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Flightline Friday: Naval Aviation in the Mekong Delta, 1967-1972 September 15, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

One of the relatively little-known aspects of the massive, never-ending air war over Southeast Asia (1964-1973) was the US Navy’s role in it.  I do not refer, in this instance, to the numerous carriers and carrier air wings that served throughout the war, involving essentially every attack carrier the Navy had in service in that timeframe, and pretty much every air wing, as well.  That’s a separate subject from this post, and, really, one that was so vast it would be impossible to encapsulate in a single blog post.

What I am referring to is something a bit different.  These were two land-based squadrons operated in support of the “Brown Water Navy” that patrolled the Mekong Delta and other rivers of Vietnam, seeking to interdict communist supplies flowing down these vast, largely unpoliced waters.  The two squadrons in question were Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) Three -HA(L)-3 –  and Light Attack Squadron Four – VAL-4.  The former was equipped with Huey gunships (generally UH-1E) and known as the Sea Wolves,  and the latter with OV-10A and -10D Broncos and known as the Black Ponies.

HA(L)-3 served from 1967 through 1972, and VAL-4 from 1969 – 1972.  Both were focused on defending US and South Vietnamese Navy riverine craft from communist attack, providing close air support to allied troops conducting operations in the region, and also flying armed reconnaissance missions attacking targets of opportunity.  VAL-4 flew from Vung Tau (hometown of a friend of mine, once a sleeping fishing village, now a major resort city) and Binh Tuy.  HA(L)-3 was nominally based at Vung Tau and Binh Tuy, as well, but operated numerous detachments from floating logistics bases within the Delta itself, using converted WWII LSTs and other ships for this purpose.

Both squadrons were fairly large in terms of equipment and personnel and hit well above their weight in terms of the impact they had on the war.  Both flew outrageous numbers of sorties, as did so many units in Vietnam (but these even more), and dropped an incredible amount of munitions.  Both have proud and storied legacies well deserving of more remembrance than they have received.  This post may hopefully serve to slightly rectify their relative historical anonymity.

A few videos below on both squadrons.  First up, a truly excellent history of VAL-4, which not only details personnel and day-to-day operations, but also the squadron’s place in the larger war effort and the many transitions it  underwent as its mission set changed due to the American withdrawal and Vietnamization.  There is some really amazing air-to-air footage below of numerous OV-10 strike missions, as well as its just plain silly maneuverability (pulling 7-8G at 180kts makes for an amazingly tight turn):

Short, silent, but excellent footage of two Black Pony OV-10s carrying a load of twelve 5″ Zuni rockets (a few with fuze extenders) each on a mission over South Vietnam.  The Zuni really packed a punch and has always been a favorite of the Marine Corps, which continues to use it to this day:

One major use of both VAL-4 and HA(L)-3 was as a quick-reaction force to provide air support for allied units that ran into trouble.  Thus the intro to the second video below, “Scramble the Seawolves,” the first of which gives you an idea of the quick reaction missions flown, as well as a little overview of the unit, which is the most decorated Naval flying unit of all time.  This first video is pretty danged good, showing a lot of combat footage and with some sound added in so it’s not just silent or with an overbearing 60s soundtrack, though you do start to get that some way in:

You’ll have to forgive the psychedelic soundtrack.  Eh, it was a product of the times:

Gun run.  I can’t believe those door gunners hit very much but who am I to judge?

Some pretty cool stuff.  The aircraft used by both squadrons carried similar armament – the OV-10 had four built-in 7.62 mm M60D machine guns and generally carried 2.75″ and 5″ rockets, while the UH-1 could carry 7.62 mm machine guns and 2.75″ rockets, but occasionally had 12.7 mm (.50 cal) M2 machine guns in the doors.

If you’re a glutton for punishment here’s one more:

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