Marine Air Group 12 - Vietnam


UPDATED: 28 Dec 04

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Air Group




Note:  The below information was sent to this site by Bob Tate.  The information on Marine
Aircraft Group 12, Chu Lai was compiled by Dave Pendergast.  It contains dates, etc for the Marine Attack Squadrons in Chu Lai (A-4 Skyhawks).  It, and other information, can be found on the First Marine Aircraft Wing site at

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Marine Air Group 12


 Chu Lai


         March 1965:
First Marine Division mud Marines waded ashore at Da Nang to protect the allied airfield from the Viet Cong. The mud Marines were soon in the midst of heavy combat and were requesting air support of their own. The Marine landing coincided with a need for a new coastal air base needed to reduce flight time to targets in Quang Tin province and adjacent districts.

Da Nang was the first Marine air base in South Vietnam . Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) would direct most operations assigned Da Nang aircraft that flew north of the base and over the DMZ and southern North Vietnam .

A second airfield was sorely needed.  Chu Lai located about 50 miles south of Da Nang was chosen for the new airfield. Starting in April 1965 Navy Seabees worked in 100-degree-plus temperatures to prepare the remote Chu Lai site for an aluminum plank SATS (short airfield for tactical support) "tinfoil strip" 4,000-foot runway. A catapult and arresting gear were planned to allow Skyhawks to use the field. The arresting gear was soon installed but a catapult was not available. So JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) was planned to reduce the Skyhawk takeoff distance by half. Soon the Chu Lai facility had a runway, arresting gear, taxiways, and a parking ramp. A catapult was installed May 14, 1966 .

Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) was assigned to Chu Lai to direct most Skyhawk operations in South Vietnam . The plan was to rotate Skyhawk squadrons to and from Chu Lai and Japan to conduct combat operations.

The Skyhawk --- The Marine Corps had flown the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk since 1957, but had to wait eight years to fly the Skyhawk in combat. The A-4 Skyhawk was armed with two internal 20mm cannons and could carry additional guns in external pods. The A-4C had three external stores stations available and the A-4E had five external stores stations available. From the external stores stations Marine pilots could deliver approximately 8,500 pounds of ordnance ---"iron" bombs weighing up to 1,000 pounds, napalm, Zuni semi-guided rockets, cluster bombs, and unguided rockets.

         June 1, 1965 :
Colonel John D. Noble, MAG-12 Commanding Officer, lead Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Baker, VMA-225 Commanding Officer, and three other VMA-225 "Vagabond" A-4C Skyhawks (tail code CE) into the new Chu Lai air base (June 1, 1965 - October 1965).
Later on June 1, 1965 , Lieutenant Colonel Bernard J. Stender, VMA-311 Commanding Officer, lead three VMA-311 "Tomcat" A-4E Skyhawks (tail code WL) into the new Chu Lai air base. (June 1, 1965 - October 1965; February 1966 - March 1967; June 1967 - February 1970; May 1972 - January 1973).
Still later on June 1, 1965 , Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Baker, VMA-225 Commanding Officer, lead the first "Vagabond" combat mission from Chu Lai striking the enemy six miles north of the base.

         June 2, 1965 :
Early in the morning Colonel John D. Noble, MAG-12 Commanding Officer, lead four VMA-225 "Fighting Eagle" aircraft to bomb and strafe Viet Cong forces near the base.

Later in the morning of June 2, 1965 , Lieutenant Colonel Bernard J. Stender, VMA-311 Commanding Officer, lead three other "Tomcat" Skyhawks on the squadron's first Chu Lai combat mission. The four VMA-311 "Tomcats" bombed and strafed Viet Cong forces in Quang Ngai, about twenty miles south of Chu Lai.

On this mission Colonel Stender demonstrated a colorful departure as he took the short runway and ran his engine up to 85 percent power for the takeoff check. Colonel Stender inadvertently hit the JATO firing button when calling the tower for takeoff clearance and the JATO fired. The Skyhawk leaped forward; Stender brought the engine to 100% and was on his way --- barely getting airborn and blowing sand for a mile after he was airborne from the short runway.

         June 16, 1965 :
All twenty VMA-311 A-4E Skyhawks had arrived at Chu Lai to begin an intensive period of combat operation.

         June 23, 1965 :
The United States Air Force 2nd Air Division, which directed air strikes in South Vietnam , cited VMA-311 for "the finest close air support we have ever seen!"

