron to drop the gel in Mosquito 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks, providing he could obtain his own supplies.

Winn made a call to the 8th Air Force and 40 gal (180 litre) and 50 gal (225 litre) drums of napalm gel soon began arriving at West Raynham, courtesy of the Americans. At first armourers pumped it into drop tanks using hand pumps but then the Americans obliged with petrol-driven mechanical pumps and the operation became much easier. Armourer LAC Johnny Claxton, at that time one of the longest-serving members of 141 Squadron’s groundcrews, recalls that a 1 lb (450 gram) all-way phosphorous fuse was fitted in each tank to ignite the napalm gel on impact. The fuze was called all-way because no matter how the tank fell the fuze would ignite the contents.

In the afternoon of 6 April, 1945, Wing Commander Winn carried out the first of three trials of types of napalm gel when he flew low and parallel with the main No. 1 runway and dropped 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks on the grass. These trials caused enormous interest and the station and aircrew crowded in the control tower while the groundcrews climbed on to the roofs of the hangars in order to get a better view of the explosions. It was decided that the crews who would drop napalm gel required no additional training because they had carried out enough low-level attacks with bombs or cannon over many months; no special tactics were to be employed. Enthusiasm and keenness to get on the night’s programme reached a fever pitch. When six aircraft were asked for, a dozen were offered – and accepted! Petrol and range was reduced so that each Mosquito could carry two 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks but, even so, they would have to land at Juvincourt, Melsbroek or Mannheim. No one was unhappy about this arrangement as it offered the possibility of being stranded on the Continent for days!

Napalm gel came in three different consistencies – thick, medium and thin. Winnie Winn carried out two further trials over West Raynham’s grass expanses, on 12 and 13 April, in front of large audiences. As a result of the trials, it was discovered that the thick gel failed to ignite.

The following night, 14/15 April, eighteen Mosquito VIs and XXXs were dispatched from West Raynham. Twelve were from 141 Squadron and six from 239 Squadron, some of which were detailed to provide support for the 512 bombers attacking Potsdam just outside Berlin. This was the first time the Big City had been attacked by heavies since March 1944, although Mosquito bombers had continually attacked it. Seven Mosquitoes of 141 Squadron flew high-level Mk X AI patrols in support of the Potsdam raid but also covered the remaining five 141 Mosquitoes which would carry out the first napalm gel Firebash raid on night-fighter airfields at Neuruppin near Potsdam and Jüterborg near Berlin.

Winnie Winn and R. A. W. Scott in a Mk VI led the formation of five aircraft to Brussels/Melsbroek for refuelling before setting course for the Berlin area where they were to be supported by bomb- and incendiary-carrying Mosquitoes of 23 Squadron which also supplied the ‘Noload’ leader, the Master Bomber, for the Neuruppin raid. Master of Ceremonies, Squadron Leader H. V. Hopkins, provided ‘excellent support’ and Winn dropped his canisters from 800 ft (240 metres). He was followed by Flying Officers R. W. A. Marriott and N. Barber and W. P. Rimer and H. B. Farnfield. All six napalm bombs exploded near the hangars and engulfed the airfield in flame and smoke. A row of six buildings burned merrily and lit up the night sky as all three Mosquitoes, unburdened now, returned to strafe the airfield with cannon fire. Red tracer every fifth shell zeroed in on buildings and bowsers, one of which exploded in a huge flash of flame near a hangar. Rimer and Farnfield strafed the hapless base three times from 2,000 ft (610 metres) to 500 ft (150 metres) in all, helped in no small measure by TIs dropped just south-east of the airfield by the Master Bomber.

At Jüterbog Flight Lieutenant M. W. Huggins, the Master of Ceremonies, and Flying Officer C. G. Stow, in a 515 Squadron ‘Sollock’ aircraft (Master Bomber), was unable to help much and no TIs were seen to drop which scattered over about a 10 mile (16 km) area. Ron Brearley and John Sheldon and Flight Lieutenant E. B. Drew and Flying Officer A. H. Williams thundered low over the German countryside and had to toss their napalm bombs on the estimated position of the airfield. One of Brearley’s drop tanks hung up so he dropped the port tank containing 50 gal (225 litres) of napalm gel from 300 ft (90 metres) and headed west. (Returning with a napalm gel tank still attached was, as one could imagine, problematic. On a later Firebash operation one tank that would not release over the target fell off on the West Raynham runway on the aircraft’s return. These hang-ups occurred because of deposits of napalm on the release unit, and at the joint between the tank and the mainplanes.) Drew meanwhile, was forced to climb to 5,000 ft (1,500 metres) and position on Gee, following the failure of the TIs and flares, before he dropped down to 1,000 ft (300 metres) and roared over the base with the two 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks ready to rain death and destruction. The two firebombs exploded among rows of buildings in the north-west corner of the airfield and were still burning thirteen minutes later as he twice strafed buildings amid light and inaccurate flak. All five fire-bomber Mosquitoes landed back at Melsbroek for refuelling before returning to West Raynham, no doubt highly delighted with their night’s work.

On 17 April Johnnie Bridekirk and Terry Glasheen, a universally popular Australian crew crashed when taking off from Brussels/Melsbroek airfield in the early hours of the morning. The Mosquito went up in flames, and those who saw the crash say that they never expected the crew to escape with their lives. However, Terry Glasheen put up a magnificent show by dragging his pilot clear of the flames, and there is no doubt that his level-headedness and courage prevented a terrible tragedy. Terry Glasheen was back on the squadron within a comparatively few days but Johnny Bridekirk suffered extensive burns and was condemned to many weary weeks in hospital.

The second Firebash raid by 141 Squadron was flown on 17/18 April. Bomber Command was also abroad at night, with attacks by 5 Group on railway yards at Cham, Germany. Five 141 Squadron Mosquitoes, each armed with 100 gal (450 litre) napalm gel drop tanks, and led by Wing Commander Winnie Winn, were to head for Schleissheim airfield just north of Munich, after a refuelling stop at St Dizier. However, after landing at St Dizier, Winn was delayed with refuelling problems when petrol had to be brought 60 miles (100 km) by road. He decided that by the time they got off and found the target they would be unable to see the markers, and opted for an attack on Munchen instead. However, a bad storm front scrubbed this option and he and Scott were forced to return to England.

The three remaining napalm-armed Mosquito crews battled through solid cloud and violent thunderstorms to Schleissheim but Rimer and Farnfield were forced to abort after losing Gee. After vainly trying to climb above the thick cloud, Squadron Leader Thatcher was also forced to abandon the mission. Another crew, Flying Officer J. C. Barton and Sergeant L. Berlin, fought their way through the storm front and hurled their napalm bombs among airfield buildings, then, obtaining permission from the 23 Squadron Master Bomber, strafed the airfield on a return low-level run. Roy Brearley and John Sheldon climbed to 10,000 ft (3,000 metres) to escape the worst of the weather, and diving down on pinpoints provided by ‘Noload’ they added fuel to the flames with their two napalm bombs. They fell among two hangars and exploded. They called up the Master Bomber before returning and strafing hangars, buildings and rolling stock, then exiting the area to allow 23 Squadron to add their bombs and incendiaries to the conflagration.

Meanwhile, Mosquitoes of 85 Squadron patrolled Schleissheim and Firstenfeldbrück airfields. Wing Commander Davison, 85 Squadron Commanding Officer since Wing Commander K. ‘Gon’ Gonsalves had been posted in January, destroyed a Ju 88 in the Munich area using Perfectos. On the following night, 18/19 April 1945 seven 141 Squadron Mosquitoes each carrying two 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks filled with napalm, eight from of 169 Squadron at Great Massingham, four Mosquito IVs of 23 Squadron and four of 515 Squadron from Little Snoring, and one 141 Squadron aircraft for high-level Mk X AI patrol over the target, flew to the forward base at Juvincourt in France for a Firebash raid on Munich/Neubiberg airfield. The eight Mosquitoes from 23 and 515 Squadrons and the eight from 169 Squadron were to drop flares and HE on Munich/Neubiberg with 141 adding to the destruction.

The raid was in full swing when 141 Squadron, led once more by Winn, arrived at Munich/Neubiberg with their napalm loads. Flight Lieutenant Drew and Pilot Officer A. H. Williams were ready to commence their low-level bomb run at 700 ft (210 metres) but had to wait twenty-five minutes before they could take their turn. To add insult to injury, one of their fire-bombs refused to release. Drew climbed to 7,000 ft (2,100 metres) and tried to shake it loose and finally got it safely away just north of Munich. On the instructions of ‘Noload Leader’, the master bomber, Warrant Officer Ronald G. Dawson and Flying Officer Charles P. D. Childs, an all New Zealand crew in Winball 7, went in for their fire-bombing run. The 24-year-old pilot and his 32-year-old navigator/radar operator had joined 141 Squadron on 22 January and this was their tenth operation. It was also the last. As they hurtled into the attack they heard in their headphones the Master Bomber’s warning of accurate light flak but pressed bravely on. Just as they reached their drop point Winball 7 was hit by flak. The New Zealanders’ Mosquito appeared to climb and some ten seconds later crashed in flames near an autobahn north-west of the airfield. One of the tanks seemed to ricochet into the air and fall back into the burning pyre. They were the last casualties on 141 Squadron in the war.

On 19/20 April, three squadrons of Mosquitoes flew a napalm raid against Flensburg airfield on the Danish border. Six Mosquito Mk VIs of 515 Squadron marked the target with green TIs and flares, and dropped incendiaries and 500 lb (227 kg) HE bombs. The Commanding Officer of 515 Squadron, Howard Kelsey, with Smithy Smith, was master bomber. Three Mosquito VIs of 169 Squadron took off from Great Massingham and flew to West Raynham to load up with napalm tanks for their first napalm attack. The same aircraft also carried two 500 lb (227 kg) bombs beneath their wings. No. 141 Squadron was unable to carry bombs on its Mk XXX Mosquitoes as well as napalm tanks because they did not have bomb racks or the release mechanisms fitted in the bomb bay behind the cannons. For the same reason, 169 Squadron were unable to use their Mk XIX Mosquitoes. The attack was very successful, with good work by the Master Bomber. Flensburg was plastered and strafed from end to end, and smoke and flame made observation of the final result difficult. Count Bernadotte, the head of the Swedish Red Cross was at this time using the airfield to fly back and forth between Sweden and Germany for secret negotiations with Heinrich Himmler, who hoped to extract a separate surrender. The count and his chauffeur narrowly escaped death during the attack.

Also on the night of 19/20 April Flight Lieutenant Howard DFC and Flying Officer Clay DFC of BSDU at Swanton Morley were on a patrol to southern Denmark and the Island of Fyn airfields in a Mosquito XXX and they returned triumphant as Howard recalled:

Aircraft BSDU/B was airborne Swanton Morley 2043 hours to carry out a low-level patrol of South Denmark and airfields on the Island of Fyn. The aircraft was equipped with Mk X AI, Serrate IVA and Wolf. Landfall was made at 2204 hours, height 15,000 ft [460 metres], from there, height was lost to Bogense where we arrived at 2216 hours, height 3,000 ft [900 metres]. A patrol of the Fyn Island was carried out for an hour, during which time only one airfield was observed at Boldringe. At 2305 hours an attack parallel to the runway was made on a dispersed barrack site with two bursts of two seconds each. Strikes were seen. The airfield was not lit and no flak was experienced. Many small convoys were seen on roads. At 2316 hours course was set from the island at 2,000 ft [610 metres]. At 2324 hours a Mk X contact crossing starboard to port, range 4 miles [6.5 km] and above, our height being 2,000 ft [610 metres]. We turned behind the contact at 5,000 ft [1,500 metres] range when a visual was obtained on an aircraft heading on a course of 175°. A Ju 88 was identified with the aid of glasses at 1,500 ft [460 metres] range, height 3,000 ft [900 metres], speed 240 IAS. A short burst from dead astern at 250 yd, which caused the outer half of the port wing to fall away. The E/A rolled on its back, hit the ground at 2328 hours, spread over a wide area and caused a large number of small fires. Course was set for base, crossing out at Farne at 2340 hours, and landed at base 0104 hours.

Howard fired 200 rounds (fifty each gun) of 20 mm on the sortie.

Further napalm gel attacks were carried out on 22/23 April. Jägel was attacked by Mosquito XXXs of 141 Squadron, three Mosquitoes of 169 Squadron and four Mosquitoes of 515 Squadron, led by Master Bomber Squadron Leader J. H. Penny and Flying Officer J. H. Whitfield, who dropped green TIs and incendiaries. Flak greeted them and a 141 Squadron Mosquito flown by Flight Lieutenant G. M. Barrowman and Warrant Officer H. S. Griffiths suffered severe damage in the starboard wing and inner fuel tank. They returned to England hugging the German and Dutch coasts, keeping the Friesians in sight to port, and landed safely at Woodbridge. Five Mosquitoes of 23 Squadron with napalm tanks, and five Mosquitoes of 23 Squadron with Squadron Leader H. V. Hopkins as Master Bomber, bombed Westerland airfield on Sylt. Hopkins, aware that his TIs would not be seen because of the thick cloud over the target, instructed the Deputy Master Bomber to drop incendiaries.

