The Son Tay Raid (Sep 1970)

One of the most daring special operations of the entire war took place on the night of the 20/21st of November 1970.  After six months of detailed planning and rehearsal, a task force took off from Udorn to attempt the rescue of American POWs from a prison camp at Son Tay, just 20 miles west of Hanoi.  The plan called for a HH-3E to crash-land inside the prison compound carrying 13 troops of the assault force who would then blast a hole in the prison perimeter wall for the main force assault troops carried by five HH-53Cs.  The helicopters were supported by an HC-130P tanker, two Combat Talon C-130Es and five A-1E Skyraiders.  A huge supporting force totalling 116 Air Force and Navy aircraft flew diversionary and supporting missions during the raid.  Five Wild Weasels arrived in the Son Tay area before the task force to keep the nearby SAM sites busy as the helicopters approached.  Ten F-4s flew a MiGCAP orbit over northeastern Laos while Navy F-4s and F-8s flew CAPs just off the North Vietnamese coastline.  Intruders and Corsairs made numerous feints east of Hanoi to confuse the North Vietnamese defences into thinking that a major raid was building up in that area.  The raid was brilliantly executed despite two of the helicopters making their initial landing at the wrong building.  Unfortunately, when the assault troops stormed the prison camp they found it deserted except for a few guards, the American prisoners having been moved to another camp some time earlier.

Even if the Son Tay raid had failed to recover any American prisoners, it certainly shocked the North Vietnamese.  By focussing world attention on the plight of the POWs and showing the North Vietnamese to what lengths the American armed forces were willing to go, the raid resulted in the general improvement of the living conditions for the POWs.  Also the outlying camps were closed and the prisoners concentrated in the two main camps in Hanoi where the men could live in groups rather than in solitary confinement.  News of the raid also greatly enhanced the POW’s morale.