Extracted from a briefing given to the XXIV Corps Commanding General inside the 159th TOC. Captain Parris is using a 1:50,000 topographical map of the XXIV Corps tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) to point out locations as he delivered the briefing. It is important to note that the events described here represent only the highlights of everyday operations for the battalion. Each company had its daily assignment of combat support missions -- primarily for the Division Support Command (DISCOM -- delivering ammunition, POL, mail, water, and other supplies. We delivered meals, night kits, PSP and sandbags; dropped flares; transported the dead from the battlefield and dropped chemicals into the jungle. We moved soldiers administratively and under combat conditions around the battlefield, to and from R&R, and operated the daily “Bus Run” from firebases to base camps to airfields. We moved soldiers en masse for Christmas and Easter services and other special occasions, such as the Bob Hope show, and transported dignitaries and their entourages around the area of operations. We carried jeeps, artillery, trucks, Air Force, Navy and Marine aircraft, and other materiel around the battlefield. We carried our load and everyone else’s as well. We flew big helicopters and we never said no. The guys on the ground depended on us and we worked hard to never let them down.
Today is the 3rd of December, 1970. The place is Hue Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam. I am Captain Richard Parris, [Flight] Operations Officer of the 159th Aviation Battalion., (Assault Support Helicopter), of the 101st Airborne Div located in Hue Phu Bai. I will summarize the activities of the 159th Aviation Battalion from a historical point of view, for the period 3 January 1970 to 31 July 1970, [while] operating in Northern I Corps in the Republic of Vietnam.
Prior to getting into the activities of the 159th, let me summarize, briefly, the intelligence aspects of our TAOR. The enemy situation here since 1 January of this year has been estimated upwards of 10 enemy divisions located from an East-West line drawn from DaNang to Laos and from a North-South line drawn from DaNang to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Specifically concerning aviation, the hazards have been the small-arms fire; 27 to 57 mm anti-aircraft fire and crew-served weapons fire from 51 .cal machine guns to rocket-propelled grenades (or RPGs). Anti-aircraft fires have a capability of being radar-directed the farther west toward the A Shau Valley one travels. Generally, aircraft are flown along roads and rivers being used as guidelines for safe flight at altitudes of greater than 3,000 feet (weather permitting), or, weather not permitting, at altitudes of 50 feet or below.
A geographical description of our area of operations (AO) using Hue Phu Bai as the center: Hue Phu Bai is located along the coast of the China Sea (the Gulf of Tonkin). Approximately 45 miles north along the coast from Hue Phu Bai is Quang Tri. 40 miles south of Hue Phu Bai is DaNang. There is a 15 minute flying time from Phu Bai to the DMZ, a 10 minute flying time from Hue Phu Bai to the A Shau Valley, and a 20 minute flying time due west to the Laotian border.
An outlook of the battalion: The battalion is composed of three CH-47 companies, with each company possessing 16 CH-47C Chinook aircraft. The Headquarters Company has three OH-6 aircraft used for command and control, reconnaissance and observation; and the battalion has attached to it the 478th Aviation Company which has 10 CH-54 (Flying Crane) aircraft. The Cranes are presently located in Red Beach, DaNang.
Beginning the historical review on 3 January:
3 January is in the monsoon season of this year. The local weather which had been prevailing from November of 1969, will continue to prevail through the month of March and continue into the month of April, is characterized by low-hanging ceilings, visibility on most days below one mile and ceilings as low as 200 feet in the morning, climbing to approximately 800 feet in the afternoon. Around the latter part of February and into March begins the season of ground fog. Coupled with the low visibility and downed ceilings, the ground fog would begin from daybreak and last until 0800 or 0900 hours.
The AO in I Corps is composed mainly of fire support bases that are located to the west toward the A Shau Valley and to the northwest toward the DMZ. The fire support bases are all located on hilltops ranging from sea-level bases, small hills, e.g. Fire Support Base Jack and a 3,000 foot pinnacle, such as Fire Support Base Ripcord, a 5,000 foot pinnacle such as Fire Support Base Bertchesgaden and a 4,000 foot pinnacle such as Fire Support Base Eagle’s Nest. Bertchesgaden and Eagle’s Nest are located on the rim of the A Shau Valley. Fire Support Base Ripcord is located about 35 miles west of Hue. Fire Support Base Jack is located due southwest of Camp Evans.