By 23 April the British Second Army had arrived opposite Hamburg and on the next day its advanced units were on the west bank of the Elbe ready for the last thrust to Lübeck and Kiel. On 23 April, as part of the support operation for the ground troops, five Mosquitoes of 23 Squadron flew to Melsbroek with six napalm Mosquitoes of 141 Squadron led by Wing Commander Winnie Winn, refuelled and crossed to Lübeck. That night they plastered the airfield with HE, incendiaries and firebombs under the direction of Master Bomber Squadron Leader D. I. Griffiths of 23 Squadron. The whole attack took just ten minutes; the airfield was left burning and devastated. All aircraft returned safely despite light, accurate flak put up by the defenders. That same night thirty Mosquitoes and seven Lancasters dropped leaflets over eight POW camps. The war was drawing to a close and the morale of the men behind the wire soared, while at home some worried that there would be no more opportunities to fly their Mosquitoes in anger.

On 24/25 April six Mosquitoes of 141 Squadron carried out a napalm attack on Munich/Neubiberg airfield again. The 515 Squadron Master Bomber, Squadron Leader J. H. Penny and Flying Officer J. H. Whitfield, again marked for them; other 515 Squadron aircraft flew support. During the patrol Flight Lieutenant J. Davis and Flying Officer B. R. Cronin claimed eight enemy aircraft damaged on the ground during their six strafing and bombing runs with two 500 lb (227 kg) and eighty 5 lb (2.3 kg) incendiaries over Kaufbeuren airfield. The aircraft were in the moon shadow of the hangar and positive identification was therefore impossible. A fire broke out in the hangar and could be seen through the open doors. Meanwhile, at Neubiberg, Squadron Leader Harry White DFC** and Flight Lieutenant Mike Allen DFC** also claimed the destruction of a single-engined enemy aircraft on the ground; it was also the last recorded victory for 141 Squadron in the war. White and Allen dropped their napalm bombs with the safety pins still in but they exploded on impact and caused ‘a good fire’. They landed at their forward base at Juvincourt, an area they had patrolled in Beaufighters from August 1943.

On 25 April special permission was granted for a single Halifax of 192 Squadron, with a full bomb load, to join 359 Lancasters on a raid on the SS barracks and Hitler’s bunker at the Eagle’s Nest. On 26 April the British Army took Bremen. On 25/26 April the Firebash Mosquitoes attacked Munich/Reim airfield while four Mosquitoes of 515 Squadron with Lieutenant W. Barton SAAF as Master Bomber, attacked Landsberg. Mosquitoes of 169 Squadron also took part in the raid on Landsberg. Flying Officer J. K. ‘Sport’ Rogers, navigator to Flight Lieutenant Phil Kelshall recalls:

For this operation we flew to RAF Oulton where our drop tanks were filled with napalm. We returned to Massingham where the aircraft, a Mosquito VI (224) was armed with two 500 lb [227 kg] bombs and cannons loaded with ammo. In the afternoon we flew to Juvincourt where we refuelled and waited for nightfall – the operation took place in moonlight, so navigation was easy. We flew at low level and made initial rendezvous with all the other aircraft at the north end of the Ammer Lake and checked in with Master Bomber.

At the agreed time made by the Master Bomber we made rendezvous over the airfield. We had all been assigned a call sign in numerical order. At the appropriate time, the Master Bomber called in the first aircraft to drop napalm tanks – calling ‘01 clear’ as it dropped its tanks – and then at ten second intervals the remainder of the aircraft followed to drop their napalm tanks. This routine was adopted to avoid collision over the target area, which in this raid were the hangars and adjacent aircraft parking areas, which had been previously illuminated with flares and target markers. Also in attendance were anti-flak aircraft to suppress the flak. Having dropped the napalm, we returned to orbit the airfield and when the last aircraft had completed its drop of napalm, the master bomber called for the 500 lb [227 kg] bombs to be dropped in the same sequence as before. Having completed the bomb-drop and again returned to orbit, the Master Bomber called for cannon fire, again in the same sequence – the target area was a mass of flame by this time and the cannons were used to spray the area in the pass over the target. This completed the operation and we returned to Juvincourt -elapsed time three hours forty minutes – where we stayed the night and returned to Massingham the next day.

On 26 April another consignment of 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks arrived at West Raynham. Word spread quickly that a final Firebash fling was in the offing. On 2 May, the British Second Army having crossed the Elbe now moved on to Lübeck and units of the British 6th Airborne Division reached Wismar on the Baltic and made contact with the Russian army. The war was all over bar the shouting but Dutch Holland in 515 Squadron wrote: ‘May 2nd and still, as far as we were concerned, there was no let up in the determination to break the regime that had been our mortal enemy for so long. Crusaderish? It was a pretty general feeling among aircrews at that time now that the end was in sight. With only five days to go before VE Day 515 undertook just one more very hairy job.’

On 26 April another consignment of 100 gal (450 litre) drop tanks arrived at West Raynham. Word spread quickly that a final Firebash fling was in the offing. On 2 May, the British Second Army having crossed the Elbe now moved on to Lübeck and units of the British 6th Airborne Division reached Wismar on the Baltic and made contact with the Russian army. The war was all over bar the shouting but Dutch Holland in 515 Squadron wrote: ‘May 2nd and still, as far as we were concerned, there was no let up in the determination to break the regime that had been our mortal enemy for so long. Crusaderish? It was a pretty general feeling among aircrews at that time now that the end was in sight. With only five days to go before VE Day 515 undertook just one more very hairy job.’

Large convoys of ships were now assembling at Kiel on the Baltic, and it was feared that they were to transport German troops to Norway to continue the fight from there. It was decided therefore that Mosquitoes of Bomber Command should attack Kiel on 2/3 May and this would be the very last operation of the war for Bomber Command. Some 126 Mosquitoes from 8 Group would follow in the wake of sixteen Mosquitoes of 8 Group. Thirty-seven Mosquitoes of 23, 169, 141 and 515 Squadrons in 100 Group would make attacks on airfields at Flensburg, Hohn, Westerland/Sylt and Schleswig/Jägel. Hohn and Flensburg airfields would be bombed with napalm and incendiaries directed by a master bomber. Support for the night’s operations would be provided by twenty-one Mandrel/Window sorties by 199 Squadron Halifaxes while eleven Fortresses of 214 Squadron and nine B-l7s/B-24s of 223 Squadron would fly Window/jamming sorties over the Kiel area. At Foulsham ten Halifaxes of 462 Squadron would carry out a Spoof operation with Window and bombs against Flensburg while some of the nineteen Halifaxes of 192 Squadron carried out a radio search in the area. Others dropped Window and TIs, and some also carried eight 500 lb (227 kg) bombs. Five Mosquitoes of 192 Squadron were also engaged in radio frequency work.

At North Creake Air Vice Marshal Addy Addison was present during the take-off of thirty-eight aircraft of the southern Window force including eighteen Halifaxes from 171 Squadron and ten from 199 Squadron, also heading for Kiel on Mandrel/Window operations. He expressed his satisfaction at the size of the final effort. All told, a record 106 aircraft of 100 Group took part. Eight Mosquito XXXs of 239 Squadron took off from West Raynham for high-level and low-level raids on airfields in Denmark and Germany, while six Mosquitoes of 141 Squadron were to make napalm attacks on Flensburg airfield with fourteen napalm-armed Mosquitoes attacking Hohn airfield. Master of Ceremonies at Flensburg would be Flying Officer E. L. Heath of 23 Squadron while the Master Bomber at Hohn was Squadron Leader D. I. Griffiths. Four Mosquitoes of 23 Squadron would drop incendiaries on Flensburg and seven more from 23 Squadron would bomb Hohn with incendiaries before the arrival of 141 Squadron’s Mosquitoes. Meanwhile, 169 Squadron’s Mosquitoes, plus four from 515 Squadron with Flight Lieutenant McEwan as Master Bomber and Flying Officer Barnes would raid Jägel. Four other Mosquitoes of 515 Squadron, with Wing Commander Howard Kelsey as Master Bomber, would drop incendiaries on Westerland airfield on Sylt. Dutch Holland of 515 Squadron wrote:

Just what was brewing at the Westerland I have never been able to find out precisely. It couldn’t have been that it was a particularly active night-fighter base because I don’t remember any patrols being assigned there, but it was believed that suicide missions were being planned by the Luftwaffe, presumably against heads of state or centres of government. Whatever it was it must have been something out of the ordinary to make it necessary to try and burn up everything on it. At the briefing it was announced that a new type of bomb would be used, referred to as ‘thermite’. It was a 50 gal [225 litre] cylinder carried on the wing racks. A warning was given that it would ignite on contact and great care must be exercised not to cause premature ignition. In other words ‘For God’s sake don’t have a prang with these on board!’ Each aircraft was detailed to take up an assigned position round the island at a designated time; great emphasis on the time. At a given signal the attack would commence with a bomb run by the Commanding Officer, followed by the rest at very short intervals, criss-crossing the field from different directions at height intervals of 50 ft [15 metres]. Bob and I were to come in No.3 at 150 ft [45 metres].

It was still full daylight when we left Little Snoring in a loose gaggle, each making for his own pinpoint and ETA, and there was still enough light to make out the odd island as we approached Sylt. A marker was to be dropped on one of them to ensure complete synchronization at the target. All aircraft duly arrived at their stations and the minutes began to drag by. For some reason Kelsey wasn’t ready to open the attack and we were acutely aware that immediately the airfield became encircled by orbiting aircraft the Jerries must have been fully alerted and dashed out to man every gun on the place. The covers were off and there was one up the spout of every weapon they possessed when the cue to start was finally given. I don’t know what form the signal took, as I was too uptight to record an impression. The runs were to follow in very quick succession, a matter of seconds only, and after that each aircraft was to engage the defences.

The first one in was greeted by a cone of tracer that looked like a tent of sparks flying upwards, meeting and then spreading like the poles of a teepee. Thinking to take advantage of their diverted attention I cut in at full belt to cross the airfield, heading for some large hangars clearly visible in the south-east side but by the time we were halfway, the whole shower swung in our direction. Things happened pretty fast from then on. I pressed the release when I judged the aim about right and almost immediately as we turned sharply away the whole hangar erupted in an enormous ball of fire out of the roof, doors and windows. I couldn’t help hoping even at that moment that there was nobody in it but all else was driven from our minds by a sharp BONK in the tail, at which the aircraft began to vibrate violently and the stick to try and shake itself out of my hand. (The cause of the vibration was that the starboard elevator had been shot through at the spar and the resulting overbalance was causing a flutter. It was gradually coming adrift and just lasted out the return to Snoring.)

Clearly this was no time to think about giving supporting fire, which turned out to be about as dangerous from risk of collision as from flak. So we excused ourselves and informed the assembled host that we had been hit and were pulling out. Still at about 100 ft [30 metres] we turned seawards and immediately found ourselves flying horizontally down the beams of a battery of searchlights. If they did shoot anything further in our direction we were heartily glad not to see any tracer, probably on account of the brightness of the lights. There was a bank of mist offshore a mile or two and the shadows of our aircraft in several discs of light were plain to see on its surface. Anything in the way of violent evasive action was out of the question and the minute it took to reach cover seemed like an hour. Losing all visual references on entering the mist then rendered us dependent on instruments which were all snaking about so much that only the artificial horizon could be seen at all clearly. However, taking stock and realizing that apart from whatever was causing the alarming vibration, all else seemed to be more or less in order, we found that by reducing speed down to about 150 mph [240 kph) it was possible to gain a little height and think about a course for home. Bob, I may say, appeared to remain unperturbed throughout apart from impolite observations about the parentage of some anti-aircraft personnel.

Warrant Officer Les Turner, who made the trip with his navigator and Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Wheldon, recalls:

By now I had enough of destruction and, while I could see the surrounding buildings, I decided to drop the napalm on the airfield. The war was obviously not going to last much longer. The opposition was quite intense and as I followed Flying Officer Keith Miller (later to become famous as an Australian Test cricketer) the light flak aimed at him was passing worryingly close to us. One of Keith’s drop-tanks hung up and slewed him to starboard. But for this he reckoned that he would have got caught in the flak. [Miller and Squadron Leader Wright both returned to Great Massingham with a tank hung up but landed safely. On 28 June Miller lost an engine near Bircham Newton. He extinguished the fire and put down at Great Massingham where he overshot and crashed. He and his navigator were unhurt. Immediately afterwards. Miller jumped into his car, and headed for London where he proceeded to score 56 not out at Lords!] As it was we regrettably lost one of our crews – such a waste so near the end.

