|Type Air Force Base|
Battles/wars Vietnam War
|In use 1955–Present|
Year built 1955
|Condition Military Air Force Base|
Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base (Udorn RTAFB) is a Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) base, the home of 2nd Air Division/23rd Wing Air Combat Command. It is near the city of Udon Thani in northern Thailand and is now the main airport serving the city and province.
- US use during the Vietnam War
- USAF advisory use (1964–1966)
- 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing
- Tactical Fighter Squadrons
- Special Operations Squadrons
- 1972 augmentation
- Sapper attacks
- USAF aircraft stationed at Udorn
- Air America
The RTAF 231 Squadron "Hunter" is assigned to Udorn, equipped with the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet-A.
Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base was established in the 1950s as a RTAF base.
Communist forces engaging in a civil war inside Laos and fears of the civil war spreading into Thailand led the Thai government to allow the US to use covertly five Thai bases beginning in 1961 for the air defense of Thailand and to fly reconnaissance flights over Laos. Udorn was one of those bases.
Under Thailand's "gentleman's agreement" with the US, Royal Thai Air Force Bases used by the US Air Force (USAF) were considered RTAF bases and were commanded by Thai officers. Thai air police controlled access to the bases, along with USAF Security Police, who assisted them in base defense using sentry dogs, observation towers, and machine gun emplacements. Numbers of other USAF personnel were assigned as security police "augmentees" and placed on perimeter guard duty as alerts of possible enemy intrusions developed. USAF personnel, other than security police, augmentees, and combat aircrew members, were normally unarmed. Also, under the US-Thailand operations agreement, USAF military serving guard duty at Udorn were prohibited from "chambering a round" in their weapons until fired upon by an enemy. All USAF personnel were fully armed after 1967. Prior to that time weapons were stored in secured shipping containers and not carried by US personnel. For first threat defense, US personnel depended on Thai guards who were armed with US-issued M1 Carbines.
The USAF forces at Udorn were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Thirteenth Air Force (13th AF). Udorn was the site of TACAN station Channel 31 and was referenced by that identifier in voice communications during air missions
The APO for Udorn was APO San Francisco 96237
US use during the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War the base was a front-line facility of the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1964 through 1976.
Udorn RTAFB was also the Asian headquarters of Air America, a US passenger and cargo airline covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It supplied and supported covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
USAF advisory use (1964–1966)
The first USAF unit assigned to Udorn was a communications detachment from the 1st Mobile Communications Group, based at Clark Air Base, Philippines, in the summer of 1964. The first permanent USAF unit assigned at Udorn RTAFB was the 333d Air Base Squadron (333d ABS) in October 1964. Prior to the formation of the squadron, support personnel were provided by temporary duty personnel from the 35th Tactical Group at Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base. The 333d ABS came under the command and control of 13th Air Force
On 18 July 1965, the 333rd Air Base Squadron was re-designated the 6232nd Combat Support Group (CSG). This also unit came under the command and control of 13th Air Force and to the 6234th Tactical Fighter Wing, a provisional wing at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base. In July 1965, the 6234th TFW was the only tactical wing in Thailand.
The formation of the 6232d at Udorn was brought about because of expanding air force programs, an increase in assigned personnel, and increased base support requirements. The majority of personnel at Udorn, prior to the formation of the group, were temporary duty (TDY) assignments. Shortly before the group was activated, a gradual input of permanent party personnel was made to replace those on temporary duty. On 15 November 1965, the 6232nd CSG was given the responsibility of reporting directly to the Deputy Commander 2nd Air Division, 13th Air Force, rather than directly to the 13th Air Force commander. The 6232nd CSG was re-designated the 630th Combat Support Group on 8 April 1966, with a reporting responsibility to the Deputy Commander, 7th Air Force/13th Air Force (7/13AF), headquartered at Udorn RTAFB.
Squadrons known to have been deployed to Udorn were the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Naha AB, Okinawa with the 39th Air Division(1 November 1965 – 15 August 1966), equipped with RF-101 "Voodoos", and the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, also based at Naha AB (25 February 1966 – 25 July 1966), equipped with the F-4C Phantom II.
