Col. Robin Olds (left) and Capt. John Stone after OPERATION BOLO. Three other 8th Tactical Fighter Wing officers, 1st Lt. Joseph Hicks, 1st Lt. Ralph Wetterhahn and Maj. James Covington, also worked on planning the mission details. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Led by Col. Robin Olds, OPERATION BOLO used a brilliant deception tactic that destroyed half of the North Vietnamese MiG-21 fighter force, with no USAF losses.
In late 1966, the USAF was not permitted to bomb North Vietnamese airfields and could only destroy enemy fighters in the air. Complicating the problem, enemy MiGs focused on bomb-laden F-105s and only initiated combat when they had a clear advantage. Col. Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) commander, and the wing's tactics officer, Capt. John "J.B." Stone, devised a masterful plan to lure and trap North Vietnamese MiG-21s by mimicking an F-105 bombing formation.
On Jan. 2, 1967, 8th TFW F-4s entered North Vietnam from the west using the same route, altitude, and formation as an F-105 bomb strike. They also carried and operated electronic jamming pods used by F-105s. The North Vietnamese took the bait, and the MiGs came up to intercept what they thought was an F-105 strike. At the same time, 366th TFW F-4s came into North Vietnam from the east to block the MiGs' escape to China and to orbit their bases, preventing the MiGs from landing.
Despite some problems caused by the overcast weather, OPERATION BOLO was triumphantly successful. During the 12-minute engagement, seven North Vietnamese MiG-21s -- about half of their operational force -- were shot down with no USAF losses. Four days later, another ruse, this time mimicking an F-4 reconnaissance flight, shot down two more MiG-21s. These crippling losses greatly reduced MiG activity for several months.
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