Ignorance and Air Power: The Failure of U. S. Leadership to Properly Utilize Air Power in Vietnam

Ignorance and Air Power: The Failure of U. S. Leadership to Properly Utilize Air Power in Vietnam

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Ignorance and Air Power: The Failure of U. S. Leadership to Properly Utilize Air Power in Vietnam


Major Ted Tolman’s F-105 Thud fighter/bomber streaked through the air at just under the speed of sound. His aircraft performed modestly at best, struggling to maintain its speed and altitude under the heavy load of ordinance and fuel it carried under its wings (Patrick).

Tolman, and his wingman Major Lonnie Ferguson, were en route to a rail line that served to distribute supplies from Cam Pha Harbor to enemy troops throughout North Vietnam. The harbor itself was protected from attack by orders coming directly from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, meaning the only way to neutralize supplies coming through the harbor was to attack the distribution network that surrounded it (Patrick).

As he flew low near the harbor, puffs of flack began to appear, and Tolman soon found himself under heavy attack from North Vietnamese ground based anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). He hesitated a moment, then decided that he did not want to become a prisoner in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Tolman depressed his rudder pedal and rapidly swung his F-105 around, pointing the nose at the AAA emplacement and releasing a burst of 20mm cannon fire. In doing so, he made the biggest mistake of his career (Patrick).

As he swung his fighter around, Tolman inadvertently passed his gun sight directly across the Soviet cargo ship Turkestan as it traversed towards its intended target. Designed to provide a record of the action, the gun camera mounted in the nose of Tolman’s F-105 caught an image of the Soviet ship, inside the Cam Pha Harbor sanctuary, directly centered in his sights (Patrick).

There was nothing that suggested any of the rounds Tol...


... middle of paper ...


... Diss. United States Air Force Command Staff College, 1995.

McNamara, Robert S. and Brian VanDeMark. In Retrospect. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

“Operation Rolling Thunder.” Military Analysis Network. 1998. Federation of American Scientists. 20 Dec. 2003< http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/ops/rolling_thunder.htm>.

Patrick, Joe. “Testing the Rules of Engagement.” Vietnam Memoirs. 2003. 80th Fighter Squadron. 13 Nov. 2003.

Rendall, Ivan. Rolling Thunder. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

“Robert S. McNamara.” Secretaries of Defense. Defenselink. 20 Dec. 2003< http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/secdef_histories/bios/mcnamara.htm>.

United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. Memorandum to CINPAC, Definitive Rules of Engagement Applying to Laos. Washington: DoD, 1964.

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