Bien Hoa Air Base - USAF Use During The Vietnam War - Det. 2 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron

Det. 2 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron

On 14 April 1961 Tactical Air Command activated the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) at Hurlburt Field, Florida in the panhandle of Florida. The unit had a designated strength of 124 officers and 228 enlisted men. The 4400th CCTS consisted of World War II aircraft: 16 C-47 transports, eight B-26 bombers, and eight T-28 fighters. The declared mission of the unit would be to train indigenous air forces in counterinsurgency and conduct air operations. The 4400th CCTS acquired the logistics code name "Jungle Jim," a moniker that rapidly became the nickname of the unit.

As the military conditions in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara actively began to consider dispatching military forces to test the utility of counterinsurgency techniques in Southeast Asia. In response, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay pointed out that the 4400th was operationally ready and could serve as an Air Force contingent for that force.

On 11 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy directed, in NSAM 104, that the Defense Secretary "introduce the Air Force 'Jungle Jim' Squadron into Vietnam for the initial purpose of training Vietnamese forces." The 4400th was to proceed as a training mission and not for combat at the present time.

The mission was to be covert. The commandos were to maintain a low profile in-country and avoid the press. The aircraft were configured with VNAF insignia, and all pilots wore plain flight suits minus all insignia and name tags that could identify them as Americans. They also sanitized their wallets and did not carry Geneva Convention cards.

The unit would be officially titled Det. 2 of the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron, code named "Farm Gate". The unit would administratively and operationally belong to the Air Force section of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Vietnam. They would turn out to be the nucleus of an expanding Air Force and American presence in South Vietnam. Detachment 2A would be the B-26 Invader unit; Detachment 2B would be the T-28 Trojan unit.

Within days of arrival, the T-28s and pilots were ready for orientation flights. The Farm Gate pilots launched with VNAF escorts and delivered their ordnance, but, when mission reports were reviewed, the crews were told not to conduct independent air operations. The cover story was that the Americans were in-country to train South Vietnamese pilots.

On 26 December 1961, Washington issued new regulations directing that all Farm Gate missions would include at least one South Vietnamese national on board every aircraft. McNamara further amplified this requirement by stating that the Vietnamese would fly in the backseat position.

Americans, with Vietnamese aboard, were soon flying to destroy Viet Cong supply lines and forces. Flying from Bien Hoa and air bases being improved up-country at Da Nang and Pleiku, T-28 and B-26 operations emphasized "training" for reconnaissance, surveillance, interdiction, and close air support missions.

The SC-47s began flying airdrop and "psyop" leaflet and loudspeaker broadcast missions to forward bases where the Army's Special Forces teams were working with the rapidly growing South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group

In February 1962, a Farm Gate SC-47 on a leaflet drop mission in the highlands near Bao Loc was shot down, killing the six airmen, two soldiers, and one Vietnamese crewman on board. This was the first of several Farm Gate losses.

Enemy attacks were increasing across the countryside, and there were rising calls for air support to embattled ground troops. Forward operating locations were opened at Qui Nhon and Soc Trang. Commanders at 2nd Air Division could see that the South Vietnamese Air Force could not meet all needs, and they increasingly turned to Farm Gate crews to fly the sorties.

Realizing that he needed more assets, the commander of 2nd Air Division, Brig. Gen. Rollen H. Anthis, asked for additional Air Force personnel and aircraft for Farm Gate use. Anthis wanted 10 more B-26s, five more T-28s, and two more SC-47s. McNamara reviewed the request, but he was cool to the idea of expanding Farm Gate units for combat use. His goal was to build up the VNAF so it could operate without American help. Still, McNamara approved the request for additional aircraft and also assigned two U-10s to Farm Gate.

Shortly thereafter, McNamara directed the commanders in Vietnam to develop a national campaign plan to defeat the Viet Cong. The plan, finished in March 1963, called for a much larger VNAF. The South Vietnamese Air Force was to increase its force structure by two fighter squadrons, one reconnaissance squadron, several squadrons of forward air controllers, and several more cargo squadrons.

Read more about this topic:  Bien Hoa Air Base, USAF Use During The Vietnam War

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