Air War Over North Viet Nam:
The Vietnamese Peoples' Air Force 1949-1977

by Dr. Istvan Toperczer


Squadron/Signal Publications #675

ISBN: 0-89747-390-6
Review Type: Book Review
Description: 64 pp with profuse illustrations and eight pages of color
Rating: Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Cookie Sewell

S u m m a r y

Price: US$9.99
Advantages: First book published in the west on the VPAF; many unique photographs of VPAF pilots and aces, as well as a complete compilation of VPAF claims found in their archives
Disadvantages: Only tells the VPAF story (see text)
Recommendation: For all modern aviation fans, Vietnam vets, and anyone interested in the combat records of a Communist nation at war as seen by themselves


T h e    B o o k

Due to a quirk of fate, as a Vietnamese linguist I was "loaned" to the USAF in 1971-73 and became familiar with the "Khong Quan Nhan Dan Viet Nam" or Vietnamese Peoples' Air Force. At that point in time they had three fighter regiments of MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21PF/PFM aircraft, or so we thought. They were not slouches, and the air war was not as one sided as some accounts would make it seem. Still, many VPAF aircraft went down, and legends were created – Colonel "Tomb", for one.

Dr. Toperczer is a Hungarian who received special permission and assistance from the VPAF to research this book, and also was able to find and collate a large number of very rare photos of the actual VPAF pilots who fought their side of the air war. As he notes in the foreword, this is not a balanced accounting of how the air war in South East Asia was fought; rather it is a literal translation and accounting of the VPAF side of the story with their descriptions of dog fights and accounts intertwined in the text.

All of this is new as the sum of its parts, although sections have been released elsewhere via other writers and in other forms. Squadron/Signal has done an excellent job of formatting this book and arriving at a VPAF version of "..And Kill MiGs," their classic publication on the air war from USAF and US Navy pilots and sources.

There are massive disconnects from the US version of history reported here, but that does not mean that the VPAF version is necessarily always wrong. In several cases the events are correct, but the reasons are wrong. Case in point: The 1968 attack by "T-16" (converted An-2 transports as attack aircraft) bombers on a TACAN site in Laos lists two lost due to a mid-air collision. US sources list one shot down by a USAF AP with an M16 (which was kept secret as the aircraft had all its classifed material intact when it crashed) and one shot down by a UH-1 door gunner. Also, on 28 December 1972 Vu Xuan Thieu is given credit for shooting down a B-52D but being caught in the blast and crashing out of control. USAF sources claim it did not happen, and no aircraft was lost. Russian sources, perhaps the most objective in this case, claim that Thieu was not using his radar and could not acquire the B-52D, but accidentally flew headon into the aircraft like a piloted SAM. (My money is on the Russian account...)

On the other hand, claims are reported which are not verified. On 10 May 1972 (what a day!) Dang Ngoc Ngu, the best loved pilot in the VPAF and the one who was probably the real "Colonel Tomb" based on his activities and career, took off with Nguyen Van Ngai when the first fighters of VF-92 showed up over Kep Airfield. Ngai was shot down within minutes by Curt Dose and Jim McDevitt, and Ngu managed to evade and avoid getting shot down. Later, Ngu claimed to have snuck up on the pair of F-4s as they were exiting the country and shot down the leader. The leader, Austin Hawkins and Charlie Tinker, were warned by Dose of the MiG behind them and evaded an ATOLL fired by Ngu. He claimed and was credited with the kill, and both Dose and Hawkins returned unharmed to the USS Constellation.

It does set some things straight which US intelligence missed. First off, there were FOUR fighter regiments in May 1972 – two MiG-21, one MiG-19/J-6, and one MiG 17. The MiG-21 regiments had upgraded to MiG-21MF aircraft, which were missed by most analysts until the morning of 10 May, and even then, few noted the observations from pilots like Curt Dose that these were FISHBED Js and not Fs.

While this book is a great find and a good deal of help understanding the Viet Nam air war, the full story still has not come out. We can hope for a good, well written and better researched book which deconflicts the "who shot John" questions and gives us a true picture of the last glamourous air war.

Review by Cookie Sewell, July 1998.
Page Created 08 July, 1998.
Last updated 22 July, 2003.

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