Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Eternal Father, strong to save,
|This page is dedicated to
Medal of Honor holder
Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, USN
Please read about him below.
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A-4'S IN THE COLD WAR (9/6/05)
Remarks by Adm J. L. Holloway III, USN (Ret.) before the Skyhawk Association
At a luncheon on Friday, 9 September 2005
Tailhook Convention, Reno, Nevada
Today, as promised, I am going to talk to you about the A-4. And I am going to do it in the context of Vietnam and the Cold War. That is where when the Skyhawk played its leading role.
Vietnam was not a popular war, to say the least. It was a war we didn't want to fight but it was a war we could not afford to lose. For many it was a war to be forgotten. In truth, it was an event of major importance in our nation's history, but its significance, even today is not well understood.
Vietnam was a campaign in a larger and more desperate struggle, one that began with the end of WWII and lasted over four decades until the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989. This was the Cold War, and during this epic struggle between the Western Powers and the Soviet Bloc, the absolute survival of the United States was at stake.
The Soviet Union was our adversary during the Cold War. The USSR, through its enormous armies had the capability to overwhelm and occupy Western Europe in weeks. Their nuclear arsenal, which by the 1970's had reached an essential equivalence with ours, had an estimated 12,000 warheads targeted against the United States with the capacity to inflict 180 million casualties on our population and destroy our industrial economy. The United States fought major conflicts with Korea, China and Vietnam during this time, but those countries did not represent direct threats to our national survival. The Soviet Union alone had the capacity to challenge the very existence of the United States.
The main battle forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact faced each other in Europe across the East German Plains, backed up by tactical nuclear weapons and the implied threat of escalation to an all out strategic thermonuclear exchange. Our western allies as well as our own forward deployed Army divisions and Air Forces in Europe had to be supplied and reinforced from the United States, and 93 percent of that support had to come by sea.
The Kremlin early on recognized that the success of the overall allied strategy depended on our control of the sea. So the modern Russian Navy was conceived, designed, built, and organized to deny the United States Navy this maritime superiority. At the end of the World War II, the Russian Fleet had been little more than a coast guard. The Red Navy came a long way in thirty years. By 1970, in total number of warships, the Soviet Fleet outnumbered the U.S. Fleet with their more than a thousand combatants to our less than 400. But the U.S. retained its naval superiority over the Russians throughout the Cold War. The U.S. Navy had 15 carriers to the Soviets' none. The U.S. carrier force was the measure of difference that allowed the U.S. to maintain the margin of maritime superiority that was essential to the success of our strategy.
Locked in a tense confrontation with NATO in central Europe, the Soviet Union's strategy was then to attack the flanks of NATO. Moscow conspired with their Communist clients to create destabilizing incidents in their regions of their third world, to incite efforts to overthrow the governments friendly to the west, and to enlarge the Communist hegemony. Always mindful of the possible escalation to nuclear war, Moscow was careful to avoid engaging American forces with Russian troops. The Kremlin preferred to use surrogates, and equipped them with the most advanced Russian arms and equipment.
The U.S. response to these Communist initiatives was to station carrier battle groups in potential trouble spots around the world. During the entire Cold War period the Joint Chiefs of Staff maintained a minimum force of two carriers in the Mediterranean, and three in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean. The mission of these deployed carriers was to respond to an emergent crisis and resolve the issue in our favor before it escalated into a general war.
But sometimes deterrence did not work, and the U.S. became involved in major conflicts with Soviet puppets, in Korea and in Vietnam. The initial U.S. military action in Vietnam was the 64 plane strike by two carriers on August 5, 1964 against the North Vietnamese naval bases ordered by President Johnson in retaliation for the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Two A-4's were shot down during the attacks. On 1 March 1965, the White House initiated Operation Rolling Thunder, sending air strikes into North Vietnam by Navy carrier-based aircraft, Marines and Air Force tactical fighter wings from South Vietnamese and Thai bases. By June 1965, five carriers were operating in the Tonkin Gulf conducting Rolling Thunder missions.
Rolling Thunder marked the beginning of a strategic air campaign against North Vietnam, hitting the Communist infrastructure, air defenses - SAM sites and MIG bases - and military depots. From the first strikes in 1964, all of the carriers deploying to the Gulf of Tonkin had two squadrons of A-4s in the embarked air wing - even the Essex class ships that were unable to operate the F-4 and A-6. In December 1965, the first - and only - nuclear powered carrier, USS Enterprise arrived in the Gulf of Tonkin with four A-4 squadrons in her air wing. On the third day of combat air operations, Enterprise set a new record for the number of strike sorties launched in a single flying day - 165. Three days later, the Enterprise surpassed that record. At the time, this performance was attributed to the Enterprise being nuclear powered. But in truth, it was due to the deck-load of four A-4 squadrons. The small size of the A-4 allowed more planes to be carried on a Forrestal sized ship, and the versatility, simplicity and ease of maintenance of the Skyhawks greatly increased the carrier's ability for strike sortie generation. Meanwhile, the American troop strength on the ground in South Vietnam had continued to build, reaching 555,000 in 1968. Then in 1969 a JCS request for new in-country U.S. troop strength of 670,000 was denied. It was apparent that the Communists were building their ground forces at a rate which continued to exceed the U.S. commitment. It became obvious that we were not winning the war on the ground, and the enemy continued to commit additional troops to outman the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies. President Johnson made the decision to disengage all American ground forces from combat, and to reduce U.S. troop strength in South Vietnam to military advisors only. We would have to rely on air power to win the war. The only U.S. military forces engaging the North Vietnamese were then Navy carrier aircraft, Marines, USAF, TFW and SAC.
