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Vietnam Air Force
Khong Quan Viet Nam
Active 1955 - 1975
Country South Vietnam
Size 63,000 personnel (at height)
2075 aircraft (at height)
Motto Tổ Quốc - Không Gian (Fatherland - Space)
Anniversaries 1 July - VNAF Day
Engagements Vietnam War
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Nguyễn Xuân Vinh, Nguyễn Cao Kỳ
Insignia
Roundel Vietnam Air Force (south) roundel.svg
Fin Flash Flag of South Vietnam.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack MD 315 Flamant, T-28, A-1, A-37, AC-47, AC-119G/K
Bomber B-57 Canberra
Electronic
warfare
EC-47
Fighter F8F Bearcat, F-5A/B/C/E
Patrol Republic RC-3 Seabee
Reconnaissance RF-5A, MS 500 Criquet, O-1 Bird Dog, O-2 Skymaster, U-6, U-17
Trainer Pazmany PL-2, T-6, T-28, T-41, T-37, H-13
Transport Dassault MD 315 Flamant, C-45, Aero Commander, C-47, DC-6, C-7 Caribou, C-119, C-123, C-130, Alouette II, Alouette III, H-19, UH-1, H-34, CH-47

Contents

History

The VNAF (abbreviation for Viet Nam Air Force, Vietnamese is "Không Quân Việt Nam") started off as a few hand picked men chosen to fly alongside French pilots during the State of Vietnam era. It eventually grew into the world's 6th largest air force at the height of its power, in 1974. It is an often neglected chapter of the history of the Vietnam war as they operated in the shadow of the world's largest air war machine. Many members now live in the United States.

Analysis

In contrast with the North Vietnamese Air Force, most allied air operations in the Vietnam War were conducted by the US armed forces. The South Vietnamese forces operated at a fairly basic level compared to the US forces, which carried the bombing campaigns in the north.

The 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron was organized on 17 June 1963. The United States in May 1956 had started to train and advise the South Vietnamese Air Force. VNAF was supplied with H-19 helicopters, and later H-34's. Initially they employed simple T-28 Trojan[1] prop powered trainers which could carry a small bombload. The first jets were B-57 Canberra bombers arriving in 1965. In October of the same year the VNAF received its first modern UH-1 Huey turbine powered helicopters. Later, the US released more powerful light attack A-1 Skyraiders and jet light attack A-37 Dragonfly, and the lightweight F-5 Freedom Fighter which was developed by Northrop as an affordable export fighter for foreign air forces. By the end of 1972, the VNAF operated 18 squadrons with 500 new helicopters, one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world.[2] In 1972, President Thieu asked for, but did not receive, the F-4 Phantom with its massive bombload and speed that was widely used for all roles by US air services.[3]

When the NVA started to install anti-aircraft missiles near Khe Sanh, the VNAF lacked the radar jamming gear, and the navigational aids required to attack the missile sites.[4] The VNAF primarily flew close support as communist forces did not fly aircraft over US-held territory, so they never had the opportunity to fight MiGs or "go downtown" in heavy fighter bombers. Consequently, the ARVN was at a significant disadvantage once the US air force left Vietnam due to the lack of the bombings and air support provided by the US. Many think that this is reason why the Communist offensive succeeded so rapidly when compared to other offensives, such as the ones in 1968 and 1972.

Fall of South Vietnam

During the final 1975 offensive, it was not simply a case of a massive collapse. The ARVN forces in Long Khanh were fighting to the death. A cooperative effort between the ARVN and the VNAF enabled ARVN troops there to hold on. CH-47 helicopters brought in 193 tons of artillery ammunition over two days. A-1 Skyraiders flew in and a C-130 Hercules transports dropped massive 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs on enemy positions. Flying against intense antiaircraft fire, they took a heavy toll on the NVA divisions around Xuan Loc.

On 28 April at 18:06 3 A-37 Dragonflys piloted by former VNAF pilots who had defected to the Vietnamese People's Air Force at the fall of Danang dropped 6 Mk81 250 lb bombs on the VNAF flightline at Tan Son Nhut Air Base destroying several aircraft. VNAF F-5s took off in pursuit, but were unable to intercept the A-37s[5].

At dawn on 29 April the VNAF began to haphazardly depart Tan Son Nhut Air Base as A-37s, F-5s, C-7s, C-119s and C-130s departed for Thailand while UH-1s took off in search of the ships of TF-76[6]. At 08:00 Lieutenant General Minh, commander of the VNAF and 30 of his staff arrived at the DAO Compound demanding evacuation, this signified the complete loss of command and control of the VNAF[7].

Some VNAF aircraft did stay to continue to fight the advancing NVA however. One AC-119 gunship had spent the night of 28/29 April dropping flares and firing on the approaching NVA. At dawn on 29 April two A-1 Skyraiders began patrolling the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut at 2500 feet until one was shot down, presumably by an SA-7. At 07:00 the AC-119 was firing on NVA to the east of Tan Son Nhut when it too was hit by an SA-7 and fell in flames to the ground[8].

Despite sporadic artillery and rocket fire Binh Thuy Air Base remained operational throughout 29 April and on the morning of 30 April with VNAF A-37 aircraft flying an unknown number of sorties against PAVN columns moving into Saigon, these were the last combat sorties flown by the VNAF. After the announcement of the surrender of South Vietnam by President Minh the pilots flew their stripped down aircraft to U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand, often carrying 3 or even 4 people[9].

