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War Stories


Operational Example of how it all worked in 1967 - Tom Fleming

Extract of FM 17-36 Divisional Armored and Air Cavalry Units - Dale Dow

Review of FM 17-36 regarding the Centaurs 67 - Tom Fleming

Review of FM 17-36 regarding the Centaurs 68-69 - Garrett "Moose" Marcinkowsk


Operational Example of how it all worked in 1967

Wrote this for Armor Magazine.  Not published.  Describes events in October '67.  C Troop 3/17 Air Cav was training with us. Took place in the Free Fire Zone along MSR to Tay Ninh beyond Go Dau Ha that was known as the "Rubber in Between". 

D Troop (Air) the air cavalry troop, organic to the 3d Squadron 4th Cavalry, the armored cavalry squadron of the 25th Infantry Division operating in Vietnam, as its mission states, extends by aerial means the reconnaissance and security capability of the unit to which assigned or attached and is engaging in offensive or defensive combat against lightly armed forces in the true tradition of the cavalry. Its actions were characterized by speed, maneuverability, shock action, and teamwork operating with other elements of the armored cavalry squadron or in support of other divisional elements. Many of the former misgivings of the effectiveness of air cavalry units concerning survivability, endurance and other limiting factors have been overcome in the two years it has been operating in Vietnam.

When operating under the control of its parent armored cavalry squadron, air cavalry has proven to be highly effective in security, reconnaissance and economy of force operations. A typical day of deployment for an air troop employed in a counterinsurgency role in the 25th ID Area of Operations (AO) is described here to show its effectiveness, versatility and ability to work as an integral part of the divisional armored cavalry squadron.

An armored cavalry troop conducting night convoy escort on the division Main Supply Route (MSR) receives intelligence reports from the ARVN sub-sector that a suspected Viet Cong company is planning an ambush on the MSR. At 0230, lead scouts of the armored troop find the dwellings adjacent to the road vacated by the local civilians. The troop commander requests a security element from the air cavalry troop to assist movement of the convoy through the danger area. D Troop (Air) sends airborne an aero-weapons team of two gun ships and a UH-lD equipped with one million candle power aerial flares to support the ground troop. The illumination helicopter commences illumination of the danger area while the aero-weapons team screens the flanks of the convoy. An hour later the convoy clears the danger area and the ground troop commander releases the air cavalry elements.

That morning at 0630 a light scout team of two armed OH-23Gs performing a route reconnaissance along the MSR discovers a large crater in the road that will impede vehicular movement. A spot report detailing the damage to the road and an estimate of the effort required to repair the damage is sent to squadron where the necessary engineer support is laid on to effect repairs before the morning convoy moves out. 0830 finds a light scout team investigating a supposedly pacified village flying the Viet Cong flag. Reports are rendered and the local ARVN District is notified.

Later that day the air cavalry troop commander has planned an area reconnaissance in an assigned tactical Area of Operations (AO) astride the MSR. This operation is designed determine the presence of Viet Cong forces and military structures in the AO and will check identity cards of all military age personnel to attempt to uncover VC sympathizers. To accomplish the mission he has task organized his troop to fit the mission. Platoon elements are provisionally formed the first consisting of a light scout section, of two light scout teams, and two aero-rifle squads and are assigned one sector of the A.O. Another provisional platoon consisting of a heavy scout section of two teams of gunships with mini-guns and rockets and two aero-rifle squads are assigned another sector of the A.0. The aero-weapons section stands by at a nearby secure fire support base for immediate fire support with its 2.75” rockets and 40mm grenades. The troop commander is airborne in his command and control helicopter with the troop forward observer and necessary personnel to control the operation. The service platoon is standing by with its helicopter and resources to provide emergency maintenance services and evacuate the crews of downed aircraft and or injured personnel if required.

As the operation commences, we find the platoon employing light scouts operating over open rice paddy/hedgerow country. It is using both aero-rifle squads airborne to drop down and check out suspicious eligible male personnel they find in the paddies and along the streams and rivers. The platoon, that is employing the heavy scouts, is working over thicker vegetation in hedge row and forested terrain, is employing one aero-rifle squad airborne and one in reserve, at ground idle, at a nearby fire support base.

After about two hours of reconnaissance, and 15 suspect detainees later, the troop commander makes a decision to conduct a dismounted sweep of an area of hedgerow country. He makes this decision based on the information provided by the heavy scout leader that the activity in this area is unusual and prior intelligence that the location is frequented by the enemy. Using past experience of the enemy and area he believes the VC may have moved back into the area. The commander makes an aerial and map reconnaissance of the area and formulates his plan.

His plan calls for the rearrangement of forces, so he unscrambles the provisional platoons. In this plan he calls for the Aero Scout Platoon’s, heavy section to make a low level reconnaissance of the objective area in the attempt to flush out or draw fire from the enemy, followed by the simultaneous movement into the objective area of a light scout section and the air landing of the Aero Rifle Platoon. The aero-weapons team escorts the aero-rifle helicopters into and out of the landing zone and returns to the fire support base to stand by.

