Airmobile Search and Destroy missions puts some real demands on the Lt Col Battalion Commander and his operational staff - his operations officer (S-3), generally a Major, intelligence officer (S-2) generally a Captain, and his Fire Control Officer - usually a Captain from the supporting Artillery battalion. Because they have to do and coordinate everything from the air, and by radio - usually at about 1,500 feet up - just out of effective range of small arms fire from the ground from the enemy.
|Me with my Battalion Command Huey, from which I controlled 70 Combat Assault Missions from July to December 1967. Had a couple of them shot out from under me.|
Most search and destroy missions require that gun ships fly out there in front of the lift of any units, or even my command helicopter, sometimes with intelligence that predicts where the enemy might be, to see what they can, get fired on which often confirms that there is a concentration of enemy around.
Then, if there is the likelihood there are armed enemy at one or more locations, I have to decide, not only whether to swoop in for the kill, or to plan exactly - by grid coordinates - where the lead helicopters with most or all of a rifle compay should be inserted, what direction they should move, and when. Meanwhile planning for the second company to be picked up by the returning Hueys', AND plan for any preparatory fires - such as an artillery barrage, while I am trying keep under the gun-target line (so my helicopter doesn't get hit by a 105mm shell arcing its way to the target area,) followed by gun ship strikes, and then door gunners firing down, keeping them from firing into another company's sector, or coming inbound to land.
And me trying to read the coordinates on a 1:50,000 scale grid map while turning in the air, while the Huey pilot ducks any firing coming up from the ground. And my operations officer taking into account the remaining flying time (fuel) on the 10 Hueys that have to shuttle the companies from the base camp to the hot combat zone.
And all of us adjusting for the times when medivac helicopters have to swoop in to pick up wounded men.
Yep, it took me quite a few combat search and destroy missions, before I mastered all the added skills to my already good grasp from Korean War days, of how to order the fight on the ground to defeat the enemy with the fewest casualties to our own men.
I was surprised - hadn't really thought about it before - to learn that, as Air Mobile Mission commander, even though non 'flight-rated' (with wings) I was entitled, as all combat pilots are in the Air Force as well as the Army, to 1 Air Medal, for every 5 aerial combat missions.
Before I was done with my command tour in November 1967 I had earned 14 Air Medals, denoting 70 combat search and destroy missions in 5 months. That was more than many an Air Force Pilot had flying long missions over North Vietnam.
Ever after that, especially when back in the US close to the Air Force Academy, I liked to rib Air Force Pilots on the Faculty there by saying "I could conduct 3 combat assaults before breakfast, before you could get one of your F-4's into the air over Hanoi." Rankled a few of them, who had many missions, but almost all of them, much longer range ones, so had fewer missions.
But the Flawed War
Even when I had mastered how to command a battalion at 1,500 feet, and I was carrying out the strategy and tactics set down for me, whether I liked it or not - and I did not have the authority to break out of the conventional approach to search and destroy, do body counts as a substitute for measuring progress in the political side of the war even in a small South Vietnam Province, I did well at what I was tasked to do. We killed Viet Cong, captured some - and detailed many 'suspected' VC operating out of our Cu Chi base, temporarily and made it difficult for armed Viet Cong to move through the AO, without being spotted and hit.
As an example of how much effort - men, equipment, costly operations - often got very little return for the US 'investment' - on one early operation while I was on a search and destroy mode, we flushed out 7 Viet Cong from a Pineapple field. It took me four hours, maneuvering all three of my companies before we killed 5 of the 7 VC. The other 2 got away.
I left my .45 caliber - my normal 'issue' weapon for a commander - back at base camp, and armed myself with an AR15 rifle, carrying tracer rounds. So I could not only defend myself out to 50 or 100 yards, but 'point' to my troops, often from my hovering command helicopter where we detected hidden Viet Cong, or a place to search.
My first real action came on July 12th when one of my Air Cobra gunships discovered the VC in a marshy area. It was the 269VC battalion - 250-300 men. We engaged.
It was a 9 hour battle. I had two command helicopters shot out from under me. When I brought in B Company for a heliborne assault to add to Company A, already engaged, eight of their ten helicopters were hit. When medivac 'dustoff' helicopters came in to get our wounded, they got so much fire, I tried to get down to suppress their fire from our right door gunner fire. I also was shooting with my automatic M-16. But we took so many hits, they knocked out my radio consoles.
So I flew back to get a second command helicopter, and led in my third rifle company. As they were landing, my young Captain S-2, named Moran, sitting next to me got an AK47 sized bullet up his back. I quickly bandaged him and the helicopter was in questionable condition. So I told the pilot to put me on the ground and fly Moran back to aid and repair. We had taken 15 hits.
They did, so I fought along with A Company on the ground like a rifleman until they could not advance any more and had taken 13 casualties.
The Brigade tried to get the other battalion 2/27 to trap the enemy unit when they attempted a breakout. I swam across the Rach Loch river three times in the night to arrange my part of the trap. But by the time Peter's 2/27 Battalion got there, the Viet Cong had fled across the border into Cambodia - where we could not pursue them.
I had lost 7 killed, and 29 wounded. When agents came in to report they said the 269 VC battalion had carried at least 30 dead and over 100 wounded out. So we hurt them hard.
I was able to take the battalion back to Cu Chi for a needed rest.
I also did two other things. I put together an outdoor briefing for the battalion, with charts and maps so they could understand what happened and how we fared and hurt the Viet Cong. And I had a lieutenant tape it to show to the men in the hospital.
