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NICKELS HISTORY

1964 - 1967

After temporary inactivation Nov.7, 1945, the Triple Nickel came back to life Jan.8, 1964, as the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron at MacDill AFB, Florida. It was the first operational squadron in the Air Force to fly the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II. The Triple Nickel then deployed to Okinawa, Japan, and became a permanent unit there in late 1965, under the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing.

The squadron returned to combat from Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, scoring its first two aerial victories April 23, 1966. One week later, the Nickel gained the distinction of being the first "Ace" squadron in Southeast Asia with six kills.

At this time the Squadron wear the tail-code FY.

In June 1966, the 555th TFS moved to Ubon RTAFB joining the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing "Wolfpack". While stationed in Ubon, the Triple Nickel downed an additional 13 aircraft including four MiG-21s Jan.2, 1967. The Nickel was now the only "Quad ace" fighter squadron in this operational theatre, with twenty MiGs to its credit. Four months later the Triple Nickel became the first squadron in Southeast Asia to convert to F-4D.

Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base
Ubon Ratchatani, Thailand
OPERATION "BOLO"

During the last months of 1966 the MiG-21s of the VPAF (deployed in the 921st Fighter Regiment) became very active and succesful in the mission to intercept the F-105 formations of the USAF. In their own figures, the 921st FR shot down nine Thunderchiefs in December 1966; particularly, the MiG-21 pilots claimed two F-105s downed on December 5, and three more on December 14. There is no statistics of losses in aerial combats from USAF regarding that period, but its records of POW/MIA/KIA show at least one F-105 lost in each December 5 and December 8.

Letting aside how many of the VPAF claims are admitted by USAF, certainly the amount of American planes lost due to the MiGs became worrying, because the USAF decided to make an important effort to neutralize the MiG threat: the effort was known as Operation “Bolo”

Four VPAF pilots walk towards their MiG-21s in Noi Bai airbase. These fighters, armed with heat-seeking missiles R-3, became a serious threat for the F-105 formations in the last months of 1966, and the neutralization of them was the main goal of “Bolo”.

The idea and planning of such operation was the master piece of a living legend among the US F-4 pilots in South East Asia: Colonel Robin Olds. He was a P-38/P-51 Ace during the WWII, being credited with 12 kills against the German Luftwaffe in 1944-45, and now –he was 44 years old- was assigned as de CO of the 8th TFW (nickname: “The Wolf Pack”). He was an “old-fashion” fighter pilot, implulsive and rough, and he liked to drink; but he was also a natural leader and an intuitive tactics creator.

He realized that the F-105 and F-4 formations used the same incoming ways time after time, and the SIGINT analists of Hanoi became experts in identify the first ones from the others because the use of the same radio-frequencies and callsigns. So, he decided to fly a huge F-4 formation using the same routes, altitude and callsigns than the F-105s, hoping that the MiG-21s would be guided towards them expecting to find out Thunderchiefs, and when they realized the truth, it would be too late.

“Bolo” begins

The D-Day of “Bolo” was January 2 1967. In the first hours of the evening 14 flights of F-4C Phantom belonging to the 8th TFW (with 4 aircraft each) took off from Ubon RTAFB in Thailand towards the VPAF airfields around Hanoi, pretending to be F-105s. An eastern force of F-4s –belonging to the 366th TFW- would cover the possible MiG withdrawing routes. Olds commanded the first flight, callsign “Olds” (another nickname would be unappropiate!) and despite his long combat experience, he most likely thougth: “Would work the bait?”.

The doubts dissapeared soon, because the pilots of the MiG-21s seemed to be paralyzed when they realized that they were not engaging F-105s, but F-4s. The first kill of that day was scored by “Olds 02” -1st Lt. Ralph Wetterhahn- followed seconds later by the Captain Walter Radeker, who claimed to shot down another MiG-21. Initially Colonel Olds was not so lucky, as his own account shows

“The battle started when the MiGs began to get out of the cloud cover. Unfortunatelly to myself, the first one appeared in my ‘six o’clock’. I think it was more a casuality than a precise tactic. As a matter of fact, during the next minutes other many MiGs started to exit from the clouds from different positions.

I was lucky. The flight behind me saw the MiG and tried to divert its attention. I broke to the left, sharply enough to get away of his line of fire, hoping that my wingmans take care of him. Meanwhile another MiG get out of the clouds, doing an wide turn about my ’11 o’clock’ at a distance of 2,000 yards. He goes to get into the clouds again and I tried to follow him.”

