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Book Review
F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers
F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers of the Vietnam War
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers of the Vietnam War presents the amazing air-to-air record of the oft-maligned F-105. This 107th book of Osprey Publishing Ltd's series Combat Aircraft reveals that the F-105, never intended to engage in dogfights, and bedeviled by technical and environmental handicaps, actually killed more MiGs than the F-100, F-104 and F-4 Phantom II MIGCAP types assigned to escort it, combined! Do you wonder why?
    Despite its ‘F-for-fighter’ designation, the F-105 was designed and purchased to give the USAF an aircraft capable of the delivery of nuclear weapons at very high speed, long range and below-the-radar altitudes. However, when the Vietnam War began it also emerged as USAF’s best available tactical bomber for a ‘limited conventional’ war as well. Extensively targeted by MiG-17s and MiG-21s the F-105 pilots developed innovative tactics that allowed them to compete in air-to-air duels with their smaller, more manoeuvrable enemies. Illustrated throughout with extensive photographs detailing weapon loads, internal features and action shots of actual engagements, this volume examines the conduct of the Rolling Thunder strike missions and the tactics used for attack and defence by the attack, escort fighter and radar monitoring elements within strike formations. - Osprey

Authored by Peter Davies and illustrated by Jim Laurier, this book is full of detailed text plus color and black-and-white photographs. It is available in paperback, ePUB and PDF formats with a length of 96 pages, and found with the ISBN: 9781782008040.

Author Peter Davies brings the story of F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers of the Vietnam War to us through 96 pages of five chapters and an appendices;
    1. Thunderchief
    2. ‘Thuds’ Fight Back
    3. Frantic Fights
    4. 1967-MiG Mayhem
    5. May Massacre
      Colour plates commentary

Typical of Osprey, those chapter titles may not be as shown on the website or in the book published for other countries. The website chapters are listed to further describe what the reader will encounter;
    • development and early service
    • attacks from Korat and Takhli Royal Thai Air Bases with bombing moving closer to Hanoi
    • air-to-air armament is described
    • 1967
    • ‘Wild Weasel’ F-105Fs and F-105Fs involved in Iron Hand missions

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book as it is well written, easy to read, and full of information and detail. The text is not meant to include the bomber role of the F-105. First-hand pilot narratives - a personal favorite content - and dogfights are included'
    'The F-105 needs a quick, sure method to select guns-air. It is a good aircraft for this type of war, but any new aircraft should be able to manoeuvre in high-g conditions. The F-105 can fight with the MiG-21 at low altitudes according to Maj John Boyd's Energy Manoeuvrability Charts [Boyd's study revolutionised USAF views on air combat tactics]. It can hassle with MiGs in clean configuration with less than 5000 Ib of fuel. It needs tracer ammunition in the guns. The gunsight camera also needs to be improved as it currently produces hazy images.'

    ...a Korat-based
    Iron Hand flight was once again at the centre of the first scrap of the day. Warned of MiGs as they headed for their target, they saw two other Thunderchiefs with a MiG-21 2000 ft behind them. The Iron Hand F-105F crew dumped their ordnance (including some AGM-45 Shrike missiles) and moved in behind the MiG-21, whose controller ordered him to make a 'turn on a dime' 180-degree reversal that placed him virtually head-on to the USAF jets. The F-105F pilot fired 120 rounds at it but his gun then jammed. Two of the other F-105Ds in the flight, their canopies partly obscured by condensation, engaged a second MiG-21, entering a series of semi-scissors manoeuvres with it without either side gaining the advantage. The MiGs then broke away and the Iron Hand pilots pursued them for several minutes before having to turn back and find a tanker.

Conventional wisdom is that pilots of Thuds considered themselves as targets and avoided MiGs at all costs. No so;
    After pulling up from his bomb run Capt Hawkins made a somewhat vague transmission to 'get the MiGs' and promptly headed west to take on the armada, while the rest of his flight duly completed their bombing and prepared to exit the target area. Hawkins later commented;

    'I was confident of my airplane, my equipment and myself. Frankly, with the frame of mind I was in if I ever got the chance I was definitely going to have a MiG. I just flat wanted to mix it up with a MiG.'

