Tho Quoc Khong Quân / Republic of Viet Nam Air Force

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                                        Last update 27-07-2017

  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 Republic of Vietnam representative had
originally requested the supply of McDonal F-4 Phantoms, while the US
 military requested 25 of the Northrop fighters. R. MacNamara postponed a decision to supply South Vietnam till the planes could be tested in combat by USAF.


 Secretary of State McNamara was won to alowing Vietnam AF Northrop F-5s on the grounds that the jet had proved themseves to be goog clse air support vehicles, that
 they posed no threat to Nort Vietnam and therefore did not signal escalation; they would provide to defend the country against air attacks when the USAF finally withdrew.

 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 Vietna-
 mese 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 aircrafts) plus 3 Cessna A-37A and 2 Douglas A-1H Squadrons (all
of them with 18 aircrafts).
The Squadrons were reduced in size from the original planned estabishment of 25.

By late 1965, the American advisors were turning from expanding to modernizing the Vietnamese air arm. Plans were taking shape in December for modernization over the next three years. Two of the six fighter
squadrons would gradually convert to F-5s (if McNamara could be persuaded), the H-34 helicopters would give way to newer UH-ls, and at least one of the 
2 C-47 squadrons would receive C-119 transports. Major
improvements were envisioned for the forward air controller program, the air defense net, and in the realm of communications, which was particularly weak.

Definitive authorisation 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 (only 1 failed) 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 at Bien Hoa AFB 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 trained 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 (an 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.

   Photo: manhainote
   Northrop F-5A 13318 of the 522nd Figher Sqn with three companions at Da Nang AFB 1968.
   Of note different camouflage on each aircraft.

Military Assistance Program povided by the end of 1967 fifteen Northrop F-5, by 1968 a total of 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 also on ground; six aircrafts at Bien Hoa AFB were damaged by two rockets and mortar attacks. Seventeen were
available duringt that moment at Bien Hoa AFB.

May 1968 saw the invasion 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.

Vietnamisation

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. USAF Mobile Training teams taught Northrop F-5 and Fairchild C-119 maintenance inside Vietnam, together with logistic management and the English language.

Supply of new fighter was limited as the Northrop F-5 was foreseen for foreign sales only and the aircraft production base was weak: items lead times were a limitng factor. Only 25 Northrop F-5s for MAP were built
each month.

                            Photo: unknown

Beginning of the year 1970 saw also the delivery of 6 Northrop RF-5A to give an high-speed reconnaissance capability, one seen here.

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 Tactical Wing / 522nd Fighter Squadron with 16 aircrafts (13 combat ready, 28 crew). Its resposability was to
defend Saigon and its neighborhoud from Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.

Fast jet reconnaissance capability was added in July 1970 when the first 2 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. P
ersonnel 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 deve-
lopment.
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.

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 opera-
tional 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 on 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.

Air Combat Maneuvers as well as Air Defence training with Northrop F-5As started in January, lasting from January 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 in the air-defence missions. The only anti-aircraft availability were two anti-aircraft battalions and 6 Nothrop F-5A at Da Nang AFB.

          Photo: unknown
                    AIM-9B Sidewinder armed aircraft at Da Nang AFB

On 30-12-71 the US Government was authorised to procure 54 Northrop F-5E for 3 Squadrons in FY 1973 in Vietnam, only half of these originally planned to purchase untill FY 1974. Planned was also the delivery of 5
additional Northrop F-5A.
A first peace agreement was announced on 25-01-72
by US President R. Nixon. North Vietnamese "Thet offensive" was launched on 30-03-72 (Easter Offensive) though there had been a peace agreement. The offensive
could be stopped.

The North Vietnamese armed forces had improved in the meantime their anti-aircraft artillery and was equipped with SA-2, SA-7 ground-to-air missiles at the beginning of the offensive Northrop F-5As and 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.

Program Enhance
Heavy losses were suffered by South Vietnam during this offensive; the "Enhance" operation was therefore launched to bring South Vietnam's forces efficiency back to a level similar to pre-invasion. Additionally there was
fear
that a new cease-fire agreement conditions might curtail replacement equipment deliveries. These plans included delivery of 5 Northrop F-5A. 