Olds fired two Sparrows and one Sidewinder against this MiG, but the enemy pilot showed his quality avoiding all the three missiles and entering in the clouds (escaping away of the “Wolf Pack” leader). Until that moment, the Luck was no entirely at his side, he was under attack of a MiG-21, and one of his possible preys escaped away from him. But that would change soon:

“[…] a third enemy plane appeared in my ‘10 o’clock’, from the left to the right: in simple words, almost in opposing direction. The first MiG went away and I engaged the afterburner in an attempt to put myself in an attack position against this new enemy. I reared up my aircraft in an 45 degrees angle, inside his turn. He was turning to the left, so I pulled the stick and rolled to the right. That is: I performed a barrel roll.

Thanks to such maneuver, I found myself above him, half upside down, and I hold it until the MiG finished his turn, calculating the time in a way that, if I could keep on turning behind him, I would place on his tail, in an delection angle of 20 degrees, at a distance of 1,350 or 1,500 yards. That was exactly what happened. Sincerely, I thought he didn’t even see me. I found myself behind and lower than him. I could clearly see his silhoutte against the sun when I launched two Sidewinders against him, one of them made impact and teared out the right wing.”

In a few minutes, the pilots of the “Olds” flight claimed to shot down three MiG-21s without suffering losses, and started to withdraw of the aerial battlefield. So, the first round ended with a clear American victory, and the second one would begin soon

The “Ford” flight arrives

The next flight –callsign “Ford”- was arriving to the area and also engaged the MiG-21s. The flight’s leader, Colonel Chappie James, did not scored any kill, but he witnessed the victory of Captain Everett T. Raspberry. The following is his personal account of the engagement:

“At 15:04 my flight was attacked by three MiGs, two from the ‘10 o´clock’  and one from the ´6 o’clock´. Initially I didn’t see this last one because I had been concentrated in the attack of the ones approaching head-on. My RIO  warned me, excited, about this rapidly approaching MiG, which was at fire distance of my #3 and #4. I hesitated a while before to interrupt my attack against the two frontal MiGs, because I had seen the ‘Olds’ flight passing below us a few seconds before and I thought that the plane seen by my RIO could be one of them. Despite that, I changed rapidly my turn to the left by another sudden one to the right and I find out the third MiG. I ordered to my wingmans 03 and 04 to break to the right. But when they did it, the MiG broke to the left for some misterious reason and during an split of second we both were side by side. We were so close that, besides the red stars in his wings, I could clearly see the pilot’s face.

I began an horizontal barrel roll to separate away of him and to place myself in an attack position, and I launched a Sidewinder. The missile missed because the MiG suddenly broke to left at full throttle, but when he did it, he put himself in the line of fire of my wingman 02, Captain Everett T. Raspberry. I ordered him tofollow the prey, because meanwhile the two aircraft that I initially saw had been placed in my forward sector. I was in an advantageous position, so I fired two AIM-9s against them in a quick sequence, and I turned to place myself as wingman of my #2, Captain Raspberry.

[…] I kept on descending besides Captain Raspberry and I remember that I thought that he was still out of the optimal launching envelope. But he performed a barrel roll that placed himself in a perfect position again and he launched an AIM-9 which hit against the tail section of the MiG-21. It was shaken violently and later fell in a slow,

Even when the flight “Ford” scored only one kill, again there was no US losses in air combat, and the score of the day was 4:0 until that moment. Everything was ready for the third round of the fight.

Last Round

The “Rambler” flight also find out several MiGs in the area: the leader, Captain John B. Stone, saw two MiG-21s ahead and below and dived towards them, destroying one MiG with two AIM-7 Sparrows. Almost immediately after scoring that kill, Stone was attacked by a third MiG-21, but in a join maneuver with “Rambler 02” he could put the MiG in line of fire of Philip P. Combies (“Rambler 04”). He saw the battle that way:

“We flew at 13,440 feet –4.800 meters- over the sea level and our speed was 540 knots. A little bit after to complete a turn to the northwest, we identified a patrol of four MiG-21s in spread formation at a distance of 4 to 6 miles –about 6 to 10 kms- at ‘2 o´clock’ and lower than us. Two more MiGs appeared 2 miles –about 3 kms- behind.

[…] When the MiGs crossed in front of Stone, he started to follow them, breaking to the left and lossing height. Due to that, the flight spreaded wide to the right, and I found myself higher and rather to the right than the others. I kept the throttle to the minimum during the first phase of the combat. So, the MiGs broke to the left, and the engagement began.

I choose one of the MiGs and I followed him with my radar. I  think that we didn’t exceed the 4 g in any moment during the whole engagement. I decided to use the tactic of the Navy pilots, who in the combat at close range don’t use the radar tracking to look thru the reticle. When I realized that I was in the right position, I pushed the fire button, I released it, I pushed it again and waited. I did not even see the first Sparrow.

However, I followed the entire trajectory of the second one, since the launching until the impact.  We were at less of 2,000 yards of the MiG’s tail, height 9,800 feet –3.500 meters- and turning to the left when I fired the missiles. The second one reached the tail section of the enemy aircraft. A second later I saw a huge, orange ball of fire.”

