1st Aviation Brigade in Viet Nam "Door Gunner" Patch - The 1st Aviation Brigade served in Vietnam from May 1966 to March
1973. The helicopter becoming an instrument of war, the Army had to have
a means where it could maintain tactical and administrative control of
all of its divisional and non-divisional helicopters and fixed-wing
aircraft in Vietnam. The Army did this with the creation of the 1st
Aviation Brigade, which served in Vietnam from May 1966 to March 1973.
In Vietnam, the Brigade had under its authority 4,000 rotary-wing and
fixed-wing aircraft and 24,000 troops, consisting of about 4,000
officers and 20,000 enlisted troops. During the war, the Aviation
Brigade and its support units became involved in four significant
tactical operations that warrant examination.
The first tactical operations in which the Brigade and its units became
involved were the 1968 Tet Offensive from January to March 1968. In this
operation the Brigade and its units responded to tactical situation and
the sudden precarious incursions into major cities throughout South
Vietnam wrought by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies.
The second important operation involving Army Aviation units, in April
1968, was the relief operation by the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
to lift the North Vietnamese Army siege of the embattled USMC base at
Khe Sanh. Dubbed PEGASUS, the operation successfully combined airmobile
operations and a sustained road march by 1st Cavalry "Sky troopers"; and
Marine Corps units to lift the siege.
The third significant Army helicopter operation South Vietnam was the
incursion of the American and South Vietnamese Armies into neighboring
Cambodia in May 1970 to ferret out and destroy North Vietnamese units
and their supply depots. The Armies were allowed to advance only 30
kilometers (km) into Cambodia because of a presidential order. However,
the deployment into Cambodia was successful. The Armies uncovered a
number of large ammunition and food caches. These caches were later
transferred back to South Vietnam where they were either destroyed or,
so far as food, given to local villagers.
The fourth and final important large-scale operation involving mass use
of Army helicopters in South Vietnam was LAMSON 719, which took place
from January to April 1971. This mid-intensity-level operation had as
its mission the coordinated insertion of South Vietnamese troops by air
and armored units into Laos to drive North Vietnamese regulars out of
areas contiguous to the South Vietnamese border. American lift
helicopters ferried South Vietnamese troops into Laos. Helicopter
gun-ships provided CAS (combat air support) for the South Vietnamese and
destroyed a number of North Vietnamese P-76 tanks. The Army suffered
the loss of about 100 helicopters, most of which were shot down by
Soviet-built 37 millimeter (mm), radar-directed, antiaircraft guns. Some
helicopters were lost because of the pervasive inclement weather
resulting from the monsoon season in Southeast Asia.
During LAMSON 719, Army helicopter pilots often were forced to fly in
what at best could be discerned as marginal weather. Helicopters serving
in the Vietnam War did not have tactical radar on board, so pilots had a
difficult time flying during inclement weather. The fact that more
helicopters were not lost during this operation was due, in large
measure, to the flying skills and bravery of these pilots. LAMSON 719
itself incurred a great deal of controversy within and without military
circles as to its efficacy and results. The operation served as a
lessons learned report for the Army. It also brought out the need for
the Army to have more heavily armed helicopters in such operations, and
attendant and better close air coordination with the USAF.
During the Vietnam War, the Army had a number of helicopters in its
inventory that played important roles during the conflict. The UH-1 Huey
was a multifaceted aircraft serving as a troop carrier, gunship,
MEDEVAC helicopter, and cargo carrier. The CH-47 Chinook and the CH-54
Sky Crane were primarily supply, lift and transport helicopters.
The Army also had two observation helicopters that acquitted themselves
well in South Vietnam. They were the OH-6 Cayuse (Loach) and the OH-58
Kiowa. However, the most formidable helicopter to serve in Vietnam was
the AH-1 Cobra gunship, which first arrived in country in 1967. The
Cobra carried wing mounted 7.62mm machineguns, 2.75-inch rocket
launchers, a 40mm M75 grenade launcher, and an XM 134 Minigun. It caused
much havoc upon enemy units, equipment, and personnel during a period
of service in South Vietnam. The Army still uses the AH-1 Cobra Gunship.
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