                                                                     Photo: unknown
                                                   Four 250 lbs armed Northrop F-5A 10524 seen early 70s with camouflaged underfuselage tank;
                                                   note different camouflage and silver underwing tank on aircraft next to it.

Training of local crews proved time consuming and projected deadlines could not be kept.

On 30-12-71 the US Secretary of Defence had authorised additional procurement in Fiscal Year 1973 of 57 Northrop F-5E for Vietnam, in order to improve capability for interdiction in a high threat environment as well as
increasing air defence in the face of MiG activity which had also reconnaissace missions over the Northern part of South Vietnam. Originally just half of the Tigers were foreseen in Fiscal Year 1974.

American troops were hurridly retired starting 1972, amongst which many Air Force advisors. Civilian contract personnell was contracted for maintenance.

A pair of Northrop F-5A chased on 09-10-72 two Iliushin IL-28 bombers returning from action in Bam Luang (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.

In June 1972 an USA working group suggested the delivery of 2 Northrop F-5E Squadrons, with no organizational changes to the existing Air Force beyond those associated with this equipment.

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 replacing 12 Squadrons of Douglas A-1 attack force with an additional Northrop F-5E and 8 Cessna A-37 units.

Hoang Sa Operation
The Operation Tran Hung Dao 48 (battle for the Hoang Sa/Paracels Islands, ca 400 miles from Bien Hos AFB) took place starting 19-01-1974, openly challenging the People' Republic of China the
People' Republic of China Army/
Navy. The islands
were considered as belonging to Vietnam (South and Nord). A detachment of the Army and several ships were sent to clarify the situation and expell the Chinese, but was repelled after a furiuos naval battle.
Chinese Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-21 were stationed on Hainan Island but believed to be too short on range, a flight of Tupolec Tu-16 Badgers was transferred to Hainan. South Vietnamese Air Force Cessna A-37s and
Douglas A-1s were too slow due to the danger provided by Chinese anti-aicraft units.
Northrop F-5As, RF-5A were sufficent fast to participate to the fight, while Northrop RF-5A provided reconnaissance, though both these
aircraft had a limited endurance to stay on the islands, pilots had little experience flying over the sea and in air-to-air combat.

Five Squadrons of Northrop F-5s were available, four at Ben Hoa AFB (536th, 540th, 542, 544 Squadrons) one at Da Nang AFB (538th Squadron); almost all aircrafts from three Bien Hoa Squadrons were transferred to 
Da Nang AFB, nearer to the objective.
The reconnasisance Northrop RF-5A photographed the area and the ennemy's ships. The first aim was to destroy the Chinese fleet using guns, rockets and bombs; each Squadron was assigned an area where to sink the
ships (ca 40, small and medium). Unfortunately a naval battle was unsuccesful for Vietnam and the plan didn't succed; Vietnamese force had to retreate.

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". A telegramm sent on 19-10-72 to
H. Kissinger confirmed that 47 Northrop F-5A (to be former Iranian, Chinese, Korean AF aircrafts) could be supplied within 14 day from the receipt of order. The 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 legiti-
mation of Northern Vietnam
occupied teritories during the Eastern Offensive in 1972.

On 20-10-72 the US Secretary of Defence announced the US President's decision to deliver additional equipment not later than 01-11-72 to the Republic of Vietnam, without consulting his military advisers. By October 1972
the US Secretary of Defence obtained the reduction of Freedom Fighters to 116 (possibly no Northrop RF-5A), 5 additional Northrop F-5A were planned to be delivered later;
activation of two additional Northrop F-5As units
was foreseen.

Several additional aircrafts inoundated South Vietnam, including 116 Northrop F-5As that were 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 the countries' air forces and forwarded to Bien Hoa AFB aboard USAF Lockheed C-5 and 
Lockheed C-141 transport aircrafts, where they were re-assembled.

 

  According to official US sources the Military Assistance program provided during the
  fourth quarter of: 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.

  This 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 from Douglas A-1s to 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; 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
.

 
 


Former
 Iranian Northrop F-5A 38384 being reassembled shortly after delivery / Photo: USAF

         
          The variety of original countries/colours of Northrop F-5As received are clearly shown here

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. The collaboration with FAC aircrafts was not satisfactor; the country was divided in 4 separate regions, the attack aviation being sometimes unable to operate in a second region.
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.