Almost immediately upon landing the aero-rifles, one of the light scouts picks up movement in a hedge row to the flank. The Aero Rifle Platoon Immediately orients on the enemy and rapidly moves in on them, directed by the light scouts and covered by both light and heavy scouts. The close-in proximity of the light scouts with their noise and movement suppression enables the rifle platoon to rapidly move in on the enemy position. One VC is killed and two are taken prisoner. Rapid interrogation of the EPOWs reveals their parent organization, unit, size and disposition. A significant element of the information they reveal in that there are approximately 50 VC In the immediate area. The air cav commander informs squadron operations of the situation and the squadron commander places an armored cav platoon under operational control of the air cav troop.

Squadron alerts the remainder of the armored troop to be prepared to react. As the aero-rifles continue to sweep the surrounding area the EPOW’s are evacuated by helicopter. Upon arrival in the AO, the OPCON platoon from the ground troop is guided into the area by a light scout team. Five hundred meters short of the objective area a questionable ford is discovered and it is determined to be impassable. The armored cav platoon dismounts and the lift helicopters from the Aero-rifle platoon land, pick them up, and insert them into the aero-rifle perimeter. The remainder of the ground troop prepares for airmobile insertion as needed.The air cavalry troop continues sweeping the area, while doing so, the commander utilizes artillery to seal off the area.

As the dismounted platoons are sweeping a Viet Cong is flushed out of a hedgerow and a light scout hovering near by takes the individual under fire. The heavy scout team over head maneuvers into firing position and strikes the area with mini-gun fire and 2.75 rockets. While providing protective cover over the operational area the heavy scouts discovers a camouflage bunker, trench and spider hole emplacement about one kilometer away. The Aero-weapons Team is called up from its stand-by position to strike the emplacements with rockets and 40-mm grenades and the FO brings in artillery fires to further subdue the position.

About three hours after the light scouts first initiated the action the operation winds down. The troop commander calls off the sweep and the armored cavalry platoon returns to its parent unit. The tally for the operation is 4 VC bodies, 2 EPOW’s, 5 small arms and a B40 rocket launcher with Ammo.

At 1800 a light scout team on its last light patrol along the MSR finds no enemy activity and does little more than relay a few transmissions for the ground troops pertaining to the progress of the convoy. Later that evening an armored troop, conducting night convoy escort, has one vehicle hit by a B-40 rocket and deploys off the road to pursue the fleeing VC. The air cav troop sends aloft a weapons team, flare ship and a medevac ship from the aero rifles to evacuate one wounded soldier.

The aero-weapons team on station is directed by the ground troop commander to strike a wood line to his front that the VC has moved into. The ground troop commander adjusts his supporting aerial fire support and moves strong armored units into the tree line employing mobile fire power. Although no bodies were found by the attacking troops there are heavy blood trails leading from the area. The illumination from the UH-ID continues its support until the evacuation of the disabled track is completed and the convoy moves on.

The actions described here did happen on a daily basis in Vietnam. They are just a small segment of the routine mission that the Divisional Armored Cavalry Squadron is conducted in its day-to-day operations. Through the close coordination and mutual support between armored and air cavalry elements within the squadron, the influence of the Viet Cong in their operational area was being reduced day by day. The areas the insurgents can influence were being reduced and wrested from his control. The cavalry was not alone in the work to diminish the influence of the insurgents. It is just one of the major elements effectively that were being employed in the struggle to insure the internal security of Vietnam and provide time and space for effective nation building.


Extract of FM 17-36 Divisional Armored and Air Cavalry Units

Dale Dow

After many, many searches for FM 17-36, Divisional Armored and Air Cavalry Units, December 1965, I finally found a complete copy of the field manual in one of the archives at Carlisle. The FM establishes the doctrine for the employment of the divisional cavalry squadron, the ground cavalry troops, and the air cavalry troop. It also includes the wiring diagrams for the organization, personnel, and equipment authorized under the base Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) for the units.

The FM is 285 pages long and 16+ meg in size. I have removed the sections that are not directly related to the air cavalry troop to shrink the size to about 85 pages and 4.6 meg. It is in Adobe Acrobat. If you don’t have the Adobe Reader program, you can download a free copy from the Adobe website.

When you look at the wiring diagrams for the air cavalry troop, remember that the diagrams show the base personnel and equipment requirements from the TOE that was in effect for all of the divisional air cavalry troops in 1963 - 1965. The diagrams are not a depiction of the D Troop’s personnel and equipment prior to deployment from Hawaii or in Vietnam. Prior to its deployment and while in Vietnam, the troop was organized and equipped under a Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) that authorized the increases in personnel (pilots, door gunners, etc) and changes in equipment (UH1C, UH1D, AH1, rocket systems, machine gun systems, etc). The MTOE was a very fluid document that allowed for rapid changes to the personnel and equipment authorizations based upon the troop missions and the introduction of new equipment. Each of the divisional air cavalry troops was organized differently based upon their location and missions. The divisional troops were organized differently than the troops assigned to the air cavalry squadrons.

