U.S. pilots finally got approval in August of 1965 to attack and destroy anti-aircraft targets in North Vietnam without restriction. President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the campaign in February.
Johnson was concerned that the Soviet Union and China would get pulled into the war, so initially, the targets were restricted to ones selected by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
But in August, pilots were allowed to attack all Soviet missiles while they were in North Vietnam. A well-known mission was the Wild Weasels which was made up of a group of F-105 Thunderchiefs who would bait the anti-aircraft sites, so they knew where they were.
They would then demolish them. The leader of the pack was the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, or “Thud,” as it was affectionately called. But since it was taking out so many North Vietnamese targets, it morphed into being known as the Wild Weasel.
The Wild Weasels were known as some of the bravest pilots in Vietnam. They consistently flew F-100, F-105, and F-4 into enemy airspace in order to get them to fire. Then, once the surface-to-air missiles were fired at the planes, the Weasels knew where they were and could take them out.
A Wild Weasel would head into enemy airspace with a set of Thuds filled with bombs and rockets to locate and destroy the SAM sites, thus making the Wild Weasel the bait.
Often they would use advanced readers and warning devices to detect incoming fire. However, they would also go old school and just use the Wild Weasels to draw out the SAM locations in order for the Thuds to demolish them.
The most effective way to find the sites was to follow the missile’s smoke trail. The air raids continued throughout the following seven years, with tactics and direction everchanging.