HISTORY OF THE
TWENTY-THIRD SPECIAL WARFARE AVIATION DETACHMENT

1 JANUARY 1963 - 31 DECEMBER 1963



Prepared by:

Capt. Richard E. Urick
And
Capt. M. L. McDonald, Jr.
23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment



APPROVED BY:

ARTHUR F. V LIEBL
Major, Infantry





UNITED STATES ARMY SUPPORT COMMAND, VIETNAM
MILITARY ASSISTANCE COMMAND, VIETNAM UNITED
STATES ARMY, RYUKYU ISLANDS


TABLE OF CONTENTS


FOREWORD

The Twenty-Third Special Warfare Aviation Detachment was activated at Fort Rucker, Alabama on 24 July, 1962 for deployment to the Republic of Vietnam in support of ARVN Counter-Insurgency Operations. Subsequently the unit was selected to test and evaluate concepts of tactical aerial surveillance developed by the Army conducted Howze Board. Test.

The U.S. Army Aerial Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon (Augmented) formed the nucleus of the new organization. The initial problems revolved around activating the 23rd SWAD, deactivating USAASTAP and assembling men and equipment for overseas deployment. Initially the unit was organized under TO&E 31-500T (Modified), dtd 14 March 1962, with six JOV-1C Mohawks modified to armament configuration, assigned 16 officers, 1 Chief Warrant Officer and 93 enlisted men with Major William J. Morris, SigC, Commanding. Because of the uniqueness of armed fixed wing aircraft within the Army, the U S. Navy was requested to conduct aerial ordnance training for the sixteen officers and nine enlisted ordnance personnel. The request was approved and training was conducted at the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, commencing on 26 July 1962, with VA-44 the host squadron. On 19 August 1962, thirteen more enlisted ordnance personnel reported to NAS, Jacksonville for two weeks of aerial ordnance training.

The main body departed Fort Rucker, Alabama on 13 August 1962, for Oakland Army Terminal, with the officer party departing on 27 August 1962 and the 13 ordnance personnel who were at NAS, Jacksonville forming the rear party.

The aircraft arrived at Cubi Point Naval Air Station, Subic Bay, Philippine Islands on 2 September 1962, aboard, the aircraft carrier USNS Breton; were immediately off loaded and readied for the ferry flight to Vietnam. Marine Captain Gerald, W Keyes and a Naval officer, Lt. Robert Brace, joined, the unit at Cubi NAS and were invaluable in the conduct of a scheduled ground school which covered the following subjects: a) ordnance delivery, b) weapons employment, c) rockets and guns, d) close sir support, e) communications, f) formation flying, g) offensive and defensive tactics and h) flight safety. Capt Keyes and Lt Brace accompanied the 23rd to Vietnam. On 13 August 1962, the advance party arrived in Saigon, Vietnam and on 16 August 1962, were notified by COMUSMACV that the 23rd SWAD would be located at Nha Trang.

On 19 September 1962, the aircraft were flown by pilots of the 23rd SWAD from Cubi Naval Air Station to Nha Trang. The main body arrived in Nha Trang on 20 September 1962, making the trip from Saigon by LST. The unit was declared operationally ready on 15 October 1962, but was unable to perform operational missions because six Vietnamese observers, who were assigned, were unable to join the unit until 17-18 October 1962.

ARVN observer training which consisted of 16.5 hours of ground school and 2 hours of flight orientation was completed on 26 October 1962. Full scale operations began on 28 October 1962.

This history of the 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment is dedicated to the memory of 1/Lt Clayton A. Fanning and 1/Lt Edward A. Cribbs who gave their lives in the struggle to stamp out communism in the Republic of Vietnam.








Note: The "Rules of Engagement" placed on the 23rd SWAD required that an ARVN observer be aboard the aircraft on all combat support missions.