During the napalm gel attack on Jägel, Flying Officer Robert Catterall DFC and Flight Sergeant Donald Joshua Beadle of 169 Squadron were killed when their Mosquito was shot down by flak. Flight Sergeant John Beeching, a pilot in the squadron, who was on leave at the time but learned the details later, wrote: ‘The commander of the German flak battery who shot the aircraft down later wrote to Catterall’s mother saying that had he known that the end of the war was only two days’ away he would not have opened fire, which is all right to say, but as our blokes were dropping Napalm I cannot imagine anyone standing by to watch that!

During a run on Westerland, a Mosquito of 515 Squadron flown by Flight Lieutanant Johnson and Flying Officer Thomason was hit but the pilot landed safely at Woodbridge on one engine. Two Halifaxes from 199 Squadron each with eight men on board and carrying four 500 lb (227 kg) bombs and large quantities of Window, probably collided while on their bomb runs, and they crashed at Meimersdorf, just south of Kiel. They were the last Bomber Command aircraft to be lost on operations in the war. Only Pilot Officer Les H. Currell, pilot of RG375/R who baled out with slight leg injuries, and his rear gunner Flight Sergeant R. ‘Jock’ Hunter, survived, while aboard RG373/T piloted by Flight Lieutenant William E. Brooks, only Pilot Officer K. N. Crane, the rear gunner, survived.

On the afternoon of 6 May Flight Sergeants Williams and Rhoden crashed on a crosscountry training flight at Devil’s Dyke (Spitalgate) near Brighton. Both men were killed. They were 169 Squadron’s final casualties of the war. With Hitler dead and the European war over, celebrations got into full swing before crews began training for the Japanese war, were demobbed or transferred to other duties in the service. Dutch Holland recalls:

There followed three weeks of flights to observe bomb damage in Germany and a few practice flights before 515 broke up and we took our aircraft up to Silloth and left them forlornly standing in a row. That flight doesn’t appear in my logbook. While the House of Commons was being told on the afternoon of the 7th that cessation of hostilities was imminent, they may have heard a Mossie go over at 500 ft [150 metres] and if they or the milkman whose horse gave him a bit of trouble at Sudbury Hill wondered who was the lunatic up there – well, now they know.

Geoff Liles, a Fortress pilot in 214 Squadron, says:

On VE-Day minus one, I approached Wing Commander Bowes for his permission to take my groundcrew on a round trip of ‘Happy Valley’ to show them the results of their labours in keeping the kites flying. This was approved and actually resulted in the two of us flying at low level and in very loose formation, crammed full with sightseers. It was something that I don’t think any of us will ever forget.

Les Turner adds.

On the day before VE Day we did a sightseeing tour covering Aachen, Cologne, Düsseldorf, the Möhne Dam, Dortmund and Duisburg. The destruction was appalling and a sense of the terrible waste hung over a number of us over the Victory celebration days. We repeated the trip a week later – it was for the benefit of groundcrews who had, of course, seen nothing of this. We did some desultory flying throughout June and I last flew a Mosquito on 17 July 1945. One of my duties on 169 Squadron was to collect, on his return from POW release, Pilot Officer (then Flying Officer) Miller, who had the successes in May 1944 and had subsequently been shot down. I flew the Oxford very carefully. The responsibility of getting him back safely seemed very great indeed. My total flying time on Mosquitoes was 350 hours, the majority at night.

Dutch Holland concludes:

May 9th dawned bright and clear with only one drawback: I was orderly officer and I was awakened by a sergeant of RAF Police standing beside my bed staring straight ahead through the peak of his cap announcing that it was believed that an officer from Little Snoring had made off with the Union Jack which had been flying at the King’s Lynn Steam Laundry and if it was returned, no more would be said. If the sergeant would give me a few minutes I would join him in the search for said item. He dutifully departed and as I was hoisting myself out of the pit, noticed that my bed had for a quilt a very large Union Jack. It was quite a night.

Squadron Leader John Crotch was specially chosen to fly Air Commodore Rory Chisholm on 21 May and Air Vice-Marshal Addison on 28 May, to Schleswig and return in Halifax IIIs. From 25 June to 7 July 1945 Exercise Post-Mortem was carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of RAF jamming and Spoof operations on the German earlywarning radar system. Simulated attacks were made by aircraft from four RAF groups including 100 Group, the early-warning radar being manned by American and British personnel on this occasion. Post-Mortem proved conclusively that the countermeasures had been a great success.

On 5 July John Crotch flew Brigadier General W. R. Peck, the commander of the US Second Air Division at Ketteringham Hall, Norfolk, to Denmark to inspect the underground fighter headquarters at Grove and see the tests at Schleswig, returning on 7 July. Meanwhile, on 25 June Tim Woodman flew to Germany and Denmark with Flight Lieutenants Neville and Bridges.

At Grove I was walking back across the airfield after inspecting some of their aircraft when I passed four Luftwaffe airwomen in white shirts and grey skirts. Typical Frauleins. They stood smartly to attention but looked pretty boot-faced at having lost the war. ‘OK sweethearts,’ I said. ‘Your time will come again.’ How right I was.

But what disasters they must have gone home to.

13th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4Ds Phantoms

432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. 13th TFS equipped with F-4Ds in Oct 1967. Redesignated 432nd Tactical Fighter Wing Nov 1974.

The squadron traces its heritage back to the 1942 activation of the 313th Bombardment Squadron. The squadron served in the continental United States as a training unit until its 1943 inactivation. The squadron was reactivated in 1966 as the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron, fighting in the Vietnam War. The squadron flew Wild Weasel anti-SAM missions with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, operating out of Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base. The squadron moved to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in October 1967, flying F-4s in combat air patrols against North Vietnamese MiGs and ground strike missions. The squadron was inactivated with the end of the war in 1975. The squadron was reactivated in 1976 a training squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and inactivated again in 1982. The squadron was reactivated as the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1985 at Misawa, flying the F-16. It was redesignated the 13th Fighter Squadron in 1991.

All four October 1967 MiG kills were assisted by the more effective use of the QRC-248 IFF transponder interrogator that had been installed in College Eye EC-121Ds from May of that same year onwards. This device could read the SRO-2 IFF transponder installed in VPAF MiGs, enabling EC-121D crews to tell which of the radar blips over the North were hostile, particularly at low altitudes. North Vietnamese GCI relied on the SRO-2 when directing their fighters towards strike packages.

Initially, College Eye operators were forbidden to interrogate the transponders actively in case the QRC-248’s capability was accidentally revealed, so they had to wait for ground-based North Vietnamese GCI controllers to do this for them and then calculate the MiGs’ positions passively. Nevertheless, the device was still extremely valuable for it revealed the MiGs’ mission procedures and gave valid, specific MiG warnings to US aircraft over the North.

From 6 October the improved Rivet Top and College Eye EC-121 crews were allowed to interrogate actively, giving strike force crews much better information about the location of MiG threats so that they could be positioned to meet high-speed interceptions under far more favourable conditions. Despite this, the MiG-21 force achieved a 3-to-2 success ratio during October, and maintained this advantage throughout November thanks to the grounding of the EC-121 Rivet Tops for vital modification work.

By then some MiG-21 pilots had already sensed that they were being monitored, and they would routinely switch off their transponders. Little intelligence pertaining to this new technology was imparted to the F-4 units, however, as Don Logeman explained;

`Most aircrew at Ubon had at least a nodding acquaintance with the Rivet Top capabilities, but the in-depth understanding and tactical/strategic significance and application of it was all pretty much the property of the senior leaders and weapons/tactics guys.’

Logeman recalled another factor that assisted their 26 October duel;

`Our adversary MiG-17s came up to engage us well above their optimum manoeuvring altitude. We were taught that, whenever possible, we should engage the MiG-17 at as high an altitude as you could get him and the MiG-21 as low as you could get him in order to capitalise on their manoeuvring disadvantages relative to the F-4 in those operating regimes. The best turn rate (corner velocity) in the F-4 was about 380 knots.’

On 17 December the much-maligned AIM-4 achieved its second kill, this victory being the first for the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW). The latter had broadened its capabilities with the arrival of the F-4D-equipped 13th TFS at Udorn in October 1967. Uniquely, the wing’s opening victory fell to US Marine Corps exchange officer Capt Doyle Baker (who had flown F-4Bs in-country with VMFA-513 in 1965) and `GIB’ 1Lt John D Ryan.

Their F-4D (66-8719) was `Gambit 03′ in a MiGCAP flight escorting a substantial F-105/F-4 attack on three Route Package VI targets. In a break from routine procedure, the mission leader had declared prior to take-off that any flight member who spotted a MiG would be allowed by his flight lead to attack it.

Baker saw a low-flying, Gia Lam-based MiG-17 approaching from below, and he turned through 270 degrees before making a diving attack on it. Initially firing short bursts from his SUU-23/A gun pod, he then climbed back up to 10,000 ft in order to reposition himself for a second crack at the MiG. Baker made three more gun passes at it without success before eventually running out of 20 mm shells.

The VPAF pilot levelled out at 2000 ft and seemed to be making a dash for home. Baker set up an AIM-4 launch from two miles astern in a ten-degree dive. His description of what happened next is as follows;

`I ignited the afterburners and rolled the aeroplane, increasing speed to keep the MiG in sight. The forces of acceleration were so great that I could hardly see anything. Finally, at 500 ft and 600 knots I fired. The Falcon worked perfectly, going directly up the MiG-17’s tailpipe and exploding.’

In that engagement the VPAF fighter force had overwhelmed a two- pronged US attack with up to 20 MiGs. The MiG-17s had timed their attacks on the MiGCAP F-4s to coincide with a series of thrusts made by MiG-21s against the bombers, resulting in the loss of both a 388th TFW F-105D and an 8th TFW F-4D (66-7774, piloted by Maj Kenneth Fleenor, who was one of the first USAF pilots to convert onto the F-4).

The remaining three AIM-4 successes came in the early weeks of 1968, and the first was scored by a `Wolfpack’ crew on 3 January. A considerable F-4D/F-105 strike force was targeted on railyards and bridges in the Hanoi area, and despite some MiG-21 action on the way in, there were no losses. MiG-17s then harassed the strike elements of `Bravo’ force as they egressed, and one of the strike F-4Ds, crewed by Lt Col Clayton Squier and `GIB’ 1Lt Michael Muldoon of the 435th TFS, engaged four MiG-17s head on. The jets passed a mere 200 ft from his Phantom II, Squier cooling an AIM-4 as he chandelled in afterburner to pursue the enemy.

He positioned his jet for a stern attack on the trailing MiG, and the red and white Falcon sped away from the F-4 and exploded in the tail section of the target aircraft, which began to trail thick, grey smoke. Squier then broke off to evade cannon fire from other MiGs that had assailed him and his wingman as he was launching his AIM-4.

Perched above the strike force in a MiGCAP flight was F-4D `Tampa 01′ of the 433rd TFS, flown by Maj Bernard J Bogoslofski and Capt Richard L Huskey (`GIB’). This crew decided to dive and pursue the 923rd FR MiG-17 that was chasing Squier’s wingman, `Olds 02′. Curving after the MiG in a tight left turn, Bogoslofski held it in his gunsight pipper through some deft manoeuvring and then set fire to the jet’s left wing with his 20 mm SUU-23/A gun pod. The other `Tampa’ crews saw the pilot (probably Nguyen Hong Diep) take to his parachute.

Another Falcon kill occurred on a similar Rolling Thunder strike on 18 January, but on this occasion two F-4Ds were also lost, including the MiG killer, `Otter 01′. Its crew, Maj Kenneth A Simonet (who had fought with the US Marine Corps in World War 2, joined the Army post-war and transferred to the USAF in 1952) and `GIB’ 1Lt Wayne Ogden Smith became PoWs until March 1973.

With a MiGCAP flight reduced to a single element by ECM malfunctions, the four `Otter’ F-4D strike aircraft had taken on a persistent quartet of MiG-17s themselves. One pair hit Simonet’s wingman, Capt Bob Hinckley and 1Lt Robert Jones (`GIB’), and they ejected from their F-4D (66- 7581) to also become long-term PoWs. Simonet and Smith followed another MiG in a series of climbing turns while the pilot prepared and fired an AIM-4, causing flames to burst from the target fighter’s rear fuselage – it hit the ground with its pilot still in the cockpit. The F-4D had, in turn, been the target for a cannon-firing MiG-17 for much of the encounter, and it scored enough hits to force the crew to eject from their blazing Phantom II.

