Osprey's MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War


Istvan Toperczer


Osprey Publishing


$23.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 80 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-4728-1255-1

A lot has been written about the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam), and especially about the war in the air. It was felt that airpower would be enough to cause the North Vietnamese to sue for peace and have the war end. However, that was not the case. The American/Allied side of things were stymied by inconsistent policies from the politicians who, instead of generals, were determining the conduct of the war. But most of you reading this are aware of this situation and the reams of paper that have been devoted to it.

Most of what you have read over the decades has not come from the Vietnamese point of view. Face it, after the war was over, Vietnam had a lot more to do that write popular histories of the just ended conflict. Over the years, things have changed as Vietnam has become more open to Western researchers, this being enabled by a thawing of relations between former enemies.

So now we have a book that looks at the North Vietnamese side of the air war. Initially, North Vietnam put very little importance into aviation following the war with the French in the early 1950s and the division of the country. It was realized that eventually the nation would need an air arm for self protection as well as for the usual internal movement of military forces. Buying equipment from Western sources wasn't going to work so North Vietnam turned to both the Soviet Union and China for equipment and training. This resulted in many would be pilots being sent to these countries for training. The Soviets gifted North Vietnam with a number of early MiG-17s, these forming the initial fighter regiment equipment. Only the best were able to undergo training and this included not only pilots but also maintenance engineers and staff officers.

To produce a qualified pilot took about four years, so it isn't like these folks had an easy time of things. However, by the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, North Vietnam had a cadre of well trained pilots who were familiar with their aircraft, though not yet with combat experience. As the build up continued, air fields had to be built and equipped to handle the new units.

At the beginning of North Vietnam's fighter war against American air power, it was the initial MiG-17s that bore the brunt of the work. Tactics had to be worked out and while some pilots fell to US fighters, others survived to develop the best way to meet the threat. As the war went on, tactics changed on one side as they changed on the others.

North Vietnam was always considered the underdog as they simply did not have the numbers and the sophistication of equipment of their opponents. Yet, as defenders, they had many positives against their attackers. I'll leave the bulk of the book for you to read as it really is fascinating, especially if you have read a lot about the air war. A few interesting pieces of information are that when the US started attacking air fields, many of the places heavily bombed were back in operation within a day or two. The North Vietnamese also use Mi-6 heavy lift helos to move fully loaded MiG-17s several miles away from the field to keep them from being destroyed on the ground. The planes were then returned in time for operations and moved again at the end of the day. Finally, North Korea sent a number of pilots to help in the fight and were active in the 1967-69 time period.

You get a lot of great pilot stories and it is pretty typical that kills were rather highly over-claimed. This was true of both sides as the author's use of primary references compared what was lost on both sides as to what was claimed. When one combines the excellent research with some never before seen photos and fascinating information, you have a book that enthusiasts simply have to have on their shelves. 

October 2016

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