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The role of helicopters in the Vietnam War

Written by Sakhal

The helicopter and the aerial mobility

Helicopers were used in strike operations already in the Korean War, in Suez and in Algeria, but the concept of aerial mobility that lies in the very helicopter was not fully exploited until the advent of the American intervention in Southeast Asia.

The landing of assault forces

A: Usually, the first on landing were the helicopters Bell UH-1D, with a maximum capacity for 14 soldiers and an operational range of 566 kilometers. B: Then, always in the same wave, arrived the voluminous Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook, which could carry 44 soldiers and had a normal range of 185 kilometers and a maximum load capacity of 4729 kilograms. C: In the second wave arrived more helicopters CH-47 with heavy loads hanging. In the illustration it can be seen how the helicopter that goes ahead transports a 155-millimeter howitzer and an ammunition crate beneath it. The helicopter behind transports a load by means of a sling. D:Ground-strike aircraft Cessna A-37 Dragonfly intervene giving offensive support to the operation.

Control detachment of the landing zone

The members of the control detachment of the landing zone (lower left) are deployed from the first UH-1D that has landed and control the landing operation zone. They are in continuous radio contact with the Airborne Command Post and with the helicopters of the "Pink Team" (lower center), which performs reconnaissance operations in the proximities of the landing zone. The "Pink Team" comprised a helicopter Hughes OH-6 Cayuse that surveyed the terrain following its contour and the helicopter Bell AH-1G Huey Cobra which protects it with its firepower.

The commander of the airborne forces

The commander (upper right) controls the operation from a helicopter Bell UH-1D adapted as Airborne Command Post. Apart from its normal radio installation it carries an AN/ASC-15 console that ensures three communication channels for transmissions in UHF and FM. A typical command post comprised as well a staff officer, an air liaison officer - who was in charge of controlling the offensive air support - and a gunnery liaison officer. The helicopter CH-54 Tarhe "Sky Crane" (lower right) could carry a weight of 7 tonnes on its interior or a weight of 9.4 tonnes hanging on a sling. The helicopter Bell OH-58A Kiowa could transport four passengers and was ordinarily used for visual observation and target localization.

The role of helicopters in the Vietnam War

Evacuation of casualties from the battlefield

Helicopters contributed greatly in the evacuation of casualties in Southeast Asia. Almost entirely, American and South Vietnamese casualties were carried by these means to the rearguard zones. The fixed-wing aircraft of the United States Air Force (USAF) were used for the evacuation of patients that required higher medical assistance, either in Southeast Asia or in the United States. The Military Airlift Command of the USAF transferred a total of 406.832 patients, among who are included the 168832 combat casualties been between 1965 and 1973.

Emergency landing zone

A helicopter "Dust-Off" Bell UH-1Hs - so called after the call sign of Major Commander Charles Kelly, famous pilot killed in action in 1964 - lands in a clear field in the jungle opened by means of explosives and chainsaws. The operation was difficult, since the place was not clean of trunk stumps and other remains that could perforate the vulnerable lower fuselage and, moreover, the enemy frequently watched in the surroundings. Helicopters like these were manned by two pilots, a flight attendant and a nurse that effectuated emergency cures to the wounded in flight. In the first combats, the casualties that had to be evacuated from land from remote places, faced a distressing travel in a stretcher, in which the chances of dying because of the injuries or the shock were very high. Between 1965 and 1969 were evacuated by means of helicopters 372947 wounded, number which includes personnel of the American, South Vietnamese and other troops of the allied nations of the "free world", as well as civilians.

Ambulance helicopters

Any helicopter could assist in the transport of wounded from the battlefield to the aid stations. However, in Vietnam were formed as well units specially dedicated to this task. Composed in great part of helicopters 116 Bell UH-1, these airborne ambulances had space for six patients accommodated in berths. Each one of the divisions of the United States Armed Forces had assigned a medical battalion that, in most cases, possessed ambulance helicopters, whose task, theoretically, was reduced to transferring the wounded from the battlefield to the aid stations. From there, also theoretically, helicopters not belonging to the division carried the wounded to the field hospitals. In practice, helicopters were used according to what the emergency of the moment demanded, according to a practical principle: every wounded should be transferred to the medical facilities in the lesser time possible.

Helicopter with davit

When landing was not possible, ambulance helicopters released a davit fitted with a "penetrator of foliage" to avoid it to get stuck in the thick vegetation. Suspended in the air while the operation elapsed, the helicopter offered an easy target for the enemy, and in such conditions 35 helicopters were shot down in 1968 and another 39 in 1969. By these means were rescued several thousands of men that otherwise would have to be carried to a suitable place for landing, losing so a precious time for medical assistance.

The role of helicopters in the Vietnam War

Categories: Helicopters - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-16

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