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Post Gulf of Tonkin
Created by John Eipper on 12/27/14 4:47 AM

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Gulf of Tonkin (Michael Sullivan, USA, 12/27/14 4:47 am)

In response to recent posts from Tor Guimaraes, David Krieger, and others, there were two incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin. On 2 August 1964, four Navy F-8 Crusaders engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats by strafing. One Crusader was damaged, a 14.5mm round hit a US destroyer, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, four North Vietnamese sailors were killed and six wounded. There were no US casualties. The second incident, on the night of 4 August, is debatable. Most feel it was caused by too much confusion, as the US destroyers were so hyped-up from the attack of 2 August that it may not have happened at all and they were chasing bogus radar targets, according to several reports.

Nevertheless, shortly after these incidents and on 10 August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress.  Only two Senators voted against it (Morse (D)- OR and Gruening (D)- AK). The House passed it 416-0, and the Resolution gave the President authorization to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia without a declaration of war.

I disagree with David Krieger's claim that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was based on a lie, as the Congress passed it. It was legal and lawful, while allowing the President to send combat troops to Vietnam.

JE comments:  That's an overwhelming Congressional vote of support.  On today's dysfunctional Capitol Hill, we probably couldn't get House unanimity in praise of motherhood or the awesomeness of Elvis.  The vote itself shows the mindset of those Cold War times.

I hope Michael Sullivan doesn't mind my asking, but WAISers would like to know:  were you in SE Asia at the time of Tonkin?

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  • My Flight Squadron at Time of Tonkin (Michael Sullivan, USA 12/29/14 4:34 AM)

    To answer John E's question of 27 December, my F-4 squadron, based at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, had just arrived at NAS Atsugi (near Tokyo) in early July (1964) for a one -year deployment. Shortly after we arrived the Tonkin Gulf incident happened, and we were immediately put on DEFCON 2. This means all maintenance pack-ups and supplies would be put in boxes on the hangar deck so we'd be ready to deploy to Vietnam on a moment's notice. Personnel leaving the Air Station on liberty had to check in every two hours. We were told we'd be deploying very soon. It didn't work out like that and we didn't deploy to Danang, Vietnam, until March, 1965, so operating out of boxes on the hangar deck for seven months proved quite a challenge for normal flight operations.

    We were told when the order to deploy came, the USAF would air refuel all 18 F-4s non-stop to Danang, about 2,500 miles. USAF C-124s would come in and pick up our maintenance and supply pack-ups, the Morest gear (traps aircraft on the runway after landing like on an aircraft carrier), and fly them into Danang and USAF KC-135 would fly the troops into Danang.

    As fate would have it, I had the Group Duty Officer one day in March, 1965 and when posted by the Group XO to assume the duties he passed me the log book and made the comment with a smile on his face, "Mike, Don't start any wars tonight!" Around midnight, I received a highly classified message from DOD/JCS to immediately deploy our squadron to Danang. I called the Group XO, woke him up and his first comment was, "What happened... Did we lose an aircraft?" I said, "Do you remember what you told me when you posted me with the duty about not starting any wars? Guess what, I just started one!"

    All essential Marines were roused from their sleep and the mad rush was on. We had to hang external wing tanks on all our aircraft, get all our aircraft in an "up" status, which meant we had to borrow some parts from a sister squadron and test hops had to be flown. All of this was accomplished and all our F-4s had left for Vietnam by the second day.

    However, the bad news was that the original planning was the USAF was going to air refuel our F-4s to Vietnam and take the maintenance pack-up, supplies and troops to Vietnam. The USAF never showed up! We tanked the first four F-4s to Vietnam non-stop using Marine KC-130 tankers. The remaining 14 aircraft were island-hopped Atsugi to Kadena (Okinawa) to Cubi Pt. (Philippines) on into Danang. All aircraft had arrived at Danang by the third day. The troops were flown down in Marine KC-130s. We started flight ops in Vietnam on the fourth day, using some old WWII bombs that somebody had left there! Luckily our ammunition ship came in within a few days after we landed, so we finally had the correct ordnance we needed.

    The Morest gear came in 10 days later by Navy LST and we were lucky we didn't have an hydraulic emergency or we'd have had no way to stop the aircraft after landing, as Danang had no arresting gear at that time!

    When we finished our tour in Vietnam and we returned back to the US. We lost no Marines or aircraft. It wasn't to be that way from then on, as the USAF, Navy and Marines ended up losing 682 F-4s in Vietnam--20% were operational accidents and not due to direct enemy action. When I returned on my second tour the combat, both air and ground, was much more intense.

    JE comments:  One of the highlights of 2013 was my visit to Cherry Point NC with General Sullivan as tour guide!  My thanks to Michael for that fascinating tour, as well as for this memory of his first deployment in Vietnam.  Pax, lux, and Semper fi to you in 2015, Michael.

    One more curiosity for now:  doesn't it take nerves of steel to refuel during flight?  To think of flying so close to the tanker plane.  And how do you get the hose attached?

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    • Refueling in Mid-Air, Marines, Navy and USAF (Michael Sullivan, USA 12/31/14 4:25 AM)
      To answer John's question (29 December), refueling is just like anything else in military aviation, as you must be able to have the capability to extend range and time on station. It takes practice. There are two types:

      The Navy-Marine aircraft use the hose, basket, and probe method, where the pilot flies his aircraft up to 3-5 ft. from the refueling basket extended on a long hose from the tanker aircraft and plugs his probe, which he extends from inside his aircraft, into the basket. There are three lights on the tanker. ORANGE means to go ahead and plug in. GREEN means you have pushed the hose in far enough on the tanker's take-up reel and fuel is flowing and the ORANGE light goes out. After you get your gas, you back out smoothly, the ORANGE light will come on and you disconnect from the basket. The RED means you're in too close by pushing the hose up too far and the fuel valves have closed. Also RED means an emergency disconnect. The pilot does all the work to get plugged in, and it's fairly difficult if the probe when extended isn't close to the aircraft's nose and is on the side of the fuselage like for the F-4 and Harrier. This means you can't look at the basket and just fly formation to the correct position on the tanker and close at 3-5 kts. to make contact. With practice you get proficient at it. If the probe is on your nose, like in the F-18, it's easy.

