On Jan. 2, 1967, 30 US Air Force F-4 Phantom II fighters led by Col. Robin Olds shoot down seven of North Vietnam’s 17 MiG-21 jets. Operation Bolo was a complex operation designed to stop North Vietnam’s aerial harassment of US strike formations.
Because of restrictive rules of engagement that forbade US air strikes against North Vietnam’s airfields for fear of killing Russian and Chinese military advisers, American planners decided to lure MiG-21s into battle. To do so, F-4 fighters posed as a formation of heavy-ladened F-105 Thunderchief strike jets. The North Vietnamese attacked expecting easy kills and were stunned when they discovered far more agile and deadly F-4s.
The American fighters from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Air Base in Thailand and the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam were supported EC-121 radar planes, RB-66 jamming aircraft as well as F-105 Wild Weasel jets to counter surface-to-air missiles.
After the operation, the North Vietnamese stood down their MiG-21 force to reconsider their tactics.
Olds downs one of the MiGs, becoming the only American pilot to shoot down aircraft in both World War II and Vietnam.One of the most famous airmen in American history, he flew P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang fighters in Europe, downing 12 German aircraft, and shot down four enemy jets over Vietnam.
Olds was also one of America’s most highly decorated airmen. By the time he retired from active duty as a brigadier general in 1973, he was awarded an Air Force Cross, two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, 40 Air Medals as well as others.