SECTION I - THE MISSION, THE ORGANIZATION,
THE AIRCRAFT

The mission of the 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment is to provide tactical area surveillance through Visual Observation and Photo Reconnaissance in support of counter-insurgency operations conducted in the Republic of Vietnam. Some of the type missions flown during the period were: railroad surveillance, visual observation, photography of points and limited area, artillery adjustment, smoke in support of heliborne operations, night illumination and convoy observation. In conjunction with this mission the 23rd SWAD served as a "Test Unit" for an operational evaluation conducted by the US Army Concept Team in Vietnam.

To accomplish its mission the 23rd SWAD was organized as a prototype armed aerial surveillance unit, consisting of a headquarters section; an operations section, a communications section, a photo processing section, three flight tests which consisted of: two armed Mohawk aircraft, four officer pilots, seven enlisted maintenance and armament specialists each, and a maintenance and service section which included a third echelon aircraft maintenance team, a motor maintenance test and POL and ordnance specialists.

The basic tool of the 23rd SWAD was of course the OV-1 Mohawk. The Mohawk in use in Vietnam during 1963 was equipped with the KS-61 camera system which was most suitable for large scale, low level photography of points, strips, limited areas and night photography.

It has proven effective for photo reconnaissance of helicopter landing zones, location of suspected enemy positions and photographs of targets of opportunity. The camera system was not intended for or adaptable to large area photography, and it could not take forward looking oblique photos. During the year 1963, over 100,000 photographs were taken, processed and delivered to the supported units.

Design features that enhance the survivability of the Mohawk during counter-guerilla operations are:

  1. Wide speed range - ability to loiter in one area at slow speeds then move rapidly to another area

  2. Speed-noise relationship which minimizes the amount of reaction time available to hostile firers

  3. Armor protection for the crew - other than the bulletproof windshield, this initially consisted of flak curtains surrounding the cockpit area and armor plating under the floor but later in the year a newer type of armor plating was installed in place of the flak curtains providing increased protection to the crew from small arms fire

  4. Twin engines - Lycoming T-53-L3 Turbo-Prop

  5. Zero-altitude Martin*Baker ejection seats

  6. Self-sealing fuel tanks

  7. Armament - capable of carrying 4000 lbs of external stores, although only 2.75" rockets, and .50 cal machine guns were used


SECTION II - OPERATIONS

As 1963 began the 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment was a separate unit of the Unit United States Army Support Group, Vietnam, attached to this organization for administration and logistics but operational control was retained by COMUSMACV. The 23rd SWAD, consisting of two flight teams, the headquarters section and maintenance section was located at Nha Trang and provided general support for the II ARVN Corps which include surveillance of the coastal railway in II Corps area. One flight team consisting of two aircraft, four aviators and fourteen enlisted personnel, were detached to Qui Nhon to provide direct support to the ARVN 9th Division. Flight missions were given directly to the 23rd SWAD and its detached flight teams by the supported units (via the US Advisors with those units). Thus immediate mission response was attained since no requirement existed, for approval by a higher headquarters. The support given by the 23rd SWAD elements was similar to the relationship between the US Infantry Brigade and its direct support artillery.

The Mohawks flew a variety of missions both day and night in support of II Corps from 16 October 1962 to 31 July 1963 and established itself as a powerful weapon in the hands of the ground commander. The 23rd SWAD (which was the first and only unit of its type within the US Army during this time frame) achieved a high degree of success in gathering intelligence information and suppressing or thwarting enemy operations in South Vietnam. This is amply stated in the remarks of Colonel Hal D. McGown, Senior Advisor to II Corps, in his letter of 12 March 1963, to the Commander of the United States Military Assistance Advisor Group Vietnam.

In January 1963, there was a major reorganization of the ARVN which created a IV Corps and brought about, a shifting of the Corps boundaries. With the re-organization, came a great increase in the railway surveillance effort because the railway security zones did not coincide within the Corps Tactical zones. Thus the rail security responsibility now extended from just north of the III Corps southern boundary to the northern II Corps boundary. This area included approximately two-thirds of the entire railroad system throughout the Republic of Vietnam. Many missions were flown in support of the Railway Security Section from October 1962 to July 1963, the primary mission so previously mentioned, being surveillance of the entire railway system within the unit's area of responsibility. But the 23rd also performed night flare (illumination) missions when requested by II Corps or the Railway Security Detachment.

