Bien Hoa Disaster
>The B-57 mission continued to increase to the point that it became an around-the-clock commitment. This forced the weapons storage facility to deliver ordnance well ahead of the frag orders. There were bombs stored underneath the wings of the B-57s. The ordnance consisted of 250, 500 and 750-pound general purpose bombs, many armed with time-delay fuses (set for 24-, 36-, 48-, 72- and 144-hour delays. All fuses were anti-withdrawal). There were also 750 lb of napalm stored on the ramp.
>The pre-positioning of this ordnance was the basis for one of the “worst disasters in Air Force history”. On 16 May 1965, while waiting to takeoff on a mission, a B-57B exploded on the ground at Bien Hoa AB. The B-57 was started with a black powder cartridge that fired when the pilot hit the starter switch, causing a small starter turbine to spin. These turbines sometimes spun loose and flew out of the starter housing. On this day, a loose turbine hit the fuse of an armed 500 lb bomb, setting off a whole chain of secondary explosions.
>Five 50,000 gallon bladders of JP-4 jet fuel went up in flames. When the explosions finally ceased, ten B-57s, one Navy F-8 Crusader and fifteen A-1Es were destroyed plus several ground support units. Twenty-seven men were killed and over 100 were wounded. The most severely wounded were evacuated to Clark AB.
>Before the explosions, perimeter security was the responsibility of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. After the explosions the 173rd Airborne Brigade moved to the base to secure the perimeter.
>After the explosions, a great number of generals and their staffs came to Bien Hoa to see for themselves what had happened. The Air Force Inspector General, Lt. General William K. Martin, convened an investigation board headed by Major General Gilbert L. Meyers. General Westmoreland along with retired General Maxwell D. Taylor, Ambassador to Vietnam, also came to see the extent of damage so they could brief their superiors. Later in his book, General Westmoreland said that Bien Hoa looked worse than Hickam Field after the Pearl Harbor Attack.
>The Bien Hoa Air Base Vietnam May 16, 1965 Conflagration/Fire Accident Investigation Board concluded the accidental explosion of a bomb on a parked B-57 at Bien Hoa triggered a series of blasts. The aircraft and the ammunition were stored too close together which allowed the fires and explosions to propagate. The accident investigation board recommended improvements. In the face of such experience, engineers initiated a major program to construct revetments and aircraft shelters to protect the valuable assets.
>The surviving B-57s were transferred to Tan Son Nhut AB and continued to fly sorties on a reduced scale until the losses could be made good. As the B-57B was withdrawn from active front-line service (the 405th’s 8th and 13th Bomb Squadrons were the only active-duty B-57B units left in the USAF), some B-57Bs had to be transferred to Vietnam from the Kansas Air National Guard, and 12 B-57Es had to be withdrawn from target-towing duties and reconfigured as bombers to make good these losses. In June 1965, the B-57s were moved north to Da Nang AB to carry out night interdiction operations over North Vietnam and Laos. When deployed at Da Nang, the 8th and 13th Squadrons came under operational control of the 6252nd Tactical Fighter Wing which became the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing about a year later.