The Ravens

The men who flew in America’s secret war in Laos

Christopher Robbins

Officially, the war in Laos did not exist; both North Vietnam and the USA denied they had troops there. In fact, thousands of North Vietnamese were invading the country and pouring down the HO Chi Minh trail on their way to the South, and the Americans were fighting a vigorous war against them from the air.

The Ravens were the pilots, all volunteers, who flew through heavy groundfire to identify targets and call in air-strikes. Their mission was top secret. They wore no uniform and carried no identification. Mavericks to a man, they accepted the murderous casualty rates in return for a life of unrestricted flying and fighting.

The Ravens did their job with extraordinary skill and crazy courage and a zany humour all of their own. This is their story- a tale of undeniable heroism, blending real-life romance, adventure and tragedy.

First published by Bantam Press (Transworld, UK) in 1988.  Reissued through Asia Books.


‘A book of outstanding integrity. Here are the heroes whom no-one ever told you about.’
Tom Clancy

‘Tremendously moving… brilliantly reported. A truly wonderful book.’
Robert Sampson Elegant, author of Dynasty

‘I’ve spent a lifetime among men of more than ordinary courage and yet I’ve rarely seen it written about with more conviction and sympathy than in Chris Robbins’ The Ravens. It is an exciting, obsessive read. I pray that every American who loves real adventure in a good cause and likes to look both his country and our recent history square in the eye will read this book.’
Ernest K. Gann

‘An absolutely riveting, authentic story that has never been told before. This is a brilliant depiction of weary, incredibly brave pilots flying at the sharp edge of conflict. It makes ordinary combat flying seem like a rest cure.’
Walter J. Boyne, author of The Wild Blue and The Leading Edge

‘Robbins is to be congratulated for his diligent research and his accurate portrayal of a group of men who have long been denied their rightful place in our country’s military history. . . thinks like a pilot, writes like an angel.’
J. C. Pollock, author of Mission M.I.A

‘A book that really conveys the feel of the war in Laos… Great and lasting contribution.’
Arthur J. Dommen, author of Conflict in Laos

‘Robbins offers an unsparing account of a dirty, clandestine conflict with precious little glory, albeit valor to spare. Without ever overstating the case, he celebrates the maverick esprit developed by comrades in arms who soldiered on in the face of heavy losses and Catch-22 restrictions that cramped their freewheeling style… The heart and soul of his narrative, however, are the Ravens – as brave and engaging a band of brothers as ever flew hostile skies. A fine and fitting tribute to unsung heroes.’
Kirkus Review

‘Robbins conveys the unique flavor of Raven-style combat and also explains how the diplomatic-military dynamics of the clandestine war in Laos fit into the overall American effort in Southeast Asia. The cast of characters is memorable. . .’
Publishers’ Weekly

‘Robbins spins an exciting true account… Exhaustive research, reliable interviews and excellent writing are the hallmarks of this book, which is full of sketches of compellingly interesting personalities and accounts of their adventures in the air and on the ground. This worthwhile contribution to the growing literature on U.S. covert operations reads like a good thriller.’

‘Robbins provides a detailed, readable account, with ample history and background to provide context.’
Library Journal

‘Christopher Robbins’ The Ravens is an amazing piece of work, not only because he captures the wild spirit of that band of brothers, but because he has broken through great secrecy to get the story… based in large part on interviews with surviving pilots and CIA advisers… Using oral histories and historical analysis, Robbins has written a highly readable, suspenseful, informative book.’
Asa Baber, Chicago Sun-Times

‘Robbins supplies memorable anecdotes… a book that is both moving and informative… We are not likely to read a better account of the secret war for some time to come.’
Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine

‘A story that hasn’t been told before… Robbins has written an adventure story… poignant… sympathetic portrayal.’
Washington Post Book World

‘Rare and insightful account… fairly bristles with tales of the daring Raven missions, hair-raising rescues of shotdown pilots and fascinating portraits of cowboy-hatted, denim-jeaned, gold ringed pilots who learned fast or died quickly… an in-the-cockpit history that puts you in there with the men who fought the NVA.’
The Daily Republic

‘Whatever one’s feelings about war in general, and this one in particular, there is no denying Robbins’ considerable skill as an adventure writer… flashes of gallows humor worthy of “M*A*S*H”… will probably disturb a number of readers across the political spectrum… this thoroughly documented book advances our knowledge of a terrible time and deserves serious attention.’
San Francisco Chronicle

‘Christopher Robbins has done massive and meticulous research to tell a fascinating little known sidebar to the Vietnam War story.’
Houston Post

