September 30, 2019

Against the MiGs in Vietnam

by John T. Correll

The Vietnamese Peoples’ Air Force—as it was officially called—sent pilots to the Soviet Union and China for training in MiG fighters but had no jet aircraft of its own until February 1964, when the Soviets donated 36 MiG-15s and -17s to the VPAF.

For reasons of security, the MiGs were based across the border in southern China and did not deploy to Phuc Yen Air Base near Hanoi until August 1964, after the buildup of US forces in Southeast Asia following an attack on US ships in the Tonkin Gulf.

The VPAF would not gain its first MiG-21s until November 1965, and the MiG-15s and -17s were not regarded as any real threat to late-model US fighters. Thus, it came as a surprise on April 3, 1965, when a pair of MiG-17s pounced on a US Navy strike flight south of Hanoi and raked the F-8E Crusader fighter-bombers with 23 mm cannon fire.