    With 4000 hours of flight time and 800 hours on F-l05s, Hawkins' self-assurance was understandable. He approached the suspected 'turkey shoot from above, singling out a MiG-17 in the second flight and firing at it from a distance of 1500 ft down to 200 ft. Watkins had previously cleaned up his pylons (except for the precious QRC-160 pod) and set his fire control system to 'guns-air', but his gunsight would not hold a radar lock-on.

    The VPAF pilot turned sharply away and another flight of MiGs began to achieve a firing position on Hawkins' F-105. This prompted the 'Thud' pilot to use a combination of ailerons and hard right rudder to make them overshoot. At 500 knots, with heavy AAA all around him, he deduced that the other MiG flights had too much mutual cover to make an attack profitable, but he saw a single MiG approaching head-on and dived towards it, opening fire from a distance of 2000 ft until he could tell that the bullets were passing behind his target. As the MiG fired back ineffectually, up to 25 20 mm hits became visible at one-foot intervals along its fuselage, and Hawkins saw pieces coming off the aircraft. Before the Thunderchief pilot could ascertain its fate he was distracted from his prey by 'little white cannon balls' passing close to his cockpit - he was under attack by two MiG-17PFs. Hawkins dropped to tree-top altitude at Mach 1.15 to outdistance the MiGs, which fired at him all the way, sending 'cannon balls' past his canopy.

Clearly, some F-105 pilots remembered Every Man A Tiger from Fighter Weapons School!

In Thunderchief the author details the mission concept and design of the F-105, explaining internal systems and structure based on the mission. In the subsection Air-To-Air Weapons, close attention is given to the M-61 Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun and the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. The gunsight is also described, as are various weapons mounts and pylons. Those topics are within the first 14 pages.

F-105s had several tactical, technical and environmental handicaps to overcome. The anti-aircraft defenses faced by F-105 pilots were more complex than found over Berlin, and ridiculous rules of engagement hobbled the men 'at the sharp end' from front line initiative. Those factors - and the combat history - are recounted through ‘Thuds’ Fight Back, Frantic Fights, 1967-MiG Mayhem and May Massacre. As you shall read, Thunderchief pilots aggressively sought out and engaged MiGs, many instances of which are narrated in this book. In fact, several times F-105s hurt the MiGs so badly that they disappeared from the sky for weeks. Indeed, some of these dogfights were so involved and are related in such detail that they take up several pages to describe. The complex fight for which the legendary Major Leo Thorsness earned the Medal of Honor takes many pages; it is still as spine tingling as the first time I read about it! Another multiple-page dogfight narrative includes;
    Lt Col Cast then saw four MiG-17s about a mile ahead of them and transmitted, 'Let's go get them". Brestel responded 'I'm with you' and then noticed another quartet of MiG-17s following 1500 ft behind the first flight. Cast, barrel-rolling and S-turning, attempted to fire an AIM-9B at them, but the complex switchology failed him. Capt Brestel had the same problem, and he also had no time in which to set up his gunsight as he was 'too busy with the speed brakes, afterburner and flaps'.
Unable to make the complex systems work, he;
    ...just aimed along the top line of the gunsight's combining glass, pointing his Thunderchief 'in the general direction of the MiG'. Brestel later commented, 'everyone uses various methods to bugger the F-105 system'. Cast reverted to the gun and saw sparkles on the wing of a MiG-17 as his shells damaged it.

    'I observed all MiGs light their afterburners', Brestel continued. 'Lt Col Cast began firing at one of the first two MiGs. I observed the second two beginning to fire at Cast. I called a break and closed to within 300-500 ft of the No 4 MiG. I fired an approximate 2.5-second burst, observing hits in the wing, fuselage and canopy and a fire in the left wing root. The aircraft rolled over and hit the ground under my left wing.' Gast transmitted, 'I got one! I got one!' and received the anonymous response, 'Shut your mouth and get another one!'

