Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dragon's Jaw by Stephen Coonts & Barrett Tillman

Dragon's Jaw An Epic Story of  Courage and Tenacity in Vietnam
by Stephen Coonts & Barrett Tillman 
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (May 14, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306903474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306903472

Every war has its "bridge"--Old North Bridge at Concord, Burnside's Bridge at Antietam, the railway bridge over Burma's River Kwai, the bridge over Germany's Rhine River at Remagen, and the bridges over Korea's Toko Ri. In Vietnam, it was the bridge at Thanh Hoa, called Dragon's Jaw.

For seven long years, hundreds of young US airmen flew sortie after sortie against North Vietnam's formidable and strategically important bridge, dodging a heavy concentration of anti-aircraft fire and enemy MiG planes. Many American airmen were shot down, killed, or captured and taken to the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" POW camp. But after each air attack, when the smoke cleared and the debris settled, the bridge stubbornly remained standing. For the North Vietnamese it became a symbol of their invincibility; for US war planners an obsession; for US airmen a testament to American mettle and valor.

Using after-action reports, official records, and interviews with surviving pilots, as well as untapped Vietnamese sources, Dragon's Jaw chronicles American efforts to destroy the bridge, strike by bloody strike, putting readers into the cockpits, under fire. The story of the Dragon's Jaw is a story rich in bravery, courage, audacity, and sometimes luck, sometimes tragedy. The "bridge" story of Vietnam is an epic tale of war against a determined foe.

My Thoughts
From historical studies, we know the Thanh Hoa Railroad and Highway Bridge, near the geographic center of North Vietnam, was given the nick-name Ham Rong (Dragon’s Jaw) because of its layout. The original structure had been destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt.
Reconstruction began on the bridge in 1957. If you look at the photos on this books cover you will see that the bridge that was rebuilt and opened in 1964 was a steel through-truss structure supported in the middle by a concrete pier and two concrete abutments on each side. These abutments appear to be sited on a hill in a predominantly flat plain. The bridge was a conduit for supplies and reinforcements sent to the Viet Cong fighting in South Vietnam

America is known for many things, among them are the inventors of the world's  first successful airplane and throughout the standing of Dragon’s Jaw American military planners were preoccupied, to a troubling extinct, on its destruction - sending pilots on a mission to destroy it. 

I'm intrigued by the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels air shows. When not there, you'll likely find me hanging out near old bridges like this one in the photo below.

                                                        photo of  Warren through truss bridge

Did you ever make a bridge for school out of balsa wood? If so, you probably tried to predetermine the weakest point so typically you’d look at all the connections at the top along the sides and any braces that were placed in the middle.

You might be thinking, what makes a structure that is repeatedly targeted stand for seven long years with only a few disruptions. Well, as kids, our toy paratroopers taught us visibility, wind speed, direction and the strength of wind gusts come into play when dropping from above. Added into the mix was the fact defense teams surrounded the bridge and counterattacks occurred.

To give myself an inkling of the scope of the feat in front of an air team I did something any grade school kid would do. I mapped the length of Dragon's Jaw versus the length of the bridge above. The bridge in my photo is 361 foot longer than the Dragon's Jaw. Next, I did some searching online and found that a Phantompilot11 drone filmed a motorcar crossing the bridge in my photo. As I sat and watched this, I can't imagine how any pilot could see this target let alone a bridge that is much narrower in length and in conditions I can't even fathom.  In 1972, America used laser guidance and brought down the target- Dragon's Jaw.

The mood throughout this collection shows great fortitude. Notably, this book is a glimpse at the lives of men who had scopes locked-on the bridge, those shot down, captured and held prisoner. Suffice to stay, these accounts are all captivating and some are gut-wrenching. These men speak of authorized targets, tactical reconnaissance and how they survived torture with faith and humor.  America knows them as the men who went above and beyond the call of duty to kill the dragon.

An Advance Reading Copy of this book was provided to me by the generosity of Da Capo Press Marketing Manager Quinn Fariel for my honest review.

About the Authors

Barrett Tillman is a widely recognized authority on air warfare in World War II and the author of more than forty books, including Clash of the Carriers and Whirlwind. He has received numerous awards for history and literature, including the Admiral Arthur Radford Award. He lives in Arizona

Stephen Coonts is the author of sixteen New York Times bestsellers, the first of which was the classic aviation fiction thriller Flight of the Intruder. He earned the Navy's Distinguished Flying Cross medal for his naval air service during the Vietnam War. A former lawyer, he lives and writes full time in Colorado Springs

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