432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing
On 18 September 1966, the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) was activated and the 630th CSG was placed under the new wing and re-designated the 432nd CSG. It was organized in Southeast Asia in September 1966 to perform combat tactical reconnaissance. It added tactical fighter operations in October 1967, initially using fighters to provide combat air patrol and cover for unarmed reconnaissance planes, but later to fly strike missions. Wing fighter units destroyed many enemy aircraft: 36 confirmed aerial victories between 17 December 1967 and 8 January 1973. It also used AC-47D gunships to provide air defense of friendly Laotian outposts from June 1969 – June 1970. It ceased combat in Vietnam in January, in Laos in February, and in Cambodia in August 1973. The wing remained in Southeast Asia to perform reconnaissance and routine training to retain combat proficiency, changing designations from reconnaissance to fighter in November 1974. The wing supported Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of US personnel from Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 12 April 1975, and Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of US and South Vietnamese personnel from Saigon on 29 April 1975. From 13 to 15 May 1975, the wing played a major role in locating the SS Mayaguez and in the military operations associated with the recovery of that US commercial vessel and its crew from the Cambodians. The wing was relieved of all operational commitments on 30 November and inactivated at Udorn RTAFB on 23 December 1975.
The mission of the wing was to provide intelligence information about hostile forces through tactical reconnaissance and use its fighter elements to destroy the targets earmarked by the intelligence data provided. The wing had numerous missions in the support area also.
The 432nd TRW was the most diversified unit of its size in the USAF.
Known squadrons of the 432nd TRW were:
Tactical reconnaissance squadrons:
Replaced by: 14th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (October 1967 – June 1975) (RF-4C Tail Code: OZ Red Tail Fin Tip)
(Deployed from 67th TRW, Kadena AB, Okinawa)
(Deployed from 67th TRW, Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas)
On 30 October 1967, the 20th TRS RF-101 squadron was inactivated and replaced by an RF-4C squadron, the 14th TRS. On 25 October 1966, the 11th TRS was reassigned to the 432d TRW
These three squadrons accounted for more than 80% of all reconnaissance activity over North Vietnam. The 11th TRS was reassigned to the 363d TRW, Shaw AFB, SC in November 1970 as part of the American draw down.
Tactical Fighter Squadrons
(Transferred from 388th TFW, Korat RTAFB, Thailand)
(Deployed from 8th TFW, MacDill AFB, Florida)
In addition to reconnaissance the 432d also had a tactical fighter squadron component. The 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron was reequipped from the F-105s it flew at Korat to F-4C/Ds due to the high attrition rate the F-105 squadrons were suffering. The 13th TFS flew strike missions over North Vietnam, and its pilots were credited with two MiGs kills. The 555th TFS joined the 13th on 28 May 1968 with F-4Ds.
Special Operations Squadrons
On 31 October 1968, the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, which had been assigned as a temporary duty unit from Da Nang Air Base, became part of the 432nd Wing. Another unit assigned was the 4th Special Operations Squadron flying various gunships that supported ground units.
By 1967 or earlier, air force weather modification flights were originating from a special operations group at Udorn. No more than four C‐130s, and usually only two, were assigned to the restricted section of the base. Their mission was to create rainfall over North Vietnam, Laos, and South Vietnam to hamper enemy logistics and tactical initiative.
Beginning in the fall of 1970, Udorn was drawn down as part of the overall US withdrawal from the Vietnam War.
(Deployed from 405th FW, Clark AB, Philippines)
(Deployed from 33d TFW, Eglin AFB, Florida)
Replaced by: 307th Tactical Fighter Squadron (July 1972 – October 1972) (F-4E Tail Code: ZF)
(Deployed from 31st TFW, Homestead AFB, Florida)
(Deployed from 57th FWW, Nellis AFB, Nevada)
(Transferred from 366th TFW, Takhli RTAFB, Thailand)
In 1972, tactical fighter strength was augmented at Udorn by deployed Tactical Air Command CONUS-based squadrons in response to the North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam. During Operation Linebacker, between May and October 1972, the 432nd TRW had seven F-4 squadrons assigned or attached, making it the largest wing in the USAF.
With the end of the war in Southeast Asia in 1973, the F-4 squadrons that participated in the 1972 campaigns returned to their home stations and the numbers of USAF personnel and aircraft at Udorn were reduced.
By 1975, relations between Washington and Bangkok had become very sour. The Royal Thai Government wanted the USAF out of Thailand by the end of the year. Palace Lightning was the plan under which the USAF would withdrawal its aircraft and personnel from Thailand.
