Bien Hoa Air Base

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Bien Hoa Air Base
Vietnam People's Air Force insignia.png Fatherland - Space.png Pacific Air Forces.png
Part of Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF)
South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF)
Pacific Air Forces (USAF)
Bien Hoa AB is located in Vietnam
Bien Hoa AB
Bien Hoa AB
Location of Bien Hoa Air Base, Vietnam
Coordinates 10°58′37″N 106°49′06″E / 10.97694°N 106.81833°E / 10.97694; 106.81833
Type Air Force Base
Site information
Controlled by

Roundel of the Vietnamese Air Force.svg Vietnam People's Air Force
Vietnam Air Force (south) roundel.svg South Vietnamese Air Force

Roundel of the USAF.svg  United States Air Force
Condition Seized 1975 by PAVN, in use as military airfield
Site history
Built 1955
In use 1955-Present
Battles/wars Vietnam Service Ribbon.svg
Vietnam War
Airfield information
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Elevation AMSL 79 ft / 24 m
Runways
Direction Length Surface
ft m
09L/27R 10,000 3,048 Concrete
09R/27L 10,000 3,048 Concrete

Bien Hoa Air Base is a Vietnam People's Air Force (Không quân Nhân dân Việt Nam) military airfield located in South-Central southern Vietnam about 25 kilometres (16 mi) from Saigon near the city of Biên Hòa within Đồng Nai Province.

During the Vietnam Wars (1955–75), the base was used by the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF). The United States used it as a major base from 1961 through 1973, stationing Army, Air Force (USAF), Navy, and Marine units there.

Origins[edit]

Bien Hoa is located on quiet, flat grounds in a rural area 25 kilometres (16 mi) northeast of Saigon. The French Air Force established an air base, the Base aérienne tactique 192, which was very active during the First Indochina War. On 1 June 1955, Bien Hoa Air Base became the VNAF's logistics support base when the French evacuated their main depot at Hanoi. At that time the VNAF was in its final days as an auxiliary air arm under total French control.

Not long after it was established as a VNAF base the facility took on a tactical role as well as that of a depot. It was here that the VNAF's 1st Fighter Squadron (later renumbered the 514th FS) was formed on 1 June 1956. From this point Bien Hoa became the base of newly formed and continually growing air units. The VNAF 2311th Air Group, later to become an Air Wing, and the 311th Air Division were also stationed there. and the base supported the greatest number of air combat units than any other have throughout South Vietnam.

USAF use during the Vietnam War[edit]

With the influx of USAF tactical air units in the early 1960s, Bien Hoa became a joint operating base for both VNAF and USAF organizations. The USAF forces stationed there were under the command of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).

Bien Hoa was the location for TACAN station Channel 73 and was referenced by that identifier in voice communications during air missions. Its military mail address was APO San Francisco, 96227.

Det. 2 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron[edit]

4400th CCTS North American T-28D-NA Trojan Serial 51-3579 wearing South Vietnamese markings flies over Vietnam
USAF Douglas A-26C/B-26B-45-DT Invader Serial 44-35663 on the flightine of Bien Hoa Air Base, 1963. After service in Vietnam, this aircraft was eventually sold to the Nationalist Chinese, then scrapped at Clark Air Base in late 1964.

On 14 April 1961 Tactical Air Command activated the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) at Hurlburt Field, Florida in the panhandle of Florida. The unit had a designated strength of 124 officers and 228 enlisted men. The 4400th CCTS consisted of World War II aircraft: 16 C-47 transports, eight B-26 bombers, and eight T-28 fighters. The declared mission of the unit would be to train indigenous air forces in counterinsurgency and conduct air operations. The 4400th CCTS acquired the logistics code name "Jungle Jim," a moniker that rapidly became the nickname of the unit.

As the military conditions in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara actively began to consider dispatching military forces to test the utility of counterinsurgency techniques in Southeast Asia. In response, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay pointed out that the 4400th was operationally ready and could serve as an Air Force contingent for that force.

