On this day 47 years ago (October 8th- 1972), Gary Retterbush shot down a Vietnamese MiG-21 using the M61 Vulcan cannon installed in his F-4E Phantom II. Actually, this was his second victory over a MiG-21.
The first victory occurred on September 12 (1972). He also used the M61 Vulcan and the victim was another Mig-21 “Fishbed”.
I contacted with Gary Retterbush a few weeks ago (he is a follower of my work) and I proposed to collaborate with me to draw a “picture” of that fight. In addition, Gary had the deference to describe combat for all of us. I hope you like it!
“I was the leader of Lark flight, a flight of 4 F-4 E’s flying cover for a flight of 4 F-4D’s on a bombing mission near Yen Bai Airfield. I was also the mission leader of this very small strike package. My backseater, Bob Jasperson, had a problem getting his canopy to lock just prior to takeoff and had to cycle it several times. He finally pulled down on the rails and got it to lock. He later told me he knew this would be his last SEA flight and he didn’t want to abort on the ground. Thanks, Bob! After we completed our refueling on the ingress route, one of my fighter aircraft had a problem and I sent him and a wingman home. Under the ROE’s at that time I should have aborted the mission since I only had 2 fighter planes, but I chose to continue the mission. As we approached the fence, Disco warned us that a MiG was scrambling, and it was probably for us. As we continued inbound, Disco followed the MiG’s progress and it was indeed coming our way. It was almost like a GCI in reverse.
After some time, he said the MiG was at our 10:30 high and sure enough my backseater, Bob Jasperson, pointed out a silver glint in the sun as he turned down on us. I called a “hijack” and had the fighters jettison their tanks and go burner as we turned into the MiG. A few seconds later I had the bomber flight break as the MiG came closer. The MiG dove down trying to follow the breaking bombers and I was on his tail but at a very high angle off. I fired 2 AIM-9’s but did not expect them to guide as the angle off was far beyond the limits. They either did not leave the rails or went ballistic. I then tried to jettison the rest of the missiles. I was yelling for Bob to give me a caged sight (radar bore sight) as the reticle was completely off the windscreen due to the angle and the G’s. He got it locked and I very quickly did a little Kentucky windage, pulled the piper way out in front and high and fired a short burst. To my pleasant surprise it impacted the MiG in the fuselage near the left wing and it immediately burst into flames. The pilot did not hesitate at all and ejected. Then came an even bigger surprise; he had a beautiful pastel pink parachute! I circled him one time and then regrouped the flight for our trip home. The whole thing was visible from the tower at Yen Bai if anyone was in it at that time. The entire fight was around two minutes. Upon checking the ammo after landing, I found I had fired only 96 rounds and that included the exciter burst which was probably about the half. I was extremely pleased as I had a gun camera for this mission (not all birds had them) and it had checked out good going in. When I removed the film pack it looked like it had functioned correctly. I gave it to the gun camera guys and told then to really take care in developing it. About an hour later they came with the results: great film but all of it flying straight and level after the refueling. The camera apparently continued to run after I fired the exciter burst and all the film was used long before the fight began. So, I did not have the great film I had hoped for!”
Gary Retterbush’s F-4E Phantom II