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War Stories

The Red River

Charles A. “Tony” Robinson

Gun Pilot - Centaur 40 - 66/67

Cpt Delvy (Francis) and I had two new pilots that needed gun and rocket/40mm grenade training. We had the afternoon of 6 July 66 free from any missions, plus we were in radio contact with the Troop D operations. The training area for this day was the “Horseshoe” about 20 kilometers from Cu Chi, directly west of the 25th ARVN Division Headquarters.

Many canals run through this area on their way to the Saigon River. The Saigon River runs from Cambodia, through Saigon, to the South China Sea.

One of the canals was called the Bo Bo. As one flew over it, you could see small camouflaged camps that were the over night rest areas for the infiltration of supplies and North Vietnamese army units into South Viet Nam. This was our training area. We usually got a couple of rounds fired at us and had a chance to fire back under the “Rules of Engagement”. Flying as a gun team at 1500 feet, we flew along the Bo Bo but everything was quiet. So after a few minutes, we turned south, back towards the Horseshoe.

As we came up on the Horseshoe, a US Air Force Forward Air Controller in a “Birddog” was circling overhead. He called us on the “Guard Channel” and told us to come up on his frequency. He said he was new in country and was getting some aviation time. During his lazy recon, he said he thought he saw the outline of a large sampan hiding in a small tributary going into the Saigon River right about where the Horseshoe bends. He wanted us to go down and do a recon and see if we could stir up any trouble. He tried to put a smoke rocket into the area so that we could orient on it. As we flew by at a 45 degree bank, we could just make out the outline of a large sea going sampan. It was heavily camouflaged, so we set up a daisy chain and started our rocket and machinegun practice. The idea was to see if we could get a couple of good hits and start it burning.

Well, my new pilot was firing off two rockets at a time. We were a “Hog” carrying 48 2.75 inch, 10 pound warhead rockets and 150 rounds of 40mm grenades. On each run, the new guy would put the rockets either short or long and to the left or right of the target. I was pumping 40mm’s along the bank to keep any VC heads down as we made our break. As we got low on rockets, my pilot finally put two into the stern of the sampan and started a fire. This must have really upset the VC. A machinegun started firing and a 15 to 20 foot sampan, with an outboard motor, darted into the Saigon River and mixed in with the other river traffic. They sped down the river and we swooped low to keep track of them. Other sampans were getting out of the way as the VC boat zigged and zagged. The VC in the sampan opened up on our two ships with AK-47s. We were out of rockets and 40mm grenades, but our tow door gunners started to return fire. Needless to say, the other river traffic moved out of the way quickly.

As red tracers went down in the VC sampan from the door guns, green tracers came up from the VC weapons. The VC had a machinegun in the stern of the sampan and two AK-47s firing at us. Both of our ships had only door gunners to try to sink and burn out the VC boat. The VC boat headed towards shore and we could see a large red trail of blood flowing out of the craft. The blood was turning the river red. The sampan went into the mangroves along the river and we never say it again.

The helicopters were running low on fuel and we had to leave the area. We called Troop Operations and told them to send a recon patrol from the 25th ARVN Division compound about 5 kilometers away from where we were engaging the sampan. The USAF FAC had some fast movers (jet aircraft) come and hit the burning sampan. We never found out what it contained.

Charles A. “Tony” Robinson
Centaur 40