On 11 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy directed, in NSAM 104, that the Defense Secretary "introduce the Air Force 'Jungle Jim' Squadron into Vietnam for the initial purpose of training Vietnamese forces." The 4400th was to proceed as a training mission and not for combat at the present time.

The mission was to be covert. The commandos were to maintain a low profile in-country and avoid the press. The aircraft were configured with VNAF insignia, and all pilots wore plain flight suits minus all insignia and name tags that could identify them as Americans. They also sanitized their wallets and did not carry Geneva Convention cards.

The unit would be officially titled Det. 2 of the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron, code named "Farm Gate". The unit would administratively and operationally belong to the Air Force section of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Vietnam. They would turn out to be the nucleus of an expanding Air Force and American presence in South Vietnam. Detachment 2A would be the B-26 Invader unit; Detachment 2B would be the T-28 Trojan unit.

Within days of arrival, the T-28s and pilots were ready for orientation flights. The Farm Gate pilots launched with VNAF escorts and delivered their ordnance, but, when mission reports were reviewed, the crews were told not to conduct independent air operations. The cover story was that the Americans were in-country to train South Vietnamese pilots.

On 26 December 1961, Washington issued new regulations directing that all Farm Gate missions would include at least one South Vietnamese national on board every aircraft. McNamara further amplified this requirement by stating that the Vietnamese would fly in the backseat position.

Americans, with Vietnamese aboard, were soon flying to destroy Viet Cong supply lines and forces. Flying from Bien Hoa and air bases being improved up-country at Da Nang and Pleiku, T-28 and B-26 operations emphasized "training" for reconnaissance, surveillance, interdiction, and close air support missions.

The SC-47s began flying airdrop and "psyop" leaflet and loudspeaker broadcast missions to forward bases where the Army's Special Forces teams were working with the rapidly growing South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Groups.

In February 1962, a Farm Gate SC-47 on a leaflet drop mission in the highlands near Bao Loc was shot down, killing the six airmen, two soldiers, and one Vietnamese crewman on board. This was the first of several Farm Gate losses.[citation needed]

Enemy attacks were increasing across the countryside, and there were rising calls for air support to embattled ground troops. Forward operating locations were opened at Qui Nhon and Sóc Trăng. Commanders at 2nd Air Division could see that the VNAF could not meet all needs, and they increasingly turned to Farm Gate crews to fly the sorties.

Realizing that he needed more assets, the commander of 2nd Air Division, then Brig. Gen. Rollen Henry Anthis, asked for additional Air Force personnel and aircraft for Farm Gate use. Anthis wanted 10 more B-26s, five more T-28s, and two more SC-47s. McNamara reviewed the request, but he was cool to the idea of expanding Farm Gate units for combat use. His goal was to build up the VNAF so it could operate without American help. Still, McNamara approved the request for additional aircraft and also assigned two U-10s to Farm Gate.

Shortly thereafter, McNamara directed the commanders in Vietnam to develop a national campaign plan to defeat the Viet Cong. The plan, finished in March 1963, called for a much larger VNAF of two fighter squadrons, one reconnaissance squadron, several squadrons of forward air controllers, and several more cargo squadrons.

F-102 Delta Dagger Air Defense Mission[edit]

A detachment of F-102 Delta Daggers from the 509th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron from Clark Air Base was sent to Bien Hoa AB in March 1962 when radar contacts that were detected by ground radars were thought to possibly be North Vietnamese Il-28 "Beagle" bombers, which was considered a very credible threat during that time period. Although no North Vietnamese aircraft ever crossed into South Vietnam, the F-102s stood rotational alert temporary duty assignments (TDYs) at Bien Hoa and also at Da Nang AB throughout much of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. The F-102A was finally withdrawn from Southeast Asia in December 1969 with the phaseout of the aircraft from the USAF inventory, also the clear lack of need for a dedicated air defense interceptor over South Vietnam. The F-102A established an excellent safety record during its duty in Vietnam. In almost seven years of flying air defense and a few combat air patrols for SAC B-52s, only 15 F-102As were lost.