After a pause in the bombing proved to be ineffective in encouraging the North Vietnamese to seek a peaceful solution, the new President, Richard Nixon, was determined to apply the full weight of American air power against previously exempted targets in the Haiphong - Hanoi area to force the North Vietnamese to seek a ceasefire. On 18 December Operation Linebacker II was launched, using B-52s escorted by Navy, Marine and Air Force tactical aircraft on around the clock attacks. On 30 December the leaders in Hanoi threw in the towel, asking for a ceasefire to arrange an end of the fighting. Operation Linebacker II had ended after twelve days of the most intense attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong sector, during which our losses incuded 15 B-52s shot down by SAMs and MIGs.
On January 27, the ceasefire was signed in Paris, and North Vietnamese agreed to negotiations that would end the fighting. The United States had won a victory against Hanoi and it had been achieved through air power, a joint effort of Navy carriers, Marines, Air Force fighters and SAC.
The Paris Accords brought an end to the fighting in Vietnam, at least for the United States. The agreement satisfied the U.S. objectives for the successful completion of military operations in Southeast Asia. It was American air power that had forced the enemy to come to terms. And the carriers had been a major player. More than half of the combat sorties into North Vietnam had been flown by carrier aircraft. The victory had not been without its cost. A total of 538 carrier aircraft had been destroyed in the air by enemy action. That equates to forty carrier squadrons. The A-4 losses were highest, at 195 planes shot down. Yet this was to be expected, because the Skyhawks flew most of the sorties, more than a third of the total carrier combat missions in the eight years of the war.
Although the South eventually became a part of a greater Vietnam two years after the Americans had departed, the outcome in Southeast Asia was consistent with the original U.S. objectives in going to war in the first place. The Communists did not overrun all of Southeast Asia. The U.S. had gone to war to arrest the domino effect in the enlargement of the Communist control of the third world. Thailand remains an independent nation friendly to the U.S.
But of the greatest strategic importance, America had won a major campaign in the Cold War against the USSR. We had gone to war in Vietnam in response to the attack on an ally. The credibility of our commitment was established. We had sent our own citizens to the front lines of the battle, as a clear demonstration as to the strength of our accountability. Then we had won our war against Hanoi, convincing the world, friend and hostile alike, that America would fight, and that no other nation could match us in the quality of our military and the courage of our fighting men.
By the eighties the Soviet leadership in the Kremlin realized that the Cold War was lost. They had seen the U.S. force of arms inflict a total defeat on North Korea in 1952, and then fight the Chinese armies to a standstill only 200 miles from their own borders. They had observed a U.S. miracle in military logistics in Southeast Asia in 1964 and then, when the full might of U.S. airpower was finally applied in the massive strikes against Hanoi in 1972, the North Vietnamese were brought to the peace table and the Paris Accords signed. Now for the first time the Russians were able to compare the remarkable reach and power of the United States to their own lackluster performance in Afghanistan, a theater of operations bordering on their own sovereign territory. The unraveling of the Soviet empire had begun.
The Soviets lost the Cold War to the national power of the United States and the resolve of its people. But the Cold War was won, in a tangible sense, in the mountains of Korea and in the skies over the rice paddies of Vietnam. Although the wars in Korea and Vietnam may not have at the time appeared to be decisive in clear terms of winning or losing, our commitment in those theaters were critical campaigns in the prosecution of the broader conflict of the Cold War. Both were essential to the ultimate objective of demonstrating to the world, ally and adversary alike, that the United States would commit its own citizens to fight in support of its allies as well as to protect its own national interests. Korea and Vietnam established beyond question the credibility of America. Our citizen soldiers fought, and they fought well. They risked their lives, and many died - fifty-eight thousand in Vietnam.
We won the Cold War without resorting to nuclear weapons, an unthinkable alternative that we would have had to consider had we not prevailed in the war with conventional arms. It was air-power that won the war, mostly tactical, and largely carrier-based. Though I have talked mainly about the A-4 Skyhawks, their magnificent performance was reflected by every pilot that flew off a carrier. They had the benefit of the finest leadership in the armed forces of this nation. Those leaders, as well as their commitment, were unparalleled.
During the war in Vietnam, 67 carrier squadron execs, squadron commanders and air wing commanders were lost in action to the enemy.
That is the legacy of dedication to duty that will always be the hallmark of the Tailhooker.
This web page is dedicated to
Admiral Stockdale (then a Commander), was the Commander of Carrier Air Wing 16, on board the carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34), when he flew on a mission with Attack Squadron 163 on September 9, 1965. On that mission, Commander Stockdale's A-4E Skyhawk, BuNo. 151134, was hit by enemy AAA fire and he was forced to eject from the aircraft over enemy territory. He was captured by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned for 7½ years, during which he suffered hideous torture, horrible abuse, debasement, and starvation. Promoted to the rank of Captain in absentia while a Prisoner of War, Stockdale was released from captivity at war's end in early 1973. Subsequently, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and then to Vice Admiral, the rank in which he retired from active duty. In 1992, Admiral Stockdale was a candidate for Vice-President of the United States of America.
Citation:For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while senior naval officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam.
Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners' of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Admiral Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt.
Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self dis-figuration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Admiral Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese, who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War.
By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Admiral Stockdale's valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Retired VADM James B. Stockdale passed away July 6, 2005.
Memorial Bird - BuNo 148516
POW Network BIO for Admiral Stockdale.