Talking Proud --- Military

Electric Goons of “Naked Fanny”

By Ed Marek, editor

March 28, 2011

Organizational lashups

The command arrangements for the Indochina War violated the military’s cardinal rule, “Unity of Command.” Unity of Command means no subordinate should report to more than one boss. Unity of Command existed at some levels, usually at the lower levels, but was torn to shreds when it came to MACV and air operations over Indochina. USAF EC-47 ARDF operations were entangled in the organizational webs woven for the Indochina War, but somehow ended up generally isolated from the mess that enveloped the rest of military operations throughout the Indochina theater of war.

NitzePaulA


Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul H. Nitze, third from left, at a National Security Council meeting on February 7, 1968. Also depicted are President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

As an aside, I took this photo from the LBJ Library on his Vietnam years. I assembled a compendium of them in an article now in the retired section of this web site, entitled,
“How did so many smart guys make such a mess of Vietnam?” You might look at that one. I can see why he retired after one tour of duty --- the looks of anguish and frustration on his face in retrospect are disheartening.

For purposes of the EC-47, I mentioned in previous sections that Paul H. Nitze, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, issued a memorandum on June 19, 1968 that said the EC-47s would be controlled by Commander MACV (COMUSMACV), the theater commander for the Vietnam War. So I am going to start at the MACV level and work my way down to the Det 3, 6994th SS level.

As we set out to discuss the organizational lashups, let me warn you. This is brutal stuff. A key to understanding things is that there a two major lines of command in the US military.

A unified command is a joint military command involving two or more services. A sub-unified command is similar in organization but subordinate to a unified command. These are the combatant commands. They are usually set up to be responsible for geographic areas, though they are also set up to be responsible for specific mission areas. It is a misnomer to think that the chiefs of staff of the military services, or in the case of the Navy, the chief of naval operations, are in charge of fighting. They are not. They are responsible for training and equipping their forces to fight for the unified commands to which they are assigned.

So there are really two lines of command.

One is the military service line of command. Each military service is responsible for training and equipping fighting forces. Technically speaking, the military services do not fight wars.

The other are the combatant commands known as the unified commands. They fight the wars. For example, today the Central Command (CENTCOM) is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back to our case. The PACAF, for example, through the Air Staff in the Pentagon, provided aircraft, and trained crews and support personnel to fight for the PACOM. PACAF also served as a service component command of PACOM which enabled it to do its mission just outlined. PACOM in turn set up a sub-unified command, MACV, to fight the war on a daily basis. PACAF set up 7th AF and assigned it to be the air component of MACV, which enabled it to fly and fight in response to MACV requirements.

With that general outline in mind, let’s press ahead. It does not get any easier!

To my mind, the dominant point to understand is that COMUSMACV was in charge of only part of the Indochina War, and only part of the Vietnam War. Not many people realize this. Let’s try to hold a focus on this for a just a bit. Excuse me if I get a bit repetitive below.

MACVHQ


MACV was headquartered in Saigon. It was set up in February 1962. The Department of Defense (DoD) set it up because military assistance to the RVN was increasing. An organization known as the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Vietnam had been providing this support prior to MACV. MACV was set up to help it. In 1964 MACV took over the MAAG because combat deployments were getting too large for the MAAG to handle.

MACVPatch PACOMShield


MACV (left logo) became the sub-unified command subordinate to the Commander-in-chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) at PACOM Headquarters in Hawaii. In turn, CINCPAC was subordinate to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Washington, DC.

In the cases of PACOM and MACV, each had component military service organizations. These components are responsible for training, equipping, and providing forces to the unified or subunified command to enable those combatant commands to fight. In addition, they are very much involved in war planning and execution.

USARPACShield PACAFShield PACFLTShield


The components to PACOM were, logos left to right. the US Army Pacific (ARPAC), PACAF and the Pacific Fleet (PACFLT). The components to MACV were US Army Vietnam (USARV), 7th AF, and Naval Forces Vietnam (NAVFORV). So far, everything is fairly clean and straight-forward.

MACV’s authorities were limited, however. It was responsible for all ground operations in the RVN, all air operations in RVN airspace and in Route Package 1 (RP-1) over North Vietnam just north of the DMZ. MACV was also responsible for coastal naval and interior riverine operations. We will talk more about the route packages in a moment.

7thFleet SAC


MACV had no authority for air operations over North Vietnam. Responsible only for coastal naval and interior riverine operations, MACV had no authority over the 7th Fleet’s Task Force 77 (TF-77) operating in and around a location in the South China Sea known as Yankee Station, subordinate to the 7th Fleet. MACV had no authority for the war in Laos. MACV had no authority for enemy safe-havens in Cambodia unless authorized by higher authority. And finally, MACV had no authority for the strategic bombing forces of the Strategic Air Command (SAC).

CINCPAC
CINCPAC was in charge of air operations over North Vietnam, exercising that authority through PACAF, PACFLT, and SAC. The 7th Fleet was controlled by the PACFLT which in turn reported to the CINCPAC. The war in Laos was controlled by the US ambassador, Vientiane, Laos.

All that said, I will underscore again that MACV did have control over EC-47 operations. Det 3, 6994th SS at NKP, Thailand, conducted most of its missions over Laos and Cambodia. Nonetheless, through handshakes and understandings, USAF command and control demands, cooperation, and GI ingenuity, MACV was able to maintain significant control over these missions as well, which I will discuss later.