Learning what they accomplished that they had no way to knowing from where they were in the action, raised their morale. The assistant Division Commander saw it too.
I also had a memorial service for the 7 dead soldiers.
By that time, after 7 days of my command I had conducted 14 combat assaults, 5 of them under fire.
I felt I was in command of the battalion, and myself.
BELOW IS THE REMINISCENCE OF A SOLDIER - JAY LAZARIN - IN THAT SAME OPERATION - HOW HE REMEMBERED IT - 47 YEARS LATER FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF A GRUNT
I was in the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, 1/27th. that day. We were airlifted (without any information/intel at our
squad level) into an open field with a canal on our left and a thin hedgerow next to the canal. We were then
ordered to head straight towards a deep, thick hedgerow or forested area perpendicular (“T”) to the canal).
Of course, that’s where the VC 269th was laying in wait for us.
I WAS 1ST PLATOON LEADER9 (MUSTANG CHARLIE ONE),CHARLIE COMPANY 1/27TH INFANTRY "WOLFHOUNDS". AT THE BATTLE OF THE RACH LACH CANAL,7/12/1967, IN HAU HGHIA, PROVINCE NEAR CU CHI. OUR PLATOON WAS DOING PLATOON SIZES EAGLE FLIGHTS ASSAULTS FROM THE 116TH "HORNETS", WE HAD MADE ABOUT 3 OR 4 LZ'S THAT MORNING, WITH NO CONTACT. THE TACTIC THAT DAY WAS THAT AFTER THE PLATOON,HIT AND LZ, IT WOULD ASSAULT AN OBJECTIVE (A CANAL, OR OTHER VC HIDE OUT). AND AS SOON AND THE CHOPPERS LEFT OUR LZ THEY WOULD GO AND PICK UP ANOTHER PLATOON TO BE USED AS A REACTION FORCE. IF NO VC'S WERE FOUND AT THE 1ST LZ, THE SECOND LIFT WAS THEN DROPPED IN A NEW AREA. THE 3RD PLATOON OF THE COMPANY WAS WAITING AS A REACTION FORCE. ON OUR 3TH OR 4TH LZ OF THAT DAY, I HAD TOLD MY PLATOON THAT AFTER THAT LZ WE WOULD BREAK FOR LUNCH. BUT AS SOON AS WE HIT THE LZ THAT WAS COLD, WE BEGAN ASSAULTING THE RACH LACH CANAL. WE MIGHT HAVE HEARD A CALL THAT THE GUNSHIPS HAD SEEN MOVEMENT IN THE CANAL. AS WE ASSAULTED THE CANAL WE RECIEVED INCOMING FIRE. I CAN RECALL SEEING VC RUNNING ALONG THE CANAL AS AS WE WERE MOVING TOWARD THE CANAL. WHEN WE GOT TO THE CANAL, WITH NO WOUNDED OR KIAS, WE GOT PINNED DOWN. DURING THE FIGHT ONE OF MY SGTS WAS HIT IN THE HELMENT WITH AN AK-47 ROUND THAT CIRCLE THE HELMET AND LINER AND EXITED THE REAR OF THE HELMET ( HE CONTINUTED THE FIGHT) ANOTHER MAN IN THE PLATOON WAS HIT IN THE LEG, FROM GUNSHIP FIRE. THE GUNSHIPS WERE SUPPORTING OUR OPERATIONS, BUT WE WERE IN VERY CLOSE CONTACT WITH THE VC. THE MAN THAT WAS SHOT WAS LATER EVACATED. 2TH AND 3TH PLATOON (THE COMPANY COMMANDER CAPT. STILLMAN HIS COMMAND,F/O GROUP OF CHARLIE COMPANY WAS A RICE FIELD BEHIND OUR PLATOON'S POSITION. AFTER THE FIGHT, OUR PLATOON EVAUATED AND MOVED BACK ACCROSS THE TO THE MAIN BODY OF THE COMPANY USING COVERING FIRE FROM OUR PLATOON, THE GUNSHIPS, AND OUR COMPANY. WHILE MOVING ACCROSS THE RICE FIELD, MY SELF AND WOLFOUND NAME "PLUNKETT" FROM HAWAII WAS HIT WITH A SMALL PIECE OF METAL FROM A RIFLE GRENADE FIRED BY THE VC. THIS GRENADE LANDED ABOUT 10 TO 15 FT. IN THE WATER OF THE RICE FIELD NEAR US. PLUNKETT WAS CARRYING AN M-79, AND HE WAS VERY GOOD WITH IT. AFTER WE REJOINED THE MAIN BODY OF CHARLIE COMPANY WE EVACUATED THE WOUNDED. THE VC CONTINUED TO SNAP THROUGH THE CANAL AND ONE OF MY WOLFHOUNDS WAS HIT AND KILLED BY SNIPER FIRE. HE HAD ONLY BEEN IN THE PLATOON FOR FEW WEEKS. AFTER THE ACTION, I RECALL SERVERAL PILOTS FOR THE HORNETS TALKING OVER OPERATIONS WITH US TO GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF PROBLEMS OF WORKING WITH GROUND TROOPS. IF ANYONE RECALLS THIS DAY AND BATTLE I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU. I JUST RETURNED FROM MY 1ST WOLFHOUND REUNION, AND I MET A FEW OF THE WOLFHOUNDS THAT WERE AT THE BATTLE OF THE RACH LACH CANAL, 12 JULY 1967 LT WILLIAM I. BROWN MUSTANG CHARLIE ONE