Cam Ranh Air Base

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For the civil use of the facility since 2004, see Cam Ranh International Airport.
Cam Ranh Air Base

Vietnam People's Air Force insignia.png  Pacific Air Forces.png

Part of Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF)
Russian Air Force (VVS)
Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF)
Pacific Air Forces (USAF)
Coordinates 11°59′53″N 109°13′10″E / 11.99806°N 109.21944°E / 11.99806; 109.21944 (Cam Ranh AB)
Type Air Force Base
Site information
Condition Joint Civil/Military Airport
Site history
Built 1965
In use 1965-Present
Battles/wars Vietnam Service Ribbon.svg
Vietnam War
Airfield information
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Elevation AMSL 39 ft / 12 m
Runways
Direction Length Surface
ft m
02L/20R 10,000 3,048 Paved
02R/20L 10,000 3,048 Paved
Cam Ranh AB is located in Vietnam
Cam Ranh AB
Cam Ranh AB
Magnify-clip.png
Location of Cam Ranh Air Base, Vietnam
F-4C Serial 63-7542 of the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron. This aircraft survived the war and eventually was retired to AMARC on July 12, 1988
McDonnell Douglas F-4C-23-MC (S/N 64-770) "Jeannie" (558th TFS) over South Vietnam in December 1968
C-7B Serial No 63-9725 of the 535th Tactical Airlift Squadron - October 1971. It is believed that this aircraft along with other C-7s from the 483d TAW was transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1972 after the 483d was inactivated.
Lyndon Johnson and Gen. William Westmoreland (right) decorate soldiers at Cam Ranh Bay, 1966

Cam Ranh Air Base is located on Cam Ranh Bay in the province of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam. It was one of several South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) air bases built and used by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Vietnam War. Between 1979 and 2002, the facility was used by the Soviet/Russian Air Force.

On May 19, 2004, after major reconstruction, Cam Ranh Airport received its first commercial flight. As Vietnam considers the facility to be important to its defense, a small garrison of troops are stationed there.

US military use of Cam Ranh AB[edit]

The airfield at Cam Ranh Bay was built by the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps along with civilian contractors beginning in 1965. It was turned over to the USAF Pacific Air Forces on November 8.

Cam Ranh Air Base was a part of the large Cam Ranh Bay logistics facility built by the United States. It was the major military seaport used by the United States for the offloading of supplies, military equipment and as a major Naval base. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force units all had compounds and units assigned to the Cam Ranh Bay facility from its opening in 1965 until its closure in 1972 as part of the drawdown of United States military forces in South Vietnam.

Cam Ranh Air Base served as a United States Air Force tactical fighter base, the first in South Vietnam to base the F-4C Phantom II tactical fighter-bomber. The air base also was used as a strategic and tactical airlift facility. Cargo and personnel would arrive from the United States into the logistics facilities at Cam Ranh Bau by ship and also by large Military Air Transport Service/Military Airlift Command airlifters, and then be transferred to tactical airlift for movement within South Vietnam by the 483d Tactical Airlift Wing, using C-7 Caribu and C-130 Hercules transports. Outgoing cargo and personnel would also be processed though the large aerial port facility.

12th Tactical Fighter Wing[edit]

The first USAF unit to be stationed at Cam Ranh AB was the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, which was assigned on 8 November 1965, being deployed from MacDill Air Force Base Florida. The 12th TFW was the first permanently assigned F-4C Phantom II wing assigned to Southeast Asia. In time, the F-4C took over the bulk of the heavy tactical bombing over both North and South Vietnam. Operational squadrons of the wing at Cam Ranh were:

Replaced by: 559th Tactical Fighter Squadron January 1, 1966 – March 31, 1970 (43d TFS aircraft transferred to 559th; F-4C Tail Code: XN)
Deployed from 366th TFW, Phan Rang Air Base. Aircraft transferred to 12th TFW 558th TFS July 1968 (F-4C Tail Code: XD/XT). Former 391st TFW aircraft reassigned to 475th Tactical Fighter Wing, Taegu AB, South Korea, July 1968 as Det 1., 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron

From Cam Ranh AB the wing carried out close air support, interdiction, and combat air patrol activities over both Vietnams and Laos. Following the capture of the USS Pueblo, the 558th TFS was sent TDY to augment the 475th TFW in South Korea. When that later became a permanent assignment, the 558th and 391st traded designations.

In March 1970, as part of the Vietnamization process and phase out of the F-4C, the aircraft and personnel of the 12th were dispersed, and fighter operations at Cam Ranh Bay AB were halted, the F-4C's were transferred back to the United States and assigned to the Air National Guard.

