A Legacy Of Heroes, Vietnam

AH-1G Cobra Attack Helicopter

This is part 2 of a post that began HERE.

During the Vietnam War around 12,000 helicopters served in theater of various types, most of those belonged to the United States Army. Of those 12,000 helicopters 7,013 were UH-1s (Hueys). During the war 5,086 helicopters were destroyed. 2,709 Americans perished in helicopter operations. UH-1s flew 7,531,995 flight hours during the war (which is thought to be the most hours logged by any single aircraft type in combat). AH-1 Cobras logged 1,038,969 hours over Vietnam.

As one might imagine the helicopter was involved in the war from beginning to end.

Here’s the story of one Huey pilot and a hell of a guy who received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Reporter Joe Galloway called them “God’s own Lunatics.”

During the Vietnam war an Air Cavalry troop, 1st Squadron 9th United States Cavalry was responsible for 50% of the enemy KIA inflicted by the 1st Cavalry Division, using OH-13, OH-6 scout helicopters to find the enemy and then to destroy them using UH-1C/M, or AH-1 Cobras or by inserting a squad of Infantry referred to as “Blues”, the “Headhunters” was a unit feared by the enemy. The unit earned 14 battle streamers, 3 Presidential Unit Citations, and 5 Valorous Unit Awards. There were 2 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the Squadron during the war. (If you’d like to learn more about 1/9 CAV (often referred to as First of the Ninth) check out the book HEADHUNTERS. It’s out of print but if you can find it it is well worth your time)

Relief of An Loc — March 30, 1972
“Send me some Stukas! ”
An Loc was a southern South Vietnamese provincial capital. On March 30, 1972, it was the focus of one prong of the huge three-pronged North Vietnamese Nguyen-Hue offensive (or Easter offensive) aimed at the total destruction of South Vietnam. By this time the tactics of the war were changing. Communist forces now made extensive use of armor and artillery. Among the new weapons in the enemy’s arsenal was the Soviet SA-7 hand-held antiaircraft missile, which posed a significant threat to slow-flying tactical aircraft and helicopters.

An Loc was located on Highway 13 leading directly to Saigon. An Loc was hit from three sides by tanks, artillery, and infantry. An all-out Donnybrook. Six North Vietnamese Russian-made T-54 tanks had broken through to Main street and were headed straight for COL Bill Miller’s command bunker in the heart of the city. COL Miller was the U.S. Army’s Senior Military Advisor in An Loc.

“Send me some Stukas! ” COL Miller radioed for help, referring to the Junkers JU-87 Stuka, that was used so successfully by Germany for precision dive bombing during the early years of World War II.

Green Beret Major Larry McKay’s Cobra unit, F Battery, 79th Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), was based just north of Saigon. The F/79th ARA (Aerial Rocket Artillery), (callsign) Blue Max (referencing the award Blue Max)of World War I fame, was on alert status that day. Approaching An Loc, Major McKay radioed “This is Serpent Six, (his call sign) with a flight of Cobras”. By this time COL Miller was looking down the barrel of a T-54 tank, but he warned Major McKay off, because of the nine battalions of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery that had been moved into the area. “Negative! Negative! Sir; I’ve got HEAT! “. This was the 2.75 inch rocket system with HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) warheads.

The rocket-equipped AH-1G Cobras were the only weapon accurate enough to attack tanks in the midst of the friendly troops and civilians near the heart of An Loc. The first Cobra turned nose-down, diving at a steeper angle than usual to assure accuracy, destroying the surprised North Vietnamese lead tank. The extreme high degree of accuracy attained for an unguided rocket demonstrates the extrodinary courage required to dive close enough to the target to assure a hit while reducing the amount of possible colateral damage to An Loc’s civilian population.

The Blue Max destroyed 20 North Vietnamese T-54 tanks, saving An Loc from certain capture, but at a terrible cost. Eight of 32 brave Blue Max crewmen engaged were lost during this action.

The Vietnam War is what formed the basis for what Army Aviation is today. Their valor and courage is the example we live by. The war also affected the next generation of helicopters, particularly their design.

To be continued…
The preceeding information was found via the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association.

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