      Night makes it more difficult, as there are few visual references and the basket has some little red bead lights around the rim that you can see when you get to five feet or so. Also clear air turbulence really makes it tough, and you have to average out the basket/hose whipping up and down and make your move. We had the refueling probe tips break off in the basket or had the whipping of the hose get so bad it snaps off and wraps around the aircraft. But we always seem to make it home safely when that happens.

      We can also put hose/basket refueling pods/kits on our tactical jets like the F-18s and EA-6Bs today and A-3s, A-4s and A-6s during Vietnam. They serve as tankers around the carriers or to top of the strike flight, as they head into the target from a distance at sea.

      The US Air Force uses a tanker with a boom, and the boom operator controls the refueling boom into the refueling receptacle on top of the aircraft aft of the pilot. The receiver aircraft's pilot just flies his aircraft to a predetermined spot under the tanker and the boom operator does all the work and inserts the boom. Navy and Marine aircraft can refuel on USAF tankers providing they hang a hose and basket on the boom prior to take-off. It's only an 8 ft. hose with no take-up reel. We used them periodically in Vietnam. If the USAF tanker hangs a hose for us, then the USAF jets can't use it.

      USAF aircraft can't tank on Navy-Marine tankers, as those tankers only have the hose, basket and probe method.

      Aerial refueling can become a real challenge when we were up off the coast of Haiphong, flying MiG CAP missions at night. You're supposed to be on station for an hour and a half, but you don't get relieved to due to weather back at base or aircraft availability, so you may stay 4-6 hours. You're out of oxygen, out of ideas and you're getting a little weary. Now you have to go to the tanker again and he's in and out of the clouds, with maybe only the right wing tip light working so you have no visual reference.  And here we come for gas! You get to the 3-5 ft. stabilized position just prior to plugging in. And then both aircraft roll upside down! Not really, but you have a severe case of vertigo that's so bad you're forcing yourself not to push forward stick or roll the aircraft over. You take your hands off the stick and back off to about 10 yards and tell the tanker and your wingman you've got a severe case of vertigo. You try and settle down but the next attempt usually has the same results, so you "bingo" off the CAP to the closest air base, which is a USAF air base in Thailand.

      This is not all bad, as there is an "up" side: you get a good meal, lots of uninterrupted sleep in nice quarters (we're living in tents or Southeast Asia huts in Vietnam), and no rocket attacks to destroy your sleep by getting up and running to shelters!

      I've attached a few pictures to show the difference in the hose/basket/ probe method versus the boom method.

      JE comments: Photos below.  Keep in mind that you have to perform these maneuvers up in the air and going really, really fast!

      You would think they'd standardize the Navy/Marine and Air Force refueling methods. Wouldn't that save money and increase operating efficiency?

      Thank you, Michael, for this fascinating primer.

       Basket and probe refueling

      Air Force boom tanking method

      AV-8 close to basket refueling

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      • Re-Fueling in Mid-Air, USMC/Navy vs USAF Methods (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/03/15 10:41 AM)
        Happy New Year 2015 to WAISers!

        When commenting on my post of 31 December, John E asked why the Marines and the Navy use a different in-flight refueling method from the Air Force. The Navy-Marine refueling method is required as we can't get big USAF transport tankers on carriers. We have to use "buddy refuelers" from some of the same type of jets in the Air Group aboard the carrier. We have KC-130 Hercules refuelers in the Marines. They can't go aboard a carrier but they are used for fairly small off-loads of fuel as the only carry 23,000 lbs. inside the huge tank in the fuselage of the KC-130. They might tank four fighters with 5,000 lbs. of gas each. They are primarily used before or after strike missions. The good news with the KC-130 is that you can refuel two aircraft at once as there are two hoses, one coming out of the center wing on each side of the aircraft.

        The huge USAF transport-type aircraft like the KC-10 is just a converted DC-10 and they carry four or five times the gas of a KC-130. We use USAF tankers a lot today to TransLant or TransPac fighter/attack aircraft, as 4-6 fighters can fly right along with the tanker at the same altitude and speed and whenever they need some fuel the just go over and plug in. The USAF tankers can refuel only one aircraft at a time with a hose installed or their standard boom.

        It's much more efficient than refueling on the KC-130 for long-distance flights as on long distance flights we have to come down to 20,000 feet, slow to 210-220 knots, and then plug in, get your gas and then climb back up to 35,000-40,000 ft. While refueling around 220 kts. it almost puts you on the backside of the power curve when you're full of gas. But that's fine when you're flying CAP missions and you're at 20,000 ft., at maximum endurance speed, going around in a race track pattern waiting for a mission to be assigned and only taking 4,000-5,000 lbs. of gas.

        The country requires both types of refuelers due to different mission requirements, but it's more expensive and adds weight by adding the refueling plumbing in the Navy-Marine fighter/attack aircraft. However, equipping the USAF with 300 or more large tanker aircraft is a huge investment in personnel and for defense dollars.

        JE comments:  Very informative!  Thank you, Michael.  I never thought of the crucial difference:  carrier-based vs. land-based refuelers.

        And a most happy 2015 to Michael and Nicole Sullivan.  Look forward to seeing you at WAIS '15 (October 10-12), if not before.

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