Airmobile: Helicopter War in Vietnam (Vietnam Studies Group 6040)
By Jim Mesko
Publisher: Squadron/Signal Publications 1985 64 Pages
PDF 44 MB
No weapon came to symbolize US military presence in Vietnam like the helicopter. Despite a multitude of other weapons systems — tanks, jet fighters, gunships, river craft, aircraft carriers — the helicopter caught the public's eye. Whether on TV or in news photos the helicopter always seemed to be there, landing troops, evacuating casualties, providing support to embattled grunts. And to a large degree this view of the helicopter in Vietnam was totally justified. For despite the contributions of other weapons, the war in South Vietnam was a 'helicopter war'. All the weapons systems used during the conflict played an important part in the fighting, but without the helicopter it would have been virtually impossible to wage the ground war in Vietnam. And despite the many varied facets of the conflict, the ground war in South Vietnam was what the whole issue revolved around.
Almost from the first, helicopters were an integral part of the US involvement in Vietnam. The deployment of two helicopter companies in mid-December of 1961 was the first major symbol of US combat strength in Vietnam. The arrival of the helicopter gunships signaled the first 'overt' use of American military power against the Viet Cong (VC). Later, the arrival of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) signified a major commitment of US strength and resolve. Toward the end when the American military presence wound down in favor of Vietnamization, helicopter units were among the last to be pulled out. Finally when the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) overran South Vietnam in the spring of 1975, the last Americans in Saigon were evacuated by helicopters. And, just as in the early days of the conflict when helicopter crewmen were among the first on the casualty list, the last two servicemen to die were helicopter crewmen who perished when their chopper crashed in the South China Sea.
In AIRMOBILE I have tried to deal with the various aspects of the helicopter war in Vietnam. Though all branches of the US military used helicopters in the conflict, this account deals solely with Army employment of these machines. In some respects the US Marine Corps developed its own version of the airmobile concept, but their use of helicopters in Vietnam falls outside the spectrum of this account. This book deals with the history, organization, tactics, and weapons of the Army's helicopter force in Vietnam from its initial deployment in late 1961 until the final withdrawal of US forces in the fall of 1972. During these eleven years numerous changes occurred within the structure and mission of Army helicopter units. New machines brought about new tactics and innovative employment in a seemingly never ending battle against an elusive and vicious foe.
Even though South Vietnam eventually fell to the communists, the helicopter pilot and his crewmen bear little responsibility for this. Nor indeed can the blame be placed on the other American and allied servicemen who fought there. They gave their best, and in return for this sacrifice, many in their own country betrayed them. From the politicians in Washington to the draft dodgers in Canada, these brave men were let down. Anti-war sentiment whipped up by the liberal press gave aid and comfort to the enemy and eventually undermined all that had been done in Vietnam, so that in the final analysis a communist victory became almost inevitable. The famous French politician George Clemenceau once said that war is too important to be left to soldiers. In Vietnam our politicians followed that dictum with a vengeance. The results of this stupidity speaks for itself. Let us hope that in the future politicians and politically oriented general officers remember the lessons of Vietnam. For if there is any truth in Clemenceau's remark then perhaps there should be a corollary to it. If war is too important to be left to the generals then conversely peace is too important to be left to self serving politicians.