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Photo courtesy of Col Roger W. Peard, USMC (Ret)

The crew chiefs view through the "Hell Hole" of a Marine Sikorsky
CH-53 Sea Stallion is of an artillery piece dangling below the helicopter.
The crew chief had the responsibility to report any swinging of the
load to the pilot.

Laos across the southern portion of the Vietnamese Salient, that portion of southwestern Quang Tri Province which juts into Laos.

The primary responsibility for offensive operations within the Scotland II area of operation rested with Brigadier General Hoffman's Task Force Hotel. Working closely with representatives of the 3d Division and the 1st and 4th Marines, Hoffman and his staff prepared an operations plan which called for a series of heliborne assaults far to the south and west of Route 9. During discussions leading up to the final plan, Hoffman noted that in moving into the operational area, the Marine units involved would be placing themselves beyond the maximum range of allied artillery at Khe Sanh and Ca Lu. The solution was simple; the artillery would accompany the infantry. This was not the first time artillery would be moved to forward positions to support the maneuvering elements of the division. In this case, fire support bases would have to be established in the very heart of enemy-held territory.

Photo from the Abel Collection

Troops from the 9th Marines unload mortar ammunition from a Marine
Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter on top of a mountain fire
base near the Laotian border. The fire base concept enhanced the mobility
of the Marine infantry in the rugged terrain

Since these fire support bases would be constructed in mountainous, jungle-covered terrain, almost always on an easily defensible mountain peak or razorback ridgeline, the artillery would have to be inserted and extracted by helicopter. All resupply for the fire support bases and maneuver elements would likewise have to be accomplished by air. Once established in mutually supporting pairs, 8,000 meters apart with a 3,000-meter overshoot to cover enemy mortars, these fire bases would provide continuous, overlapping artillery support to infantry units operating beneath the fan. When infantry operations moved beyond the range of the 8,000-meter artillery fan, another fire support base would be established.

Initially, the construction of these forward artillery positions would prove to be a complicated and difficult

Page 354 (1968: The Defining Year)