The final Falcon success went to a 13th TFS crew Capt Robert G Hill and 1Lt Bruce Huneke (`GIB’), who were flying as `Gambit 03′ in a MiGCAP flight for a 5 February attack that cost the force an F-105 shot down by an `Atoll’ from a MiG-21. Having briefly lost sight of the two attacking MiGs, Hill’s flight picked them up just as their leader completed his assault on the unfortunate `Thud’, and his wingman was seen to be climbing towards `Gambit’ flight. Capt Hill manoeuvred into the first MiG’s `deep six’ position and gave it 100 rounds from his 20 mm gun pod. Having inflicted no visible damage, he cooled a Falcon and fired it. The missile never completed its pre-launch sequence, and consequently failed to guide properly. However, a second missile hit the MiG’s rear fuselage and detonated.

For good measure Hill then followed through with a barrage of three AIM-7Es, only one of which actually launched and guided successfully. The second Falcon had already done its work, blowing away the rear fuselage of the MiG-21. Hill had, by then, climbed to 40,000 ft, and his wingman warned him that another MiG-21 had fired a K-13 `Atoll’ his way. The missile passed horribly close to their F-4D, but it survived and was eventually preserved at Carswell AFB, Texas.

Five Falcon kills out of 48 attempted launches during Rolling Thunder were not enough to justify the missile’s continued use as a major F-4 weapon, and its withdrawal proceeded as F-4Ds were progressively re-wired for AIM-9s. On 14 July 1968 the USAF terminated the engineering programme that would have produced a better Falcon by the following year (although it was resumed in 1970), but the missile remained in theatre until 22 August 1972, when the USAF declared 776 AIM-4Ds `excess to SEA needs due to their limited air-to-air capability’. It marked the end of the combat career for a weapon that Robin Olds described as being `as useless as tits on a boar hog’.


Including more USAF-specified equipment than the F-4C, the F-4D prioritized ground attack and changed the secondary armament from the US Navy’s AIM-9 Sidewinder to Hughes’ AIM-4D Falcon following “Dancing Falcon” tests at Eglin AFB in 1965. The F-4C’s primitive ground-attack capability was enhanced by a new AN/APQ-109A radar including solid-state components and an air-to-ground ranging mode. A wider range of ordnance, including guided air-to-ground weapons such as GBU-9 HOBOS, AGM-12 Bullpup, and AGM-65 Maverick could be carried, and an ASG-22 lead-computing gunsight was added. AIM-9 Sidewinder wiring was restored after the AIM-4D proved unsuitable for close combat use. Nuclear capability was kept, with up to three B61 “special stores” as a typical nuclear alert warload.

USAF F-4D deliveries of 793 aircraft began with a batch for the USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe)-based 36th TFW in March 1966 and continued into April 1968, with further export production of 32 for Iran until September 1969. It entered combat use with the 555th TFS at Ubon RTAFB in May 1967. Seventy-two had ITT AN/ARN-92 LORAN-D equipment installed, and most of these were also supplied to the 8th TFW at Ubon. LORAN-D, identifiable by a large “towel rack” on the aircraft’s back from mid-1969, could be linked to the aircraft’s ASN-63 inertial navigation system and bombing computer to calculate the F-4D’s position with sufficient accuracy for precision night-time bombing, or for more accurate navigation where the LORAN beacon system was available.

Twenty-two F-4Ds received an important addition from late 1968 in the form of AN/APX-80 Combat Tree. This was able to interrogate the SRO-2 IFF (identification friend or foe) transponders in MiGs, confirming their identity codes at up to 60 miles for attacks with AIM-7 missiles beyond visual range. Wartime rules in Southeast Asia generally required potential enemy “bandits” picked up on radar to be approached for visual identification, thereby losing the advantage of long-range missiles. With Combat Tree this was not required, although officialdom was still reluctant to relax the rules. Similar equipment was later fitted to the majority of USAF F-4Es, and it was used by Iranian F-4s in the Iran-Iraq War. Users: USAF, Iran, Republic of Korea.


“Just a nice Picture…!” Another picture has erupted on the internet showing a very nice side view of two new Xian H-6N strategic bombers of the well-known People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The two aircraft were captured during their rehearsal for the air parade over Beijing (China), celebrating seventy years People’s Republic of China. The aircraft shown by the PLAAF carried the KD-20 ALCM and the KD-63 standoff attack missile. The serials 55x3x still poses questions where this aircraft is operated from. At least during the parade that seems to be done by the PLAAF’s Central Theatre Command in Beijing.

A view of the underside of one of the H-6Ns seen flying over Beijing ahead of the 70th-anniversary parade, showing the semi-recessed area with a hard point for a very large missile. Previous reports have indicated that an air-launched derivative of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, reportedly called the CH-AS-X-13, will be the primary weapon for the H-6N.

An annotated image showing what appears to be a protective “plug” in place on one of the H-6Ns for when it is not carrying a missile on the centerline.

Pictures have surfaced from China’s internet supposedly showing a new derivative of the People’s Liberation Air Force’s Xian H-6 bomber. This incarnation of the H-6, dubbed the H-6N, is designed to carry one weapon in particular—the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile.

Xian H-6N/H-6X1 – Air-launched ballistic missile carrier in service as of 2019. This variant has a semi-recessed area hard point underneath its fuselage. It is capable of mounting an air-derivative of the Dongfeng-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, with an added 3,700 mile range including aerial refueling. It may be also possible that the modification is to enable carriage of the WZ-8 high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle.

A anti-ship ballistic missile carrying H-6N could extend China’s anti-access bubble even farther and put US naval strike groups at greater risk.

The base H-6 is itself a derivative of the Tu-16 Badger, a Soviet designed aircraft from the dawn of jet age that took its first flight 65 years ago. China started building the Tu-16 under license as the H-6 in 1959. Since then the country has evolved the H-6 design somewhat radically, using new building materials and techniques, advanced avionics and updated turbofan engines to persistently modernize what is a relatively ancient design.

A trio of H-6Ns has been seen flying over Beijing practicing ahead of a massive military parade that will be part of ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist state on Oct. 1, 2019. Experts say that there at least four of these aircraft presently assigned to a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bomber brigade in China’s Central Theater Command (CTC) region. Other pictures of the parade preparations have already shown that there will be a number of significant reveals during the procession.

Reports about the H-6N and its ballistic-missile launching mission first began to emerge in 2017. Xi’an Aircraft International Corporation’s H-6, a derivative of the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger, has been the centerpiece of China’s bomber force since the 1970s.

In 2009, the H-6K variant, a significant redesign from the original aircraft optimized as a carrier for long-range anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, entered service. The H-6N is a further outgrowth of this earlier missile carrier version.

The most notable change between the N and K is the complete elimination of the bomb bay on the N and the addition of semi-recessed area with a hard point for a large missile. This is similar in some general respects to the ability of Russia’s Tu-22M Backfire bombers to carry a single Kh-22 or Kh-32 anti-ship cruise missile in a semi-recessed mount under its central fuselage.

There are no pictures from the parade preparations that show the H-6Ns carrying a payload and some of them appear to have a plug installed that gives the fuselage its normal profile when a missile is not loaded. So, it remains unclear what type of weapon, or weapons, the Chinese intend to employ on these aircraft.

The bomber’s ability to carry over-sized payloads may ensure it remains a useful tool in the PLAAF arsenal even as newer stealthier bombers begin entering service in the future. The U.S. Air Force similarly intends to keep flying its aging, Cold War-era B-52 bombers for decades to come for this very reason. Air-launched ballistic missiles are also becoming an increasingly popular concept around the world.

The H-6N also prominently features an aerial refueling probe on its nose, which could further expand its flexibility and reach, especially when it comes to engaging targets at the very edges of areas China claims as its integral national territory, including in the South China Sea, and beyond. The aerial refueling capability may also just be necessary to ensure that the aircraft can lug the weapon to the appropriate altitude and launch point.

Whatever the case, the H-6N has the potential to be another formidable addition to China’s already extensive anti-access and area denial capabilities, especially in the South China Sea. Just in January 2019, the PLARF conducted drills that appeared intended to demonstrate China’s ability to conduct extremely long-range anti-ship attacks on potential opponents in the South China Sea. Then between June and July, there were reports that Chinese forces conducted live-fire drills that involved firing ballistic missiles into that region, further underscoring the threat.

In addition, China’s ability to detect and track naval threats, as well as potential opponents in the air, under the water, and in space, are rapidly improving, as are its command and control capabilities. When it comes to spotting ships, the Chinese can increasingly call on manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, as well as shore-based assets, including over-the-horizon radars. This provides the kind of network essential for long-range anti-ship ballistic missile strikes.

In July, weeks after the Chinese missile exercises, there was an unconfirmed report from Taiwan’s Up Media that one of the PLAAF’s Xianglong, or Soar Eagle, high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) drone had shadowed the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Antietam as it sailed through the Taiwan Strait. Soar Eagle is just one of a number of HALE unmanned aircraft that the Chinese have been developing in recent years.

With regards to the H-6N and its weapon loadouts, we may learn more during the Oct. 1 parade, especially if one of the aircraft flies over onlookers in Tiananmen Square carrying a payload of some kind. With this official debut, we will almost certainly be seeing more of these missile carriers in various settings, including training exercises, that will help illuminate more details about its exact capabilities, as well.

China has also adapted the H-6 for a huge variety of roles, including reconnaissance, electronic warfare, aerial refueling, and a wide array of testbed duties, in addition to its role as a bomber and cruise missile carrier. Now the H-6N, the latest variant of the most modern H-6 version, the H-6K bomber, will supposedly take on one of the most exotic roles of all—hauling anti-ship ballistic missiles to launching points far from Chinese shores.

Simulation: DF-21D ‘Chinese Carrier Killer’

DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile

China’s DF-21D remains a somewhat shadowy weapon when it comes to its true abilities. Nevertheless it is now widely regarded as a game-changing anti-access/area-denial weapon system. The DF-21D is a conventionally armed, ground-launched medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), with a range thought to be around 800 to 900 miles. How it differs from standard MRBMs is that it can maneuver dynamically during reentry and has the ability to target large vessels during the terminal phase of its flight.

In essence, it is a carrier killer that engages at hypersonic speeds and steep angles of descent, making most traditional defensive weaponry useless against it. Even advanced anti-ballistic missile capabilities would be hard pressed to intercept a DF-21D depending on its stage of flight.

The DF-21D seems like an amazing weapon system—one that could help keep US carrier strike groups far enough from Chinese shores to make their fighter aircraft and cruise useless. But the system is only as good as the targeting information provided to it. The DF-21D’s ability to track and engage its target is limited to its terminal attack phase via the use of radar and possibly infrared sensors installed aboard its reentry vehicle. Initial targeting and mid-course updates are supplied by external sources and data-linked to the launching platform just before flight and possibly to the missile during its midcourse phase of flight.

Back in 2010, when the DF-21D supposedly became operational, China’s ability to target vessels far out to sea in the great watery expanses of the Pacific was limited. Today the country’s surveillance capabilities in space, on the ground, in the air, at sea, and under the sea have improved substantially. Any one or a combination of these sensors, which includes everything from ground based over-the-horizon radar, to surveillance satellites, to high altitude and long endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft, can provide the targeting data that can get the DF-21D in the right area for executing its deadly terminal attack on a ship. 

With maturing and diversified sensor and hardened long-range communications networks beginning to coalesce, China may be more limited by the DF-21D’s range than by the ability to target ships far from Chinese shores. The Chinese military seems to be attacking this issue in two key ways beyond the fielding of more capable nuclear fast attack submarines.

First is the supposed development of an anti-ship variant of the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM). The standard land attack DF-26 missile is nicknamed the “Guam Killer’ because it would be used to barrage the American island stronghold and other US bases in the region during a conflict. It sports a range of roughly 2,000 to 2,500 miles. So an anti-ship variant of the DF-26 would likely have over double the range of the DF-21D.

It still isn’t clear what the operational status is of the anti-ship variant of the DF-26, but it is clearly an ongoing program for the Chinese military. Seeing that the DF-26 anti-ship missile concept would not be feasible without robust long-range naval targeting capabilities, its very existence is an indication that China has progressed significantly in this area over the last seven years or so.

The other way China can extend its anti-ship ballistic missile capability is to take the DF-21D and deliver it to launch points far out to sea via aircraft. Although having heavy aircraft launch ballistic missiles is not common, it is not unprecedented. The idea was toyed with during the Cold War and today C-17s drop ballistic missiles as targets for anti-ballistic missile tests. Still, there are no operational combat systems that do this, but then again the job of creating a giant anti-access bubble around one’s country and attacking ships with ballistic missiles is somewhat different than using the technique to launch traditional nuclear-tipped ballistic weapons.

CH-AS-X-13 Version

The CH-AS-X-13, will be the primary weapon for the H-6N. A publicly released U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report has said the standard DF-21D has a range of more than 930 miles when ground-launched.

In 2018, The Diplomat reported, citing anonymous sources, that this new missile, which uses lightweight composite materials would have a range of more than 1,860 miles. Air-launching the weapon could also help increase its range by eliminating the need to first boost tens of thousands of feet in the air.

