Bloody Sixteen

Bloody Sixteen

The USS Oriskany and Air Wing 16 during the Vietnam War

Peter Fey

Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2018, 440 pages

Book Review published on: July 26, 2019

If you ever wanted to know about the air war over Vietnam, Peter Fey’s Bloody Sixteen is the book for you. Bloody Sixteen tells the story of the USS Oriskany and its attached air wing during its three deployments to Vietnam from April 1965 to January 1968. Each of these deployments coincided with the most dangerous phases of Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Sustaining some of the highest losses of any carrier wing in the Vietnam War, this is an incredible story of individuals who persevered through tough circumstances to carry out their missions.

The veterans of USS Oriskany’s air wing asked Fey to write this book, and, in doing so, he provides much more than just a study of operations or a series of reminisces. He uses the access afforded him by the veterans to add a personal feel to every deployment and combat mission. Whether Fey takes the reader through a dogfight with MiGs over North Vietnam or a bombing mission to Hanoi, his writing style is engaging and easy to understand. In addition, instead of limiting the book to the air wing’s operations, the author provides the overall context for the air war in Vietnam as well as the context for each deployment, allowing the reader to easily understand the challenges facing the pilots and crew at that time. For example, Fey discusses North Vietnamese defenses and how and why they adapted over the course of the USS Oriskany’s deployments. He examines Russian and Chinese support to North Vietnam, and then discusses how this affected the air wing and their tactics, and what they subsequently did to adapt to the new threats.

As part of the context, Fey presents a balanced view of controversial topics such as Operation Rolling Thunder and the bombing restrictions. He uses the USS Oriskany to illustrate the strategic divide between Washington’s “failed strategy and the harsh realities faced by the men executing it.” However, he goes further and explains the effect these decisions had on the air crews who had to fly the increasingly dangerous missions over the deadly skies of North Vietnam. In addition to being an excellent history of the air war at this time, the book is also a terrific study of how both sides adapted their tactics to counter each other’s latest changes. Furthermore, Bloody Sixteen is an excellent study of how leadership quality was the decisive factor during the worst of times.

Bloody Sixteen is well researched and will be a welcome addition to readers’ libraries. A fitting tribute to the USS Oriskany and its air wing, I highly recommend this book to those readers interested in the Vietnam War, air warfare, or combat leadership.

Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas