Opposing these government forces in the early fall of 1962 were Viet Cong forces of formidable strength. Four interprovincial battalions (main force), four interprovincial companies, five provincial companies, 18 district companies, and three district platoons were known to be operating within the boundaries of I Corps. Together, these units totalled an estimated 4,750 men.' Added to the presence of these known Viet Cong units was the threat posed to I Corps by its proximity to North Vietnam and to the so-called 'Ho Chi Minh Trails' located across the Laotian border. The relative position of the northern provinces naturally invited Communist infiltration. In June, for example, the 4th Viet Cong Battalion, a main force unit, was infiltrated into Quang Nam Province from sanctuaries in Laos. By September MACV intelligence estimates reported one North Vietnamese (PAVN) infantry division, two independent PAVN infantry regiments, and an artillery regiment poised in areas of Laos adjacent to the I Corps border. 'These units,' the U.S. report warned, '... could be committed anywhere in I Corps or [the] northern part of II Corps 20 days after starting movement.' 2
While the government's nationwide strategy focused on clearing and holding the populated areas, the physiographic configuration of I Corps (as well as II Corps to the south) demanded that offensive operations be conducted in the mountains adjacent to the coastal plains against Viet Cong base areas. Since the arrival of the U.S. Army helicopter company at Da Nang early in the year, General Don had shown an increasing tendency to mount battalion and regimental hcliborne assaults deep into the western mountains. Capitalizing on .the mobility which the American helicopters afforded, the ARVN command had hoped to disrupt remote Communist base areas inside the international border. Still, helibornc offensives into western I Corps were often hampered by bad weather, .particularly during the monsoon season.
Another facet of the government effort to deny the enemy unrestricted access to the mountains was a system characterized by a network of small, relatively isolated outposts. In late 1961, at the urging of U.S. officials in Saigon, the Diem government had launched a program whose ultimate objective was similar to that of the Strategic Hamlet Program. First, U.S. Army Special Forces teams entered remote Montagnard villages located in the Annamite Chain and built small fortified camps. This accomplished, the Americans initiated pacification activities with the hope of securing the allegiance of the traditionally independent Montagnard tribesmen. By mid-1962 the Special Forces effort appeared on its way to success. Already Montagnard tribesmen had been organized into a number of Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDGs) throughout the mountains of I and II Corps. Advised by Special Forces teams, the CIDG units were monitoring infiltration routes and harassing the Communists as they attempted to move through the mountains. By the summer of 1962 the distinctive little barbed wire enclosed camps were scattered over the length of western I Corps.
Although it played an important role in the government's strategy for controlling the insurgency in the northern provinces, the outpost system had obvious shortcomings. Roads between the distant camps and the towns along the coastal plain were almost nonexistent. Those that did exist, such as Route 9, the road which extended from Route 1 westward across Quang Tri Province and into Laos, were vulnerable to ambush or interdiction by guerrilla forces. Truck convoys, furthermore, consumed time and required protection by security forces. As a result of their relative isolation, the CIDG camps had come to depend heavily on aircraft as a means of resupply. While crude runways had been constructed at many of the outposts, they were often better suited for helicopter operations than for fixed-wing transport landings. The newly arrived Marine commanders anticipated that their squadron, like the Army helicopter company it had replaced, would be required to devote' a sizable percentage of sorties to resupplying the far-flung outposts.
Initial Helicopter Operations
The system of helicopter coordination in I Corps promised to be somewhat different from that which had governed Marine operations in the Mekong Delta. At Da Nang, an Air Support Operations Center (ASOC) was organized within the corps headquarters to process all requests for aviation support. Manned by ARVN, VNAF, U.S.
Page 80 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)