On the third of January the battalion conducted a battery raid into FSB Thor. FSB Thor is located approx. 15 miles to the south/southwest of Hue Phu Bai.
On the fourth of January, the battalion resupplied FSB Fuller.
On the fifth of January, FSB Rakkasan was socked in – unable to resupply it.
On six January, three CH-54s [were] working in the AO helping in DISCOM. We resupplied Tomahawk on that date.
On the tenth of January, we extracted FSB Blaze in minimum weather conditions. Pachyderm 532 took two hits with no casualties. Pachyderm 524 had an engine failure at Camp Evans and the aircraft was destroyed. The pilot and the aircraft were medevaced to the United States with back injuries.
On the eleventh of January, FSB Rifle was resupplied.
On the twelfth of January, FSB Strike was inserted in a battery raid using eight aircraft. It took 1˝ hours. The battalion used this mission for a training mission. The mission could have been conducted in 45 minutes using 4 aircraft.
On the thirteenth of January, Varsity 547 took 4 rounds south of DaNang, wounded 1 officer, a non-rated officer. And a CH-53 was extracted from the DaNang harbor by one of the Hurricane aircraft.
On sixteen January, we resupplied FSB Strike. The battalion conducted a battery raid to FSB Shepherd which is located about 3 klicks to the East of Khe Sanh. We used 16 aircraft – no incidents encountered. On the sixteenth [of January] Shepherd was extracted using 18 aircraft – no incidents were encountered.
On the eighteenth, Varsity 020 lifted a five ton truck off of personnel after the truck had turned over on a muddy road between Camp Evans and FSB Jack. I was flying Varsity 020 when it lifted the cab of a 5 ton so its occupants could be rescued; however, it was in the city of Hue. See Varsity Stories (Source – Tom Hirschler).
On 1 February, we utilized three aircraft on a flare-ship mission. The flare-ships were flown VFR on top. The prevailing weather was 300 and 1.
On 2 February, flare-ships supported a night combat assault for the 3rd Brigade.
On 3 February, a flare-ship was launched to ZD177026.
On 4 and 5 February, we launched 2 and 3 aircraft respectively for flare-ship missions.
On 6 February, a flare-ship was launched in search of a downed medevac aircraft at ZD9705.
On 7 February, Varsity 507 received numerous hits at BS7278, the Flight Engineer was slightly wounded. The aircraft went down at LZ English for repairs.
On 10 February, a flare-ship was launched to ZD1802 under IFR conditions to support units in contact. On 10 February Pachyderm 522 received hits at YD6827. Hurricane aircraft 426 received hits and was down at Tam Ki for repairs. The battalion attempted to resupply FSB Fuller; however, the LZ was weathered in. Later that evening a flare-ship was launched to support ground contact at FSB Anzio.
On 15 February, [we conducted] an artillery move to Los Banos by Varsity utilizing 7 aircraft.
On 21 February, one aircraft was on flare-ship launched IFR – prevailing weather 200 and Ľ.
On 24 February, flare-ship was launched to YD631867 under IFR conditions – prevailing weather 300 and 1.
On 26 February, a resupply of Fuller was conducted.
On 1 March we resupplied FSB Barbara and FSB Mooney.
On 10 March an artillery raid was conducted to FSB Bullet.
On 11 March a battery move was conducted to FSB O’Reilly. No incidents encountered.
On 12 March Playtex 514 was shot down at ZD1204 by an RPG. The aircraft was on a flame drop. No injuries and the aircraft was destroyed.
On 13 March FSB Granite was inserted.
On 14 March Varsity 002 was damaged in a rocket attack at Camp Eagle.
On 18 March the flare ship was launched to ZC0799.
On 20 March the flare ship was off for YC8094 to support ground contact units. That evening FSB Granite came under heavy ground attack. Pachyderm 535 was dispatched to remove and medevac the WIAs and KIAs [respectively] from the hill. At daybreak all available aircraft were used to resupply FSB Granite as the weather lifted. Later on that day, Pachyderm 535 crashed and burned at Camp Evans due to an over-grossed condition in the aircraft. There were several injuries and one KIA, an infantryman from the 2/506th. Playtex inserted FSB Normandy that afternoon using 9 aircraft, carrying 66 sorties.
On 23 March, Varsity inserted FSB Brick. On 23 March, the ARVNs declared an emergency situation on FSBs O’Reilly, Fuller and Sarge due to a lack of resupply for two weeks due to weather.
