52nd Combat Aviation Battalion in Support of Pleime Campaign

During the period 20-28 Oct 65, the 52d Combat Aviation Battalion was engaged in operations resulting from the PAVN attack on the Special Forces Camp at Plei Me.

The Battalion was first called on for assistance in the early morning hours of 20 Oct, when Det C-2, USSF requested a flare ship for illumination and gunships for suppressive fire pending arrival of USAF illumination and fighter-bomber aircraft.

Shortly after day break on the 20th, it appeared that the VC had broken contact with the camp, and it was decided to evacuate the dead and wounded from the camp. Two UH1B’s (A) of the 119th Avn Co were assigned to escort two (2) UH1D’s of the 498th Med Co (Air Amb). While performing this function the armed aircraft received intense automatic weapons fire, to include 50 caliber machine gun fire, from all quadrants. One of the armed UH1B received numerous hits and was seen burning prior to impact. There were no survivors.

On the morning of 21 Oct, A Co was called on to lift 240 ARVN Airborne Rangers from Camp Holloway to an LZ four kilometers north of the camp. During the reconnaissance of the LZ one UH1B (A) of A Co suffered mechanical failure which resulted in separation of the main rotor blades at 2000 feet absolute altitude. The helicopter exploded on impact. There were no survivors. The operation continued, however, with no further incidents.

About midmorning on the 22d of October, four UB1B’s (A) of A Co were dispatched to escort a VNAF CH-34 in a rescue attempt for a downed pilot of an Air Force A1E. The CH-34 did not effect pilot pickup. One UH1B (A) of A Co salvoed his rocket load and picked up the downed pilot. Later in the day another rescue attempt was made for another downed Air Force pilot in the vicinity of Plei Me. This rescue attempt had to be aborted due to heavy automatic weapons ground fire and darkness. Rescue was effected the next morning when four UH1B’s (A) of A Co escorted an Air Force CH-34 to the crashed site.

On the 24th of October, the 52d Battalion was given the mission of deploying 400 ARVN soldiers of the 22d Ranger Battalion along the route of an Armored Task Force enroute to the besieged camp. The troops were to secure likely ambush sites along the intended route of the task force. The lift was accomplished without incident.

Monday, the 25th, found the 119th and the 115th, using twenty (20) troop carriers and eight (8) armed ships, assisting the 1st Bde, 1st Air Cav Div, in a troop placement from Camp Holloway to an LZ, coordinates ZA 245165.

On the 28th, elements of the 155th and 119th Aviation Companies, extracted the 42d Airborne Ranger Company (ARVN) from LZ ZA 146064 to the New Pleiku Airfield. Upon completion of this operation the activities around the Plei Me attack had nearly ceased. The 1st air Cav Div elements were loading into the Ia Drang valley operation as they pursued the VC in their withdrawal from Plei Me.

In November, the 52d Avn Bn joined forces with the 1st Cav Div, in operations in the Ia Drang Valley, the largest single operation of the year. Not only did the Battalion transport 2500 II Corps (ARVN) troops from Duc Co into the operation area but, through the use of heliborne operations the 52d Avn Bn contributed to keeping Highway 19 open for a 23 day period, one of the longest such periods. This enable supplies to be brought overland, to support the US & ARVN operations in the Ia Drang Valley.

Resume of Events 1965

20 October: Det C-2, USSF, requested assistance from the 52d Aviation Battalion for the Special Forces Camp at Plei Me, which was under attack. Two armed helicopters and flare ship of the 119th Aviation Company were dispatched and gave illumination and air cover until the arrival of USF flare and fighter bomber aircraft. Later in the morning two UHB1B armed helicopters of the 119th Aviation Company, while escorting medical evacuation helicopters, in evacuation of the wounded from the Plei Me Camp, received intense automatic weapons fire from all quadrants. One of the UB1B (A) was shot down with no survivors.

21 October: Twelve UH1D escorted by five UH1B (A) of Company A, 1st Aviation Battalion, airlifted a reaction force of 240 ARVN Airborne Rangers from Holloway Army Airfield, in three lifts, to Landing Zone ZA 185166, 4 kilometers north of the Plei Me Camp. USAF fighter bombers provided a prestrike for the assault.

24 October: The 52d Aviation Battalion was given the mission of deploying 400 soldiers of the 22d Ranger Battalion along the route of the Armored Task Force en route to the besieged Plei me Camp. Twenty-two troop carrying ships were used.

25 October: Two Companies of the 52d Aviation Battalion assisted the 1st Bde, 1st Air Cav Div, in a troop placement from Camp Holloway to an LZ at coordinate ZA 245165.

28 October: Company A and the 119th Avn Co utilizing 20 slicks and six armed aircraft extracted the 42d ARVN Airborne Ranger Company from Landing Zone coord ZA 146064 to New Pleiku Airport in two lifts. Company A was released upon completion and closed back to Ban Me Thuot 28 1800.

18 November: The 52d Aviation Battalion staged II Corps (ARVN) Operation Than Phong 7 from Duc Co. The 52d elements, ten UH1Ds, twelve UH1Bs and eleven UH1Bs (A) were reinforced by twenty UH1Ds and six UH1Bs (A) from the 229th Avn Bn, 1st Air Cav Div. Fifteen hundred (1500) troops were lifted in five lifts from Duc Co to Landing Zone YA 841092. Two (2) UH1Ds from the 155th Avn Co sustained light damage from ground fire, no injuries. A major factor in the operation was a first for the Battalion in refueling twelve aircraft at a time from prepositioned pods, without shutting the aircraft down.

Extracts pertaining to Pleime Campaign from
History of the 52d Combat Aviation Battalion – 1 January 1965 to 31 December 1965
(prepared by Office of the S-3, 12th Aviation Group, MASCV, USA Pacific, Ryuku Islands)
Courtesy of James Michener

Nguyen Van Tin
13 July 2011

Documents

- Primary

- Books, Articles

* Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam, J.D. Coleman, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988.

* We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, Random House, New York, 1992.

* "First Strike at River Drang", Military History, Oct 1984, pp 44-52, Per. Interview with H.W.O Kinnard, 1st Cavalry Division Commanding General, Cochran, Alexander S.

* The Siege of Pleime, Project CHECO Report, 24 February 1966, HQ PACAF, Tactical Evaluation Center.

* Silver Bayonet, Project CHECO Report, 26 February 1966, HQ PACAF, Tactical Evaluation Center.

- Viet Cong

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