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Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base


Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base

Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base
Part of Royal Thai Navy (RTN)
Type Naval Air Base
Site information
Condition Military Naval Air Base
Site history
Vietnam War
Airfield information
ICAO: none
Elevation AMSL 587 ft / 179 m
VTUW is located in Thailand
Location of Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base
Direction Length Surface
ft m
15/33 8,203 2,500 Asphalt
Bob Hope's 1966 Christmas Show at Nakhon Phanom

Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base (NKP), formerly Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, is a Royal Thai Navy facility used for riverine patrols along the Mekong River. It is approximately 587 km (365 miles) northeast of Bangkok, 14.5 km (9 miles) west of Nakhon Phanom city in Nakhon Phanom Province in the northeastern region of Thailand, and 411 km (256 miles) from Hanoi in Vietnam. The Mekong River is NKP's border with Laos. The airfield at NKP is jointly used as a civilian airport.


  • History 1
  • The U.S. Air Force at Nakhon Phanom 2
    • Squadrons of the 56th SOW 2.1
      • Special Operations Squadrons 2.1.1
      • Forward Air Control Squadron 2.1.2
      • Other USAF Squadrons 2.1.3
      • United States Navy 2.1.4
      • Tenant Units 2.1.5
    • Major Operations Involving NKP 2.2
      • Operation Barrel Roll 2.2.1
      • Operation Ivory Coast 2.2.2
    • Beginning of the End 2.3
    • Palace Lightning - USAF Withdrawal 2.4
    • Major USAF Units at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base 2.5
    • Major USAF Aircraft Assigned to NKP 2.6
  • Accidents and incidents 3
  • The Mayaguez incident 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Other sources 7
  • External links 8


Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base was established in the 1950s as a RTAF base. Political considerations with regards to 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 United States to covertly use five Thai bases beginning in 1961 for the air defence of Thailand and to fly reconnaissance flights over Laos.

Under Thailand's "gentleman's agreement" with the United States, Royal Thai Air Force Bases used by the USAF were considered Royal Thai Air Force 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 defence using sentry dogs, observation towers, and machine gun bunkers. All United States Air Force personnel were not fully armed. There were insufficient arms due to the nature of the mission at NKP. Often instructions were given prior to off-base activities to avoid answering questions posed by the press.

The USAF forces at Nakhon Phanom were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).

The APO for NKP was APO San Francisco, 96310

The U.S. Air Force at Nakhon Phanom

During the Vietnam War Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP) was a front-line facility of the Royal Thai Air Force used by the United States in its efforts to defend South Vietnam against insurgency by North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao Communist guerillas in Laos from 1961 to 1975.

Beginning in the late 1950s, North Vietnam began to move troops into areas of eastern Laos in support of the Pathet Lao, and also as a defensive measure to protect their long transit route for men and supplies to support the insurgency in South Vietnam. In September 1959, North Vietnam formed Group 959 in Laos with the aim of building the Pathet Lao into a stronger force in its guerilla war aimed at overthrowing the Royal Lao Government. Group 959 openly supplied, trained and supported the Pathet Lao militarily.

With Thailand sharing a long common border with Laos along the Mekong River, the Thai government was increasingly concerned about the spread of a communist insurgency into Thailand, which already faced a growing insurgency of its own in that part of the country. The Thai government were concerned about the activities of the Communist Party of Thailand It was therefore receptive to the idea of allowing U.S. military personnel to use Thai territory for operations in support of the Lao Government, and later in support of the Republic of Vietnam.

The first American military personnel to arrive at NKP in 1962 were the [2] With U.S. irregular warfare operations already being conducted from the base, on 2 February 1966, the Thai government approved the establishment of a United States Air Force Air Commando unit in Thailand, using the existing USAF facilities at NKP to give the appearance that the United States was not introducing another unit into Thailand. USAF forces at NKP were under the overall command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).

NKP initially housed USAF search and rescue forces and maintained a communications capability in support of U.S. Air Force objectives in Southeast Asia. NKP was the location of [2]

There were a number of special operational squadrons attached to the wing over time, including the 1st, 18th, 21st, 22nd, 602nd, 606th and 609th, and a number of other operational squadrons and detachments, including the Cambodia and North Vietnam.

Only older propeller driven aircraft and specialized aircraft, some dating back to World War II, operated from the installation. Some of the aircraft operating out of NKP bore civilian markings or were unmarked. In addition, the 56h SOW also worked closely with the U.S. embassies in Laos and Thailand to provide training for special air warfare units.

Squadrons of the 56th SOW

Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in the 1960s looking to the Southwest
A 609th SOS A-26K starting engines in 1969

Special Operations Squadrons

Forward Air Control Squadron

Other USAF Squadrons

United States Navy

U.S. Air Force air rescue team: Four NKP based A-1 Skyraiders and a Lockheed HC-130P Hercules recovery aircraft refueling a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter
Lockheed OP-2E Neptune of observation squadron VO-67 on a mission over Laos in 1967/68.
  • VO-67 (Observation Squadron Sixty-Seven), from February 1967 to July 1968, operating Lockheed OP-2E aircraft (highly modified Lockheed P-2 Neptunes), in support of the Igloo White mission implanting sensors at low levels. Tail code MR (Mud River). Unit received the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation.