34th Tactical Group[edit]

The war continued to spread as enemy forces grew. By June 1963, the USAF presence in South Vietnam had grown to almost 5,000 airmen. As the buildup continued, USAF directed the activation of a more permanent organizational structure to properly administer the forces being deployed to Bien Hoa Air Base. The 34th Tactical Group was established, and activated, on 19 June 1963, taking control of the USAF assets on 9 July.

The 1st Air Commando Squadron was also activated at Bien Hoa. To preclude the need for an increase in personnel, it would absorb the Farm Gate men and equipment. The airmen began to prepare for the reorganization. But the missions continued, and on 20 July an SC-47 crew flew an emergency night mission to Loc Ninh and, disregarding enemy fire, strong winds, and blacked-out conditions, landed and rescued six severely wounded South Vietnamese troops. The 602nd Air Commando Squadron also was activated, flying A-1E Skyraiders.

Eight days after the Loc Ninh mission, the 1st Air Commando Squadron was activated and Farm Gate was subsumed. Air Force Special Operations Command today traces much of its lineage to Farm Gate. It is the heritage of the air commandos.

Between October 1961 and July 1963, 16 Farm Gate air commandos were killed. Also lost were one SC-47, four T-28s, one U-10, and four B-26s. Within a year of its establishment, the 1st Air Commando Squadron had shed its B-26s and SC-47s and grounded some of its T-28s after two more went down due to catastrophic wing failures.

6251st Tactical Fighter Wing[edit]

On 8 July 1965, the 6251st Tactical Fighter Wing was activated. USAF units at Bien Hoa AB during this period were:

The 307th TFS was deployed from the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB, Florida. The 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron was deployed from the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at England AFB Louisiana. The 429th was deployed from the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing, Cannon AFB, New Mexico.

The 416th was one of the first F-100 squadrons to be deployed to South Vietnam, being sent to Da Nang AB in March 1965, moving to Bien Hoa in June. From Bien Hoa, it went back to England AFB in mid July before being permanently assigned to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in December 1965. They then moved up to Bien Hoa AB in July 1965. The 531st had also deployed to Da Nang AB in February 1965 and then went back to rejoin her assigned wing, the 3rd TFW, returning to South Vietnam in December 1965.

19th Tactical Air Support Squadron[edit]

The 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (19th TASS) was organized on 17 June 1963. It was initially assigned to the 34th Tactical Group, then on 8 July 1965 to the 6251st Tactical Fighter Wing. On 8 December 1966 the squadron was assigned to the 504th Tactical Air Support Group.

The initial mission for the 19th TASS was to fly missions for the South Vietnamese Air Force and train Vietnamese pilots and observers in the 0-1 "Bird Dog"aircraft. This mission was expanded to include forward air support, combat support liaison, visual reconnaissance, forward air control of fighters, artillery adjustment, and escort for convoys, trains, and helicopters. The squadron also flew psychological warfare, radio relay, and re-supply missions.

Briefly inactivated between August and October 1964, the 19th TASS renewed its support of combat operations on 21 October. Primarily it provided visual and photographic reconnaissance and airborne forward air control for fighter aircraft. Also trained USAF and Vietnamese pilots and observers in 0-1 and, from 1968, in O-2 Skymaster and OV-10 Bronco operations.

The unit was inactivated at Bien Hoa on 30 July 1971, being transferred administratively to Phan Rang Air Base where it was unmanned. The squadron was transferred to Osan AB, South Korea, on 15 January 1972.

