Ghostriders 1968–1975: “Mors de Caelis” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia

  • Published

Ghostriders 1968–1975: “Mors de Caelis” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia by William Walter, 2022, 352 pp. 

William Walter’s Ghostriders 1968–1975 is an excellent history of AC-130 gunships and the combat operations conducted in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Ghostriders is compiled from historical accounts of declassified material and information gained from interviews with Special Operations Forces (SOF) veterans. It provides a fascinating perspective of the missions conducted by aircrew members and the challenges of employing a newly modified aircraft. For example, Walter stated that modifications to the aircraft did not come with technical data, leaving crews and maintainers to deal with complex troubleshooting problems (86).

Walter is a retired US Air Force chief master sergeant and was an AC-130 Gunship aerial gunner. He participated in every AC-130 combat operation from 1980–94. In 2001, Walter was inducted into the Air Commando Hall of Fame and the US Special Operations Command Hall of Honor in 2011. Ghostriders provides detailed accounts of AC-130s hunting trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and supporting ground forces in the area. These operations proved to be very successful, saving countless lives and destroying thousands of tons of supplies. But that did not come without a cost: 6 AC-130 gunships were destroyed, and 52 crewmembers lost their lives (286).

Walter does a terrific job of telling the stories of crew members who flew on the AC-130 Gunships. A great level of detail exists of the specific missions executed and offers a unique point of view from those who were there. He also does an excellent job of explaining in detail each crewmember’s position on the aircraft as well as their roles and responsibilities. Readers do not have to be familiar with gunships to understand the book. Walter additionally takes the reader through a chronological order of the operations adding to the ease of readability and allowing the reader to effortlessly keep track of the timeline. 

A minor shortcoming of the book is a few missing perspectives. It offers references from the opposing side and some perspectives of the maintainers and ground forces. Still, more accounts from the People’s Army of Vietnam and the aircraft maintainers could add to the content offering the reader more angles of the story. Even without these accounts, Ghostriders places the reader inside an AC-130 receiving effective enemy fire while performing evasive and emergency actions keeping the reader engaged. At times, the book places the reader on the edge of their seat with adrenaline pumping and is difficult to put down.

Ghostriders is a fantastic read for anyone interested in AC-130s in general or for those studying the conflicts in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. This book offers a perspective that some may not have heard before. Special Operations Forces personnel could also benefit by gaining a better understanding of where gunships started, and the lessons learned early during employment that are still just as applicable today. These lessons should be passed down to future gunship aviators.

Master Sergeant Daniel Christenson, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."