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.
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started to commit more troops to the conflict and remained fighting there until 1972 when the majority of troops were withdrawn following major communist losses in battle during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.