The DF-21D features a maneuverable, conventionally-armed reentry vehicle and the CH-AS-X-13 could leverage its basic design. The existing ground-launched missile reportedly has a limited ability to locate and zero in on a particular target during the terminal phase of flight using radar, as well as possibly infrared sensors, on the reentry vehicle. It may also be able to course-correct during the mid-course portion of its flight based on the information it receives from other sources via data link.

It is unclear whether or not the CH-AS-X-13 will carry a conventional or nuclear-armed warhead and it may be dual-capable. “China is developing two air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may carry nuclear weapons,” U.S. Army Major General Robert Ashley, head of DIA, said in 2018. He had also made a virtually identical comment in 2017. A nuclear warhead would reduce the need for especially precise targeting and could make the weapon useful for taking out larger groups of targets at once, including entire U.S. Navy carrier strike groups.

The CH-AS-X-13 will also likely leverage China’s increasing experience with long-range ballistic weapons with maneuvering warheads, in general, which is also a product of efforts to help defeat any potential missile defenses. It’s worth noting that the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) already operates the larger DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), seen in the video below, which also reportedly has anti-ship capabilities. In 2017, China also revealed a version of the smaller, short-range DF-16, the DF-16G, with a maneuvering warhead.


The PBM Mariner was one of the Navy’s most important patrol bombers in WWII. The Mariner carried out anti-submarine warfare patrols and rescue missions for downed pilots and ship-wreaked sailors, by Jim Tomlinson 


APRIL 7, 1945

Their call signs were “Dog Eight” and “Dog Ten.” Lieutenants Dick Simms and Jim Young were the pilots of the two Martin PBM Mariners of VPB-21 that had been shadowing the Japanese task force. Since early morning the big flying boats had flitted in and out of the clouds, radioing position reports, staying just out of range of the antiaircraft guns on the ships below. When the strike planes showed up to hit the task force, the PBMs remained on station as “Dumbos”—search and rescue aircraft—so named from the Walt Disney cartoon featuring a baby flying elephant.

The Mariner was a gull-winged, two-engine flying boat with a crew of seven and an on-station time of fourteen hours. It was both a lethal weapons platform—it could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs and torpedoes and had eight .50-caliber guns—and a sitting duck. Like all flying boats, the lumbering PBM was slow and easy to hit.

In the hierarchy of military aviation, being a Dumbo pilot didn’t carry the same cachet as flying a fighter. Dumbo duty was tedious and often dangerous. When the PBM crew located an air-crewman in the water, they would keep a vigil overhead, dropping a float light or a raft, flying cover until a destroyer or submarine showed up. When necessary, they made an open ocean landing, a high-risk maneuver in heavy seas. After hauling the airman aboard, the Dumbo pilot would coax the flying boat back into the air, slamming through waves and troughs, praying that the hull didn’t split apart.

Dog Eight and Dog Ten were ringside witnesses to the epic sea battle playing out beneath them. Their greatest danger was collision with the strike planes buzzing in and out of clouds and rain showers. They had watched the grand finale—the pulsing fireball that leaped up from the dying Yamato. The cruiser Yahagi was already gone, and so were several of the destroyers. The Mariner crews could see Japanese survivors in the oil-slicked water clinging to pieces of flotsam.

As the strike planes withdrew, a Yorktown Helldiver pilot radioed that he had spotted a yellow life raft—the kind used by American airmen. He didn’t know if anyone was in it or not.

Simms and Young, the Dumbo pilots, went down to take a look. At first they saw only the heads of Japanese sailors. Nearby were three enemy destroyers, still afloat and presumably able to fire their guns. Crewmen inside each Dumbo scanned the water with binoculars.

Then someone spotted it. There was a yellow raft, and a lone figure was in it, waving like crazy. While Dick Simms, flying Dog Eight, made a decoy pass by the nearest destroyer, drawing fire but taking no hits, Young set up for the water landing in Dog Ten.

The sea conditions were on the ragged edge of what the PBM could handle—wave crests 25 feet apart, with a heaving swell. If the PBM smacked directly into a wave, the hull could be crushed or a wing would snap. There would be eight men in the water instead of one.

Young leveled out over the waves, floated for a moment while he looked for the right place between crests, then settled the flying boat into the churning sea. Still in one piece, Dog Ten wallowed through the water toward the tiny figure in the yellow raft.

Bill Delaney had been afraid they were going to leave him. Numb from the frigid water, he kept waving until, to his immense relief, he saw one of the Dumbos turn back and land. Now it was plowing like a great seabird toward him, rising into view on the tops of the swells, disappearing between them. Delaney had broken open a second dye marker. Now the stuff was spread around his raft like fluorescent goo. Nobody could miss it, including the Japanese.

The Dumbo made two passes at the raft. Each time the wind and waves caused the pilot to miss. On the third try, the pilot cut the engines and let the seaplane drift toward the raft. When the PBM had floated to within twenty yards, Delaney took matters into his own hands. He dived off the raft and tried to paddle the rest of the way.

He couldn’t make it. Before he drowned, two Dumbo crewmen managed to snag the floundering pilot with a boat hook and drag him aboard.

Meanwhile, the closest Japanese destroyer was taking a renewed interest in the operation. Plumes of shellfire were working their way toward the Dumbo.

Firing up Dog Ten’s engines, Jim Young swung the Mariner into the wind. Normally, an open-sea takeoff in a heavily loaded Mariner was a close contest between machine and nature. But Dog Ten had just been equipped with a new device called JATO—jet-assisted takeoff. Two pairs of solid-fuel rocket bottles were installed on either side of the aft fuselage.

Young shoved up the throttles and ignited the JATO bottles. Spewing a comet’s tail of fire and smoke, the big seaplane surged through the swells, slamming into each wave, finally skipping off the top of a swell and rocketing into the air.

Bill Delaney was one of the lucky ones. Several parachutes had been observed descending in the battle zone, but only a few airmen had been found alive. Tilley and Mawhinney, the crewmen Delaney had last seen bailing out of his Avenger, were never found.

The warbirds headed back to their carriers. The only ones to miss the party were the airmen from Hancock. Delayed in getting airborne, they hadn’t joined the massed force from Essex, Bunker Hill, Bataan, and Cabot. Heading off on their own, they milled around the East China Sea, never finding the Yamato task force.

The strike group from Intrepid didn’t bother trying to rejoin in a mass formation. The Corsairs, Helldivers, and Avengers segregated themselves into separate flocks, each flying at its best fuel-conserving speed for the long trip home.

Droning southward over the gray ocean, the pilots had time for reflection. By some miracle, Intrepid’s group had made it through the strike without a single loss. And each of them had been a witness to history: they had watched the great battleship Yamato go to her grave.

For Ens. Jim Clifford, Will Rawie’s wingman, there was no chance to savor the moment. Thirty feet away, his skipper was giving him urgent hand signals. Rawie’s radio had failed. He was signaling that he wanted Clifford to lead them back to the carrier.

The twenty-four-year-old ensign’s heart sank. Bombing battleships was one thing; leading a formation back to the ship was another. In the rush to launch for the Yamato mission, Clifford hadn’t paid any attention to the navigational details of the briefing. Hell, he was a wingman, not a leader. Clifford had no idea where the Intrepid was.

Neither, as it turned out, did the other flight leaders. Clifford could hear them on the tactical frequency asking for a heading back to the carrier. Then through the chatter came the voice of someone who sounded like he knew what he was doing. A good heading would be about 165 degrees.

It was good enough for Clifford. Off he went, his commanding officer on his wing, the rest of Intrepid’s Corsairs in trail. Weaving through the clouds, peering down at the vastness of the Pacific, Jim Clifford prayed that the heading would get them close enough to spot the fleet. If not, they were all screwed. They would run out of gas and ditch in the ocean.

Two hours passed. Clifford’s butt hurt. His arms and legs were stiff. There was no sign of the sprawling task force that they had left behind nearly five hours ago. Clifford sweated and prayed while the fuel gauge continued a relentless decline toward zero. He could feel Rawie’s silent gaze from the cockpit thirty feet away.

After what seemed an eternity, he heard something in his headphones—a faint dash-dot signal. It was the ship’s YE homing transmitter. The signal couldn’t be picked up at a range of more than about sixty miles. It was the most glorious sound Jim Clifford had ever heard in his life. Intrepid was dead ahead, ten minutes’ flying time away.

Each of the Corsairs plunked safely back down on Intrepid’s deck. Minutes later, the fatigued but adrenaline-charged pilots were jabbering and gesturing with their hands in the ready room, reliving the dramatic mission. They had been airborne five hours and fifty minutes, longer than most had ever flown in a single sortie. Will Rawie was telling everyone who would listen how his wingman, a lowly ensign, had led them back to the ship with such uncanny skill. It was amazing.

Jim Clifford had the sense to smile and shut up. It was amazing. He wasn’t about to tell them that it was pure blind luck.

While the battle for Yamato was playing out in the East China Sea, the skies around Okinawa were filled with kamikazes. It was the second wave of Admiral Ugaki’s initial kikusui, but on a diminished scale.

Like their brethren of the day before, the tokko warriors of the second wave were drawn to the same targets—the destroyers on the picket stations. And as they had before, the carrier-based CAP fighters pounced on them, splashing five before they could reach the picket ships.

One kamikaze managed to slip through the gunfire and crash into the destroyer Bennett, killing three men and wounding eighteen. Another slammed into the destroyer escort Wesson on her screening station north of Ie Shima.

To the northwest of Okinawa, another handful of kamikazes found Task Force 58’s fast carriers. Only one, an Aichi D4Y Judy dive-bomber, survived the CAP fighter screen and then the antiaircraft fire from the surface. Spotting the great gray shape of the carrier Hancock, the kamikaze swept in on the carrier’s bow at such a low angle that the propeller chewed through the port catapult before the crash. The Judy’s 250-kilogram bomb detached, smashing into the flight deck just aft of the forward mid-deck elevator.

What happened next was becoming a familiar scenario. The bomb punched straight through Hancock’s wooden flight deck, exploding in the forward hangar bay, killing every man in the space. Fueled and armed warplanes in the bay burst into flame and exploded. Topside, the hulk of the shattered dive-bomber caromed down the flight deck and slammed into a pack of nineteen parked airplanes, setting three ablaze and starting an inferno on the windswept deck.

Hancock was engulfed in flames belowdecks and topside. Her skipper, Capt. Robert F. Hickey, ordered a hard turn to starboard in a desperate attempt to slide the burning airplanes over the side. The fires on the hangar bay extinguished all the carrier’s lights and filled the darkened compartments with deadly smoke.

By 1345—a little more than an hour after the attack—Hancock’s crews had the blazing airplanes shoved overboard and the fires extinguished. It was eloquent testimony to how the U.S. Navy’s damage control skills had evolved in the past three years.

The kamikaze strike wasn’t the only indignity that Hancock would endure that day. While the ship’s crew was fighting the blazes, her air group was groping through the clouds over the East China Sea, searching for the Yamato. They never found her. At the end of their fuel, they were forced to jettison their bombs and torpedoes and return to Hancock.

But instead of a ready deck for landing, the airmen were greeted with a gaping hole in the flight deck and an ominous cloud of smoke. They orbited overhead, conserving their last gallons of fuel, praying that the damage control crews could patch the hole.

They did. At 1630, after a down-to-the-wire feat of damage repair, Hancock was bringing her aircraft back aboard.

There was no celebrating aboard Hancock that evening. Smoke and the smell of death wafted through the passageways. Sixty-three crewmen were dead and eighty-two more wounded, mostly from burns.

Hancock was able to continue operations for another day, but the port catapult was demolished and the forward elevator inoperable. The damage could not be repaired on station. Hancock was detached from her task group and sent to Ulithi, then further eastward to Pearl Harbor.

One more carrier was out of the fight. By the time Hancock returned, the battle for Okinawa would be history.

It was a bitter pill for Intrepid’s ambitious air group commander, Johnny Hyland, to miss the historic Yamato strike. That morning when the mission was being hurriedly put together, Hyland was already airborne on a fighter sweep over Tokuno, in the north Ryukyus. By default, group command of the Yamato attack had fallen to Will Rawie.

But the day wasn’t a complete loss for Hyland. While he was covering the Corsairs strafing the Japanese airfield, he glimpsed the silhouette of a low-flying Val dive-bomber headed south. Pouncing like a hawk, Hyland gunned the Val down with a single burst from his .50-calibers, chalking up his second air-to-air victory of the campaign.

The CAG wasn’t the only one in the group to score. Ens. Raymond “Freddie” Lanthier, while strafing a target at Tokuno, spotted an incoming Nakajima Tojo fighter. The Tojo was a fast mover, nearly as capable at climbing and diving as the Corsair. Attacking from below, Lanthier put enough rounds into the Tojo’s engine to send the fighter flaming into the sea.

