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Subject: When Thunder Rolled rss

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Tuomas Takala
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Silk for Calde!
This session report is dedicated to Ed Rasimus' book When Thunder Rolled. In it he describes his experiences as an F-105 pilot from April to November 1966. He flew in the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, based in RTAFB Korat, Thailand. [Yes, the campaign in the game says "Rolling Thunder USAF - 1967", but I think it was pretty much the same in 1966.]

Even though I'm a naval aviation buff, this book was very interesting. It showed what it was like to be there in the beginning of Rolling Thunder. The missions Rasimus describes range from Laos to South Vietnam, to the harrying rides to Route Pack VIA, and flying with Wild Weasels into the heart of the SAM realm.

The book is compact, and by no means a compete history of the air operations in the time period, but it conveys one man's view of what it is like to transform from an insecure young pilot into an experienced and hardened fighter.

But, as I have written many narrative session reports (especially for Hornet Leader), I wanted to try something different this time. I wanted to just put the campaign into some kind of (haphazard and inexact) statistics. So, as the book is personal, this report is not.

So, let's see what the guys faced in the Southeast Asian skies.

The Pilots

There's never been a more noble steed for a warrior built by man. It's beautiful no matter from what angle you look at it, with long legs, a pinched waist, sleek wings and just one seat.

421st TFS F-105 Thunderchiefs

Ferret - Veteran (promoted for 18 SO points)
Dagger - Skilled (promoted for 18 SO points)
Judge - Average
Stash - Average
Irish - Green
Lefty - Green
Dutch - Newbie

13th TFS F-105 Wild Weasels

Vapor - Veteran
Mad Dog - Average

555th TFS F-4 Phantom II (providing MigCAP)

Robin - Skilled
T-bone - Average

41st TEWS (Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron) EB-66 Destroyer

Bat - Average

The Targets

The pilots had all agreed in the planning room that we must have indeed be winning the war if we were sending sixteen bombers, four SAM-suppression aircraft, eight MiGCAP, two stand-off jammers, and eight tankers for fifty barrels of something buried at a jungle intersection.

The targets I flew against were:

Supply Depot - Destroyed - 3 VP
Convoy - Damaged - 1 VP
SAM Sites - Destroyed - 4 VP
Search and Rescue - Destroyed - 2 VP
Steel Works - Destroyed - 4 VP
Airborne Support - Damaged - 1 VP
Covert Mission into Laos - Damaged - 1 VP
Covert Mission - Destroyed - 2 VP
Covert Mission into Laos - Destroyed - 2 VP
Rail Yard - Damaged - 3 VP
Major Airfield - Destroyed - 5 VP

These mission reflected well on what Rasimus wrote about the campaign. Only the Major Airfield is unlikely to have been on the target roster at this point of the war. Missions into Laos seem to have been very commonplace at the time, and I flew three.

I was often forced into choosing low-politics targets even if my politics score was high, because I wanted to maximize my effort, e.g. having all the right pilots with low stress ready when the big target went up. Fortunately, I drew B-52 Strike event twice, and Show of Force once, which helped with the politics score a lot. I'm not sure if those events reflect the actual events of the time, but I was happy to get them nonetheless.

By choosing mainly Thuds and Wild Weasels, I had a lot of SO points, so I took Priority R&R three times. That, and the fact that the target deck goes around quite quickly, allowed me to discard high-value targets with the certainty of drawing them again later.

The time ran out, however, as usual, and didn't manage to draw myself into the Good evaluation range. Some terrible misses in crucial bomb runs were also to blame.

The Opposition

I'd never considered the possibility that one could see bullets in the air, but if the bullets were four inches in diameter and the perspective was one of head-on closure, then it was definitely possible. They were big, they were red, they were close, and they were undoubtedly deadly.

Here is a list of what I came against:

Low caliber
: 46 counters + 4 infantry for the Search and Rescue Mission.
Heavy AAA: 42 counters.
SA-2: 13 counters + 6 for SAM Sites Mission.

MiG-17: 12 planes
MiG-19: 8 planes
MiG-21: 9 planes

I did not list all the sites destroyed, but the air-to air combat was well-documented:
Five MiG-17s were downed
Six MiG-19s were downed
Nine MiG-21s were downed

All of the air-to-air kills were made by F-4 Phantoms. The numbers don't reflect reality, but we can just say this only a game and/or imagine most of those MiGs were escaping with the missile on their tails. Whatever, a good record!

The Damage

The howling of the emergency beeper has stopped, and I don't know whether that means the poor guy has been captured, the battery has gone dead, or he's evading and simply turned it off to save power. I hope it's the latter, but deep inside I suspect the worst. No one gets picked up out of Pack VI.

And here is the damage the enemy dealt me.