WestmorelandWilliam
Most of us remember General William Westmoreland, USA, as the COMUSMACV. He served in that role from 1964-1968. Experts have characterized him as a search and destroy commander. He came head-to-head on multiple occasions with the Marine commanders of the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF). III MAF was deployed mostly to the northernmost Quang Tri Province in the RVN along the DMZ, and its commanders preferred counter-insurgency tactics and befriending and protecting the locals to a search and destroy approach. This was a matter of considerable dispute between Westmoreland and his Marine generals, and for the most part Westmoreland prevailed, though the Marines did their best to befriend the locals anyway.

General Westmoreland was preceded by General Paul D. Harkins, 1962-1964, and succeeded by General Creighton Abrams, 1968-1972, and General Frederick C. Weyand (1972-1973), all Army four stars.

AbramsCreighton
When Det 3, 6994th SS was set up in April 1969, and through most of its life, COMUSMACV was General Abrams, shown here. Unlike General Westmoreland, Abrams focused on attacking and destroying North Vietnam's military support system, to wit, the Ho Chi Minh Trail being the main support line. This is important to Det 3 because it would be established at a time when the US was determined to stop the logistics flow on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Det 3’s activation at NKP Thailand positioned its EC-47s close to the trail.

Let’s talk about the EC-47s.

460TRW
I mentioned the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons, the TEWS, in an earlier section. They provided the aircraft, the maintenance, the pilots, navigators and crew chiefs for the EC-47s. The 6994th Security Squadron (SS) provided the “backend” crews of ARDF and COMINT operators. Let’s focus for the moment on the TEWS. They were subordinate to the 460th TRW, which in turn was subordinate to the 7th AF in Saigon, a component command of MACV. So let’s move to address the 7th AF in a bit more detail.

As life would have it, when US involvement in the Indochina War began, there was no 7th AF! So, to address the 7th AF, we first have to address the 13th AF.

13AF
Old timers will remember the 13th AF as the “Jungle Air Force.” It was activated at New Caledonia in the Coral Sea in January 1943 and oversaw many disparate units spread throughout the Pacific, staging fighters and bombers from tropical jungles from more than 40 remote islands. Following WWII, it moved to Clark AB, the Philippines, flopping around between Ft. McKinley and Okinawa to finally come to rest at Clark. During the Korean War it served as a staging area for units headed to the peninsula.

The 13th AF in the Philippines was responsible for the Indochina geographic area. It was subordinate to PACAF in Hawaii.

2ndADPatch
Indochina was in 13th AF country. One of the 13th AF’s subordinates was the 2nd Air Division (2nd AD). Old hands will say what? They will remember that during WWII the 2nd AD had been assigned to the 8th AF in England and operated bombers over Europe from bases in East Anglia, England. It would go through all kinds of activations and deactivations following WWII, mostly remaining in Europe in one form or another. In September 1962, the 2nd AD was assigned to PACAF on the other side of the world and would convert to fighters. PACAF assigned it to the 13th AF.

Early on, in 1962, the 13th AF organized the 2nd Advanced Echelon (AVON) and sent it to Saigon to work as MACV's air component command, to the outside world, just an air advisory unit. Remember, it’s only 1962! President Kennedy was in power and was very much in the “advisory mode,” having sent over 16,000 “advisors” to the region. American military involvement in Indochina dated back to the days of the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of WWII, but the buildup to what’s known as the Second Indochina War got its boost during JFK’s presidency.

As air operations increased, the 2nd ADVON was upgraded to the 2nd Air Division in 1965, still a 13th AF outfit, and still MACV's air component. For its part, 13th AF at Clark served again as a logistics hub through which passed men and materiel headed to Vietnam.

So the 2nd AD was in Saigon and was the air component for MACV. Second Air Division aircraft were flying out of the RVN and Thailand to conduct air operations over the RVN and NVN. Actually, USAF combat aircraft began operating out of air bases in Thailand as early as 1961. Remember, this is still 13th AF country and the 2nd AD was subordinate to 13th AF for USAF support matters.

USAFThailandMap

While 2nd AD was flying and fighting, 13th AF was secretly opening more and more air bases in Thailand, the principal ones at Don Muang in Bangkok, Takhli, Korat, NKP, Udorn, Ubon and Utapao. The 2nd AD conducted most of the famous Rolling Thunder bombing campaign over North Vietnam (NVN) that began in 1965. Rolling Thunder consisted mostly of F-105 “Thud” flights staging from air bases in Thailand, mainly Korat and Takhli.

So the reality was that 2nd AD, MACV’s air component headquartered in Saigon, was flying combat missions from Thailand and the RVN against targets in the RVN and NVN. To this editor, that seems straight-forward and in keeping with the idea of unity of command. But to Washington, this was apparently not workable.

7thAFPatchWWII
Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that air operations over the RVN and NVN were intensifying rapidly. An air division was not equipped to handle all this. In addition, there were many serious strategic issues associated with bombing the NVN, to wit worries the Chinese would enter the war as they did in Korea.

As a result, the 2nd AD was reorganized as a numbered air force, the 7th AF. It was reactivated and subordinated to PACAF for USAF support matters. Here again, old hands will remember that the 7th AF began in 1940 as the Hawaiian Air Force and eventually became a combat air force in the Pacific Theater of WWII, mainly flying bombers.