On 24 March a flare ship was launched to ZC0899. The battalion conducted a battery move into Brick using 6 aircraft and a flare ship was launched to YD7302 to search for a downed AH-1G Cobra and its crew.
On 25 March we got two loads into Sarge. We had to quit because of the weather. Still no resupply into Fuller or into O’Reilly.
On 26 March aircraft hovered up the side of Granite with several loads. Barbara and Fuller were resupplied by CH-47, Brick and Normandy resupplied by CH-54. On this date the Super Cs were grounded awaiting an MWO. This has been the first time that Barbara, Fuller and Granite have been resupplied in two weeks and two days.
On 27 March aircraft completed missions by hovering up the sides of hills. Minimum weather zero/zero conditions.
On 28 March Granite was extracted except for 8 sorties of Class 5 due to weather closing in.
29 March Operation Bell Point (?) the Easter Services at Eagle Bowl. Fourteen aircraft carried 2800 passengers to and from the fire bases to Eagle Bowl for the Easter Service.
On 30 March FSB Rifle was again inserted.
On 1 April the Battalion attempted to insert FSB Ripcord. The LZ was hot – one UH-1 was shot down. Incoming mortar rounds, RPG, and .51 caliber fire prevented the insertion of the 2/506th. That night we carried a tactical emergency resupply to O’Reilly and Gladiator, seven sorties, prevailing weather zero/zero.
On 2 April we carried Tac E sorties into O’Reilly – twenty sorties of Class 1 and Class 5. We started at 2300, we finished at 0300. Prevailing weather 200 and 1/8th.
On 4 April the battery raid into FSB Veghel was conducted. No incidents.
On 5 April we launched a flare-ship, extracted a UH-1D from a previous CA on 1 April on FSB Ripcord.
On 6 April the flare-ship was launched to FSB Arsenal which was under enemy ground attack. FSB Fuller was taking incoming rounds when resupply was attempted.
On 7 April FSB Anzio came under attack. Flare-ship was launched to that location.
On 8 April flare-ship was launched over the Khe Sanh plains to support a ranger team in contact.
On 9 April Varsity 142 was shot up on an LZ expansion three kilometers west of Ripcord. One WIA from the ground unit, and one WIA crewmember from Varsity. Also on the 9th of April, the battalion conducted a battery raid from FSB Jack to FSB Granite. We also had two flare-ship missions that evening out of Camp Evans.
On 10 April Mai Loc was overrun. Flare-ships were up from 0200 to 0540, VFR-on-top. We conducted a 155 move from Arsenal to Anzio, conducted by CH-54 and CH-47. The Super Cs were still grounded awaiting an MWO. Also on 10 April the 3rd Brigade is planning a combat assault into Ripcord again. And we moved 150 Special Forces Troops from DaNang to Mai Loc.
On 11 April we carried two dozers into Ripcord. Playtex 515 took five rounds on Fuller. The 3rd Brigade is again attempting to begin the insertion of this FSB.
On 12 April, Playtex 508 took several hits on Fuller, no major damage. FSB Fuller is now becoming a serious threat. The FSB sits several thousand feet high, overlooking the DMZ and has full view from several surrounding hills for the enemy to direct their indirect and direct fire weapons upon the hill when aircraft approach it.
On 13 April, Varsity 101 was destroyed on FB Fuller a direct hit from a 122 mm rocket. There were 5 WIAs and 1 KIA. The KIA was a Varsity door gunner.
On 14 April, Playtex carried 3 sorties into Ripcord at 2230 hours. FSB Strike was inserted and Fuller was closed to air traffic due to the intensity of enemy fire.
On 18 April, we moved the First Brigade from FSB Veghel to FSB Strike and Anzio in 60 sorties. We inserted 110 sorties from Gladiator, Sharon, and LaVang into Ripcord. The move was held up for 30 minutes for incoming rounds, but FSB Ripcord was finally inserted.
On 19 April, the workload on the DMZ had increased due to the increased number of NVA in the area. Varsity 012 received three hits to the west of Ripcord and that evening Ripcord came under heavy contact, two flare ship aircraft were launched to support the ground action.
On 20 April, CH-54s are carrying a large part of the DISCOM sorties in our AO.
On 21 April, 7 sorties were carried into Fuller.
