by Jim Gordon
VISUAL RECONNAISSANCE AND INTERDICTION
The squadron operated to provide a constant presence over the dirt roads called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the rudimentary highways of Laos. The Communist forces moved mostly at night, and some of the Coveys' night missions would spot large trucks moving down the road. The Coveys used a variety of hand-held night-vision devices, known as starlight scopes and designed as rifle scopes, that provided a clear but limited field of view. At one point, there was an experiment involving a large floor-mounted scope placed where the right seat should have been, with the right door replaced by a wind deflector, and the observer sitting behind the scope and the pilot's seat -- imagine riding in an open car at 125 miles per hour, in the cold night wind! For strikes at night, the Coveys also carried one or two parachute flares in addition to their smoke rocket pods. About the only ways a FAC could spot a vehicle in the open in the daytime was because either the road had been blocked or the vehicle had been damaged and not repaired until it was too late to get it into cover. Thus the usual daytime targets were "truck parks" (anywhere that the tree cover might hide a vehicle) or storage areas (any piled up supplies or equipment.) In addition to these targets of opportunity, the other main type of target was the trail itself. There were a few places -- where the road had to traverse a steep hillside or come down from the heights -- where the road could be interdicted by a "road cut" if the fighter-bombers could hit the target just right. The "red-cliff road" was perhaps the southern-most of these topographical vulnerable spots, and day after day, Coveys would run a few strikes against the cliff face, forcing the Communist engineers to cut further into the cliff face every night to reopen the road. As is obvious, interdicting dirt roads was a never-ending effort.
(CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO VIEW A LARGER IMAGE IN A NEW WINDOW)
If the airborne command post had strike aircraft available when a Covey
called in with a target, the strike flight would rendezvous with the Covey
near the target. The Covey would mark the target with a white phosphorus
rocket, perhaps exactly if his aim was real great, or near the target,
either as an intended offset or because the O-2 had a rudimentary fixed
gunsight and the rocket delivery maneuver in an O-2 wasn't real precise
from a safe altitude. Then the Covey, holding off to one side of
the target area, would tell the fighters to "Hit my smoke" or to put their
bombs some distance and direction from the mark. Bombing accuracy
was variable, depending on the type of aircraft being used and who was
flying it, and to some extent, what was being dropped. The Air Force
A-1 Skyraider (nicknamed the Spad) was widely esteemed for the enormous
load it carried, for its slow speed that gave its pilots greater precision,
and for its pilots' experience, accuracy and willingness to press the attack.
Many Navy and Marine Corps flights, although using fast-mover A-4 Skyhawks
and A-7 Corsair 2s, also had reputations for getting the job done well.
There were also some strike flights who would release their bombs and pull
out well above the Coveys' 4,000-foot altitude, spraying 250- or 500-pound
bombs across the landscape, perhaps never coming into view from the Covey's
aircraft. The Coveys were generally forbearing, but more than once
at debriefing, a Covey would say he should have radioed the BDA (bomb damage
assessment) results as "all ordnance in Laos." High-explosive "iron"
bombs, unless fused appropriately, might explode in the treetops or after
burying themselves in the ground, while napalm canisters and cluster-bombs
often seemed to produce more satisfying secondary fires or explosions on
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|A few photos on this website are official USAF photographs, some were taken by other people. Rights to the 20TASS patch design and a couple of the photos belong to others -- tell me if they're yours. I reserve the rights and copyright for my photos and text; permission for re-use is required, although it will almost certainly be given upon request. JKGordon@WorldNet.ATT.net|