2 Squadron RAAF Vietnam – Canberra Bomber

As part of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, 2 Squadron RAAF received its tasks from HQ 7th Air Force in Saigon. The squadron’s mission was to conduct eight sorties per day, seven days a week, covering various areas of South Vietnam. This intense operational tempo demonstrated the commitment of the RAAF to the conflict and the vital role of air support in the overall military strategy.

The Canberra bombers filled a significant gap in the United States Air Force (USAF) inventory, as they were the only tactical aircraft in South Vietnam capable of bombing from straight and level flight at about 350 knots. This unique capability allowed the Canberra to deliver accurate strikes visually, making it a valuable asset in the challenging and dynamic environment of the Vietnam War.

Most of 2 Squadron’s sorties were dedicated to supporting the Australian Task Force in the III Corps area. Operating at an altitude of approximately 3000 feet (915 meters) above ground level, the crews aimed to minimize the risk of ground fire while still achieving remarkable accuracy. Despite flying at a relatively low altitude, the Canberra crews demonstrated their skill by achieving accuracies of about 45 meters, showcasing the aircraft’s evolution from a high-level bomber with poor accuracy to a highly effective low-level tactical bomber.

The transition of the Canberra over the years reflected the adaptability and versatility of the aircraft and its crews. The ability to deliver precise strikes in support of ground troops underscored the importance of 2 Squadron RAAF in contributing to the overall success of the allied efforts in South Vietnam. The squadron continued its operations until its return to Australia in 1971, leaving a legacy of professionalism and effectiveness in the challenging conditions of the Vietnam War.


The English Electric Canberra bomber not only served as a long-range jet bomber but also proved itself as a highly capable spy plane, achieving altitude and distance records during its operational history.

Originating from the renowned de Haviland Mosquito, a long-range multi-role fighter-bomber with wooden construction and Merlin piston engines, the English Electric Canberra emerged as a response to the impending age of jets in 1944. Designed by “Teddy” Petter, the Canberra featured two jet engines embedded into the wings, creating an aircraft with a length of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters), a wingspan of 64 feet (19.507 meters), and a height of 15 feet, 7 inches (4.750 meters). The journey from concept to prototype took five years, with the first Canberra taking flight on May 13th, 1949, showcasing impressive performance despite initial concerns.

Named after Canberra, Australia, as a nod to the British Commonwealth, the Canberra saw production in the UK and Australia, with an additional contribution from the US’s Martin Aircraft Company, producing 403 Canberras for the US Air Force between 1951 and 1959. The versatile aircraft took on various roles, including bombing, high-altitude reconnaissance, aviation test support, electronic warfare, and weather reconnaissance.

The Canberra’s service records were remarkable, with the UK Royal Air Force utilizing it for 55 years, concluding its service in 2006 with reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan. The aircraft’s longevity eventually led to its replacement by the Raytheon Sentinel R1 due to cost considerations and efficiency improvements.

Notably, the Canberra set speed and distance records, exemplified by a journey from Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, to Gander, Newfoundland, covering 2,072 miles in just 4 hours and 37 minutes on February 22nd, 1951. The aircraft maintained an average ground speed of 450 mph (724 kph) at a cruise altitude of 40,000 feet above sea level. This historic flight also served as a test for new high-altitude clothing designed to protect aircrew from extreme temperatures, featuring waistcoats with passive inspiration and active expiration mechanisms.

In addition to distance records, a Canberra conducted a daring altitude test by carrying a Napier Double Scorpion rocket in its bomb bay. Pilots Mike Randrup and Walter Shirley took the aircraft to 44,000 feet on its jets before igniting the rocket, achieving an impressive altitude of 70,308 feet (21km). This feat showcased the aircraft’s capabilities in pushing boundaries and contributing to advancements in aviation technology.


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  • Ernest Chamberlain January 29, 2024   Reply →

    I was surprised to read that “most of 2 Squadron’s sorties were dedicated to supporting the Australian task force in the IV Corps area.” 1 ATF rarely – if ever, operated in IV Corps ((ie the “Delta” Military Region)) – surely “III Corps” is more accurate.

  • Ernest Chamberlain January 31, 2024   Reply →

    Canberras in South Vietnam: RAAF 2 Squadron remained in Malaysia throughout the early 1960s during Confrontation against Indonesia, before eight Canberras were despatched to South Vietnam in April 1967 as part of Australia’s commitment to the Vietnam War. Based at Phan Rang Air Base in Ninh Thuan province, the unit became part of the United States Air Force 35th Tactical Fighter Wing (35 TFW) and between April 1967 and June 1971, the Canberras flew approximately 12,000 sorties. Although the squadron initially undertook high-level night-time attacks, the majority of its operations were low-level daylight attacks; and according to historian Steve Eather the squadron achieved a high success rate, accounting for 16 percent of 35 TFW’s assessed bomb damage despite flying only five percent of its missions, while maintaining a 97–98 percent serviceability rate. It dropped 76,389 bombs and was credited with 786 enemy personnel confirmed killed and a further 3,390 estimated killed; with 8,637 structures, 15,568 bunkers, 1,267 sampans and 74 bridges destroyed. An aircraft from the squadron responded to a distress call on 24 April 1969 and, against operational orders, bombed a site in Cambodia (the Fishhook) where US special forces were pinned down.
    During its deployment to Vietnam, No. 2 Squadron suffered two crew members killed, two squadron members died of disease, and three from accidents during the war. Two Canberras were shot down in 1970 and 1971. One was brought down by a surface-to-air missile from which the crewmen – one of whom was the squadron commander, Wing Commander Frank Downing – safely ejected and were rescued via helicopter, and another was lost during a bombing run near the Laos border. The crew of the latter aircraft, Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver, were not recovered during the war and were posted as “missing in action”; however the wreckage of their Canberra was finally located in April 2009 and their remains returned to Australia

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