VIETNAM STUDIES AIRMOBILITY 1961-1971

by Lieutenant General John J. Tolson

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D. C., 1989 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 72-600371 First Printed 1973-CMH Pub 90-4 For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402

Dedication
This study is humbly dedicated to the memory of the following airmobile battalion commanders who were killed in action during the period I commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam:

Lieutenant Colonel Bob L. Gregory Lieutenant Colonel Herlihy T. Long Lieutenant Colonel Howard P. Petty Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Runkle These gallant men-and all the honored dead of that war-will be always in the thoughts and prayers of their comrades-in-arms. iii

Foreword
The United States Army has met an unusually complex challenge in Southeast Asia. In conjunction with the other services, the Army has fought in support of a national policy of assisting an emerging nation to develop governmental processes of its own choosing, free of outside coercion. In addition to the usual problems of waging armed conflict, the assignment in Southeast Asia has required superimposing the immensely sophisticated tasks of a modern army upon an underdeveloped environment and adapting them to demands covering a wide spectrum. These involved helping to fulfill the basic needs of an agrarian population, dealing with the frustrations of antiguerrilla operations, and conducting conventional campaigns against well-trained and determined regular units. As this assignment nears an end, the U.S. Army must prepare for other challenges that may lie ahead. While cognizant that history never repeats itself exactly and that no army ever profited from trying to meet a new challenge in terms of the old one, the Army nevertheless stands to benefit immensely from a study of its experience, its shortcomings no less than its achievements. Aware that some years must elapse before the official histories will provide a detailed and objective analysis of the experience in Southeast Asia, we have sought a forum whereby some of the more salient aspects of that experience can be made available now. At the request of the Chief of Staff, a representative group of senior officers who served in important posts in Vietnam and who still carry a heavy burden of day-to-day responsibilities has prepared a series of monographs. These studies should be of great value in helping the Army develop future operational concepts while at the same time contributing to the historical record and providing the American public with an interim report on the performance of men and officers who have responded, as others have through our history, to exacting and trying demands. All monographs in the series are based primarily on official records, with additional material from published and unpublished secondary works, from debriefing reports and interviews with key participants, and from the personal experience of the author. To v

facilitate security clearance, annotation and detailed bibliography have, been omitted from the published version; a fully documented account with bibliography is filed with the Office of the Chief of Military History. The author of this monograph, Lieutenant General John J. Tolson, has been involved with the airmobile concept since June 1939, when he participated in the first tactical air movement of ground forces by the U.S. Army. Participating in all the combat jumps of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II, he became an Army aviator in 1957, and later served as Director of Army Aviation and Commandant of the U.S. Army Aviation School. From April 1967 to July 1968 he served as Commanding General, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), Vietnam. General Tolson is now Deputy Commanding General, Continental Army Command. Washington, D.C. 15 November 1972 VERNE L. BOWERS Major General, USA The Adjutant General vi

Preface
The purpose of this study is to trace the evolution of airmobility in the U.S. Army. The integration of aircraft into the organic structure of the ground forces is as radical a change as the move from the horse to the truck, and the process is only beginning. Because this change is not the product of one man or one small group of men but rather a fortunate confluence of technology, tactics, and imagination, proper credit to every responsible individual is impossible. I have tried to identify some of those people who made a major contribution throughout the years. I apologize to those people whose names have been omitted either because of oversight or lack of space. Although Vietnam was the first large combat test of airmobility, air assault operations in Southeast Asia would not have been possible without certain key decisions a decade earlier. This study attempts to trace the most important milestones which led to the eventual formation of airmobile divisions. It would be impossible in a single volume to adequately describe every airmobile operation in Vietnam during the years 1961-1971. Therefore, only selected operations have been chosen as examples of different airmobile tactics. Many of these were selected because of the author's personal knowledge. Another author might have selected different operations. I believe I'd be remiss in this account if I were not candid with the reader on some of the pros and cons of airmobility. Thus, throughout the text, I have inserted comments that are intended to broaden the reader's view of this issue.