         June 28, 1965 :
The VMA-214 "Black Sheep" (tail code WE) arrived bringing twenty A-4C Skyhawks to Chu Lai (June 28, 1965 - February 1966; April 1966 - March 1967).

         August 1965:
During Operation Starlite North Vietnamese forces tried to attack Chu Lai but were driven off by mud Marines on land and in Skyhawks in the air.

         October 15, 1965 :
The VMA-211 "Wake Island Avengers" (tail code CF) arrived bringing twenty A-4E Skyhawks to Chu Lai. (October 15, 1965 - July 1966; November 1966 - September 1967; December 1967 - February 1970; May 1972 - February 1973).

MAG-12 now commanded about 80 Skyhawks at Chu Lai.

         October 1965:
MAG-12 now started to rotate Skyhawk squadrons to Japan . VMA-224 "Bengals" (tail code WK) arrived bringing twenty A-4E Skyhawks to Chu Lai (October 1965 - April 1966; July 1966 - November 1966).

VMA-225 "Fighting Eagles" were rotated to Japan .

         December 1965:
The VMA-223 "Bulldogs" (tail code WP) arrived bringing twenty A-4E Skyhawks to Chu Lai. (December 1965 - December 1966; March 1967 - December 1967; April 1968 - January 1970).

The VMA-311 "Tomcats" were rotated to Japan .

         December 29, 1965 :
First Lieutenant Thomas F. Eldridge, United States Marine Corps VMA-211 "Wake Island Avengers" was Killed in Action. Lieutenant Eldridge's A-4E Skyhawk was hit by .50-caliber fire as he rolled in on enemy positions during a helicopter escort. Despite a leg wound, Lieutenant Eldridge was able to drop his load of napalm and turn for base. His crippled craft crashed 13 miles from Chu Lai and killing Lieutenant Eldridge.

         February 1966:
The VMA-311 "Tomcats" arrived with twenty A-4E Skyhawks (tail code WL) to Chu Lai. (June 1, 1965 - October 1965; February 1966 - March 1967; June 1967 - February 1970; May 1972 - January 1973).

The VMA-214 "Black Sheep" were rotated to Japan .

         March 19, 1966 :
First Lieutenant Augusto "Gus" M. Xavier, United States Marine Corps VMA-311 "Tomcats" was Killed in Action. Lieutenant Xavier was attacking targets in mountainous terrain in predawn darkness and failed to pull out of a strafing run.

         April 1966:
VMA-214 Black Sheep arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam .

VMA-224 Bengals were rotated to Japan .

         May 14, 1966 :
Chu Lai's aircraft carrier type mobile catapult system became operational. The aircraft catapult was able to launch Skyhawks on either north or south runway headings.

         July 1966:
VMA-224 Bengals arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam .

VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers were rotated to Japan .

         September 6, 1966 :
First Lieutenant Thomas H. Hawking, United States Marine Corps VMA-311 "Wake Island Avengers" was Killed in Action. Lieutenant Hawking had successfully ejected from his Skyhawk after hitting a tree during a bombing run. Lieutenant Hawking grabbed a line trailed by a passing Huey, but as the helicopter climbed Hawking lost his grip and fell to his death.

         September 21, 1966 :
The Viet Cong attacked Chu Lai with mortars, wounding some VMA-223 "Bulldog" personnel.

         October 1966:
Chu Lai West, a 10,000-foot concrete runway with aircraft hardstands and taxiways, was completed.

         November 1966:
VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam .

VMA-224 Bengals rotated to Japan .

         December 1966:
The VMA-121 "Green Knights" (tail code VK) arrived bringing twenty A-4C Skyhawks to Chu Lai, (December 1966 - October 1968). They were the seventh Marine Skyhawk unit to fly Vietnam combat missions from Chu Lai. Earlier, in 1962, the "Green Knights" deployed with Skyhawks to Ubon , Thailand , to help prevent a coup. VMA-121 had returned home without firing a shot.

VMA-223 Bulldogs rotated to Japan .

Tropical weather in Vietnam provided much low cloud and rain to cover the Viet Cong. The Marines used ground controlled precision radar to allow bombing through clouds and at night. The pilot would put the Skyhawk on autopilot and couple to the ground precision radar controller when headed toward the target. The computerized system initiated directional changes and released ordnance at the correct altitude and time via radio signals received by the Skyhawk's computer.

