3 Nguyen Van Bay

Nguyen Van Bay

Nguyen Van Bay
Born 1937
near Saigon, French Indochina
Allegiance North Vietnam Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Service/branch Roundel of the Vietnamese Air Force.svg Vietnam People's Air Force (North Vietnamese Air Force)
Years of service 1966-1972
Rank Lieutenant
Unit 923rd Fighter Regiment
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Hero's Medal of the Vietnamese People's Army

Nguyen Van Bay (born 1937) was a jet fighter ace for the Vietnam People's Air Force (North Vietnamese Air Force) during the Vietnam War. Piloting a MiG-17F while assigned to the 923rd Fighter Regiment, Bay claimed 7 aerial combat victories while engaged against aircraft of the USAF and USN: 2 F-8s, 1 F-4B, 1 A-4C and 1 F-105D. Of the 7 claimed kills, 5 are acknowledged by the United States Air Force. Of the 16 claimed but not confirmed VPAF (North Vietnamese) Aces during Vietnam War, only Bay, Luu Huy Chao, and Le Hai solely flew MiG-17s.



Nguyen Van Bay was born in 1937 near Saigon (from 1955–1975, Saigon was the capital of the Republic of Vietnam). He was the seventh of 11 children. At the age of 16, Bay went North to join the army to fight against the French during the First Indochina War (aka the French Indochina War). When the war ended in 1954, Vietnam was divided into two countries along the 17th parallel; North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Bay chose to stay in the North, at which time he lost all contact with his family.

In 1962, Bay volunteered for flight training and was among the first pilot trainees sent to train in the People's Republic of China (Red China). As he told it, he "went from the bicycle to the airplane with no stop in between." He learned to drive a car only long after he began flight training. [1] Bay and the other trainees started with Yak-18s, then moved on to MiG-15s, finally graduating to the MiG-17s. Similar to U.S. pilots, the North Vietnamese usually flew 200 hours in training before going into combat. Bay's training took four years, successfully completing his training in January 1966.

Vietnam People's Air force

Bay was part of 923rd Fighter Regiment during the Vietnam War. When the regiment was created on September 7, 1965, Bay was chosen as one of the students to fly the MiG-17. Soon after his training was completed in January 1966, he would have his first engagement with American aircraft.

Note: The following aerial engagements do not match with the number of aircraft he shot down, according to the United States Air Force. The aircraft he shot down as claimed by the USAF are 2 F-8s, 1 F-4B, 1 A-4C and 1 F-105D. In addition, the following engagements suggest that he shot down 8 aircraft even though he is credited with 7.

October 6, 1965

Bay had his first engagement when he was attacked by an F-4 Phantom. The F-4 fired an AIM-7D missile that detonated off his left wing. His MiG-17 then pitched down and started vibrating. Bay managed to land safely at Noi Bai airfield, just north of Hanoi. He would later state, "I felt like a light boxer who confidently walked up to the ring and tried to knock out the super heavy boxers. It was not a single fight but dozens of dogfights. We were outnumbered four or five to one. Our thoughts were on survival, nothing more."[2]

April 1966

In late April 1966, North Vietnamese radar indicated U.S. aircraft approaching Bac Son and Dinh Ca districts. An officer then scrambled four Mig-17s to intercept them, Bay was among one of the Mig-17s sent. Shortly after takeoff, Bay spotted eight F-4 Phantoms. As the formation of F-4s turned, one of them swung wide. Taking advantage of this, Bay cut the F-4 off, and closed in to gun range; when the Phantom was in his windscreen, he fired. The F-4 then went down.

June 21, 1966

Bay and three other MiG-17s were sent to engage an RF-8A (Reconnaissance Fighter/F8 Crusader) and its escorting F-8 Crusaders. Despite two Migs being destroyed by the F-8s, Bay managed to down one F-8 piloted by Cole Black. While Bay and the other MiG-17s were engaging the F-8s, the lead Mig-17, piloted by Phan Thanh Trung, shot down the RF-8A.

June 29, 1966

Bay and three other MiG-17s were sent to engage F-105Ds Thunderchiefs heading for the fuel depots in Hanoi. With the help of fellow pilot Phan Van Tuc, catching the lead F-105 by surprise, Bay shot it down. The downed F-105 pilot was a Korean War ace, James H. Kasler.

September 5, 1966

Le Thanh Chon, the senior control officer at Gia Lam airfield, vectored Bay and his wingman Vo Van Man to an unknown target in the South. As they headed south, Bay observed a flight of A-4 Skyhawks flying away from a smoking bridge. To his front, he observed two F-8 Crusaders approaching the A-4s from the right of where he was heading. Bay and his wingman jettisoned their drop tanks in preparation for battle. The F-8s took position behind the A-4s to escort them from the bridge. Chon, watching the events on radar ordered Bay to fly forward, Bay was then given permission to engage, at which time he attacked the trailing F-8, adjusting his fire on the tracers. As his rounds struck near the canopy of the F-8, the plane began coming apart, Crusader pieces filled the air as Bay's MiG started to fly thru them. Avoiding the danger, he pulled away, at the same time observing the pilot ejecting from his aircraft. The engagement lasted approximately 45 seconds, and when he landed, plexiglas from the F-8 was found in his air (engine) intake. The American F-8 pilot was captured shortly after ejecting, and turned out to Wilfred K. Abbott, serving in the squadron VF-111, carrier USS Oriskany.

