A Note From a Survivor
I read Colonel Boyne’s excellent article on efforts to destroy the bridge at Thanh Hoa with great interest [“Breaking the Dragon’s Jaw,” August, p. 58]. As the only surviving C-130 navigator from Operation Carolina Moon, I thought I might be able to add a couple of details about that mission. In the fall of 1965, one C-130B from the 314th Troop Carrier Wing was modified with an experimental Ka-band radar, which was the forerunner of the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System. It was a high-resolution radar, coupled with an airdrop computer. I became the test navigator for that system, and for several months, our crew took the airplane to the Tactical Air Warfare Center (TAWC) at Eglin AFB [Fla.] every week for flight testing. When we weren’t testing the radar, we flew other missions for TAWC, testing tandem LAPES, etc. Some of those missions involved dropping large steel tubs into Apalachicola Bay, but no one would tell us what the devices were. We only found out that they were floating mines, and how they worked, after we were told we had been picked for the mission against the Thanh Hoa bridge.
From the beginning, it was to have been primarily a radar mission, planned for a night with no moon. A second navigator, 1st Lt. “Rocky” Edmondson, was added to the crew to provide visual navigation information as well. The radar, being one-of-a-kind, wasn’t totally reliable, and there were no spare parts in the field except for what we carried with us. A second crew and aircraft, with the standard APN-59 radar, was selected as backup. We trained for weeks at Eglin, gradually working our way down in altitude until we were flying 50 feet above the water at night, blacked out.
At every meeting and every briefing, a fundamental premise was that this mission depended upon achieving complete surprise, because of the heavy defenses at Thanh Hoa. It was never contemplated that the mission could be flown twice, although it was in the frag order for two or more nights to allow for weather or maintenance cancellations. On May 30, we flew the mission just as planned, returning jubilant that months of planning and training had paid off and we had survived. The next morning, our jubilation turned to horror when we learned that the backup crew had been ordered to fly the same profile again the next night. With the element of surprise lost, there was virtually no chance of success. The decision to fly that second mission was probably the worst I ever experienced in my 21 years in the Air Force, but in defense of the officer who made it, it must be said that he most likely did not have knowledge of the details of the mission. And for the record, I was told that morning that Lieutenant Edmondson went to Maj. [Thomas] Case and volunteered to join his crew.
I was the last person to leave Major Case’s aircraft before he taxied out. It was a somber moment. After a long night of waiting, it was obvious that Major Case and his crew were down. In the morning, Maj. [Richard] Remers’ crew flew the mission track to within sight of the North Vietnamese coast, searching for debris or any sign of the aircraft. Of course, we found nothing, and later photographic evidence confirmed the wreckage of the C-130 near the target. Four decades later, I still can’t shake the feeling that the lives of good men and two valuable aircraft were utterly wasted by a failure of leadership. The Dragon’s Jaw was an important and difficult target, worthy of considerable risk, but it didn’t warrant a suicide mission.
Lt. Col. Norman G. Clanton,
Hero in the Limelight
Thank you very much for writing the outstanding article about SSgt. Robert Gutierrez and describing in detail his extraordinary heroism displayed in combat operations at Herat province, Afghanistan, on Oct. 5, 2009 [“Once More Unto the Breach,” October, p. 26].
I think the article reflects only a small portion of some of the dangers our USAF combat controllers encounter every day, while operating and assisting ground forces—wherever they may be. Furthermore, AFSOC rarely gets into the limelight or gets the credit it truly deserves, but this story was truly a refreshing change from the past norm.
MSgt. Menko D. Christoph,
St. Peters, Mo.
Dissing the Thunderbolts
I was shocked, almost, at the omission of the P-47 Thunderbolt, “Jug,” etc., from your story “Warbirds,” elaborating on our World War II Army Air Forces airplanes in the October 2011 issue [p. 46]. We flew as many as two missions a day dive-bombing and strafing the Nazis and halting their drive to the west. And you left them out? Shame!
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
The story featured restored or reproduced aircraft owned and operated by the Collings Foundation. The foundation does not operate a P-47.—the editors
When I enlisted in the Army Air Corps, way back in the early 1940s, and became a pilot, I was assigned to what was called Troop Carrier Command based at Bergstrom Field, Austin, Tex. Our CO was Maj. Ed Nigro.
Our assignment was to create a way to recover the gliders, which were being planned for use in dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines since those gliders were of no further use, once used on the original missions.
The Army, at that time, had an inventory of less than 400 total airplanes (of all types) and we had to use Douglas airliners, on loan from United Air Lines, plus their senior pilots as instructors, in this newly crafted Air Corps military concept.
Over the many, many years since then, I have written letters to your magazine about doing a magazine piece on this highly unusual entity, Troop Carrier Command, but as far as I can determine, your magazine has never even acknowledged its existence.
As an over 50-year member of the association, I would like to go on record that, although you’ve highlighted every other facet of the Air Force’s operations, you never ever recognized TCC as one of the earliest and most basic of commands.
At 91, I’m tired of waiting, so cancel my membership as of now.
