Another factor involved the use of check fires when the helicopters arrived for resupply. Usually the battalion checked its fire "in order to give the helicopter the priority that it requires to drop its load and proceed." On the other hand, when the artillery was "shooting on an active mission" in support of engaged infantry "the fires have priority and the helicopter must wait or return to base to resupply us at a later time." There were complications also when the helicopters were resupplying ground troops or carrying out medical evacuations. Since the fire bases were usually on the high ground, the artillerymen fired their guns exclusively at a high angle, thereby the artillery trajectory did "not interfere continuously with the helicopter traffic" and permitted the clearance of "helicopter lanes beneath or below the max ordinates ot the battery.""'
The helicopters were important also in bringing the artillery units into position. Marine CH-46s and CH-53As could easily bring the 105mm howitzers into the rapidly expanding fire bases. Furthermore, Army Sky Crane CH-54s could lift into position the towed 155mm howitzers. As Lieutenant Colonel Scoppa related, the Marines needed to provide only about 4S hours advance notice to obtain the Army "bird" which could transport the towed 155mm howitzers from fire base to fire base.47
Photo is courtesy of Col Joseph L. Sadowski USMC (Ret)
A Marine Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter carrying a M101A1 105MM howitzer as an external load is about to flare the artillery piece at a fire aiippwt base southwest oj An Hoa during Operation Taylor Common.
In December 1968, the 2d Battalion, 12th Marines had three provisional 155mm batteries equipped with the towed howitzers attached to its command. While the 1st Provisional Battery was at Shiloh, the other two batteries were at Fire Base Caces and at Ca Lu. From these latter two bases, the 155mm howitzers provided protective fires for the northern and western edges of the 9th Marines area of operations.4"
According to Lieutenant Colonel Scoppa, the new mobility ot the artillery had transformed the war in the north. He observed chat his units on the fire bases took relatively little incoming and attributed this "to the fact that we do move into them quickly, we occupy them for a relatively short period of time, . . . and then move elsewhere." Scoppa believed the enemy did not know how to cope with this rapid deployment: "We are now able to get into areas where he did not expect us to be able co come into, . . . in a matter of days span 16 clicks, sometimes 24 in three moves. Charlie [the Communist forces] cannot move out quite that fast. We get in with him where he is."49
Further south in the 1st Marine Division sector at the end of the year, the 11th Marines also began to experiment with the fire base concept. Since April, the Marine artillery had moved into forward artillery positions in support ot the large operations such as Mameluke Thrust, Allen Brook, and Maui Peak. Yet for the most part, the 11th Marines did not have the assets and command arrangements to use the fire base concept on a large scale. With the departure of the 5th Marines from the Phu Loc sector and finally with the transfer of the 1st Field Artillery Group from Phu Bai to Da Nang, the 1st Marine Division was prepared to launch Operation Taylor Common in Base Area 112. Under 1st Marine Division Task Force Yankee in Taylor Common, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond B. Ingrando's 1st Field Artillery Group directed an artillery force of two direct support artillery battalions and elements of other units, including 8-inch howitzers, 155mm guns, and 175mm guns. The idea was to build a series of fire support bases between the Arizona territory and the Laotian border to interdict any Communist forces in the enemy base area. The operation continued into