September 16, 1966

In the early afternoon at Gia Lam airfield, Bay was flying in the number three position in a flight of four, when they were directed to engage US aircraft. Bay was the first to observe a flight of F-4s, and asked his flight leader, Ho Van Quy, for permission to attack, but Quy doubted they could catch up to the faster F-4s. Then Bay spotted an opportunity, the Phantoms began to make a climbing turn. Bay and his flight commenced to cut off the F-4s, he rolled in behind an F-4 piloted by Major John "Robbie" Robertson and his backseater Hubert Buchanan. As he closed the range he opened fire with his cannons. The F-4 pulled hard and then eased its turn. Bay adjusted and fired again, this time observing one of the F-4's wheels flying off of its wing. Buchanan ejected, while Robertson is believed to have died when their Phantom crashed.

September 21, 1966

On this date, Bay was flying the lead of a four-ship flight, when he was directed to a target 10 miles ahead by ground control. After a few minutes, Bay spotted two F-105s at around 10,000 to 13,000 feet. Bay than banked in pursuit, knowing that F-105s normally traveled in packs of four, he looked around for the other pair. Not able to locate the other Thunderchiefs, Bay gave his wingman, Do Huy Hoang, permission to attack. Hoang flew wide to the left,[3] and lined up behind the second F-105. Hoang waited for the "Thuds" to turn, but instead they rolled into a shallow bank. Bay's flight had flown into an ambush. Flying low to avoid radar behind the first Thunderchiefs were First Lieutenant Karl Richter and Captain Ralph J. Beardsley. Richter jettisoned his rocket pods and lined up behind Hoang. Richter unleashed his M61 Gatling gun on Hoang. The airplane rolled on its own to wings level.[3] Hoang lit the afterburner on his MiG and tried to regain control as his jet rolled to the right. Hoang's his left wing was in tatters from Richter's Gatling Gun. Hoang checked his engine instruments and thought he was going to be fine, but then the plane began to come apart. Hoang had to eject. Bay, now alone, and with his fuel becoming desperately low, now found himself dodging missile after missile from avenging US jets, which, fortunately for him, now began to depart North Vietnam's air space. At this time, Bay spotted Vo Van and followed him back to base.

April 24, 1967

Bay, assigned as flight leader, was scrambled from Kien An airfield. His flight was headed to intercept a United States Navy air raid at the Haiphong docks. Bay closed in on an unsuspecting F-8 Crusader, piloted by Lt. Cdr. E.J. Tucker, and shot it down. Tucker ejected, but unfortunately he died in captivity. The escorting F-4s then counter attacked Bay's flight. The F-4s fired several Sidewinders at Bay, but with his wingman's warning, he was able to dodge them all. Bay was then able to maneuver himself into a good shooting position, in which he then downed one of the attacking F-4 Phantoms. The crew of the F-4, Lt. Cdr. C.E. Southwick and Ens. J.W. Land believed that they had been shot down by AAA.

April 25, 1967

On this date, Bay and his flight were able to bring down two A-4 Skyhawks. One A-4 was shot down by Bay himself, and the other was shot down by his wingman. Bay was awarded the Hero's Medal of the Vietnamese People's Army for his outstanding skill and bravery in combat, and for his superb leadership of his flight.[4]

Early 1972

In 1971 Bay and his fellow pilot Le Xuan Di were trained in anti-ship warfare by a Cuban advisor. On April 19, 1972, the two men from the 923rd Fighter Regiment flew their MiG-17s, each armed with two 500 lb bombs, towards the open sea.[5] Le Xuan Di headed his aircraft for the US destroyer USS Higbee (DD-806), whilst Nguyen Van Bay struck for the US Navy light cruiser USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5), which had been shelling targets in Vinh City.[6] Bay's two bombs caused only slight damage to the cruiser USS Oklahoma City, as they may have been "near misses", while Di was able to score a direct hit on the destroyer Higbee's aft 5" gun mount (gun turret) with one of his two 500 lb bombs.[7] This was the first successful air strike made by an enemy jet fighter bomber on a US Navy warship while actively engaged in combat.

The USS Sterett (DLG-31), providing escort for the damaged warship, reportedly destroyed an enemy MiG interceptor with its Terrier missiles during the engagement. Following the initial attack, the USS Sterett deployed her Terrior missiles again and destroyed a Styx surface to surface missile in mid flight. The enemy missiles were thought to have been launched from North Vietnamese Patrol Boats. Of interest to some historians, is that both of the above pilots were supposed to have survived the 19 April air raid; leaving the question of, were there three enemy jets or was the perceived MiG destruction, actually the Styx missile? Notwithstanding, one of the attacking aircraft, manned or unmanned, was disintegrated by a direct hit by a Terrier missile at very close range—which was witnessed by crewmen aboard ship. No parachute was observed, only minor fragments of metal reflecting sunlight as they tumbled into the sea.


Bay's victories made headlines in North Vietnam and fame soon followed. He dined regularly with Ho Chi Minh and reportedly, was amongst his favorites. Bay was grounded sporadically, and then permanently. As is often the practice in many countries, including the United States, high ranking "Aces" are often grounded during a continuing war, to negate their future loss in combat and to utilize their attained status to aspire future generations of youth within their nation.

See also


  1. ^ Nguyen Van Bay and the Aces from the North (June 30, 2008)
  2. ^ Nguyen Van Bay and the Aces from the North (July 2, 2008)
  3. ^ a b Nguyen Van Bay and the Aces from the North (July 3, 2008)
  4. ^ "North Vietnamese Aces" (July 3, 2008)
  5. ^ Toperczer p. 53/54
  6. ^ http://www.acepilots.com/vietnam/viet_aces.html "North Vietnamese Aces" (July 3, 2008)
  7. ^ Toperczer p. 54 & 55

Further reading

  • Toperczer, Istvan (2001), MiG-17 and MiG-19 Units of the Vietnam War, Osprey Publishing Limited, ISBN 1841761621 

External links

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