ly for the CH-53s, but also for the 46s, and to a lesser extent the UH-1Es.
While noting the low 25 percent availability in April for the Sea Stallion
helicopters, General McCutcheon also pointed to a 33 percent and 50
percent availability respectively for the CH-46s and Hueys.* Five months
later, in August, the 1st MAW commander. Major General Quilter wrote,
"we are in deep trouble on provisioning for engine and airframe spares
in the helos-CH-46, CH-53, UH-1E." In October 1968, a senior naval aviation
supply officer in a speech to his colleagues stated, "if aircraft are
going to fly, we all are going to have to get off our collective butts
and manage repairables. There is only one word to describe the job we're
doing-lousy." Throughout 1968, the resupply rate for Marine Corps helicopter
parts hovered around 70 percent.24
In an exhaustive examination of Marine helicopter support, a III MAF special board in the spring of 1969 blamed the lack of spare parts on unrealistic standard monthly hourly flight maximums set in Washington. It observed that the "CNO monthly hourly flight maximum is the key against which dollars are made available to DOD [Department of Defense] to buy spare parts . . . ." The problem was that these established norms had not taken into consideration the demands upon the limited number of Marine helicopter assets in Vietnam and the resulting scarcity. To meet the actual combat requirements, the Marine helicopters constantly overflew the set maximums.** As the board concluded, the Marines had less "total helicopters available for daily operations and as a result we fly those in commission far in excess of the hour rate required for good maintenance, safety of flight, and dependable availability."25
The statistics of helicopter sorties flown, passengers carried, and tonnage lifted during 1968 set a record pace. From February through July 1968, Marine helicopters flew at an ever-increasing rate, running up the number of sorties, passengers carried, and tonnage lifted. For example in March 1968, the rotary aircraft flew more than 44,000 sorties and lifted over 53,000 troops and nearly 7,000 tons of cargo. This was an increase of over 10,000 sorties for the previous month, and 3,000 over the monthly average of the previous year. In July, the total number of sorties reached 71,452, a new monthly high for the war.
While the Marine helicopter pilots would fly at a slightly slower tempo after July, they still maintained a monthly average of about 60,000 sorties, with the exception of a slight dip in the numbers for September. In December, the Marine helicopters carried out 59,838 sorties, ferried over 113,499 passengers, and lifted 13,835 tons of cargo. For the year, the totals were 597,000 sorties, 122,100 tons of cargo, and 935,000 passengers. These figures represented a 31 percent increase in sorties, a 39 percent increase in passengers carried, and a 39 percent increase in tonnage lifted over 1967.26
Notwithstanding that most of these helicopter missions were in support of Marine forces, a substantial number, 43,138 sorties for the year amounting to six percent of the total, were for other forces in Vietnam. These included 34,094 sorties for the Koreans, 3,840 for the ARVN, 3,508 for U.S. Special Forces, 1,666 for the U.S. Army, and 30 in support of the Seventh Air Force. While a lower percentage than the previous year, these flights in support of both allied and other Services still caused a drawdown on the scarce Marine helicopter resources.27
Another Look at Helicopter Air-Ground Relations
During the spring of 1968, in order to meet the increasing demands on its resources, especially in the north, the 1st Wing decided to alter some of its command arrangements. As early as 6 March, acting on a suggestion of his staff, General Norman Anderson recommended the establishment of a provisional MAG at Quang Tri Airfield with three squadrons to reduce the span of control for MAG-36. In the meantime, MAG-36 maintained a forward headquarters and three squadrons, VMO-6, HMM-163, and HMM-262 at Quang Tri Airfield under Colonel John E. Hansen, the group's deputy commander. Finally after securing approval from both FMFPac and Headquarters, Marine Corps, on 15 April, General Anderson ordered the establishment of the new helicopter aircraft group, appropriately designated Provisional (Prov) MAG-39. He detached the three squadrons already at Quang Tri from MAG-36 to form Prov MAG-39 and made Colonel Hansen the new MAG
* According to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas F. Miller, who assumed command of
HML-167 in August 1968, the availability of UH-1Es, or at least for
his squadron had improved in a few months. Miller stated his squadron
"never suffered at a lowly 50 percent to my knowledge. During Sept-Dec68,
with 14 aircraft assigned, average operational readiness was 84.7 percent
. . . ." Miller Comments.
** Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Shauer, Jr., of HMM-262, wrote that
his pilots "continuously overflew the CNO programmed monthly flight
hour maximums (both in aircraft and pilot hours.)" He mentioned that
his personal log book revealed "in a ten month period 914 flight hours,
. . . [averaging] 91 hours per month." Shauer Comments.