B-57B Canberras[edit]

Martin B-57B bombers at Bien Hoa AB South Vietnam August 1964. Photo shows the aircraft shortly after their arrival, in natural aluminum and unpainted. Aircraft also show their In-squadron identification letters

In 1964, the worsening situation in South Vietnam led the United States to introduce B-57B Canberra tactical bombers to perform tactical bombing strikes against the Viet Cong. In early 1964 orders were issued to the PACAF 41st Air Division B-57B Canberra 8th and 13th Bombardment Squadrons for reassignment from rotational South Korean alert duty at Yokota AB Japan for movement to Clark AB, Philippines for possible action in South Vietnam. As it happened, this move did not take place until August 5, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in which North Vietnamese gunboats clashed with United States Navy destroyers.[1]

According to the initial plan, 20 B-57Bs of the 8th and 13th Bombardment Squadrons were to be stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base. This would mark the first deployment of jet combat aircraft to Vietnam. However, this was technically a violation of the Geneva Protocols which forbade the introduction of jet combat aircraft to Vietnam, so the squadrons were assigned to the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AB, Philippines and carried out rotational deployments to South Vietnam on a temporary basis. The deployments began and the first B-57s arrived in the first week of August.[1][2]

The initial deployment to Vietnam got off on the wrong foot. The first two B-57Bs to land collided with each other on the ground and blocked the runway at Bien Hoa, forcing the rest of the flight to divert to Tan Son Nhut AB on the other side of Saigon. One of the B-57Bs was hit by ground fire and dived into the ground during approach at Tan Son Nhut and was destroyed, killing both crew members. Ground rescue parties were unable to reach the planes due to strong Viet Cong fire.[2]

During the next few weeks, more B-57Bs were moved from Clark AB to Bien Hoa to make good these losses and to reinforce the original deployment. The B-57s shared an open-air, three-sided hangar with the VNAF that flew A-1E Skyraider aircraft, and things got so crowded at Bien Hoa at that time that some of the B-57s had to be sent back to Clark AB. Also, maintenance facilities for the B-57 at Bien Hoa were scarce.[1]

A Diagram of where the aircraft were located by tail number and ordnance loaded. The red circles represent the spot where a deceased person was located.
Burning Aircraft on ramp at Bien Hoa AB after explosion
Wreckage on parking apron after explosion and fire
Aerial view of fire

Initially, the B-57Bs were not cleared for actual combat missions, the aircraft being restricted to unarmed reconnaissance missions that were mainly designed to boost the morale of the population. However, actual combat was not to be delayed very long.

Mortar attack[edit]

On November 1, 1964, Viet Cong squads shelled the airfield at Bien Hoa with mortars. The attack began shortly after midnight at 12:26 a.m for 15 to 20 minutes. It was estimated that there were 3 81mm mortars. The attack was effective as 27 aircraft were hit, including 20 B-57s (5 destroyed), 4 helicopters and 3 A-1H Skyraiders. A fourth Skyraider crashed trying to take-off. 4 U.S. and 2 Vietnamese were killed, and 19 were wounded.[3]

Further Viet Cong mortar attacks led General William Westmoreland on February 19, 1965 to release B-57Bs for combat operations. The first such mission took place on that same day, when the government of Vietnam requested the use of the B-57s from Bien Hoa and F-100 aircraft from USAF bases in Thailand to assist in an attack against a large Viet Cong force between An Khe and Pleiku in the Central Highlands. The VC had an isolated South Vietnam Army unit pinned down. That same day, the B-57s' first real mission was against communist forces in Phước Tuy Province, 40 miles southeast of Saigon. This strike was, incidentally, the first time that live ordnance had been delivered against an enemy in combat from a USAF jet bomber.[1][2]

Bien Hoa Disaster[edit]

This prompted more raids into North Vietnam. The B-57 mission continued to increase to the point that it became an around-the-clock commitment. This forced the weapons storage facility to deliver ordnance well ahead of the frag orders. There were bombs stored underneath the wings of the B-57s. The ordnance consisted of 250, 500 and 750-pound general purpose bombs, many armed with time-delay fuses (set for 24, 36, 48, 72 and 144-hour delays. All fuses were anti-withdrawal). There were also 750 lb of napalm stored on the ramp.