7th AF was subordinated to MACV as its air component and was headquartered in Saigon. But 7th AF was not given the authorities held by the 2nd AD. The 7th AF would be responsible for all USAF and Marine air operations over the RVN, a portion of southeast Laos, a portion of North Vietnam above the DMZ (RP-1), but would have no authority over any B-52 missions conducted anywhere in the theater and no authority for any fighter missions conducted over North Vietnam or Laos.

Responsibility for fighter missions against NVN and Laos were assigned to CINCPAC, who as I said earlier, exercised that authority through PACAF and PACFLT. Heavy bomber missions were assigned to SAC.

With all of this came a different kind of problem. The 7th AF took charge of the air bases in the RVN. But the 13th had always been responsible for the air bases in Thailand. Changing that in the midst of a war was out of the question.

7th13thAFPatch
The answer was to establish a new organization known as 7th-13th Air Force, with headquarters at Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. As a general rule, when the aircraft in Thailand were on the ground, they were a 13th AF responsibility; when in the air, a 7th AF responsibility. Here’s where life got a little tricky. The fragmentary order, or “frag,” was the means by which USAF units were tasked to fly. The 7th AF issued the frags for USAF fighter aircraft no matter where they flew. However, if they were to fly over the NVN or attack targets in Laos, the authority for 7th AF to frag the missions came from PACAF. As you will see, the missions flown against targets in Laos were actually authorized by the American Embassy Vientiane, approved by PACAF, with 7th AF simply issuing the execution orders, the frag.

In short, COMUSMACV ran the war in Vietnam. CINCPAC ran the war in the NVN and Laos, the latter through American Embassy Vientiane. Both COMUSMACV and CINCPAC employed the resources of their service component commands. SAC ran all B-52 operations.

Before I stop with this part of the organizational lashups, I want to emphasize a critical point, arguably all you might want to remember.

The US segregated the geography of Indochina following the borders. We pretended that the fighting over North Vietnam, in and over Laos, Cambodia and the RVN were all sufficiently different to demand special alignments and command arrangements for each. In addition, we refused to commit overt ground forces to North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The suits did their best to keep China and the Soviets at bay, even though all the while both were providing massive logistics and training support to our enemies. Except for bombing, the US never took the ground war to the NVN or Laos other than what might have been done by special forces.

CambodiaTrailMap


The North Vietnamese did not look at the war this way. They saw it as an Indochina-wide War. To be sure, their sights were set on taking over the RVN and unifying it with the NVN. That was their highest priority. To achieve that, however, especially given the long logistics tail from NVN to all of the RVN, the NVN had to operate in Laos and Cambodia. They did so largely by means of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

But their operations were not limited to that. The notion of spreading communism throughout the region was on the agenda as well. Operating through communist surrogates in Laos, the RVN and Cambodia, the NVN fought to convert the entire Indochina area into a communist dominated region. This was to the delight of the Soviet Union and China, even though there was plenty of ill-will between China and the NVN, another study you might wish to undertake.

As a result, the NVN used whatever geography they had to use to fight against the RVN, the Government of Laos, and the Government of Cambodia. For logistics purposes, they wanted to clear out northern and eastern Laos of any threats to move their men and supplies to fight in the RVN. They also did so to extend the logistics lines through southern Laos and into Cambodia, and to establish safe havens on both countries, fighting in the RVN and then regrouping back in Laos and Cambodia. The NVN had no respect for anything that came out of Geneva. The NVN understood the convoluted US perspective and took full advantage of it. The NVN-RVN DMZ meant nothing to the NVN. They lived in it, crossed through it at will, and invaded through it as appropriate to their objectives.

McnamaraLine

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announces the plan to build a fortified barrier just south of the DMZ to prevent infiltration into South Vietnam. Officially known as the SPOS (Strong Point Obstacle System), it will become famous as the McNamara Line. This is an aerial view of the cleared trace between Gio Linh and Con Thien.

Incredibly, the US saw the DMZ as a barrier, a place across which American regular ground forces were not to pass. Secretary of Defense McNamara even thought he could build an electronic fence across the DMZ that would stop the enemy from crossing, known as “McNamara’s Line.” I suggest you study the Marines of the III MAF in I Corps straddling the DMZ to better understand what they had to put up with regarding enemy forces in and across the DMZ and enemy forces slipping into the RVN off the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos into northern Quang Tri Province of the RVN. US policies here will break your heart, and the manner in which the Marines fought will stiffen you with indescribable pride and, I must admit, sadness.

The US overtly treated Laos and Cambodia as neutral, but supported indigenous and American forces fighting in each. Neither the NVN or the US actually looked at either of those countries as neutral. The difference was that the NVN set up extensive ground force networks in both countries while the US tried to work through indigenous forces and airpower.

In retrospect, a very wretched and regrettable state of affairs. This has been just a brief overview of the command and control conditions by which our military forces were tasked to fight. I am compelled to say right here that US military forces did not lose any war in Indochina and barely lost any major battle. The suits in Washington lost it in large part because they were more focused on China and at the end of the day hardly gave a hoot about the final outcome in Indochina. That is my editorial opinion.

With that bit of background, let’s switch over to the 6994th SS, the “backenders” flying with the TEWS.

HQUSAFSS


Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, the 6994th Security Squadron (SS) was not a police outfit. The 6994th SS belonged to a Major Air Command (MAJCOM), at the time known as USAF Security Service, USAFSS, headquartered at Kelly AFB, San Antonio, Texas, in a place then known as “Building 2000.” Access was controlled and the building was fenced. HQ USAFSS, was a cryptologic organization conducting signals intelligence (SIGINT) and providing communications security (COMSEC) worldwide.

