Credit: Roundels of the world
Last update 22-07-2017
THE HISTORY OF THE NORTHROP F-5 USED IN THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH VIETNAM
IS COMPLICATED DUE THE LOSS OF DOCUMENTS ON CAPITULATION.
ONLY KNOWN IMPORTANT DATAS ARE SHOWN HERE.
Beginning of the Northrop F-5 era
The introduction of the Northrop jet-fighter, in its single- and double-seats configuration, was initially questioned at a Honolulu meeting (06-05-63) by the US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara and military US advisers. The Repunlic of Vietnam representative had originally requested the supply of McDonal F-4 Phantoms.
The Northrop F-5 saw combat in three major offensives: in 1968, 1972 and 1975. There were several changes of mind on US side regarding the structure of South Vietnamese jet aircrafts, listed below.
Local US Military Assistance Air Group (MAAG) planned the use of the Northrop light fighter starting in Fiscal Year 1964 when it was foreseen to establish during FY 1966 two Vietnamese Squadrons of Northrop N-156 (F-5A); the first replacing North American T-28s and the other Douglas A-1H attack aircrafts, this to be sometime between 1966 and 1968.
The US/Military AF Advisory Group changed his mind and decided on 06-07-66 that 6 Vietnamese Squadrons equipped with Douglas A-1 should be converted: 2 on Northrop F-5A and 4 on Cessna A-37 aircrafts. A dramatic change took place again already in November 1966 when the command approved only 1 Northrop F-5A unit with an establishment of 18 plus 3 Cessna A-37A and 2 Douglas A-1H Squadrons (all unit establishment of 18). The Squadrons were reduced in size from the original estabishment of 25.
was given by the Department of Defence to transfer former USAF " Skoshi Tiger" program Northrop
F-5A/C and F-5B in order to equip one Squadron under the Military Assistance Program, planned in March 1967 but postponed for a short time.
The 522nd Squadron of the 23rd Wing based at Bien Hoa AFB stood down in September 1966 while the first batch of 32 Vietnamese pilots transiting from Doulas A-1 to Northrop F-5 (via Northrop T-38A) was sent to USA, Williams AFB in October 1966 till April 1967 for training; grond crew was trained in Vietnam and sent to Clark AFB (Philippines). The initial 17 Northrop F-5A/C and 2 F-5B, originally belonging to the 3rd USAF Wing, were unofficially transferred to the Republic of Vietnam on 11 17-04-67 and officially on 01-06-67 at Tan Son Nhut AFB where 27 pilots arrived combat-ready and 160 airman and officers were instructed to maintain the new fighter; the ground crew obtained the help of 75 men jet mechanics for the initial months. Air-to-air refuelling system was removed in order not to allow operations over North Vietnam (unofficial statement).
Planned utilisation was 35 hours per month, with a desired in service rate of 75 percent. These figures were only achieved next year. By December 1969 rate was 34 hours utilization per aircraft/month; 34 weather aborts had lowered this rate. In-commission rate was 85.2 %; the 522nd Sqn did well in combat and most close-support missions could be completed. Two losses were exclusively on ground attacks.
Northrop F-5A 13318 of the 522nd Figher Sqn with three companions at Da Nang AFB 1968.
Of note different camouflage on each aircraft.
Assistance Program povided by the end of 1967 fifteen Northrop
F-5, by 1968 twenty aircrafts; these remained property of the USA not
to be transferred to foreign countries without US approval.
One Squadron of the 92nd Support Wing at Pleiku was scheduled for conversion from Douglas A-1 to Northrop F-5 aircrafts in April 1967,three others to Cessna A-37 in FY 1969.
During the "Tet offensive", started 30-01-68 and lasting till 25-02-68, Northrop F-5A losses were on only on ground; six aircrafts at Bien Hoa AFB were damaged by two rockets and mortar attacks. Seventeen were available at that moment at Bien Hoa AFB.
May 1968 saw the invation of Cambodia, support was given by Douglas A-1s and Northrop F-5s. By the end of FY 1968 18 Northrop F-5s were on strength.
Due to improviment of relationship Cambodia sent in 1970 one Mig-15 und one MiG-17 to Vietnam as an friendly visit; they were met by 8 Northrop F-5A and accompanied to Bien Hoa AFB.
Initial Vietnamisation planning (throgh the use of local personnell) began in 1968, starting in July 1969 with the begin of US troops withdrawal. It was called "Improvement and Modernization Plan". Plans for enlarging and modernizing the Republic of Vietnam were arranged to the maximum extent in order to have the burden of war gradually shifted to Vietnam. The USA proposed structure included two Squadrons of Northrop F-5 for air defence to be obtained in five years. By 1968 pilots for Northrop F-5s were still trained in the USA; the US study on the Vietnamese Air Defence System required 3 Northrop F-5 Squadrons. There were initially to be 1 existing unit plus 1 converting for Douglas A-1. Beginning of the year saw also the delivery of 6 Northrop RF-5A to give an high-speed reconnaissance capability.
