Feb. 1, 2011

Hoggy Heaven

I enjoyed reading Walter J. Boyne’s December 2010 article, “Hog Heaven” [p. 34]. As then-Capt. Paul Johnson’s and Capt. Randy Goff’s squadron commander, I remember their incredibly successful combat search and rescue mission like it happened last week, instead of almost 20 years ago. I’m also pleased to see PJ’s enviable skill and talent as an officer and aviator have taken him far.

I do have a few issues with the article, though. The 353rd “Panthers” squadron was situated at the midpoint of the deployment, Moron AB, Spain, briefing for the second leg before our wing commander, then-Col. Sandy Sharpe, informed us we were to land at King Fahd Airport in Saudi Arabia. Secondly, my recollection of the private conversation I had with PJ over going to Fighter Weapons School or deploying with the squadron to an unknown location was as follows: You only get one shot at FWS; they don’t give out invitations a second time. We don’t know if or where the squadron is deploying, how long we might be deployed, and when, if ever, we’ll be engaged in combat. I recommend going to FWS. He made the decision to take the sure thing, going to Nellis Air Force Base. I also remember Capt. Steve Phillis maintaining his position as squadron weapons officer until he was declared missing in action on Feb. 15, 1991. Here’s to the lasting memory of “Syph.” Finally, as a long-term subscriber to your wonderful magazine, I would have appreciated the correct spelling of my name for this article.

Col. Richard D. Shatzel,

USAF (Ret.)

Falmouth, Mass.

The Element of Surprise

While John T. Correll’s “Entebbe” article in your December 2010 issue [p. 62] gave proper credit to the role of airpower of the Israeli Air Force in the Entebbe hostage rescue, he did not give an accurate accounting of why and how the Israeli ground forces compromised the element of surprise vital to the mission [p. 62].

On p. 66, he wrote that a Ugandan sentry pointed his rifle at the Israeli commandos in the “dummy” Idi Amin Mercedes approaching the airport’s old terminal. He speculated that the guard knew that the car was not Amin’s. He continued, “They [the commandos] had to shoot their way through and immediately came under from the old control tower.”

I consulted several sources, including Secret Soldier, the memoirs of Moshe Betser, who was a commando on the raid. The book bills him as Israel’s most famous commando, a statement that may or may not be true.

Yoni Netanyahu, the commander of the assault troops, was in the Mercedes with his deputy, Betser. Three of the commandos, including Netanyahu and Betser, had silenced .22-caliber Beretta semi-automatic pistols. When Netanyahu saw the Ugandan sentry raising his rifle, Netanyahu indicated he wanted to shoot the sentry. Betser tried to dissuade him from doing so, telling him the sentry’s actions were merely routine and simply consistent with a sentry on the alert and not a threat. In fact, according to Betser, the sentry had said, “Advance.”

Netanyahu disregarded the advice, and he and another commando shot at the sentry with their silenced pistols. The sentry fell but stood up and aimed his rifle at the car, only to be cut down by a burst of fire from a Kalashnikov rifle carried by one of the commandos in the vehicle following the Mercedes; the commando thought that the sentry was a threat to the passing Mercedes. The element of surprise was compromised.

In his book, Betser observed that “the plan went wrong because of the silenced .22s and the long blast of Kalashnikov fire that followed.”

The “battle” over Entebbe remained controversial for years and perhaps remains so. In November 2006, Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, revisited the arguments surrounding the raid and mentioned the silenced pistol incident in a story titled, “Still Fighting Over Entebbe.” Betser’s account of events infuriated the Netanyahus and was one of many controversies over who did what on the raid and who should receive the credit for its success.

In summary, the competence of the air and ground commanders must be mutual. The entire operation, ground and air, is endangered or degraded if either component exhibits poor judgment or commits an avoidable mistake. In this case, the ground operations were jeopardized by something as simple and unnecessary as ground troops, including—of all people—the assault unit commander, taking unnecessary shots with silenced pistols at an enemy guard who in reality posed no threat.

Fortunately for Israel, the operation was a success, notwithstanding the silenced pistols compromising one of the greatest weapons in warfare: surprise.

Col. Charles A. Jones,

USMC Reserve (Ret.)

Norfolk, Va.

Kudos to John T. Correll for his outstanding report of the Entebbe raid. Few realize the importance of this mission in shaping the buildup of US special operations over the last 30 years.

Right after the successful Entebbe mission, questions were asked in the Pentagon: “Can we do this kind of mission to rescue Americans halfway around the world?” The answer was, “Perhaps, but the presence of intermediate friendly countries willing to let our special ops C-130s refuel is critical.”

[To avoid] having to depend on refueling bases on foreign soil, actions were started to modify special ops Combat Talons MC-130A and AC-130 Spectre Gunships for airborne refueling, which materialized in the mid- to late ’70s. But probably the biggest influence of the Entebbe raid on US special operations was the realization and embodiment of the concept, “In special operations, you can get away with almost anything—once.”

Col. Roland D. Guidry,

USAF (Ret.)

Destin, Fla.

The Bomber Question

The dilemma faced by defense officials concerning “The Bomber Question,” eloquently stated by Executive Editor John A. Tirpak may reflect two disparaging views of Defense Secretary Gates and some uniformed service Chiefs about the military threats facing the nation in the next 50 years (December, p. 22). Philosophically, a false premise may produce a false conclusion, and it is suggested that a premise that a long-range manned bomber is essential to protect from potential enemies, with China the major probable antagonist (p. 24), and possibly Russia lurking in the back of the minds of the military planners, no doubt, may be fundamentally flawed. First, there is no credible rationale for either nation to war with the West, particularly the United States, and more pointedly, none was presented; and secondly, real current and future enemies may not best be constrained or defeated by manned, long-range bombers. Thus, in the absence of agreement of a realistic military threat to the nation, any conclusion as to what weapons are needed must by definition be flawed.

Lt. Col. Bill Getz,

USAF (Ret.)

Fairfield, Calif.

Seeking Photos From Cold War Veterans

First came Air Force Magazine’s “World War II Scrapbook” in 1995. The “Korean War Scrapbook” and the “Vietnam War Scrapbook” followed in 1996. Now comes the “Cold War Scrapbook.”

As with those earlier collections, the magazine seeks personal, candid, unofficial photos from current AFA members who served during the Cold War.

DOD defines the Cold War as the period between Sept. 2, 1945, and Dec. 26, 1991. We’re looking for photos of Cold War service both in the US and overseas, but away from the active war zones of the time.

Please mail photos and detailed descriptions to: Cold War Victory Scrapbook, Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Hwy., Arlington, VA 22209-1198. Photos will be returned.

Include a phone number or e-mail where we can reach you.

Deadline is May 1.

Photos selected for Air Force Magazine’s “Cold War Scrapbook” will be published in August.

Do you have a comment about a current article in the magazine? Write to “Letters,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. (E-mail: letters@afa.org.) Letters should be concise and timely. We cannot acknowledge receipt of letters. We reserve the right to condense letters. Letters without name and city/base and state are not acceptable. Photographs cannot be used or returned.—the editors