4 inch 7th Special Operations Squadron Patch – Sew On
The 7th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) was activated on 1 July 1964 as the 7th Air Commando Squadron (7 ACS/USAFE) at Sembach Air Base, West Germany. The original cadre came from Hurlburt Field, Florida, in March 1964, as Detachment 4, 1st Air Commando Wing. The new squadron was equipped with 4 C-123s, 6 C-47s and 2 U-10 aircraft, and had 265 personnel authorized. In February 1967, the 7 ACS was designated as the unit to receive the new C-130E(I) Combat Arrow aircraft. In May 1967, command of the squadron was transferred from USAFE to 17th Air Force.
Major changes in the squadron began in the summer of 1968 when MC-130 aircraft replaced C-123s, U-10s, and part of the C-47 force. Also in 1968, the squadron moved to Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, and USAFE Special Order G-62, dated 2 July 1968, renamed the 7 ACS as the 7th Special Operations Squadron (7th SOS), which was also effective on 15 July. During the period from 5 to 18 July, the four C-47s, the remaining C-123s and the two U-10s were returned to CONUS. September 1968 marked the beginning of a long and successful FLINTLOCK exercise series. Joint/Combined Exercise FLINTLOCK I was conducted in the fall of 1968 and consisted of four sub-exercises located in West Germany, Greece, Spain, and Denmark.
On 3 April 1969, the squadron experienced the loss of one of its two C-47 aircraft and its crew. Major Paul C. Jones was the instructor pilot, Captain Randolph S. Crammer was the co-pilot and Staff Sergeant Donald J. Biss ell was the flight engineer. The aircraft was on an instrument training flight and had departed Sembach for Ramstein when the accident occurred. The vertical stabilizer on the C-47 had collapsed, thus putting the aircraft into a condition from which the crew could not recover.
From 28 August until the end of November 1970, a 13-man 7th SOS crew, commanded by Major Irl L. Franklin, participated in the preparation and execution of the Son Tay Raid, which was an attempt to liberate POWs held in North Vietnam. Flying Combat Talon 64-0523 (assigned to the 15th SOS at Nha Trang AB, South Vietnam), the 7th SOS crew lead a dissimilar formation of H-53s and an H-3 deep into North Vietnam. Although no prisoners were found at Son Tay, the Combat Talon portion of the operation went off without a hitch. All aircraft and crews returned safely to Thailand after the mission.
Training at Ramstein was conducted around the clock and the MC-130E could be heard taxiing and conducting low-level flying as often after dark as during daylight. During the years 1969 through 1973, Ramstein hosted two fighter squadrons, 38th TRS and 526th Tactical Fighter Squadron flying the RF-4C and F-102/F-4E respectively. The night belonged to the 7th SOS, protected from prying eyes by the dark, as well as the fog and mist endemic to the area.
The spring of 1971 brought about yet another change with the additional assignment of UH-1N helicopters. In September 1972, while deployed for Operation Flintlock V, the squadron was notified by USAFE that it would leave Ramstein the following March and move to Rhein-Main AB near the city of Frankfurt, Germany. Movement Order Number 23, dated 5 December 1972, directed that the 7th SOS move to Rhein-Main and be in place there NLT 15 March 1973. At Rhein-Main, the squadron came under the 322d Tactical Airlift Wing (USAFE). From 12 to 13 March, the squadron moved its equipment and personnel, and by 15 March, it was operationally ready at its new location. The 7th SOS closed out a significant part of its history with the move to Rhein-Main. Both the C-47 and UH-1N flights remained at Ramstein AB as a squadron detachment.
By the summer of 1973, however, only the four Combat Talons (64-0523, 64–0555, 64–0561 and 64-0566) stationed at Rhein-Main remained in Europe. All other SOF assets had been either decommissioned or returned to the US. As a result of Operation Creek Action, which was completed in 1973, several extensive ‘shuffles’ took place. The 7th SOS was transferred from Ramstein AB to Rhein-Main AB.
The 7th SOS’s MC-130Es, code-named `Combat Talon’, were no less mysterious and were also striking to look at with their matt black camouflage scheme and two large hooks on the nose. The 7th SOS’s MC-130Es have been spotted in every corner of Europe. These sightings have perhaps been connected with NATO marine unit exercises with which the 7th SOS is also involved. One of the most bizarre sightings dates from January 1976 when a traveller from West Berlin saw a low-flying C-130 over the Transitstrasse, the transit route, near Magdeburg in the DDR. Flying at an estimated fifty meters over the motorway, the Hercules disappeared northwards at great speed. It was certainly an MC-130E from the 7th SOS but what it was doing in the DDR is not so certain. Granted it was flying perfectly legally in the air corridor at the time of the sighting, the fact that it was a black MC-130E from the mysterious 7th SOS does make one a trifle suspicious that it was on a clandestine mission.
In June 1975, Lt. Col. Thomas Bradley began his Special Operations career with his assignment to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, Rhein Main AB, Germany, serving as Chief Pilot, Operations Officer and in 1978 became the Squadron Commander. In 1979 the 7th SOS was named the Best Flying Squadron in USAFE. In 1977, the 7575th Operations Group was formed at Rhein-Main, realigning the 7th SOS under its control, until March 1983, when the 7th SOS transferred from USAFE to Military Airlift Command. Under this new alignment all special operations forces came into a chain of command from squadron through the 2d Air Division to 23d Air Force.
When the 2nd Air Division was inactivated, the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida picked up the 7th SOS for training and logistics support. Operational control of the squadron resided with the Commander, Special Operations Task Force Europe (SOTFE) at Patch Barracks, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, West Germany.
With the relocation of the 7406th to Greece, the 7th Special Operations Squadron was moved from Ramstein to Rhein-Main as one of the units shuffled as part of operation Creek Action. The 7406th’s Hercules had been used for covert COMINT missions along the Eastern Bloc borders. The 7th SOS’s MC-130Es, code-named Combat Talon, were no less mysterious and were also striking to look at with their matt black camouflage scheme and two large hooks on the nose.
It is these hooks that provided the clue to the covert task of these aircraft because they were the most visible element of the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system invented at the beginning of the 1960s and originally intended for fast and safe recovery of downed pilots from the ground or the sea as well as for the recovery of reconnaissance satellite capsules parachuting to earth.
The recovery system was not generally known about until around 1965 when several C-130s went into action in the Vietnam War. Being also equipped with terrain following radar and a vast amount of ECM equipment, these special EC-130Es were ideally suited for dropping infiltrators and agents behind enemy lines and picking them up again.
This, then, was the type of aircraft used in Europe by the 7th SOS as MC-130E Combat Talons. Although even today very little is known about this special unit. According to a Fact Sheet issued by the 1st SOW, the MC-130Es can be used for infiltration operations in which commando and sabotage units are dropped in enemy territory and for difficult air drops. For daytime drops the squadron employed high altitude low opening (HALO) drops. Drops after sunset were typically high altitude high opening (HAHO). Heavy equipment pallet drops were often from an extremely low altitude – drops from below fifteen meters were not exceptional.
The 7th SOS was reassigned to the 39th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Wing, on 1 February 1987 and to the 352d Special Operations Group, on 1 December 1992 relocating in the process to RAF Alconbury, England.