According to the two Vietnamese fighters were MiG-21PFM's of the 921 Fighter Regiment, flown by Le Thanh Dao and Vo Si Giap. Stanley/O'Brien. This source attributes the loss of the F4D's to fuel starvation, which is consistent with the New York Times source cited by the author. The third F4D, which was actually the first one engaged in the incident and shot down, is not mentioned in this source.

Another source,, lists the F4D that was shot down, thus starting the chase. This F4D was also from the 555TFW, crewed by Hildebrand/Wells, shot down by a MiG-21 using an Atoll missile. This source also lists the other two F4D's as noted above, but states that they too were downed by MiG-21's using Atolls. The original source document for the Hildebrand/Wells aircraft is Clashes; Air Combat Over North Vietnam 1965-1972, by Marshall L. Michell III, Naval Institute Press, 1997. This Sprynet site lists one of the Toperczer works as their source, but does not specify which one:

Air War Over North Viet Nam; The Vietnamese People's Air Force 1949-1977, by Dr. Istvan Toperczer, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1998. A book prepared from information provided by the Vietnamese People's Air Force. This book contains a list of air-to-air victories claimed by North Vietnamese pilots.

MiG-17 and MiG-19 Units of the Vietnam War, by Dr. Istvan Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, 2001.

MiG-21 Units of the Vietnam War, by Dr. Istvan Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, 2001.

Major Hildebrand was captured and returned on 28 Mar 73. Lt Wells was captured and returned, same date.

Major Johnson was captured and returned on 28 Mar 73. Lt Vaughan was captured and returned, same date.

No information yet regarding Stanley/O'Brien. They are not listed as POW/MIA, nor are their names on the Wall. The presumption is that they were rescued.

Additional commentary:

This is an article from Naval Aviation News, Sept-Oct 2002, by Commander Peter B. Merskey, USNR (Ret). It explains some of the discrepancies regarding air combat in the Vietnam war:


Elward, Brad & Peter Davies. U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965–70. Osprey Publishing, Elms Court, Chapel Way, Botley, Oxford, OX2 9LP, UK. 2001.Distributed in the USAby Motorbooks International, 729 Prospect Ave., PO Box 1, Osceola, WI 54020. 96pp. Ill. $18.95.

Number 26 in Osprey’s Combat Aircraft series, thisnew title is the first of a two-volume set. The second book will deal with Navy (and the few Marine) F-4 MiG killers 1971–1973. This book discusses in detail many of the kills achieved by Phantom II crews in the first half of the air war over Southeast Asia. Several of the engagements have rarely been described, such as the first F-4 kill and loss on 9 April 1965 involving VF-96’s Ltjg. Terrance Murphy and Ens. Ronald Fegan. These two young aviators engaged and shot down Communist Chinese MiG-17s, but were themselves shot down in an incident that was hushed up until recently.

The photos are great, and the color profiles by Jim Laurier are also well done. A color folio also includes four maps showing routes, MiG-kill locations and MiG bases. The authors describe the development of the Navy’s “missile mentality” before Vietnam when the McDonnell F-3B Demon relied on the first generation of air-to-air missiles. Actually, VF-161 might have used its Demons in 1965 in Vietnam if the squadron hadn’t been tapped to transition to the F-4 and left Oriskany’s (CV 34) air wing just before the ship sailed. To provide commonality between the two embarked fighter squadrons, VMF(AW)-212 brought its F-8E Crusaders to join VF-162 for the deployment.

There is an interesting discussion of problems with the over-restrictive rules of engagement and with air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and early models of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Elward and Davies also track individual F-4s and their careers in various squadrons.

This new addition to an open-ended series of great, affordable references adds significantly to the growing literature on the Vietnam air war.

Toperczer, Istvan. MiG-21 Units of the Vietnam War. Osprey Publishing, Elms Court, Chapel Way, Boxley, Oxford, OX2 9LP, UK. 2001. Distributed in the USA by Motorbooks International, 729 Prospect Ave., PO Box 1, Osceola, WI 54020. 96 pp. Ill. $18.95.

follow-on to the author’s history of MiG-17 units in Vietnam, this book is Number 29 in Osprey’s Combat Aircraft series. It has a fine spread of photos showing aircraft details and markings, and the folio of color profiles is good, although the MiG-21 Fishbed usually flew in unexciting natural metal with limited individual markings relegated to nose numbers and occasional kill markings. A few were camouflaged in hurried applications of greens and grays. The color folio includes photos mostly of museum display aircraft and an unusual two-page presentation of postal stamps commemorating various events of the Vietnamese experience in the air war, such as shootdowns of American aircraft.

The Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF) got its first MiG-21s in late 1965, and the C and D models had engaged U.S. aircraft by early 1966 with the 921st Fighter Regiment based at Noi Bai, northwest of Hanoi. The narrative gives details of careers of North Vietnamese aces; an appendix notes there were 13. The top VPAF ace, Nguyen Van Coc, scored 9 kills while flying with the 921st. The author finally lays to rest the legend of 13-kill ace “Colonel Tomb,” the final victim of VF-96’s ace team of Cunningham and Driscoll on 10 May 1972. He also ventures that this F-4 Phantom II crew was actually shot down by another MiG-21 pilot, Le Thanh Dao, who had spotted the F-4J, sneaked in behind and shot a missile up its tailpipe. The accepted reason for the loss has always been a surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The author details early problems with the speedy little delta and how the VPAF came up with tactics to best use the MiG’s advantages. The first MiG-21 kill of a manned aircraft (the VPAF also shot down several unmanned reconnaissance drones) was an F-105 Thunderchief on 7 June 1966, although the USAF didn’t record a loss on that day. This highlights an ongoing conflict with previous MiG-17 books in getting claims and records to agree.

There are constant variances between American and Vietnamese logs, and the Americans often attributed a loss to flak or SAMs, not MiGs.

Toperczer’s book is full of interesting tidbits from the VPAF’s side of the war. For example, during the USAF’s legendary Operation Bolo MiG sweep on 2 January 1967, two Vietnamese aces, including Nguyen Van Coc, were shot down by Col. Robin Olds’ F-4s in action over the MiGs’ home field at Noi Bai. Then, there’s the harrowing experience of the crew of a Mongol (the MiG-21’s two seat trainer version), a Soviet instructor pilot and his VPAF student. On 11 November 1972 while out on a training sortie, they were overrun by a flight of F-4s. Unarmed and with a limited fuel supply, the Mongol crew threw their MiG all over the sky to evade several missile shots from the aggressive Phantom IIs. Eventually, the MiG’s engine flamed out and they  ejected. Yet, according to the author, neither the Air Force or Navy claimed a MiG that day.

All in all, this is a fascinating look at the VPAF’s war, which leaves plenty of room for discussion on both sides.

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