His name, allegedly, was Col. Tomb, and he was one of the best pilots in the North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF). US intelligence first picked up evidence of a MiG pilot named “Tomb” (or “Toon”, or “Ton”), by monitoring NVAF radios.
He reportedly had downed several American planes, earning him ace status. Word trickled out and stories about his exploits proliferated. USAF General William Momyer, commander of the 7th Air Force, made downing Tomb a high priority and sent missions out to hunt for him.
Then, on 10 May 1972, in the most famous jet-age dogfight, US Navy Phantom drivers Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Willie “Irish” Driscoll downed a MiG-17 with bort number 3020. This was supposedly Tomb’s plane. Here’s a great video of that fight. Click both images.
Note: This History Channel “Greatest Air Battles” video comes in 10 parts. The Cunningham/Driscoll dogfight is covered in part 7, part 8 & part 9. But its worth seeing the whole thing, by starting with part 1.
But did the notorious Col Tomb really exist? In recent years, researchers visiting Vietnam have debunked the legend. They found no records of a Col. Tomb, or anyone that acknowledges such a person. Many online references now assert that he was either fabricated by the Hanoi regime for propaganda purposes, or he was a composite of several pilots.
After digging, however, I found an important document that convinces me Tomb was real. It’s from a very authoritative source; the NSA.
This originally classified document gives details about the NVAF’s “Red Baron” and 7th AF’s hunt for him. It doesn’t give credit to Cunningham & Driscoll for shooting him down, however, and claims he survived the war. There are just too many details, in my view, for him to have been a propaganda ploy or figment of imagination. Here’s just a snippet…
I’ve made a whole separate page where you can see more on this special source. Take a look…
And here’s another source that claims Tomb was real. Veteran researcher Cookie Sewell writes about Dinh Ton, who the NVAF selected for “lone wolf” tactics against the Americans. According to Sewell, “Ton” got transliterated into “Toon” by US intel, then further morphed into “Tomb”. But, he also conflates Dinh Ton with the North’s top MiG ace, Dang Ngoc Ngu, maintaining that Ton took credit for many of Ngu’s exploits.
Yet another possible name (from the Wikipedia entry) is Nguyễn Tuân, which could have been morphed into Toon or Tomb. So, the search is still on for the elusive North Vietnamese ace.
From what I see he really did exist, but am open to hear contrary evidence. Got any?