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Two days later the 21st Special Operations Squadron (21st SOS) flew two CH-53s to the carrier to replace two of the four HH-53s. The CH-53, a special operations helicopter, was a better choice in this situation, because without the rescue equipment that the HH-53 rescue helicopter carried, the CH-53 could transport more troops. The real problem with the Air Force helicopters on board the Midway was that their blades did not fold as did the Navy-Marine Corps version, and as a consequence these 10 helicopters ate up all of the carrier's deck space. Thus, the Midway's Air Force contingent was limited to 10 helicopters.
The detachment consisted of eight CH-53s and two HH-53s with Major John F. Guilmartin, Jr., as the ranking officer.* These aircraft augmented the 16 CH-53s of HMH-462 on board the Okinawa and a like number of the same aircraft of HMH-463 on board the Hancock. In addition to these heavy haulers, the task force also possessed 27 medium transport helicopters, CH-46Ds. Based on their current availability rate, it was reasonable to assume that 40 "53s" and 24 "46s" would be ready to embark two battalions of Marines (1,680 men). Helicopter employment and assault landing tables were developed accordingly.23
While Marine planners developed helicopter flow tables, General Bum's USSAG staff created a detailed air plan. The Marine Corps resolved the only major question in the plan, a lack of escort helicopters, by providing Cobra gunships. Additionally, the Navy's carrier aircraft would be on alert and available for an immediate air strike if needed. With regard to the use of tactical air, General Carey decided that a strong show of force, using fixed-wing aircraft capable of delivering suppressive fire as needed, would deter enemy rockets and artillery from firing upon the landing zones and at the helicopters.
This idea of combining tactical air for a massive show of force gained instant and unanimous approval. Immediately, CinCPac approved plans to integrate the entire tactical structure of Seventh Air Force with the Navy's carrier air wings. The Seventh Fleet agreed to commit all available aircraft from the USS Enterprise (CVAN 65) and the USS Coral Sea (CV 43) for round-the-clock air support. Included in the Air Force inventory were AC-130 "Spectre" gunships, aircraft specially equipped for night strike and suppression missions. This combined show of force and the air umbrella it represented provided the planners with the best possible countermeasure to the enemy's most significant threat, a belt of antiaircraft weapons guarding the helicopter approach corridors to Saigon. The planners thought that the heavy fire coverage might even deter the daytime use of the SA-7, and the cover of darkness would tend to favor the helicopter rather than the enemy's line-of-sight gunners. To avoid or minimize the effect of small arms fire, the approach called for an altitude of 6,500 feet with the egress route restricted to 5,500 feet.
As events began to unfold and liaison with Saigon became a daily occurrence, certain things became clear. First, that the DAO/Air America complex would probably be the primary evacuation site, and second, that the insertion force would have to be tailored to the existing conditions in and around the complex. General Carey knew that the force had to be large enough to provide adequate security, but not so large that extraction would create even greater problems. With this in mind, the commanding general of the brigade announced four planning options.
The first alternative provided for the introduction of a battalion-sized security force into the DAO compound to meet any hostile threat and provide crowd control and security for a large group of evacuees. Insertion and extraction would be by helicopter, using as landing zones the PX parking lot, the softball field, the tennis court, and the north and south parking lots. All the other alternatives were derivatives of this basic plan.
The second choice envisioned similar security conditions and called for the insertion of an additional battalion command group and one company into the Air America complex, capable of expanding to a full battalion if necessary- The third option involved only two companies and a battalion command group. They would occupy the DAO compound and use the landing zones in the Alamo, expecting little threat and extraction of only a few evacuees. The last option foresaw a totally permissive environment and no need for a landing force.24
Regardless of which alternative the evacuation force selected, communications would play a key part in the
*The CH-53s of 21s[ SOS from Nakhon Phanom replaced the original two rescue helicopters flown by the 40th ARRS squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph McMonigle, and his wing-man. They rotated back to Nakhon Phanom. leaving only two HH-53s on board the Midway, the backup helicopters. When McMonigle's flight returned to Nakhon Phanom, he left behind the lead pilot of the original flight of airborne spares, Major John F. Guilmartin, Jr.. USAF. By virtue of his commander's departure and his field-grade rank, Major Guilmartin became the senior Air Force helicopter pilot on the Midway. Guilmartin Comments.
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