SIGINT means obtaining intelligence by collecting signals between people, called Communications Intelligence (COMINT), or by collecting electronic signals not directly used in communication, known as Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), or combinations of the two. Quite often, the signals were encrypted, which required decryption, a very sensitive aspect of the SIGINT business. Old timers from WWII might recall how important it was that the US broke the Japanese codes and finally broke the German “Ultra” codes, then able to read traffic between various enemy units. The USAFSS COMSEC had to do with protecting our own communications.

StapletonCarl
At the time Det 3 was established, and for most of its life, USAFSS was commanded by Major General Carl W, Stapleton. As a young officer, he was a WWII fighter pilot with 113 combat missions over France and Germany. He got into the intelligence business as an air attache to Bangkok in the 1950s and stayed with it through his retirement from USAFSS in 1973.

USAFSS was a small, highly specialized, highly technical, and secretive MAJCOM. Its commander reported for USAF matters to HQ USAF, as did all MAJCOM commanders. It operated SIGINT ground stations around the world and provided enlisted aircrews for airborne reconnaissance flights flown around the world in a wide variety of aircraft. It is a command with a distinguished history and ultimately formed the nucleus of the present-day Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (ISR).

In addition to his responsibilities to HQ USAF and field commanders throughout the world, he also had responsibilities to the Director, National Security Agency, DIRNSA, or NSA, itself among the most secretive organizations of the Department of Defense (DoD) with a rich heritage emerging from WWII.

NSABuilding

NSA was, and I believe still is, the only Department of Defense (DoD) organization allowed by law to engage in SIGINT operations against foreign sources. During my tenure, it was not allowed to conduct SIGINT operations against US citizens. NSA was largely a civilian organization, responsible to the entire US government for SIGINT operations. While largely a civilian organization, its director had traditionally been a military officer at the three star level.

GaylerNoel
At the time of Det 3's establishment and through most of its life, DIRNSA was Vice Admiral Noel Gayler, who later became the CINCPAC as a four-star admiral and closed out the Indochina War. He was a fighter pilot, and received three Navy Crosses for his valor in WWII.

While NSA was the only organization in the DoD authorized to conduct SIGINT operations for national foreign intelligence purposes, it was a DoD organization, was tasked to provide support to military commanders, and as a result used the military services to help do the job. Each military service established an organization to conduct SIGINT operations abroad on behalf of NSA and military field commanders. To do so legally, each had to subordinate itself from a tasking, collection, processing and reporting standpoint to NSA, and abide by NSA SIGINT rules and regulations. Each could and did provide direct support to military commanders, but only when authorized by the NSA and following NSA rules.

The end result was that the military services established Service Cryptologic Agencies (SCAs) to serve NSA and their own military departments and military commands at home and abroad.

USAFSSPatch NSGPatch ASAPatch

These were the three SCAs at the time. From left to right, the shields of the USAFSS, Naval Security Group (NSG), and Army Security Agency (ASA).

Speaking very broadly, SIGINT operations were needed to support two different brands of requirements: national requirements, such as the Soviet nuclear threat, and tactical requirements, such as monitoring and tracking individual foreign military, especially combat, units. I won't go into this subject, which has been and continues to be a controversial one between the NSA and the military. It is a huge subject that presents challenges to this day.

Most often, those USAFSS units supporting national requirements received their tasking directly from NSA and reported directly back to NSA and other users designated and authorized by NSA.

6994thSSHQ


EC-47 operations, however, were different. As mentioned earlier, Paul H. Nitze, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, issued a memorandum on June 19, 1968 that said the EC-47s would be controlled by COMUSMACV, the theater commander for the Vietnam War. Det 3 presented some complications to this arrangement, because it flew most of its missions over Laos, and Laos was outside MACV authorities. I’ve already addressed some of this in discussing the7th AF frag orders being issued by the 7th AF to the TEWS. The 7th AF issued frags for missions flown over Laos as well, but there were a few nuances to that arrangement and a good deal of arguing about how it would work.

MACVHQ


I have mentioned previously that MACV was headquartered in Saigon in February 1962, was subordinate to the CINCPAC, and was known as a sub-unified command under the control of CINCPAC. CINCPAC, in turn reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Washington.

It is worth mentioning here that CINCPAC enjoyed another special relationship, this one with the ambassadors to Saigon, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, and Bangkok. He exercised these relationships largely through State Department offices in his headquarters and special political advisers also located there.

I have already addressed MACV’s broad authorities and the areas where it had no authority. I want to narrow in on Laos, one of the areas where MACV had no authority. And I am going to stick to USAF operations. When I say that, I am not talking so much about USAF overflights to and from the NVN. I am talking about USAF flights over Laos against enemy targets in Laos. I will limit my discussion of this to Det 3’s EC-47 operations over Laos targeted, in the main, against NVN forces operating in Laos, whether on or near the trail, or against the Government of Laos.

I wish to address once again the Geneva agreements to which the US was party relevant to Laos. These impacted US operations in Laos a great deal.

Geneva1954


First, the Geneva Conference of 1954. It addressed issues related to the Korean peninsula and newly independent Indochina. The Soviet Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) participated throughout the whole conference while different countries concerned with the two questions addressed by the conference were also represented during the discussion of their respective areas of concerns. Thailand was one of these to participate in the Indochina talks.

