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  Page 65 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

 

water were readily available. All necessary liaison with the Vietnamese units to be supported had been accomplished. Pilots and crews had gained a rudimentary knowledge of the area in which they would fly and SHUFLY's entire command structure had undergone a one week 'shake down' in which it had proven sound.

Mekong Delta Combat Support Operations

Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's squadron began combat operations on Easter Sunday, 22 April, exactly one week after arriving in the Republic of Vietnam. The unit's first combat assignment was to assist the Army's Saigon-based 57th Helicopter Company in an operation code named LOCKJAW. The American helicopters were to support the ARVN 7th Division which was headquartered at My Tho, 53 miles northeast of Soc Trang. The Marine helicopters, which departed Soc Trang at 0900, flew 29 sorties and lifted 400 Vietnamese soldiers without incident during the course of their first operation.

Unlike the U.S. Army helicopters already operating in other parts of South Vietnam, the Marine HUS-ls were not armed with machine guns during their initial operations from Soc Trang. Prior to their deployment, the Marine commanders had reasoned that weapons mounted in the cargo hatch would hinder loading and unloading during critical periods while the helicopters were in landing zones. Additionally, armed aircraft would tend to present a more hostile appearance to Vietnamese civilians, thereby providing the Viet Cong ready-made material for their anti-American propaganda themes. The only weapons on board the helicopters, therefore, were the individual side arms and two M3A1 .45 caliber submachine guns carried by the crew members. The automatic weapons enabled Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's men to return fire at short ranges and would also enhance their survival capabilities in the event an aircraft was forced down in unsecure territory.*

Once HMM-362 began combat flight operations the tempo of activities at Soc Trang quickened. *By the summer the new light weight AR-15, the forerunner of the M-16, would replace the M3A1 'greaseguns.' Near the end of the year, however, the Leatherneck crews were carrying M-14 rifles, the standard U.S. 7.62mm infantry weapon of this period.

The same day that SHUFLY helicopters participated in the coordinated helilift from My Tho, an HUS was called upon to evacuate an American advisor from Vinh Long, 46 miles north of Soc Trang. The following day the first combined operation involving Vietnamese Marine ground forces and U.S. Marine helicopters was conducted. A company of Vietnamese Marines was helilifted into a threatened government outpost south of the town of Ca Mau, located near the southern tip of South Vietnam, to provide security while HMM-362's helicopters evacuated the 57-man garrison. On 24 April, 16 Marine helicopters supported the 21sc ARVN Division in Operation NIGHTINGALE conducted near Can Tho. In this operation 591 ARVN troops were lifted into eight landing zones along two canals where a large group of Viet Cong had been reported. Shortly after the first wave of the assault force landed, a vicious small arms fight erupted. HMM-362 suffered its first combat damage when a helicopter was forced down after its oil line was punctured by enemy fire. An accompanying HUS quickly landed and retrieved the crew. Four other helicopters proceeded to the forward loading site, picked up a Marine repair team and enough ARVN troops to protect the team while it worked, and returned to the downed aircraft. The mechanics completed their repairs in two hours after which the crew returned the helicopter to Soc Trang. The security force was then lifted out of the area.

Despite the damage suffered by the Marine aircraft, the Can Tho operation apparently achieved some success. The Viet Cong reportedly suffered 70 dead and lost three prisoners to the South Vietnamese while the ARVN units lost only three killed and six wounded. The Marines of HMM-362, moreover, had responded to a new challenge by demonstrating that they could recover helicopters which had been forced to land in insecure territory. Although the principle of providing security while accomplishing field repairs had been employed previously by the Army helicopter companies, the Can Tho operation of 24 April marked the first time the Marines had been required to use the technique.

HMM-362 again joined the Army's 57th Helicopter Company for a coordinated troop lift on 25 April. This time the objective was the small town of Chau Doc on the Bassac River near the

 

 

Page 65 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)