Puff the Magic Dragon: The AC-47 “Spooky” Gunship

The AC-47 “Spooky” Gunship

The Vietnam War was still in its early years. The war of attrition had escalated on both sides. The North Vietnamese Army were emboldened by victories earlier that year and were working with guerrilla fighters of the dreaded Vietcong to move south and infiltrate U.S. and South Vietnamese strongholds.


It was the night of December 23rd, and U.S.-allied forces in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or the ARVN, were stationed at the Trahn Yend outpost on the Mekong River delta. The troops sensed a stealth attack from the Vietcong was imminent but were powerless to stop it. The local guerrilla army was closing in. ARVN officials had radioed a nearby U.S. Air Force base requesting aerial assistance. The situation was beyond tense. The guerrillas were accustomed to this procedure and knew they had to simply retreat back into the jungles and fields and hide, and wait for the planes to exhaust their munitions. Eventually, the U.S. planes would assume the enemy had either been wiped out or withdrawn and would themselves retreat from the area. The guerillas would then re-emerge from the shadows and re-engage their attack.


For the Vietcong, though, that night was different. Huge streaks of bright red unleashed from the sky like glowing, thrashing tongues. They rained down in heavy, electric blankets in all directions. A new and powerful weapon had introduced itself that night: The Douglas AC-47. The glowing red of its ammunition gave the craft a nickname that quickly spread among the ARVN: “The Dragonship.”


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