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  Page 70 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

separated from the civilian populace, found no effective method of countering this tactic. Later in June, the Marines of HMM-362 encountered another tactic when they found that hundreds of upright bamboo stakes had been prepositioned in the intended landing zone. The perpendicular spikes, each four or five feet high, not only prevented the helicopters from landing but also made it impossible to disembark the ARVN troops while hovering. Fortunately, the abundance of landing zones in the delta region tended to make this particular tactic ineffective.* On 20 July, HMM-362 added a new dimension to the counterguerrilla capabilities of the South Vietnamese forces when it executed the first night helicopter assault of the war. The mission, which began at 0415 at Soc Trang, involved lifting three waves of ARVN troops into an objective on the Plain of Reeds, about 40 miles southwest of Ben Tre. The ARVN force intended to encircle a suspected Viet Cong village before dawn and then attack it at daybreak. The Marine portion of the airlift was completed 10 minutes before daylight after which the Army's 57th Helicopter Company joined the operation. Although the night troop lift was executed without incident. Lieutenant Colonel Clapp attributed its success at least partially to the near perfect conditions. The moonlight, reflected from the flat, flooded rice paddies, had aided the Marine pilots in the tricky operation.19

Prior to SHUFLY's deployment to Soc Trang, General Roberts' staff at FMFPac had developed a policy for the periodic rotation of the task unit's Marines for which the Commandant's approval had been gained. The helicopter squadron would be replaced by a similar unit after approximately four months of operations in the combat zone. But rather than being drawn from the 1st MAW on Okinawa, the replacement squadron was to be provided by the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing in California. Officers and men serving with the supporting headquarters and MABS-16 elements, however, were to be replaced by Marines from MAG-16 at approximately four-month intervals. So as not to disrupt the operational efficiency of the task unit, individual replacements would be made in increments.

In accordance with this rotation policy, HMM-163, the HUS unit scheduled to relieve HMM-362, began arriving at Soc Trang on 23 July. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Rathbun, a veteran fighter pilot of World War II and Korea, the squadron continued to arrive during the last week of July. Airlifted by GV-ls from the Marine Corps Air Facility, Santa Ana, California, the new squadron brought neither helicopters nor maintenance equipment. The squadron commander had orders to continue operations with HMM-362's aircraft and equipment. Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's squadron maintained a steady operational pace even after the new unit's appearance. On 27 July, 18 of HMM-362's helicopters participated in an operation about 30 miles northeast of Soc Trang. The next day the task unit commander committed 21 helicopters and OE-ls to a 21st ARVN Division operation near Ca Mau. The Eagle Flight was committed on four different occasions during this operation.

Lieutenant Colonel Rathbun's "Ridge Runners" officially relieved "Archie's Angels" on 1 August after a week of orientation flying with HMM-362's crews. The men of the departing squadron could reflect on their tour in South Vietnam with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Since their arrival in mid-April, they had executed 50 combat helicopter assaults, had flown 4,439 sorties, and had amassed 5,262 hours of combat flight time, all in unarmed aircraft. During the course of these missions they had made approximately 130 different landings against Viet Cong opposition. Seventeen of their 24 helicopters and two of the three OE-1 aircraft had received battle damage. To the credit of the squadron's maintenance personnel and aircrews, HMM-362 had not lost a single aircraft during its operations in the Republic of Vietnam. Miraculously the squadron had suffered no casualties while testing the Marine Corps' vertical envelopment concept in the guerrilla war situation.20

During their three and a half months at Soc Trang, Lieutenant Colonel Clapp's men had contributed significantly to another facet of the war effort-one usually considered unrelated to normal combat operations. Sensing the unique links between the political and military aspects of the struggle in South Vietnam, Colonel Carey had

*The German army had used a similar technique (upright poles) to obstruct landing zones against U.S. paratroops at Normandy during World War II. (Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, p. 80.)

 

 

Page 70 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)