Here’s my Amazon Review of an exceptional book about flying fighters, the air war in Vietnam, and the Rules of Engagement (ROEs) our pilots had to endure:
This is a fantastic book on several levels. For all of us who ravenously devour anything about flying fighters, this book describes what it was like to fly every jet fighter from the F-80 to the F-105D, including some I’d never even heard mentioned. Jack flew them all, and gives a pilot’s perspective of their performance.
The book also has a great description of what it was like flying during the Korean War, a conflict that often gets the short end of the stick in discussions of aviation history.
These descriptions of fighter geneology and combat history set the stage for the true meat-and-potatoes part of the book, the narrative of the conduct of the air war in Vietnam. And the author does not mince words – the people running the war did not know how to properly employ air power. Pilots who knew what needed to be done to save American lives were prevented from using tactics that could have dramatically shortened the war. The Thud pilots could have minimized the SAM threat by destroying them before they came online, but weren’t allowed to attack sites under construction. Rules of Engagement – ROEs – put ridiculous restrictions on pilots, and made them fight the war with their hands tied. Sadly, this philosophy continued five years later, when I flew over the same skies during Operation Linebacker. If left to the people who knew how to use air power, the pilots, the war could possibly have ended much sooner with a properly conducted assault on the war-making capability of Hanoi.
But the most shocking aspect of the book is the lack of support, and downright vindictivenesss, of Air Force leadership. Colonel Broughton supported his troops, at great personal risk, and did not receive a commensurate level of loyalty from those above him. Many general officers who had been true heroes during World War Two had sadly become bureaucrats and lacked the integrity that they had exhibited previously. And Colonel Broughton names them.
When I studied Military History at the Air Force Academy, one of the lessons of World War Two was that the German General Staff did not properly know how to use air power because they didn’t have real operational experience. History has a way of repeating itself. The air war in Vietnam was being run by generals with a “high altitude level bombing” mindset from a different war, twenty years earlier, that was incompatible with combat in the skies over Hanoi.
The most riveting part of the book is the description of the abandonment of Colonel Broughton by everyone in his chain of command. This book needs to be required reading by everyone aspiring to become an Air Force officer and, more importantly, by everyone now wearing stars.