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firing on the faster, more heavily armed U.S. gunships represented crude but effective additions to his expanding repertoire of counter-helicopter tactics. Although unappreciated by the Leatherneck crews, the enemys' most recent flurry of actions had no lasting effect on the overall pattern of helicopter operations.

Sure Wind 202

In late April Colonel Merchant's Marines joined with VNAF and U.S. Army elements to launch what would be the costliest and most viciously opposed heliborne assault attempted in South Vietnam during the 1962-1965 period. On the 26th, Merchant, Lieutenant Colonel La Voy, and Lieutenant Colonel George Brigham, the task element operations officer, flew to Quang Ngai and Pleiku to participate in the final stages of planning for a multi-battalion heliborne offensive into the Do Xa area, the mountainous Viet Cong stronghold located ' along the northern border of II Corps. At Quang Ngai officials from the II Corps headquarters had already completed the general plans for Operation SURE WIND 202 (Vietnamese code name: QUYET THANG 202), the size of which demanded the use of all transport helicopters available in both I and II Corps. The Marine representatives learned that HMM-364's role in the upcoming operation would be to helilift a 420-man South Vietnamese battalion from the Quang Ngai airfield to Landing Zone BRAVO, an objective located about 30 miles due west of the pickup point. Simultaneous with this assault, a U.S. Army helicopter company based at Pleiku was scheduled to transport two ARVN battalions (960 troops) from Gi Lang, an outpost located 24 miles west-sourhwest of Quang Ngai, to a second landing zone about eight miles west-southwest of Landing Zone BRAVO. The operation was to begin on the morning of 27 April, with the first assault waves scheduled to land at 0930. Due to the distance between the mountainous landing zones and because two different helicopter units would be conducting the respective troop-lifts, the operation plan treated the two assaults as separate operations. A U.S. Air Force U-10 aircraft had been assigned to carry Colonel Merchant, the TACA, and other ASOC representatives who would coordinate the helilift into Landing Zone BRAVO. Twenty Vietnamese A-1H Skyraiders had been assigned to provide tactical air support for the Marine portion of the operation. Twelve of these attack aircraft were scheduled to conduct preparatory strikes on and around the landing zones, four were to orbit above the area after the helicopter landing began, and the remaining four were to be positioned on airstrip alert at Da Nang. Five Army UH-1B gunships were assigned to escort the Marine UH-34Ds to and from the landing zone.

The preparatory air Strikes around Landing Zone BRAVO began as the first ARVN heliteams boarded the 19 Marine and two VNAF helicopters at Quang Ngai. Following the VNAF's air strikes, the escorting Army gunships swept in for a pre-landing reconnaissance of the zone. They were met by fire from Viet Cong .50 and .30 caliber machine guns. The gunships countered with repeated rocket and machine gun attacks on those enemy positions that could be located but were unable to silence the Communist weapons. Meanwhile, the loaded Marine and VNAF helicopters cleared Quang Ngai and were closing on the objective. After the UH-lBs expended their entire ordnance load- and most of their fuel in attempts to neutralize enemy fire. Colonel Merchant ordered all helicopters, transports and gunships alike, back to Quang Ngai to rearm and refuel. With the transports and gunships enroute to Quang Ngai, the ASOC summoned the on-call VNAF A-lHs to attack the Viet Cong positions. During ensuing strikes one Skyraider was damaged severely by .50 caliber machine gun fire. The Vietnamese pilot turned his smoking aircraft eastward in an unsuccessful effort to nurse it to the Quang Ngai airstrip. The attack bomber crashed less than one mile from the west end of the small airstrip.

The A-1H air strikes on and around Landing Zone BRAVO continued until 1225. Shortly after the strikes ceased Colonel Merchant ordered the first wave of transport helicopters to land the ARVN assault force. Escorting UH-lBs were still drawing fire as the first flight of three UH-34Ds approached the contested landing zone. This time, however, the Marine and VNAF pilots were not deterred. The first UH-34Ds touched down at 1230 with their machine gunners pouring streams of

 

 

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