09 January 2012

SAMs In the DMZ

It was a few weeks after the Spring 1972 North Vietnamese offensive into the South.  It was still unclear whether any of the SA-2s that the cunning NVA had dragged into Quang Tri province were still operational.  Our mission for a night sortie was to drill around Quang Tri province and generally provide ECM for whoever was working in the area just after dark.  We had been warned that there was a ZSU-57-2 (a tracked, twin-barrel 57mm AAA weapon lurking in the A Shau Valley).  Sure enough, it was there.  I happened to be looking down into the growing darkness below just as the thing fired.  I watched as a huge flock of red cannon balls floated upward toward an unseen AC-130 “Spectre” that was out there hunting the gun.  I know it was a Spectre because I saw it return fire at the gun down there in the A Shau.

An hour or so passed and we were generally hanging out in the Hue vicinity.  Below we could see lots of flares and fires burning as the ARVN fought back against the NVA.  The pilot, a relatively new guy, was puffing on his pipe and watching the show below.  Then something caught his attention.  We were generally heading north-northeast, and out in the distance he could see two or three bright yellow-white lights.  The lights were getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger.  He was about to ask me what the lights were out in front of us, as if I could actually see them, closed off as the EWO and I were from the rest of the cockpit, when it suddenly dawned on him what he was seeing.  “I’ve got SAMs,” he said; almost simultaneously, the EWO called, “I’ve got uplink.”  The pilot executed a SAM break to the right.  The pilot directed me to make a SAM call on UHF Guard, but not knowing where the SAMs were coming from, I hesitated.  First I was unsure of where the SAMs were coming from, and second, I didn’t want to get into a discussion with the pilot about where they were coming from while he was in the middle of executing a SAM break – in the dark.  Finally I went out over Guard with a SAM call:  “SAM, SAM, vicinity of  Hue.”  Immediately a Wild Weasel who was been patrolling closer to the DMZ – and was at that moment in a duel with the SAM site – called, “SAM, SAM, DMZ.”  That cleared things up.

 The pilot was recovering from the first SAM break when two more SAMs came off the launcher.  “They’re shooting again,” the pilot reported, and we entered another SAM break to the right.  As we recovered from the second SAM break I saw that we were now about 20 miles off shore – and considerably lower than when all the excitement started.  I called the pilot and told him we were clearly out of range of any SAMs and to stay wings level if they fired again.  Very soon thereafter we saw another SAM come off the launcher, but this time jamming was effective and the SAM went ballistic.  That pretty much ended a few adrenalin-filled minutes.  We headed for home with Bingo fuel.

In reading the OPREPs the next day, it turned out that the SAM site had been shooting at a flight of F-4s that had been patrolling the DMZ, and one had been downed.  In addition, my Frag Shop boss (an F-4 jock) came back from an afternoon strike on North Vietnam extolling the courage of a KC-135 crew that had crossed the DMZ – with boss and his flight in tow – to go rescue another F-4 that had been shot up on the strike mission.  He pointed out where the tanker had taken him.  It was right across the area where the SAMs had fired the night before.