Navy F-4 Phantoms and A4 Skyhawks attack the Thanh Hoa bridge in North Vietnam. 104 pilots were shot down within a 75-square mile vicinity of this target. It was finally taken down by A4's, using smart bombs.
Signing these prints are aircrew who attacked the bridge some time during their tours of Vietnam. Two of the signees were shot down over the bridge, and survived almost six years of torture and imprisonment at the hands of the communists. Depicted is Phantom #201 flown by Fred Ferrazzano and later on the ill-fated flight by Ev Southwick and Jack Rollins.
Commander Fred J. Ferrazzano was involved in attacks on the Thanh Hoa bridge and flew Phantom 201 before Ev Southwick. During 1973 he ordered and implemented the mining of Haiphong Harbor, much to the surprise of President Nixon!
Captain Charles Everett (Ev) Southwick was the pilot of Phantom 201 when he was shot down over the Thanh Hoa bridge on May 14, 1967, with his back seater 'Jack' Rollins. He was a POW for nearly six years.
Commander David John (Jack) Rollins was Southwick's back seater in 201 when they were shot down over the Thanh Hoa bridge. He was a POW for nearly six years.
Commander Ron Stoddart also attacked the Thanh Hoa bridge. He flew a total of 98 missions over North Vietnam.
Captain Dan Arthur Pedersen was the Senior officer of the nine men who formed the now famous Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Guns) at NAS Miramar. Pedersen accumulated 6100 flight hours and 1005 carrier landings, flying 39 various types of aircraft. (Signed first 50 prints of Limited Editions only.)
Commander John Tibbs is another attacker of the Thanh Hoa bridge and tlew two full deployments in 21 months of combat, about 50% being air to ground strikes. (Signed last 50 prints of Limited Editions, plus Artist's Proofs and Remarques).
It had stood for almost ten years against every conceivable ordinance that the Americans could muster via air power, surviving wave after wave of determined American airmen. For the North Vietnamese, it assumed a prominence that approached mythical status and became a symbol for the North of their determination, fortitude and cause.
Begun in 1957 and completed in 1964, it spanned the Ma River in the Annam province in North Vietnam. It did not die easily. Surrounded by what can only be described as the most hostile air space known to man, it was defended by every known defensive anti-aircraft weapon known, including surface to air missiles (SA-2's), AAA (up to 100mm) small arms fire and Migs at nearby airfields. The missions to Thanh Hoa bridge via Route Pack 4, became a veritable gauntlet that few combat pilots would relish. But these were not just ordinary men. They were determined men who supported each other and believed in a cause to defend the liberty and freedom of all people, including all of Vietnam and South East Asia. 104 American pilots were shot down within a 75 square mile vicinity of the target! The communists used the bridge to push Russian and Chinese supplies southward to the ground front by rail, truck and foot. Many airmen who survived being shot down would endure years of torture, mistreatment and malnourishment at the hands of their tormentors. They were housed in such infamous prisons as the 'Hanoi Hilton' while the biased world media believe that the POWs were being treated humanely.
Few people today ponder the hot action that occurred over the Thanh Hoa bridge. Fewer still know anything about it. But to the men and their families who endured, the memories of these valiant warriors stand as a testament to the noble and deeply rooted concepts of duty, honor and country.
Robert Bailey's latest painting depicts an attack scenario that was repeated many times. F-4 Phantoms fly flak suppression, targeting any and all who contest their arrival. Meanwhile, the A4 Skyhawks deliver their carefully armed ordnance. Entering the target area at high speed, the pilots and their planes leave the bridge surrounded by an ever-expanding flak maelstrom in the hope that this will be the mission that will break the Dragon's Jaw and remove it from the dreaded target list.