The pre-positioning of this ordnance was the basis for one of the "worst disasters in Air Force history". On 16 May 1965, while waiting to takeoff on a mission, a B-57B exploded on the ground at Bien Hoa AB. The B-57 was started with a black powder cartridge that fired when the pilot hit the starter switch, causing a small starter turbine to spin. These turbines sometimes spun loose and flew out of the starter housing. On this day, a loose turbine hit the fuse of an armed 500 lb bomb, setting off a whole chain of secondary explosions.[4]

Five 50,000 gallon bladders of JP-4 jet fuel went up in smoke. When the explosions finally ceased, ten B-57s, one Navy F-8 Crusader and fifteen A-1Es were destroyed plus several ground support units. Twenty-seven men killed and over 100 were wounded. The most severely wounded were evacuated to Clark AB.

Before the explosions, perimeter security was the responsibility of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. After the explosions the 173rd Airborne Brigade moved to the base to secure the perimeter.

Investigation and aftermath[edit]

After the explosions, a great number of generals and their staffs came to Bien Hoa to see for themselves what had happened. The Air Force Inspector General, Lt. General William K. Martin, convened an investigation board headed by Major General Gilbert L. Meyers. General Westmoreland along with retired General Maxwell D. Taylor, Ambassador to Vietnam, also came to see the extent of damage so they could brief their superiors. Later in his book, General Westmoreland said that Bien Hoa looked worse than Hickam Field after the Pearl Harbor Attack.

The Bien Hoa Air Base Vietnam May 16, 1965 Conflagration/Fire Accident Investigation Board concluded the accidental explosion of a bomb on a parked B-57 at Bien Hoa triggered a series of blasts. The aircraft and the ammunition were stored too close together which allowed the fires and explosions to propagate. The accident investigation board recommended improvements. In the face of such experience, engineers initiated a major program to construct revetments and aircraft shelters to protect the valuable assets.

The surviving B-57s were transferred to Tan Son Nhut AB and continued to fly sorties on a reduced scale until the losses could be made good. As the B-57B was withdrawn from active front-line service (the 405th's 8th and 13th Bomb Squadrons were the only active-duty B-57B units left in the USAF), some B-57Bs had to be transferred to Vietnam from the Kansas Air National Guard, and 12 B-57Es had to be withdrawn from target-towing duties and reconfigured as bombers to make good these losses. In June 1965, the B-57s were moved to north to Da Nang AB to carry out night interdiction operations over North Vietnam and Laos. When deployed at Da Nang, the 8th and 13th Squadrons came under operational control of the 6252nd Tactical Fighter Wing which became the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing about a year later.[2]

3rd Tactical Fighter Wing[edit]

The 3d Tactical Fighter Wing was the host unit at Bien Hoa. It was transferred from England Air Force Base Louisiana on 8 November 1965 taking over the mission of the provisional 6251st TFW. Operating the F-100D/F Super Sabre, the fighter squadrons of the 3d TFW were:

Upon arrival at Bien Hoa, the 3d TFW took over the assets of the 6251st TFW. The 429th TFS returned to Cannon AFB, New Mexico upon activation of the 3d TFW; the 416th TFS was reassigned to Phu Cat AB on 15 April 1967 to the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing.

The 307th TFS returned to Homestead, passing its aircraft and equipment to the 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron, which operated F-100s (Green Tail Stripe) from 2 December 1965-14 November 1966 when it was moved PCS to the 31st TFW at Tuy Hoa AB.

The 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron was deployed from the 834th Air Division, England AFB, Louisiana on 8 February 1966 and became the sixth F-100 squadron. It remained until withdrawn on 31 October 1970.

Missions of the 3d TFW included close air support, counterinsurgency, forward air control, interdiction, and radar-controlled bombing. Supported numerous ground operations with strike missions against enemy fortifications, supply areas, lines of communication and personnel, in addition to suppressing fire in landing areas.

