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RAAF Canberras in the Vietnam War

[Australian Air Campaign Series – 7]



Bob Howe

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2023

Paperback     223pp   RRP:$19.99


Reviewer: Adrian Catt, May 2024


Re-worked for a new generation of reader, this comprehensive work details the background of No2 SQN (RAAF) deployment from 1967-71 to Vietnam War in the Mekong Delta region, as told by a former serving navigator/bomb aimer.

Beginning with a history of conflict in Vietnam, the book covers and explains the full picture of the conflict in this period such as US involvement and Command and Control structures, Rules of Engagement (ROE), Vietnamisation, RAAF Deployment, Mission restrictions and ROE, Air Operations (AO), descriptions and purpose of various types of naval and riverine vessels, their type and function, and the structure of marine and riverine objectives and teams.

AO for 2SQN included tasking of ‘frag’ sorties, and also missions that. were mostly air strike or photo-recon (PR) tasks. These were an accompaniment, or in lieu of, USAF/VAF dive-bombing, or B-52 Lightning strikes, and were achieved by co-ordination with Forward Air Controllers (FACs), (usually air-borne in ‘bird-dog’ aircraft), which would drop smoke rockets to mark targets for the RAAF Canberras.

The Canberras had advantages such as level bombing, low altitude, stability, and slower airspeed over dive bombers and fast-strike jets. Weaknesses included problems with inaccurate sights, and limitations of the ‘green satin’ device. 

Further, ordnance issues were numerous with faulty electrics within bomb racks. There were problems with both old and new types of munitions/stores such as hang-up’s, fuse and delay faults, stick-stacks, tail types and performance, and corkscrewing.

Smoke marking was done by FACs so the Canberras could create clear landing zones (LZs) for ‘slicks’ and gunships, as well as clearing vegetation from near waterways, in support of riverine operations. Tasks were also to destroy ground targets such as sampans, hooches (thatched huts), canals, tunnels, caves, munitions dumps, supply depots, rice stores, and tax collectors.

Bombing and navigation techniques used by 2SQN included the use of low-tech resources such as butcher’s paper, and chinagraphs. The crews also developed a technique of adjusting the altimeter to compensate for the effect of the Delta atmosphere, thus enhancing bombing success, which was officially measured in terms of Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA), and accuracy. These critiques were based upon photo or cine evidence collected by the Canberras themselves. 

2SQN’s performance is illustrated by evidence tendered by the author, and from official squadron histories. The final analysis is that the deployment of 2SQN Canberras was a success, though the War itself is now considered a failure. Only one Canberra was lost by the RAAF - when a crew flew into mountains whilst on a night mission in the I corps Combat Tactical Zone.

A very informative and educational read which will hold the interest of any student or buff of Military or Aviation history. Well recommended.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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