Tenant Units

Decorations bestowed on the 56th SOW were:

Douglas A-1E and A-1H Skyraiders of the 1st SOS and the 602nd SOS at NKP

Major Operations Involving NKP

Operation Barrel Roll

Operation Barrel Roll was a covert U.S. Air Force 2nd Air Division (later the Seventh Air Force) and U.S. Navy Task Force 77, interdiction and close air support campaign conducted in the Kingdom of Laos between 14 December 1964 and 29 March 1973 concurrent with the Vietnam War. The initial purpose of the operation was to serve as a signal to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to cease its support for the insurgency then taking place in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The operation became increasingly involved in providing close air support to Royal Lao Armed Forces, CIA-backed tribal mercenaries, and Thai Army elements in a covert ground war in northern and northeastern Laos.

Operation Ivory Coast

Son Tay Raiders - 1970

NKP was one of the staging bases for the failed Son Tay POW rescue mission in November 1970. Its objective was the rescue of approximately 90 American Prisoners of War from the prison camp. The attempted rescue itself was a failure, and prisoners had been moved some months before, and none were found at the targeted POW compound in North Vietnam.

Beginning of the End

A-26 Invader of the 609th SOS, 1969

By 1971 North Vietnamese forces were fighting conventional battles in Laos as mobile, regular battalions rather than insurgent guerrilla units. The US pulled out of Laos in 1973 as part of an overall peace and disengagement plan. North Vietnam ignored the agreement and retained its army in Laos. The national government was forced to accept the Pathet Lao into the government.[3]

In 1975, North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces began attacking government strongholds. A deal was eventually brokered that gave power to the Pathet Lao to save the government from total destruction. Pathet Lao troops marched into Vientiane on 1 May and took over the government.

Palace Lightning - USAF Withdrawal

With the collapse in Laos and the fall of both Cambodia and South Vietnam in the spring of 1975, the political climate between Washington and Bangkok began to sour, and the Thai Government demanded that the U.S. remove the bulk of its forces out of Thailand by the end of the year. Under operation Palace Lightning, the USAF began to withdraw its aircraft and personnel from Thailand. On 30 June 1975 the 56th Special Operations Wing was inactivated and the 656th Special Operations Wing was activated as a placeholder unit at NKP until the USAF could complete its withdrawal. The Search and Rescue units were among the last to leave the country. The 3rd Air Rescue and Recovery Group lowered its flag on 31 January 1976 and NKP was returned to the Thai government.

Major USAF Units at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base

602nd Fighter Squadron

Major USAF Aircraft Assigned to NKP

Additional "civilian" aircraft operated from NKP were the Cessna 185, Cessna Skymaster, Pilatus PC-6, Helio Courier, de Havilland DHC-4 and Douglas DC-3.

Accidents and incidents

  • On 21 November 1972, a Douglas EC-47Q, AF Ser. No. 43-49771 of the United States Air Force crashed killing two of the 10 people on board.[4] The aircraft was operated by the 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, United States Air Force. It had flown a tactical mission under the call sign "Baron 56", and had taken off at about 10:44 local time (03:44 UTC). At 17:00, the aircraft was returning from the mission when it bounced on landing and started to depart the left side of the runway. The pilot over-corrected, causing the aircraft to depart to the right of the runway. Although a go-around was initiated, the aircraft hit trees damaging the port propeller. The co-pilot considered that the starboard engine was failing and that engine's propeller was feathered. The aircraft then crashed into another bank of trees 2 nautical miles (3.7 km) beyond the end of the runway. The wrecked aircraft was destroyed in the post-crash fire.[5]

The Mayaguez incident

On 13 May 1975, US Seventh Air Force commander Lieutenant General John J. Burns and his staff developed a contingency plan to retake the Mayaguez using an assault force composed of men of the Nakhon Phanom 56th Security Police Squadron. Seventy-five volunteers from the 56th would be dropped onto the containers on the decks of the Mayaguez on the morning of 14 May. In preparation for this assault five HH-53s and seven CH-53s were ordered to proceed to U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield for staging. At approximately 21:30, one of the 21st SOS CH-53s (AF Ser. No. 68-10933, call sign Knife 13) crashed, killing 18 security police and the five man flight crew.

See also


  1. ^ First Hand Account(November 1962)by Assistant Alpha Company Commander Ltjg. George W. Fowler (with pictures)
  2. ^ a b ://
  3. ^ See generally William J. Duiker, The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam (1981). See also Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval(1982); Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Renewal (1999).
  4. ^ "43-49771 Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 
  5. ^ "EC-47 43-49771 Crashed on Takeoff November 21, 1972". EC-47. Retrieved 9 September 2010. 

Other sources

  •  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Glasser, Jeffrey D. (1998). The Secret Vietnam War: The United States Air Force in Thailand, 1961-1975. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0084-6.
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Robbins, Christopher (1985) Air America. Avon, ISBN 0-380-89909-4
  • Robbins, Christopher (1987) The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War in Laos. Crown, ISBN 0-517-56612-5
  • Warner, Roger (1998) Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos. Steerforth, ISBN 1-883642-36-1
  • Airport information for VTUW at World Aero Data. Data current as of October 2006.

External links

  • Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War
  • A Day In The Life At NKP (Video)

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