Book Review
MiG-17/19 Aces NVAF
MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War from Osprey Publishing LTD is the 130th title of their Aircraft of the Aces series. Authored by István Toperczer and illustrated by artist Jim Laurier, it has Osprey's short code ACE 130 and the IBSN 9781472812551 for the softcover. It is also available in PDF and ePUB formats (with different IBSNs). The book is 96 pages of content, including 30 specially commissioned color profiles and color flight profiles depicting dogfights.
    At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) were equipped with slow, old Korean War generation fighters - a combination of MiG-17s and MiG-19s - types that should have offered little opposition to the cutting-edge fighter-bombers such as the F-4 Phantom II, F-105 Thunderchief and the F-8 Crusader. Yet when the USAF and US Navy unleashed their aircraft on North Vietnam in 1965 the inexperienced pilots of the VPAF were able to shatter the illusion of US air superiority.

    Taking advantage of their jet's unequalled low-speed maneuverability, small size and powerful cannon armament they were able to take the fight to their missile-guided opponents, with a number of Vietnamese pilots racking up ace scores. Packed with information previously unavailable in the west and only recently released from archives in Vietnam, this is the first major analysis of the exploits of Vietnamese pilots in the David and Goliath contest with the US over the skies of Vietnam.
    - Osprey

This book is particularly interesting to me. My awareness of the Vietnam War began during Operation Linebacker but I had no understanding of the air war until the Squadron book ...And Kill MiGs. Countless interviews, articles, studies, journals and books over the decades have failed to answer all of my questions about the Vietnamese People's Air Force (VPAF) swept-wing MiG pilot exploits, especially about the role of the MiG-19 "Farmer". Thus this book has long been on my wish-list.

Ninety-six pages contain the story of MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War, delivered through five chapters, and introduction, and appendices:
    1. Swallows Leave the Nest
    2. The Air War Intensifies
    3. New Tactics
    4. MiG-17 Swansong
    5. The 'White Bandits'
    Color Plate Commentary

Mr. Toperczer writes well and the text is easy to follow. The text is very detailed. His three-page introduction describes the clash of history, technology, equipment, tactics, training, and cultures of the VPAF and Americans. He does mention that by the time of dogfights over Vietnam, both USAF and USN deemed ACM (Air Combat Manuvering, e.g., "dogfighting") obsolete and had gravitated to the policy of missile-only fighting; he does not mention the severe failure rate of those missiles nor the catastrophic ROE (Rules of Engagement) that effectively castrated American air superiority efforts.

Swallows Leave the Nest begins right after World War 2, sowing the seeds of North Vietnam even before the French left. Mr. Toperczer relates the challenges and difficulty in preparing qualified men to attend pilot training. Their curriculum and qualifications are discussed. It explores the history of the men who became the commanders of North Vietnam, and their efforts to establish an air force. That endevour included training in China, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and eventually Vietnam. Organizing and commissioning the VPAF, starting their operations, and building of airfields are explained. After several years came the first clash when, in 1965, the first MiG-17 "Fresco" flight went aloft to engage an American air raid. That story is detailed with the names of the pilots, the MiG nose numbers, times, headings and altitudes, and other data; it even includes a first-hand account by participant
Pham Ngoc Lan;
    The American fighter-bombers were still unaware of our fighters as they attacked the Ham Rong bridge in pairs. My wingman and I followed a pair of American fighters. When in range I opened fire with my guns. The F-8 in front of me exploded in a ball of fire and crashed. I was later credited with the first American fighter-bomber to be shot down by a North Vietnamese fighter pilot.

Not every combat is narrated or described with "yank-and-bank" detail although several are, including this dogfight recited by "Fresco" pilot Nguyen Van Bay;
    Increasing my speed and pulling hard into a turn in an attempt to get behind the US Navy jets, I spotted an F-4 on my tail launching an AIM-7 missile at me. As I turned even harder, the missile exploded off to my right side, flipping my aircraft upside down. I was stunned for a moment but was able to recover. I was still flying at 700-800 km/h, but a piece od shrapnel had pierced my canopy and the cockpit was losing pressure. I put my hand over the hole but felt it being sucked out. "Oh, it's Bernoulli's Law", I thought to myself.

Sixteen pages later begins the 12-page chapter The Air War Intensifies, starting with the 1966 resumption of bombing. The chapter discusses how VPAF pilots were tied to their ground controllers, reviews of their tactics, and descriptions of MiG-17 maneuvers and nightfighter operations. It also may surprise some readers by relating that F-105 Thunderchiefs were occasionally optimized for air-to-air, loaded with missiles, and sent out on fighter sweeps. Trivia included is data on the average 37mm and 23mm rounds expended per kill for 1965 and 1966.