During this time, the 3d TFW also participated in combat evaluation of the Cessna A-37 aircraft for couner-insurgency operations and the F-5 Freedom Fighter as a light tactical fighter.

A-37B Dragonfly and counter-insurgency operations[edit]

Cessna A-37A Dragonfly 67-14510 of the 604th Air Commando Squadron - 1968. This aircraft survived the war and was eventually registered as N91RW in 1993. Currently the fuselage is stored at Falcon Field, Mesa, AZ
90th Attack Squadron - Squadron Photo - Bien Hoa Air Base RVN July 1967

In addition to the F-100 squadrons, the 3d absorbed the assets of the 1st and 602nd Air Commando Squadrons flying the A-1E Skyraider. The unit was activated at Bien Hoa on 8 July 1963. The 1st ACS was transferred to Pleiku Air Base on 5 January 1966.

The unit was replaced by the 604th Air Commando Squadron flying the A-37A Dragonfly (Tail Code CK). The 604th deployed from England AFB, Louisiana between 17 July and 14 August 1967. The squadron was tasked to test the A-37 in combat over three months under a program named "Combat Dragon". Testing began on August 15 and ended on September 6. This phase of the project was used to familiarize the pilots was the operational areas of Vietnam and Laos. The data collection and evaluation system was also refined using forms and methods already in use in Southeast Asia. The 604th ACS began combat operations on 19 August, flying 12 combat sorties a day in support of ground troops and against enemy supplies being shipped into South Vietnam. The daily sortie reached 60 by the end of September.

In October, some of the planes were shipped to Pleiku AB for further evaluation of the A-37A, where pilots began flying armed and visual reconnaissance missions and night interdiction flights in "Tiger Hound". Tiger Hound was an area roughly 90 miles long in Laos bordering on South Vietnam territory used by the North Vietnamese to infiltrate troops and supplies. It was also the code name of a special Air Force, Navy, Marine and Army task force that began interdicting southeastern Laos.

When the testing period drew to a close, the A-37A Dragonflies had logged more than 4,000 sorties without a single combat loss. The pilots were pleased with the planes' maneuverability, it accelerated and decelerated rapidly and its combat delivery system was highly accurate. The maintainers also heaped their praise on the aircraft, as easy to fix with turnaround times often averaging just over 90 minutes between missions. One plane went down as a result of an unfortunate maneuver after the aircraft returned to its home base. The squadron was then attached to the 14th Air Commando Wing at Nha Trang AB. The unit however, continued to fly out of Bien Hoa. In late 1968/early 1969 the squadron was renamed the 604th Special Operations Squadron (604th SOS) and was assigned to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW).

On 15 November 1969 the A-37s of 604th was joined by the 8th Attack Squadron (Tail Code: CF), and started flying the A-37B three days later on 18 November. A third A-37B squadron, the 90th Attack Squadron was assigned on 12 December but had already started flying A-37Bs in November along with the 8th. Both units were combat certified on 12 December 1969.

In March 1970, under U.S. President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization Program", preparations were made for the transfer of the A-37 aircraft to the VNAF. At the same time, the decision was made to close out the 604th SOS while retaining the 8th Attack Squadron designation because of the significance of its being one of the squadrons with the longest record of continuous service dating back to World War I. The 604th SOS absorbed the personnel from the 8th and 90th Attack Squadrons which were closing out, and then it was redesignated as the 8th Special Operations Squadron.

F-5 Skoshi Tiger Program[edit]

The Skoshi Tiger program was a combat evaluation of the Northrop F-5 "Freedom Fighter" in South Vietnam. Although all F-5A production was intended for Military Assistance Programs, the Air Force actually requested at least 200 F-5s for use in Vietnam. This sudden request on the part of the USAF was a result of heavier than expected attrition in Southeast Asia and because the F-5 promised to be available with a relatively short lead time.

In October 1965, the USAF "borrowed" 12 combat-ready F-5As and turned them over to the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Williams Air Force Base Arizona for operational service trials. The aircraft left Williams AFB on 20 October 1965 for Bien Hoa.