Tactical air control increasingly passed to jet aircraft during the war. Marine Skyhawk pilots worked with Air Force FAC (forward air controllers) using the Cessna O-1E Bird Dog; and the Marines had their own FAC aircraft --- the two-seat TA-4F Skyhawk dual-control trainer. The TA-4F had the two-cannon armament and similar stores delivery capability of the single seat Scooter. The TA-4F and single seat Skyhawk's avionics were similuar --- making for maintenance ease. The TA-4F was flown by Headquarters & Maintenance Squadron 12 and H&MS 13 at Chu Lai, and H&MS-11 at Da Nang .

         February 3, 1967 :
The VMA-223 Bulldogs set a one-day, 59-sortie record for the Skyhawk, during which the squadron flew a mix of A-4Cs and A-4Es. Along with the other A-4 squadrons, VMA-223 also flew close air support sorties during Operation Double Eagle in February and Operation Utah in March. The Bulldog pilots were rapidly becoming veterans, and their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Robert B. Sinclair, was congratulated for flying the squadron's 10,000th accident-free hour.

         March 1967:
VMA-223 Bulldogs arrived Chu Lai, Vietnam .

VMA-214 Black Sheep rotated to Japan .

VMA-311 Tomcats rotated to Japan .

         April 1967:  

    **    VMA 533 (AW)" Hawks" arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam with the Grumman A-6A Intruder.  They flew missions over both North and South Vietnam. 

         April 19, 1967:
In the afternoon two A-4Es from VMA-121 flown by Captain Robert C. Blackington (flight lead) and his wingman, 1st Lt. Samuel B. Vaughan, had twice struck targets adjacent to rice paddies about 21 miles south of Chu Lai. The FAC (forward air controller) called them in again. "After the spotter told us of the Viet Cong activity," Blackington recalled, "I immediately made a run, dropping two 250-pound bombs. Vaughan followed about a mile behind me, dropping identical ordnance." Vaughan was of the opinion that the fires the Skyhawks had started indicated a hidden ammunition dump, but the forward air controller remained skeptical that the target had been totally destroyed. On his target assessment overflight, the Air Force pilot noted more enemy troops and called for another pass from both Skyhawks. More bombs were dropped, and on his final run Blackington fired 200 rounds of 20mm ammunition. Once more the Cessna O-1E flew over the target. This time the Bird Dog pilot commented, "You guys do excellent work."

         May 1967:
Skyhawk squadrons initiated "hot pad" alerts at Chu Lai, during which a section of armed aircraft awaited a scramble call with pilots in their cockpits and engines turning over.

         June 1967:
VMA-311 Tomcats arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam .

July 6, 1967 :
VMA-311 Tomcat Major Ralph E. Brubaker was south of the Demilitarized Zone when his A-4E Skyhawk was struck by a SA-2 SAM (surface-to-air missile). Major Brubaker's Skyhawk became uncontrollable and the Major successfully punched out. Safely on the ground Brubaker was rescued by helicopter and suffered only a dislocated knee in the action.

         September 1967:
VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers rotated to Japan .

         December 1967:
VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam .

VMA-223 Bulldogs rotated to Japan .

         Chulai 1967 History by David A Prendergast

         January 1968:
The North Vietnamese Tet Offensive began in January 1968, a focal point of the North Vietnamese attack was the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh. Having been isolated by the loss of the A Shau Valley area in 1966, the 26th Marines stationed there were hardly surprised when the attack began.

The core of the enemy offensive was concurrent attacks on towns and U.S. installations throughout South Vietnam . Among the targets was Chu Lai, where, on January 31, rockets injured two men from VMA-311, damaged four of that squadron's A-4s and destroyed part of the bomb dump. In retaliation, the Bulldogs destroyed an enemy rocket dump south of their base on February 25.
The battle to prevent the capture of Khe Sanh became one of the epic ground-air actions of the war. It included a huge logistics airlift to bring the Marine defenders food, medical supplies and ammunition. To help this effort, the Corps devised the "Super Gaggle" formation, which centered on a Lockheed Hercules C-130 cargo plane, flying with helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft escort.
Twelve A-4s flew the first Super Gaggle on February 24, 1968 , joining 20 CH-46 and UH-1E helicopters on a mission coordinated by a TA-4F. The role of the Skyhawks was to "sanitize" the en route and landing areas by working them over with bombs, napalm and 20mm cannon fire. Operation Niagara , the huge, coordinated air plan to hold Khe Sanh helped break the Tet Offensive; yet the break was not exploited, and the United States ultimately began withdrawing combat units. A number of bases lost their front-line status, among them Chu Lai.