Another senior officer who missed the Yamato battle was Lt. Cmdr. Wally Clarke, skipper of the VF-10 Grim Reapers. Clarke had led another twelve-plane strike on the airfields in the northern Ryukyus. Despite heavy antiaircraft fire, Clarke’s fighters strafed the field, destroyed eight parked airplanes, and withdrew to the south without losing an airplane—until they were en route home.

Ens. Donald “Mighty Mouse” Croy, killed in a midair collision, April 7, 1945

Clarke’s wingman was one of the Tail End Charlies, a short, youngish-looking ensign named Don Croy, whom the squadron nicknamed “Mighty Mouse.” A few days earlier, Mighty Mouse had had a close call. On a strike over Minami, he’d taken a hit and ditched his Corsair dangerously close to the enemy island. After several hours in his raft, he had been rescued by a daring OS2U floatplane pilot.

Now Croy was flying close formation on Clarke’s wing while the skipper weaved through the towering cumulus that obscured most of the East China Sea. In a moment of inattention, Croy didn’t see Clarke’s Corsair banking into him.

What happened next was never clear. Clarke’s propeller chewed into Croy’s wing. An instant later Mighty Mouse was spinning uncontrollably toward the sea. Clarke’s broken propeller was shaking his airplane so violently he had to shut the engine down. He glided to a water landing 4,000 yards behind a destroyer. Minutes later, the tin can crew was hauling him aboard.

But not his wingman. The destroyer sailors told Clarke they had witnessed the whole thing—the collision, the Corsairs dropping to the ocean—but no one saw a parachute. Mighty Mouse had disappeared without a trace.

Still slumped in his padded chair in Bunker Hill’s flag plot, Mitscher received the reports from the strike groups. When the strike was finished and the last warplanes had landed safely aboard their carriers, the Bald Eagle scribbled a message of congratulations to all the air groups. They had achieved a glorious victory, he wrote. He was proud of them.

Each strike group had brought back rolls of film documenting the attack. As quickly as the film could be processed, prints were being rushed to the flag bridge on Bunker Hill. With his ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth, the admiral peered at the still-wet black-and-white images.

It was all there in the photos. Mitscher’s gamble had paid off. The grainy images provided the ultimate proof of the airplane’s dominance not only of the sky but of the sea. The age of the battleship was over. Mitscher should have been reveling in his moment of triumph.

But he wasn’t. The Bald Eagle was not his old self. His face was more haggard than ever, his eyes red-rimmed from the undiagnosed medical event of the night before. Mitscher took one more look at the photos, then rose from his chair. Without comment, he returned to his cabin and went back to bed.

Aboard New Mexico, Adm. Raymond Spruance was also digesting the reports. Although he’d gotten over the disappointment at missing out on a last great sea battle, he wasn’t ready to recall Deyo’s surface force, which was still steaming northward to engage the enemy. Four destroyers from the Japanese task force were still afloat, leaving the remote possibility that there might still be a surface action.

Rear Adm. Mort Deyo, on his flagship Tennessee, was accepting the fact that the damned airedales had again stolen the glory. That night, when the recall order finally came from Spruance, he sent off a jovial note to Mitscher. It was too bad, he wrote, that the surface sailors wouldn’t have “Japanese scrambled eggs for breakfast.”

A battle with the Yamato task force would have been a glorious last hurrah for Deyo and his beloved battlewagons. The next day they would go back to their shore bombardment duties off Okinawa.

For Mitscher’s airedales, the destruction of the Yamato and five of her screening ships had not come without a price. Ten warplanes—four Helldivers, three Avengers, and three Hellcats—had been lost. Four pilots and eight aircrewmen were missing and presumed dead. Several, including eyewitness Bill Delaney, had been snatched from the enemy’s midst by daring Dumbo crews. Still, the losses were minuscule when measured against those of the previous great air-sea battles. Mitscher’s airmen had won a spectacular victory.

Now Spruance could return his attention to the bigger picture. The Yamato encounter was dramatic, satisfying, perhaps even historically significant. But the pragmatic admiral knew the truth: it was a side show. The real battle for Okinawa was just beginning.

Aboard Eldorado, Kelly Turner was in an ebullient mood. A week had passed since the landings on Okinawa, and as far as the Alligator was concerned, things were going exceedingly well. The Yamato and five of her entourage lay at the bottom of the East China Sea. The greatest wave of kamikazes ever seen had been gunned down like coveys of quail. Buckner’s Tenth Army was meeting only sporadic resistance in its march across Okinawa.

Turner couldn’t resist sending a jocular message to his boss, the Pacific Fleet commander in chief. “I may be crazy,” he signaled Nimitz, “but it looks like the Japanese have quit the war, at least in this sector.”

Nimitz wasn’t buying it. From his Guam headquarters, he signaled back, “Delete all after ‘crazy.’ ”

As it turned out, Nimitz’s instincts were correct.

The Truck Hunters

As a prelude to the 1962 Geneva Accords, the royal Laotian government and the Pathet Lao signed a cease-fire agreement on 3 May 1961. The fighting subsided, but it did not end. After the cease-fire, and prior to signing of the Geneva Accords, the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese continued to press royal Laotian forces back from positions along the Laos-Vietnam border with raids and combat patrols. Meanwhile, the Royal Laotian Army attempted to defend areas that had been under their control as of the 3 May cease-fire-or to retake them if lost-but took no aggressive action to capture additional areas. During this time, prior to the signing of the accords, there was a distinct buildup of Communist forces in the southern Laotian panhandle that possibly indicated their intent to gain control of the panhandle in order to infiltrate South Vietnam.

After the accords were signed, the Pathet Lao refused to allow the International Control Commission (the body created to assure compliance by all parties) access to areas under their control, and North Vietnam refused to withdraw its army. In a reciprocal move, the U. S. government continued to provide covert aid to Gen. Vang Pao’s guerilla army and Le Kong’s neutralist forces. By the spring of 1963 the opposing forces were postured for a resumption of hostilities on the Plain of Jars in central Laos.

From 1960 to 1963 American military operations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos were generally confined to aerial photoreconnaissance, and patrolling was limited to U. S.-trained Laotian tribesmen and South Vietnamese border patrols. Given the difficulty of the terrain and the natural concealment afforded by the forest canopy, the extent of infiltration was difficult to ascertain. Intelligence analysts correctly concluded that the Laotian panhandle was a conduit for a significant amount of North Vietnamese matériel and manpower arriving in South Vietnam.

In 1963 the Laotian government received covert military assistance from the United States in the form of small arms, mortars, howitzers, and a few obsolete aircraft, all of it delivered by Air America, an airline passenger and freight company covertly owned by the CIA. Under the direction of the U. S. embassy, the CIA also managed military aid programs and took steps to strengthen irregular forces in the non-communist area of Laos. On 19 June 1963 President Kennedy authorized actions designed to gradually increase pressure on the Communists in Laos, but because the Geneva Accords prohibited the United States from providing direct military aid or sending military advisors or training teams to Laos, the T-6 and T-28 aircraft and other matériel were shipped to Thailand. At the request of Laotian prime minister Souvanna Phouma, Operation Water Pump deployed Detachment 6, 1st Air Commando Wing, to Ubon, Thailand, in April 1964 to provide on-the-job training assistance and forward air controllers to the Royal Laotian Air Force.

In addition to providing covert aid to Laos, the United States periodically flew reconnaissance missions over Laos. When two reconnaissance aircraft were shot down over Laos in early June 1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara urged President Johnson to retaliate to preclude North Vietnam from believing that the United States “talked tough, but acted weak.” Johnson approved a retaliatory strike. Although the news of the lost aircraft and the retaliatory strike were announced to the public, a secret air war expanded over Laos. President Johnson ordered the reconnaissance flights to continue, but with armed escorts. On 14 December 1964 the United States, with the approval of the Laotian government, launched a limited air interdiction campaign against the infiltration routes called Operation Barrel Roll. It was part of the overall strategy of graduated response and intended to dissuade the North Vietnamese from continuing to support the insurgency in South Vietnam.

The Laotian panhandle was a difficult environment for air operations. Steep forested mountains were frequently enshrouded by rain and fog, and the earliest maps of the area were crude by any standard, creating an obvious problem of target acquisition. McNamara queried the services about their capabilities to locate enemy vehicles at night using aircraft equipped with infrared sensors. The air force believed that it could develop a night target-acquisition system using its four infrared-equipped B-57s stationed in Thailand and South Vietnam in conjunction with improved navigational aids. The army had the infrared-equipped OV-1 Mohawk, a twin engine turboprop Grumman aircraft fielded in 1961. And the navy had its A-6A Intruder, an aircraft specifically designed for night armed-reconnaissance, which was scheduled to enter the inventory in the spring of 1965.

At the direction of MACV, the army conducted a test of the Mohawk’s night acquisition capability in southern Laos and produced high-quality infrared photography. But little came of the results. The air force was more concerned with an unwarranted intrusion into what it considered to be its the role and mission. The question of night operations was temporarily dropped after CINCPAC, Admiral Sharp, stated that night operations would only complement day operations. While Sharp’s comment may have been correct in 1964, the truth changed in 1965.

The U. S. ambassador to Laos, William Sullivan, sent a message to the Department of State describing the difficulty in finding the North Vietnamese infiltration routes. Sullivan had spent 19 June 1965 with the Royal Laotian Air Force commander, Gen. Thao Ma, whose pilots had flown hundreds of sorties over the Laotian panhandle searching for the infiltration routes and had been able to flush out truck convoys and destroy several trucks. Ma flew Sullivan in a helicopter out to the area where U. S. jet reconnaissance aircraft could find no sign of a road. They overflew the area at low altitude, and in all but a few small areas the road was totally concealed. Then Ma’s pilot landed and Ma and Sullivan drove jeeps down to a portion of the route that Lao- tian forces had managed to wrest temporarily from the Communists. Even in the rainy season it was a thoroughly passable road that could accommodate a 4×4 truck, but it was almost totally obscured from view by the forest canopy and a meticulously constructed trellis. It was apparent that fast-moving, high-flying jet reconnaissance aircraft were not up to the task.

On 10 December 1965 the CIA reported that the Communists had expanded and improved their supply routes and that the NVA convoys now moved almost exclusively at night. In the meantime, the air force and army launched a joint operation. MACV Studies and Operation Group (MACVSOG) reconnaissance teams made a shallow penetration of the Laotian border in search of NVA supplies and trucks, while the air force stood by with strike aircraft. The mission was successful and made more successful by a forward air controller (FAC) who piloted a small, slow moving, observation aircraft and was able to identify and mark additional targets for the strike aircraft. The success of the mission led to a new operations plan, Tiger Hound, which would use FACs to locate and mark the targets, and a C-130 airborne command-and-control center to direct strike aircraft to the target. The area of operations was the eastern half of the Laotian panhandle, an area that encompassed most, though not all, of the infiltration routes, but avoided the more heavily populated western half, which included Route 23, one of the principle infiltration routes.

The concept of using an FAC to locate and mark targets for attack aircraft was not new. FAC organizations had evolved during World War II, but were disbanded after the war only to be reinvented during the Korean War, and again disbanded. Between the Korean War and Vietnam, the air force, apparently believing that an FAC would be not needed in future conflicts, directed its attention to development and procurement of high-performance jet aircraft designed to penetrate Soviet air defenses and win the air superiority battle. As a result, when the war in Vietnam started, the only aircraft available to the air force that was capable of flying low and slow enough for pilots to search for trucks on the concealed trails was the aging O-1 “Birddog,” a light- weight aircraft devoid of armor protection for the crew and other crit- ical aircraft components. FACs were organized in tactical air support squadrons (TASS), which were stationed through South Vietnam. A covert organization of FACs calling themselves the Ravens was sta- tioned in Laos. As President Kennedy had predicted in 1961, Raven pilots were “civilianized”; that is, they were stripped of their military identity and were flying unmarked aircraft. These slow-moving, propeller-driven aircraft were precisely what was needed to seek out the hidden enemy supply routes. Under ideal circumstances pilots selected for the forward air control mission were experienced fighter pilots, well versed in air-to-ground attack. But as the Vietnam War progressed, the demand for FACs increased to the point that B-52 pilots from the Strategic Air Commander as well as transport pilots were trained and assigned as FACs.

The 20th TASS, stationed in Da Nang, supported Operation Tiger Hound. The squadron established a forward operating base at Khe Sanh in northwest South Vietnam, adjacent to the Tiger Hound area of operations. One month after its arrival it deployed Capt. Benn Witterman with a detachment of six pilots, five aircraft, and thirteen support personnel from Da Nang Air Base to the Royal Thai Air Force Base at Nakhom Phanom, Thailand, to conduct visual reconnaissance on the Communist supply lines in the Laotian panhandle. Twelve more pilots and ten additional aircraft arrived during the first week of April 1966. In addition to seeking out targets during the nights, the FACs flew continuous daylight missions collecting all visible clues as to the location of the multitude of roads, trails, and storage areas and slowly began mapping out some of the infiltration routes. In June General Westmoreland reported that FAC saturation of the Laotian panhandle was paying rich dividends as the FACs’ familiarity with the enemy’s logistical system and pattern of activity increased.