Seconds later, another MiG-21 crossed the line of fire of the F-4C Phantom “Rambler 02” and was apparently destroyed by one out of wo Sparows fired by its pilot, Lawrence Glynn. That became the third MiG-21 downed by “Rambler” flight, raising the final score of the day to 7:0 in favor of the American pilots. Certainly the Operation “Bolo” had an succesful beginning.

Colonel Chappie James was the leader of “Ford” flight on January 2 1967. After the war he was the first USAF General of black race in the History.

Ground personnel prepares some Sparrows to be loaded in the F-4C Phantoms of 8th TFW. During the engagements of January 2 1967, despite many of them missed their targets –something common at that time- three out of the seven MiG-21 claimed that day by the Phantom pilots were shot down by this type of missile.

However, it must be noted that not all the American claims are officially admitted by the Vietnamese sources; the VPAF admitts five MiG-21s lost that day, plus a sixth one whose pilot was forced to eject due to he ran out of fuel (the reason is not mentioned by VPAF sources, but it is likely that such reason could be combat damage caused by an US air-to-air missile to the fuel tanks of the MiG). But even those sources admitt that the Americans clearly won in the air combats that day.

The magnitude of the Vietnamese defeat can be seen in the fact that, excluding another air battle on January 6 (when two more MiG-21s were downed by F-4Cs of the 555th TFS of the 8th TFW) the MiG force did not even try to engage the US fighters and fighter-bombers during January, February and the first half of March 1967

Colonel Robin Olds –CO of the 8th TFW- was the master mind behind the Operation “Bolo”. And he was also an outstanding executer: in the very first day of the operation (January 2 1967) he personally shot down one MiG-21 with two AIM-9s while flying an F-4C Phantom. During Vietnam he was credited with 4 kills, only one kill short to became a “Double Ace” (he already was an WWII Ace with 12 victories).
SA-2 Surface-to-Air Missile on the ramp.
A typical North Vietnamese SA-2 SAM-site; a pentagon with 5 missiles and a "FAN-SONG" RADAR in the middle of it to guide the missiles to their target..

555th TFS MIG Killers

DATE

ENEMY

WEAPON

Tail #

CREW & POSITION

04/23/66

MiG-17

AIM-9

64-0689
Capt. Max Cameron /AC
1LT. Robert Evans /P

04/23/66

MiG-17

AIM-7

64-0699
Capt. Robert E. Blake /AC
1LT. S. W. George /P

04/29/66

MiG-17

AIM-9

64-0696
Capt. William B D Dowell /AC
1LT. Halbert E. Gossard /P

04/29/66

MiG-17

Ground

Capt. Larry R. Keith /AC
1LT. Robert A. Bleakley /P

04/30/66

MiG-17

AIM-9

CPT Lawrence Golberg /AC
1LT. Gerald D. Harfgrave /P

05/12/66

MiG-17

AIM-9

Maj. Wilbur R. Dudley /AC
1LT. Imants Kringelis /P

09/16/66

MiG-17

AIM-9

1LT. Jerry W. Jameson /AP
1LT. Douglas B. Rose /P

01/02/67

MiG-21

AIM-7

63-7589
1LT. Ralph F. Wetterhahn /AC
1LT. Jerry K. Sharp /P

01/02/67

MiG-21

AIM-9

63-7683
CPT Walter S Radeker III AC
1LT. James E. Murry III /P

01/02/67

MiG-21

AIM-9

63-7680
COL. Robin Olds /AC
1LT. Charles C. Clifton /P

01/02/67

MiG-21

AIM-9

63-7710
CPT Everett Raspberry JR /AC
1LT Robert W. Western /P

01/06/67

MiG-21

AIM-7

64-0839
CPT Richard M. Pascoe /AC
1LT Norman E. Wells /P

01/06/67

MiG-21

AIM-7

64-0849
MAJ Thomas M. Hirsch /AC
1LT Roger J. Strasswimmer /P

05/04/67

MiG-21

AIM-9

63-7668
COL. Robin Olds /AC
1LT William D. Lafever /P

06/05/67

MiG-17

AIM-7

66-0249
MAJ Everett Raspberry JR /AC
CPT Francis M. Gullick /P

 06/05/67

MiG-17

AIM-9

63-7647
CPT Richard M. Pascoe /AC
1LT Norman E. Wells /P

 10/26/67

MiG-21

AIM-7

66-0274
CPT. John D Longeman JR /AC
1LT Frederick McCoy /P

10/26/67

MiG-17

AIM-7

66-7546
CPT. William S. Gordon III /AC
1LT. James H. Monsees /P

10/26/67

MiG-17

AIM-4

66-7565
CPT Larry D. Cobb /AC
CPT Alan A. Lavoy /P

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