Don J. Daley
It is exceedingly rare for Air Force Magazine to publish articles on specific organizations within the Air Force. For instance, we will not publish an article “about” Air Combat Command. However, the exploits and achievements of I and IX Troop Carrier Commands have been featured in many Air Force Magazine articles, including “Loadmaster Evolution,” this issue; “The Air Invasion of Burma,” by John T. Correll, November 2009; “Troop Carriers of World War II” by C.V. Glines, March 1999; and “Valor: Operation Varsity,” by John Frisbee, March 1996 issue.—the editors
John Correll obviously holds Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks in contempt. So be it; it is his prerogative [“The Campaign for Goldwater-Nichols,” October, p. 68].
As an old infantry rifleman, I am completely conversant with the words for the expression of the Anglo-Saxon pejorative for sexual intercourse. Most infantrymen of my acquaintance held the words in use for specific and particularly appropriate times. Obviously the editors of Air Force Magazine do not. Evidently fly boys need to speak without nuance when quoting ground troops.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned and out of touch; anyway, I am reluctant to have my wife read the article.
Larry E. Brasher
Come to Papa
Thanks so much for John Tirpak’s article on the Heavy Airlift Wing at Papa AB, Hungary [“C-17s in Hungary,” October, p. 38]. This article was especially important to me, since my parting suggestion to the AIRCENT (NATO) staff, as I assumed command of the 86th Logistics Group there at Ramstein [AB, Germany] in February 1999, was that NATO ought to consider an airlift wing much like the NATO AWACS wing. Of course, people simply dismissed my idea, stating that such a proposal would be way too expensive. Well, the same thing was probably said before the AWACS wing was planned.
My proposal came about with the realization that most of the NATO countries (16 at that time) seemed to count on US airlift to get them to the fight. Looking at the ton-miles we were capable of at that time made this thinking unsupportable. My idea was to form a NATO airlift wing that would comprise not only C-17s, but C-130s, C-160s, and/or the A400, to have a well-rounded airlift capability for NATO countries to share as they do the AWACS. I am truly pleased to see that we now have a consortium that operates the C-17, and I believe that is a great start.
Col. Frank Alfter,
It Happened in Vietnam, Too
It was a legend in the MAC C-133 community of the late 1960s that an F-105 was carried from Udorn RTAB, Thailand, with battle damage that rendered the “Thud” unflyable. Also, and as shown in the pages of Remembering an Unsung Giant, p. 267, a battle-damaged RF-4C was picked up at Da Nang, South Vietnam, and carried back to the States. That means the caption on p. 22 of the October Air Force Magazine, “Nose First,” loading a damaged Navy F/A-18 into the hold of a C-5 does not tell the whole story [“Air Force World”].
We used to carry a lot of battle-damaged cargo like this: five Army Hueys to Corpus Christi; four Cobras; and many other outsize things too numerous to describe here. I understand we also carried F-104s but I have no personal recollection.
Michael W. Rea
Tip o’ the Hat to Colonel Melroy
In the September 2011 issue of Air Force Magazine there is an incorrect statement on p. 108 [“The Shuttle Era Ends”]. USAF Col. Eileen Collins is NOT the only woman to have both piloted and commanded shuttles. USAF Col. Pam Melroy was the pilot of STS-92 and -112 and then went on to command STS-120.
Redondo Beach, Calif.
Zealots, Planners, So What
Something about Phillip Meilinger’s excellent article on the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) in the October issue bothered me [“The USSBS’ Eye on Europe,” p. 75]. After some pondering it finally came to me: service parochialism and the missing “so what” factor.
Meilinger’s article reflects the service parochialism present at the time. He describes the Army leadership over the Army Air Forces as “land warfare zealots.” While I don’t question the accuracy of Meilinger’s description, it misses the shortsightedness of the air war planners themselves. Maj. Gen. Haywood “Possum” Hansell, in his book The Strategic Air War Against Germany and Japan, complained that the senior commanders were determined to “divert the power of the strategic air forces away from [their] primary objectives and apply it in a support role for the furtherance of the ground forces objective.” The offending “ground forces objective” was the Allied invasion of France! This was the decisive event for the western Allies in the European theater, perhaps in the war. Hansell was so focused on achieving air forces objectives that he missed the highest priority in the theater. Congress provided the remedy to this parochialism. The National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of Defense and subordinated the services to the DOD. Congress completed the remedy by passing the Goldwater-Nichols legislation in 1986.
Who can blame the “land warfare zealots”? The “so what” factor was missing from the air war plan. The air war planners failed to draw the connection between the targets they selected and the overall goal. In fact, as Meilinger notes, the bearings industry was the right target set; it just was not patently obvious how blowing up factories would help the disembarked invasion forces cross the beach. The effort seemed irrelevant to the current fight. The machine guns protecting the Normandy beaches still worked whether or not the factory that produced the bearings in the weapons had been destroyed—they could (and would) kill American, British, and Canadian soldiers. It would impact the future fight, however, when gunners went to replace burnt-out barrels if there were none in supply and, even if the factories could produce barrels, they wouldn’t arrive because all the railroad lines were cut between the beaches and home. Today, air planners, in the first step towards producing an air tasking order, link objectives and effects with the commander’s guidance and select tasks that will achieve the commander’s objectives. Planners have to demonstrate how attacking a target progresses the operation toward the desired end state, providing the causal linkage between actions ordered and resulting effects.
Meilinger and the survey authors are correct: Airpower was decisive. But so was ground power and sea power. The war was won by a joint, indeed combined, force.