Law Enforcement Desk blotter Ubon, Thailand 13 September 1968.
Photo donated by Sammy Harbin
The United States Air Force deployed combat aircraft to Thailand from 1961 to 1975 during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, about 80% of all USAF air strikes over North Vietnam originated from air bases in Thailand. At its peak in 1969 more airmen were serving in Thailand than were serving in South Vietnam.
Under Thailand's "gentleman's agreement" with the U.S., the bases were considered Royal Thai Air Force bases and were commanded by Thai officers. Thai air police controlled access to the bases; U.S. air police who helped them did carry guns. Command of the American units, however, remained with U.S. wing commanders and their Seventh Air Force/Thirteenth Air Force headquarters.
Out of the Thai bases flew the most extraordinary air-combat team that had ever been assembled. At Udorn, just 40 minutes by air from Hanoi supersonic, unarmed RF-101 and RF-4C photo-reconnaissance jets launched and flew missions over target areas immediately before and after a raid to photograph the damage so assessments of attacks could be made. Udorn also hosted three squadrons of F-4C/D & E Phantoms which flew escort, sweep, and Air Combat Patrol missions to protect other U.S. strike aircraft.
From Korat, Takhli and Ubon came the Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-4C and F-4D Phantoms that actually delivered the bombs and also General Dynamics F-111s with terrain-following radar from Takhli. (During the deployment of the F-111s three crashed soon after arriving at Takhli and the F-111 fleet was grounded to investigate the problem).
From U-Tapao airfield on the Gulf of Siam, the largest airfield in Southeast Asia, came the B-52s and the KC-135 Stratotanker refuellers that took to the air and refueled the aircraft just before and after they hit North Vietnam. From Takhli flew EB-66 electronic-warfare jets with special equipment that can detect the "fingerprints" of enemy radar in the sky and then send out a signal that fouls up the screen below. Flying out of Takhli, F-105s armed with radar-guided Shrike missiles had the job of knocking out SAM sites.
From Nakhon Phanom came every pilot's best friend: the air-rescue-and-recovery team. Flying ungainly looking, green and brown HH43 and CH-3 helicopters, or "Jolly Green Giants," R. &. R. pilots had even gone into Hanoi's outskirts to rescue downed fliers.
The United States ended its involvement in Southeast Asia by treaty and disengagement rather than by military victory. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, relations between Washington and Bangkok turned sour. In May 1975, the Royal Thai Government asked the United States to remove all of its combat forces (27,000 troops, 300 aircraft) by 1976.
The USAF bases were closed and the last USAF personnel left Thailand in June 1976.