Operation Bolo: Robin Olds’ Trifecta of Heroism, Leadership, and Deception

By pretending to be the less maneuverable F-105, Olds and his men provoked a response from North Vietnamese Migs. Olds mercilessly slayed them.

Brigadier General Robin Olds was a hero on many fronts.  He was a World War II ace who typified the “lead from the front” style like so many other warriors from the Greatest Generation did.  He was a masterful tactician and pushed back on dumb rules that didn’t matter.  And oh by the way, he had a bad-ass mustache.

Olds began his flying career in Oklahoma.  Gen Hap Arnold personally awarded his first set of wings.  His first operational assignment was in the P-38 Lightning.  In World War II, he quickly established himself as a dominant pilot as he racked up 5 kills in his first few months of combat in the European theater earning the title of ‘ace’.  He later converted to the P-51 where he made another confirmed kill against a Fw 190. He finished WWII with 12 confirmed kills and most importantly was well respected as a commander.

Between 1945 and 1966, Olds held a number of positions–both operational and administrative.  In 1966, he was selected to lead the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in Thailand.  The wing suffered from low morale and lacked a sense of purpose.  Olds once again led from the front.  He put himself on the schedule and trained like his men.

Source: Wikipedia

Mig Killing Operation Successful

Operation Bolo was one of the most effective aerial ruses of all time.  The North Vietnamese were lured into a trap masterminded by Olds himself.  Commanders faced many restrictions during the Vietnam War.  They could not destroy enemy aircraft on the ground, only if they engaged in aerial combat.  The North Vietnamese knew this.  Through observation, they recognized the routes F-105s flew on bombing missions.  Newer jamming pods had prevented the North Vietnamese from recognizing these jets.  When they did spot the F-105s, they would engage the jets with Mig-21s. Olds exploited this knowledge by preparing Operation Bolo where he replaced the F-105s with F-4s.  He successfully lured the Mig-21s resulting in 7 confirmed kills and 2 possible kills.  The operation did more than result in destroyed enemy assets.  It raised the morale of the unit and inspired generations of Air Force tacticians.