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Marine Aviation in Vietnam
Deployments-Control of Marine Aviation-Fixed-Wing Operations- Helicopter Operations-Air Defense Responsibilities
The 1965 buildup of Marine aviation in Vietnam paralleled that of the III MAF ground forces. Following the landing of the 9th MEB in March, two Marine fixed-wing squadrons, VMCJ-1 and VMFA-531, later relieved by VMFA-513, joined MAG-16 at Da Nang in April. MAG-16 had been, until that time, the MEB's composite helicopter group.* In May, the wing established its forward headquarters in Vietnam, and the next month MAG-12 arrived at the newly built SATS airfield at Chu Lai. On 14 July, MAG-11 headquarters assumed operational control of the fixed-wing squadrons at Da Nang from MAG-16. These now included the photo reconnaissance squadron, VMCJ-1, and two F-4B Phantom n squadrons, VMFA-513 and VMFA-542, the latter squadron having arrived on 11 July. After the President's 28 July proclamation announcing further reinforcement, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized the deployment of a second helicopter group, MAG-36, and another missile battalion, the 2d LAAM Battalion. The first elements of the helicopter group arrived on 31 August. The LAAM battalion followed 10 days later.
On 2 September, Colonel William G. Johnson, the MAG-36 commander, established his headquarters on the Ky Ha peninsula, north of the SATS field, where construction had begun on a helicopter facility for the Chu Lai base. When the group arrived, 'the helicopter pad had been fully graded and about one-third or more of the matting laid .. . . '1 The MAG-36 squadrons remained at Da Nang until Ky Ha was operational. By the end of the month, most of the MAG-36 units, including HMM-362, HMM-364, VMO-6, H&MS-36, and MABS-36, were at Ky Ha. The only exception was HMM-363 which had relieved a detachment from HMM-161 at Qui Nhon.
The other Marine helicopter group in Vietnam, MAG-16, also had moved into new facilities. Colonel Thomas J. O'Connor, who relieved Colonel King as group commander on 7 August, established his headquarters at Marble Mountain Air Facility on Tiensha Peninsula, across the Da Nang River from the main base. The group's aircraft were operating from Marble Mountain by the end of August. In August 1965 MAG-16 consisted of three medium helicopter squadrons, HMM-261 and -361 at Da Nang and HMM-161 at Phu Bai with a 10-plane detachment at Qui Nhon, one observation squadron, VMO-2, and two support squadrons, MABS-16 and H&MS-16. In September a six-plane detachment of Sikorsky CH-37C heavy-lift helicopters from HMH-462 was attached to H&MS-16. There was a continuing rotation of helicopter squadrons between
* Colonel Thomas J. O'Connor, the 1st MAW chief of staff in the spring of 1965, recalled: 'The arrival of VMFA-531 and VMCJ-1 marked the end of a long period of planning, coaxing, cajoling, begging, and outright pressure to obtain space for these units to operate out of Da Nang .... During the early planning stages, high level commands battled in the Pentagon, CinCPac, and in the Far East over who would conduct air operations out of Da Nang. Navy and Marine commands invoked the nebulous authority of Marine Air-Ground task forces. But these plans . . . were overtaken by events. The Air Force was there-and, they invoked the military equivalent of squatters rights . . . they occupied the entire east side of the airfield. The USAF was extremely unwilling to move around and vacate more space for the deploying Marine fixed-wing air units . . . .Finally under the weight of plans approved at high levels, and with Marine deployment dates irrevocably approaching, the Air Force finally gave in. Some promises about future construction to enlarge their area, commitments of Marine support of various projects, and a lot of sweet talk did the trick.' Aircraft facilities remained overcrowded until the helicopter field at Marble Mountain was opened and the expansion construction of Da Nang Airfield was completed. O'Connor observed: 'The final area occupied by two Marine fighter squadrons and the VMCJ-1 squadron was of such restricted size that effective operations were only marginally possible . . . .The three units were like three peas in a pod, but they were operational.' Col Thomas J. O'Connor, Comments on draft MS, dtd 27Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File).
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