KoreaAmistice

General Mark W. Clark, Far East commander, signs the Korean armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, after two years of negotiation. This was not a peace treaty. It was an instrument of cease-fire signed by the two military authorities. Technically, we remain at war with North Korea to this day.

The main focus of this 1954 Geneva conference was on the Korean peninsula. The militaries of North and South Korea and the UN, represented by the US, signed an armistice on July 27, 1953 establishing a cease-fire and a demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. The US was not interested in a unification of the Koreas. This was not a peace treaty, and the Geneva Conference produced nothing of importance on the Korean question.

FrenchSurrenderDienBienPhu


The French surrender at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 meant that France lost the first Indochina War. As a result Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia achieved independence. There was to be an election in Vietnam to determine who controlled the entire country. Here again the US was not interested in an election to determine who would rule all Vietnam, fearing the communists under Ho Chi Minh would win. Therefore, the conference produced a set of documents known as the Geneva Accords of 1954. These accords separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh communists led by Hi Chi Minh who had fought against the French, and the southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by Emperor Bao Dai. In addition, three separate cease-fire accords covering Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were signed. Finally, a document was produced that set elections to reunify Vietnam for July 1956. The US and State of Vietnam refused to sign.



That was in July 1954. However, I reported to you earlier that in 1953 the Viet Minh, known as the Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN), the predecessor to the NVN Army (NVA), invaded northeastern Laos with 40,000 troops who married up with 2,000 indigenous Pathet Lao. The enemy attacked into Phongsali and Houaphan Provinces. The Viet Minh and Pathet Lao would also launch toward Luang Prabang Province, which hosted the royal capital and the king.

The Geneva Accords allocated these two provinces, Phongsali and Houaphan, to the Pathet Lao and stipulated that the Royal Laotian Government (RLG) would rule the rest of the country. The Pathet Lao and NVN had no intention of abiding by any of this, other than to take the two provinces they already held.

PhoumiNosavan
The ink on the Geneva Accords was barely dry when the US established a US Operations Mission (USOM) in Vientiane. It financed most of the Laotian budget and the entire cost of the Royal Laotian Army (RLA). As a result, more and more US personnel began arriving in Laos, overtly attached to the US Embassy Vientiane. CIA and US military people were among them, the latter dressed in civilian attire. The US goal was to prevent Laos from becoming communist. The Laotian prime minister, however, wanted a unified and neutral Laos and allowed communists to participate in his government. The US resented this and a great deal of political turmoil followed, resulting in the fall of the Laotian government in 1957 and a military takeover by General Phoumi Nosavan, an avid anti-communist, shown here.

I cannot get into all the chaotic events during this period. Suffice to say that both neutralist and communist forces took advantage of all the turmoil and by 1961 were fighting a major war in Laos. Laos was a bucket of worms. Major Earl H. Tilford, Jr., writing "Laos: Three perspectives on a secret war" published in the January-February 1981 edition of
Air University Review, describes the problem best:

"The war in Laos was as complex as it was politically sensitive."

KennedyLaos


President Kennedy in 1961 declared US support for a political settlement involving the neutralization of Laos, and he told the world on TV that he supported the Geneva Accords. His argument was that a collapse in Laos would put pressure on Laos, the RVN, Cambodia and ultimately Malaya. He might have supported the accords, but the US never signed them.

In May 1961 a fourteen-nation conference, including the United States, convened at Geneva to resolve the conflict in Laos between the central government and the forces of the pro-communist Pathet Lao. In July 1962 the conferees agreed to the establishment of a neutral coalition government in that country.

What did this “neutrality” entail? The language said, respect Laotian neutrality, refrain from interference, direct or indirect, in the internal affairs of Laos, and refrain from drawing Laos into military alliance or to establish military bases in Laotian territory. Both President Kennedy and Soviet premier Khrushchev agreed to the neutrality but neither had any intention of respecting it because they knew the other was not and would not.

SovietIL14PDJ


For reasons that are baffling in hindsight, the US determined it had to create the image that it was respecting Laotian neutrality when it was not. The Soviets were busily supporting the Pathet Lao and NVN in Laos and everyone knew it. I have read reports that the US did not want to embarrass the Soviets for doing that! Here is an example of a photo taken by US reconnaissance of a Soviet IL-14 dropping supplies to Pathet Lao and NVN forces in the PDJ of Laos. In an earlier section I showed you a Soviet armored car driving along Route 7 in Laos in 1961. The Soviets were everywhere. You see a great deal about the US Secret War in Laos, but seldom hear about the Soviet or Chinese Secret War in Laos.

VangPao
President Eisenhower had warned of getting involved in this region beyond provision of air support. Part of the outgrowth of that was that the CIA contacted the Hmong minority living on and around the PDJ, warned them the communists intended to take their land, and provided them weapons and training. The Pathet Lao and Laotian neutralists, supported by the NVN, already owned much of the PDJ so the Hmong moved to higher ground south of the PDJ. A young Royal Laotian Army (RLA) officer, who was Hmong, Vang Pao (shown here) became the Hmong’s military leader. Once arranged, President Kennedy directed that the US recruit a force of 11,000 Hmong under General Vang Pao’s command. US and Thai military forces trained them, Air America supplied them, and CIA directed much of their operations. By the end of 1963, the Hmong had an estimated 20,000 troops.