Depot level maintenance training started only in 1969; it was practically non-existant earlier. Major repair, overhaul and rebuild were routinely accomplished by the USAF maintenance programm. General Electric J-85 were maintained at the Bien Hoa AFB depot. By late 1969 the Air Force had learned to maintain the Freedom Fighter armament system. USAF supply and maintenace specialists were still at hand.
By 01-01-70 authorised strength for the 522nd Fighter Squadron was 20 aircrafts, 17 possessed, 15 were combat ready with 26 crews.
The 3rd Air Division was activated on 01-05-70 with Headquarters at Bien Hoa AB including the 23rd Tacticl Wing / 522nd Fighter Squadron with 16 aircrafts (13 combat ready, 28 crew). Its resposability was to defend Saigon and its neighborghoud from Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.
Fast jet reconnaissance capability was added in 1970 when the first of 6 Northrop RF-5A were delivered (each 2) in the fourth part of FY 1970, as well as in the 3rd and in 4th part of FY 1971 plus three attrition replacements programmed in FY 1972. Personnel completed training given by two Mobile Training Team on 15-10-70. It became operational on 01-11-70 (four months ahead of plans) after training and tactics development. This was limited to Visual Flight Rules missions because no infrared, photo flash or Side-Looking Radar (SLR) was available. Reconnaissance aircraft flew from/landed at Bien Hoa AF where the films were carried to Tan Son Nhut airfield and interpreted by the Photo Exploitation Center. A study considered landing of reconnaissance aircrafts at Tan Son Nhut directly; only ten percent of the reconnaissance needs were flown by the Republic of Vietnam AF.
A new North Vietnamese offensive started in February 1971, when a deliberate disengagement of US ground forces and the "Vietnamization" started.
The 23d Tactical Wing consisted by July 1971 of the 514th Tactical Fighter Squadron flying 24 Douglas A-1, the 528 TFS with 24 Douglas A-1, the 522nd TFS equiped with 20 Northrop F-5A/B and 6 RF-5A the 112th Liason Squadron with 30 Cessna O-1 and 8 Cessna U-17. All these were based at Bien Hoa AFB.
Attack Squadrons were by January 01, 1972: one Northrop F-5A with 18 aircrafts (authorised/activated/operationnally ready), one composite reconnaissane Sqn with 28 aircrafts, of 19 were operational C-47; two Northrop F-5A Squadrons (authorised only, included in operation "Enhance Plus") plus six authorised Northrop F-5A units in a future force structure not dated; one Reconnaissance composite unit with Douglas C-47, de Havilland U-6 and Northrop RF-5A. Air Defence units were authorised: 3 Northrop F-5E with 54 aircrafts were (none active, activation foreseen in FY 1975), no additional foreseen in a future force structure. Definitive authorization to provide air defence suited Northrop F-5E was given in December 1972, to be procured in FY 1973.
Combat Maneuvers as well as Air Defence training with Northrop F-5As started in
January, lasting till March 1972, following insistence of the US Advisory Group.
This consisted in air-to-air firings against Dart systems and in AIM-9
Sidewider missile operation training, though the aircrafts were of
limited deterrent to the opponent Mikoyan-Gurewich MiG-19 and MiG-21.
No night Northrop F-5 flying was operated due to the air-defence
missions. The only anti-aircraft availability were two anti-aircraft battalions and 6 Nothrop F-5A at Da Nang.
On 30-12-71 approval was given for the US procurement of 57 Northrop F-5E for the Vietnamese AF in FY 1973, only half of these originally planned for purchase until FY 1974.
The North Vietnamese armed forces had improved their
anti-aircraft artillery and was equipped with SA-2, SA-7 ground-to-air missiles at the beginning of March 1972 when the offensive started. Northrop F-5As an
Cessna A-37s had therefore to adopt tactics that limited their
effectiveness, like releasing bombs at higher altitude, diminishing
precision and placing new limits to the support they could provide.
Anyhow the Air Force flew by 31-02-72 with 90 Douglas A-1s and Northrop F-5As some 2'500 of which 2'200 were close support or interdiction mission, 300 flack suppression; operational sorties decreased in May 1972 to 185 missions showing the improved situation.
American troops were hurridly retired starting 1972, amongst which many Air Force advisor.
A pair of Northrop F-5A chased on 09-10-72 two Iliushin IL-28 bombers returning from action in BamLuang (Laos), near the South Vietnamese border. They retired when MiG-21 approached. This was one of the few air-to-air action of the Freedom Fighter in Vietnam.
