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Laos, 1948-1989; Part 2

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1 Laos, 1948-1989; Part 2 on Thu 21 Oct 2010 - 17:38

oBe

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Contributed by Troung, Albert Grandolini & Tom Cooper - with additional photographs supplied by Dr. Istvan Topercze
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The history of air warfare over Laos is long and very rich on events, covering a very long period of time. The following article, completed by several different authors working on a multitude of very different sources – including interviews with several participants and eyewitnesses, as well as US, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and British documents and publications – is detailling the most important developments and events, simultaneously correcting a number of false assumptions or errors as offered in several publications, prepared from the “usual” perspective. Part 2 covers the period from 1964 until 1971.

The War for Supplies
As the situation was stabilized to a degree through a series of attacks and counterattacks, and due to US and Thai involvement, there was a new reorganization of airborne operations over Laos. The RLAF, whose headquarters were meanwhile shifted to Savannakhet, concentrated its efforts on the south of the country, while the Thais – under direct and constant American control – continued operating over the north. Although the operations of the T-28s were very successful in general, it took not much longer until losses the RLAF and RTAF were suffering started increasing. On 14 August 1964 the North Vietnamese 37mm anti aircraft guns shot down an RT-28 and four days later RTAF Lt.Col Viriyapong likewise was shot down over the Plain of Jars. A third machine was lost on the same day, when it entered the North Vietnamese airspace by mistake and was then hit by AA—fire.

The area in the northeast of Laos was not the only battlefield in the country. Already in August 1964 the Americans began - in the course of the operation Barrel Roll – their first air raids on the Ho-Chi-Minh-path in the southeast of the country. Originally this was described in the public as “deployment of armed reconnaissance aircraft”, but the number of operations undertaken was permanently increasing. The Ho-Chi-Minh Trail consisted actually of several dirty and primitive strips through the jungle and over terrible terrain, via which the North Vietnamese were transporting supplies connect to Viet Cong in Southern Vietnam, but also to their allies in Laos and Cambodia. The working conditions for the people involved in maintaining these supply routes were terrible, but they kept it open despite all the problems – and especially in the face of heavy US air strikes. The USA had a vital interest in stopping the flow of supplies along the Trail, and already in September 1964 the US Ambasador inLaos was given the task of presenting the government in Vientianne with a list of potential targets that were to be hit by RLAF T-28s. Accordingly the Laotians started a new series of air strikes along the Mu Gia Pass, from 14 October onwards. Few hours later American reconnaissance planes flew over the same area to take post-strike pictures.

The North Vietnamese reacted with violent anti-aircraft fire and the US president Johnson felt forced to order new strikes against sellected positions of AA-artillery. In the very moment the first US bombs started falling on the North Vietnamese positions in Laos the massive battle along the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail began, which was to last for the next ten years.

Most of the early air raids by the USAF were led by Cessna O-1 Bird Dog FACs and T-28 attack aircraft operating from Thailand, and flown by crews recruited in the frame of the Operation “Steve Canyon”, which at the time was considered so secret that the involved pilots had to quit their service in the USAF and had officially purchased their aircraft from the US government – at a price of $ 1,--, of course. In order to remain under control they were subordinated directly to the US Ambassador in Vientianne. Subsequently, the scope of these operations was to widen by a considerable margin, however. By all purposes a major war was now fought in Laos, and the US was supporting it through a range of services. Aside from Air America, also the Continental Air Services became involved, providing a wide range of logistic support and search and rescue tasks, as well as FAC. In some cases even “sanitized” USAF transport aircraft were flown by Air America, including several C-130s. The 56th Special Operations Wing (SOW), at Nakhon Phanom provided also support and training, and in due course the 40 ARRS supplemented the Air America’s rescue efforts. Of course, strike aircraft based in South Vietnam and Thailand were available on demand.

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2 Re: Laos, 1948-1989; Part 2 on Tue 2 Nov 2010 - 21:56

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