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.

With the 28-01-73 US/North Vietnam Paris peace agreement the USA started their "Operation  Homecome", withdrawing all their fighting forces from the country; the agreement was interpreted by the USA as allowing replacement of aircrafts (in this case Northrop F-5A) returned to the country of origin (South Korea, Taiwan) by new Northrop F-5E aircrafts.
On 29-03-73 the last US fighting troops left the Republic of Vietnam
, leaving  South Vietnam to fight alone. Additional North Vietnamese troops were infiltrated in the South, together with deadly 23 and 37mm and SAM anti-aircraft guns/missiles. The Republic of Vietnam AF was unable to attack these as it lacked Electronic Counter Measures equipment, being powerless to stop the build-up. 

As the USA had agreed to return 20 single-seaters to the Republic of China and 36 to S Korea, USAF personnel recommended mid-1973 the withdrawal of 47 Northrop F-5A, stored at Bien Hoa AF by August 1973. Vietnam was unable to repair heavy corrosion damage on the aircrafts; only 18 were flyable. Nine Northrop in use at Williams AFB, 425th Squadron, could also be sent to Asia to make up the difference in numbers and meet the commitment in full.

Tiger introduction

The Enhance Plus plans foresaw also the early activation of three Northrop F-5E units, transferring experienced Cessna A-37 pilots to them.

Between July and October 1973 320 personnel went to the USA in order to support the introduction of the Tiger, particularely into the weapons system inventory; eight were trained as pilot-instructors. They returned to Vietnam in December 1973 to start the new programm for partial improvement of the situation. Twenty-two additional were training in USA and eight were to start their training in March 1994. A total of 38 qualified Freedom Fighter instructor-pilots were foreseen to update to The Tiger in USA and return to Vietnam to conduct transition training while the US trained mainternace crew was in charge of local personnell at Bien Hoa AB.

Earlier Northrop F-5A were returned to USA, via Clark AFB Philippines in exchange for the new Tigers; two are shown hereunder.

                         63.8383 code FUK at Clark AFB in August 1974

       Also seen at Clark AFB in August 1975 serial 64.1330, code FUH

The first 4 Tigers were handed over to South Vietnam in March 1974 at Bien Hoa AFB, followed by 8 additional. One full Squadron of 18 Northrop F-5E (originally foreseen to be delivered to Iran) had been formed by the end of May 1974 to replace Freedom Fighters at Danang AFB; the aircraft was quite more complex to fly and maintain requesting help of civilian contractor personnell, particularly as they were radar equipped. At Danang AFB they assumed alert duty two on 5 minutes and two at 15 minutes alert, replacing earlier Freedom Fighters. North Vietnamese Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-21 are said to have photographed at the time the base.
Reconnaissance was vital to detect and pinpoint targets; the Northrop RF-5As had enough speed but carried a camera that photographed too narrow a swath to be helpful in finding them. Seven of the reconnaissance aircrafts were felt
by a 1974 US study about the Suth Vietnamese Air Force to be enough but it proposed to divide the short range aircraft fleet between Da Nang AB and Bien Hoa AB (instead of keep concentrating them at Bien Hoa AB) in order to expand the covered area, as well as the use of Northrop F-5s as a vehicle for for forward air controllers these facing powerul anti-aircrafts defenses. A Squadron of Tigers was recommended to be based at Da Nang AB, in order to have a powerful fighter to meet the threat of North Vietnamese MiG-21s, if necessary launching as many as 20 aur defence sorties within two hours; careful scheduling of maintenance and amassing of available aircafts could ensure an adequate number of fighter/fighter bomber (F-5s, A-1, and A-37) was felt it could ensure the number of aircrafts available to be adequate to deal with the threatened possible invasion.

Pilots in South Vietnam had to release their bombs and rocket at a higher at a higher altitude to avoid the anti-aircrafts guns and the (in the meantime) poured in from North Vietnam radar equipped guns and ground-to-air SA-7 Strela missiles, lowering their precision and rendering ground support much more difficult.

A total of 150 Tigers were planned by March 1975 but only 49 had reached South Vietnam before its collapse end of April 1975. 

