Major General, Wm. Maddox (Ret.)
Former Chief US ARMY Aviation
In the U.S. Army, all units have call signs, frequently words denoting prowess, lethality or distinctive traits of the unit. This journal covers nearly a year (1965-66) of combat operations of an armed helicopter platoon that called itself the Cobras. Hence, snakes in their deadly form.
The Cobras performed their lethal missions in the Mekong Delta from 1963 to 1971, but the period of this narrative is particularly noteworthy because the pace of combat actions accelerated and occasioned a large U.S. unit buildup elsewhere in Vietnam.
For their part, the Cobras flew their UH-1B gunships with such valor and battlefield decisiveness that the U.S. Army appropriated their call sign to name their first true attack helicopter then in development. The AH-1G Cobra subsequently replaced the UH-1B two years after the exploits Bailey Jones describes. The Cobra helicopter with two man crew, pilot and co-pilot gunner, greater speed, day and night target acquisition capability and more power still flies not only with U.S. Army but in numerous foreign military units. In a twin engine version for over water flight, it is the primary attack helicopter of the U.S. Marines.
The first "Snake" of the Cobra platoon was the original UH-1 Huey designed for medevac and troop lift duties. It could carry eight combat troops plus a crew of two pilots, a crew chief/gunner and a door gunner. In the armed version, pilots flew side-by-side in front and operated a variety of weapons systems. The Crewchief and gunner flew in the back cabin operating two M-60 machine guns on pedestal mounts much like World War II B-17 waist gunners. On occasion, they fired the guns in a hand-held mode standing on the aircraft skids and restrained only by a "monkey strap" attached to the helicopter door post.
The pilots' weapons were mounted outside just behind the rear cabin: usually two light 7.62mm machine guns mounted on each side in "Flex Kits" which permitted movement sidewise and up and down. They were linked to a movable sight that was suspended from the cock-pit ceiling in front of the co-pilot (left seat.) The aircraft commander in the right seat fired 2.75-inch rockets from seven-shot pods that were mounted under the flex-kits. This required him to aim the helicopter to address the targets very much like the fighter pilots of previous wars.
Each gun platoon manned five helicopters flown in two fire teams with the platoon leader, Cobra Lead in this case, in the fifth helicopter. One helicopter per platoon was equipped with a chin-mounted flexible 40mm grenade turret for greater firepower. This weapon system was operated by the pilot in the left seat and controlled very much like the flex kits. The aircraft commander in this configuration fired 2.75-inch rockets from a 24 rocket-pod mounted on each side. There were no flex kits in this version. Various other weapons, searchlights and special equipment were employed in experimentation. The Cobras usually volunteered to try these.
Armed helicopter platoons such as the Cobras each belonged to an Assault Helicopter Company (AHC.) The AHC was organized with two lift platoons flying at the same time with eight UH-1B's with door guns but without the outside mounted flex kits and rocket pods of the gunships. Thus, the lift ships were known as "slicks" rather than as "guns."
The Cobra platoon was integral to the 114th AHC, The Knights of the Air. The two slick platoons were called White Knights and Red Knights.
The 114th shared the Vinh Long compound with Co A, 502nd AHC whose gun platoon was the Mavericks. Both AHC's at Vinh Long reported to the 13th Aviation Battalion also known as the Delta Battalion. It was headquartered at Can Tho on the Bassac River to the south. The 13th was also assigned two AHC's at Soc Trang southeast of Can Tho. They were the 121st AHC Soc Trang Tigers gun platoon: Vikings and Co A, 501st AHC gun platoon: Thunderbirds or T-Birds.
The 13th also had a light fixed wing company. Its 0-1 (L-19) planes were scattered in district towns across the delta for surveillance. Call sign: "Shotgun."
Can Tho was headquarters of the Army of Vietnam (ARVN) IV Corps which had tactical responsibility for the Mekong Delta, practically all real estate south of Saigon's suburbs and the Cambodian border. The IV Corps was the "customer" of the 13th Battalion. It was comprised of three infantry divisions: The 7th at My Tho and the 9th at Sa Dec. They were responsible for territory north of the Bassac while the 21st Division at Bac Lieu covered everything south of the Bassac.
The Knights of the Air normally supported operations north of the Bassac. But as the 13th supported Corps headquarters, it frequently massed its companies to fight across the Delta.
At the time of this journal the Delta Battalion had been in Vietnam for two years in a solely Vietnamese combat effort. There were no other U.S. combat units in the Delta which made the Delta a special case and placed heavy responsibility on each of the companies of the 13th.
However, small U.S. Advisory teams accompanied most of the ARVN combat units from the Corps to the district level. Thus the 13th reported to the Corps Senior Advisor, a U.S. Army brigadier. It received its logistics from U.S. Army-Vietnam in Saigon. All tactical decisions, planning and execution including clearance to fire weapons came through Vietnamese channels.
Now that we have an idea of the area and the players, let's hear Bailey Jones describe his tour of duty in the Year of the Snake.
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Created by Terry A. Dell, White Knight Crewchief 69-70' Republic of Vietnam
in association with members of the 114th Assault Helicopter Company
who served May 1963 to February 1972.
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