         April 1968:
VMA-223 Bulldogs arrived at Chu Lai, Vietnam .

         October 1968:
VMA-121 Green Knights departed Chu Lai, Vietnam to Japan .

         5 October 1968:
** VMA(AW) detached from 1st MAW and joined MAG 15 in Iwakuni, Japan

         April 1969:
On April 4, 1969 First Lieutenant Ronald D. Layton, flying a VMA-211 A-4 Skyhawk against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam, was shot down and killed by enemy ground fire. His actions during this mission earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

         January 1970:
VMA-223 Bulldogs departed Chu Lai, Vietnam to Japan .

         February 1970:
MAG-12 departed Chu Lai, Vietnam and relocated in Japan .

VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers accompanied MAG-12 to Japan .

VMA-311 Tomcats accompanied MAG-12 to Japan .

VMA-223 Bulldogs departed Chu Lai, Vietnam and returned to CONUS.

The VMA-311 Tomcats moved to Da Nang under the operational control of MAG-11, continuing to support the ongoing war in Laos and Cambodia . One of the earliest arrivals in the war zone, VMA-311 had by May 7, 1971 , flown 47,663 sorties.

         September 3, 1970 :
Marine Base Chu Lai was transfered to the United States Army; the last Marine (VMA-311 Tomcat) sorties were flown from Chu Lai on September 11, 1970 .

         May 17, 1971 :
Two Marine Skyhawk squadrons, VMA-311 and VMA-211, arrived from Japan at the recently reactivated base at Bien Hoa , South Vietnam . These units concentrated air strikes against enemy troops surrounding An Loc and responded to calls from counterattacking SVN forces attempting to gain ground in adjacent areas.

         March 30, 1972 :
The North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam . MAG-12 comprised of H&MS-12 Outlaws, VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers & VMA-311 Tomcats flew into Bien Hoa, Republic of Vietnam (near Saigon ) from Iwakuni , Japan .

         May 1, 1972 :
VMA-311 flew sorties into Cambodian border regions.

         August 29, 1972 :
First Lieutenant Charles G. Reed flew VMA-311's 50,000th sortie. The Tomcats went on to fly a total of 54,625 sorties by the war's end.

         January 26, 27, 28, 1973:
VMA-311 ground personnel hung what they thought were the last bombs (the last bomb was painted red, white and blue and daubed with slogans for the occasion) on the Tomcat Skyhawks and strapped in the last duty Tomcat pilots. Colonel Dean Macho, commander of MAG-12, led the mission, a strike into the Mekong Delta region. Da Nang 's ground troops waited anxiously for the Skyhawks to return. They all did.
Photograph from Mike Shelton.

         January 27, 1973 :
The war officially ended January 27, 1973 - the U.S. agreed to end hostilities around 11:45 A.M. local RVN time.  Colonel John Caldas, Commanding Officer of VMA 311, just before he led the last combat sortie of the Viet Nam war on January 27, 1973 --armistace day from Bien Hoa. The bomb rack was configured such that the painted bomb in the picture was the last one released from the compliment on the A-4E Skyhawk; and that Skyhawk was the last plane in his flight to drop bombs just minutes before the end of hostilities at 11:45 local RVN time. The target was an old, former French rubber plantation north of Bien Hoa where there was reported enemy activity. The bomb painted by troops in the squadron says: THE LAST BOMB, 9,738.38 tons dropped VMA-311, Bien Hoa, RVN 17 May 72 - 27 Jan 73 .
Photograph from Steve Caldas.

         It appears Colonel John Caldas of VMA-311 dropped the last bomb of the war. Colonel Dean Macho, Commander of MAG-12, was reported dropping last bombs on January 26, 27 and 28 but they were either too early or too late for the honor. Source documents do not agree on the date or time for Colonel Macho's drop(s).

February 1, 1973 :
Mag-12 Outlaws with VMA-211 Wake Island Avengers and VMA-311 Tomcats departed Vietnam for Iwakuni , Japan on January 30 & 31, 1973.

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