VA-82 Marauders

  January 1972- December 1972

(Updated July 26th, 2020)

Image produced by Ray Thomas

We took a break for the holidays after the fly in on December 15th.

Heather (8), Laura (6)

It was wonderful to spend some time with our families. I especially enjoyed seeing my 5 month old daughter Stacy
for the first time and having our entire family together.

I think we made a Christmas trip to New Jersey and Duxbury and then returned to Jacksonville in early January.

January, 1972

I flew 14 flights in January (25.7 total jet hours) (18.8 A7E hours)
Ten of these were A7 flights with VA-82, mostly instrument flights including some night time.

Four of the flights were instrument flights in the TA-4 flights with VA-45
(6.9 TA-4 hours)

We had a lot of pilot changes at the end of the Med cruise after we got back.

VA-82 Officers March, 1972 We added three new pilots in March; Lt Dan Rather, the CAG 8 LSO would fly regularly, LT Bob Corey, and Ltjg Steve Musselman joined us from the RAG. We now had our complement of 18 squadron pilots and one pilot who would fly with us regularly from at Air Wing

Top Row (left to Right): WO1 John Young, LT Phil Morris, Ltjg Tom Weiland, LTjg Steve Musselman, LT Bob Corey, LT Craig "Crash" Landon, LT Ray Thomas,
                                                                               LTjg Marv Baldwin, LTjg Jim Kuzmick, LT Ron Brooks, Ltjg Jim Brister, LT Dan Ryder (CAG 8 LSO), Ens Nick Nickens and CWO2 Hal Garrett
Front Row: LT Jim "Rock" Yeager, LT Gary Tabbert, LCDR Bruce Page, , me, CDR Don Sumner (CO), CDR Tom Scott (XO), LCDR Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, LCDR Al Miller, and LT Charlie Sapp

We had 18 pilots assigned to the squadron and Lt Dan Rather who was the CAG 8 LSO and flew regularly with us.

We had a"brand new" Air Intelligence Officer, Ens Strain who I almost never saw because he was basically assigned to the CAG Eight.
We had no dedicated Flight Surgeon as by then he flight surgeons were attached to the airwing.

My key Maintenance Officers were:

Lt Phil Morris (Maintenance Control), Ens Nick Nickens (Mintenance/Material Officer), and AVCM Jim Moorehead (Maintenance Control Chief)*

*Master Chief Moorehead was the finest Maintenance Control Chief I served with during my Navy career!

We had two Warrant Officers in Maintenance supervisory positions; CWO2 Hal Garrett and WO1 John Young

February, 1972

I flew only 8 flights in January (12.1 A7E hours)

Most of the flights seem to be instrument or basic formation flights; all day flights. There are no indications that any of these were weapons flights.
I can only guess that we were at the bottom of the "totem pole" for fuel money and were saving fuel dollars for March to get ready for type training on the America in April.

We had some challenges ahead of us to get ready for type training.

Of course both the CO and XO were experienced carrier jet pilots. I don't know whether Don Sumner had any Vietnam combat experience but CDR Scott did flying A4 Skyhawks with VA-195 "Dambusters" on the "Bonnie Dick" AKA, the Bonne Home Richard CV-31 in 1965 and with the VA-113 "Stingers" on USS Kitty Hawk in 1966.

Snuffy and I were the only qualified combat strike leaders in the second tour group. The other two LCDRs, Bruce Page and Al Miller were experienced pilots but without any combat experience. LT Charlie Sapp had just completed jet transition training but had a combat tour with Light Attack Squadron Four VAL-4 flying OV-10s in the Mekong Delta. Charlie had over 200 close air support missions in VAL-4.

Three of our second tour JOs from the Med cruise; Ray Thomas, Rock Yeager and Gary Tabbert were strong.  A new pilot, Crash Landon had flown F8 Crusaders in a VC squadron so was an relatively experienced pilot but without much carrier operational experience.

President Nixon's Visit to China from February 21st through the 28th,1972

President Nixon's visit to China changed the balance of power in Asia. China was less interested in helping out their neighbor to the south and more interested in not jeopardizing their improving relationship with the USA. President Nixon left the visit confident that China would not intervene if the US decided to increase the bombing of North Vietnam. The tide had turned completely from a President and Secretary of Defense who were afraid to apply too much military pressure on North Vietnam for fear of China entering the war (Johnson and MacNamara) to a President and his National Security Advisor who were not afraid to turn up the pressure on North Vietnam (Nixon and Kissinger).

President and Mrs. Nixon are met by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai upon their arrival in Beijing.

