Book Review
Flying Dragons - South Vietnamese Airforce

by: Francois Buis [ FBUIS ]

This is not a political history of the Vietnam War; rather it is the story of the transition of the VNAF, during its 20-year life span, from an under-trained and ill-equipped French Air Force auxiliary unit, to a size so large that it was almost incapable of sustaining itself with sufficient numbers of trained personnel and support materials. This is an up-dated version of the book by this same name and author published in 1988, which now features an abundance of color photographs and new insights into the air force’s role in e Vietnam War.

Book details:
Author: Robert C. Mikesh
Size:  81/2" x 11"
Illustrations:  over 300 b/w and color photographs
Pages:  200
Edited by Schiffer Publishing - 4880 Lower Valley Rd - Atglen, PA  19310 - USA
ISBN:  0764321587

Book contents:
- 9 chapters
- 10 appendices

This revised and updated edition contains a complete history of the South Vietnamese Air Force, through over 20 years of existence ending in 1975. Foreword written by Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, Commander in Chief of VNAF, 1963-1967. Acknowledgements written by the author and Preface written by a VNAF helicopter pilot, a true story of the death of his brother-in-arms.

Chapter 1: Where it Began
Following World War II, France attempted to reassert her authority over her Indochina colonies, which included Vietnam and the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. Communist and Nationalist Viet Minh forces attacked French outposts across a wide front, supported by many people who had only one purpose – national independence. So began the costly eight year Indochina war that ended at a Geneva conference table in July 1954 with a superficial division that created a North and a South Vietnam. In one of many attempts to gain the support of the people, the French incorporated a token force of indigenous personnel into the French armed services as auxiliaries beginning in the early 1950s. Thus began the first semblance of Vietnam’s military service.

Chapter 2: Time of Transition
In the early 1950s. Communist influence was very visibly expanding everywhere. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles described the now-famous Domino Theory in a nationwide broadcast:
“If they (the Soviets) could get this peninsula of Indochina, Siam, Burma, Malaya, they would have what is called the rice bowl of Asia… And you can see that if the Soviet Union had control of the rice bowl of Asia that would be another weapon which would tend to expand their control into Japan an into India.”

Chapter 3: Coming of Age
Hanoi leaders formed the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam in December 1960, which the Saigon regime dubbed the “Viet Cong” meaning Communist Vietnamese. Infiltration from the North was intensified. South Vietnamese army units unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow President Diem, who seemed unresponsive to the worsening war situation. After several other attempts, Diem and his brother were murdered following their surrender in November 1963. A counterinsurgency plan was endorsed by President Kennedy that provided more US advisers and equipment for South Vietnam. By the end of 1963, 15.000 American advisers were in South Vietnam as the Communist stepped up their operations to take over the South.

Chapter 4: The Expansion Period
In March 1961, the SEATO Council (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation) noted with concern the violation of the Geneva accords by an armed minority attempting to destroy the government of South Vietnam and declared its resolve not to acquiesce to any takeover of South Vietnam. In addition, the two governments of South Vietnam and the United States issued a joint communiqué underlining an agreement on an eight-point program for military and economic aid to Vietnam. In the United States, however, focus was on President Kennedy as he forced the Soviets to withdraw missiles from Cuba in October 1962.

Chapter 5: VNAF and Jets
North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked the American destroyer USS Maddox in the Tonkin Gulf 2 August 1964. Reprisal attacks were made against North Vietnamese targets, and the US Congress gave the President Johnson extraordinary power to act in the Southeast Asia. The Viet Cong attacked Bien Hoa Airbase 1 November 1964 and destroyed 5 USAF B-57s, damaged 15 others, and destroyed or damaged 4 VNAF A-1Hs. Four deaths resulted and 72 wounded. Political unrest in the Saigon government caused numerous coup d’état that resulted in changes in leadership and forms of government, creating an uneasy situation with the United States. The air war accelerated as US pilots sighted Soviet MIG jet aircraft for the first time on 3 April 1965.

Chapter 6: Turn of the First Decade
On 8 march 1965 two US Marine battalions landed to defend Da Nang AB, the first American combat troops in Vietnam. The South Vietnam Government became more stable, as Air Vice Marshal Nguyen-cao-Ky took over as prime minister of a military regime in Saigon 11 June 1965. He declared a formal state of war against North Vietnam, an extension of Saigon’s curfew, and price controls. On 18 June American B-52s made their first attack of the war in an attempt to dislodge Communist troops north of Saigon. By now, the enemy had nearly isolated in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. President Johnson authorised Gen. Westmoreland to employ American troops in fighting the enemy. By the end of 1965 American ground forces in Vietnam reached nearly 200,000.

Chapter 7: Preparing to Go it Alone
In the United States, vivid media coverage of the Tet Offensive implied that the South Vietnamese and Americans were losing the war in Vietnam. The occasional release or escape of American prisoners revealed inhuman treatment by the enemy of hundreds of detained POWs. Fearing that American bombs may kill American POWs, bombing in the Hanoi area became very restricted. Prisoner exchange and visits by Red Cross teams were refused by the North Vietnamese, causing increased American frustration. The Hanoi Government made it clear that POWs would not be released until the United States withdrew from the war: Demonstrations in the United States increased the pressure upon the US government to disengage from the war.

