ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE
F4 - PHANTOM PILOTS
A total of six RAAF ppilots were attached to the US 7th Air Force to fly the renowned McDonell Douglas F4 Phantom jet fighter on combat duty in Vietnam. All of these men were highly experienced fighter pilots, but lacked combat experience. Dsepite this lack of experience, the pilots were warmly welcomed by the USAF
Rolling Thunder - America's sustained bombing campaign of North Vietnam had been under way since march 1965 and reconnaisance jets were needed to gather information on possible targets and to check on the success of attacks already made. The USAF deployed brand new RF-4Cs to both Vietnam and Thailand.
A major problem confronting the early crews in Vietnam was the unreliability of maps, most of which were produced by the french in the 1940's. An incorrect map almost led to the premature demise of an Australian and his navigator on a night flight into Laos.
During this mission the Australian remarked to his 'back seater' that he was getting a 'fly up' command from his instruments despite the fact that maps made no allowance for hills in the area. Heeding his instruments, the Australian put the jet into a steep climb and narrowly avoided slamming into a 2500 ft mountain peak.
Another Australian arrived at the unit and was assigned a temporary navigator who saw him through his first 10 missions. This fellow had been shot down about 2 months previously and his pilot was a POW. Surprisingly, the navigator had parachuted onto one side of a hill and the pilot onto the other. The navigator was rescued in very short time but the pilot was captured.
After flying the 10 missions with this navigator, the Australian was then teamed up with th3e navigator he had trained with in South caroliner. Their Phantom was christened Carolina Kangaroo, which symbolised the two friends affinity with their homelands. In addition, the words "have camera, will travel" were painted on the side of their aircraft.
In October 1968 president Johnson suspended the rolling thunder campaign. Its purpose had been to force the communists to begin peace talks. In this the camoaign failed totally. North Vietnam simply did not have enough targets of sufficient value to justify the massive American air effort made to destroy them.
Additionally, the North Vietnamese (with Russian and Chinese assistance) created an awsome air defence system of missiles, guns and fighters (mig - 17, 19 and 21 aircraft) which in turn caused the USAF heavy losses. However, despite the end of Rolling Thunder, occasional strikes were made into the north as well as Cambodia and Laos.
The Australians were part to the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing (12th TFW) at Cam Ranh bay. In February 1970, the 12th TFW relocated to Phu Cat, near the city of Qui Nhon.
Essentially the task of the 12th TFW was to provide close air support of US, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Australian troops operating in South Vietnam. They occasionally came across a friendly Australian FAC. On some occasions the wing operated into the 'panhandle' and the passes of Laos. When President Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia in mid 1970 we also flew missions up to the Mekong river in that country.
They frequently flew into the Ashua Valley and around the DMZ which were some of the most heavily defended areas of South Vietnam. The NVA used the Ashua Valley as a main road to resupply forces in South Vietnam. They also flew night missions to provide air defence for B52 aircraft making raids into Laos.
The six Australian RAAF Phantom pilots returned to Australia with a wealth of combat experience, all of them have attained senior appointments in the service and all were decorated by either the Australian or American governments, some by both.