Marine helicopters made an equally important contribution to the operation. The seven helicopter squadrons of Colonel O'Connor's MAG-16 and Colonel Johnson's MAG-36, and Lieutenant Colonel Porter's HMM-261 flew 9,230 sorties, carried 12,177 troops, and transported 638 tons of supplies.* Besides providing battlefield mobility to the infantry, the pilots of these aircraft accomplished medical evacuation, reconnaissance, resupply, and other operational and administrative missions. The UH-lEs of Marine Observation Squadrons 2 and 6, armed with 7.62mm machine guns and 2.75-inch rockets, provided valuable close air support when fixed-wing aircraft could not attack targets due to low visibility. These Huey gunships also served as escorts for truck convoys and UH-34D helicopters and performed a number of medical evacuations. Lastly, these squadrons provided the airborne "eyes" for the commanders of HARVEST MOON; two UH-lEs were continuously assigned to the Task Force DELTA commander for command and control purposes.
The six-plane detachment of Sikorsky CH-37C heavy-lift helicopters attached to Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 16 proved invaluable for lifting 105mm howitzers into the battle area. Two U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters, "on loan" to the Marines from the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), supported the operation by retrieving several downed helicopters. During the course of the operation, Marine helicopter pilots reported over 100 occasions in which they received enemy fire. Fifty-three helicopters sustained battle damage, and the Marine crews suffered 1 killed, 12 wounded, and 2 helicopters destroyed.
A significant contribution to the success of the operation was the establishment of a logistic support area near Thang Binh on Route l. Truck convoys from Da Nang and Chu Lai brought in supplies which could then be quickly helilifted to the using units. A company from the 3d Engineer Battalion, attached to Task Force DELTA, had the mission of keeping Route l open and trafficable. Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas J. Dennis, commander of the 3d Engineer Battalion, later wrote:
Culverts, bridges, earth fill, and equipment were transported in daily convoys down Route l. We repaired many road cuts or sites where the road was blown. I visited the task force CP daily, and performed helicopter recons.16
Artillery also was moved out of the TAORs into the battle area to provide support for the infantry units. Five Marine artillery batteries fired 6,386 rounds during HARVEST MOON.** The mortar battery, using helicopter mobility, deployed to hilltops in a leapfrog manner.*** HARVEST MOON furnished reinforcing evidence that Marine artillery could both move and be resupplied by rotary wing aircraft.
HARVEST MOON was not without its problems. The hastily established provisional headquarters, the fast moving ground situation, poor weather conditions, and the large number of tactical aircraft operating over the Que Son Valley caused coordination and control difficulties. Colonel Leslie E. Brown, who had relieved Colonel Noble as commander of MAG-12 on 19 September, believed that better advance planning prior to the operation could have alleviated some of the problems encountered by his pilots. His group operated throughout HARVEST MOON "with practically no coordination with supported units except that which was accomplished in the air over the target area." As an example, on 10 December his group launched 32 sorties under an alert declared by Task Force DELTA, but when the attack aircraft arrived over the objective area, control was so poorly synchronized that many of the aircraft were unable to drop their ordnance.17 At other times, fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft maneuvered at the same altitude in the same general area. Still, even with these difficulties, Marine aviation significantly influenced the results on the battlefield. Through these
* MAG-16 squadrons participating in HARVEST MOON were Bauman's VMO-2, Denny's HMM 161, Clark's HMM 263, and Childers' HMM-361. MAG-36 squadrons were Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Zitnik's VMO-6, Lieutenant Colonel James Aldworth's HMM-362, and Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lucas' HMM-364.
**Artillery support was furnished by Batteries A, 1/11;F, 2/12; M, 4/11; L, 4/12 (from 11 December); and 107mm Mortar Battery (only three tubes), 1/12.
*** According to General Platt, the displacement of artillery units during HARVEST MOON was "a crude forerunner of the fire base concept" in that the deployed units were always in range of some form of artillery. Platt PhonCon, Jun71.Page 110 (1965: The Landing and the Buildup)