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  Page 121 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

Their helicopters had been shot at on 46 different occasions and had been hit 18 times.10 SHUFLY's combat support operations came to a halt in the first days of November as the reverberations from Diem's overthrow spread to South Vietnam's northern provinces. American officials in Washington and Saigon, aware of the pitfalls that might accompany open support of either side in the power struggle, ordered all U.S. military forces to cease advisory and combat support activities. As a result of the sensitive political situation, no U.S. aircraft left the ground on 2 November. Two days after the new regime seized power in Saigon, the U.S. Marine helicopters were permitted to perform emergency medical evacuation and emergency resupply missions. Even these flights were to be approved beforehand by ARVN military officers in Saigon. Four days after Diem's overthrow, the new leaders in Saigon eased the political restrictions and SHUFLY's operations returned to near normal. One remaining limitation stipulated that U.S. helicopters could not transport ARVN units into population centers even though troops could be hclilifted from the cities into rural areas.

Due to torrential monsoon rains which began striking the Da Nang area in mid-November, HMM-361's combat support operations continued at a relatively low level throughout the remainder of the year. This trend was confirmed by the flight totals compiled for the final two months of 1963. In November, the squadron's UH-34Ds flew only 145 sorties for 233 flight hours. December's statistics, 230 helicopter sorties for 338 flight hours, indicated a slight upswing but fell far short of the monthly figures achieved earlier in the year. With rain and fog frequently rendering the mountains inaccessible by air, the preponderance of the squadron's missions were conducted along the coastal plains. As 1963 ended SHUFLY's combat support operations were continuing at a greatly reduced rate.

The Situation in Vietnam

Although not yet despcrate,the overall situation in South Vietnam at the end of 1963 was far from favorable. Mismanaged and poorly coordinated from the outset, the Strategic Hamlet Program had failed to fulfill even the most moderate of American and South Vietnamese expectations. Little dis-cernable headway had been made toward restoring any large segment of the populated rural areas to government control. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese had disregarded the Geneva Agreement of 1962 and had continued to infiltrate troops and material down the Laotian corridor into the South. Although the 1963 figure of 4,200 confirmed infiltrators was roughly 1,000 men lower than the figure for the previous year, it was substantial enough to force the government to deviate more and more from its avowed strategy of clearing Viet Cong formations from the vital populated areas. To help meet this continuing influx of Communist regulars, the government had committed its ground force to operations against base areas located in the remote hinterlands with increasing frequency. More often than not these multi-battalion offensives, such as (he VNMC-ARVN drive into the Do Xa base area in May, proved futile, usually resulting in scattered and inconsequential clashes with small groups of Viet Cong. The continuation of such actions, of course, worked to the advantage of the Communists as the government forces expended time, energy, and lives without exacting a commensurate price from the enemy.

Other disturbing trends had emerged on the South's battlefields during the course of the year. Following an action fought in the Mekong Delia during early January in which the Viet Cong soundly defeated a multi-battalion ARVN heli-borne force, enemy main force units continued to maintain their integrity and fought back when confronted with helicopter assaults. This trend was evident even in the northern provinces where each successive assault by Marine helicopters appeared to meet more determined resistance. Aside from the Viet Cong's new-found confidence in countering heliborne offensives, another source of concern to U.S. and Vietnamese officials was the appearance in the South of several Viet Cong regimental headquarters during the year. The activation of these headquarters, which assumed control of already operational main force battalions, seemed to presage another phase of Communist military escalation. The situation throughout South Vietnam worsened in the aftermath of the Diem coup. Subsequent to the widespread command changes ordered by the new government, the morale, and in turn the



Page 121 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)