USS Midway: retrieval of land-based South Vietnamese warplanes 1975

The fall of Saigon in 1975, and along with it the fall of South Vietnam and final end of the Vietnam War, is most remembered in the United States for the dramatic helicopter evacuation of the American embassy.

Less known is the final chapter to the “Frequent Wind” story: how the aircraft carrier USS Midway, built to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy during WWII, ended up retrieving the remnants of the defunct VNAF (South Vietnamese air force) during the summer of 1975.

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(USS Midway (CV-41) at the end of WWII, prior to commissioning.)

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(USS Midway with US Air Force helicopters staged prior to the start of “Frequent Wind” in 1975.)

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(A most unusual scene as the flight deck of USS Midway is filled with land-based warplanes of the defunct South Vietnamese air force.)

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fate of the last Skytrain built

Through remarkable circumstances, the last C-47 Skytrain built during WWII ended up in the Congo where it lingered on into the 21st Century.

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(C-47 Skytrain. The stripes are an identification marking used during the 1944 “Overlord” D-Day landings.)

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(The last C-47 Skytrain built during WWII, in Goma, D.R. Congo during December 2014. This had been Mobutu’s DC-3.) (photo by Abel Kavanagh)

As a background to the astonishing story and unfortunate fate of this one Skytrain, it is perhaps worthwhile to look at the very long and varied history of the C-47 / DC-3 in the country. The plane is somewhat unique in aviation in that it became almost symbolic of a new nation’s struggles.

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WWII aircraft in Lebanon

Sadly the military history of Lebanon will, at least for the near future, be dominated by the horrible 1970s – 1980s civil war. The country did have military history prior to that, including WWII-era warplanes in its early air force.

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(Lebanese air force Harvard, the RAF’s name for WWII lend-leased T-6 Texan trainers.)

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(Lebanese air force SM.79 bomber. The country was the last in the world to fly this WWII Italian warplane.)

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WWII equipment in Soviet nuclear tests: part 1

(part 1 of a 2-part series)

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union conducted regular nuclear weapons tests. One of these was unique in that it was not just a test detonation of a weapon, but a full-scale military exercise which involved a blend of WWII-vintage systems and their Cold War-era replacements.

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(One of the two Tu-4 “Bull” strategic bombers involved in the 1954 exercise. There was a primary and alternate Tu-4 staged, of which only one dropped a bomb. The “Bull” was an unlicensed copy of the WWII American B-29 Superfortress.)

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(An ex-Wehrmacht PaK 40 anti-tank gun smashed and radioactive following the 1954 Soviet atomic test.)

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(A WWII Il-10 “Beast” burns after the exercise atomic detonation.)

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AAC.1 Toucan: France’s post-WWII Ju-52

France restarted domestic production of the Junkers Ju-52 transport after WWII. Although intended as a quick, cheap stop-gap solution, the AAC.1 Toucan fought in three post-WWII conflicts and quietly served as long after WWII as the famous original Junkers did before and during WWII.

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(Junkers Ju-52s of the Luftwaffe training Fallschirmjäger during WWII.)

indochine1(A French air force AAC.1 Toucan – the post-WWII French copy of the Ju-52 – flies over a burning Vietnamese jungle during the Indochina War.)

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(A French air force AAC.1 Toucan in Africa during the 1950s Algerian War.)

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WWII weapons in Shanghai: VJ Day to 1949

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Shanghai was famous as China’s international city, a busy trade port with notorious underworld . During the latter part of the 20th century, the city languished through Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, before once again becoming a world-class city leading in finance, technology, and culture at the turn of the millennium.

There was a very brief time after WWII, only four years, when the city was under the Kuomintang (KMT), or nationalist Chinese government. What makes this period interesting militarily, was the unusual combinations of WWII weaponry fielded there, and a now largely-forgotten American military presence in China.

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(Officers of the Shanghai Police Department monitor a political protest in 1948. Equipment includes a stahlhelm M35 helmet and Arisaka Type 38 rifle.)

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(An abandoned Mitsubishi Ki-21 “Sally” bomber sits opposite American C-46 Commando, C-54 Skymaster, and C-47 Skytrain transports at a former Japanese airbase near Shanghai after WWII.)

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(Soviet-made T-26 and American-made M3/M5 Stuart tanks of the nationalist army together in Shanghai during 1949. An irony of this last battle is that the nationalists were partially equipped with Soviet gear and the communists were partially equipped with American gear.)

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Philippines pt.2: WWII weapons used 1946-2018

(part 2 of a 2-part series)

After achieving independence from the United States ten months after the end of WWII, the military of the Philippines was infused with a variety of WWII American weapons, some of which are still in use in 2018.

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(Recruits train with a mix of M16s and M1 Garands in 2018.)

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(Philippines army soldiers display weapons captured from Abu Sayyaf in 2017 including a pair of M1 Garands, one of which has been spray-painted glossy black.)

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WWII weapons in Yemen’s civil war

The country of Yemen, currently (2018) in the midst of yet another civil war, has had a long involvement with guns of the WWII era. While the AK-47 is king of the battlefield, some old WWII weapons are still in use.

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(The now somewhat-famous Yemeni “ripcord T-34” in November 2016.)

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(Houthi fighters brandishing weapons in 2015, including to the left a WWII British Enfield No4 Mk.I rifle.)

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WWII weapons in Tanzania

Formerly one of Great Britain’s eastern African colonies, Tanzania used WWII-era equipment throughout the later 20th century including a late-1970s war against Uganda.

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(Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest point of Africa and the only part of Tanzania to receive snow. East Africa Railways continued in dwindling existence after WWII, including the wartime Garratt steam locomotives. The defunct company’s rail lines were a great logistics asset to Tanzania during the 1978-1979 Kagera war.) (photo via internationalsteam.co.uk website)

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(WWII-vintage PPSh-41 submachine gun of the Tanzanian army.)

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1980s drug war: WWII gear used

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(The WWII-veteran USCGC Cherokee on a 1980s narcotics patrol.)

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(A demilitarized WWII-veteran C-46 Commando which crashed while in use as a smuggling plane during the 1980s.)

The US Coast Guard was formed (as the Revenue Cutter Service) on 4 August 1790. The Posse Comitatus law of 1878 restricts use of the American military in law enforcement. However the US Coast Guard is specifically exempted from any restrictions, and in fact law enforcement is one of it’s core missions.

During the Cold War the US Coast Guard’s funding came from the Department Of Transportation, not the Pentagon, and money just to buy fuel was at a premium, let alone new construction. The fleet during President Carter’s term was in a bottleneck; as all Prohibition-era cutters were gone, but new modern hulls were not being launched fast enough to replace them. Some aged WWII ships were pressed into service as cutters.

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