March, 1972

I flew 16 flights in March (27.0 A7E hours)

From the beginning of March through March 21st we continued with flights around Cecil field; still no indications in my log book of any weapons work.

On March 23rd, we began night FCLPs at Whitehouse.  I logged 35 night FCLPs on four flights at the end of March.

The Nguyen Hue Offensive- March 30th,1972

At noon on 30 March, 1972 30,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops, supported by regiments of tanks and artillery, rolled southward across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Vietnam. This three division force caught the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and their American allies unprepared. The NVA force struck the positions of the ARVN 3rd Division and threw it into disarray. The South Vietnamese forces fell back, and a race began between both sides to the bridges at Dong Ha and Cam Lo in I Corps.

President Nixon's first response was to consider a three day attack by B-52 bombers on Hanoi and Haiphong. However Henry Kissinger convinced him to reconsider, in order not to jeopardize the formulation of the SALTY I Treaty with the Soviets that was due to be signed in May.

We were scheduled for another Med cruise. But, things were going to change for us in a big way. First, just before we were about to go out to the boat (America), we were directed to transfer 12 A7Es. They were replaced with 12 A7Cs.

The basic difference between the A7E and the A7C was the engine.
The A7E had the Allison TF-41 engine (14,250 lbs thrust). The A7C had the Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-408 engine (14,560 lbs thrust)

April, 1972

I flew 22 flights in April (35.1 hours)
2 A7E flights (3.7 hours),  19 A7C flights (29.8 flight hours) , and 1 TA4 flight (1.6 hours)
I logged 16 America traps (10 day, 6 night) for a cumulative total of America traps of 134.

We had very little time to FCLP in the A7C before flying out to the America for type training. I had one FCLP flight to check out the difference in the TF30-P-408 throttle response while making glide path adjustments on the ball.

I flew out to America and made two day traps and then turned around for my night quals and made 2 night traps. I ended up flying 18 type training flights from America in April. Two of these flight involved landings at Cecil. So, I logged 16 traps (10 day, 6 night) in April for a total of  134 America traps.

We continued what would turn out to be one continuous two month type training period in May. My logbook doesn't indicate the types of flights. But, we certainly were very proficient in the CAG 8/America standard operating procedures day and night by the end of May.

May, 1972

I flew 16 A7CF flights in May (28.8 hours)
  I logged 14 America traps (11 day, 3 night) for a cumulative total of America traps of 148.

June, 1972

Another big surprise!  
On June 2nd, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, the Chief of Naval Operations, visited the America and explained why the ship's orders had been changed from a cruise to the Mediterranean to a combat deployment to Vietnam. President Nixon had decided to increase the pressure on the North Vietnamese by extending air combat missions from the limitations of President Johnson's 's bombing halt.  This presidential initiative called Operation Linebacker I required four aircraft carriers on Yankee Station simultaneously.  As a result, USS Midway CVA 41, USS America CVA 66, and USS Saratoga CVA-60 would be ordered to join USS Kitty Hawk CVA 63 and USS Constellation CVA 64 in the Tonkin Gulf so that four carriers could be on station at one time.
(This next section was paraphrased from a Wikipedia discussion of Linebacker One)

This change in mission required that I had a lot to do as Maintenance Officer in the short time we had before deployment.  The Maintenance Control Officer, Phil Morris and the Maintenance Control Chief, Master Chief Jim Moorehead had done a great job in getting the required technical manuals and parts bulletins (IPBs) necessary to accomplish the maintenance of our A7Cs. We had had two months to adjust to the TF30-P-408 engine. There were still some jet engine mechanics around who had been with the squadron's 1970 deployment to WESTPAC flying the A7Bs with the same engine. The avionics systems were basically the same in both aircraft. But, we had two major challenges. First, to make sure that our electronic warfare (EW) personnel were up to snuff in the maintenance and use of the EW test equipment which would be critical for a Tonkin Gulf combat cruise.

Second, our biggest problem was that we didn't have nearly enough aviation ordnancemen assigned to the squadron. We had about 14. But, we would need almost twice that number for Linebacker One operations on Yankee Station. I decided to go talk to the Maintenance Officer at VA-174 to see if we could work something out. I knew that Navy ordnancemen would jump at the chance to join us if they had the opportunity. It wasn't so much for the combat pay. It was more about actually doing what they were trained to do. It turned out, I was right. We had ten more ordnancemen within the week. We deployed with about 24 ordnancemen.

