In the previous episode a story about the end of the line for the tremendous Phantom F-4’s service in the US Military was featured. To continue our effort to honor the service of this magnificent aircraft, in this episode we will take a look at the F-4’s role in Wild Weasel missions that started in the Vietnam War and remains an important part of combat air missions to this day.
In the early days of the Vietnam War the US enjoyed air superiority over North Vietnam but that all changed when the Russians and Chinese engaged in a tit for tat move by installing advanced surface to air missiles (SAMs) in the north to counter the threat posed by American air power. As usual the Americans used their innate superiority in problem solving and came up with a successful way to confront this new challenge in the air over North Vietnam.
The American solution to the SAM challenge was known as Wild Weasels. An informative article in The Military History Online website titled: The Wild Weasels “Daredevils of the skies” that was submitted by Mike Nastasi lays out the whole story. In late 1965 a special group of Air Force pilots were asked to perform a very dangerous mission that was much akin to playing with a basket full of mad rattlesnakes.
Their mission, if they chose to accept, was to directly attack those deadly SAMs so the bombers could accomplish their missions. The brave pilots accepted the challenge and succeeded. The first Wild Weasel kill came soon after the first Wild Weasel mission on December 20, 1965 when Captains Al Lamb and Jock Donovan took out a site during a Rolling Thunder Strike on the rail yard at Yen Bai, some 75 miles northwest of Hanoi.
One especially dangerous and nerve wracking mission performed by the Wild Weasels was to try and get picked up by the SAM’s radar so they could be located and counter fire could be executed. Oftentimes in these missions SAMs would be fired at the Wild Weasels. In that case they would fly directly toward the oncoming mission head on and then in the last seconds before impact with the missile the brave Wild Weasel pilot would make a sharp evasive turn hoping the missile could not react to the rapid movement of the aircraft and fly by harmlessly.
All Wild Weasel pilots deserve our undying admiration.