At Bien Hoa, the F-5s were attached to the 3d TFW as the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Squadron on 21 November 1965.

The F-5 missions were exclusively over the South, and they never crossed the North Vietnamese border because their arrival coincided with a lull in the offensive against the North. The aircraft never encountered enemy MiGs, and so never got a chance to demonstrate their air-to-air capabilities.

Although the Freedom Fighter was judged to be a technical success in Vietnam, the Skoshi Tiger program was essentially a political project, designed to appease those few Air Force officers who believed in the aircraft.[citation needed] The Freedom Fighter was destined to have a relatively brief operational career with the USAF, and the DoD turned down a second request for F-5s, deciding instead to look at other types such as the A-7 Corsair II.

On 8 March 1966 the F-5s of the 4503rd TFS were redesignated the 10th Fighter (Commando) Squadron. On 17 April 1967 the F-5s were turned over to the VNAF.

1968 Tet Offensive at Bien Hoa Air Base[edit]

The beginning of the 1968 Tet Offensive was signaled by the air base receiving small arms and mortar fire. The main gate was near the active runway of the 145th Aviation Battalion, a U.S. Army helicopter unit. The battalion's pilots lived off-base at the Honour-Smith Compound, a villa on Cong Ly Street in the city of Bien Hoa, some 2 kilometers away. Some were on base or made it there before the fire got too heavy and some of the gunships took off to patrol the base perimeters.

Later intelligence reported that there were three main Viet Cong units that were to attack the base; the most critical attack was to force the main gate, overwhelm the helicopter active area and prevent gunships from taking off. Other attacks were to proceed across open ground to the main Air Force bunkers and to bring mounted 50 cal machine guns to sweep the base runway.

Since most non-flying, non-police Air Force personnel were not issued arms, the bunkers were full of unarmed airmen guarded by only a very few security police and red horse engineers armed with M-16s. However the unit that was to attack the main gate never appeared and helicopters got airborne and attacked many Viet Cong in the open fields approaching the base areas.

As soon as some order was restored, the rest of the pilots were lifted from Honour-Smith Compound to the airbase by helicopter. A temporary heli-pad was made on Honour-Smith by pulling the posts out of an old French tennis court.

There was intermittent fire from the village onto the base for several days but on the third day, a squadron of tanks from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment arrived to provide substantial physical security.

3d TFW phasedown[edit]

In 1971, the 3rd TFW was preparing to inactivate and the wing began phasing down for inactivation as part of the American drawdown of forces. On 15 March 1971 the 3d TFW inactivated at Bien Hoa and was simultaneously activated at Kunsan AB, South Korea, taking over the defensive mission there.

With the last F-100 squadron being reassigned on 31 October 1970, the 3d TFW transferred its remaining resources to the 315th Tactical Airlift Wing at Phan Rang AB on July 31, 1971. Still flying its A-37s, the 8th Special Operations Squadron was attached to the 315th TAW, but physically remained at Bien Hoa AB. Then the 8th SOS was attached to the 377th Air Base Group (later 377th Air Base Wing) at Tan Son Nhut AB on 15 January 1972

In early 1972, the 8th SOS A-37B's were instrumental in helping blunt the NVA's armored thrust toward Saigon in the April 1972 Easter Offensive. 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, whose remains were interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery until identification in 1998, was shot down 11 May 1972 while flying with the 8th SOS.

The last combat sorties were flown on 30 September 1972, and the unit was officially relocated to Clark AB, Philippines on 1 October 1972. It transferred its aircraft and other assets to the VNAF.

Det 1. 377th Air Base Wing[edit]

An operating location of the 377th Air Base Wing was established at Bien Hoa Air Base on 14 April 1972 to provide turnaround service for F-4s of other organizations. It was replaced on 20 June 1972 by Detachment l of the wing headquarters, which continued the F-4 turn-around service and added A-7D turnaround service on 30 October 1972. A small detachment of personnel from the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing deployed at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base Thailand were assigned for A-7D servicing.