A USA study showed on 11-10-72 that the Air Force was unable to operate immediately new aircrafts (additional F-5s, or Douglas A-4, or Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 or McDonnell F-4 replacing Douglas A-1) due to personnell and maintenance problems. The most feasable plan was to enhance capabilities over the next five years replacimg the 12 Squadrons of the Douglas A-1 attack force with an additional Northrop F-5E and 8 Cessna A-37 units.
Program Enhance Plus
"Operation Enhance" was almost completed when the US governement informed on 20-10-72 that they had directed delivery of additional equipment: project "Operation Enhance Plus". This project was to rush equipment before the deadline (initially to be 10-11-72, changed to 30-11-72 and finally to 01-02-73) of a second (final) peace agreement reached between USA and North Vietnam in Paris, signed on 27-01-73. This lead to retirement of US forces and official legitimation of Northern Vietnam occupied teritories during the Eastern Offensive in 1972.
The plans foresaw the activation of two additional Northrop F-5As units (additional 118 Northrop F-5A and F-5B for a total strength of 153) and the early activation of three Northrop F-5E units, transferring experienced pilots to the new units.
During the same year 1972 the Air Force received already 18 Northrop F-5E Tigers, originally foreseen to be delivered to Iran. Additional Tigers were handed-over during the next years but were little used in combat as their avionics was too complicated for this Air Force.
Several additional aircrafts inoundated South Vietnam, amongst which
126 Northrop F-5As from South Korea (36 F-5A and 8 RF-5A), Iran (32 F-5A in two lots of 16 each), Taiwan (48 F-5A). These were hurriedly withdrawn from use of US allies and forwarded to Bien Hoa AFB aboard USAF Lockheed C-5 and Lockheed C-141 transport aircrafts, where they were re-assembled.
to official US sources the Military Assistance program provided during the fourth
FY 1971 27 Northrop F-5A, FY 1972
11 Northrop F-5A, while FY 1973 saw the delivery of 116 Northrop F-5A.
The Freedom Fighters were followed during the fourth quarter of: FY 1971 by 6 Northrop RF-5A for reconnaissance and 3 RF-5A during FY 1972.
Training Northrop F-5B were also supplied: 4 during FY 1971; seven additional were planned by FY 1975.
put an extreme strain to the operation and maintenance of the Air
Force. Pilots of Cessna A-37 were re-trained on the Northrop F-5; others
were also re-trained on superior performance aircrafts.
A shortage of 800 pilots/co-pilots, particulary for transports and helicopters, was assessed two weeks after the 27-01-73 signature of the Paris cease fire agreement, was in effect; by February 1973 American civil contractors personnel repaired electronic devices and engines General Electric J-85 that powered the Northrop F-5s and Cessna A-37s.
Rocket attacks against air bases resulted in casualties: on 06-11-73 three (four according some sources) Northrop F-5A were destroyed at Bien Hoa AFB.
Later critized was the substitution of Douglas A-1s with early Northrop F-5s; the last type was very sturdy but had neither the endurance nor the bombing capacity of the earlier fighter-bombers, though higher speed could partially help. Pilots mentioned that the cockpit was humid and too high having to use seat cushions and attach wooden blocks to the pedals.
On the positive side it was recognised that the aircraft performed dependably. Technicians of the Air Logistics Command could conduct a successful corrosion control program after cracks were found in a panel on upper surface of the wing of an Northrop F-5A.
Northrop RF-5A and Douglas RC-47D provided insufficent reconnaissane on the vast areas of South Vietnam, the first (although fast enough) cameras provided too narrow a swath to be of value in finding targets, while the second one was too slow to penetrate defended areas. Four reconnaissance jets were lost to anti-aircraft fire before the 1975 offensive started.
Republic of Vietnam sources mentioned in addition that they were trained by Americans on technical and supply matters, but nothing regarding tacties and stratergies. They had to learn all on the battle-front. Limited maintenance capabilities, pilots and supply shortages of fuel and ammunitions reduced by 1974 consistentely the Air Forces capabilities after the withdrawal on US forces. US Congress curtailing money and equipment; strict conservation of supplies, ammunition had to be practiced; the Vietnam AF necessitated a reduction of 51% in flying time. Northrop F-5B were also used as fighter-bomber.
The 1973 US/North Vietnam
Paris agreement was interpreted by the USA allowing the replacement of
aircrafts (in this case Northrop F-5A) returned to the country of origin
(South Korea, Taiwan) with new aircrafts. On 29-03-73 the last US fighting personnell left Vietnam.
USA Department's of Defence Military Assistance Program request included in FY 1974 refund payment of 69,3 millions for 116 F-5A already transferred to the Vietnamese AF from foreign MAP countries. New procurement included 71 Northrop F-5E.