Stress was caused 10 times. Four from Heavy caliber AAA, twice from low-caliber weapons. MiGs caused stress four times.
My planes were damaged six times. One was caused by enemy infantry (with a +1 to hit from Rules of Engagement event), three from Heavy AAA, one from a MiG-19 and one from a MiG-21. The MiG results hit the same airplane, destroying it.
Airplanes were destroyed three times. One was the compound damage from two MiGs, one was a direct hit from a Heavy caliber AAA, and then there was a golden BB from enemy infantry (again with the +1 to hit from Rules of Engagement event, on the same mission.)

So, three of pilots went down. Two were rescued, but Vapor was left MIA in the second-to-last mission, Rail Yard. Even the Sandies could not pull him out of Route Pack VI. But, on the last mission one plane went down, and the pilot was rescued from the same area; not that it mattered to the campaign, but it mattered to me.

Stress was, of course, another matter totally. Many pilots went unfit many times, not from actual enemy rolls, but evasion. However, I never transferred anyone out. I rather got them R&R and let them recuperate. Especially with the more experienced guys the transfer just causes more stress, and I get a less experienced guy in return. Maybe, if had been desperately short of OK pilots, I might have transferred some of the greener guys out, but I always had enough flyable pilots to fill the mission.

The Weapons

The maintenance supervisor got out of his truck and came towards me with a clipboard. "Sign right here, sir," he said pointing to the bottom line on a card listing the equipment I had jettisoned: two inboard, special-weapon pylons valued at $6000, and one 650-gallon centerline fuel tank at $1,850.
I took the offered pen, but hesitated. "Am I going to be charged for this?" It would take years at a first lieutenant's pay to clear the account.
"No, sir, it's simply routine. Happens all the time."

Now, some statistics on weapons.

Air-to-Ground was of course our main effort. Most of the strikes were done with M118 bombs, but a variety of other weapons were deployed as well.

Special weapons used were, of course, AGM-45 Shrikes. My Wild Weasels fired 11 Shrikes, of which only one missed. On most missions my Wild Weasels carried ECM pods, but never the other planes, as I felt it wasn't realistic in 1966.

Thud drivers employed four AGM-12 Bullpups, and all hit, a testament to the ability of my pilots, but maybe more to the hit numbers of the missile, which make it almost impossible to miss.

In all, my attacks against the actual targets yielded 93 hits.
63 by M118
9 by CBU
5 by AGM-45 (SAM Sites)
5 by Mk.83
4 by AGM-12
3 by Gun
3 by M117R
1 by Rockets

Air-to-air went pretty well. I fired 21 AIM-7 Sparrows for 15 hits. That is over 70 per cent success rate, a far cry from the actual, dreadful reliability of the Sparrow. According to Marshall L. Michel's Clashes, thirteen Sparrows fired in April-May 1966 resulted in an eight per cent hit rate (even worse if you counted the missiles that didn't even leave the rails).

I fired only one AIM-9 Sidewinder (too expensive for the Phantoms, no space for A-A missiles on the Thuds) for one hit, a 100 per cent hit rate. Again, a lot better that the 28 per cent rate Michel reports.

All of the missiles were fired by the Phantoms. Guns were fired by both Thuds (also Wild Weasels) and gun-pod equipped Phantoms 12 times, and resulted in an amazing four kills.

None of those figures above include suppression rolls, only actual attacks.

The Bottom Line

If you aren't living on the edge, you are taking up too much room

My Rolling Thunder ended up with an Adequate evaluation. That's how it is, with Johnson and McNamara, with the JCS deciding where we can hit and where not, with little regard to actually winning the war.

There was a lot of experience, guys were growing up. Nine guys were promoted. Vapor made it to Ace, only to be shot down days later. No-one made two promotions, and I have actually never had a guy in Phantom Leader promoted twice in one campaign. Stress does that, they never get to fly enough missions.

The losses on my side were very few; only one pilot MIA, three planes downed in total. Looking at the list in the back pages of When Thunder Rolled, I consider myself lucky. The list contains all lost F-105s between April and November 1966. There are a well over 100 planes on that list. Not all pilots died or went POW/MIA, of course, but the amount of planes lost is staggering.

Now, in retrospect as to this kind of session report, I'm not exactly sure of the sense and usefulness of writing it, but as I made the notes during play (which was quite easy, you just scribble some charts and draw lines every time you or the enemy fires a weapon, mostly), and had decided to write something based on Rasimus's book, here it is.

For my next session report, based on Zalin Grant's Over the Beach, I will try something different again.

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Mark Robinson
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An excellent effort made to tie in the reality of what the pilots faced and the fiction of a boardgame emulating a little part of that reality.

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Ron A
United States
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Sudenlumi wrote:

For my next session report, based on Zalin Grant's Over the Beach, I will try something different again.

Over the Beach is awesome. In honor of that book I played my 1st Phantom Leader campaign using Skyhawks and Crusaders only (Phantoms and Intruders were too large to fly off of the old Essex class CVs).

I haven't read Rasimus' book, thanks for the heads up. I HAVE read Thud Ridge and Going Downtown, so for my next campaign I will probably do what you did and take all Thuds.
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