The following is a quote from Major Lewis N. McGuyre, Rail Security Advisor:

" No mission has been refused by the 23rd SWAD. Response time has excellent in all cases. Missions accepted without a standby night crew have been ready to take off in 25 minutes from the time of initial notification. Mission requests are made direct to the 23rd SWAD, in most cases the pilot to fly the mission is briefed by the requestor. Acceptance or rejection of a mission is known immediately. There is no uncertainty or indecision on the part of the MRSS concerning its next offensive move since aircraft support status is known on request."

On 10 January 1963, Lt Clayton A. Fannin and observer Lt Suu, flying Mohawk 612704, failed to return from a combat support mission. Extensive search and rescue operations were initiated immediately upon receiving word that aircraft 612704 was overdue, but to no avail. The fate of Lt. Fannin and Lt. Suu was to remain unknown until 22 November 1963, when a light observation aircraft of the 73rd Aviation Company, spotted the wreckage of an aircraft, in the mountains southeast of Pleiku. A ground party was dispatched to the scene and subsequently identified the wreckage as that of Mohawk 612704. The cause of the crash could not be determined since the aircraft was destroyed on impact. Remains of two persons were carried out by the search party for positive identification by graves registration personnel. Even though the wreckage of 612704 was found, the mystery surrounding its disappearance will probably never be solved.

On 15 February 1963, a flight team was dispatched from Nha Trang (the 23rd's base of operations) to Quang Ngai to provide direct support for the ARVN 25th Division. Thus on 15 February 1963, the 23rd SWAD was disposed with the Detachment at Nha Trang, a flight team one hundred miles to the north at Qui Nhon, and a second flight team at Quang Ngai two hundred miles north of Nha Trang.

Reaction time, which is the key to success or failure in counter-insurgency operations was drastically reduced by the Mohawk and their flight crews. This was achieved, in part by pacing the flight teams in direct support of the ARVN Divisions and having one member of the flight team function as a liaison officer to the G-2 or G-3 of the supported unit. The liaison officer was responsible for obtaining the next days preplanned mission requests; being equipped with an FM radio and functioning in the TOC, he was able to receive and immediately disseminate spot intelligence reports from the aircraft to the division G-2 or G-3. Similarly he could immediately divert the aircraft from preplanned missions to priority add on missions, giving immediate responsiveness to the ground commander.

In early July 1963, the 23rd SWAD received orders to provide general support to the ARVN III & IV Corps operating in the Delta area of South Vietnam. The 23rd SWAD was directed to move their base of operations from Nha Trang to Bien Hoa Airfield located approximately 20 miles NE of Saigon and dispatch a flight team to Soc Trang to provide direct support to the ARVN IV Corps. The 23rd main body moved by LST's from Nha Trang to Saigon on 29 July 1963, then by motor convoy from Saigon to Bien Hoa on 1 August 1963. During the morning of 29 July 1963, the flight team remaining in II Corps area flew a mission 20 miles north of Quang Ngai then displaced and flew observation missions for IV Corps in an area south of Soc Trang that afternoon. The flight teams provided continuous support in their assigned corps areas throughout the move.

From August 1963 through December 1963, one flight team remained at Soc Trang to provide direct support to the ARVN IV Corps. The remaining two flight teams operated out of Bien Hoa, one providing direct support to the ARVN 5th Division and the other in general support to the ARVN III and IV Corps.

On 26 August 1963, while on a combat support mission in the IV Corps area, Lt. Edward A. Cribb was killed when the aircraft he was flying was shot down by enemy ground fire. The observer ejected safety but Lt. Cribb was unable to execute a successful ejection, The loss of Lt. Cribb was deeply felt by all members of the unit.