Planned Department of Defence Northrop F-5E mentioned during a hearing in the US Congress in March 1974 was 25 aircrafts (value USD 53.7 millions), in FY 1974 and 43, value USD 92.3 millions, during FY 1975, subjet to poduction and to dollar value. Slightly different is the numer of the advanced version Northrop F-5E Tiger supplied/planned as follows: 28 by 1974/fourth quarter and 50 by 1975/fourth quarter.One of the most experienced South Vietnamese pilot, Captain Nguyen Thahn Trung from 534th Squadron departing from Bien Hoa AB simulated a problem in taking-off. He attacked with four 600 lbs bombs the president's palace in Saigon on 08-04-75, causing only damage. Before that he had three times trained to land on a short runway (3'000 feet/915 meters) similar to that of Phuc Long where he landed after the attack damaging the three aircraft's landing gears. On 28-04-75 he attacked Tan Son Nhut AFB with captured Cessna A-37, together with two other pilots. Northrop F-5 tried without luck to intercept them.
Losses/Abandoned/Transferred aircrafts on capitulation
It is reported that 3 Northrop F-5s were lost at Tan Son Nhut (Saigon) due to bombing on 28-04-75, while 3 Northrop F-5A, 1 RF-5A, 1 F-5B and 27 F-5E were abandoned at Bien Hoa AFB by the end of April 1975.
By this April 29th twenty-six Northrop F-5s had been flown to U-Tapao AFB (Thailand), including 2 Northrop F-5As, 1 Northrop F-5B (later transferred to Thailand), 1 RF-5A (to South Korea) and 22 21 Northrop F-5E (sent back mainly to USA) together with a variety of other aircrafts both formerly belonging to the Repulic of Vietnam and to Cambodia. One of the single-seaters landed on 29-04-75 had even a second person on board.Photo: unknown
On 04-05-75 the aircraft carrier USS Midway entered the port of Sattahip xxx in order to load as many as possible fugitive aircrafts. Helicopters of the VHM-xx transferred the most valuable ones from the airport to the carrier for transfer to Guam, 101 aircrafts inclusive 21 23 Northrop F-5E. Of the Northrop F-5E one was unfortunately lost falling from the helicopter sling on the dock and another into the water. The others were truck-loaded reaching the port and USS Midway without further losses. Sailing was done on 05-05-75, arriving at Guam at 11-05-75.
Former Vietnamese Northrop F-5s at Guam ater disembarkment, awaing their fate.
23rd Tactical Wing
Was activated in June 1964 at Bien Hoa AFB with two fighter- and two observation Suadrons. It was recognised by its large yellow and black checkerboard fuselage band.
By June 1974 Bien Hoa AFB was the main center of the Freedom Fighter equpped units that were mainly under the command of the 3rd Air Division, 63rd Tactical Wing consisting of following units:
522nd Fighter Squadron
Originally activated at Tan Son Nhut AFB (Saigon) on 01-04-65 equipped withDouglas A-1H Skyraiders; it was re-estblidhed on 01-06-67 and moved to Bien Hoa AFB in January 1968 re-equipping with Northrop F-5A left over by the USAF and F-5B by 1971; this was an elite unit remaining for about five years the only Squadron boasting jet fighters. It in the first month flew 388 missions with 20 Northrop F-5, in July 1967 were 436 and in December 1967 were 527.
716th Reconnaissance Squadron
Activated in July 1966 at Tan Son Nhut AFB with North American RT-28A, EC-47D, U-6A Beavers; its pilots were provided by the 522 Fighter Squadron on delivery of Northrop RF-5A aircrafts, as well as maintenance was maintenance crew. After the mission they flew to Bien Hoa AFB and aircrafts from the 112 Squadron (O-1A or U-17A) delivered them to Tan Son Nhut AFB for development.
Nine Northrop RF-5A serials are known.
536th Fighter Squadron
The second fighter-bomber unit at Bien Hoa AFB flying Northrop F-5A was activated in December 1972, joyned on June 10th 1974 by Northrop F-5E.
538th Fighter Squadron
This unit was an exception being responsible for the area of the 1st Air Division; it was activated at Danang AB (the most Northerly base) operating Northrop F-5A as strike-fighter. In June 1974
was under the command of the 61st Tactical Wing together with three Squadrons of Cessna A-37B. Air Defence and additional strike-fighters were provided by the USAF. This is the only
reported Northrop F-5E Tiger Squadron, always based at Danang AFB. This unit and type of aircraft was reported in 1973, though this date contrast with the above report.
540th Fighter Squadron
Was also activated at Bien Hoa AFB using Northrop F-5A under the command of the 3rd Air Division. Later the Freedom Fighter was supplanted By Northrop F-5E Tigers, though ths is not confirmed (see 538 Squadron).