Electric Goons of “Naked Fanny”
By Ed Marek, editor
March 28, 2011
I have spent over two years assembling this article, in part because there is so much to tell, in part because I served with the detachment 1972-1973. Too close to my heart, I guess.
Because of the way I have defined the objective of this report, I will necessarily leave out a lot of good people, brave airmen, and monumental mission results produced by them. I apologize. I dedicate this story to all of you.
An EC-47 memorial aircraft sits in front of the present-day HQ USAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (ISR), a building which first served as HQ USAF Security Service, USAFSS, the USAF major air command to which the 6994th Security Squadron was assigned "in the day." At a reunion held in 2007, an USAF Honor Guard stood proudly before this aircraft to honor the men who flew aboard her over North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the Indochina War.
The EC-47’s mission was to locate enemy forces on the ground through Airborne Direction Finding (ARDF) targeted against their communications. When their ARDF locational data had a tight circular error probability (CEP), the Det 3 crews would call the enemy’s location into the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) and sometimes to ground forces in Laos. The theory was that the enemy communicator was close to his commander and, in turn close to the enemy forces he was supporting. It was always the hope of the ARDF crews that their location information was sufficiently good that the ABCCC would send a Forward Air Controller (FAC) to the location, look around, find enemy, and call in air strikes to destroy that enemy. At the least, the data provided reasonably good tracking data on enemy force movements.
EC-47 #871, "Susie Q", an "Electric Goon." Presented by 6994th.com
The DC-3 began as a passenger airline, and accounted for almost a 600 percent increase in airline passenger traffic between 1936 and 1941. The US Army saw its value as a transport aircraft. The aircraft has been known as the “Dakota,” the “Skytrain,” and the “Gooney Bird” and a host of other nicknames. But the Army did not call her the DC-3, but instead named her the C-47. During the Indochina War, she would take on many different missions, one of which was ARDF.
The Electric Goons were C-47s modified for the ARDF mission and named EC-47s. If you look closely at “Susie Q” above, you can see a whip antenna protruding downward from the port wing and from under and above the cockpit. There were many more such antennas which we will discuss later. The interior housed electronic monitoring and ARDF equipment plus extra electrical systems to support those, most of which were in the cargo bay behind the cockpit.
The Electric Goons of the 6994th SS had been flying from multiple bases throughout the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) since 1966. The squadron’s headquarters was at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, outside Saigon, shown in this photo, and missions were flown from there mostly over the Delta region and areas around Saigon potentially under siege.
Detachments were also set up at Nha Trang AB and Pleiku AB.
Nha Trang was the first operational base for a 6994th detachment, designated Det 1, 6994th SS. It was set up on July 1, 1966 and was located on the coast. Aircraft arrived in October 1966 and by 1969 some sixteen EC-47s were flying form there. As you can see, its offices were inauspicious. That’s the entrance. It moved to Phu Cat AB, RVN on September 9, 1969.
Det 2 was set up at Pleiku in the central highlands of the RVN in September 1966, Capt. Earnest “Ernie” Short in command. The first aircraft arrived permanently in December and the unit grew to 16 aircraft. In June 1970, the unit moved to Danang iin northeastern RVN.
Det 3 was set up in April 1969. Its mission varied a bit from the others. It was located in Thailand and not the RVN, and its crews flew mostly over Laos, infrequently over the RVN. The RVN-based crews flew mostly over the RVN, searching for North Vietnamese (NVN) and indigenous Viet Cong (VC) forces. Det 3 at NKP flew mostly over Laos, searching mostly for NVN and indigenous Pathet Lao forces. There were two aspects to this: monitor and locate traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail running through Laos and Cambodia, and monitor and locate enemy forces fighting against the Government of Laos. Prior to establishment of Det 3, Dets 1 and 2 ran missions over Laos but not as frequently as would Det 3 because of their locations in the RVN.
Like so many other squadrons and forces on the ground, the 6994th SS fought in the Indochina War, not just the Vietnam War. Her aircraft flew combat electronic reconnaissance over the RVN, Laos and Cambodia hunting for enemy and reporting their whereabouts.
The focus of this report is on Det 3 while it was at NKP. Please keep that in mind, though I will address the other units as needed.
With that in mind, let’s go back to 1969. A multi-year bombing campaign against North Vietnam, named Rolling Thunder, had been terminated. Rolling Thunder attacks were flown mostly by USAF F-105 “Thuds” out of Thailand. Naval aircraft would launch from their carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) aircraft would go in from the RVN. The Rolling Thunder operation experienced many problems which I will not discuss here. That said, there was a great deal of anger at the time that they were stopped, stopped for purely political reasons.
Arguably the number one reason for terminating Rolling Thunder was that a strategic change occurred in Washington. Instead of attacking North Vietnam by air, the suits decided to focus on stopping the logistics line from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia on a route known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This was not a bad idea, since the enemy’s logistics tail was so long and was so man-intensive. The problem was that stopping this logistics movement was confined to air attacks with some special forces reconnaissance and interventions on the ground. While these slowed the logistics flow, they did not and could not stop it.
The final plan, known as Operations Plan El Paso, was a corps-sized plan that called for one US airmobile division, one US infantry division and one RVN Army (ARVN) airborne division to block the trail at Tchepone, Laos for 18 months during the dry season, figuring that the rainy season hindered the logistics flow quite a bit on its own. North Vietnamese generals have since acknowledged that this plan, if implemented, would have stopped the war. That said, all hands on the American side knew it would be a very difficult operation to execute, but it was “doable.” John M. Collins has prepared a very good report on this plan which you ought to read. The suits in Washington said no. Westmoreland responded, “I’d like to go to Tchepone (Laos), but I haven’t got the tickets.”
Politics played a huge role in rejecting the plan. In March 1968 President Johnson said he would not run for re-election, and in January 1969 President Nixon took charge and changed the strategy again to Vietnamization, which he saw as the ticket out of the war. The idea here was to train enough Vietnamese to fight such that US forces could leave.
For MACV, the 6994th SS ARDF missions were a must over the RVN. But by 1968, the war in Laos between The Royal Laotian Government (RLG) and the indigenous communist Pathet Lao, combined with NVN Ho Chi Minh Trail operations and NVN support to the Pathet Lao had made Laos an important area of operations. As a result, the US Embassy Vientiane saw a need for EC-47 ARDF aircraft to fly over Laos. The main targets were the enemy logistics lines on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the NVN and Pathet Lao ground operations inside Laos in what became a Laotian War, a war in which the US was deeply involved.
NKP RTAFB, because of its location in northeast Thailand across the river from Laos, as shown in the map above, was selected as the site for a new detachment of the 6994th SS, Detachment 3.
NKP was not a well known or well developed air base at the time.
I can be accused of making this a more complicated report than was necessary. I wanted to put the 6994th SS in general and its Det 3 in specific in some kind of context. So that takes a lot of space. I also wanted to reconstruct Det 3’s establishment by employing memoirs from the men who served with her.
I will do my best to add value to their work.
Okay, let’s press ahead in sections.
My report is in sections: