‘The MiG pilot had three choices’, Brig Gen Robin Olds explained. ‘He could bale out, hit that ridge of hills or pull up, giving my Sidewinder a clear shot. He chose the last option.
As told by Peter E Davies in his book USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965-68, on May 20, 1967, 8th TFW CO Col Olds led ‘Tampa’ flight, providing MiGCAP for an F-105 strike near Kep airfield. The MiGs were very active that month, and 16 attacked the strike force just short of the target. The subsequent battle lasted an unprecedented 14 minutes, during which time Col Olds’ wingman was shot down (‘The only wingman I ever lost,’ he recalled) and the MiGs entered a low-altitude, defensive ‘wagon wheel’ formation over Kep. After several attempts Col Olds and his ‘GIB’ (‘Guy In Back’), 1Lt Steve Croker, got behind a MiG-17 and downed it with an AIM-7, despite heavy enemy fire.
As the strike force egressed, Col Olds saw a single aircraft orbiting low between the hills. ‘I saw his shadow on the ground, and there was no smoke trail, so I figured he was the MiG honcho, directing the others.’ Having ensured that everyone else had safely departed, Olds turned back after the lone MiG. At extremely low altitude, and ‘going like a stripe-tail ape,’ he pursued the MiG-17 into a shallow valley with low hills at its end. As the MIG climbed to clear these, Col Olds destroyed it with his last Sidewinder and then swiftly departed.
‘When I latched onto the tanker, we had about 300 lbs of fuel remaining.’ Gon Stove Croker recalled that, ‘The boss figured it perfectly. We hit our tanker and got the gas we needed pretty much on schedule.’ He also remembered that they were out of missiles by that stage. ‘We locked up and attempted to fire all of our AIM-7s, but I recall that one didn’t come off the rail.
Col Olds’ mount on this mission was F-4C 64-0829, which he also flew during the attack on the Doumer Bridge that earned him an Air Force Cross, as well as the daring low-altitude strike on the Thai Nguyen steel mill (for which he was awarded a Silver Star) and on his final combat mission – by then it had been named SCAT XXVII (continuing a series of SCAT-named aircraft flown by Col Olds stretching back to World War 2). On the May 20, 1967 mission it bore the 433rd TFS’s ‘Satan’s Angels’ insignia on its nose, beneath which Olds’ and Croker’s names were later added, together with their two kills on the left intake splitter plate.
64-0829’s long USAF career began with its delivery to the 33rd TFW on Oct. 28, 1965, where the fighter remained until transferred to the 8th TFW in February 1967 for service with the 433rd TFS. It then moved, along with a handful of other ex-‘Wolfpack’ F-4Cs, to the Cam Ranh Bay-based 12th TFW at the end of 1967, serving with the 557th and 558th TFSs. Returning to the USA in early 1970, it was sent to the 479th TFW’s 4535th CCTS (GA) in March of that year, after which it served with the 35th TFW from October 1971.
Following Periodic Depot Maintenance at Ogden AMA in 1971, 64-0829 was issued to USAFE’s 81st TFW at RAF Bentwaters in February 1972, flying with the 91st TFS (WS and later WR codes). It joined the 401st TFW (TJ) at Torrejon, Spain, in September 1973, and was subsequently reassigned to the USAF Reserve-manned 93rd TFS/915th TFG (FM) at Homestead AFB, Florida, from September 1979. After final service with the Texas ANG’s 182nd TFS/149th TFG (SA), commencing in 1983, the aircraft was restored to a semblance of its ‘Wolfpack’ markings and put on display within the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in 1987.
USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965-68 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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