Royal Australian Air Force FACs in Vietnam
The FACs will have their reunion in Sept and there is a group of FACs which we know very little
about who will be present. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had 36 of their officers
assigned as FACs to the 19th & 20th TASS and they flew in USAF aircraft, were in our chain of
command, directed our strike aircraft and had their OERs written by our commanders. The only
thing they didn't get from the USAF was their pay. They were an integral part of the USAF FAC
system and from all reports I read they performed exceedingly well. My data used here comes
from the books "The RAAF in Vietnam" Australia's Involvement in the Vietnam War 1962-1975 by
Chris Coulthard-Clark ISBN 1 86373 305 1 and "Hit my Smoke", also by the same author ISBN 1
86448 480 2. The Air Museum at Darwin, Australia has a section of the museum dedicated to the
RAAF FACs and this is where I first learned that the aircraft they flew were USAF marked. The
National War Museum at Canberra also has references to the RAAF FACs in Vietnam. The other
source for this article is Flt Lt Garry Cooper, Tamale 35, who was nominated for a Medal of Honor
by USA General Ewell commander of the 9 Infantry Division (9thID) and the most decorated
RAAF pilot for the Vietnam War. The USAF does not have a lot of history available on the Aussie
operation as FACs. Your views as a FAC may differ from the Australians and if they do please let
The RAAF & the USAF had discussions since 1962 about roles that the RAAF could play in Vietnam. In 1965 they agreed to an Australian Wing Commander pilot on the staff of the 2nd Air Division Tactical Air Control Center (TACC). This was the beginning of the RAAF FAC role in Vietnam. By the end of the war a total of 36 Australian pilots who were either FACs or ALO/FACs served with the US Forces. All the candidates were seasoned fighter pilots in either the F-86 or the Mirage and had at least one tour of duty on fighters in Malaya, Borneo or Thailand. They had no problems in getting volunteers within the RAAF fighter squadrons because it was the only way from which they could get real combat experience. New Zealand later provided two of their own pilots because they saw the experience that the Australians were getting. The first attachments were three pilots at a time which was increased later on in the war. The RAAF FACs served 6 (for the first officers on site) and 8 months tours and the Senior ALOs served 12 months and they all wore the distinctive RAAF flying uniform. The first groups saw the most action and received the most citations whilst Flt Lt Garry Cooper was put in for the CMOH by General Ewell Commander of the 9 Infantry Division for his action in supporting his Division as a FAC. The RAAF FACs & ALOs were integrated into the TASS, flew American flagged aircraft, were in the direct chain of command and on different occasions they were put in command of American units. About the only contact they had with the RAAF was their pay where they had to find their way to Vung Tau in order to collect it. Flt Lt Cooper was only paid twice during his whole tour. They flew all the FAC aircraft which included the O-1, O-2 and the OV-10 and a few senior ALOs flew missions in USAF F-4C, F-105, A-37 and F-100 as observers. They were primarily assigned to the 19th TASS at Bien Hoa and later some were assigned to the 20th TASS. Their call signs were Tamale, Jade, and Helix. Only one aircraft was lost by the RAAF FACs and it was Flt Lt C.S. Langton who lost an OV-10 on 9 Feb., 1970. It was never determined whether he was shot down or had an aircraft malfunction but the first rescue chopper on site was shot downwhilst winching out Langton and his US Army observer in a comedy of events.
The first RAAF officer to fill the ALO slot was Sq Ldr V. Drummond who had served in Korea, was shot down and in Dec 1951 and became a POW until the end of the Korean War, despite two abortive escape attempts. Sqn Ldr Drummond was killed mysteriously in a Mirage after his return to Australia when his aircraft hit the sea from a vertical dive with the afterburner still in at an estimated speed of Mach 2. His Vietnam appointment resulted because the first officer selected to go was injured in a car accident. He was given acting rank as a Wing Cmdr to take up the new assignment and arrived in Vietnam in June 1966. The job originally was a desk job but being a fighter pilot on his own initiative he got himself assigned to the 19th TASS at Bien Hoa to fly as a FAC. He was awarded a DFC for an action on 24 Jul 1966. He was the first RAAF FAC, flew 380 mission in a plane called Snoopy. He was replaced by Wing Cmdr A.W. Powell who was the first RAAF to attend the two week FAC school at Binh Thuy AB. He was believed to have flown out of country in F-100D and F-4C to familiarize himself with strike aircraft and of course the RAAF was not aware of it which they later stopped this cooperative effort. In July 1967 he became the commander of the TACP at Nui Dat where he replaced a USAF officer as the ALO. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order after flying 700 hours, controlling some 170 air strikes and completed 200 visual recce missions but never received it since he was killed in a car accident in Australia some six months after he returned.
By the middle of 1966 the USAF had four Tactical Air Support Sq in Vietnam (19th at Bien Hoa, 20th at Da Nang, 21st at Nha Trang and the 22nd at Bin Thuy) plus one in Thailand grouped under the 504th Tactical Air Support Group. There were 250 FACs in Vietnam in these units but by the end of 1967 the number of FACs doubled and were flying as many as 10,000 sorties per month.