This study is aimed at a broad audience, some of whom may only have a passing familiarity with Army aircraft systems. These systems are pictured in an appendix with appropriate data on each. Over 300 major source documents were reviewed during the preparation of this study. For the serious student we have identified a rich vein that, as yet, has not been deeply mined. Thousands of important stories, yet untold, lay buried in these pages. Length has permitted us to extract only a few. I wish to thank the many senior officers who went out of their way to contribute their own special comments for this monograph vii and the officers who wrote special studies as basic reference material for the monograph. I have drawn extensively on two such studies prepared by Lieutenant Colonel John R. Galvin of Combat Developments Command and Major Bobby D. Harber of the U.S. Army Aviations Systems Command. Because the published version of my monograph contains no documentation, the extent of my indebtedness to these two officers is not readily apparent. Major Harber's manuscript was subsequently published by the U.S. Army Aviation Systems Command under the title, Logistical Support of Airmobile Operations, Republic of Vietnam, 1961-1971. Finally, I must recognize the two officers who were primarily responsible for researching, drafting, and compiling this volume. Colonel James J. Brockmyer, who was my senior assistant, has been associated with airmobility for more than two decades and was the editor of the test report of the 11th Air Assault Division. CW-2 Charlie M. Montgomery, who researched and typed the multiple drafts, was a special assistant to General Westmoreland for four years in Vietnam. These two officers must share with me any credit (or blame) that this study might generate. Airmobility is no panacea; it brings with it many unique problems as well as unique capabilities. It is hoped that this study will give the reader some insight into both of these areas. Washington, D.C. 15 November 1972 JOHN J. TOLSON Lieutenant General, U.S. Army viii

Contents

Chapter I. THE GROWTH OF THE AIRMOBILE CONCEPT The First Airmobile Units in Vietnam The Growth of the Concept The Armed Helicopter Staff Plans an Army Aircraft "Family" The Rogers Board Army-Air Force Differences Vietnam Fleet Expands The Events Leading to the Howze Board The Howze Board The Howze Board Report II. THE EARLY YEARS IN VIETNAM, 1961-1965 The Army of the Republic of Vietnam Becomes Airmobile Enemy Reaction Early Problems The Armed Helicopter in Vietnam Techniques of Using the Armed Helicopter Tactical Troop Transport Methodology of the Early Air Assaults The Eagle Flight The Growing Aircraft Inventory The Mohawk in Vietnam The Caribou in Vietnam Other Army Aviation Units in Vietnam Increasing Viet Cong Threat III. THE EARLY YEARS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1963-1965 The Air Assault Tests

Page 3 3 3 6 7 8 10 15 16 20 22 25 25 26 28 29 33 35 36 38 39 40 44 47 48 51 51

ix Chapter Joint Considerations Formation of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) IV. THE FIRST AIRMOBILE DIVISION AND THE BUILDUP, 1965 Buildup of U.S. Ground Forces A Critique of an Air Assault Aviation Support Growing Pains Deployment of the Cavalry The An Khe Hub The Ia Drang Overview of 1965 V. AIRMOBILITY COMES OF AGE, 1966 Airmobility in the Delta Airmobile Logistics The Army's "Aircraft Carrier" The 1st Cavalry Division in Binh Dinh The Role of the Chinook Operation Crazy Horse VI. AIRMOBILE DEVELOPMENTS, 1966 The Genesis of the 1st Aviation Brigade The Caribou Transfer Army Aviation Personnel "Arc Light" Techniques of the 101st Airmobility and the U.S. "Presence" Fall, 1966 Page 57 61 63 63 64 66 67 68 72 73 83 86 86 88 91 92 94 95 102 102 104 108 113 114 115 117

Artillery in the Airmobile Concept Other Operations VII. THE PEAK YEAR, 1967 Parachute Assault in Vietnam Change of Command Operation Lejeune The Cavalry Spread Thin x Chapter Reconnaissance in Force The Chinook as a "Bomber" and "Flying Tank" Armor in an Airmobile Division? The "Cobra" Arrives DECCA "Fire Brigades" Sent North Operation Pershing Continues Tam Quan 1967 Draws to a Close VIII. TET, 1968 Summary of Operation Pershing The Enemy Tet Offensive The Tet Offensive at Quang Tri The Move North The Battle of Quang Tri City The 1st Cavalry at Hue Summary of Tet IX. MAJOR OPERATIONS, 1968 Khe Sanh