On 23 April, 8 loads were carried into Ripcord under minimum weather conditions and for the past seven days the sortie breakdown for this battalion is as follows:
For CH-47s 2467 tons, 7075 passengers, 1768 sorties flying 678 hours.
For CH-54s 934 tons, carrying 7 passengers for 160 sorties in 116 hours.
On 25 April, Pachyderm 541 received numerous hits vicinity of Ripcord. And the flare ships were used for a night combat assault into Phong Bien.
On 26 April, the flare ships were used for ground contact at FSB Veghel.
And on 28 April, an artillery raid was conducted into FSB Zon carrying 24 sorties.
On 30 April, 215 hours were flown carrying 310 sorties. FSB Henderson was inserted.
On the 3rd of May, 14 aircraft were used to move artillery batteries from Tomahawk to Katherine. We moved 155s from Granite to Rakkasan. We flew 150 hours today. The enemy activity is increasing.
On the 4th of May, we inserted FSB Shock with 282 tons being carried. We a moved a 105 battery from Granite to Gladiator in 90 sorties.
On 5 May, Playtex aircraft received heavy automatic fire from the northern end of the A Shau Valley while on flare-ship mission. Varsity 435 was destroyed by hostile fire with 5 KIAs and we completed the extraction of FSB Granite. A total of 279 sorties were carried out in 3 days. We flew 130 hours today, carrying 297 loads.
On 6 May, FSB Henderson came under attack -- all day. There were 45 friendly KIAs. Playtex used 3 aircraft for a tactical emergency (Tac-E) resupply.
And on 8 May, 150 hours were flown. On the same day we combat assaulted passengers from field locations to areas around FSB Henderson. 2 aircraft were damaged by hostile fire – Playtex 829 was shot up on Fuller, 1 WIA crewmember. We moved 2 155 batteries from Henderson to Quang Tri and from Kalu to Sarge. 2 combat essential missions were flown that evening into Camp Carroll – prevailing weather 200 and ˝.
On 9 May, Playtex 508 was shot down north of the Lazy W, repaired and flown out to be shot down again. The second time it was shot down, the aircraft was totally destroyed. There were minimum injuries to the crew.
On 10 May, an ASAP battery move from FSB Shock to [FSB] Veghel was conducted for the 2nd Brigade.
On 12 May, flare-ships were launched to YD2875.
On 13 May, a 155 battery move from Bastogne to Veghel. 1,000 passengers were moved as a part of this battery move.
On 17 May, Varsity 497 was shot up, inverted, and crashed and burned 5 km. southwest of FSB Nancy. There were 5 crewmember KIAs. Also on the 17th, a 105 and 155 battery move was conducted from FSB O’Reilly into FSB Ripcord. There were numerous impacting mortar and RPG rounds on top of Ripcord, but negative damage, negative injuries.
On the 19th of May, Pachyderm 526 was shot down on Firebase Fuller. The aircraft commander autorotated to a 1500 foot pinnacle just to the north of Fuller and safely landed the aircraft. The aircraft was later extracted.
On 20 May, a combat essential mission was flown into Arsenal.
On 23 May, the final plans were made for a Tac-E resupply of Fuller using 10 CH-47 aircraft, A1-Es, and aerial rocket artillery. The plans now are for 25 May.
On 25 May, the Fuller resupply went smoothly. Mortars impacted 10 minutes after the aircraft finished their sorties.
On 26 May, the flare-ship was launched to YC6595 to support a Ranger team in contact. An artillery raid from Katherine to Brick was conducted, and an artillery move from Birmingham to Katherine was performed.
On 29 May, 48 sorties were carried into Sarge and Holcomb.
And on 31 May we inserted FSB Tun Tavern.
Getting into the month of June -- the weather now is predominantly good. There are unlimited ceilings and unlimited visibility; however, the winds are now beginning to be a problem in the mountainous areas.
On 2 June, FSB Tun Tavern came under ground attack. Flare ship aircraft were launched that evening to support the action. Playtex 515 received 14 hits, and an aircraft on FSB Fuller suffered minor damage.
On 7 June, the Lycoming strike now is becoming a problem. 80% of the sorties are now being flown for the 1st ARVN Division.
10 June, a 155 move from FSB Rakkasan to FSB Ripcord.
On 15 June, a battery move from Ripcord to Rakkasan. On a resupply of FSB Fuller, two rockets impacted half-way through the resupply. No damage. The resupply continued and was finished with no further enemy activity.
