The A-1 Skyraider in Vietnam
The Spad's Last War
by Wayne Mutza
Book review by Steve Jantscher
When I was initially given this book to look at and review, I was of a mixed mind. I love the A-1 Skyraider, and generally collect everything I can about the plane and it's missions, but I've been disappointed too many times by average "so-so" Schiffer publications. When they do it right, books like Prien & Rodeike's Messerschmitt BF 109 F,G & K series, or Luftwaffe Fighter Aircraft in Profile by Sundin & Bergstrom are as good as it gets in accuracy, presentation (print) quality and photographic incorporation. But I've seen too many mediocre efforts that too often call out for severe editing and better presentation. I was worried that this book would not be the exception, and be just another so-so Schiffer book.
I needn't have been worried. This was a joy to skim, and read. Right from the start I realized that this wasn't going to be your usual recitation of the canned history of the SPAD in Vietnam. The chapter divisions are also quite interesting to this book collector (and reader). The first chapter (6 pages) covers the development of the aircraft from the brain of Ed Heinmann's Douglas team through the various types up to the Vietnam war. Chapter two presents a potted (3 page) overview of the Vietnam war. I like that. Get the "big picture" over and done with quickly. I want to get to know about combat operations and the pilot's own stories, but not quite yet. Chapter three "Things Under Wings" (25 pages) covers in depth just about all the ordnance the "flying dump truck" ever carried during the 'war. Almost all the weapons are shown in color or black and white photographs (a real boon for modelers), and the write up also explains how and when the various weapons were used. I especially liked the section on fuel-air-explosives (FAE), and how they were developed and deployed on the SPAD. When I was in the Navy, the attack guys always told stories of watching particularly gruesome films of FAE tests on monkeys and other chained animals. The book tells some pilot's accounts of using these massive bombs in combat, and how effective they were. Chapter four covers the Navy use first since the A-1 was originally a Navy only plane. These 17 pages give a feeling for the difficulty and special duties the Navy SPAD drivers had in a feet wet (or dry) environment. Chapter five is a short one, only five pages long, but document the air-to-air capability of the SPAD in a world of jet aircraft. All of the MiG kills attributed to the A-1 are covered here in the personal stories and official accounts. The Air Force and their SPADs get up next with thirty pages devoted to close air support. In many ways, the story of the SPAD in Vietnam is an Air Force story.Flying out of many bases in Vietnam, and elsewhere, USAF pilots were in the thick of things starting in 1962 (when the Air Force selected the SPAD for its counterinsurgency work). (For those interested in further reading, I highly recommend My Secret War by Richard Drury.) Chapter seven covers the Sandy (search and rescue) missions that became a very important role for (mostly) USAF A-1s. Many stories of Sandy missions are in the nine pages of this chapter. Chapter eight tells the stories of the two Medal of Honor recipient SPAD drivers of the Vietnam war, and the bravery they displayed while flying their aircraft. Tropic Moon is the next chapter, dealing with the first successful self-contained night attack system used in combat. This is a short chapter (6 pages) that describes the development and combat use of a low-light television system, and it's marriage with the A-1. Chapter ten covers the details of the Son Tay prisoner of war camp raid carried out on 20 November 1970. There were ten A-1s assigned to the raid, and this chapter tell their story. Chapter 11 details the development of the Stanley "Yankee" ejection system. Covered in great detail, with many accompanying photographs, this is a neat little story of an important part of the SPAD's later life. Chapter 12 covers the exploits of the Skyraider in Vietnamese service. They actually got the aircraft before the USAF, from old Navy stock. In all, 329 A-1s were delivered to the VNAF, and the author covers this chapter of the SPAD's service in 12 pages. Twelve more pages are devoted to the colors and markings the Skyraider wore during her time in theater. The author uses Federal Standard (FS) color call outs and is an excuse for many more color and black and white photographs showing some familiar, and less well known examples of aircraft color schemes. Chapter 14 shows some of the remaining aircraft left in civilian ownership (mostly photos) as well as telling how some of the aircraft made their way into civilian hands.
The remainder of the book (about 50 pages) are devoted to photos and lists of data about serial numbers, airframe dispositions etc. I did like the section called Skyraider Warriors, which is a collection of pilot and ground crew personnel in and around their aircraft. This is a personalizing (as if more were needed) of the aircraft in the war.
After the detailed rendition of the contents of the book under review, the question is, did you like it, and would I buy it? I'd have to say yes. Here is a collection of stories, centered around a handful of subjects (by chapter) that anyone interested in the SPAD would love reading. As a modeling resource, it is a toss up. I didn't mention how many photographs are in this book; I didn't want to count them all, but there are hundreds. If only for those, it may be worth while to a modeler. I especially liked the weapons section (chapter 3), which will help me scratch build a FAE bomb. For those of you who like the Skyraider, and want to read more about her heyday and swan song in an age of jets, this is a must get title. I'm keeping this one.
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