During the Vietnam Wars (1966-1975), the base was used by the Republic of Vietnam Air Force Force (VNAF). The United States used it as a major base from 1966 through 1971, stationing Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine units there. The APO for Phan Rang Air Base was APO San Francisco, 96321
After the American withdrawal from the base in 1971, the VNAF 92d Tactical Wing at Nha Trang moved to Phan Rang Air Base, operating A-37s, and UH-1 helicopters.
In addition to the operational missions, the VNAF 920th Training Squadron operated T-37Bs for initial jet training for its aviation cadets. American policy in Vietnam after 1970 was aimed at self-sufficiency for the VNAF so the South Vietnamese could maintain the level of security that had been won jointly by the United States and South Vietnam. The United States would continue to provide material support for the defense of South Vietnam, but it was expected that the VNAF would have the capability to use United States equipment effectively. If that capability could be developed, the VNAF would be judged self-sufficient.
However, this training had to be halted in June 1974 for lack of logistic support and financial reasons due to United States aid reduction.
92d Tactical Wing
The airfield at Phan Rang was used by the Japanese during World War II. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the French Air Force used the same 3,500 foot runway. To accommodate the expanding Vietnam War, Phan Rang Air Base was quickly expanded by the USAF in 1966 to accommodate both American and South Vietnamese fighter and helicopter units.
The airfield consisted of two 10,000 ft concrete runways with parallel taxiways and covered and open aircraft revetments along with several ramps and parking aprons on both sides of the runways. They were constructed with asphalt and AM-2 pierced steel aprons. The USAF forces stationed there were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Seventh Air Force.
On 10 October 1966, the 389th TFS and the 366th wing designation were transferred to Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, in an administrative transfer giving the 366th new personnel, equipment, and facilities. The move made the 366th an entirely F-4 Wing at Da Nang, leaving Phan Rang to be an F-100 base.
The 35th Tactical Fighter Wing took over as the host unit at Phan Rang on 10 October 1966, being transferred from Da Nang Air Base. The move from Da Nang made the 35th TFW an entirely F-100 wing. The 35th sustained continuous air operations there until they moved from Vietnam, together with the RAAF's No. 2 Squadron of Canberra bombers as at the end of May 1971.
Missions included air support of ground forces, interdiction, visual and armed reconnaissance, strike assessment photography, escort, close and direct air support, and rapid reaction alert. It struck enemy bases and supply caches in Parrot's Beak just inside the Cambodian border, April-May 1970 and provided close air support and interdiction in support of South Vietnamese operations in Laos and Cambodia, January-June 1971.
The 35th TFW was inactivated on 31 July 1991. The wing's remaining resources passed to the 315th Tactical Airlift Wing (see below). The 35th TFW was later reactivated at George Air Force Base California on 1 October 1971.
The 614 and 615 TFS were deployed squadrons from the 401 TFW at England Air Force Base Louisiana and were reassigned to Phan Rang from Da Nang in October 1966. Another attached component, actually a de facto squadron, was the F-100-equipped 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron. When the 612th deployed to Japan, the 120 TFS deployed from the Colorado Air National Guard in April 1968, remaining until April 1969. With its personnel returning to CONUS, the squadron was re-designated the 612 TFS.
The 612th and 614th TFSs were deactivated in place on 31 July 1971 and were reassigned back to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing, now assigned to Torrejon Air Force Base Spain. The 352d and 615th TFSs were deactivated in place along with the 35th TFW, standing down from operations on 26 June 1971.
Deployed from the 405th TFW at Clark AB, Philippines.
The 35th TFW gained an A-37B squadron (8th Special Operations Squadron) in September 1970.
Also attached to the wing at Phan Rang was Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Squadron No. 2, equipped with MK-20 Canberra bombers, which provided day and night bombing, photo strike assessment, and close air support primarily for 1st Australian Task Force in Phuoc Tuy Province.
The 315th Air Commando Wing (Troop Carrier) moved to Phan Rang from Tan Son Nhut Air Base on 15 June 1967. Initially designated as the 315th Air Commando Wing, it was redesignated the 315th Special Operations Wing on 1 August 1968.
The 315th performed C-123 airlift operations in Vietnam. Operations included aerial movement of troops and cargo, flare drops, defoliation missions, aeromedical evacuation, and air-drops of critical supplies and paratroops.
The wing expanded its mission with the added responsibility of the control of the interdiction operations being conducted by the 8th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) and the psychological warfare and visual reconnaissance operations of the 9th SOS.
The 9th, 19th, 309th and 311th SOS were deactivated in place.
Flying the C-123K, operations included close and direct air support, interdiction, combat airlift, aerial resupply, visual and photographic reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations, psychological warfare (including leaflet dropping and aerial broadcasting), forward air control (FAC) operations and escort, search and rescue, escort for convoy and defoliation operations, flare drops, civic actions, and humanitarian actions.
The wing provided maintenance support for a number of tenants. Trained South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) personnel in AC-119 operations and maintenance, Feb-Aug 1971, and transferred some of its AC-119s to the South Vietnamese Air Force during August and September 1971 as part of a phase-down for inactivation.
Squadrons assigned were:
In early 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to achieve its goal of re-uniting Vietnam under communist rule, launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.
On 8 January the North Vietnamese Politburo ordered a major People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) offensive to "liberate" South Vietnam by NVA cross-border invasion. The NVA general staff plan for the invasion of South Vietnam called for 20 divisions, because, by 1975, the Soviet-supplied North Vietnamese Army was the fifth largest in the world. It anticipated a two year struggle for victory.
By 14 March, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu decided to abandon the Central Highlands region and two northern provinces of South Vietnam and ordered a general withdrawal of ARVN forces from those areas. Instead of an orderly withdrawal, it turned into a general retreat, with masses of military and civilians fleeing, clogging roads and creating chaos.
On 30 March 100,000 South Vietnamese soldiers surrender after being abandoned by their commanding officers. The large coastal cities of Danang, Qui Nhon, Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang are abandoned by the South Vietnamese, yielding entire northern half of South Vietnam to the North Vietnamese.
As the war in South Vietnam entered its conclusion, the pilots at Phan Rang flew sortie after sortie, supporting the retreating South Vietnamese Army after it abandoned Cam Ranh Bay on 14 April. For two days after the ARVN left the area, the Wing Commander at Phan Rang fought on with the forces under his command. Airborne troops were sent in for one last attempt to hold the airfield, but the defenders were finally overrun on 16 April and Phan Rang Air Base was lost.
At dusk on 28 April, three captured A-37s, flown from Phan Rang bombed Tan Son Nhut destroying a number of aircraft on the flight line. There are conflicting stories about who was actually flying these aircraft. One source insists they were VNAF pilots who were communists, another says they were VNAF pilots who were forced to fly the mission in return for the safety of their families, and NVA General Van Tien Dung claimed the A-37s were flown by North Vietnamese Air Force pilots.
Whatever the case, the A-37s escaped. despite being pursued by several SVNAF F-5s. Although the physical damage to Ton Son Nhut was not extensive, the threat of further air strikes eliminated Ton Son Nhut AB for fixed-wing evacuation flights, further lowering what little morale remained in the capital.
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