US military forces, stationed clandestinely inside Laos, and stationed in Thailand, also for many years pretending to be clandestine, supported the fight throughout the rest of the Indochina War.

UdornRTAFB69


For the USAF, Udorn RTAFB just south of Vientiane was a major operating base for American covert operations in Laos. This is an aerial photo of the air base in 1969. While all US air operations from Thai air bases were held close to the chest, Udorn’s main operational unit was the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) which commanded four F-4 Phantom squadrons, two photo reconnaissance, two tactical fighter. It also hosted the 4th Special Operations Squadron (AC-47 gunships), the 7th Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Squadron (C-130 with ABCCC command module inside), and multiple fighter squadrons on a temporary augmentation basis. So the air base was bustling with military activity.

AirAmericaUdorn


But Udorn also served as the Asian Headquarters for CIA’s Air America. This is an aerial photo of Air America’s ramp at Udorn. Air America's predecessor, Civil Air Transport (CAT), had been flying supply operations from Udorn throughout Indochina since 1955. The first USAF unit was assigned to Udorn in late 1964.

AirAmericaUdorn


Here you see a Volpar Turboprop Beech 18 on Air America's ramp at Udorn. The buildings in the background are CIA’s maintenance hangars where all the chopper and fixed wing aircraft were repaired and inspected at Air America's maintenance facility.

The multitude and variety of operations conducted from Udorn and from inside Laos are mind-boggling, rightly the subject of separate studies.

The point that impacted the TEWS and the 6994th SS, however, was that under such circumstances, there was no way the suits in Washington were willing to give COMUSMACV any direct authority to conduct military operations in Laos. Technically, the CINCPAC controlled all military operations in Laos and exercised that authority through PACAF and PACFLT, which we have already discussed, and through the American Embassy Vientiane. The reality was that the embassy would become the lead dog for the war in Laos.

The ambassador's Country Team was loaded with war fighting veterans. CIA conducted many air operations through its Chief of Station (COS) assigned to the embassy, its civilian airline, Air America, and its people in the field. The Army and Air Attachés assigned to the embassy conducted covert ground and air operations. Indeed the Air Attache's Office in Vientiane hosted an Air Operations Center (AOC).

William Leary, writing “CIA Operations in Laos, 1955-1974,” commented:

“The largest paramilitary operations ever undertaken by the CIA took place in the small Southeast Asian Kingdom of Laos. For more than 13 years, the Agency directed native forces that fought major North Vietnamese units to a standstill.”

He would add:

“Air America, an airline secretly owned by the CIA, was a vital component in the Agency's operations in Laos ... Air America crews transported tens of thousands of troops and refugees, flew emergency medevac missions and rescued downed airmen throughout Laos, inserted and extracted road-watch teams, flew nighttime airdrop missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, monitored sensors along infiltration routes, conducted a highly successful photoreconnaissance program, and engaged in numerous clandestine missions using night-vision glasses and state-of-the-art electronic equipment. Without Air America's presence, the CIA's effort in Laos could not have been sustained.”

LS20A


Long Chieng (Long Tieng), designated Lima Site 30, but referred to as Lima Site 20A, was the main Allied base in northern Laos, and Udorn RTAFB, just south of Vientiane, the main safe haven base.

SullivanWilliam
The US ambassador to Laos became the American kingpin in running the war in Laos. Please recall I mentioned that CINCPAC exercised operational control through PACAF and PACFLT of air operations in Laos and NVN and that he had a special relationship with the ambassador in Vientiane. So that was a main path of coordination. Ambassador Leonard Unger was the US ambassador to Laos during the startup period, 1962-64. Ambassador William Sullivan, shown here, replaced him from 1964-1969.

Charles Stevenson, an author focused on the war in Laos, said, “(Laos) was William Sullivan's war.” Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy commented, “There wasn't a bag of rice dropped in Laos that he didn't know about.”

For our purposes here, the CIA COS in the embassy directed most tactical operations. The 4802nd Joint Liaison Detachment at Udorn was CIA’s command center for military operations in Laos. Now to be clear, well sort of, the Air Force retained operational control over its men and aircraft. Ambassador Sullivan testified to the US Senate in May 1970, "the Air Force does not second the command of its aircraft... to the control of the Ambassador." But a new term came into the lexicon, functional control. The Ambassador through the COS and his staff had functional control over the targeting.

Ambassador Sullivan was the one to go on the record that he needed EC-47 ARDF flights over Laos targeted against enemy forces in Laos. He got what he wanted, though he left in March 1969 just before Det 3’s activation in April at NKP.

GodleyMcMurtrie
Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley replaced Sullivan and was the US ambassador to Laos during all of Det 3's life at NKP. Godley earned the nickname "air marshal" while in Laos. He loosened many of the bombing restrictions, and according to Marilyn Blatt Young, in her book, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990, the Plaines des Jars in the north virtually disappeared under the weight of air bombardment directed by him.

Thailand was known as a "front-line state" bordering on Laos and Cambodia. US air forces were operating from naval carriers at Yankee Station in the South China Sea, and from air bases in the RVN, but those were not enough. The USAF needed air bases in Thailand to conduct air operations against North Vietnam and against enemy forces inside Laos, most especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to protect the RLG. While Thailand was extremely sensitive to US bases on her soil, and the rule of thumb when asked about those bases was "no comment,” Thailand was committed to defeating the communists in Laos. Thailand had committed the third largest number of forces to the war in the RVN, behind the US and the Republic of Korea (ROK). Thai pilots flew combat sorties over Laos and sent in volunteer troops to fight with Laotian irregulars supported by the US. Headquarters 333 was the Thai organization at Udorn RTAFB in charge of Thai forces in Laos, General Vitoon Yasawatdi in command, also known as Dhep 333. HQ 333 was funded by CIA. He has been called “the single most important player in the Laos program.”

