During the Vietnam War, U.S. Air Force Capt. Merlyn Dethlefsen and three of his fellow F-105 Thunderchief pilots were given the mission of flying up past Hanoi to take out Thai Nguyen Steel Works.
However, it was not an easy feat. The steelworks was surrounded by 85mm anti-aircraft missile batteries and MiG-21 fighters. But the team accepted the mission anyway.
The F-105’s were also known as “Thuds” and would head in before the fighter-bomber strike teams. However, they intentionally allowed themselves to be tracked by the SAM batteries radar to find them.
Once they got the SAM’s attention, they would hit the sites. The strategy was called the “Wild Weasel.” Surprisingly enough, the Wild Weasel being used as bait wasn’t the most dangerous part.
The Thuds coming in behind him were also in great danger. They needed to fly low enough to avoid the SAM radar. By doing so, they were vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire from the ground.
The Thai Nguyen batteries were stronger than the team planned, and two of the Thuds were taken out right off the bat. However, the other pilots had flown one of these missions before, and it would not be their last.
In fact, Dethlefsen and the Electronic Warfare Officer, Capt. Kevin “Mike” Gilroy would go on to fly 100 missions in North Vietnam. Though their wingmen were no longer there, they avoided the MiGs by flying into the anti-aircraft zone.
Normally the Wild Weasels would only make one attack on the enemy defenses. Every now and then, a mission would need two. However, on this mission, they did many more than the normal two.
Finishing The Mission
Even though they were being chased by MiGs and had been hit by anti-aircraft weapons, the pilots took out one SAM site with missiles and the other with 20mm rounds and a 750-pound bomb.
The 72 fighter-bombers who came behind them completed the destruction of the steelworks. The Thuds returned to base even though they were heavily damaged.
Captain Dethlefsen was given the Medal of Honor, and Gilroy was given the Air Force Cross.