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and to frame a set of recommendations. Roberts, who had been selected for promotion to lieutenant general and was scheduled to relieve Shapley as Commanding General, FMFPac, found the prospect of Marine aviators participating in combat support operations in Vietnam appealing but felt that the proposal under review had some definite disadvantages. He pointed out that under Timmes' plan the Marine pilots would be flying a type of helicopter unfamiliar to them instead of the ones they would operate if the Marine squadrons were later deployed to Vietnam. Furthermore, General Roberts warned that the piecemeal assignment of his pilots would reduce the combat readiness of the unit from which they would be drawn.6

At Roberts' suggestion, General Shapley offered CinCPac a counterproposal which he believed would benefit both the South Vietnamese government and the Marine Corps. He suggested that a complete Marine medium helicopter squadron from Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16), 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW) and supporting elements be moved from Okinawa to the war zone. The Marine squadron, operating 24 HUS-ls (a single-rotor, Sikorsky-built transport helicopter later known as the UH-34D) would replace the Army helicopter company at Da Nang in the northernmost corps tactical zone, I Corps. The Army unit would then be freed for redeployment southward into either II or III Corps Tactical Zones.

General Shapley emphasized several advantages which he saw in this plan. First, it would provide additional helicopter support for the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces while concurrently providing an entire Marine helicopter squadron with an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in a counterguerrilla environment. It would also provide Marine Corps units with operational experience in I Corps, the area to which they would be committed if standing contingency plans were later executed. Finally, Shapley explained that his proposal offered an almost entirely self-sufficient aviation unit which could be supported administratively and logistically by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The unit would require only minimal support from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.6

On the same day that he had heard the Marine commander's proposal. Admiral Felt received a message from Admiral John H. Sides, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, which strongly advised that Roberts' plan be implemented.7 Admiral Felt then solicited General Harkins' opinion on the matter. He reminded the MACV commander that the proposed deployment would provide the Marines with operational experience in an area where they might some day be committed. The admiral further pointed out that the location of a Marine helicopter unit at Da Nang would enable the Army aviation companies to move south into one of the other corps tactical zones-a move that would facilitate the logistical support of those units by shortening their supply lines.8

Harkins generally concurred with Admiral Felt's viewpoint. He noted that the more powerful Marine HUS helicopter (Sea Horse) could be expected to out perform the Army's H-21 in the higher elevations around Da Nang. He also felt that the Marines, with their seaborne supply network, were better equipped to cope with the logistics problems in the more isolated northern reaches of South Vietnam. But he objected to the deployment of the Marine unit to Da Nang on the basis that the relocation of the Army's 93d Helicopter Company from I Corps in the immediate future would disrupt a series of operations which were already underway in I Corps. As an alternative, General Harkins proposed that the Marine helicopters be located initially at Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta. Later, when the tempo of operations in the northern corps tactical zone permitted, it could exchange places with the Army unit at Da Nang.9 One Army general raised a specific objection to the proposal that the Marine squadron be deployed from Okinawa. General James F. Collins, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army, Pacific (Cin-CUSArPac) argued that the presence of the Marine helicopters at Soc Trang would introduce yet "another supply and maintenance feature into the III Corps area." 10 This argument was followed by the recommendation that the Army's 81st Light Helicopter Company, then based in Hawaii, be ordered to the Mekong Delta. The 81st, General Collins contended, was already trained in troop transportation operations in jungle terrain. General David M. Shoup, the Marine Corps Commandant, who approved the FMFPac plan in concept, harbored one reservation regarding General Roberts' proposals. His concern stemmed

 

 

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