EC47usieQ


The men who flew and maintained the aircraft belonged to TEWS. The TEWS, through their Air Force wing, were subordinate to the 7th AF. As a result, COMUSMACV tasked its air component, the 7th AF to fly the EC-47 missions it wanted them to fly.

The 6994th SS supplied the SIGINT and ARDF operators, all enlisted men. The 6994th SS was not subordinate to 7th AF, or any 7th AF organization. It was subordinate to HQ USAFSS through its regional headquarters at the USAFSS Pacific Security Region (PSR) colocated with HQ PACAF in Hawaii. Nonetheless, since the 94th operators flew aboard the TEWS aircraft, they too were under the operational control of COMUSMACV.

COMUSMACV's tasking authority was its ARDF Coordination Center, the ACC, located in Saigon, later moved to NKP. The ACC received tactical requirements from the fighting commands in the field and from other commands and agencies. It met weekly with 7th AF, NSA and other representatives to include Embassy VIentiane representatives to prepare the tasking for the next week’s missions. Together the group decided which requirements carried what priority. It then matched those with resources available.

It would then instruct 7th AF when and where missions were to be flown. 7th AF in turn tasked the TEWS through the Frag.

The ACC was cleared for TS/SCI and separately tasked the 6994th SS with very specific tasking of mission collection and location objectives for each of the missions tasked by 7th AF. These specifics were not known to the TEWS.

Thankfully, the embassy in Vientiane normally used the COMUSMACV ARDF tasking mechanism instead of devising some system on its own which it might operate. I have speculated that was due to Ambassador Godley’s understanding of how the USAF operated and his willingness to work with the USAF command and control system so long as his functional control of targets to be covered and located remained in tact. The embassy, usually the COS, forwarded its requirements to the ACC which in turn passed them to Det 3 and tasked the TEWS through the normal 7th AF mechanism to fly Laotian missions. But it is important to note that most of the requirements against which Det 3 collected were CIA requirements articulated by the COS Vientiane. CIA representatives visited Det 3 a number of times to articulate their needs face-to-face.

I risk repeating myself but I want to underscore right here a crucial point. The Embassy Vientiane and CIA were interested in saving Laos from communism. MACV was interested in saving the RVN from communism. The net result was that Det 3 would be tasked to cover the war inside Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail serving NVN and VC forces in the RVN.

ARDFAreas

You’ve seen this map before, in a previous section. As a reminder, the 7th AF air execution frag orders to the TEWS instructed the TEWS to fly over certain ARDF areas as shown in the diagram above. The 7th AF selected these based on MACV ACC requirements with American Embassy Vientiane requirements in there as well, arguably dominating the requirements levied on Det 3. The ACC told the 6994th what it wanted collected and located in those areas. The TEWS crews flew to the ARDF tasked area, and the 6994th backenders coordinated with the pilots to fly certain segments within the numbered blocks based on enemy communications activities they expected to or could hear through their antenna and receiver systems. The TEWS crews responded to those requests, weather and threats permitting.

PDJ


On this map I have highlighted NKP’s location with a red dot. My recollection is Det 3 flew Areas 15, 13, 12, 11 and 10 a lot, covering most of Laos. My first mission was to area 15 and the PDJ. I will never forget it. I was standing in the back of the cockpit looking out at the view. The PDJ was a beautiful deep green area, surrounded by mountains. This is not my photo, but this is the way I remember it. We watched USAF A-1E fighter bombers flying all around like flies, diving and climbing, diving, swirling and climbing. It was an incredible sight for a young officer on his first mission. My memory is I loved it, completely impervious to any risks that may have existed. Ah the joy of youth.

While I understand some ARDF flights from the RVN would fly into NVN airspace, I believe those to have been infrequent and early on in the war because of the enormous threat. Areas 16 an 14 were also troublesome areas because the Chinese were building roads for their own use through there, though I did fly aboard a flight up there once. We were all on pins and needles. The Chinese left us alone.

Area 15 was a popular place to visit because it covered the area of the PDJ. Areas 10-13 were also visited a lot because they were close to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Bolovens Plateau, the extensions of the Trail into Cambodia, and Vietnam.

KontuymArea

Kontum area shot from a Det 3 EC-47 flying there. At center, note the white puff of smoke, either marking a target or destroying it.

On occasion, the NKP unit would fly into Area 7 in the RVN, the Pleiku-Kontum regions, and recover at Danang, or, fuel permitting, returning to NKP.

KontumMountains
Mountains south-southwest of Kontum shot by a Det 3 EC-47 crew


If they went to Danang, on the next day they would fly those areas again and return to NKP. Later in the war, Det 3 flew many missions over Cambodia. My last “fini” flight in June 1973 was over the Phnom Penh area.

The 6994th Squadrons located in the RVN would do the lion’s share of the work in the areas in the RVN.