Witterman’s detachment remained at Nakhom Phanom and was designated the 23rd TASS flying under the call sign “Nail.” Nakhom Pha- nom (nicknamed NKP and sometimes “naked fanny” by the American pilots) was located eight miles west of the Mekong River, which formed the boundary between Laos and Thailand. It was northwest of Tchepone and southwest of the Mu Gia Pass on the Laos-North Vietnam border. Both of these major infiltration sites were well within range.

The air force recognized the deficiencies of the O-1 aircraft and began the process of design and procurement for a replacement, the OV-10. But because of the immediate need for an upgraded FAC aircraft, the air force purchased an off-the-shelf aircraft, the Cessna “Super Skymaster,” as an interim solution. The modified Skymaster, designated as the O-2, was a twin-engine aircraft with the engines installed in line. The front engine powered a “puller” propeller and the rear engine powered the “pusher” propeller. The O-2 had greater mission time and airspeed and was more heavily armed than the O-1. Although designed to be capable of sustaining single-engine flight, the additional weight of armament and radios combined with high-density altitude made it almost impossible to stay airborne with a single engine. Walter Want, an FAC assigned to the 23rd TASS, wryly observed, “if you lost an engine in the O-2, the second engine would get you to the scene of the crash.”

In February 1967 the FACs were flying O-1 Birddogs and O-2s. Daylight missions were flown single-pilot, without the benefit of a copilot. Normally the trip to the objective area required about forty-five minutes to an hour. After spending an hour reconnoitering and directing strike aircraft and an hour return flight, there was about a thirty-minute fuel reserve left for contingencies such as tactical emergencies and weather variations. The primary navigation equipment was a magnetic compass and a map. When the pilot found a target he contacted the airborne command-and-control center (ABCCC) and requested strike aircraft. The ABCCC would issue a fragmentary (frag) order, diverting strike aircraft to the target. Once the strike aircraft arrived, the FAC provided the target description, location, and all known antiaircraft gun locations to the strike aircraft and marked the target. Once the strike aircraft identified the target, the FAC cleared the strike aircraft to hit the target and stood by to conduct a post-strike bomb-damage assessment.

Night missions were flown in a blacked-out O-2 with a crew of two pilots. One pilot flew while the other hung out the window searching for targets with a starlight scope. The night missions were usually flown as hunter-killer teams: the FAC was the hunter and the killer was usually an A-26 holding in an orbit a safe distance away. In order to maintain vertical separation and avoid a mid-air collision, the blacked out O-2 had a shrouded red navigation light installed on the top of the fuselage. The pilots marked targets with rockets, flares, or phosphorus logs dropped from the wing stores.

The A-26 was a modified twin-engine World War II light bomber, painted black for night operations and equipped with eight .50-caliber machine guns in the nose, as well as wing-mounted guns and racks for bombs and flares. An A-26 squadron with the call sign “Nimrod,” which had covertly deployed to South Vietnam in 1961, arrived at NKP in 1966. The A-26 possessed awesome firepower, but as NVA air defenses improved, the vintage aircraft proved vulnerable to ground fire. Like other World War II-era aircraft, it was no longer in pro- duction and every loss was irreplaceable. The remaining A-26s were withdrawn in 1969.

The OV-10 “Bronco” was the first aircraft designed specifically as an FAC aircraft. As opposed to the O-1, which offered little more ballistic protection than a Solo cup, the crew had armored seats, and the aircraft was equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks. It was also much more powerful and heavily armed. With the centerline fuel tank installed, the OV-10 had a range of 1,200 miles, over twice that of the O-1. The external stores racks on the wings provided a wide selection of possible armaments configurations, but with the centerline fuel tank installed, the most common configuration was two seven-shot rocket pods, each loaded with smoke rockets, and two M-60 machine guns. During the later years of the war, some OV-10s were also equipped with laser designators to guide precision munitions.

Aircrews had to comply with a bewildering array of constantly changing restrictions imposed by higher authorities to minimize the risk of civilian casualties and to prevent widening the war. Rules of engagement (ROE) agreed upon by CINCPAC, MACV, and the American embassy in Laos, and further supplemented by restrictions ordered by the 7th Air Force, stated what was permitted or forbidden during the air war over Laos. Laos was divided up into seven sec- tors, and while there were rules that applied to all sectors, some rules applied only to specific sectors. In the sectors delineated as armed reconnaissance areas, U. S. aircraft could strike targets of opportunity outside of a village provided it was within two hundred yards of a motorable road or trail and the target had been validated by the Royal Laotian Air Force, or in an alternative case, if approval was granted by an air attaché and fire had been received from the target. In some areas air strikes were prohibited unless an FAC was present. In other areas, air strikes could be conducted, but only if the pilot could confirm his position using radar or a tactical air navigation system (TACAN). Overflight of Laotian cities was prohibited, and aircraft had to remain clear of some of these cities by as far as twenty-five nautical miles. Such ROE were directive in nature, and violations had serious con- sequences. Because the ROE changed periodically, every pilot was responsible for keeping abreast of changes. All of these rules were intended to prevent civilian casualties and accidental strikes against friendly ground forces. The Communists understood these rules and used the restrictions to their advantage.

Reports of a growing enemy supply capability followed every report of progress in the war against trucks. Despite a tremendous number of truck kills reported between 1966 and 1968, the CIA reported that the enemy’s capability to infiltrate troops and supplies into the northern part of South Vietnam would increase because of an intensive NVA effort to construct supply routes with limited all- weather capability. During the wet season, the throughput capacity of the roads leading into the A Shau Valley was estimated to be only 15 percent lower than during the dry season. Such all-weather capabilities would give the NVA the ability to increase deliveries by fifty tons per day.

As the war progressed, so did American technological efforts to find and destroy trucks concealed beneath the forest canopy. In addition to the sensors from Operation Igloo White, U. S. forces also developed and deployed starlight scopes, radar, infrared scopes (designed to detect the heat of truck engines), low-light television systems, and a “Black Crow” system (that could detect the electrical emissions of vehicle ignition systems). But each of these systems had inherent limitations and could not offset the NVA advantages of cover and concealment afforded by the terrain and weather. In an attempt to increase the ratio of truck kills to sightings, the U. S. Air Force utilized increasingly lethal weapons systems and munitions. The most lethal of these was the fixed-wing gunship. The weapons were installed on the port side of the aircraft. When a target was sighted, the pilot would bank left and execute a pylon turn around the target. He could keep his weapons on the target as long as he remained in the turn, making multiple circles if necessary.

The first aircraft modified for this mission was the World War II vintage C-47 armed with three 7.62mm mini-guns. Later, C-119s were modified and 20mm Gatling guns were added to the arsenal. By the time the AC-130 gunship was fielded, the armament included 40mm Bofors guns, and a limited number of AC-130s were outfitted 105mm howitzers.

As the lethality of aerial weapons systems increased, so did the lethality and numbers of NVA antiaircraft systems, and the large, slow-moving gunships were forced away from critical areas of the trail. But FACs controlling fighter-bombers remained. FACs also played a critical role in the ground war on the infiltration routes as the communications outlet and the guardian angels of the small, out- numbered, reconnaissance and road-watch teams that existed to find targets for the air arm and collect intelligence.

WWI Ground Strafing

Two American Spads strafe German troops during the St. Mihiel battle; one of them is hit by ground fire by Robert W. Wilson.

Fokker DVII, on Strafing Run over Trenches by Michael Turner

In Meuse-Argonne action of late September and on, American pursuit and observation units reported ground machine-gunning as regular work. In more specific terms the citation for award of the Silver Star to an American pilot for strafing a German artillery unit read in part, for “killing 60 horses and a like number of men.”

The U. S. 1st Pursuit Group flew numerous low-altitude patrols to counter German squadrons of specialized ground attack aircraft, called “troop strafers” by American troops. Flying under 500 feet, our pursuits broke up numerous such attacks. But these heavily gunned and armored enemy planes also caused Gen. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, to state a need to Washington for a larger caliber, higher muzzle velocity aircraft machine gun to best shoot them down.

A specialized U. S. air unit was the 185th Aero Squadron, flying Camel pursuits. It was trained to engage German Gotha bombers operating at night. Yet, when bad weather frequently halted these German raids, the 185th turned to low-level night attack of the enemy on the ground. On one mission a German train was strafed as it steamed along unsuspecting of such attack at night. Also, staff officers of Brig. Gen. Mitchell, driving at night with lights on, took hits in their vehicle by machine-gun fire from a German aircraft above.

Some of the under-lying principles and nature of that “doing” came directly from World War I strafing. For example, in the film and video Thunderbolt (sponsored by the U. S. Army Air Forces [USAAF]) on World War II air action, P-47 pilots are shown shooting up trucks, trains and other targets of opportunity with their aircraft machine guns in Italy in 1944. As the narration states, “Every man his own general!” Found in a film production, these words may hint at “theatrical,” but they are fully valid historically.

Examples of British, German, and American strafing show varied missions flown. Lt. Case was on a 14-plane mission. Rickenbacker and Chambers operated as a pair. MacArthur and Udet flew one-man efforts. But regardless of how many planes left home base together, once into strafing action it was done as single planes or small elements-and those pilots and element leaders became the decision makers in their searches for and attack of targets, now their own generals.

But that is not the full story. We need to identify just what was being employed in this air-to-ground machine gunning as these decisions were made. Was it planes and aircrews, and guns and ammunition? Yes, but more specifically and accurately from the pilot’s and aircrew’s view, it was the “time of fire” of the guns. That time of fire was inherent in gunfighting. It was there in some amount of time, continuously available for use on the enemy. On the other hand, that time of fire could not be used all at once. It took that long to generate it-as opposed to bombs, rockets, etc., that could be released all at once or almost so if desired. Thus aircraft gunfighting (dogfighting and strafing) had a built-in decision factor for pilots and aircrews in applying its time of fire. For strafing, whether trench strafing, ground strafing, airfield strafing, or hunt and find strafing, once out over the enemy there was always that amount of time up for decision on how to use it.

With his time of fire, Lt. Mayberry moved about strafing a variety of targets. So did Case. Udet stayed in one place with repeated passes to destroy a key target there. MacArthur went back mission after mission, pass after pass, to shoot troops crossing a river. Rickenbacker and Chambers stayed with their large convoy target, as did the Allied strafers who destroyed 11 new Fokkers on an airfield. Young and Bogel and Richthofen were not even on strafing missions; they just decided to strafe.

The majority of the pilots and aircrews in these examples used all their firing time, applying it in multiple passes. In every case, they had a specific target that they had found. Their shooting was aimed right into that in-view target. They wasted little or none of their time of fire toward anything except bullet holes in enemy equipment and hides. That maximum number of such holes per airplane employed seems a very valid and effective concentration of force and firepower on the enemy-even though the warriors doing it were spread out in small numbers at the time.

Then, too, the capabilities and characteristics of aircraft and guns demanded on-the-spot decisions for the situation in each pass. The best pursuit planes of World War I had top speeds of around 130 miles per hour. Thus strafing passes ranged from diving speeds above that to much slower in early war pursuits. However, one fact about speed and flight attitude, (which is not obvious to many people) is that fixed forward-firing aircraft guns could be fired regardless of how fast or slow they were flown, or whether flown straight down, some lesser dive, or flat, or with wings level, in a bank, or even inverted. The guns fired wherever they pointed when the trigger was pulled.

Thus strafing did not require tables of speed, altitude, dive angle, and the like from which to plan attacks then closely execute in order to achieve accuracy. The pilot was free to aim the guns in anyway desired or needed. To concentrate bullet impacts on a target, the aircraft nose was held on it while firing, usually requiring some degree of “dive” to do so. To spread bullets along or throughout an area on the ground, the aircraft nose was made, or allowed, to move while firing.

Lt. Mayberry flew near level on the deck in order to aim his guns into the open ends of sheds housing enemy planes. To aim those same guns on the troop train among buildings in town, he had to dive down from above to have an unobstructed line of fire. Lt. Case stressed he “dived” to hold his gunfire on troops at the door. Rickenbacker and Chambers “porpoised” down an enemy column. Had they flown along level above it, their guns would never have pointed down on it. A steep dive was necessary to shoot downward on troops in trenches. Yet, shallower dives were more common on troops in the open and numerous other targets. There was an endless variety of target situations.

References report that World War I pilots felt that certain altitudes were very dangerous in strafing passes, particularly 300 to 500 feet. Starting higher, 1,000 to 1,500 feet was considered best; then when pulling out down low, 100 feet or on the deck, to stay down in leaving the target area. It can be assumed that was a desirable pass. But the examples vary greatly from it. They show passes flown as needed and chosen to achieve effective results on particular targets and also for repeat runs, and strafing under weather of low ceilings of 500 feet and below-with many passes made entirely in the highest danger zones-all decided by pilots in the air to accomplish the mission. Certainly there were numerous other factors, including equipment as well as flying and aiming techniques, involved in decisions, and these are primary subjects of later chapters. But recognition of this underlying great flexibility in use of fixed, forward-firing aircraft guns from this war is felt to be essential back- ground to those chapters.

