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War Stories

37mm Takes Out Centaur Cobra

Information provided by Ron Radcliffe

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28 April 1972 - CPT Paul V. Martindale and WO1 William A. Haines were Killed In Action

On 28 April 1972 two Centaur Cobras were covering pilot CPT Ron Radcliffe and his Crew Chief Bill Labore, in their LOH, and involved in a ground battle. CPT Charles O'Connell was in the lead Cobra and CPT Paul Martindale with his copilot WO1 William Haines was flying wing. The Cobras were below 50 feet altitude.

Russian tanks had been encountered. Radcliffe hovered over a tank and Labore dropped a White Phosphorus grenade into the hatch. It blew up the tank with a force that caused damage to the LOH.

The airspace was busy and confusing. Skyraiders were using their 20mm cannons to try to take out the Russian tanks (the Skyraiders had four M3 20mm cannons). Martindale kept climbing higher with each pass and reached a point where he was no longer masked by the trees. The enemy saw him and hit him with a 37mm round, on the right side of his Cobra, and right into the transmission.

Radcliffe was on Martindale's right side and could see the perfectly round hole with fire coming out of it and from the mast hole. He radioed Martindale and said that he would follow him in and pick them up.

Martindale may have assumed that he had an engine failure and entered autorotation. It is speculation that full power to the damaged transmission might have kept the blades going a little longer.

At about 50 feet the aircraft flared nose up. The blades were turning so slow that Radcliffe could see them. Then the aircraft nosed over and crashed on its top. Martindale was thrown from the Cobra and landed 10 to 20 feet from it. Haines was pinned upside down in the fiery crash. Martindale was laying on the ground looking like he was sleeping with only a broken leg. It is possible that Martindale may have removed his seat belt before impact. How else could the rotor blades have ripped him from the back seat of the Cobra and thrown him clear?

The crashed Cobra was full of fuel and burning intensely. Radcliffe landed as close as he could and his Crew Chief LaBore jumped out to retrieve Martindale. Even though Martindale was a relatively small man, LaBore could not pick him up.

A Centaur slick with Wilson (?) as pilot landed. His Crew Chief ran over to help LaBore. They still were having trouble. Radcliffe came to a hover and moved closer to make it easier. The heat from the flames was so hot it singed his eyebrows.

Radcliffe could see that Haines had been decapitated by the main rotor blade and his body was on fire. They started getting close small arms fire and had to get out of there.

The Forward Air Controller (FAC), flying at about 2000 feet, was also hit by flack from the 37mm. His front engine was on fire. They went down. Both pilots ejected and were rescued.

Radcliffe returned to Quang Tri where and American doctor declared that Martindale was dead from a broken neck.