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Twelve months flying the Caribou in Vietnam

[The Australian Air Campaign Series - 5]


Jeff Pedrina

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2023

Paperback    224pp  RRP: $19.99


Reviewer: Rob Ellis, February 2024


This is a short and well-written account of the author's twelve-month deployment to Vietnam, as a pilot with an RAAF air-lift squadron, flying DHC4 'Caribou'.

Flight Lieutenant Pedrina was a permanent-service officer, recrently married, when he was deployed to 35 Squadron RAAF, flying in personnel, food, ammunition and other supplies to the Australian troops serving alongside American, New Zealand and South Vietnamese forces against the North Vietnamese Army and their irregular Viet Cong allies.

It is clear, from the author's account, that this was not the role that was expected for service pilots and aircrew. The Caribous were not jet-engine combat aircraft, but propellor-driven freighters [2 x Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-2000 radial engines] capable of lifting just over four tonnes (or 30 passengers or 22 stretchers), with a maximum speed of 187 knots with a range of 2,000kms and operating from improvised air-strips of less than 400m in length.

The crew, usually two pilots and a load-master, were exposed to many of the same risks as were combat pilots and were especially vulnerable to ground fire. They operated in weather conditions that would be dangerous for combat aircraft, and the aircrew members flew longer hours in a 'working day' than would be expected of pilots flying combat missions or operating with civil air-lift aircraft operators. Despite this, almost all completed their year's deployment and returned to Australia safely.

The book gives a clear and honest account of the unpublicised work done by non-combat pilots in RAAF service, especially their ability to support Australian combat troops serving in Vietnam, and of the difficulties they had to overcome because of lack of support from higher command, which often entailed 'scrounging' spare parts from American squadrons, which were also using Caribous in Vietnam, and had much better support from maintenance crews and equipment and, parts availability.

Over the years, the Caribou saw service with the air forces of some 20 countries, and at least 25 civil operators in nearly 20 countries. They were similar in both performance and capacity to the much better-known Douglas DC-3, the 'Dakota' which had served a similar role in many air forces and airlines in the years between 1940 and 1950. The Caribou was a worthy replacement for that classic aircraft.




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

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