Shortly after the death of Lt. Cribb, the bulk of the officer personnel of the 23rd SWAD began rotation to CONUS as new personnel arrived. On 12 September, Major Arthur F.W. Liebl, Infantry, 067109, assumed command of the 23rd SWAD from Major William Morris in a change of command ceremony held that morning.

In early August, 1963, a fight team began support of the 7th ARVN Division, whose headquarters were located at My Tho in the Mekong River Delta area, from Soc Trang Airfield. At Bien Hoa the base unit continued general support of III & IV Corps and direct support of the ARVN 5th Division. In early September 1963, the flight team at Soc Trang shifted support to the ARVN 21st Division located at Bac Lieu. In October the flight team at Soc Trang shifted support to the 7th Division and in November to the newly arrived 9th Division located at Sadec. In early December, due to a shift in corps boundaries, support was withdrawn from 5th Division and assigned to 7th ARVN Division located at My Tho. The 23rd SWAD began support of 7th Division on 4 December 1963. Preparations for a move to Vung Tau Airfield from Bien Hoa Airfield were made for the 12th of December.

On 11 December 1963, Captain Maurice F, Menefee, Infantry, 05205361, was conducting a combat support mission for 7th Division in the "Plain of Reeds" area when his aircraft was struck by enemy ground fire causing the failure of one engine. Capt Menefee was unable to maintain altitude and approximately five miles northwest of Vinh Long Airfield, he and his observer safely ejected from the battle damaged aircraft. Within minutes Capt Menefee and his observer were rescued by UH-1B helicopters dispatched from the 114th Airmobile Company located at Vinh Long Airfield. For wounds received result of this action, Capt Menefee received the Purple Heart.

On the morning of the 12th of December, the 23rd SWAD departed Bien Hoa by motor convoy for Vung Tau. The convoy was proceeded by an ARVN security unit with convoy cover provided by one Mohawk and several armed UH-1B helicopters. It is believed that this is the only predominantly American convoy of its size to move over Vietnamese terrain. No opposition was encountered along the route and the convoy, led by the Executive Officer, Captain James A Vansickle, Armor, 01882257?, closed in Vung Tau at approximately 1130 hours on the 12th. Operational missions were flown for ARVN 7th Division throughout the displacement from Bien Hoa to Vung Tau.

During 1963, the 23rd SWAD operated in a variety of terrain and climates, ranging from coastal plains, which are primary agricultural and relatively densely populated; to rugged mountains, 2000 to 6000 feet high; to plateau area, open or lightly forested; to flat delta area, covered with rice fields, to the "Plain of Reeds", covered with water most of the year and sparsely populated. Few units have had the opportunity to operate in so many different climactic conditions, from the monsoons to the burning dry, windy season. During 1963, the 23rd SWAD operated from the northernmost mountains to the southernmost tip of the Republic of Vietnam.


SECTION III - MAINTENANCE

The 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment Maintenance and Service Section was capable of performing third echelon and limited fourth echelon maintenance on the OV-1 Mohawk.

From October 1962 through July 1963 maintenance facilities at Nha Trang were very good. The aircraft availability rate from 16 October 1962 through 31 July 1963 was 85% with an average monthly flying time per aircraft of 111.2 hours. These figures were attained even though flight teams were deployed in support of divisional units located some distance from the maintenance facilities. At Bien Hoa, the maintenance facilities were at a minimum. Periodic inspections, engine changes, etc. were performed in the open without benefit of shelter. During the time at Bien Hoa, the rainy season was at it's height and rain showers plagued Maintenance teams continuously because of lack of shelter. Hanger space again became available in December 1963, when the unit moved to Vung Tau. The aircraft availability rate during 1 August 1963 - 1 November 1963 was 85%. This availability rate proved that the Mohawk could be maintained under field conditions with a minimum of maintenance facilities available. However, the availability rate dropped significantly after 1 November 1963 due to non-availability of essential parts within the theater of operations.

The following is a resume of the typical work accomplished, exclusive of normal required preventive maintenance, during the month of November while the 23rd was in Bien Hoa, where maintenance facilities closely approached actual field conditions.