The 423d TRW was inactivated on 23 December 1975 and the last USAF personnel departed Udorn in January 1976. Udorn RTAFB was turned over to Thai authorities. It is now operated by the Royal Thai Air Force with aircraft from the 2nd Air Division being based there.
HISTORY REPORT FOR 3 OCTOBER 1972: From the 432 Tactical Reconnaissance Wing historical reports submitted for October – December 1972.
The history documents that on 3 October 1972, Udorn was attacked by an unknown number of sappers, presumably intent on the destruction of aircraft and facilities. Contact with sappers first occurred at 00:50 when a Thai security guard was accosted by two unidentified individuals who shot and wounded him and destroyed his radio equipment.
Ten minutes later, two intruders were reported inside the November revetment (between the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) and the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) building). The area was immediately surrounded by security police units.
At 01:10 hours the two sappers responded to attempts at dispersal with grenades and automatic weapons fire. Sporadic fire continued until 02:40 hours when one of the sappers, wounded earlier while trying to escape, fell from the revetment wall, detonating the explosives strapped to his body. The explosion resulted in window damage to the 555th TFS building. Investigators later found the remains of the infiltrator spread over a 125-foot area. The second sapper was found wounded, lying among several satchel charges at the other end of the revetment. He was dragged away from the explosives and given medical attention.
At 04:11 hours a tower sentry on the southwest perimeter reported a Thai handler on the adjacent post had been fired upon and believed hit. Minutes later, flare and searchlight aircraft arrived on the scene and four air force dog handlers began a sweep from the kennels to the area around the endangered Thai guard. On approaching the area, grenades and small arms fire stopped their advance. The guard was later found dead.
From 05:30 to 06:00 six infiltrators were seen exiting the southwest perimeter. A breach in the concertina wire and fence was later found in this area
Between 08:30 and 09:00 hours Thai patrols outside the southwestern perimeter encountered hostiles. The result of these encounters was two hostile casualties. The firefight continued for approximately an hour before contact was broken. There was no further hostile action.
At 15:59 hours an explosion, attributed to a delayed-fuse satchel charge, occurred in the Coast Guard area of Alpha sector. Investigators found only minor damage to one building and another unexploded satchel charge under a second structure.
The attack resulted in three hostiles killed, one wounded and captured. One Thai guard was killed and six US Air Force and Thai personnel were wounded. Ten satchel charges were recovered and eight to ten were later destroyed. Three grenades, a small block of TNT, a mine, and several small arms were also recovered after the attack. All recovered explosives and weapons were of communist bloc manufacture.
According to the official report on the attack, a total of eight sappers were actually seen during the action, two in the November revetment and six exiting through a breach in the perimeter fence in Alpha sector. Hostile fire was reported from outside the perimeter at the time the six intruders were exiting Alpha sector, indicating the presence of other unfriendly forces.
The US Air Force casualty data reports that on 3 October 1972, Staff Sergeant Glen R. Baker, Technical Sergeant Thomas W. Dexter, and Airman First Class James Myers were injured during the hostile sapper attack at Udorn Air Base.
USAF aircraft stationed at Udorn
Udorn RTAFB was the Asian headquarters for Air America. Air America provided essential resources for the war in Laos and elsewhere. Its predecessor, Civil Air Transport (CAT), started operations from Udorn on 11 September 1955 with the arrival of three C-46s delivering food and emergency aid into Indochina. By the end of September, CAT had flown more than 200 missions to 25 reception areas, delivering 1,000 tons of emergency food. Conducted smoothly and efficiently, this airdrop relief operation marked the beginning of CAT's and, later, Air America's support of US assistance programs in Laos.
Air America's roles supportive of covert and overt situations related to hostilities in Southeast Asia and elsewhere worldwide provided buffers and solutions to problems the United States faced in various locations. Operations were focused in Laos as part of the "secret war" the United States carried out against the Pathet Lao communist rebels operating in the country. Udorn RTAFB also served as the site of "Headquarters 333", the Thai organization in charge of their forces in Laos.
On 27 January 1973, the Paris agreement on Vietnam was concluded, providing for the withdrawal of American troops. The following month, a cease-fire agreement was signed in Vientiane, leading to the formation of a coalition government for Laos. On 3 June 1974, the last Air America aircraft crossed the border from Laos into Thailand. The end went well: Air America's operations office in Vientiane informed Washington that the departure of Air America from Laos was without incident. Operations in Vietnam continued until the fall of Saigon in April 1975.