Apr 7

50 Years Ago: A Rolling Thunder True Story

Friday, April 7, 2017 11:48 AM

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An A-6A Intruder of Attack Squadron (VA) 35 heads for its North Vietnam target. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

An A-6A Intruder of Attack Squadron (VA) 35 heads for its North Vietnam target. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Date: 7 April 1967

Squadron: VA-35 Black Panthers, USS Enterprise (CVAN-65), Yankee Station

Aircraft: A-6A Intruder

Target: Night attack on the sprawling Thainguyen, North Vietnam, steel complex

Pilot: LCDR Everett “Hoot” Foote; Bombardier/Navigator: LT John Griffith

The flight proceeded as briefed to the coastal entry. LCDR Foote utilized the A-6 Intruder’s terrain-avoidance radar augmented by LT Griffith’s search-radar observations to establish their minimum terrain avoidance altitude under night instrument flight conditions. The low altitude at which they flew over the mountainous terrain greatly complicated the radar navigation challenge. LT Griffith never-the-less hit each checkpoint on time, inserting updated position data into his navigation and weapons system computer to ensure an accurate track.

Approaching Highway 1A east of Kep, the crew received indications of steadily tracking enemy fire-control radar, and at about six miles from the final checkpoint for target run-in, intense aimed fire antiaircraft fire began to detonate near the aircraft. Although maneuvering radically in an attempt to avoid the enemy ground fire, LCDR Foote maintained his close proximity to the terrain in order to avoid tracking surface-to-air-missile guidance radar. After about 90-seconds, the gunfire ceased, and the crew continued toward the target, still under continuous tracking by enemy radar.

At 15 miles from the target the crew received indications of a missile launched toward their aircraft. LCDR Foote maintained an altitude of between 800-feet and 1,000-feet above the terrain. At about 12 miles from the target, LT Griffith lost radar view of the target and requested an immediate climb. LCDR Foote eased up to 1,500-feet, making a final heading correction to the target. LT Griffith reacquired the target and began tracking the center of the it.

At eight miles from the target, intense antiaircraft fire illuminated the clouds ahead of the aircraft and shells began bursting around the Intruder. At six miles from the target a surface-to-air missile detonated approximately 200-feet ahead and to the left of the aircraft, jarring the A-6 sufficiently to dislodge the red lens from a floodlight, flooding the cockpit with bright white light.

The crew continued the attack, and six seconds later were hit with a second missile, which shook the aircraft violently and made five holes in the right wing and fuselage. Although aware that they had been hit, and uncertain of the extent of damage, the crew pressed the attack into the intense barrage of flak over the target, maintaining a smooth, level flight path and steady target tracking until bomb release. As the bombs fell, LCDR Foote executed a precise high-G recovery maneuver, retiring at minimum terrain avoidance altitude through the mountains. The crew again encountered heavy aimed fire as they retraced their route toward the coast but were able to evade the fire by hard maneuvering at low altitude.

The return to the carrier and recovery in IFR (instrument flight rules) weather were without incident. The aircraft sustained several holes from the enemy missiles, including a three-inch hole in the wing barely missing the wing fuel tank. Bomb damage assessment confirmed an on-target release of 22 500-pound MK-82s on the target complex on or near the primary target, the steel complex’s blast furnaces.

 
 
 
  • XBradTC

    My father was the CO of VA-35 at the time, and flew with LT Griffith quite often.

  • Gene Waide

    I was in VA-35 when this occured. Cdr. Barrie was a great Skipper.