Page 460

Page 460 (1968: The Defining Year)

the Da Nang River and on the lower end of the Tiensha Peninsula, MAG-16,
a helicopter group, conducted its operations. Under the command of Colonel
Edwin O. Reed, MAG-16 consisted of Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron
(H&MS) 16; Marine Air Base Squadron (MABS) 16; an observation squadron,
VMO-2; and three medium (HMM-262, - 265, and -363) and one heavy (HMH-463)
helicopter squadrons. VMO-2 had in its inventory 27 armed and unarmed
Bell UH-1E (Hueys) single-engine light helicopters, used for a diverse
number of missions including observation, forward air control (airborne),
and ground support.* The 30 relatively new single-rotor Sikorsky CH-53A
Sea Stallion heavy-lift helicopters in III MAF, each powered by two-shaft
turbine engines and able to carry a payload of over six tons, were all
in HMH-463. Two of the medium helicopter squadrons, HMM-262 and -265,
flew the twin-turbine tandem rotor Boeing Vertol CH-46A Sea Knight aircraft
that had replaced the older and smaller Sikorsky single rotor UH-34
Sea Horse. With the shortage of helicopters caused by the grounding
and refitting of the CH-46s in 1967 because of rear pylon failures in
flight, the third medium helicopter squadron, HMM-363, still retained
the UH-34D." In early January, HMMs -262 and -265 had 47 CH-46s between
them while HMM-363 owned 24 of the UH-34s.3

In addition to the helicopters assigned to the flying squadrons, Colonel
Reed retained a detachment of 14 Cessna light single-engine fixed-wing
O-1C and O-1G bird dog aircraft in H&MS-16 for both air control and
observation purposes. Like H&MS-11 at the main base, H&MS-16 at Marble
Mountain also possessed one Douglas C-117D Skytrain transport. MAG-16
also had operational control of the U.S. Army 245th Surveillance Aircraft
Company, equipped with 18 OV-1 Mohawk aircraft designed for tactical
aerial reconnaissance. For the most part, MAG-16 supported the 1st Marine
Division at Da Nang but also flew missions on behalf of the 3d Marine
Division, Korean Marine Brigade, and Army Americal Division. It also
performed a myriad of tasks for the South Vietnamese military units
and the related Revolutionary Development pacification campaign.4

About 50 miles to the south of Da Nang, at Chu Lai, two Marine Aircraft
Groups, MAGs-12 and -13, flew out of the airfield located there. MAG-12,
under Colonel Dean Wilker, consisted of three Douglas A4E Skyhawk attacksquadrons,VMAs-121,-211,and-311,
and one A-6A Intruder all-weather squadron, VMA (AW)-533. All told the
group possessed 12 of the Intruders and nearly 60 of the Skyhawks. The
maneuverable Skyhawk was a formidable close support aircraft. An extremely
accurate bomber, the single-seat A-4 belied its relative small size
and could carry a variety of ordnance and a payload of nearly 8,000
pounds. Three F-4B Phantom II squadrons, VMFAs -115, -314, and -323,
with a total of 33 aircraft, constituted MAG-13. The versatile Phantom,
capable of a speed nearly equal to the fastest interceptors, could also
carry a payload of nearly 16,000 pounds, second only to the A-6A. Two
C-117D transports, five Douglas TA-4Fs, and three Korean War- vintage
Grumman two-seater, single-engine TF-9J fighter trainers rounded out
the Marine aircraft inventory at Chu Lai.5***

* The armed Hueys carried air-to-ground rocket packs and fuselage-mounted,
electrically-fired machine guns and proved to be formidable close air
support aircraft. The unarmed Hueys, nicknamed "slicks," were used for
medical evacuation, reconnaissance, air control, and occasionally for
insertion of reconnaissance teams. Later in the spring of 1968, there
was a reduction of the number of Hueys in the VMO squadrons because
of the introduction of the fixed-wing North American turbo-prop OV-10A
Bronco into the Marine Corps inventory and to III MAF. See Chapter 25.
Colonel Samuel J. Fulton, who assumed command of VMO-2 in May, remembered
that his squadron then had only 14 Huey gunships and "the only 'slick'
I recall is the one that was used for III MAF." Col Samuel J. Fulton,
Comments on draft, n.d. [Nov94] (Vietnam Comment File).

** Designed to hold a four-man crew and 17 combat-loaded troops, the
CH-46 carried approximately double the load of the UH-34 and with its
cruising speed of 115 knots was approximately 25 knots faster than the
older aircraft. For detailed discussion of the problems experienced
with the CH-46 in 1967, see Telfer, Rogers, and Fleming, U.S. Marines
in Vietnam, 1967, pp. 210-11 and LtCol William R. Fails, Marines and
Helicopters, 1962-1973 (Washington: Hist&MusDiv, HQMC, 1978), pp.
101-02 and 121-24. Major General Anderson, the wing commander, commented
that he believed that there was "only one instance of catastrophic failure
[of the CH-46], the weakness was identified and grounding ensued immediately."
According to Anderson, it was "fuselage and pylon cracks . . . [in several
aircraft that] gave rise to this essential refit program." MajGen Norman
J. Anderson, Comments on draft, n.d. [Jan95] (Vietnam Comment File).

*** Lieutenant General Richard E. Carey, who commanded VMFA-115 until
16 January 1968, commented in 1994 that the Phantom was the "fastest
interceptor in the American inventory and its speed has not been equaled
by any American interceptor to this date." He observed that in addition
to its fighter escort and close air support role, it also had an air
defense role. His squadron maintained a strip alert against possible
MIG incursions into South Vietnam and that on two occasions, General
Carey stated, he personally chased MIG aircraft near the North Vietnamese
city of Vinh until "told to abort by my GCI [Ground Control Intercept]
controller." According to Carey, the "Phantom was the primary reason
our ground forces were never attacked by North Vietnamese Air." General
Carey wrote that the Douglas TA-4Fs and the Grumman TF-9Js "were constantly
used as TAC(A) [Tactical Air controller (Airborne)] when a FAC [Forward
Air Controller] was not available." He mentioned that "throughout the
war they also provided a fast FAC capability for strikes north of the
DMZ and recovery of downed air crews when the slow moving FAC(A) could
not survive." LtGen Richard E. Carey, Comments on draft, dtd 12Dec94
(Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Carey Comments.

Page 460 (1968: The Defining Year)