Thud Ridge: F-105 Thunderchief Missions Over Vietnam

by Colonel Jack Broughton, USAF (ret.)

Jack Broughton’s Thud Ridge was dedicated to “Our Comrades Up North” when it was published in 1969, and he put his heart, soul and warrior spirit into this book. It was stunning to read when it first appeared because of its incredible descriptions of combat, and also for its condemnation of the inefficient way the Vietnam air war was being waged. The “Comrades Up North” were, of course, America’s heroic POWs imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton.

Broughton makes the reader his wingman. He knows the reader is competent, brave and willing to face the hellish dangers of North Vietnamese skies, just as he is. But he expects the reader to pay attention to his instructions, so he can fly wing as Broughton wants him to. The book is written in a straightforward, no-nonsense style that alternates chapters of rapid-fire combat with chapters that capture his comrades’ character. In doing so, the book reflects Broughton’s own thoroughly admirable character.

The descriptions of aerial combat are unique in terms of their forceful detail. The reader experiences all the confusion, the radio cross-talk, the fear about approaching SAMs and, even worse, the deeper fear that somehow you won’t be able to do your job in the cockpit as it should be done. Wing briefings sometimes began with the phrase “anyone who is not completely terrified doesn’t understand the problem.”

Ironically, the people who didn’t understand the problem were inside the layers of headquarters, beginning with the Oval Office. These individuals were the source of the roundly detested Rules of Engagement (ROE) that restricted valuable targets and required attacks on worthless ones. They assigned missions in which multimillion-dollar aircraft, flown by the best aircrews in the world, would be lost against trucks carrying a few hundred dollars’ worth of rice.

Broughton pulls you along with him into mission preparation, as his pilots vie to take on the roughest sorties, noting that combat, like football, “was fun in a way also, real dirty fun, with your life or your buddy’s life the price for losing.” The ROE too often put the F-105s in a position where you could “hear the stuff cracking and shrieking all around you, and you know that you screwed it up by being there, and you know that the next few seconds could be your last.”

The F-105 would have been a wonderful aircraft in its original mission—the swift delivery of nuclear weapons on a distant target. The war’s direction, however, was in the hands of men who sent the Thuds on missions for which they were not designed or built. The result was a disastrous combat loss of 395 aircraft. The conflict in Vietnam might have taken a totally different direction and ended in a much better way for the United States if Broughton’s comments had been heeded by those in command.

Thud Ridge is a true classic. It has been in print for the last 45 years, with at least 17 individual printings, translation into several languages and sales approaching half a million. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Ronald Fogleman ordered 10,000 copies to be presented to newly promoted junior officers as required reading.

It’s time for another 10,000 copies of Broughton’s book to be distributed, this time from the White House down through the Department of Defense and out to all the major commands—not just to newly promoted officers, but to all those who are in positions of power.

 

Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.