Cold War Era

Remembering VMFA-122 ‘F-4V’, the USMC Phantom II featuring a unique Three Gun-Pod Configuration

“If one gun was good, three were better.” Col Jacques Naviaux, VMFA-122

No fewer than 11 US Marine Corps (USMC) squadrons flew versions of the F-4 Phantom II in Southeast Asia from May 1965 through to early 1973. Although one deployment was from an aircraft carrier, and included a successful MiG engagement, most missions were flown from land bases at Da Nang and Chu Lai, in South Vietnam, and Nam Hong, in Thailand. Rather than the air-to-air missiles that were the main component in the original F-4 armament, these aircraft carried an ever-expanding range of weaponry. While most flew daily sorties delivering napalm, Snakeye bombs and big Zuni rockets, some toted 24 500-lb bombs and one strafed with up to three 20 mm gun pods.

At Da Nang in fact, VMFA-122’s armament team devised a three gun-pod wiring configuration for F-4B BuNo 148378 (dubbed the `F-4V’ in honour of squadron CO, Lt Col John M Verdi), giving a combined rate of fire of 6300 rounds per minute from pods on the centreline and wing stations. As told by Peter E Davies in his book US Marine Corps F-4 Phantom II Units of the Vietnam War, the configuration reportedly made the F-4B ‘an outstanding gun platform’, although the recoil effects, particularly if one wing-mounted Mk 4 pod jammed, required careful management. Col Jacques Naviaux flew with VMFA-122 at this time;

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-4B Phantom II VMFA-122 Crusaders, DC3 / 149429 / 1967

`We had been the first, and probably the only, F-4 squadron to use the gun pod for air-to-air gunnery in Stateside training — our wonderful executive officer, “Bear” Waldvogel, had spectacular aerial gunnery scores. And Lt Col Verdi liked firepower. If one gun was good, three were better. The gun was seldom used by most other units because of a well-deserved reputation for jamming after firing about ten rounds. We had a sergeant in VMFA-122 who loved that 20 mm gun pod, and he made them work. We went from averaging ten rounds between stoppages to 14,000 — an effort entirely attributable to our dedicated and totally superior Marine Corps ordnance sergeant.

`The gun had another problem. We started picking up what we thought were hits from enemy fire on the radome. However, the pattern of hits was associated only with gun firing. It was determined that the high-explosive rounds were tumbling and detonating in front of the aircraft, so we were taking shrapnel hits from our own ammunition.’

The squadron fired more than 43,000 rounds in May 1968 alone, many of them against enemy forces close to Chu Lai. Gen William ‘Spider’ Nyland attributed the squadron’s gun pod success to Verdi’s determination to ‘put the manpower on it and keep it lubricated and tuned up. Operating out of Chu Lai, there was so much sand, grit and crud in the air that it would just jam up — the weapon was quickly dubbed the “1000-lb single-shot rifle.” There was a place for it in CAS, but mostly we relied on “nape and Snake”.’

Mk 4 gun pod

US Marine Corps F-4 Phantom II Units of the Vietnam War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Artwork Courtesy of Lou Drendel and

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

Not only JP-8: US Army tanker recalls M1 Abrams turbine running on Bacardi 151 and unknown fuels

The M1 Abrams The M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank closes with and destroys the enemy… Read More

12 hours ago

US Naval Aviator explains why in air to air combat a P-51 Mustang would toast an F-117 Nighthawk everyday

The F-117 Nighthawk The F-117 is the world’s first operational stealth aircraft. The Nighthawk is… Read More

19 hours ago

CH-47 crew chief recalls when a Chinook pilot tasked to sling load a 15,000 lb Daisy Cutter to a safe area got scared and released the bomb 5 feet from ground

The CH-47 Chinook In 1960, Boeing bought Vertol Aircraft Co., a helicopter manufacturer in Philadelphia,… Read More

19 hours ago

Coveted Raytheon Trophy awarded to an Air Combat Command F-15E Strike Eagle fighter squadron for the first time

The first Raytheon Trophy awarded to an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter squadron Since 1953, the… Read More

2 days ago