ARDFUnitMOveMp

You have seen this map before. The black circles with red arrows reflect the movement of TEWS/6994th units inside the RVN. The black circles with red arrows to red circles reflect the movement of TEWS/6994th units just prior to the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. The 6994th SS HQ moved from Tan Son Nhut in Saigon to NKP. Det 2, 6994th SS at Danang moved to Ubon RTAFB and became Det 3, 6994th SS. Later on, the HQ 6994th SS would move to Ubon and would terminate its operations there in 1975.

Let’s step back to the Paris Peace Accords. Actually, work on them began as early as 1968, before Det 3 was even established at NKP. The accords reflected these agreements:

  • A ceasefire would commence in Vietnam effective midnight, January 27, 1973 or 0800 hours January 28 Saigon time. North and South Vietnamese forces would hold in their positions, but could be supplied to replenish only.
  • All foreign troops would commence their withdrawal and complete those withdrawals within 60 days.
  • US POWs would be released.
  • Negotiations between the RVN and Viet Cong would commence to achieve a political settlement that would allow the South Vietnamese people to determine their own destiny.
  • Reunification of the Vietnams would be done in a step-by-step process.

Of course, just about everyone knew the latter two elements had no chance of success, and indeed the last US people to leave the RVN had to fight their way out as the NVA marched into Saigon and took over.

That was the reunification process. The record is clear that Dr. Henry Kissinger, the main US negotiator, had precious little interest in Vietnam and instead wanted to solidify the US relationship with China.

One of the steps that had to occur was to shut down MACV. Kissinger visited MACV in mid-October 1972. The JCS then directed MACV in late October to prepare for two successor command organizations. One was to be an enlarged Defense Attaché Office (DAO) in Saigon which would manage assistance to the RVN. The other was to be a headquarters in Thailand which would conduct post cease-fire air operations throughout Indochina.

The Army and USAF wanted a strong headquarters in Thailand that would manage all air operations of all the services throughout the entire region. The Navy balked, Admiral Moorer, the chairman JCS, opposed the idea and convinced Secretary of Defense Laird it was a bad idea. They opted for more limited jurisdiction than even the MACV had.

TFABuilding


GeneralVogt
The result was establishment of the US Support Activities Group/7th AF (USSAG/7AF) at NKP. It was located within the Task Force Alpha compound at NKP, General John Vogt, USAF, in command. It would be under the operational command of CINCPAC. USSAG/7AF had operational control of USAF units in Thailand, including the TEWS and 6994th SS, and commanded the DAO Saigon. Its mission was four-fold:

  • Plan for the resumption of an effective air campaign in Laos, Cambodia, the RVN and NVN as directed by CINCPAC.
  • Maintain a command and control structure for the management of air elements which may be committed to it and a capability to interface with the RVN Air Force (VAF) Air Control System.
  • Maintain liaison with the RVN Armed Forces Joint General Staff, TF-77, and SAC.
  • Exercise command over the Defense Resources Support and Termination Office, and operational control of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center.

An advance element of USSAG activated at NKP on January 29, 1973. Transfer of personnel from MACV to USSAF began in February. General Vogt took command on February 15, 1973 and took control from MACV of all air operations once controlled by MACV. As MACV people were leaving, people began arriving to serve in the DAO Saigon. MACV closed officially on March 29, 1973.

The ARDF’s control center, the ACC, moved from MACV to HQ USSAG, actually set up a shop within the compound of the 6994th SS which had relocated from Tan Son Nhut to NKP there. That caused Det 3 at NKP to have its designation moved to Ubon RTAFB to the south. Det 2, 6994th SS at Danang AB, RVN relocated to Ubon and was designated Det 3, 6994th SS.

None of the planning for the peaceful end to the war was fulfilled. An evacuation of Saigon was ordered and completed on April 30, 1975.

Nonetheless, EC-47s flew through mid-May 1974, mostly over Cambodia and some of Laos. A mission aircraft, call sign Baron 52, flew a night mission out of the TEWS-Det 3, 6994th SS at Ubon on February 4, 1973, just days after the Vietnam ceasefire. She flew a mission in the southern portion of Area 10G, over the Bolovens Plateau area, close to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The enemy shot her down and all souls aboard were lost. EC-47 flights over Laos and Cambodia continued.

During my tenure with Det 3, 6994th at NKP, June 1972-January 1973 and then with the HQ 6994th SS at NKP through June 1973, there was a steady but noticeable increase in the degree of difficulty for the EC-47s operating over Laos to get close enough to their targets to locate them. Slowly but surely the enemy improved its air defenses of the land it held, especially along and around the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By the time my tour was over, our ARDF results in Laos had plummeted. I so informed the chain of command but apparently they were willing to take whatever intelligence we could get, so we kept flying.

PhnomPenh
Phnom Penh, Cambodia shot from an EC-47 flight in the area


Roughly at the same time, warfare in Cambodia became increasingly worse. This war was between the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge, the NVN, the Viet Cong on one side and forces of the Khmer republic on the other. Warfare began to heat up in 1970 and became intense over the next five years, resulting in the Khmer Rouge taking over the country in April 1975. ARDF missions conducted many flights over Cambodia as a result.

FinalEC47Mission


The final EC-47 mission was flown over Cambodia on May 15, 1974. This photo shows that mission after recovering at Ubon RTAFB. Skeeter Dickerson, a 6994th SS member in the war zone for a long time, stood out the escape hatch and lit the red flare in honor of all those who had flown with the Electric Goons in this Indochina War.

Memoirs: Establishment of Det 3, 6994th Security Squadron, NKP RTAFB, Thailand