‘A well researched work.’
Chattanooga Times

‘Christopher Robbins’ book swaggers through its early chapters with descriptions of bravado and derring-do. As the account progresses, The Ravens begins to take on the aspect of passionate tragedy… Reading The Ravens is a bittersweet experience. The memorable stories of the brave men who risked their lives supporting the Meo evoke a sense of purpose in a war perceived as lacking one… The Ravens should satisfy readers of war novels. It has the action that pumps up the adrenaline, yet the book tempers the reader’s blood lust by humanizing the Meo and portraying them sympathetically… The book humanizes the men of the secret war… The Ravens brings to light a war the United States would like to forget but cannot.’
The Arizona Daily Star

‘The Ravens is a… fascinating, disturbing, often funny, overwhelming tragic story about American pilots flying obsolete aircraft in a covert war… filled with some of the most unbelievable, yet true, exploits of men who gave and risked their lives for their country in a war no one on the U.S. side, except them, really intended to win.  Although The Ravens is written about Air Force pilots . . . it’s much more than the incredible heroics that it so well documents. What Robbins really tells, in this narrative spun from interviews with surviving Raven FACs… is a tale of U.S. policy gone demonstrably mad… Raven FACs developed a mystique that still awes most Air Force pilots. A truly creditable job of letting these pilots tell their own stories. Read this book and believe it. Once you finish The Ravens you’ll never forget who these men were – and what they’ve done in their country’s name.’
John Clark Pratt, Albuquerque Journal Magazine

‘The Ravens exploits were dangerous and often ended in death . . . an elite and fearless group . . . Robbins is a good storyteller – he unfurls the saga of a little known group of warriors in an easy, flowing style. He also gives enough historic detail about political and military events to put the story of the Ravens in perspective.’
The Denver Post

‘Not much has been known about this hush-hush outfit until now. The amazing story of what went on in this part of the secret war (in Laos) is spun out in a fascinating new book. This is a thriller-type war adventure with one significant difference: everything that English author Robbins reports actually happened.
The Veteran, (Vietnam Veterans of America Newsletter)

‘The “Other Theater” was the war just to the left of the one most of us fought and, though a secret war, enough tales drifted over from Laos that we had a vague idea of what was going on beyond the mountains… Everything we heard about Laos was larger than life and stranger than fiction. Rumor had it that in Laos you could find covert Special Forces advisers and CIA paramilitary spooks, pilots right out of “Terry and Pirates,” Stone Age native troops led by war-lords, and the best bordellos in Asia – all players in a war that officially wasn’t. But to hear even a whisper of the Ravens you had to have a really hot source. They were, according to rumor, a wild and outlandish group – long-haired; hard drinking; arrogant; wearing blue jeans, cowboy hats, Ray Ban glasses and Rolexes – who flew overloaded
0-1 Bird Dog single-engine prop planes low enough to collect leaves and take scalps… Essentially it was all true… and Chris Robbins has done an outstanding job of describing it and capturing the kind of character who flew in it.’
Soldier of Fortune

‘Excellent… Robbins does a good job of setting the stage for his story… he is especially good at conveying the rapport and contrast between these dedicated American flyers and their Stone-Age Laotian comrades in arms… Gives us a feel for the totality of combat, not just the intense moments under fire… now the story of the Ravens has been told and told well.’
Roanoke Times

‘A story of secret arrangements, secret bombings, secret money – secrets, secrets – but above all, a look at the lives of the men who flew in America’s clandestine air war in Laos… A testament to brave and sometimes reckless men fighting for a vision clouded by hidden meanings and illusionary promises.’
Sunday Telegram

‘One of the most comprehensive military histories of the war to date… vividly recounting calamities, narrow escapes, successful missions and terrible mistake.’
St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

‘More than just a look at a sidelight to what is often called the only war America ever lost, this book examines the history and ethnic make-up of Indochina, the plight of the Hmong during and after the war, and it personalizes the conflict by focusing on individual American and Hmong participants… A welcome addition to the new flood of literary and theatrical material on the Vietnam War, this volume allows these brave airmen to step out of the shadows and stand tall.’
Sun-Star, Merced, California

‘Told in a riveting fashion, The Ravens is compelling reading for anyone who can appreciate an intriguing tale of derring-do and heroism above the call.’
AIR FORCE Magazine

‘Though The Ravens is written like a thriller, it is exceedingly accurate. For those Vietnam vets who always wondered what went on “up north” or “across the river”, Robbins has the answers.’
The Tampa Tribune-Times

‘An impressive work… enjoyable and enlightening.’
Laos: Lonely Planet

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