With the transfer of jurisdiction of Cam Ranh AB to the 483d Tactical Airlift Wing, the 12th TFW was reassigned to Phu Cat AB where it replaced the 37th TFW in a name-only change.

Airlift use[edit]

Because of its close proximity to Cam Ranh Bay, Cam Ranh Airfield became an important part of the airlift system operated by 315th and 834th Air Divisions. In early 1966 C-130s from 315th Air Division squadrons based in Japan and Okinawa began "shuttle" missions out of the airfield. C-130s from Tan Son Nhut and Nha Trang made pickups at Cam Ranh, as did C-123s. In October 1966 the 483rd Troop Carrier Wing activated at Cam Ranh under the recently activated 834th Air Division to command the former Army CV-2 Caribous which were transferring to the Air Force. 834th Air Division's 2nd Aerial Port Group included the 14th Aerial Port Squadron which operated the aerial port facilities on the airfield. In 1966 a new ramp was constructed on the west side of the airfield to handle airlift operations. Cam Ranh remained as the Air Force's primary airlift base in South Vietnam until it closed. Cam Ranh-based C-130s were involved in the resupply of Khe Sanh, airdrops into A Loi Airfield in the A Shau Valley, the evacuation of Kham Duc and countless other combat airlift operations.

Military Airlift Command aircraft also operated into Cam Ranh. In July 1966, the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron was elevated to become the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Group. It had been flying throughout Vietnam and to facilities in Japan and the Philippines. The group flew C-9 Nightingale as well as Douglas C-118 Liftmasters[1]

483d Tactical Airlift Wing[edit]

The PACAF 483d Tactical Airlift Wing was activated at Cam Ranh on October 15, 1966 under the 834th Air Division based at Tan Son Nhut AB. The mission of the wing was to manage tactical airlift operations, using air transport to haul cargo and troops, which were air-landed or air-dropped, as combat needs dictated to U.S. Army and allied ground forces throughout South Vietnam. Specifically, the 483d was assigned ex-Army CV-2B "Caribou" light transports. Upon transfer to the USAF, the aircraft was redesignated as a C-7A.

Squadrons assigned to the 483d TAW were:

Assigned to: Phu Cat Air Base (C-7A Tail Code: KE)
  • 535 Tactical Airlift, January 1, 1967 – January 24, 1972
Assigned to: Vung Tau Army Airfield (C-7ATail Code: KH)
  • 536 Tactical Airlift, January 1, 1967 – October 15, 1971
Assigned to: Vung Tau Army Airfield (C-7A Tail Code: KL)
  • 537 Tactical Airlift, January 1, 1967 – January 24, 1972
Assigned to: Phu Cat Air Base (C-7A Tail Code: KN)
  • Royal Australian Air Force, Transport Flight Vietnam / 35 Tactical Airlift, January 1, 1967 – January 24, 1972  : Assigned to: Vung Tau Army Airfield

The unique capabilities of the C-7 for short landing and takeoff made Caribou transports absolutely vital to the war effort. On many occasions the C-7s flew emergency airlift missions to airstrips and combat areas that no other aircraft could reach. Most notable were those in support of special forces camps in the central highlands.

In June 1968 the wing flew a record 2,420 combat troops in three days between Dak Pek, Ben Het and Dak To. In August 1968 pinpoint night airdrops were accomplished at Duc Lap, Ha Thanh and Tonle Cham Special Forces camps. Ammunition and medical supplies were parachuted into 75-foot (23 m)-square drop zones while the camps were under attack. In June 1969 during the siege of Ben Het more than 200 tons of ammunition, POL, rations, water and medical supplies were airdropped into a 100 x 200-foot (61 m) zone with every load on target and 100 per cent recovered. In April 1970, the 483rd helped break the siege of Dak Seang. The wing flew 100 air-drop sorties under heavy hostile fire in ten days delivering some 400,000 pounds of vital supplies.

During their five years' flying for the 483rd, the C-7 Caribous carried more than 4.7 million passengers, averaging more than one million a year during 1967, 68 and 69. At the same time the wing averaged more than 100,000 tons of cargo each year.

In addition to the C-7 squadrons, the wing supported rotating C-130 Hercules squadrons rotated frequently from the 463d Tactical Airlift Wing at Clark AB. These squadrons were operated as Detachment 1. 463d Tactical Airlift Wing. These squadrons were the 29th TAS (QB); 772d TAS (QF); 773d TAS (QG); 774th TAS (QW). In addition, various C-130Es from the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan, and the 315th Air Division from Naha AB, Okinawa performed short frequent rotating deployments to Cam Ranh.