June, 1972

I flew only 4 in June (7.0 hours)
  I logged 3 America traps (2 day, 1 night) for a cumulative total of America traps of 151.

I flew an A7C from Cecil t NAS Norfolk for the aircraft load aboard. 

America got underway on June 5th, 1972 for our WESTPAC Vietnam Deployment

I flew three flight from America; June 8th, 15th, and 18th as the ship was transiting the Atlantic Ocean.

The Transit Route

America's transit route would take us southeast toward Capetown, South Africa via the Cape of Good Hope then northeast
through the southern Indian Ocean through the Maldives and the Straits of Malacca then north north east to Subic bay Philippines for a short stop then out to the South China Sea to Yankee Station.

COD Landing Incident Cape Town, South Africa

As the America was rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the ship's COD flew in to Cape Town to pick up some mail and critical parts.
Upon landing, the COD drifted from port to starboard with it's right wing crossing the foul line impacting the tails of several A7s parked there.

I was in our ready room relaxing and happened to glance at the CCTV as the COD's wing impacted four or five A7 tails.
As Maintenance Officer of the squadron, I was shocked as I watched one rudder after another shatter.
Then I noticed that all of the rudders had red diamonds on them, all VA-86 aircraft. I felt bad for them but I must admit, I was glad they were not ours.
I think our metal smiths (AMS) helped the VA-86 guys. In most cases, the repairs were limited to replacing the rudders.

Crossing the Equator

Our transit route meant that we would cross the Equator twice during our transit; first in the Atlantic going southeast in the South Atlantic Ocean off the coat of North Africa and next in the Indian Ocean enroute to the Straits of Malacca.

The Atlantic crossing provided the best opportunity to celebrate the crossing of the Equator as us Shellbacks would indoctrinate the lowly Pollywogs to the World of King Neptune.

America's transit took about 33 days from Norfolk on June 5th until she arrived
At NAS Cubi Point on about July 7th

There was a lot to do besides holding crossing of the Line festivities!

I used some of the time to continue with my ship training with an eye to someday getting my own ship.

The ship scheduled time for those of us so interested to observe along side replenishment events from the bridge wing.

I also spent more time in the boiler and engine rooms refreshing my ship engineering knowledge.

I also made a suggestion to the CO, XO, and Snuffy that we consider removing the inboard weapons stations (3 and 6) from our A7Cs.

Our A7C's had a weight restriction of 500 lbs (one MK 82 bomb) on weapons stations (3 and 6) due to center of gravity factors with the TF30-P-408 engine.

I felt that we should remove stations 3 and 6 from our aircraft because the reduced drag would increase our top end airspeed which would be more important in  Linebacker One Operations over North Vietnam than losing two MK 82s from our bomb load.

The CO, XO, and Snuffy agreed. So our maintenance guys set to work to reconfigure the aircraft
and have them all checked out prior to arriving at Cubi Point in the Philippines.

Our next and most important task was to conduct ground training for our pilots
in squadron standard operating procedures in the North Vietnam tactical combat environment.

A Brief Overview of Linebacker One

The purpose of Linebacker One was to slow the transportation of supplies and materials for the North Vietnamese Nguyen Hue Offensive that had been launched on March 30th. This offensive consisted of three North Vietnamese operations that were launched that spring.

On March 30th , 300,000 North Vietnamese troops (NVN) supported by regiments of tanks and artillery rolled south across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

On April 5th, a force of 20,000 NVN troops crossed the border from their sanctuaries in Cambodia in a combined arms force to attack Binh Long Province north of Saigon.

The third attack came from Laos on April 12th, seizing a series of border outposts in the Central Highlands.

(This next section is paraphrased from a Wikipedia discussion of Linebacker One)

On April 4th, 1972, President Nixon authorized the bombing of all of North Vietnam North Vietnam which had been limited to reprisal raids just above the DMZ up to the 18th parallel.

Linebacker One was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the end of Rolling Thunder in November 1968.

The U.S. began a rapid build up of air power.

The USAF Tactical Air Command deployed 176 F4D Phantoms and an additional squadron of F-05 Thunderchiefs from Korea to Thailand.
The USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) deployed 124 B-52s from the states to Guam bringing the total B-52 strength to 209.
The Navy augmented the USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation which were already in WESTPAC by ordering USS Midway from the west coast, and USS America and USS Saratoga from the east coast to deploy to WESTPAC. This added three more carrier air wings to the force and increased the number of ships from 84 to 138.

