VA-25 Fist of the Fleet A-1H Skyraider
The Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly AD) is an American single-seat attack aircraft that saw service between the late 1940s and early 1980s. The Skyraider had a remarkably long and successful career; it became a piston-powered, propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, and was nicknamed "Spad", after the French World War I fighter.
On July 26, 1967 the VA-25 Attach Squadron Fist of the Fleet made the last combat deployment of propeller driven attack aircraft in the US Navy with the A1-H Skyraider aboard the USS CORAL SEA (CVA-43) with CVW-15. This historic deployment lasted until the ship was relieved from WESPAC and the squadron returned to NAS Lemoore, CA in April 1969.
A-1H Skyraiders Last Navy Carrier Combat Deployment
August 19, 1967: CMD Fred Horatio Gates II operations officer of VA-25 was killed after his aircraft developed engine trouble during a landing approach. CMD Gates went down with the aircraft after ditching it about a quarter mile astern of the ship.
Fist of the Fleet sorties at I Corps & punches inside the ring at Khe Sanh
January 20, 1968, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops, who had been massing near the 17th parallel in South Laos, infiltrated the I Corps area south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) under cover of the monsoon rains.
NVA forces overran the Lang Vei Special Forces camp and laid siege to Khe Sanh, both bases which lay astride, and controlled, the main infiltration route, Highway Nine, into the I Corps area. The prop-driven Spads of VA-25 flew close air support in both sectors, some-times attacking enemy forces entrenched within the Khe Sanh perimeter. Meanwhile, VA-153 A-4Es concentrated on artillery positions, supply routes, and troop concentrations in Laos and the western I Corps area.
The Last Skyraider Lost
The fourth Navy A-1 Skyraider shot down in the Vietnam War was from Squadron VA-25 flying from NAS Cubi Point (Philippines) to USS Coral Sea and was lost to two Chinese MiG-17 jet aircraft on February 14, 1968. LT Joseph P. Dunn, USN, had flown too close to the Chinese held island of Hainan, and had been intercepted. LT Dunn's A-1H Skyraider BuAer 134499 (NL 404, voice call Canasta) was the last U.S. Navy A-1 lost in the war. He was observed to survive the ejection and deploy his raft. Although a beacon was heard for several hours after the shoot down, attempts by Carrier Task Force 77 to initiate a SAR for the downed pilot over Chinese territory were stopped cold, reportedly on the direct intervention of the Pentagon. Initially listed as MIA, he is now listed as KIA and posthumously promoted to the rank of Commander.
The Last Skyraider Combat Sortie
April 7, 1968, the VA-25 Spad (NL 405, BuAer 135300, pictured both left and above) that flew the last A-1 carrier-based combat mission from the flight deck of the USS Coral Sea in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, was officially retired during ceremonies at NAS Lemoore, CA. Its last combat mission came on February 20, 1968, flying rescue combat air patrol and providing close air support to Marines at Khe Sanh. It was the last combat mission of that cruise for VA-25 and the last for the Navy's Skyraiders. The flight was made by LTJG Theodore D. Hill Jr., who later flew the plane to Pensacola. It is now on exhibit at the National Naval Aviation Museum Pensacola, FL.
Armed Forces Expeditionary Operations
During late February 1968 there was snow and ice on deck while conducting Operation Formation Star cold weather training in the Sea of Japan. This operation prepared men and machines for duty in March 1968 while USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), with VA-25 Fist of the Fleet embarked, operated on station off the coast of Korea following the capture of USS Pueblo (AGER-2) in January by North Korea.
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