A comment regarding British forces in the Vietnam War


Beverley landing rough

The following comment was left on the site by someone known only as “John”. Unfortunately, I have no way of contacting John for more information as he is not a registered visitor. However, what he has to say is quite interesting and as such I decided to share it. If you have any information that could back up some of the following claims it would be much appreciated and if enough information is gathered I may make it the subject of an article in the future.

Speaking of RAF aircraft in Vietnam/S.E. Asia my Grandfather regularly flew Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy’s on logistics & VIP flights to Tan Son Nut Airbase in Saigon, & Ubon Airbase Thailand from 1965 to 1968. I believe it was something to do with aiding our SEAC allies, mainly logistically supporting the Commonwealth nations Australia & New Zealand, who’d both been fighting alongside us in Borneo & the Malayan Peninsula during the Confrontation with Indonesia. He was especially involved with the Australians as he made a lot of flights to Australia (after peace with Indonesia). VIP’s were often high-ranking Generals, commanders of Far East Command & it’s branches going to meet with opposites in Saigon, probably to offer advice on COIN tactics developed in Malayan Emergency & refined in the Confrontation… though why they opted to travel in a military cargo freighter over a passenger aircraft I can only guess maybe they had a lot of “baggage”?
I’ve also seen reports of other RAF aircraft types in South Vietnam besides Bev’s & Argosy’s though it’s hard to know the real mission due to dubious official reasoning for their presence. For instance supposedly when a huge Short Belfast was spotted at Tan Son Nut & queried I believe the Govt response was “it’s the Ambassadors personal aircraft”. It often comes up about RAF Canberra’s flying over Vietnam, even a Vulcan photographed flying low over the Mekong delta that didn’t have to go that route to say get to Hong Kong which makes you wonder. Regarding the other services I’ve heard of rather hefty Royal Signals detachment stationed at the British Embassy Saigon, & Royal Engineers helping to build “Civilian” airstrips in Thailand (which mainly got used by Air America), then there’s training programs in Malaya & Borneo, British Advisory Mission (BRIAM), NATO/SEAC exchanges, Special Forces & MI6/GCHQ (British Embassy Hanoi intel gathering & sharing through 5 eye’s). We certainly did a tad more than we ever let on.
My Grandad had also earlier flown Beverley’s in UK, Europe, Aden/M.East, Africa, & out to the Far East he said it was a great aircraft, really good at the role it was designed & a real workhorse. A flying block of flats! Apparently the tribesmen in Aden couldn’t believe such a thing could take-off or fly let alone land/stop on such short rudimentary runways. It was one of the favourite aircraft he served on in his time in the RAF… though I think that might have had something to do with the medium-range meaning on the way back to the UK they could choose quite a lot of nice locations to stop in at for a jolly!


Rolling Thunder Vietnam War battle re enactment at Fortress Wales 2016

The members of the Rolling Thunder, a UK-based living history group dedicated to the US soldiers who served in Vietnam re-enact a battle that took place in 1968 between the 1st Air Cavalry Division and the Viet Cong.

Not “British” but a fascinating demonstration nonetheless.

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American aircraft at the Helicopter Museum

A collection of the American manufactured aircraft on display at the Helicopter Museum in Weston-Super-Mare, UK.
History: The Helicopter Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


Bell UH-1H Iroquois, 66-16579, C/N. 8771.
Built 1967 in Hurst, Texas, as a 13-seat utility transport helicopter powered by one Lycoming T53-L-13 turboshaft engine. Total production of the UH-1 family since 1956 has exceeded 13,000 aircraft. Originally built in 1967 as a UH-1D it was immediately shipped to South East Asia in support of the Vietnam War effort. It was later upgraded to UH-1H standard and stationed in West Germany; in August 1990 it deployed to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War. Donated to the Museum in 1992 and collected by road transport it arrived in August 1992. Re-assembly began almost immediately, although some missing components had to be found through various sources before the work could be completed.

Hughes OH-6A Cayuse, 67-16506.
Built 1968 in Culver City, California, USA this four-seat Army scout-utility helicopter is powered by a 317 shp Allison T63-A turboshaft and was delivered for operatiomns in Vietnam in 1968. It was shot down in 1970 but rebuilt for further service with the Army National Guard until retirement and subsequent acquisition by the Museum. The airframe was delivered to Weston-super-Mare at the end of September 1999.


Piasecki HUP-3 Retriever, RCN 622/51-16622,C/N. 51.
Following the success of the early Piasecki HRP naval helicopter, which on the 7th March 1945 was the first practical tandem rotor (fore & aft rotors) to fly, the Piasecki company began a smaller design and the first prototype flew in October 1948. The aircraft on display at the Museum, was one of the three HUP-3s to enter service with the Royal Canadian Navy for utility and search and rescue missions and built in 1954 in Morton, Pennsylvania, USA. With the help of The Helicopter Association International, the HUP-3 was donated to the Helicopter Museum, which had it restored in Philadelphia by volunteers at Boeing Helicopters. It was shipped to the UK in November 1991 and then transported by road to Weston-super-Mare by Museum volunteers. The aircraft is the only example of a Piasecki helicopter in the UK.

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DotR on YouTube – Fortress Wales 2015 – Why the AK-47 was better than the M-16.

There has long been a debate as to which was the better weapon; the AK-47 or the M-16. As this demonstration shows there is one simple reason why many argue for the AK-47.

I understand this is not technically a British topic exactly but it is an interesting one as British forces have used the M-16 operationally and British special forces are trained how to use the AK-47.

