June 15, 1966

Freedom to ‘Bomb’ Gives New Latitude

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer is in Viet Nam reporting on activities of the 1st Cavalry Division.  Today, he continues a series on Operations Sea Wolf.)

Ledger-Enquirer Staff Writer

VUNG TAU - My introduction to Operation Sea Wolf - part of a big operation down in the mangrove swamps and rivers of the Rung Sat Special Zone here - came from Brig. Gen. George Senneff’s 1st Aviation Brigade headquarters at Saigon

I was sent to the 12th Aviation Group Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut airfield to see Capt. Wade LaDue, the public information officer, who relayed me through channels and a rickety three-quarter ton truck with its windshield blown out during the last mortar attack to Bien Hoa, 19 miles north.

At Bien Hoa I was left off at the 145th Aviation Battalion in time to see the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Horst K. Joost, receive the Legion of Merit in recognition of what must have been one of the most interesting six months of his Army career.

The award came for his service as deputy commander of the famous 173rd Airborne Brigade, formerly commanded by Brig. Gen. Ellis W. Williamson, now assistant commandant at The Infantry School.

Leaps Heartily

Joost’s battalion had leaped heartily into the new state of affairs concerning the way the Army can use helicopters after paying 140 Caribous and the CV-7 program for the privilege.

Before the dismal and capricious decision was made, the U.S. Air Force kept a closer eye on the kind of armament the armed UH1B helicopters used than it did on the problems of how to supply and support such an operation as the Hueys make possible.

A hand grenade dropped by an enterprising pilot could bring a howl of wounded wrath that this was bombing and could only be done by the proper union.

It is a fact, for example, that a high Pentagon Army official saw for the first time the armed Mohawks which have been flying for years from Vung Tau and ordered the weapons to be stripped from them because they offended the jurisdictional contracts drawn so rigidly in the archaic past.

It is also a fact that a high U.S. Army official in the Vietnamese war effort bucked this order and that the guns are still on the Mohawks at Vung Tau - although nowhere else, much as they would help with a quick reaction for infantrymen in a fight.

New Latitude

With the new latitude offered for use of armed choppers, Joost immediately went to work and has used anti-personnel bombs, dropped spinfused 81 mm. mortar shells, with a kite tail streamer to keep them nose-down, and has even dabbled with napalm.

The napalm technique has long been a dream of men who have had occasion to observe the effect a high speed approach has on effectiveness of napalm dropped on a jungle canopy.

Only last week a cannister hit trees over a company of the 1st Cavalry Division, for example.  It was not the tragedy it could have been, however.  The cannister burst in the trees and the flaming stuff made a horrible slash of roaring flames - 100 feet overhead.

Depressing Reassessment

The startled company had no casualties.  They did have a depressing reassessment of the effectiveness of the jet attacks on an enemy in exactly their same situation, however.

They had long been horribly impressed at the roaring mass of flames spreading over the canopy as the jet delivered cannisters skimmed across the treetops but now they know that all too often the effect doesn’t get down to the VC level.

A load of napalm dropped from a helicopter, at low speed and with pinpointed directions, smashes down through the canopy.

It doesn’t spread but it hits where it is aimed and gets through the trees, which is more important.
Early efforts in this line were stopped in this war by Air Force protests.  Joost’s battalion has used it up in the Tay Ninh area since the new arrangements and they are enthusiastic over the future.

“With the 173rd, we were always trying to figure out ways to get our chopper support to help kill the enemy.  It seems perfectly correct to me to make use of every practical, effective and economical method we can devise to help the infantry in that task.

“Helicopters can be used in so many different ways, all depending on imagination and ingenuity and how much hardware we can develop, modify, invent or borrow.  These experiments we have done with the bomblets and the mortar shells, for example, are just things we could get hold of in a hurry.”

“We had a 26 body count on the first landing zone where we used the mortar bomb technique.  It also keeps people alert and interested and thinking about their job to work out such ideas,” Joost stated.


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