Remnants of the Vietnam War: Wrecks & Captured Aircraft

The Vietnam War ended almost 40 years ago but it is never going to be forgotten by any of the nations involved. The long and bloody conflict started in what was then French Indochina from 1946 to 1954. This was the First Indochina War and resulted in the end of French Colonialism in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during defeat at the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. What then became the Vietnam War spanned a time period from 1955 to 1975 with the fall of Saigon and the South Vietnamese government.

French Paratroops preparing to board a C-47 Dakota to head to Dien Bien Phu in 1954
French Paratroops preparing to board a C-47 Dakota to head to Dien Bien Phu in 1954 (Photo Source: Life Magazine)
French Troops in the trenches of Dien Bien Phu 1954
French Troops in the trenches of Dien Bien Phu 1954. They were shelled day and night by the Viet Minh from the surrounding mountains
The fall of Dien Bien Phu May 7th, 1954 Viet Minh North Vietnam
The fall of Dien Bien Phu May 7th, 1954
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F-70-BW Stratofortress (s/n 57-0162, nicknamed "Casper The Friendly Ghost") from the 320th Bomb Wing dropping Mk 117 750 lb (340 kg) bombs over Vietnam. 1965-1966
USAF Boeing B-52F Stratofortress (s/n 57-0162, nicknamed “Casper The Friendly Ghost”) from the 320th Bomb Wing dropping Mk 117 750 lb (340 kg) bombs over Vietnam. This aircraft was the first B-52F used to test conventional bombing in 1964, and later dropped the 50,000th bomb of the “Arc Light” campaign. B-52Fs could carry 51 bombs and served in Vietnam from June 1965 to April 1966 when they were replaced by “Big Belly” B-52Ds which could carry 108 bombs (Photo Source: USAF)
USAF Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers flying under radar control with a Douglas B-66 Destroyer bomb a military target through low clouds over the southern panhandle of North Vietnam on June 14th, 1966 (Photo Source: US Department of Defence)
USAF Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers flying under radar control with a Douglas B-66 Destroyer bomb a military target through low clouds over the southern panhandle of North Vietnam on June 14th, 1966 (Photo Source: US Department of Defence)

The Vietnam War really ramped up in 1961 to 1962. The United States and her allies including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea started to commit more troops to the conflict and remained fighting there until 1972 when the majority of troops were withdrawn following major communist losses in battle during the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Hovering U.S. Army helicopters pour machine gun fire into a tree line to cover the advance of South Vietnamese ground troops in an attack on a Viet Cong camp 18 miles north of Tay Ninh northwest of Saigon near the Cambodian border, in Vietnam on March 1965
Hovering U.S. Army Iroquois helicopters pour machine gun fire into a tree line to cover the advance of South Vietnamese ground troops in an attack on a Viet Cong camp 18 miles north of Tay Ninh northwest of Saigon near the Cambodian border, in Vietnam on March 1965 (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
USAF Douglas A-1 Skyraider drops napalm and white phosphorous during the Vietnam War
Douglas A-1 Skyraider drops napalm and white phosphorous during the Vietnam War (Photo Source: Life Magazine)
US Army Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry fire on Thon La Chu during the Tet Offensive 1968
US Army Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry fire on Thon La Chu during the Tet Offensive 1968 (Photo Source: US Army)
South Vietnamese ARVN Rangers defend Saigon during the Tet Offensive 1968
South Vietnamese ARVN Rangers defend Saigon during the Tet Offensive 1968 (Photo Source: US Department of Defence)

Despite the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 the communist forces from North Vietnam had not really stopped their offensive and the failing South Vietnamese government continued to fight on in a losing campaign until the fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975. The rest is history, but many visible reminders of the war remain in the towns and cities of Vietnam in the form of memorials, museum displays and the detritus of war: the wreckage of tanks, aircraft and equipment strewn across the country.

