Plunder and Destroy: 12 of History's Most Daring Raids
Plunder and Destroy: 12 of History’s Most Daring Raids

Plunder and Destroy: 12 of History’s Most Daring Raids

Khalid Elhassan - October 21, 2017

Plunder and Destroy: 12 of History’s Most Daring Raids
Son Tay prison camp. Wikimedia

Son Tay Prison Raid

On the night of November 20th, 1970, a raiding force of 56 US Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, boarded HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” and HH-53E “Super Jolly Green Giant” helicopters that flew them from a staging base in Thailand to execute Operation Ivory Coast, a daring rescue mission to free an estimated 65 American prisoners of war held at Son Tay prison camp, about 20 miles west of the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

It was an exceptionally hazardous operation, in which speed and precision of execution were extremely important: there were an estimated 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers stationed within 5 miles of the camp, so it was vital that the raiders complete their mission quickly, and be gone before the enemy had time to react and bring overwhelming numbers to bear.

Three raider teams landed in Son Tay, with the first intentionally crash-landing its helicopter at 2:19 am in the middle of the camp to get into position as quickly as possible. A second helicopter mistakenly landed 400 yards away, at the guards’ headquarters. Its Special Forces attacked the headquarters and killed or wounded an estimated 100 guards. The third helicopter disembarked its attackers outside the camp complex, who rapidly secured the perimeter, then helped secure the camp’s facility.

The raid was a brilliant tactical success, and wholly accomplished its objective of seizing control of the camp within minutes of touching down, with the attackers sustaining only two injuries: one shot in the leg, while another broke an ankle. There were no prisoners to rescue, however.

As it turned out, the mission had been planned based on outdated intelligence: the POWs had been moved months earlier from Son Tay, which was adjacent to a river that the North Vietnamese feared was prone to flooding, to another prison camp. Within 26 minutes of landing, the raiders were airborne again, en route back to base.

Plunder and Destroy: 12 of History’s Most Daring Raids
Blueboy assault team which deliberately crash-landed in the center of Son Tay camp, the faster to execute its mission. Psy Warrior

While a tactical success, the mission was clearly an intelligence failure by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other entities involved in the gathering and dissemination of the information upon which the assault was planned. In the raid’s aftermath, criticism of the faulty intelligence that led to a risky operation to rescue prisoners from a prison camp that held no prisoners led to an extensive overhaul and restructuring of the intelligence apparatus.

Plunder and Destroy: 12 of History’s Most Daring Raids
Terminal building of Entebbe airport where hostages were held. Wikimedia

Entebbe Raid

The Entebbe Raid was a rescue mission by Israeli special forces carried out in the wee hours of July 4th, 1976. Its aim was to spring hostages taken from an Air France jetliner that had been commandeered on June 27th, while en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, after a stopover in Athens where it was boarded by four hijackers, two from a breakaway faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and two from a German Red Army Faction revolutionary cell. Seizing the airplane, the hijackers diverted it to Entebbe airport in Uganda, whose president, Idi Amin, was sympathetic to their cause.

Once landed at Entebbe, the hijackers removed the passengers from the airplane to a disused airport terminal building. There, they were joined by an additional 3 accomplices, and after sifting through the passengers’ passports, they released those who were not Israeli or Jewish and kept as hostages 94 who were, plus 12 members of the Air France aircrew. In exchange for freeing the hostages, the hijackers demanded the release of 40 prisoners held in Israel, plus another 13 held in other countries.

As the days passed and the prisoners were not released, the hijackers grew more strident and incessant, vowing to kill the hostages if their demands were not met. Fortunately for the Israelis, an Israeli engineer who had worked with Idi Amin in the 1960s passed furnished them with the blueprints of the Entebbe terminal building where the hostages were being kept, and they used those blueprints to plan a rescue mission. On the night of July 3rd, 100 Israeli special forces boarded C-130 cargo planes and, escorted by F-4 Phantoms, took off on a 2500 mile flight to Uganda.

Within 90 minutes of touching down at Entebbe, the commandos had killed all 7 hostage-takers, along with about 45 Ugandan soldiers, and destroyed 30 Ugandan jets at the airport, for the loss of 1 commando killed and 5 wounded, and 3 hostages dead and 10 wounded. Commandos and hostages then boarded the C-130 transports for a short flight to Nairobi, Kenya, where the planes refueled and the wounded were taken to an awaiting hospital plane, before flying back to Israel.

 

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