The story of a confused dogfight during the Vietnam War.
After having shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 on May 1, 1967, Lieutenant Commander Ted “T.R.” Swartz almost scored a second on Jul. 21 during an Alpha strike on the Ta Xa POL site. Swartz was one of four Skyhawks flying Iron Hand SAM suppression, carrying a Shrike anti-radiation missile under one wing and a Zuni pack under the other. According to the book The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, eight MiG-17s attacked the VA-76 and VA-212 A-4s, which had cover from F-8 Crusaders of VF-24 and VF-211. VF-24’s Commander Marion H. “Red” Issaks got one with a Sidewinder while Lieutenant Commander Robert L. Kirkwood made one of the rare gun kills of the second with his four 20mm cannon. Lieutenant Commander Ray “Timmy” Hubbard, whose Crusader was armed with Zuni rockets for flak suppression, fired his Zunis and guns and knocked down the third, while Kirkwood’s wingman, Lieutenant (jg) Philip W. Dempewolf, got the fourth with a Sidewinder.
Swartz recalled the fight:
“I was lead Iron Hand, out in front of the strike with Timmy Hubbard flying cover for me, trolling for SAMs. Incredibly, a flight of eight MiG-17s flew up between me and Timmy, and the strike group. Waples called me that I had two MiGs on my tail – I looked around and I had eight on my tail! Issaks came in and nailed one with a ’winder. Timmy fired his Zunis at the next one and fired off all his ammo at it, but it wouldn’t go down. He called he was out of ammo and leaving, just then the MiG caught fire and went in right after the pilot ejected.”
At that point, the other four MiG-17s were still in the fight. One chewed up Issaks and set his wing on fire. The fight was getting close to the Chinese border. Swartz called to Issaks to turn right, away from the border, that he would cover him. “I poked two Zunis at these two MiGs, damn near head-on, they whizzed past and scared the hell out of them, and they got off Red’s ass.” Swartz also saw Kirkwood and Dempewolf:
“Kirkwood fired a ’winder and hit a MiG, then Dempewolf fired one and it tracked on Kirkwood! Just as the goddamn thing approaches his tailpipe, he launches another Sidewinder and the one headed for him takes after that one and lops off part of his starboard stabilizer and puts marks under his wing, then one hits the fourth MiG and blows it up and the other flies through the debris.”
When all had returned to the carrier, Swartz reported what had happened to Kirkwood’s airplane. “Kirkwood about shit and Dempewolf claimed a half a kill and was later credited with number four. It was funnier than hell.”
The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force