With the inactivation of the 12th Tactical Fighter wing, the 483d became the host wing at Cam Ranh Bay on March 31, 1970. On December 1, 1971, the wing was reassigned from the 834th Air Division directly to Headquarters, Seventh Air Force at Tan Son Nhut AB. It gained a tactical electronic warfare mission in mid-1971 and a special operations mission in the autumn of 1971. These squadrons were:

Assigned to 14th Special Operations Wing, Phan Rang Air Base (squadron assigned to Cam Ranh), September 25, 1970 – September 1, 1971, reassigned to 483d TAW.
  • 90th Special Operations, September 1, 1971 – April 15, 1972 (A-37B Tail Code: CG)
Assigned to 14th Special Operations Wing, Phan Rang Air Base (squadron assigned to Cam Ranh), September 25, 1970 – September 1, 1971, reassigned to 483d TAW.
  • 360th Tactical Electronic Warfare, August 31, 1971 – February 1, 1972 (EC-47N/P/Q Tail Code: AJ)
Reassigned from: 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Tan Son Nhut AB
  • 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare, August 31 – December 1, 1971 (EC-47N/P/Q Tail Code: AL)
Reassigned from: 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Tan Son Nhut AB
  • 362d Tactical Electronic Warfare, August 31, 1971 – February 1, 1972 (EC-47N/P/Q C-47H Tail Code: AN)
Reassigned from: 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Tan Son Nhut AB

The 90th SOS inactivated in place May 31, 1972; the 360th TEWS was reassigned to 377th Air Base Wing at Ton Son Nhut Air Base February 1, 1972; the 361st was inactivated in place December 1, 1971 and the 362d was assigned to the 366th TFW at Da Nang Air Base on February 1, 1972.

For its service in Vietnam, the 483rd was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations (January 21 – May 12, 1968; April 1 – June 30, 1970) and three Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with combat "V" device (January 1 – April 30, 1967; May 1, 1967 – April 30, 1968; July 1, 1970 – December 31, 1971).

USAF withdrawal and South Vietnamese use of Cam Ranh Air Base[edit]

Beginning on January 1, 1972, the 483d Tactical Airlift Wing phased down its activities, and active flying ended by March 31.[2] The unit was inactivated and Cam Ranh Air Base was turned over to the South Vietnamese government on May 15, 1972, ending USAF use of the facility.[3][4]

After the turnover to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) the base was largely abandoned. It was, quite simply, much too big for the Vietnamese to use. The base was slowly looted for its usable equipment, such as air conditioners, desks, refrigerators, and other furniture along with windows, doors and corrugated tin roofs from the buildings left by the Americans, leaving what could be categorized as a deteriorating ghost town of abandoned buildings.[5][6]

The VNAF used the airfield at Cam Ranh Bay as a storage facility for many of their propeller-driven aircraft (A-1E, T-28) while the large amount of jet F-5s and A-37s provided by the United States to the VNAF were used in operations against the North Vietnamese army from other, smaller bases.[7]

On April 3, 1975 North Vietnamese forces captured Cam Ranh Bay and all of its remaining facilities.

Soviet Use of Cam Ranh Air Base[edit]

In 1979, the Soviet Union started leasing the base rent-free from Vietnam under a 25-year leasing treaty. As part of this agreement, the Soviet Air Force stationed MiG-23 Flogger fighters, Tupolev Tu-95 long range reconnaissance aircraft, Tupolev Tu-16, Tupolev Tu-22M and occasionally, near the end of the USSR, Tupolev Tu-160 bombers at Cam Ranh Air Base.

The Russian government continued the earlier Soviet arrangement in a 1993 agreement that allowed for the continued use of the base for signal intelligence, primarily on Chinese communications in the South China Sea. By this time, Russian aircraft had been withdrawn, with only support personnel for the listening station remaining.

In 2001, the Russian government informed Vietnam that it would be withdrawing from Cam Ranh Bay completely. Russian personnel left the facility entirely in 2002.

In Tom Clancy's 1986 techno-thriller Red Storm Rising, the base at Cam Ranh Bay is described as being devoid of unusual Soviet air and naval activity, suggesting to NATO, US & Japanese analysts that the imminent Soviet offensive will be confined to Europe, limiting the scope of the war to reduce the possibility of escalation.

Cam Ranh Emblem Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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

  1. ^ USAFHRA Document 01099512
  2. ^ USAFHRA Document 00902970
  3. ^ USAFHRA Document 00902972
  4. ^ Cam Ranh Bay American Withdrawal 1972 (Video)
  5. ^ Camh Rhan AB Ghost Town, Part 1 (Video)
  6. ^ Camh Rhan AB Ghost Town, Part 2 (Video)
  7. ^ Mikesh, Robert C. (2005) Flying Dragons: The South Vietnamese Air Force. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-2158-7

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]