Chapter 8: The Cease-Fire
The cease-fire agreements were formally signed in Paris on 27 January 1973. On that day, the USAF B-52 force (ARC LIGHT), which had conducted air strikes in North Vietnam continuously sine June 1965, ceased strike operations in all areas of Southeast Asia, except Laos. The last American troops left Vietnam on 29 March, leaving only a Defence Attaché Office and administrative support elements in Saigon and outlying bases.

Chapter 9: The Final Days
Following the cease-fire in January 1973, the North Vietnamese Army was uninhibited in strength build-up. American airpower no longer attacked the lines of supply to the south. By late 1974 a total of 19 North Vietnamese Army divisions were fully manned and equipped, and 12 of them were actually in South Vietnam. A total of 5 ARVN divisions, including Marine and Airborne, were concentrated in the northern Corps area to face the strongest line of the enemy, leaving the rest of the country sparsely defended and the central provinces vulnerable to attack.

Appendix A: Aircraft of VNAF
Appendix B: Aircraft Colors and Markings
Appendix C: Unit Numbering System of VNAF
Appendix D: Unit Insignia of VNAF
Appendix E: Airbases of South Vietnam
Appendix F: Organisational Units of VNAF
Appendix G: Commander-in-Chief of VNAF
Appendix H: Ranks and Insignia of the South Vietnamese Air Force
Appendix I: Vietnamese Military Wings 1960-1975
Appendix J: Air Viet Nam

This was the first time I read a really great book about the history of the South Vietnamese Air Force and I got more information about the Vietnam War out of this book than everything I'd learned beforehand; there was not only the air war over Vietnam between American A-1H Skyraiders, A-4 Skyhawks, A-7 Corsair IIs, F-4 Phantoms, F-105 Thunderchiefs, etc. and North Vietnam aircraft – Soviet and Chinese built MiG 17, 19 and 21s, but also the forgotten army in this war.

After reading this book, I came to understand how the ARVN was allocated a secondary role in a limited war and this army had to defend their homeland with WW2 era weapons 'till the vietnamization program came after the Tet Offensive. Admittedly, the ARVN Elite forces which were better equipped: Airborne, Marine Corps, Ranger units of the ARVN began use the Colt M-16 rifle in 1968, but the Viet Cong had used the famous Soviet AK-47 since 1964.

I was very touched by reading the Chapter 8 : The Cease-Fire – “The VNAF’s most basic problem was shared with all of the RVNAF. Its personnel were not paid a wage comparable with the inflation. In a country which had been at war since birth, and a major war at that for the past 10 years, military service for the individual was long term. Unlike their former American counterparts, who rotated in and out on one-year tours of duty, the South Vietnamese were in the war for the duration.

How then did the military personnel and their families get along ? They took on second job after normal military duty hours, their families worked, they received help from relatives, and many pilfered what was at hand for resale. Seen in this light, it was not how corrupt a person became, but how honest he remained.
The root of the problem was that military pay was not included in military aid, by Vietnamese law. This means that the US military aid previously described was not used toward military pay ; otherwise, the soldiers would have seen themselves as mercenaries, which to them would have been embarrassing. Pay came direct from the Vietnamese Government, the rates of pay having been set many years ago, and although raised in 1974, inflation had already consumed the increase. Without exception, Vietnamese commanders would have preferred payment in kind – food for their troops – to that in inflated money. Monetary pay could have been used to provide the other necessities of life.”

With military aid cut from July 1973, lack of spare parts and fuel, the VNAF had no other choice than reduce their air support for the ARVN in combat when the North Vietnamese continued receive military aid from USSR, China and Eastern countries that took along to the Fall of Saigon in 30 April 1975. The Republic of Vietnam disappeared from that day.

Robert C. Mikesh had done an extraordinary work by writing a great book about the South Vietnamese Air Force with many excellent information, organisation, and photos of the VNAF. Moreover, as a plastic modeller, I am searching the VNAF information and pictures in order to build a VNAF aircraft collection, I finally find out what I need in the Appendix D : Unit Insignia of VNAF.
A must have book for getting know the VNAF in Vietnam war and building the VNAF aircraft models.
This book contains the most complete history of the South Vietnamese Air Force that surviving records and accounts can convey. In many ways, this is an American story; since the VNAF was organised, trained, equipped, and attained its maximum strength under the tutelage of the US military. In view of numbers of aircraft, the South Vietnamese Air Force emerged as the fourth largest Air Force in the world, behind Communist China, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN:  0764321587
  PUBLISHED: Jul 14, 2005
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Francois Buis (fbuis)

My first built kit was an 1 :72 B-58 Hustler at age of 9 in the sixties, a gift of a military advisor in Vietnam. Through the seventies, I had built some aircraft and AFV: Monogram, Revell, Hasegawa, Tamiya, etc. till I was called on duty at 19. By many change in life and job, I abandoned this hobby...

Copyright ©2021 text by Francois Buis [ FBUIS ]. 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.


Click image to enlarge
  • cover
  • chapter1
  • chapter2
  • chapter3
  • chapter4
  • chapter5
  • chapter6
  • chapter7
  • chapter8
  • chapter9
  • appendixB
  • appendixD