Cambodian Rice Airlift

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Cambodian Rice Airlift
Location: Cambodia
Date: October–December 1973
Emergency: Fighting around Phnom Penh cut overland supply routes to the Cambodian capital, producing a food shortage.
Organizations: 374th Tactical Airlift Wing
Airlifted: 3,000 tons of rice.
Aircraft Used: C–130 (number unknown)

The Cambodian government of Premier Lon Nol fought Khmer Rouge rebels in 1973. Fighting reduced the country’s food supply and impeded food distribution, and by autumn serious food shortages affected Phnom Penh as insurgent forces interdicted supply routes to the capital.

Although the Air Force had halted bombing missions in Cambodia, U.S. C–130 cargo planes from the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing continued to fly military supplies from Thailand to Lon Nol’s forces. The U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh requested an emergency airlift of rice in addition to ammunition already being flown to the city. In October, C–130s began hauling rice from Battambang, an area of Cambodia where rice was still plentiful, to Pochentong Airfield near Phnom Penh. Between October 2 and 12, the planes hauled 847 tons of rice to the capital. By Christmas, they had delivered 3,000 tons.

The food airlift faced hazards. On October 8, Khmer Rouge forces fired a Strella SA–7 surface-to-air missile at a C–130 as it departed Pochentong. Although the missile did not hit the plane, the incident halted the rice airlift for two days. Monsoon rains also delayed operations.

Despite such problems, the rice airlift succeeded in temporarily ending the food shortage in the Cambodian capital. Opening of land routes to Phnom Penh and boat deliveries up the Mekong River from South Vietnam increased rice stocks and made further food deliveries by air unnecessary.

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