The detachment continued operations through 11 February 1973 when the United States presence ended at Bien Hoa Air Base.

Known VNAF Units At Bien Hoa in 1974[edit]

F-5C of the 522d Fighter Squadron/23rd Tactical Wing - Bien Hoa Air Base, 1971
O-1 observation aircraft of the 112th Liaison Squadron/23rd Tactical Wing - South Vietnamese Air Force - Bien Hoa Air Base - 1971

With the withdrawal of American Forces from South Vietnam in February 1973 the VNAF used Bien Hoa as a major operating base. Bien Hoa Air Base was the headquarters of the VNAF 3d Air Division.

June 1974 Table of Organization:

23d Tactical Wing

  • 112th/124th Liaison squadron Cessna O-1A, U-17A
  • 514th/518th Fighter Squadron A-1H

43d Tactical Wing

  • 221st/223d/231st/245th/251st Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H
  • 237th Helicopter Squadron CH-47A
  • Det E 259th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H (Medevac)

63d Tactical Wing

  • 522nd/536th/540th/544th Fighter Squadron Northrop F-5A/B/C RF-5A

Capture of Bien Hoa Air Base[edit]

Fatherland - Space.png
North Vietnamese troops storm Bien Hoa Air Base on 25 April 1975 during the final phase of the Vietnam war. Abandoned South Vietnamese Air Force F-5A and F-5E fighters of the 522d Fighter Squadron await their fate in front of a hardened aircraft shelter.

North Vietnam had suffered about 50,000 casualties during the 1968 Tet Offensive and was similarly mauled in its spring 1972 offensive against the South. The People's Army of Vietnam needed time to recuperate.

In March 1975 Hanoi made its next seriously aggressive move. In the preceding two years, North Vietnam's army patiently moved into the South enormous quantities of Soviet artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and armored vehicles, along with 100,000 fresh troops.

On 10 March the North Vietnamese Army began a new offensive in South Vietnam. Northern forces isolated the provincial capitol of Buôn Ma Thuột by cutting off or blocking the main highways to it. It was at Ban Me Thuot that the first phenomenon which would increasingly undermine the South's morale occurred. Many of its army officers used helicopters to pick up their families and flee to the south with them.

South Vietnamese civilians then began to flee the countryside, crowding the main roads and the pathways in a mass exodus for the coast, where they ultimately jammed seaports seeking transport to the south. The refugees included not only those civilians who had helped the South's army or the Americans, but also a great mass who expected bad treatment from the communists.

By early April the end of South Vietnam was at hand. North Vietnam's forces had severed the roads around Saigon and had begun shelling Bien Hoa. On 9 April the ARVN engaged the PAVN at Xuan Loc, located on Highway 1 only 37 miles northeast of Saigon. Xuan Loc fell on 23 April, and there was now little to prevent or slow the Communist advance on Saigon. The loss of Xuan Loc made Bien Hoa Air base indefensible, although the VNAF continued to fly from the base until PAVN artillery fire forced the evacuation of Bien Hoa on 25 April.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On 13 December 1968, a USAF Douglas AC-47D Spooky (#43-49274) collided in mid-air with OV-10 Bronco (#67-14627) whilst both aircraft were on a night-time combat operation at Truc Giang. Both aircraft attempted to return to Bien Hoa Air Base but the OV-10 crashed, killing both crew. The AC-47D was damaged beyond economic repair when its undercarriage collapsed on landing.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Martin B-57 Canberra--The Complete Record, Robert C. Mikesh, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1995.
  2. ^ a b c d Canberra: The Operational Record, Robert Jackson, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
  3. ^ Mortar Attack--1 Nov 64
  4. ^ http://www.skyraider.org/skyassn/memberpics/hilliard/hilliard.htm
  5. ^ "43-49274 Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links[edit]