VIDEO: HMS Eagle Documentary, 1968

A fascinating documentary made by prominent BBC reporter James Cameron (not to be confused with the director of Titanic and Avatar) covering one of the last cruises by the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (R05) while she sailed the Far East in 1968. A known pacifist and campaigner for nuclear disarmament following his coverage of the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests for the BBC, Cameron takes an almost aggressive approach to interviews in the documentary and I am sure that some of the sailors aboard Eagle were glad to see him and his team go.

As much a psychological assessment of living on a carrier as it is about the machine, Cameron narrates splendidly describing the men and machines in an almost Shakespearean fashion. One of the most fascinating parts of the video takes place around the 25 minute mark when Cameron asks a group of sailors if they feel that all the training is pointless if there is no war. This brings up a rather heated debate about why maintaining a strong military, including carriers, is an important part of defence particularly regarding the cost of operating them which Cameron goes to great lengths to emphasize.This was at the heart of the debate for scrapping the carriers and its interesting to view it without the benefit of hindsight. There is even a reference to the Vietnam War which we are told is taking place just a hundred miles from the ship at the time, well within range of the aircraft.


Blackburn Beverley C.1

Beverley landing rough

The Blackburn Beverely was a high wing transport aircraft designed to operate in the most austere locations throughout the British sphere of influence in the 1950s and 1960s. Its somewhat ungainly appearance was the result of its unique internal layout that was designed to maximise its carrying options with a compartment located in the tail boom for additional passenger seats and for use in dropping paratroopers. The aircraft was one of the few large aircraft designed in the late 1940s to have a fixed undercarriage. This reflected its requirement to operate from rough and semi-prepared airstrips with the undercarriage being very sturdy and resilient to the hard landings it could expect under these conditions.

Blackburn Beverley InternalPower came from four Bristol Centaurus 18-cylinder rotary engines fitted with reverse pitch propellers each developing 2,850hp each. This was sufficient to pull the Beverley along at a comfortable 173mph and to a top speed of 238mph with a service ceiling of 16,000ft. The boom section could carry up to 36 people on rearward facing seats or 30 fully equipped paratroopers. The seats were positioned this way as it was deemed safer for the occupants if the aircraft crashed during landing or take-off. Interestingly, RAF Comet transports were configured this way also but it was unlikely they would be expected to operate off the kinds of airstrips that the Beverley would be expected to. The main freight bay could be configured to carry another 94 people if needed or alternatively a wide variety of heavy equipment could be carried. Access to the cargo area was through two large removable clamshell doors at the rear beneath the tail boom. In the paratrooper insertion role the aircraft could unload troops through these doors while the paratroopers in the tailboom jumped through a hatch in the floor. During the course of it’s career Beverley’s carried trucks, fuel drums, drilling equipment, helicopters and disassembled aircraft including the fuselage of a Canberra bomber.

The ungainly looking aircraft entered service with the RAF’s No.47 Squadron on the 1st March 1956 and eventually a total of 47 aircraft would serve across five squadrons plus an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) providing crew training for the type.

  • No.30 Squadron  (April 1957 – September 1967)
  • No.34  Squadron  (October 1960 – January 1968)
  • No.47 Squadron (March 1956 – October 1967)
  • No.53 Squadron (February 1957 – June 1963)
  • No.84 Squadron (May 1958 – September 1967)
  • No.242 OCU (???1957 – ???1967)

During the course of its career the Beverley changed very little. A single aircraft, XB249, was retained by Blackburn for a series of tests that included the fitting of Rocket Assisted Take Off (RATO) bottles to reduce the take off distance even further but these were never fitted operationally. The aircraft primarily served in the Middle and Far East theatres where its rough field performance was essential. A regular location for the Beverley to operate out of was RAF Khormaksar in Aden where it was tasked with resupplying local garrisons; an extremely dangerous task given the poor runway facilities the heavy aircraft often encountered. In these areas the aircraft was painted in a sand/brown scheme but with the cockpit area painted white in an effort to keep the internal temperature down for the pilots.


The Beverley also has the distinction of being the only RAF aircraft to have flown missions during (but not in support of) the Vietnam War when aircraft from No.34 Squadron flew humanitarian supplies into South Vietnam following heavy flooding in the region. When asked by their USAF counterparts what tactics the RAF would use to avoid getting fired on by the Viet Cong forces they are reported to have responded that since the Viet Cong have never seen anything as ugly as the Beverley before they will probably spend so long wondering how it can fly that they wont have time to shoot it down. This kind of remark was actually meant with a lot of  affection.

The aircraft was finally retired in 1967 being replaced by Andovers in some cases and C-130 Hercules in others. The retirement came as the RAF’s commitments to the last corners of the Empire also came to an end and so no real replacement aircraft with the same capabilities was sought.

  • Crew: six (two pilots, flight engineer, navigator, signaller, air quartermaster)
  • Payload: 44,000 lb (20,000 kg) for 200 mi (322 km
  • Length: 99 ft 5 in (30.3 m)
  • Wingspan: 162 ft (49.4 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 9 in (11.8 m)
  • Wing area: 2,916 sq ft (270.9 m²)
  • Empty weight: 79,234 lb (35,950 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 82,100 lb (37,240 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 135,000 lb (61,235 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Bristol Centaurus 173 18-cylinder radial engines, 2,850 hp (2,130 kW) each
  • Performance
    Maximum speed: 238 mph (208 kn, 383 km/h)
    Cruise speed: 173 mph (150 kn, 278 km/h) at 8,000 ft (2,400 m)
    Range: 1,300 mi (1130 nmi, 2092 km) with standard 29,000 lb (13,154 kg) payload
    Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,900 m)
    Rate of climb: 760 ft/min (3.9 m/s)
    Wing loading: 28.2 lb/ft² (137 kg/m²)
    Power/mass: 0.138 hp/lb (228 W/kg)
    Takeoff roll: 1,340 ft (410 m)
    Landing roll: 990 ft (300 m