            Photo: collection The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
                Northrop F-5E 00887 and (probably 00886) tested in USA before delivery.

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, valued 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 which probably is the exact figure.

Actually delivered to South Vietnam before the fall of Saigon (30-04-75) were some 153 Northrop F-5A, RF-5A, F-5B but combat losses, lack of sufficent spare parts, sometimes also shortage of qualified maintenance personnel dastically reduced the combat readiness of these fighters.
Some of the recently delivered Northrop F-5A were by April 1975 still in storage.

In terms of training and logistics, the decision to replace some Freedom Fighters with later Northrop F-5E was a mistake as a different fighter took the place of familiar one, training and logistics already overstretched by the old and new aircrafts and helicopters supplied. Fighter-bomber Cessna A-37 and Northrop F-5 could not carry the same amount of bombs as the Douglas A-1, though they had more survival chances to anti-aircraft guns because of their speed.

Capitulation
At the begining of 1975 up to half of the aircrafts from each unit as grounded due to a severe spare shortage, each non-operational fighter providing spare to the operational ones. Beginning 1975 4 Northrop RF-5A on reconnaissance missions were shot down; in any case their photographic results were also considered not clear enough to be interpreted.

One of the most experienced South Vietnamese pilot, Captain Nguyen Thahn Trung    on its Northrop F-5E from the 64rd Tactical Wing, 534th Squadron departing from Bien Hoa AFB 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 minor 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 bombardment, damaging the aircraft's    landing gears as the runway was so short that the plane could'n take off again.
On 28-04-75 he attacked
together with two other pilots Tan Son Nhut AFB with captured Cessna A-37, Northrop F-5 tried to intercept them without luck.

After having infiltrated the South with regular North Vietnamese Army units during the last two years t
he North Vietnamese government began a new offensive in the whole of the South Vietnamese Republic on 10-03-75; this provoked a loss of bases and a mass exodus towards the South of civilians and militaries, fleeing in panic. Some aircrafts were relocated from Bien Hoa AFB to Tan Son Nhut AFB from April 21st, by April 29th some 130 different airplanes were flown out of Da Nang AFB but 176 were left on the base, including 1 Northrop F-5E, 5 Northrop F-5A. Total operational F-5s were at the time ninety-three. 

The Southern part of the Republic was occupied in April 1975, again among general panic; the remaining Air Force had flown several missions against the advancing Northern troops, some Northrop F-5A were prepared to attack the (by now) North Vietnamese Phan Rang AFB on 28-04-75, where North Vietnamese MG-17 had been transferred, and 5 Cessna A-37s (in North Vietnamese hands) had attacked Tan Son Nuht AFB
Freedom Fightrs flew missions even under fire of enemy ground artillery when the base was attacked.

By the end of the last ditch effort to save Saigon (battle for Xuan Loc, 22-04-75) the fighter force still included 109 Northrop F-5s of which 93 were operational, but the locality was lost and
Bien Hoa AFB finally capitulated on 23-04-75 when it became indefendible; the based aircrafts were evacuated to Tan Son Nhut AB. This base came also under strong attack, some Northrop F-5s from Binh Thuy (together with Cessana A-37) trying to alleviate the base.

On 29-04-75 the
3rd Air Division Northop F-5Es took off from Tan Son Nhut AB towards Thailand and on 30-04-75 North Vietnamese troop entered Saigon ending the war.

               
                Vietnam People's Republic troops entering Bien Hoa AFB; in front abandoned Northrop F-5s

Losses/Abandoned/Transferred aircrafts on capitulation

Various fonts report differen number for different periods, it is very difficult (if not imposible) to have an exact overview of actual numbers.

Reported are 3 Northrop F-5s 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. One Northrop F-5B crashed trying to land on an highway to the East of U-Tapao AB, due to fuel shortage.

By this April 29th twenty-seven Northrop F-5s had been flown to U-Tapao AFB (Thailand): 3 Northrop F-5As, 1 Northrop F-5B (later transferred to Thailand), 1 RF-5A (to South Korea) and 22 Northrop F-5E (sent back 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 fighter landed on 29-04-75 had even a second person on board.