New Tactics presents the action when the first pilot achieved acedom. However, despite the abysmal showing of American fighter operations, the VPAF was decimated and the chapter discusses the high command assessment that losses were due to "conceit and complacency". Also divulged is "Doan Z" (Volunteer Unit Z), confirming the long suspected participation of air combat by North Korean pilots. One revelation dispels the belief that the US did not often attack airfields. In fact, American attacks on air bases shut many down briefly and completely destroyed some for extended periods. This chapter also recounts the growing involvement of the MiG-21 force. Other information includes bureaucratic details, i.e., order 141/TM-QL was signed by Snr Col Hoang Ngoc Dieu, Air Defense Force-VPAF Command Chief of Staff, on 9 February 1967, transferring the 923rd Fighter Regiment to Gia Lam airfield. VPAF dispersal and camouflage is also presented, including the use of helicopters lifting MiGs to hide in caves.

The final 22 pages chronicle MiG-17 Swansong and The 'White Bandits'. These chapters tell of the grounding of MiGs due to losses and airfield attacks, the dismissal of the VPAF fighter threat, VPAF's reorganization of defensive districts, and qualifying of new pilots. MiG hunting of Ryan Firebee drones is discussed, as is the relative lack of air-to-air between the end of Rolling Thunder and Linebacker, three years later.

The end of the MiG-17 story concludes with North Korean MiG-17s, three paragraphs divulging their participation and fate.

Twelve pages detail VPAF MiG-19 operations, including the fight that killed USAF's then-leading MiG killer Maj Robert Lodge. Interestingly, several MiG-19 pilots have their last names concealed. A fascinating story is the original arming of the VPAF "Farmer" with non-aerial missiles.

The text is full of post-action commentary chronicling disputed kill claims for both air forces; some US losses to MiGs were not acknowledged or else credited to SAMs or AAA, even when MiG gun camera film framed destroyed targets. Further reports reveal the number of American aircraft shot by MiGs, SAMS, or AAA. The last paragraph is The Reckoning, which compares kills and loss claims per the US and VPAF records.

Appendices include a bibliography and two other sections: High-Scoring MiG-17 Pilots listing kills, dates, MiG type, and what US records show; Colour Plates describing the aircraft profiles.

I so enjoyed this book that I had to restrain myself from making this review as long as the book. And that's just about the text. What about the graphics?

Photographs and Artwork
First, a disappointment - the back of the book trumpets "new scale plans" supporting the text. There are none. However, the rest of the graphics definitely redeem the book. It is full of photographs and illustrations.

Several color photos enhance the gallery of this book, including an F-8 gun camera view of a hard-turning "Fresco" during the epic dogfight of 14 December 1967. Most of the photos are black-and-white propaganda images of mainly good quality. The detail shown make these excellent images for modelers, artists and historians. Perhaps half are patriotic pilot portraits, many with the pilot in his jet or with jets in the background. There are a few fascinating shots, one showing a MiG-17 swinging in a sling under a helicopter choppering its way to a dispersal area.

1. Top- and side-view color illustrations of earthen MiG-17 revetments at Hoa Lac airfield.

2. Top- and side-view color illustrations of earthen MiG-19 revetments at Yen Bai's airfield.

Dogfight Diagram Maps
a. The first victory credited to VPAF MiG-17s.

b. Dogfight over Kien An airfield when MiG-17s shot down three F-4Bs.

Perhaps the highlight of this book for some is the gallery of original artwork by Jim Laurier. Thirty detailed color profiles of "Frescos" and "Farmers" fill it. As mentioned above,the appendix Colour Plates describes the aircraft profiles.

MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War satisfied my expectations. No doubt it could fill many more pages, yet this concise account of outclassed MiGs battling US Air Force and Navy raids to an even exchange rate is a commendable exposition. It remarks upon the fact that MiGs did not need to destroy or even damage a US plane to succeed, they merely had to make the attackers jettison their air-to-ground ordnance. I think the author filled in a lot of knowledge blanks, and revealed some misconceptions, too. MiG-17/19 Aces is full of excellent photographs and illustrations. Modelers, artists and historians can benefit from the graphics.

I really have nothing to complain about except the lack of the "new scale plans" advertised on the back cover.

This book is an excellent source for those interested in swept wing MiG combat and the Vietnam air war. I am enthusiastic about it and recommend it.

Please remember to mention to vendors and retailers that you saw this book here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: It is full of excellent photographs and illustrations. The text fills in many voids of knowledge and changed some facts I have held.
Lows: The book trumpets "new scale plans" supporting the text but there are none.
Verdict: This book is an excellent source for those interested in swept wing MiG combat and the Vietnam air war. I am enthusiastic about it.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472812551
  Suggested Retail: 23.
  PUBLISHED: Dec 18, 2016

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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.


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