North Vietnamese soldiers riding atop a T-54 tank crashing through the gates of the Presidential Palace during the fall of Saigon April 30th, 1975
North Vietnamese soldiers riding atop a T-54 tank crashing through the gates of the Presidential Palace during the fall of Saigon April 30th, 1975 (Photo Source: Life Magazine)
A smashed French Bison (M24 Chaffee) light tank in a field near the Dien Bien Phu airport in North Vietnam
A smashed French Bison (M24 Chaffee) light tank in a field near the Dien Bien Phu airport in North Vietnam (knocked out in the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu)

I travelled extensively through Vietnam for a couple of months in 2010. My travels including visiting sites of historical military significance to Vietnam (North and South), France, the United States and my own home, Australia. During my travels I came across the wreckage of various aircraft (mainly operated by the United States and South Vietnam). Many were piled up as a sort of war trophy and memorial combined. Given this is an aviation site I am going to mainly focus on the aircraft wrecks which make for a somewhat intriguing experience and makes you ponder questions such as what happened to the crews that flew these aircraft?

HANOI

Air Defence Museum

This museum has displays and weaponry from the air defence units of the North Vietnamese military. The wreckage of shot down USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers are within the museum grounds.

B-52 wreckage in front of the Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
B-52 wreckage in front of the Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
Tail section of B-52 Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
The tail section of a B-52
B-52 wreck Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
Interior view of the B-52 tail
B-52 tail wreckage Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
A different view of the B-52 tail wreckage
MiG-21 Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed used in the air defence of North Vietnam at the Air Defence Museum in Hanoi
SA-2 SAM's that were used against US bombers Air Defence Museum Hanoi
SA-2 SAM’s that were used against US bombers over North Vietnam

 

Army Museum

The Army Museum in Hanoi displays military equipment used by the North Vietnamese from tanks and artillery to aircraft. They also have on display captured South Vietnamese aircraft and a monument made out of wrecked parts of French, USAF, US Navy, US Army and South Vietnamese aircraft shot down over North Vietnam.

Captured and destroyed aircraft at the Army Museum in Hanoi
Captured and destroyed military aircraft and equipment at the Army Museum in Hanoi
Northrop F-5E Tiger II Army Museum Hanoi Vietnam
Northrop F-5E Tiger II
The wreckage of US and South Vietnamese aircraft piled up as a monument at the Army Museum in Hanoi
The wreckage of French, US and South Vietnamese aircraft piled up as a monument at the Army Museum in Hanoi
This is quite a dramatic photo of a woman dragging what appears to be part of a US Navy aircraft Vietnam War hanoi
This is quite a dramatic photo of a woman dragging what appears to be part of a US Navy aircraft
Aircraft wreckage Army Museum Hanoi
So many different aircraft parts from prop driven to jets
CH-47 South Vietnamese (VNAF) Cessna A-37 Dragonfly attack aircraft Army Museum Hanoi
South Vietnamese Boeing CH-47 Chinook
South Vietnamese (VNAF) Cessna A-37 Dragonfly attack aircraft Army Museum Hanoi
South Vietnamese (VNAF) Cessna A-37 Dragonfly attack aircraft

 

B-52 Lake (Huu Tiep Lake)

This small lake contains the wreckage of a USAF B-52 bomber shot down over Hanoi in 1972. The information on a sign at B-52 Lake is an interesting read for many reasons not just the for the “anti-imperialist” propaganda!

Information with some anti-imperialist propaganda at B-52 Lake Hanoi
Information with some anti-imperialist propaganda at B-52 Lake
B-52 Lake Hanoi Vietnam
B-52 Lake
B-52 wreckage B-52 Lake Hanoi
Very little seems to be left wreckage wise at B-52 Lake (not sure how deep the lake is?)

The information is slightly incorrect though in that the B-52 was a D model not a G. USAF information indicates a different date too, but from what I have read only one B-52 was lost over Hanoi during Operation Linebacker II (bombing campaign of North Vietnam December 18th to 29th, 1972) and that was “Rose 1” a B-52D (No. 56-0608) lost on December 19th, 1972 over Hanoi after being struck by a North Vietnamese SAM.

B-52 wreckage B-52 Lake Hanoi
It is an interesting setting right in the middle of all these houses and apartments
A memorial of sorts at B-52 Lake Hanoi
A memorial of sorts at B-52 Lake

The B-52 was based out of U-Tapao air base in Thailand. 4 of the crew were captured and became POW’s (Captain Hal Wilson – Pilot, Captain Charles Brown – Co-Pilot, Major Fernando Alexander – Radar Navigator and Captain Henry Barrows – Electronic Warfare Officer), the other 2 unfortunately died in the crash (Captain Richard Cooper – Navigator and Technical Sargeant Charlie Poole – Gunner).

