Southeast Asia in 1961

President John F. Kennedy met with General Maxwell Taylor and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in Washington, D.C. These gentlemen sent the following people to Thailand in 1961 

I was 21 years old at the time, now I’m 81. I’m about to go into a senior nursing home and j learn I have no VA benefits to cover it. 

I just found this information about the airplane I was crew chief on. It did not get shot down in Vietnam. 080 (MSN 307) 1967: USAF 45th TRS (460th TRW). Mississippi ANG 153rd TRS, 186th TRG, Key Field, Meridian, MS. to MASDC Jan 4, 1979, as FF384. Departed Sep 5, 1984. To Allied Aircraft Sales, Tucson, AZ

The Able Mable Task Force

Although the Pipe Stem Task Force had been an experiment it had proven the worth of modern jet reconnaissance aircraft in a counterinsurgency (COIN) situation and had emphasized the need for a more permanent capability in SEA. A study group headed by Presidential adviser General Maxwell Taylor in 0ctober ‘1961 had urged prompt support for the South Vietnamese Government, including the use of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft to collect intelligence. Expecting the ICC to oppose any renewed U.S. reconnaissance from South Vietnam at that time, the United States made other arrangements. 

As early as 9 April. 196.l, the Royal Thai Government had agreed to a U.S. proposal to station three RF-lOlC’s at Takhli RTAFB to fly the reconnaissance sorties over Laos’, but the United States had taken no further action. Because the ICC had halted the Field Goa] RT-33 sorties over Laos, the Field Goal Task Force in July 1961 moved from Udorn RTAFB to Don Muang Airport for better aircraft maintenance facilities and housing. Continued pressure from the JCS finally resulted in a renewal of the daily overflight of Laos. A Field Goal RT-33 flew a sortie over the Plain of Jars on 4 October 196’1. AII factors considered Thailand appeared to be the best potential base for a permanent U.S. reconnaissance effort over SEA at that time. U.S. Ambassador Kenneth T. Young approach the Royal Thai Government in October 1961. with a proposal to station four RF-‘l0lC’s at Don Muang Airport for reconnaissance over Laos and South Vietnam. Having earlier proposed just such a move, the Thai Government gave immediate approval. The ‘l5th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron already was involved in Project Pipe Stem, so Fifth Air Force on 29 October told the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron to send four RF-101C’s to Don Muang Airport for 30 days as Task Force Able Mable. PACAF authorized a task force strength of 45 people, including seven RF-l0lC pilots and enough technicians to man a photo processing and interpretation facility (PPIF). Thirteenth Air Force already had established an advance echelon (ADV0N) headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to control the growing number of Air Force units and people in SEA, and Detachment l0 of that ADVON managed U.S. Air Force activities at Don Muang Airport. The Data Channel provided the Ab]e Mab]e Task Force with normal housekeeping support. The senior Able Mable pilot served as a reconnaissance staff officer and RF-‘l0l operations officer for Detachment 10 and was responsible for Able Mable Task Force commissioner did not exist, there were low-frequency radio beacons in Thailand at Bangkok and Ubon RTAFB, Laos at Vientiane, and South Vietnam at Qui Nhon, Saigon, and Danang. Inaccurate maps and charts often forced the pilots to conduct area searches to locate their objectives. The most reliable maps of South Vietnam and Laos for some time were those of the French Auto club; copies were carefully passed from pilot to pi1ot. Strict orders to avoid overflight of Burma, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and China aggravated an already delicate navigation problem3 (U) Although they daily flew over sparsely inhabited areas largely controlled by hostile forces or aborigines, the Able_ Mable pilots had no formal rescue or recovery support. A handful] of Royal Laotian Air Force and civilian aircraft in Laos and a few U.S. Army helicopters in South Vietnam provided a limited rescue potential. As the number of high priority reconnaissance requests increased, Able Mable in early December l96l began keeping an RF-101C on strip alert at Don Muang Airport to provide a more rapid response. The growing number of reconnaissance missions scheduled each day, plus the strip alert requirements, strained the task force’s ab’i1ity. There just were not enough RF-l0’lC’s to satisfy all of PACAF’s needs. Although the task force had flown for only 30 days before that time CINCPAC extended the project indefinitely. By the end of |961, the task force pilots had flown more than. 30 reconnaissance sorties over Laos and South Vietnam, exposing more than 53,000 feet of film. The 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, faced with an indefinite stay in SEA, decided to rotate its aircraft and pilots every 6 weeks to ease the aircraft maintenance workload and to share the experience among all the pilots. Each pilot averaged’15 to 20 sorties during his 6 weeks in Thailand, acquiring experience that he never could have gained from a normal training situation. l Able Mable RF-10lC pilots at first flew about 78 percent of their missions over Laos and 25 percent over South Vietnam, but those percentages soon reversed. The missions over South Vietnam involved crossing the Laos panhandle, photographing the assigned objectives, and returning to Don Muang Airport. Objectives in northern South Vietnam, however, stretched the fuel range of the RF-‘lOlC’s dangerously close to the limit and forced many of the pilots to land at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to refuel. PACAF on ’18 November had designated the Pipe Stem PPIF as 0perating Location Number two (0U-2) for Able Mable. 0L-2 processed the film from RF-IO’IC’s landing at Tan Son Nhut. Air Base for fuel and reloaded their cameras to enable them to fly another sortie while returning to Don Muang Airport. Pilots on missions to photographhigh priority objectives in South Vietnam also landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to allow the personnel to expedite film processing and exploitation. As the number of high priority reconnaissance requests increased, Able Mable in early December l96l began keeping an RF-101C on strip alert at Don Muang Airport to provide more rapid response. The growing number of reconnaissance missions scheduled each day, plus the strip alert requirements, strained the task force’s ab’i1ity. There just were not enough RF-l0’lC’s to satisfy all of PACAF’s needs. O Although the task force had flown for only 30 days well before that time CINCPAC extended the project indefinitely. By the end of 1961, the task force pilots had flown more than |30 reconnaissance sorties over Laos and South Vietnam, exposing more than 53,000 feet of film. The 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, faced with an indefinite stay in SEA, decided to rotate its aircraft and pilots every 6 weeks to ease the aircraft maintenance workload and to share the experience among all the pilots. Each pilot averaged 15 to 20 sorties during his 6 weeks in Thailand, acquiring experience that he never could have gained from a normal training situation. Most of the RF-10C’s crossed into Laos at one of five border points, and each of those points led to specific objective areas. The Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese thus could predict with some certainty the objectives of each RF-l0l even before the aircraft actually crossed the border. To make the Pathet Lao’s defensive task even easier,85 percent of the RF-l0lC’s were over their objectives during the same 2-hour period each day. That offered major advantages to the opponent. When PACAF headquarters learned of those standardized missions, it directed the mission planners to vary takeoff times, routes, altitudes, and similar operational factors on a random basis to confuse the Pathet Luo. Pathet Luo Small arms fire hit four RF-lOlC’s within a few weeks, but none suffered serious damage. AIl were below I,500 feet above ground level (AGL) over Laos when hit. Thirteenth Air Force headquarters reacted on I February 1962, directing that the Able Mable RF-lOlC pilots fly higher than 5,000 feet over roads and waterways to avoid further small arms fire damage. Three days later, however, Thirteenth Air Force headquarters abolished all altitude restrictions and again left mission tactics to the task force personnel as another safety measure, Thirteenth Air Force headquarters ordered that teams of two RF-‘101C’s f1y reconnaissance missions over Laos whenever possible, particularly those missions against transportation which seemed to produce the most ground fire. In addition to providing rescue control for the loss of one of the RF-101C’s, the two aircraft formation almost doubled the width of the swath photographed and greatly reduced the possibility of a camera system malfunction in one aircraft voiding the mission Many standard concepts of tactical reconnaissance proved invalid.

