MCARA War Stories
To Kill A Cross Slot
This is a sea story not a fairy tale as it begins as all good sea stories do with a simple statement of fact... This is no shit! (This Whale Tale is actually documented in VMCJ-1's Command Chronologies for August and Sept. 1966)
In August 1966 as our second VMCJ-1 Vietnam cadre was beginning their 10th month of outstanding service we began nightly patrols along the DMZ in our trusty Whales. Our mission was to provide real time warnings of SAM/AAA threats to friendly air operations supporting our ground troops in Northern I Corps. (EF-10B DMZ patrols were to be flown nightly for over 3 years culminating with the last combat mission by an EF-10B, BUNO 124645, on 2 Oct. 69)
Ironically, or adversary chose that same month to emplace a Cross Slot radar normally used for coastal surface search just North of the DMZ but inland a few miles. For several nights running my fellow ECMOs and I intercepted and reported this new night owl radar as it was usually all we picked up most nights and no one reported receiving it during the day time. Capt. Cliff Jackson, 1st MAW EWO, noted these intercepts in his daily brief to the 1st MAW CG & staff and it quickly became a topic of speculation as to its purpose and threat potential. As a result, Cliff was directed to task us to get a targetable location and according to the records we delivered less than 4 hours later!
That night, two EF-10Bs were fragged to cooperatively get a good fix. CWO-3 Daryl Cook and I (then a 1/LT) were the ECMOs on that mission. Arriving on station we found our adversary was on the air and the challenge was on. Our pilots worked hard to keep accurate aircraft positions as Daryl and I took several DF cuts from all aspect angles. We then did som homing runs with our position at station passage marked by the USAF Sky Spot tracking radar located South of the DMZ. We created a bit of radio chatter and the section lead from a USAF F-4C flight working the are came up and asked what we had going. Hearing it was a radar he got our best coordinated and made a pass dropping a string of the new CBUs that resulted in a spectacular fireworks show underneath us. When the radar abruptly went off the air everyone was ecstatic and we reported it as likely being knocked out.
Alas, as often was the case our rollback was short lived due to a quick repair job or more likely we believed the radar being ordered shutdown by the outraged mayor of the nearby village that had come under attack from the F-4s. In any event two nights later I found it was back up and running! With that report the CG 1st MAW declared it must be of some operational import to the North Vietnamese and therefore presented a threat to his aircraft that must be delt with forthwith. It was clear that a photo was needed and good news was VMCJ-1 had a flight line full of RF-8As with eager pilots to go get it. Bad news was this was Vietnam and turf battles came into play that kept our RF-8As from flying North of the DMZ. However, the Marine powers to be in Danang were not eager to hand this one off to the boys in light blue. It was decided to send in an EF-10B on a stealth photo mission as, unbeknownst to 7th AF, the old Whale indeed did have a recon camera!
So, late that night 2/Lt. Jim Doyle, our 7th AF liaison officer in Saigon at the time, fragged a special "Elint" mission for the following morning (26 August). The late 1/Lt. Gail Sublett and I got the nod for this mission and we launched at dawn's early light in BUNO 125869.
Our instructions were to make only one photo pass at about 8-10 K feet as I recall over the suspect area and we did that with the old K-17 camera chugging along. Afterwards, Subs and I agreed that with it being a clear day we stood a good chance of picking up the radar site if we made a low level visual run. The next thing I knew we were looking at a bunch of AW/AAA guns up front and personal with lots of scared natives running from this new Yankee pirate "attack" plane. On our 2nd pass we took a hit that sounded like an artillery shell exploding and as Subs pulled up and away we decided that discretion being the best part of valor we best ought to return to base with our prize film. Everyone gathered around on the flight line to gawk at a fist sized hole in the nose cone while the photo shop downloaded the film and ran off to process it. Needless to say there were som hard questions being asked as to how we got hit by an AW round at the directed altitude.
We were saved from our skipper Major "Pa" Tucker's inquisition by a call from Jim Doyle tasking us to get the film down to 7th AF ASAP. The AF wanted their pros to read it out and they also wanted the flight crew to come down for a debrief. So Subs and I jumped in another Whale and went off to Saigon with the film. Turns out we had indeed got the radar on the film albeit a bit blurry. Somehow a couple of days later we got to frag our RF-8As for a follow up to get a nice targeting image and Capt. Mike Gering our S-3 and another of our pilots did the honors, not only confirming the radar but numerous lucrative targets around it. The 1st MAW CG declared it an eminent threat to his forces and MAG-12 launched a mini alpha strike on 4 Sept. that knocked out the demon radar and wreaked havoc on the other targets. Two RF-8As got the BDA the next morning. Oh boy, it took nearly a month that time before a new radar was back on the air!
Until recently, I thought this was the only EF-10B photo mission over North Vietnam but it appears that it was the last and only officially fragged one as Capts. Chuck Houseman and Hoyt Wayne Young made a photo run over Haiphong soon after VMCJ-1 entered the fray in 1965. BGen Art Bloomer also tells of he and Capt. Moose Simolin getting an unofficial photo of a radar with a whale in 1968 and Jim Doyle relates taking a picture of a NVN boat earlier in 1966. These Whale Tales leave no doubt that the EF-10Bs provided unique conotributions to the Vietnam war effort and left their mark on the pages of history and that is no shit!
- H Wayne (Flash) Whitten
Col USMC (Ret)