On 16 June, a battery raid was conducted into FSB Zon carrying 45 sorties. FSB Barnett was inserted.
And on 18 June, a 105 move into Barnett.
On 21 June, a resupply of FSB Fuller with 3 aircraft carrying 18 sorties. No enemy fire.
On 22 June, a battery raid into FSB Zon again. 12 aircraft were used carrying 45 sorties.
On 23 June, a battery was moved from Ripcord and Arsenal to Shepard and Sarge to support troops in contact.
On 24 June, a battery raid was conducted from Los Banos to Musket.
On 25 June, an artillery move was conducted from Shepard to Ripcord using 8 aircraft. Half of FSB Holcomb was extracted carrying 43 loads.
On 26 June, FSB Sarge was extracted to FSB Arsenal. The last half of Holcomb was pulled out.
On 1 July, Varsity 103 was shot down on Ripcord by enemy ground fire. Pachyderm 495 was shot up at Ripcord, flown to FSB Jack and repaired. LTC Davis assumed command of the 101st Aviation Group on this date.
On 2 July, Varsity 868 was shot down on Ripcord trying to recover Varsity 103. 17 loads of combat-essential sorties were carried into FSB Ripcord. LTC Glover left the 159th Aviation Battalion on emergency leave on this date.
On 3 July, Varsity 103 was recovered from FSB Ripcord by Playtex 499. This is the first time a Super-C had been lifted by a Super-C in the history of Army Aviation. 499 crashed however, on short final to Evans POL from fuel exhaustion. LTC Newton assumed command of the 159th Aviation Battalion on 3 July.
On 8 July, FSB Ripcord is hot. It had been closed several times during the day to incoming rounds and the winds are beginning to present a definite problem to the resupply of these FSBs.
On 9 July, a 155 move was conducted from Veghel to Sarge. A 155 move was flown from Mai Loc to Shepard to support the 2/17th Cav in the Khe Sahn plains. 195 hours were flown today and the high winds are still a problem.
On 11 July a 155 battery raid was conducted from Sarge to Vandergriff to support the 2/17 Cav. operating in the Khe Sanh plains in the northern tip of the A Shau Valley.
On 12 July, the winds at Ripcord are now gusting from 40 to 75 knots.
On 14 July, 2 combat-essential sorties of Class V are flown from Cheyenne to FSB Ripcord.
On 15 July, FSB Shepard was extracted to Eagle.
And on 16 July, Vandergriff was extracted to Veghel. CH-47 traffic into Ripcord henceforth must have gunship escort.
On 17 July, we moved the 2/501st from Camp Eagle to FSB Veghel. We carried combat-essential sorties of Class V into Ripcord, and combat-essential sorties of POL into Katherine.
On 18 July, Pachyderm 810 was shot down on Ripcord, 1 crewmember KIA. An ASAP
pax move was conducted from Phu Bai to Gladiator. An ASAP battery move was conducted from Brick to Gladiator. Gladiator was inserted to support FSB Ripcord. 29 combat-essential sorties were flown into Gladiator, a night-time resupply. The enemy activity is increasing its pressure around the Ripcord area.
On 19 July, 2 combat-essential sorties are flown into Ripcord, a night-time, IFR resupply. Prevailing weather -- 200 and 1/8.
On 22 July, we resupplied FSB Fuller and plans for the final extraction for FSB Ripcord are taking place for the 23rd.
Also on the 22nd, a UH-1 was shot down on FSB Ripcord, and Ripcord was closed to all air traffic. Varsity 507 was diverted from other missions to recover the UH-1; then flew numerous sorties in preparation for the final extraction of Ripcord. (Source – Tom Hirschler, Curtis Downs)
On 23 July, FSB Ripcord is extracted. Varsity 507 is shot down and destroyed by enemy indirect fire. During the extraction, 7 aircraft are shot up, 3 battalion crewmembers are wounded-in-action, and over 100 mortar and rocket rounds impacted on the hill along with several thousand small-arms and anti-aircraft rounds that were received during the extraction. The 2/506th battalion commander and S3 are KIA on FSB Ripcord.
On 31 July, the battalion moved one infantry battalion from Camp Evans to Katherine and one infantry battalion from Lavang to Barnett; the latter is an ARVN move.