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[Image 1: Department of Defense
Photo. LtCol Royce L. Bond, commanding officer of BIT
1/9, right,
attends a briefing with his executive officer, Maj BurrelH. Landes.Jr. BLT'1/9
served as the 11th MAB's reserve for the six-phase operation to evacuate
Phnom Penh, cancelled three days after its 2 April inception.]

Page 110(The Bitter End)


plementaion disappeared. Within two days, the perceived requirement for a
major operation involving the llth MAB had passed. Two factors weighed heavily
in the decision to deactivate the llth Marine Amphibious Brigade. First, the
estimate of persons to be evacuated was decreasing daily. The aircraft resupplying
the government forces had begun to speed this process by transporting increasing
numbers of refugees on their outbound legs. The second reason hinged on the
anticipated arrival of the Hancock and HMH-463. With the carrier and its embarked
squadron only three days Steaming time from the Gulf of Thailand, the addition
of 16 transport helicopters now seemed a certainty, and so without a mission,
the llth MAB had no military purpose. Effective 0001 5 April 1975, CG III
MAF deactivated it.25


Three days earlier on 2 April, in response to the further deterioration of the Cambodian government's defenses around Phnom Penh, Ambassador John Gun-ther Dean had requested the insertion of the Operation Eagle Pull command element into Phnom Penh. The following day. Colonel Baichelder and his group flew into Pochencong airfield. On 4 April, the United States brought in additional C-130s to speed the fixed-wing evacuation process. Simultaneously, the MAU/ARG Alpha assumed a six-hour response posture. During the week of 4 to 10 April, the additional flights extracted hundreds of Cambodians, former employees of the American Embassy. This massive removal of Embassy personnel left a staff of only 50 people to manage both daily business and the evacuation. On the positive side. it decreased the estimate of Cambodians awaiting evacuation to a much more manageable level and nearly eliminated the likelihood of using anything other than the helicopter option.26


As the Embassy, the Marines ashore, and the MAU prepared for chat option, evems in neighboring Vietnam forced ARG Bravo, on 9 April, 10 sail from Phu Quoc back to Vung Tau. Included in the amphibious ready group were Durham, Frederick. Duhuque, and the latest addition to the Western Pacific evacuation forces, the Hancock. Vung "lau, a peninsula in southern South Vietnam near Saigon, looked like it might become the sue of the next major evacuation as thousands of South Vietnamese fleeing the Communist offensive took refuge there. Colonel Alfred M. Gray commanded the combat forces (the 33d MAU) designated to provide security should ARG Bravo be forced to conduct evacuation operations. The Hancock, the ship designated to support the evacuation of Cambodia using HMH-463, also carried other units of the 33d MAU including elements of Lieutenant Colonel Bond's BLT 1/9. Additionally, while in Subic, the Hancock had taken on board additional helicopters, CH-46s, UH-lEs, and AH-lJs, ferried to Subic by the USS Midway (CVA 41) expressly for the purpose of augmenting HMH-463 and 33d MAU.*27


On 10 April, in order to resolve the conflict in mission, CinCPacFlt detached the Hancock and HMH-463 from 33d MAU/ARG Bravo and passed operational control to 31st MAU/ARG Alpha. Laic the following day, on 11 April 1975, the carrier rendezvoused with ARG Alpha in the Gulf of Thailand. Despite its late arrival, less than 24 hours before H-Hour, HMH-463 was ready for action.28


From the moment it left Pearl Harbor, the squadron had begun preparing for the operation. In particular, it made modifications to the aircraft to counter the effectiveness ofSA-7 surface-to-air missiles. Maintenance personnel installed the ALE-29 flare dispenser


*The Midway had been ordered to the area in response to the


growing crisis in South Vietnam. Hnroure from her homepon in Yokosuka.Japan. to Subic Bay, Re-public ofihc Philippines, the Midway, as it steamed past Okinawa, embarked the helicopters designated for transfer to the Hancock. Stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Futema, they joined Detachment 101 of VMCJ-1 already on board the Midway. Under the command ofl-icuic'iiant Colonel William A. Bloomer, the detachment consisted of iwo Ri--4s and three EA-6s.









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