120 123 126 126 129 130 136

Page 139 141 142 144 147 147 148 149 150 152 152 154 158 159 161 162 164 165 165

Operation Pegasus 9th Division in the Delta The A Shau Valley X. AIRMOBILE DEVELOPMENTS, 1968 Change of Command at Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Enemy Helicopters? The Second Airmobile Division Thoughts on Leaving the Cavalry Status of the 1st Aviation Brigade An Example of Cordon Operations The Cavalry Moves South XI. THE CHANGING WAR AND CAMBODIA, 1969-1970 The Changing War Supporting the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in the Delta The Cavalry's Cambodian Campaign xi Chapter XII. ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES AND LAOS, 1970-1971 Organizational Changes Into Laos The Battle Review of Airmobile Support During Lamson 719 XIII. CONCLUSIONS APPENDIX. ARMY AIRCRAFT PHOTOGRAPHS GLOSSARY

169 180 182 193 193 193 195 198 201 205 209 214 214 214 218

Page 234 234 235 240 244 253 261 285

Charts
No. Page

1. 2.

1st Cavalry Division Organization 1st Aviation Brigade Organization

59 203

Maps
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. South Vietnam The Ia Drang Valley Comparative Sizes: United States and South Vietnam Operation Pegasus, 1-2 April 1968 Operation Pegasus, 3-4 April 1968 Operation Pegasus, 5-6 April 1968 A Shau Valley Vinh Loc Island Thrust into Cambodia The City Tactical Concept of LAMSON 719 LAMSON 719 xii 60 76 116 173 175 176 183 205 219 225 239 243

Illustrations
Page Troop Helicopters Pick Up a Rifle Company From the Field Mohawk Taking Off The Boxer, Loaded with 1st Air Cavalry Aircraft, just Prior to Departure for Vietnam The Boxer Leaves for Vietnam Jumping From a Huey Helicopter Troops Boarding CH-47 Chinook Helicopters CH-47 Chinook Delivering 105-mm Howitzer (Towed) with Ammunition Pallet 35 42 69 70 74 96 97

CH-54 Skyhook Helicopter Delivering 155-mm Howitzer Combat Assault-Troops Moving Out to Secure the Landing Zone Huey Cobra Firing in Support of a Combat Assault Awaiting the Second Wave of Combat Helicopters on an Isolated Landing Zone During Operation Pershing A Blue Team Rifle Squad From the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Exiting From a Huey Helicopter Landing Zone Stallion in the A Shau Valley, Occupied by the 1st Brigade Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Cambodians Fill Bags with Captured Rice, 18 May 1970 A CH-47 Chinook Helicopter Lifts Off a Slingload of Ammunition From Fire Support Base Myron in Cambodia, 24 June 1970 Troops Descending an Aerial Ladder Into Triple Canopied Jungle CH-47 Chinook Delivering Captured Rice in Republic of Vietnam Controlled Rural Area UH-19D Chickasaw CH-34C Choctaw CH-23 Raven OH-13S Sioux CH-37B Mohave XH -40 UH-1A Iroquois CH-47 Chinook CH-21C Shawnee UH-1B Iroquois UH-1D Iroquois UH-IC Iroquois CH-54 Tarhe OH-6A Cayuse AH-1G Huey Cobra OH-58A Kiowa

119 135 145 150 171 189 226 228 230 231 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277

xiii Page O-1 Bird Dog U-1 Otter U-6 Beaver U-8 Seminole C-7 Caribou OV-1 Mohawk U-21 Ute All illustrations are from Department of Defense files. xiv 278 279 280 281 282 283 284

Document formatted by CPT Yulanda Myers, CMH Intern, U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2000
page created 28 July 2000

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