As 388th TFW Vice Commander Col Jack Broughton put it, ‘I had been shot down by our own people’.
To avoid the possible entrance of Chinese or Soviet forces into the Vietnam War, Washington tightly controlled these bombing operations. Limitations imposed included no bombing in the “sanctuaries” around Hanoi (the capital of North Vietnam), Haiphong (North Vietnam’s main port), and a buffer zone along the Chinese border. Moreover, many types of targets remained off limits early in the campaign, including enemy airfields, surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites and petroleum facilities.
As told by Peter E Davies in his book F-105 Thunderchief Units of the Vietnam War, proof of the crippling nature of the RoE in-theatre for all US tactical aircraft came during the course of a mission on Jun. 2, 1967. Returning from a successful bombing run, F-105 pilot Maj Ted Tolman decided to deal with gun positions near the port of Cam Pha that had fired on his flight during the outbound leg of the mission. As he strafed the gun-pits, Tolman saw a ship in the midst of the storm of AAA aimed at him. Unfortunately, it was the Russian freighter Turkestan, and high, level political protests ensued. These included a discussion between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin during which the latter produced a 20 mm shell allegedly from the Turkestan’s hull! These resulted in courts-martial for MiG killer Tolman, his wingman Maj Lonnie Ferguson and 388th TFW Vice Commander Col Jack Broughton.
Tolman’s flight had to weather-divert to Ubon, where he ill-advisedly stated that he had not fired his cannon during the mission. Out of loyalty to his pilots, Col Broughton helped to destroy Tolman’s gun-camera film (used by the Seventh Air Force to monitor pilots’ compliance to the RoE) on his return to Takhli. The two pilots were eventually acquitted, but Col Broughton, scheduled to assume command of the 432nd TRW at Udorn, was made the scapegoat. Relieved of his command, he left the service. Although a Washington, D.C. appeal court soon overturned the court-martial sentence as a gross miscarriage of justice, the USAF had already lost one of the most successful leaders of its F-105 operations. As Broughton put it, ‘I had been shot down by our own people’.
PACAF C-in-C Gen John D Ryan, instigator of the court-martial, was famous for his abrasiveness, as Broughton noted on another occasion involving F-105 cameras;
“‘Thuds” had two cameras. The gun camera in the nose looked forward and was activated when the cannon or Sidewinders were fired. The sweep camera was mounted on the belly. It started running when the bombs were released and swept backwards to record their impact and provide good BDA. As you recovered from your steep dive-bombing run the sweep camera was registering bomb impact, and you jinked for your life or got shot down. Gen Ryan got these cameras and their functions mixed up. He looked at sweep camera film, saw us jinking as we left the target and accused us (very face-to-face with me) of jinking on our runs, thus decreasing our accuracy.
`I insisted, in an act that was obviously politically incorrect, that once we rolled in on the target our ass belonged to “Uncle Sam” until we punched the bombs off on target, and that we never wiggled until our bombs were released. Gen Ryan told me not to give him that crap.
`Early in Rolling Thunder we had to carry big camera pods on one jet in some flights of four. After several bad incidents where the camera-carrier could not keep up with his squadronmates, thus jeopardising the whole flight, we managed to get that foolishness stopped.’
Very little of the F-105 camera film was of much use for BDA, which relied mainly on film from dedicated reconnaissance aircraft.
F-105 Thunderchief Units of the Vietnam War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force