                      Photo: unknown

                 Escape to U-Tapao AFB of a Northrop F-5A with three (!) persons on board.

         Photo: unknown
Northrop F-5E in South Vietnamese markings at  (Thailand) with serial
scrabbled out. In the background  several additional F-5s and one Air Vietnam DC-3.


One Northrop F-5B from 542 Squadron, operating from Tan Son Nhut AFB under attack, tried to escape to Thailand (amongst several other helicopters and aircrafts) but had to make an emergeny landing on highway 3; the brakes were inoperable and cashed, killing all four (!) persons on board.

                  Photo: Jeffrey McNeal

Another Northrop F-5E (00882) landed on Thai Highway 24, ca 5 miles Southwest of Ubon RTAFB on 01-05-75 with the left tire damaged; it was hurriedly tugged on the same day and on the next day to this base where it remained for more than one month before being loaded on a Lockheed C-5 and transferred to USA. Hard work for the ground crew!


Numbers

The magazine "The Air Force and the Vietnam war" of the (US) Air Force Association states
the Vietnamese AF lost between between 01-01-64 and 30-09-73 : 18 Northrop F-5A, RF-5A

The US Air Force History Office mentions following:

by 30-09-69 Northrop F-5A: 23 delivered, losses 5, ratio 21.7; F-5B: 2, no losses

The Journal of Military Assistance:
31-03-72
Northrop F-5As received: 29, losses 9, ratio 31.0; F-5B: 2, no losses; RF-5A: 6, losses 1, ratio 16.7

The MACV Official History
23-10-72 till 12-12-72: Three Squadrons of Northrop F-5E

The Defence Attaché Office Saigon - presumably only Enhance and Enhance Plus aircraft
30-09-74
Northrop F-5A/RF-5A/F-5B/F-5E: received 151, possessed 131, written off 20/other losses 6

The US Defence Attaché Office Saigon
From -01-73 till -06-74 lost to Anti-Aircraft Artillery: Northrop F-5 (no subtype given)
7, to SA-7 Strela missile: 1.
One Northrop RF-5C was lost in 1974 at Da Nang.

The book F-5Tigers over Vietnam states capitulation losses of 87 Northrop F-5A/F-5B and 27 F-5E.

The book Air War Vietnam Plans and Operations 1969-1975 mentions a total aircraft inventory
of 56 Northrop F-5A/F-5B,
3 RF-5A and 49 F-5E
on  23-04-75.
Flown to U-Tapao (Thailand) by 01-03-75 were 4 Northrop F-5A/B, 1 RF-5A, 22 F-5E. Lost in Vietnam: 73 F-5s.

The Stockholm Peace Institute/Arms  Trade Register reports :
delivery in 1967 from USA of 17 Northrop F-5A, 2 F-5B (possibly only original Skoshi Tigers),
additional 20 F-5 from USA, 30 from Iran, 70 from Korea and Taiwan all in in 1972

Return to the United States of America


Losses to the North Vietnamese on the ground included 73 Northrop F-5 (60 F-5A ca and 27 F-5E). Vieznamese People's Republic (North) government applied for the return of former South Vietnamese aircrafts and helicopters escaped to U-tapao AB (Thailand) on capitulation.

Iinitially was thought that the Thai governement would agree to first impound then return them, although they were still in US Government possession (as MAP supplied). This imposed a fast action to remove the aircrafts from Thai territory. Due to this reason 
Operation "Frequent Wind" was urgently started. On 03-05-75 the aircraft carrier USS Midway entered the port of Sattahip (near Utapao AB) in order to load as many fugitive aircrafts as possible. Helicopters of USAF's 21st Special Operations Squadron transferred  from the airport to the carrier for transfer to Guam, 101 aircrafts inclusive 23 Northrop F-5E. Unfortunately two of the Northrop F-5E were lost, one falling from the helicopter sling on the dock and another into the water due to rupture of the sling. The others were truck-loaded reaching the port and USS Midway on barges without further losses. Sailing followed on 05-05-75, arriving at Guam on 11-05-7.

        
                                 Line-up of Tigers at Utapao AF
(Thailand)                                 Final act: prepared for evacuation to the USS Midway aircraft carrier off Sattahip (Thailand) port