Aftermath

Equipment

VNAF F-5C 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
4400th CCTS T-28 wearing South Vietnamese markings flies over Vietnam
A-1H of the South Vietnamese Air Force 520th Fighter Squadron, Binh Thuy Air Base
VNAF Cessna U-17A (USAF s/n 63-13021) at Nha Trang Air Base

Attack Aircraft

Bomber Aircraft

Fighter Aircraft

Reconnaissance and Observation Aircraft

Rotary Aircraft

Training Aircraft

Transport and Utility Aircraft

VNAF Units[10]

Squadron Wing Division Base Aircraft Operated
110th Liaison Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang MS 500 Criquet, O-1 Bird Dog, U-17A/B Skywagon
112th Liaison Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Nha Trang MS 500 Criquet, O-1 Bird Dog,U-17A/B Skywagon
114th Liaison Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang O-1 Bird Dog,U-17A/B Skywagon
116th Liaison Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy O-1 Bird Dog,U-17A/B Skywagon
118th Liaison Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku O-1 Bird Dog, U-17A/B Skywagon, O-2A Skymaster
120th Liaison Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Binh Thuy O-1 Bird Dog, U-17A/B Skywagon
122nd Liaison Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy O-1 Bird Dog, U-17A/B Skywagon
124th Liaison Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Binh Thuy O-1 Bird Dog, U-17A/B Skywagon, O-2A Skymaster
211th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy UH-1
213th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang UH-1
215th Helicopter Squadron 92nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang UH-1
217th Helicopter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy UH-1
219th Helicopter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang H-34 Choctaw, UH-1
221st Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa UH-1
223rd Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa UH-1
225th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang UH-1
227th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang UH-1
229th Helicopter Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku UH-1
231st Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa UH-1
233rd Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang UH-1
235th Helicopter Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku UH-1
237th Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa CH-47 Chinook
239th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang UH-1
241st Helicopter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat CH-47 Chinook
243rd Helicopter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat UH-1
245th Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa UH-1
247th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang CH-47 Chinook
249th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang CH-47 Chinook
251st Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa UH-1
253rd Helicopter Squadron 92nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang UH-1
255th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang UH-1
257th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang UH-1
259th Helicopter Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut UH-1
314th Special Mission Squadron 33rd Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-47, U-17A/B Skywagon, UH-1, DC-6B, Aero Commander
413th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-119 Flying Boxcar
415th Transport Squadron 33rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-47
421st Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-123 Provider
423rd Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-123 Provider
425th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-123 Provider
427th Transport Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang C-7 Caribou
429th Transport Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat C-7 Caribou
431st Transport Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat C-7 Caribou
435th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-130A
437th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut C-130A
514th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa A-1 Skyraider
516th Fighter Squadron 61st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Nha Trang A-37B Dragonfly
518th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa A-1 Skyraider
520th Fighter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy A-37B Dragonfly
522nd Fighter Squadron 63rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa F-5A/B, RF-5A Freedom Fighter
524th Fighter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang A-37B Dragonfly
526th Fighter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy A-37B Dragonfly
528th Fighter Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang A-37B Dragonfly
530th Fighter Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku A-1 Skyraider
532nd Fighter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat A-37B Dragonfly
534th Fighter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Phan Rang A-37B Dragonfly
536th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa F-5A/B Freedom Fighter, F-5E Tiger II
538th Fighter Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang F-5A/B Freedom Fighter
540th Fighter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Phu Cat F-5A Freedom Fighter, F-5E Tiger II
542nd Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa F-5A Freedom Fighter
544th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa F-5A Freedom Fighter
546th Fighter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy A-37B Dragonfly
548th Fighter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Phan Rang A-37B Dragonfly
550th Fighter Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang A-37B Dragonfly
716th Reconnaissance Squadron 33rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut T-28A Trojan, EC-47D Dakota, U-6A Beaver, RF-5A Freedom Fighter
718th Reconnaissance Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Tan Son Nhut EC-47D Dakota
720th Reconnaissance Squadron 33rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut RC-119
817th Attack Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang AC-47D Spooky
819th Attack Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut AC-119G Shadow
821st Attack Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut AC-119K Stinger
912th Training Squadron Air Training Center Air Training Center Nha Trang T-6G Texan
918th Training Squadron Air Training Center Air Training Center Nha Trang T-41 Mescalero
920th Training Squadron Air Training Center Air Training Center Nha Trang T-37, UH-1 Huey

Commanders

Name Rank Dates Notes
Trần Văn Hổ Lieutenant Colonel (1956), Colonel (1957) 1956–1957 First Air Force commander. Was promoted from Lieutenant.
Nguyễn Xuân Vinh 1958–1962
Huỳnh Hữu Hiền 1962–1963
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ Air Vice-Marshal (1965) 1963–1965
Trần Văn Minh Major General, Lieutenant General (1974) 1965–1975 Formerly Chief of General Staff
Nguyễn Hữu Tần 1975 Commander of the 4th Air Division at the same time.

Notes

  1. ^ 1962 Aviation Week
  2. ^ http://www.laudpolicesupply.com/Chuck_web/History%20of%20Dust%20Off/HistoryCHAPTER%20V.htm VNAF Dust Off
  3. ^ NBC Evening News for Friday, Nov 10, 1972 from the Vanderbilt Television News Archive
  4. ^ http://www.riciok.com/
  5. ^ Tobin, Thomas (1978). USAF Southeast Asia Monograph Series Volume IV Monograph 6: Last Flight from Saigon. US Government Printing Office. p. 70. ISBN 978-1410205711. 
  6. ^ Tobin, p. 81.
  7. ^ Tobin, p. 85-87.
  8. ^ Tobin, p. 82.
  9. ^ Tobin, p. 115-117.
  10. ^ VNAF: South Vietnamese Air Force 1945-1975 by Jim Mesko

See also

External links

References

  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 526–533. ISBN 1-57607-040-0. 
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