USAF B-52D releasing its 60,000-pound bomb load on enemy targets in Vietnam. It could carry up to 84 500-pound bombs or 42 750-pound bombs internally and 24 750-pound bombs externally on racks under the wings
USAF B-52D releasing its 60,000-pound bomb load on enemy targets in Vietnam. It could carry up to 84 500-pound bombs or 42 750-pound bombs internally and 24 750-pound bombs externally on racks under the wings (Photo Source: USAF)

 

Vietnam People’s Air Force Museum

The VPAF Museum displays the history of the air forces of North Vietnam and the unified Vietnam. Numerous soviet origin aircraft are on display along with captured South Vietnamese fighters and helicopters that were used by the VPAF along with the wreckage of various US aircraft including the unmistakable airframe of a US Navy McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II multi-role fighter (No. 153001 crashed on May 14th, 1967 during a SAM/AAA suppression mission near Than Hoa – said to have been caused due to an issue with one of their Zuni rockets. The crew LCDR Charles E. Southwick and LT David J. Rollins of VF-114 both ejected and were captured, remaining POW’s until March 4th, 1973).

VPAF Museum Hanoi Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed and Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-19 Farmer fighters
VPAF Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed and Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-19 Farmer fighters
VPAF Museum Hanoi F-4 Phantom II Wreckage
McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II wreckage in the VPAF Museum
VPAF Museum Hanoi Aircraft Wreckage F-4 Phantom II US Navy
Quite a lot of engines and parts in this pile!
Parts of shot down US aircraft and pilots helmets inside the VPAF Museum Hanoi
Parts of shot down US aircraft and pilots helmets inside the VPAF Museum
Captured aircraft used by the VPAF: Douglas A-1 Skyraider Bell UH-1 Iroquois and Northrop F-5E Tiger II
Captured aircraft used by the VPAF: Douglas A-1 Skyraider (top), Bell UH-1 Iroquois (bottom left) and Northrop F-5E Tiger II (bottom right)

 

KHE SAHN COMBAT BASE (DMZ)

The famous former US Marine Corps and South Vietnamese military base near the Laos border was the target of a massive artillery bombardment and 77 day siege by North Vietnamese forces in 1968. This was also a diversion for the start of the Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerillas in South Vietnam. Today just a few remnants of the base remain along with some captured equipment and helicopters.

USAF Bell UH-1 Iroquois and US Army Boeing CH-47 Chinook at Khe Sanh DMZ Vietnam
USAF Bell UH-1 Iroquois and US Army Boeing CH-47 Chinook at Khe Sanh
Aircraft and UH-1 helicopter wreckage at Khe Sanh DMZ Vietnam
Aircraft and UH-1 helicopter wreckage at Khe Sanh
Aircraft and UH-1 helicopter wreckage at Khe Sanh DMZ Vietnam
Looking back at the CH-47 past the aircraft wreckage at Khe Sanh (the old air strip is beyond the Chinook)

 

HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)

War Remnants Museum

This War Remnants Museum is the major military museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon in the former South Vietnam). Here you can find numerous captured US and South Vietnamese aircraft and equipment. There are lots of “anti-imperialist” messages in the information signs around the museum. These are kind of amusing in this day and age, especially with all the consumerism and capitalism in a communist run country!

US Army Boeing CH-47 Chinook at the War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh City
US Army Boeing CH-47 Chinook at the War Remnants Museum
US Army Bell UH-1 Iroquois at the War Remnants Museum HCMC
US Army Bell UH-1 Iroquois at the War Remnants Museum
Douglas A-1 Skyraider at the War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
Douglas A-1 Skyraider at the War Remnants Museum
USAF Douglas A-1 Skyraider at the War Remnants Museum HCMC
Douglas A-1 Skyraider at the War Remnants Museum
Northrop F-5E Tiger II at the War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Vietnam
Northrop F-5E Tiger II at the War Remnants Museum in bucketing down rain!
Cessna A-37 Dragonfly at the War Remnants Museum HCMC
Cessna A-37 Dragonfly at the War Remnants Museum

 

Military Museum

A small collection of vehicles, tanks, equipment and artifacts used by the North Vietnamese including captured equipment and aircraft wreckage. One of the T-54 tanks that burst through the Presidential Palace gates during the fall of Saigon in 1975 is also on display.