Flexible guns of rear-seat and other aircrew gunners had their story too. Primarily for rear arc protection against enemy aircraft, examples show much of their strafing was done in that rear arc as the aircraft passed over and beyond a target. But they also had a capability unique to them. A pilot could bank the plane and circle above a target while the gunner fired downward on the inside of the turn to concentrate fire on that target; and he could hold it there on target as long as the plane circled above.

The German specialized ground attack planes had forward-firing and flexible guns and, in certain cases, downward-firing guns mounted in the fuselage. However, if these “downward” guns were fixed position or limited in fore and aft traverse, bullets would always impact along the ground in raking or “walking” fire; a gun had no real capability to aim on a specific target. This type fire was useful in places, and pursuit pilots at times “walked” bullets too. But downward-mounted guns were one element of World War I strafing that did not go on to standard use in future wars (although some slightly depressed guns have been used).

Summaries on American strafing in The U. S. Air Services in World War I include the following: “[T]he enemy’s troops were attacked by our pursuit air- planes with machine guns and bombs…. [T]his aid from the sky in assisting during an attack by our troops or in repelling an attack or counterattack by the enemy greatly raises the morale of our own forces and much hampers the enemy. It will be well to specialize in this branch of aviation.” Thus there was postwar high-level recognition of the contribution and value of strafing, where prewar judgment of it had been “absurd.” However, that recognition was in broad military terms, without publicity on strafers and their accomplishments.

Maj. Hartley had said he would dearly love to know just what damage MacArthur did in a single day. Since Hartley did not know, it is unlikely the world will ever know either. A citation noted one pilot killed sixty horses and a like number of men on a mission, but no figures are found for how many he killed in the entire war, nor of accumulated scores of damage done by other individual strafers during World War I. Of the names in examples covered, only those of the top aces, with their confirmed scores of air victories, are known to the public. The “unknown” names mentioned here are not even a token of the total strafers in the war. Yet, examples leave no doubt that their duty, valor and sacrifice ranks with the greatest in all history. This is certainly the ultimate story and legacy passed on by these pioneers, and it is a legacy of honor ingrained in and inseparable from the strafing of later wars.

It is fact that strafing was a pilot and aircrew creation from which they set the way in utility and tackled varied targets, situations and weather, much done voluntarily. This established strafing as a “pilot and aircrew and cockpit” business. Expertise in and conduct of strafing operations, and the knowledge thereof, was from the start, and remains, located at combat unit level, not at high headquarters, schools, and archives. Strafers are largely their own generals in this respect, too.

No books dedicated to World War I “strafing” have been written. The examples here are based on material in books on “aces and fighter planes,” including Von Richthofen and the “Flying Circus” by H. J. Nowarra and Kimbrough S. Brown; Rise of the Fighter Aircraft, 1914-1918, by Richard P. Hallion. These volumes on aces and fighters include much on strafing; yet, they do not mention “strafing” or “strafers” in titles, nor in most cases in tables of content. The same is true for general histories and other accounts of that war and sub- sequent wars.

Executing Noball

The routes flown on 14 January 1944 by the two sections of the 392nd BG.

British intelligence eventually identified four kinds of Noball targets in France: heavy sites, ski sites, modified sites, and supply and support facilities. It was the discovery of the nine large construction sites in the Pas-de-Calais region and the Cotentin Peninsula near Cherbourg that first captured the attention of British intelligence analysts. Throughout 1943 Organisation Todt’s building units, supported by thousands of slave workers and conscripted civilian labor, began excavating and building what British documents refer to as the “heavy” Crossbow sites. After the war, the Allies discovered that the German air force had responsibility for four of these, which were intended to store, assemble, and launch a large number of V-1 flying bombs. Code-named “Wasserwerk,” or water works, by the Germans to hide their purpose, these were primarily long tunnels with gaps in the ceiling to fire rockets toward London. In the Cotentin, they built one in Tamerville, northeast of Valognes, and the other at Couville, southwest of Cherbourg. The US Army’s VII Corps overran both of these installations in late June 1944. The other two were Lottinghen, east of Boulogne, and Siracourt, west of Arras in the Pas-de-Calais. Siracourt was typical of these kinds of launching sites. The dozen or so houses at the beginning of the war contained fewer than 140 citizens, mostly farmers and their families. The German army evacuated the French civilians as Organisation Todt arrived in the spring of 1943. On a little hill, just west of the village, contractors began construction in September. This facility was to be the first of four to process, store, and possibly fire the V-1. The main construction was 625 feet long and 132 feet wide and oriented at a right angle to London. The 1,200 workers, primarily Russians, Poles, Yugoslavs, and French forced labor, lived in a camp at Croix-en-Ternois a little more than a mile away. Under the supervision of Organisation Todt’s guard force (Schützkommando), the workers ultimately built the structure and poured more than 50,000 cubic meters of concrete to make it invulnerable to Allied bombers. Because of the bombing, however, it was impossible to finish its construction. As a result, the Germans never fired a flying bomb from it, and it fell to Canadian troops in September 1944.

The German army controlled the V-2 rockets, and it designed large concrete installations, capable of launching seven to ten rockets per day, with sophisticated storage and assembly capability. For example, the launchers at Wizernes, next to Saint-Omer, lay beneath a massive concrete cupola twenty feet thick and were capable of launching their rockets from two platforms. Other sites at Watten (Éperlecques), near Calais, and Sottevast, near Cherbourg, were just as massive and required millions of tons of concrete. Forty-four miles north of Siracourt and eleven miles northwest of the Luftwaffe airfields at Saint-Omer is the three-square-mile complex at Watten. On its southwest corner, Organisation Todt built a massive structure that came to be called the Blockhaus. It was an incredibly large structure that absorbed thousands of tons of concrete and the forced labor of thousands of unfortunate workers. Based on experience at the submarine pens along the coast, the German engineers expected it to withstand the bombardment of whatever the enemy could drop on top. The Allies never understood its exact purpose but knew they had to destroy anything that was consuming so much German effort. It was the first site detected by British reconnaissance. Duncan Sandys never believed it had an offensive capability and, even after his visit in October, considered it to be a plant for the production of hydrogen peroxide, which the Germans were using as a fuel. Postwar records and analysis indicate, though, that it may have served as a general storage, assembly, and launching facility in, according to one researcher, “a bomb-proof environment.” Most experts believe it was capable of launching rockets on its own.

Watten (Éperlecques)

Twelve miles south of the Blockhaus near Saint-Omer is the village of Wizernes. In an old quarry, Organisation Todt constructed one of the largest installations of the war, the V-2 launcher site known as La Coupole, or the dome, for the most impressive aspect of the facility. Todt designed it to assemble, fuel, and fire rockets from within the protected site. Upwards of 1,300 forced laborers worked on this project twenty-four hours a day. Like the Blockhaus, it had two launcher ramps that could fire rockets simultaneously and was probably the most sophisticated of the vengeance weapon launching sites. By March 1944 British intelligence was convinced that it needed to be added to the list of Noball targets. The most sinister of V-2 launcher sites was the silo complex west of Cherbourg near La Hague. These, generally overlooked by Allied intelligence, resemble the later American nuclear missile silos of the Cold War. It never became operational, and the US VII Corps occupied this region in July 1944. The problem for the Germans was that the construction crews could not hide the extensive work sites from the hundreds of Allied reconnaissance aircraft searching for signs of activity. The continuous bombing of the extensive excavations in France meant the Germans could not complete the launching facilities, which ended any possibility of the German air force using them. Ultimately, the Germans would fire no V-2 rockets from fixed sites but would employ mobile launchers that were essentially impossible for the Allies to detect in advance.

Eleven miles from Cap Gris-Nez, across the channel from Dover and ninety-five miles from the center of London, is a facility unique among the heavy sites. The British knew the Nazis were developing a long-range gun, but they did not know any details. The German army had done this before, and Allied commanders had visions of a weapon similar to the artillery used to bombard Paris in the previous conflict or the large guns deployed along the French coast. Therefore, most analysts believed the construction at Mimoyecques, France, was a variation on a V-2 launch site, since it bore no resemblance to anything with which they were familiar. Also, since most of the workers were German, few details emerged as to its actual intent. In reality, the site housed something revolutionary, a large battery of long-range guns, called Hochdruckpumpe (high-pressure pump) guns, later referred to by the Allies as Vengeance Weapon-3. Each 330-foot smooth-bore gun was to be capable of firing a six-foot-long dart about a hundred miles. Its range was the product of added velocity created by solid rocket boosters arrayed along the edge of the tube. Each projectile could carry about forty pounds of high explosives. The plan was to construct banks of five guns each with the potential of firing six hundred rounds per hour toward London. British intelligence knew little about what was going on inside the facility. After the war, Duncan Sandys’ investigation of the large sites discovered the true nature of the threat they had faced. Fortunately, Allied air attacks prevented Organisation Todt from ever finishing its work and German gunners were never able to fire these weapons.

The second kind of targets identified by Allied analysts were the so-called ski sites, named from the configuration of several buildings that looked like snow skis on their side. By late 1943 British intelligence officers had identified between seventy and eighty of these, hidden in the hundreds of wooden patches that dot the northwestern French countryside, with their launchers pointed directly at their intended target. If left alone, each one of these small installations could hurl fifteen FZG-76 flying bombs across the channel each day. The cumulative effect of hundreds of these striking London daily would not help civilian morale. They also posed a direct threat to the harbors from which the Allies would launch and sustain the invasion. One of the first sites identified by intelligence analysts was in the Bois Carré (Square Woods) about three-quarters of a mile east of Yvrench and ten miles northeast of Abbeville on the Somme. A French Resistance agent was able to infiltrate the construction site in October 1943 and smuggle out some of earliest detailed descriptions of a ski site layout. The long catapult, generally visible from the sky and quickly identified by reconnaissance aircraft, became the signature target indicator. As a result, even with extensive camouflage, they were identified, targeted, and destroyed by Anglo-American aircraft. As a result, none of these installations ever became operational.

Soon after the first air attacks, German leaders began considering an alternative method of launching the V-1. Security and concealment now became a priority, and these modified launcher sites were better camouflaged and of simpler construction. These new launchers no longer had many of the standard buildings, especially those that resembled skis, which had contributed to their rapid discovery by intelligence specialists. With minimal permanent construction, the only identifiable features were an easily hidden concrete foundation for the launch ramp and a small building to set the bomb’s compass. Other buildings were designed to blend into the environment or to look like the local farmhouses. All this took less than a week to fabricate, and forced labor no longer did the construction work, as German soldiers prepared each site in secret. Supply crews delivered the flying bombs directly to the launcher from a hidden location, assembled and ready to launch. All the teams needed to do was set the compass and mount it on the catapult. Difficult to locate from the air, these launchers would remain operational until overrun by Allied ground troops in early September 1944. After that, the Germans launched their V-1 rockets from sites in the Netherlands or from German bombers specially configured to fire these weapons.

One week after the last V-1 flew from French soil, the V-2 rocket made its first appearance when it slammed into a French village southeast of Paris, killing six civilians. The German army had abandoned any hope of using large fixed sites for anything other than storage, and they now organized the delivery of their rockets as mobile systems, structured around less than a dozen vehicles and trailers. While the rocket was still hidden, crews prepared it for launch, a process that took between four and six hours. Within two hours of mission time, the firing unit deployed to a previously surveyed site and erected the rocket on a mobile pad. As soon as it was on the way, the soldiers disappeared into the woods, leaving little trace of the launch. Unless an Allied fighter happened to catch the Germans during the short preparation process, there was little the air forces could do to prevent launches. The Germans fired none of the mobile V-2s from French soil, but fired them instead from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. While not part of the discussion of bombing France, these rockets are an important reminder that the Germans continued to use mobile sites until the end of the war.

The final kinds of Noball targets were the supply sites that provided rockets for the individual firing units and the transportation network that supported them. By February 1944 the Allies had determined that seven facilities existed, one on the Cotentin Peninsula and the remainder arrayed just east of the belt of launchers. These, however, were relatively difficult to attack and were often located within underground bunkers or railroad tunnels, under fortresses, or deep within thick woods. They also were often protected by extensive anti-aircraft artillery. More vulnerable were the various rail yards that served as offload and staging points for these systems. Rail stations in Saint-Omer, Bethune, Lille, Lens, and Arras were the crucial nodes in this network. Attacking these transportation nodes also supported the goals of the Transportation Plan, the Allied attack of bridges along the Seine and Loire, and Operation Fortitude, the effort to deceive the Germans as to the actual location of the invasion.