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Son Tay POW camp raid


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#1 DougStump

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Posted 20 November 2020 - 02:24 PM

Tonight and tomorrow morning is the 50th anniversary of an attempted raid on the Son Tay POW camp deep inside North Vietnam.  Yep, we mounted a raid to rescue some of our POWs in 1970! 

 

Operation Ivory Coast was an audacious plan to insert 56 Special Forces warriors into the prison camp, retrieve the POWs, and eliminate any opposition.  The strike force included: two C-130E(I), five CH-53C, and one HH-3E.  It was determined the fastest way to insert the primary assault team was to deliberately crash land the HH-3E into the courtyard of the camp!  Yes, I said crash!  An ironic aspect is the HH-3E was borrowed from the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery squadron at Da Nang, but I suspect the crash part was omitted.

 

The strike force penetrated, apparently undetected, to the POW camp 23 miles west of Hanoi.  Some of the helicopters identified the wrong target, an almost identical facility 400 yards to the south, but fortunately the realized the error in time and attacked the POW camp.  To their dismay, there were no POWs in the camp!  They set explosive charges in the HH-3 to send it into the afterlife and evacuated on the HH-53’s.  There were two wounded; one was a gunshot, and the Flight Engineer of the HH-3 had a broken ankle from a wayward fire extinguisher during the crash landing.  One escorting F-105G was shot down, but the crew was rescued.   And of course, the supreme sacrifice made by HH-3E 65-12785.

 

What went wrong?  The drinking water well had dried up and instead of digging a new well the POWs were moved.  The people that kept track of the POW locations knew this but were unaware of the raid.  The people planning the raid were unaware the POWs were moved.  Don’t you just love compartmentalized information! 

 

The raid has been called a failure as no POWs were rescued, but it had an incredibly significant impact on the POWs.  First, they knew that they had not been forgotten.  Second, all POWs were relocated to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” creating an overcrowding problem.  Instead of solitary confinement, now there were two or more POWs in each cell.  Someone to talk to (if you didn’t get caught).  These raiders were true heroes with forged titanium balls!

 

A personal note, my TI in Basic was a crewman on the ABCCC that monitored the raid, so I knew the general details in September 1974.  I’ve also added a photo of my Son Tay commemorative GAU-5/A/A made by Troy Defense fitted with the correct Normark Single Point red dot sight as used in the raid.

 

A couple of excellent books on the subject are:

The Raid by Benjamin Schemmer

The Son Tay Raid: American POWs in Vietnam Were Not Forgotten  by Col John Gargus  (Radar Nav Cherry 2)

Secret and Dangerous: Night of the Son Tay POW Raid by Col William Guenon ( Pilot Cherry 1)

I Flew with Heroes: Gunship on the Son Tay POW Raid by LtCol Thomas Waldron (Co-Pilot Apple 3)

 

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Attached File  SON_TAY_RAIDERS_07_DickMeadows_St-Claire_Dan_McKinney.jpg   44.31K   24 downloads

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Attached File  GAU-5.jpg   157.06K   27 downloads

 


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#2 Got Uzi

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Posted 20 November 2020 - 03:26 PM

Is this where the idea came from for the series finale of Tour of Duty? The end of the series had a very similar plot. An amazing story you posted for sure.
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#3 Mike Hammer

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 10:07 AM

I really enjoy shooting my XM177E2 that I got a few years ago from Troy which were made to commemorate 50 years since the introduction of this gun. Mine even has a period original "mottled" grip as they had some original old stock on hand for the first group made.

 

Doug,  you added the Normark red dot on your own right? Was that difficult to find?

 

MH

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#4 DougStump

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 12:33 PM

Mike,

 

Actually, I tripped over a couple of the sights, they are somewhat hard to find as people use them for making prop Star Wars blasters.  I think I have two spares (But I'm married so I ain't supposed to be thinking).  The big problem is the mount, the majority of the ones used on the raid were locally made at the Eglin AFB machine shop using straps for aircraft hydraulic lines.  I have seen rumors that someone may be fabricating some correct repro mounts, I hope it comes to pass! 

 

Allegedly, Troy found a bunch of original mottled grips and stock assemblies and that was how many XM-177's and GAU-5's they made.  I'm glad I grabbed one when I had the chance.  If only they had the fun switch.....


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#5 thirtyround

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 07:48 PM

Interesting photos,

    Love the history both men, operations and machines.  I've always tried to complete the puzzle on when the M16 30rd magazines showed up in VN combat zones.  Here, I see a pic of our Warriors in Helo, 30rd mag inserted, this is Nov 1970 if photos are genuine.

    Any first hand knowledge from any of you past warrior's would be greatly appreciated on when you saw the 30rd mags hit the field. 

    Thanks in Advance,  JB.


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#6 DougStump

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 08:39 PM

The raiders had to purchase the 30 rounders directly from Colt as they weren't in the supply chain yet, at least according to the books on the raid. There were no pouches for them either, so modified Claymore bags or plain canteen cases were used.

According to "The Black Rifle" by Stevens and Ezell, the idea of a 30 round mag goes back to at least March 1969. It does state that it was 1969 before they were available. Of course they were field tested prior to officially being adopted.

Someone is off by a year. It's possible the 1969 was when the contract was issued. Another point, they could have been in the supply system but with zero in stock.
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#7 DougStump

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 09:19 PM

I just consulted with a Marine shooting buddy, he left Nam in May 1970 and they all had 20 rounders.

BTW, when I got reassigned to Barksdale AFB back in 1992 I stopped by a pawn/gun store downtown. The guy asked if I needed any M16 mags, well I can always use a couple if the price is right. The base sky cops had recently phased out the 20's and they bought a ton of them as surplus scrap. I ended up spending the $24 cash I had on me and walked out with >>30<< like new mags! I went back the next day with more money and they were all gone.
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#8 Mike Hammer

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Posted 22 November 2020 - 09:36 AM

The raiders had to purchase the 30 rounders directly from Colt as they weren't in the supply chain yet, at least according to the books on the raid. There were no pouches for them either, so modified Claymore bags or plain canteen cases were used.

According to "The Black Rifle" by Stevens and Ezell, the idea of a 30 round mag goes back to at least March 1969. It does state that it was 1969 before they were available. Of course they were field tested prior to officially being adopted.

Someone is off by a year. It's possible the 1969 was when the contract was issued. Another point, they could have been in the supply system but with zero in stock.

Not sure how soon the 30's began to show up in Nam but Colt produced them sometime in '69 to my recollection. Here is a picture of a box of 20 rounders that were still the primary issue as of the date on the box 12-68. I am told that when the 30's showed up some fellows used the Stoner mag pouch to carry them, they fit fairly well, here's an example. Also some of the guys only put 18rds in a 20rd mag, I guess afraid of pressure on the mag spring, don't know. Probably most were happy when the 30 rounders became available.

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Edited by Mike Hammer, 22 November 2020 - 09:43 AM.

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