Tuesday, May 25, 2010

USAF units in Thailand during the Vietnam (American) War - A History Lesson


The United States Air Force deployed combat aircraft to Thailand from 1961 to 1975 during the Vietnam War. Today, USAF units train annually with other Asian Air Forces in Thailand. Royal Thai Air Force Bases are an important element in thePentagon's "forward positioning" strategy.

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[edit]Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, about 80% of all USAF air strikes over North Vietnam originated from air bases in Thailand. At its peak in 1969 a greater number of Airmen were serving in Thailand than were serving in South Vietnam.

Under Thailand's "gentleman's agreement" with the U.S., the bases were considered Royal Thai Air Force bases and were commanded by Thai officers. Thai air police controlled access to the bases; U.S. air police who helped them did carry guns. Command of the American units, however, remained with U.S. wing commanders and their Seventh Air Force/Thirteenth Air Force headquarters.

Out of the Thai bases flew the most extraordinary air-combat team that had ever been assembled. From Udorn, just 40 minutes by air from Hanoi, flew supersonic, unarmed RF-101 and RF-4C reconnaissance jets streaked over target areas immediately before and after a raid to photograph the damage so assessments of the attack could be made. From Korat, Takhli and Uboncame the F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-4C and F-4D Phantoms that actually deliver the bombs. From U-Tapao airfield on the Gulf of Siam, the largest airfield in Southeast Asia, four-engine KC-135 refueling tankers took to the air and refueled the aircraft just before and after they hit North Vietnam. From Takhli flew EB-66 electronic-warfare jets with special equipment that can detect the "fingerprints" of enemy radar in the sky and then send out a signal that fouls up the screen below. Flying out of Takhli, F-105s armed with radar-guided Shrike missiles had the job of knocking out SAM sites.

Finally, from Nakhon Phanom came every pilot's best friend: the air-rescue-and-recovery team. Flying ungainly looking, green and brown CH-3 helicopters, or "Jolly Green Giants," R. &. R. pilots had even gone into Hanoi's outskirts to rescue downed fliers.

These are the major bases the USAF operated from in Thailand:

Major USAF Unit: 631st Combat Support Group, 1962-1970
Major USAF Unit: 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1965-1975
Major USAF Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, 1967-1975
Major USAF Unit: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1965-1971; Rotational units, 1972-1974
Major USAF Units: 4258th Strategic Wing, 1966-1970; 307th Strategic Wing, 1970-1975
Major USAF Unit: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1965-1974
Major USAF Unit: 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 1966-1975

The circumstances surrounding the creation of these bases and the American deployment is a long and complex tale. Its origins lie in the French withdrawal from Indochina as a result of the 1954 Geneva Agreement, nationalism and the Cold War

USAF Thailand Emblem Gallery

[edit]Command And Control

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7/13 Air Force
1966-1973

Wings



13 comments:

Alan Baker said...

I flew airlift out of Utapao: "Klonghopper Airlines". In 1970 I flew into a little grass field called T-63 in the Watthananakhon area. See
http://vietnamairlift.com/watthananakhon.html

Where can I find information about this airfield?

jhighscoutdad said...

No mention of the B 52 operations from UTapao which began in April 1967.

jhighscoutdad said...

Yes. I was a member of the 4258th Strat Wing that operated the tankesr and bombers under SAC control.

Aesia Brown said...

Good afternoon,
I'm looking for a site or a person that may have a copy of orders with services members name showing that they deployed to Thailand, 7th Special Operations Sq out of Ram stein Air Base, Germany.

sweeney209 said...

The majority of Special Operations assignments where classified. Just about all of my orders have "Unit of Assignment listed as Classified" They used a pass code to identify where they were at, but they(classified passcodes) were all retired and stored at the National Archives before the big fire there and were lost. I needed a statement of service listing all my assignments and they couldn't locate them. Even my evaluations had Pass Codes vs Units and/or address. There were two other SOSs there, the 1st and the 16th. I never heard of the 7th being in theater, Good luck in finding what you need Aesia Brown.

Phoenix said...

Sweeney209 - can you provide any insights into SOG-517 and SOG-5, Hq72ndCSGp? These entities are on my brothers DD214 but have not been able to identify them. He served in Udorn Thailand during the period July 70-Jul72. Appreciate your consideration.

Jerry Duggan said...

I didn't see anything about the 555th, triple nickle, being at Udorn. They were there with the 432nd when I was there. 1968/69.

Jerry Duggan said...

I didn't see anything about the 555th, triple nickle, being at Udorn. They were there with the 432nd when I was there. 1968/69.

Phoenix said...

Mr. Duggan - Appreciate the reply! Would ask for further clarification since I am not familiar with the designations of these Air Force units. Is the triple nickel SOG-5? My brother was also in Udorn during the 68-69 timeframe as a combat weatherman. He passed away in February from significant agent orange related health issues and I am trying to establish his combat deployments. thank you for any insights you may be able to provide - my ultimate goal is to positively link him to any unit histories that may exist.

JL said...

Triple nickel (555th) flew F-4s out of Seymour Johnson. My dad was a crew chief at Udorn in the triple nickel in the early 70s.

Ricardo Chavira said...


My brother David Chavira Jr. was a U.S. Air Force communications specialist and based at Udorn in 1970, serving one tour. He died nearly 20 years ago and never once disclosed what he did during his time at the base. Of course, his assignment was classified, and he was required to not provide information about his actions. I'm left wondering what sorts of things he might have assigned. Based on what I've been able to learn about Udorn, it's likely he took part in covert missions in Laos or North Vietnam. If anyone can shed some light on this I would appreciate it. David and I were very close, but his oath was something he respected all the way to the grave.

Unknown said...

There's a mistake in your reference about Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), as I had two (2) tours of duty back-to-back (8/73 - 8/74 and, 8/74 - 8/75). Don Muang RTAFB was open when I departed for my next overseas assignment in August 1975. I was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Postal & Courier Service (USAFPCS). NOTE: Also, was assigned to the USAFPCS from 7/71 - 6/72) at Ubon RTAFB.

Chris said...

I was assigned to Udorn 3/69-3/70 as a crew chief on one of the two "Recce" F-4 squadrons, the 11th and 14th TRS. There were also two F-4D fighter squadrons, the 13th and 555th(infamous "Triple Nickel") TFS. The last three months I was there a group of AC-119's (ARC light ) were squeezed in as well. We were the prime recovery base for North Vietnam and other areas in the region for aircraft that had unreleased/ hung ordnance. We had many interesting situations when one would call in an emergency recovery. There were at least five barriers to "catch" these aircraft as they landed. Can't say too much more but had a helluva good time drinking with the Philippine maintenance crews for the Air America compound at one end of our ramp! Beginning in Jan 1970, you had to have orders allowing you to travel to other bases. Before that, you could just go down to base ops and jump on anything going anywhere as long as you made it back for your shift! Thailand was a very beautiful country!