A captured South Vietnamese Northrop F-5E Tiger II at the Military Museum in HCMC
A captured South Vietnamese Northrop F-5E Tiger II at the Military Museum in HCMC
Aircraft wreckage at the Military Museum Ho Chi Minh City
Aircraft wreckage at the Military Museum
North Vietnamese T-54 tank used in the attack on the Presidential Palace during the fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975 Military Museum HCMC
North Vietnamese T-54 tank used in the attack on the Presidential Palace during the fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975

I can only imagine what wreckage still lays out in the forests and mountains across Vietnam. War memorial or war trophy these aircraft represent a major conflict of the Cold War and one that should never be forgotten. Lest we forget.

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27 thoughts on “Remnants of the Vietnam War: Wrecks & Captured Aircraft

  1. It’s difficult to see these aircraft on display in Vietnam. I guess I mean to say it’s disappointing that the South Vietnamese allowed them to be captured in tact. I guess they were too busy trying to flee the country.

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    1. Yes they most certainly had other priorities on their minds! Actually for a period after the war the North Vietnamese operated aircraft like the F-5 and A-37 that they had captured. Some also naturally ended up being sent to the Soviets for evaluation.

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  2. This is so hard to watch. Wreckage of great men’s aircraft, piled up like some kind of trophy. Brave men fought and died in those machines, but now, their brave sacrifice is dishonored, by displaying their destroyed machines to the world. The part about the “Imperialist” B-52 being shot down makes me very disappointed. These people think that the US was their enemy, but in reality, it’s the communist regime who brutally tortured it’s own people. Want to know what happened to those pilots? They were most likely executed, killed in the crash, or tortured to no end.

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    1. Unfortunately when you run the country you can portray history how ever you like. Today though tourists are very welcome from any country as long as you bring your money!

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  3. Well we were winning when I left! It really hurts to see what was a maybe naive but strong commitment from a lot of people in the armed services put to shame by some commies!

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    1. Thanks for your service John. You have my respect. I met many Aussie veterans during my time there. They all said it was strange going back after all those years but they had been made very welcome

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  4. The United States had no business involving itself in a civil war, a lesson it seems to never learn. To the victors belong the spoils. Young lives wasted for nothing, still happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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    1. Unfortunately lessons seem to never be remembered too well when it comes to history. The Korean War (UN, Chinese and Soviet intervention), 1979-1989 Soviets in Afghanistan, 1979-1989 Vietnamese in Cambodia, 1979 Third Indochina War (Vietnam and China) and then all the modern conflicts with international intervention in SE Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe…

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  5. Early in 1975 I was a young Army private, stationed in Germany. Somewhere around the end of April or early May I was sent, along with about 10 others from my Battalion, to our HQs in Ludwigsburg. We were trained – but not expert – in vehicle recovery/demolition. We had all learned the very basics of how to blow up equipment in our Advanced Individual Training (AIT) following Basic, but never put that knowledge to practical use. Now, we were being alerted to the distinct possibility that we were going to go to Vietnam, most likely Saigon, in the midst of a mass evacuation of troops, to destroy the equipment that was being left behind. We literally lived in the dayroom of our Battalion HQ for 3 weeks while waiting for events to unfold and get our “go” order. As it turned out, the North overran Saigon so quickly that the decision was made not to send us after all. Can you picture – a bunch of very “green” troops, mostly privates, heading into the same regions that seasoned vets were running AWAY from, to blow up sundry tanks, small arms, and aircraft…. What could possibly have gone wrong?

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    1. Hi Curt, thanks for sharing. Thats an interesting behind the scenes (so to speak) moment in history. Glad it didnt come through. What a disaster that would have been!

      I have been told similar things by servicemen during the Yugoslav wars when the F-117 was shot down.

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  6. I’ve fought in 3 wars in 30 years service. I won’t go back to any of those countries. I wasn’t in when Vietnam was flaring, but I am fascinated by it. Figure that one out. When I retire I am going to spend a month there, looking, feeling and reflecting.
    The so called domino effect will always interest me.
    Do you think with China calling the shots the US and Vietnam may eventually fight together? It’s a rapidly changing world out there.

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    1. Thsnks for your service David. Vietnam is a fascinating and at times a frustrating place to travel in. Glad I wasnt born until the fighting was almost over there though! There is no love lost between Vietnam and China – a long history, so you never know (I hope we never find out though)!

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