The two-seat Wild Weasel III F-105F Thunderchief or "Thud" formed the backbone of USAF SAM suppression during Operation Rolling Thunder. The F-105 Wild Weasels continued to develop tactics, flying two types of missions -- strike support, by far the more common of the two, and "hunter-killer" search and destroy attacks. As North Vietnamese defenses strengthened, the "Thud" Wild Weasels became essential for high-threat strikes "up North."
In May and June 1966, 11 F-105F Wild Weasel aircraft arrived in Thailand. More arrived, flying with the 335th TFW at Takhli and the 388th TFW at Korat, Thailand. Even so, the number of Wild Weasel aircraft and aircrews remained small -- and in high demand -- throughout the Southeast Asia War.
The first Wild Weasel F-105Fs carried the same basic electronic equipment as F-100Fs, but additional sensors were added over time. The F-105F Wild Weasel typically carried two Shrike anti-radar missiles, along with a heavy load of bombs or rockets. Although the Shrike missile was not ideal (the range of the Shrike was well within the lethal range of the SA-2), it finally gave the Wild Weasels the capacity to mark and damage a site from afar. Like their predecessors, the F-105F Wild Weasels often led conventional F-105s that helped finish off SAM sites.
Despite the periodic bombing halts, the Rolling Thunder campaign intensified through 1966 and 1967. Meanwhile, enemy SAM and AAA defenses strengthened, making the Wild Weasels crucial to the success of strikes deep into North Vietnam. In October 1965, U.S. intelligence estimated North Vietnam had about six SA-2 batteries. By the end of Rolling Thunder in November 1968, there were about 30 SA-2 batteries.
Though they remained a threat, North Vietnamese SA-2s became less effective due to the Wild Weasels and other anti-SAM measures. In 1965 the North Vietnamese fired about 15 SA-2s for every aircraft shot down. By the end of Rolling Thunder, they had to fire an average of 48 missiles to down one aircraft.
Success, however, came at a high price for the Wild Weasels. Of the eight crews (16 airmen) who initially flew out of Takhli, four had been killed, two were POWs and two had been wounded in action. Only four of these airmen finished their 100 mission tours.
Click here to return to First In, Last Out: Wild Weasels vs. SAMs.