Combat Air Assaults
The “combat air assault” was the zenith of the attack phase of air mobility. A combat air assault, as a tactical mission, was more than merely transporting troops from point A to point B by helicopters. Once the enemy was located and contact was made, troops could be swiftly deployed by helicopters from less critical situations and concentrated at the point of battle.
The combat air assault was usually conducted by a company commander (a captain) or platoon leader (a lieutenant), with an order to go from one point to another for a particular mission: recon, screen, delay, raid or search and destroy. Huey lift flights, usually four to six helicopters, picked up the troops and transported them to the mission’s landing zone. As the Hueys approached, artillery pounded the landing zone, ending with a white phosphorus round impact that let the helicopter pilots know to start their descent. First, Huey or Cobra gunships would strafe the LZ with suppressing fires in case enemy troops planned an ambush before the list ships landed, and then troops would dismount to continue their mission.
That’s the official version – – but generally that may have happened 10% of the time.
Radio communications enabled commanders, often in command and control helicopters, to monitor scout ship transmissions and to direct responsive air landings in the midst of fluid combat situations. As the infantrymen deployed from the helicopter with rifles and machine guns blazing, (not really) gunships patrolled overhead providing close-in covering fire with rockets and machine guns. Rapid helicopter airlift of howitzers and ordnance assured that infantry fighting for remote and isolated landing zones would have sustained artillery fire support. Enemy opposition was often stunned and overwhelmed by this quickly execute initial aerial onslaught.
Hueys provided most of the unit’s helicopter transport and gunship capability. They transported food, water, ammunition and personnel, and medevac’d the wounded and dead. Prior to the introduction of Cobra AH-1 gunships, Hueys were fitted with machine guns, Gatling guns and 2.75-inch rocket pods. These gunships provided aerial rocket artillery for the infantry. When Cobras replaced Hueys as gunships, they often operated with OH-6 light observation helicopters (LOHs) in “hunter-killer” teams to search and destroy the enemy.
The twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook was also depended on to airlift its essential artillery and heavier supplies to support the troops wherever they went. The Chinooks could carry either 44 troops or 10.000 pounds of cargo.
SOURCE: Vietnam Magazine
See also Combat Assault