Linebacker One would have four objectives:

                         To isolate North Vietnam from its outside sources of supply by destroying railroad bridges and rolling stock in and around Hanoi and northeast to the Chinese border; To target primary storage areas and marshaling yards; To destroy storage and trans-shipment points;
and to
eliminate (or at least da
mage) the North Vietnamese air defense system.

Air Force and Navy commanders and pilots were relieved that President Nixon, unlike President Johnson, left the operational planning to local commanders and loosened targeting restrictions that had hampered Operation Rolling Thunder in 1966 through 1968.

However, there were still target restrictions.  Bombing of the North Vietnam's dike system was still off limits, bombing of third country ships in Haiphong Harbor was still off limits unless specifically approved, and bombing of non military targets downtown Hanoi and Haiphong was off limits.

But, targets that were now open to attack at the local commander level were;
 mining of Haiphong harbor and nearby harbors and military targets in Hanoi and Haiphong.

There were some changes to the North Vietnamese air defense system that would affect our tactics.

For the fighter pilots:  The were many more MIG 21s and MIG 19s around and fewer MIG 17s!
For the Attack Pilots: The North Vietnamese had added many more 37/57/85 mm AAA guns and trained gun crews including the Soviet ZSU 23-4 to its air defense system! The Soviets had provided training for the SAM batteries in new techniques which included multiple site engagements,
track-on-jam, optical tracking, and high-low engagements which improved their effectiveness.

The North Vietnamese still had small arms, manual barrage fire 37mm and 57 mm AAA, radar controlled 57/85/100mm AAA (firecan, flapwheel etc), and the SA-2 SAMs.  The SAMs were no longer deployed in established sites but were better dispersed and camouflaged.

A big change was the deployment of many ZSU quad mounted, radar controlled, mobile 23mm Soviet systems pictured here. This weapon was a game changer!

Iron Hand (anti SAM) aircraft could no longer orbit a SAM site at 12,000 feet waiting for the site to launch and then shoot a Shrike "down the throat". The ZSU 23 would pick you off at those altitudes. Its tracers were a rope of 23mm death. Iron Hand aircraft would have to launch their Shrikes into a "basket" from some distance from the target.

Strike aircraft would avoid the ZSU 23 by keeping the ingress altitudes above the ZSU 23 effective range. Strike aircraft would only be vulnerable to MIGs, SAMs, and radar controlled 85/100mm at 18,000 or so.

The Chain of Command for the Carrier Division Ten/USS America/Carrier Air Wing Ten Team

Commander Carrier Division Seven

Rear Admiral John S. Christiansen

Combat Pilot During WW2 and Korea

Navy Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross

Commanding Officer USS America CVA 66

Captain Burton H. Shepherd

Fighter Pilot During Korea

CAG 16 USS Oriskany 1967 Vietnam

Navy Cross
Two Silver Stars
Six Distinguished Flying Crosses
Eight Air Medals

CO VA-81 (A4 Skyhawks)

The Admiral and the Captain
were experienced combat veterans
who understood what we would be
facing in executing Linebacker One

Carrier Air Wing Eight

VF 74 Be-Devilers (F4J Phantoms)
VFMA 333 Shamrocks (F4J Phantoms)
VA-82 Marauders (A7C Corsairs)
VA-86 Sidewinders (A7C Corsairs)
VA-35 Black Panthers (A6A Intruders)
RVAH 6 Fleurs (RA5C Vigilantes)
VAQ 132 Scorpions (EA6B Prowlers)
VAW 124 Bullseye Hummers (E2C Hawkeyes)
HC 2 Det 66  (SH3G Rescue Helicopters)

VF 74 Be-Devilers

F4J Phantoms
VF-74 was primarily interested in only the air tt air mission. But they did fly some Flak suppression missions.

VFMA 333 Shamrocks

F4J Phantoms
The Shamrocks were trained for and were enthusiastic about participating in ground attack missions such as flak suppression and air to ground bombing especially Close Air Support
As a result, the Shamrocks were more valuable to the air wing because they were interested in and were capable of being assigned bombing missions and strike support flak suppression.

VA-82 Marauders

A7C Corsairs

VA-86 Sidewinders

A7C Corsairs

VA-35 Black Panthers

A6A Intruders

RVAH 6 Fleurs

RA5C Vigilantes

VAQ 132 Scorpions

EA6B Prowlers

VAW 124 Bullseye Hummers

E2C Hawkeyes

HC 2 Det 66

SH3G Rescue Helicopters

COD- Miss America

I flew off America to NAS Cubi Point on July 6th (Part of CAG 8 Fly Off)

The BOQ and Officer's Club were on the hill just above the left third of the runway.