In 1967 an agreement between the USAF and RAAF increased the number of RAAF pilots(for a 6 month tour which later was increased to 8 months) to three all assigned to the 19th TASS. The RAAF FACs retained their uniform, flew USAF marked aircraft, were administered and paid by their own service with the Seventh AF responsible for their health, welfare and duty assignment. During Wing Commander P.G. Larrard's tour starting in Nov 1968 as the senior ALO the US Brigade Commander Col Haldane turned over the command of his brigade to Lallard for a short time which was acknowledged by all his ground commanders. W/C Larrard was the second Australian FAC to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The award of the DFC and DSO alternated with each W/C.
From June 1969 the RAAF FACs were doubled in response to 7th AF for more but later was cut back in April 1970 due to RAAF Fighter Squadrons being undermanned in Australia. At the same time in 1970 two thirds of all American FACs were young pilots with less than 750 hours flying time and were termed B FACs to distinguish them from fighter qualified A FACs and were not permitted to direct air strikes for Army units except in an emergency.
The O-1 and O-2 were unarmed except for the pilot personal weapons and the best protection that they had was the knowledge of the enemy that if they fired at them they could expect more retribution than the trouble was worth. The OV-10 changed this when they came with M60 machine guns. The Australian FACs considered the OV-10 the Cadillac of the FAC aircraft. The greatest problem the Australian FACs faced flying the OV-10 Bronco in the first weeks was learning to operate the Bronco's 4 radios and dodge the helicopter and artillery rounds which were constantly in the air around them. This was in fact the problem faced by all FACs no matter what aircraft they flew.
The Australian military did not use FACs to the extent that the Americans did due to their difference in tactical doctrine of placing less emphasis on air reconnaissance. Wing Commander Powell, a RAAF ALO, argued that they should use the FAC concept for limiting Australian casualties. American statistics had shown that a large portion of the enemy killed were due to the use of air weapons near our troops. The Australian Army also felt that the presence of aircraft might compromise ambush plans and the like. Wing Commander Larrard comments on support on the Australian Army philosophy was; "I can only describe my time as the senior USAF officer and ALO with the Australian Task Force(ATF) as operationally boring."
The Australians FACs were assigned to the 20th TASS at Chu Lai in 1970 when they replaced the O-2 with the OV-10 because they wanted to fly the OV-10. They were called Helix FACs in their support of the 23rd Americal Div. They had 4 FACS and one senior ALO assigned and found themselves operating with the Air Calvary which was equipped with helicopters which were used to rapidly deploy troops to wherever the enemy was found. They used a LOAH to seek out the enemy which was protected by a gunship flying at low level. The FAC was to operate above these two hunter killer team and be ready to call in air support whenever needed. RAAF Wing Commander C.L. Ackland the division ALO at Chu Lai noted that the Air Calvary team tended to ignore the power of heavier ordnance which air strikes could deliver and is quoted as stating:"They tended to think they could handle everything themselves and would not call in air support. [But] their weapons -rocket and machine guns-were not sufficient to handle all situations. The strike aircraft could put 500 lb bombs, and rockets would not touch what a 500 lb bomb could. The response of the helicopter Gunship(s) was faster because they were on the spot, but there were some targets which could not be successfully attacked without an air strike."
The NZ FACs were under the same rules as the Aussie FACs.
The /RAAF FACs withdrew in Dec 1971. A total of 36 RAAF pilots had served, 15 of these were awarded the DFC, 2 received the DSO and a further 6 were mentioned in dispatches. Flt Lt Garry Cooper was the most decorated RAAF officer of the war and was put in for the Congressional Medal of Honor by the Commander of the 9 Infantry Division General Ewell of which he is still working on to resolve. Fly Lt Cooper's 8 month combat tally included the following: Enemy Killed - 1034 Bridges destroyed - 7 Sampans destroyed - 153 Structures destroyed - 316 Bunkers destroyed - 769 Air strikes by day - 293 Air strikes by night - 37 Troops in contact support - 97 Total combat flying - 610 hours
Garry Cooper has been fighting for 32 years for the CMOH award. General Ewell has been active in supporting him. There are people around the world contributing to this award. The Australian Government has witheld support due to witness who have died(Col Archer the man he saved and the helicopter pilot) or the witness have been dificult to locate over these years. A number of us are helping him with appeals to the Prersident(gave Al Rascone, a Mexican, a CMOH in Feb 2000 from a 1966 CMOH recommendation-750 foreign born have received the CMOH), the Secretary of the Air Force, and my local Congressman who is sponsoring him. The Queen was queried but referred it back to the Australian military. The interest is there but the hurdles may not ba able to be overcomed. Garrry will attend the FAC reunion in Sept and I would appreciate recognizing him for what he did for the US as a FAC, what he has accomplished and his tenacity to overcome many obstacles to get his just reward.