I have also attached a TOE MTOE Matrix that shows a comparison between the base TOE and the probable MTOE for the troop in the March 1968 time period. I am reasonably certain about the positions in the Light Scouts, Heavy Scouts, Aerorifle (Lift) and Aerorifle (Inf). I am not sure about the positions in the Aeroweapons, but I think I have most of the positions. The Service Platoon is really up in the air and needs some info from the Service Platoon Leaders to try to develop an accurate listing of authorized personnel.


Review of FM 17-36 regarding the Centaurs - 67-68

Tom Fleming

I finally have had time to review FM 17-36 and the TO&E attachments. I commanded D4/12 Cav, 5th Mec Div in 1964 and D/3/12 Cav, 3rd ARM Div in 1966 as well as D/3/4 Cav, 25th INF Div 1967-68 as well as attending the Armor Officers Career Course 1964-65. From 1963 through 1968 I either served in Divisional Armored Cav squadrons with Air Cavalry Troops or studied them.

The FM 17-36 diagram the number of vehicles and equipment on page 90 is not fully reflective of the number and placement of helicopters that were in the MTOE of D/3/4 Cav in1966 -1968. The MTOE added a WO pilot and a E-5 Door Gunner to each Utility Helicopter. The MTOE added two other officers an Executive Officer CPT and a non rated LT platoon leader for the Aero rifle Platoon. The two helicopters authorized for the troop commander and the Flight Operations officer were configured as Heavy Scouts as was the Supply Section Helicopter. This provided 6 UH-1C with Flexible Machine guns and seven round rocket pods for the HV Scts. One of the UH-1C was configured as the troop Command and control helicopter with a C& C radio consol. When so configured it normally had its weapon systems ( M-16 or M-21) removed (Added weight of the FO and the radio console compensation ).

The Aero Weapons section operated integrated with the Heavy Scout sections, but was carried as a separate section under troop control. There were limited operational instances when the Aero Weapons Section operated as a separate element similar to Aerial Rocket Artillery. Trading off fuel for the ability to carry more rockets and standing by to be employed as direct fire support.

The TOE for the Supply Section of the Service Platoon should show the Supply Sergeant as an E-7 who served as the Platoon Sergeant. Note in the Maintenance section that there is no NCO. D/3/4 Cav operated that way until mid 1967 when I made a plea to the Division Aviation Bn. for an over strength NCO. I got SSG Rance who came to us from a depot level instrument repair back ground (25th Avn didn’t know what to do with him). He turned out to be a very useful addition. The Maintenance Section integrated the tech Supply Clerk from the Supply section and divested its self of the Motor Pool which operated as a separate element under Troop HQ over watched by a officer or WO as an additional duty.. The Mess Section as you pointed out was an element of the Squadron S-4 ( the S-4 provided all the mess teams in the squadron) The mess section was over watched by an officer or WO as an additional duty under the direction of the XO.

The ¾ Cav in Hawaii prior to Vietnam had an Aero Scout Platoon under HQ Troop. Cpt Delvy was the Platoon CDR. D Troop was formed at Ft Benning GA and shipped to VN where the Aero Scout Platoon with its 9 OH-23G were integrated into the troop.


Review of FM 17-36 regarding the Centaurs 68-69

Garrett "Moose" Marcinkowski

As my memories grow more distant here's what I remember about the troop configuration. We did not have heavy scouts or light scouts. When all the Charlie models were swapped out for Cobras we had three flight platoons. Scouts, guns and slicks. Scout teams were an OH-6 and AH I G. Gun teams were two Cobras. The number of Hueys were dependent upon the mission. It was not often that we had all Hueys available.

While a UH-1 was designated for the troop commander he often flew as a crew member on a mission as did I when I was the ops officer and later the XO. For the first few months I was there We had to supply a slick complete with console to the squadron commander for C&C purposes. This effectively took a bird away from any aero rifle lifts.

When Bob Mcgowan became the squadron commander he ditched the UH-1 for an OH-6. (Jerry Odom can probably add a few stories about Bob McGowan since he flew him a lot.) So while the TO&E said one thing the true configuration was another.

Overall we did not lack for bodies to accomplish the mission. Thanks in great deal to the work done by Tom and previous commanders. I think door gunners were a valuable addition for both scouts and slicks but might not have been in the TO&E. The mess section belonging to the S-4 was in my mind an anomaly since they lived in our area and fed our troops. They did a great job.

The maintenance platoon under Bill Blair ran a 24 hour shop but the wheeled vehicles were the responsibility of the XO just to take some of the pressure off the aviation maintenance platoon.

The aero rifle platoon leader was a rated aviator. Sometimes he was on the ground, sometimes he flew. It all dependent upon the mission.

Like I said, these are memories from a long time ago so if anyone has a more specific remembrance, hop on in. Overall my year as a Centaur was marked by a willingness by everyone to accomplish the mission to the highest standard possible. Even if it meant breaking the rules.