The text includes a wealth of trivia, i.e., date and pilot of the F-105 (with serial number) which was the very first USAF loss to an air-to-air missile, plus the pilot's name and the serial number of the MiG that shot it down. F-105 became the only USAF aircraft withdrawn from combat due to attrition, approximately half of all airframes were lost over Vietnam; the author provides the surprising statistics on how many fell to fighters, SAMs, and flak. The legendary Col. Robin Olds and his relationship with the F-105 is included in a few instances.

This is an amazing and enlightening story of the F-105. It was a serious MiG killer never intended to kill MiGs. It should change the entrenched perception of how the warplane is remembered.

photographs and artwork
If you have watched enough aerial dogfight programs then you have probably seen the close quarters gun camera demise of a hard-turning MiG-17. That color image is in this book along with the colorful story behind it. Many other intriguing gunsight images fortify the text as well, along with dozens of full color and black-and-white photographs. Line art illustrations present the M61A1 20mm gun.

Artists, researchers and modelers should be thrilled with the photographic content. The selection is excellent and the majority are high quality: focused; properly exposed; good shadows and highlights. Plenty of detail can be gleaned from these images.

Thirty full color profiles of F-105s were created by artist Jim Laurier. These span the F-105 career from silver jets of 1962 through the unique 'wrap around' camouflage at Hill AFB in 1983. Each piece has a detailed narrative in the appendices. Finally, a table listing F-105 MiG kills in 1966 and 1967, by date, serial/call sign, crew, unit, and weapon used.

My only complaint is that there are no scale drawings of the jet nor maps. Since there were several models of the F-105 I can overlook that. But I think a map or two would enhance the reader's orientation and enjoyment of the story.

final approach
Like the preceding Combat Aircraft book about a Century Series fighter, F-104 Starfighter Units in Combat , I am delighted with this book. As an unapologetic enthusiast of the F-105 it has satisfied my interest in the F-105's success as MiG killer. It has clarified many questions I have had for decades as well as supported some notions I have held about the jet.

F-105 was not an air superiority fighter. Thunderchief enthusiasts hoping to find new information debunking F-105 myths and proving the F-105 was an amazing fighter will find mixed results. As quoted in the second page, "Air-to-air combat is still a turning game. The airplane that turns the best has the advantage".

The photographic content and artwork along is worth acquiring the book. I have no complaints about this book. I found neither typos nor questionable factual content. Modelers, historians and enthusiasts of the F-105 should be delighted with this book and I heartily recommend it!

We thank Osprey for sending this book for review. Please tell them and retailers that you saw this here - at Aeroscale!
Highs: Illuminating, detailed and exciting text. Artists, researchers and modelers should be thrilled with the excellent photographic content.
Lows: My only complaint is that there are no scale drawings of the jet nor maps.
Verdict: This is an amazing and enlightening story of the F-105. It should change the entrenched perception of how the warplane is remembered.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781782008040
  Suggested Retail: $22.95, £13.99
  PUBLISHED: Jan 06, 2015
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


the link does not seem to work
JAN 06, 2015 - 03:26 PM
Fred, It's not that the link doesn't work, but it just says this: "Not authorised to edit reviews" Joel
JAN 06, 2015 - 08:15 PM
JAN 06, 2015 - 10:35 PM
Anyone having trouble with the link now?
JAN 07, 2015 - 06:31 AM
Your link still does not work (on my browser) Steffen
JAN 07, 2015 - 05:51 PM
here the same, i still get "Not authorised to edit reviews"
JAN 07, 2015 - 10:07 PM
I was able to see the review with Steffen's link. It is excellent and makes the book sound like a must have.
JAN 08, 2015 - 05:35 AM
Fixed now! (I hope)
JAN 09, 2015 - 09:32 AM

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