Six periodic inspections, three fuel control changes, five propeller reduction gear inspections and changes, two fuel cell removals and installations, eight propeller changes, two propeller control changes, six ejection seat inspections (removals and replacements), two propeller seal leaks repaired (propellers removed and seals replaced), and seven engine changes averaging two to four hours per change.

Considerable sheet metal repair was required in all parts of the air frames. There were many hydraulic leaks, avionics problems, camera troubles and a number of incidental items. Several of the engine and propeller changes were done at outlying air strips which were relatively insecure and subject to hostile ground fire.

The 23rd SWAD maintenance personnel worked seven days a week, 24 hours per day if necessary, yet Esprit de Corps was of the highest. Sometimes maintenance is in the background, but in the 23rd it was highly appreciated by the entire unit, especially the pilots, who staked their lives daily on the performance of the maintenance personnel.


GLOSSARY

ARVN       -  Army of the Republic of Vietnam

COMUSMACV  -  Commanding Officer United States Army Military
               Assistance Command, Vietnam

HPAOA      -  high performance aerial observation aircraft

JOV-1C     -  J-armament configuration, OV-observation, 1C-model
               designation

LST        -  Landing Ship Tank

TO&E       -  Table of Organization and equipment

USAASTAP   -  United States Army Aerial Surveillance and Target
               Acquisition Platoon

V.C.       -  Viet Cong


APPENDIX


LINEAGE

TWENTY-THIRD SPECIAL WARFARE AVIATION DETACHMENT

Constituted, 31 October 1956, as the T-37 Test Unit (HPAOA) by G.0. 217, Headquarters Third United States Army, Fort McPherson, Georgia.

Activated 2 November 1956, at Ft. Rucker, Alabama

Reorganized and Redesignated 20 April 1960 as United States Army Aerial Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon (Experimental)

Deactivated 23 July 1962, at, Ft. Rucker, Alabama

Reconstituted, 9 July 1962, as the 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment by G. 0. 209, Headquarters Third United States Army, Ft. McPherson, Georgia

Activated 24, July 1962, at Ft. Rucker, Alabama


GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATIONS
of the
TWENTY-THIRD SPECIAL WARFARE AVIATION
DETACHMENT DURING PERIOD
1 January 1963 - 31 December 1963

l Jan 63 to 31 Jul 63 - Unit based at Nha Trang

23 Nov 62 to 14 Feb 63 - One flight team at Quang Ngai

15 Feb 63 to 15 Mar 63 - One flight team at Qui Nhon, and one flight team at Quang Ngai

16 Mar 63 to 31 Jul 63 - 23rd SWAD at Nha Trang with flight teams at Da Nang, Qui Nhon, Quang Ngai and Pleiku

1 Aug 63 to 10 Dec 63 - Unit based at Bien Hoa with flight team at Soc Trang operating as listed below:

1 Aug 63 to 3 Oct 63 - One flight team operated from Bac Lieu and Camau air strip

4 Oct 63 to 3 Nov 63 - One flight team operated from Tan Hiep air strip

4 Nov 63 to 3 Dec 63 - one flight team operated from Vinh Long

11 Dec 63 to 31 Dec 63 - Unit based at Vung Tau



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Disclaimer

No restricted and/or classified information is contained herein. This home page and web site have been constructed and will be maintained entirely by the author, and the author is responsible for the contents and accuracy of this site. The contents of this page have not been reviewed, approved, or monitored by the United States Army, nor is this page and/or it's contents a representation of such. All comments, questions, and concerns should be directed to the author - Howard Ohlson

Credits

This history has been retracted, in its entirety, from the United States National Archives, Washington, D.C. (U. S. Government publication, no copyright applicable). Section - List of Officer Personnel - listing names of "key" unit members has been omitted as a consideration of their privacy.


Copyright © 1997, Howard Ohlson, All Rights Reserved.

Maintained by:

Howard Ohlson hohlson@ov-1.com

Last update: April 6, 1997