Conceived as pinpoint photography of carefully delineated objectives, prestrike reconnaissance more often than not required mosaic-type photography of a large area so the photo interpreters could search for elusive targets. Rather than dashing across a single spot, the RF-‘l0lC droned back and forth to expose hundreds of photographs, often while under sporadic small arms fire. Post-strike reconnaissance was equally frustrating because dense foliage soaked up bomb bursts, quickly hiding any damage. Reconnaissance in SEA was vastly different than it had been in the Korean conflict or much of World II, but the Able Mable team had to apply many o1d reconnaissance principles to new situations. One new requirement called for the RF-101C pilots to use a T-ll precision mapping camera to produce photography for the correction and construction of maps and charts. The Tif camera could be fitted into the second camera bay in place of the three KA-2 cameras, but the RF-I0IC was not the stable quarters that withdrew the proposal. Meanwhile, PACAF decided that the l5th and 45th Tactical

Reconnaissance Squadrons should share the Able Mable duty, changing responsibility every 6 months. As the first changeover neared, Thirteenth Air Force headquarters asked that the force be increased to six aircraft, but again PACAF simply did not have enough RF-l0lCs. As a consequence, the l5th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron sent only four RF-101Crs from Kadena Air Base to Don Muang Airport on 23 May’1962 to relieve the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance squadron.  

Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos: Air Commandos 1964–1975 (defense.gov) 

Early Vietnam Service – F-101 Voodoo | Weapons and Warfare 

http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1956.html

https://lelandolson.com/

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