The Thanh Hoa Bridge
By Gary W. Foster
The juxtaposition of American air might against the Thanh Hoa Bridge, fearfully known as the Ham Rong or Dragon's Jaw bridge, may become, if it hasn't already, the arch-symbol of the air war against the North Vietnamese. Destruction of the bridge became an intense obsession of American military planners. The Vietnamese, obsessing no less, fought to preserve the bridge, which for them had become the supreme symbol of their resistance to American air power. It's not without plausibility then that the destruction of this sacred symbol by the Americans may have been more important than the destruction of the structure itself.
A steel through-truss type structure, the Ham Rong Bridge, designed by Nguyen Dinh Doan, was principally a railway bridge with cantilevered roadways on each side of the main structure. In order to cross the Ma River at its narrowest point and because of limitations of the geometry of the railway curvature, the Ham Rong Bridge crosses the river almost due east-west. The general terrain in the immediate area of the bridge is flat with the exception of a jagged limestone ridge on the west side of the bridge known as Rong Mountain, and a small hillock on the east side known as Ngoc (Jade) Hill. The Ham Rong Bridge derives its name from these two geologic features that figuratively form the jaw bones of the dragon's mouth on either side of the river. Hence the English translation: "Dragon's Jaw."
The bridge depicted in "Dragon Slayers" is the second bridge to cross the Ma River at this location and was dedicated by Ho Chi Minh on May 19, 1964, the same day as his birthday. The first bridge was destroyed by the Viet Minh during the French resistance war many years before. As the air war in North Vietnam intensified, the Americans eventually divided North Vietnam into military regions called Route Packages which began at the Ben Hai River at the DMZ and were numbered one through six from south to north. With deadly portent, the Dragon's Jaw found itself in Route Package 4, assigned to the U.S. Navy, now its primary antagonist.
The Ham Rong Bridge was attacked throughout the war with intense alpha strikes from U.S. Navy carriers, occasional coordinated strikes by the USA Air Force and U.S. Navy, independent strikes of opportunity, and stand off attacks by missiles and by lobbing bombs. Navy pilots often dropped unexpended ordnance on the bridge or its environs before returning to their carriers. Under the direction of Nguyen Van Coi, commander of the air defense of North Vietnam, the Vietnamese positioned large numbers of every caliber of anti-aircraft weapon around the Ham Rong Bridge, atop Rong Mountain and Ngoc Hill, creating a formidable defensive curtain.
The Vietnamese made various claims as to how many American Planes were shot down while engaging the bridge or its air defenses. The numbers cited by the Vietnamese range between 99 to a preposterous high of 1000. One claim holds that in one day as many as thirty USA planes were shot down while striking the bridge. Although many American aircraft crashed in the area from other nearby actions or missions, historical records show only about 10 aircraft total were shot down while conducting missions directly against the bridge or its air defenses. While many planes continued to be shot down in and around Thanh Hoa throughout the war, LCDR Ev Southwick and his RIO, LT Jack Rollins, flying a flak suppression mission in an F-4 from VF114 on the USS Kitty Hawk were, on May 14, 1967, the last American airmen to be shot down while striking the bridge or its air defenses. Captured just east of Thanh Hoa on the very banks of the Ma River, they became POW's in the Hanoi prison system and were released in 1973.
In all, the Americans flew about 1000 sorties against the bridge including two special attacks by USAF C-130's. Through "Dragon Slayers" Mr. Robert Bailey has vividly captured dramatic, poignant action with his definitive and timeless painting of an attack on the Thanh Hoa bridge in Route Package 4, North Vietnam that is representative of the myriad of attacks of that era on the bridge. The dreaded dragon finally met its fate in May of 1972 when laser guided bombs dropped from USAF F4s, dislodged the massive truss from its western abutment felling it into the muddy river below. The exuberance of the upper echelon planners remained unabated by this excellent result and additional attacks were planned and executed against the Ham Rong Bridge. On October 6, 1972, a flight of four A4 aircraft, launched from a 27C Essex class aircraft carrier and escorted by flak suppression fighters and iron hand anti-SAM aircraft coordinated delivery of six two-thousand pound laser guided bombs on the structure effectively putting the Dragon's Jaw permanently out of commission.