Article U.S. Aviation support of Lam Son


Sergeant Major
MI.Net Member
May 31, 2004
This article was saved from our previous sites 'Article Section' and was originally posted by Rotorwash
It was far too good to not save and clearly a lot of effort had gone into it by RW.

Edit by Bombardier ******Post reassigned to @rotorwash

LAMSON 719 would never have been undertaken without the massive helicopter support available. One question is; did the large number of aviation losses sustained justify the operation? It did raise questions about the use of helicopters in the assault role.


Gaggle of aircraft at Khe Sanh preparing for insertions

American aircraft losses to inventory included ten OH-6As, eight OH-58s, 53 UH-1Hs, 26 AH-1Gs, three CH-47s and two CH-53s. The VNAF also lost seven UH-1Hs. Combat damage accounted for the loss of 90 helicopters while the rest were lost to non-combat related incidents. Damage not resulting in loss figures are difficult to pin down. There were 644 aircraft damage incidents to 451 different aircraft reported, but this does not impact availability figures because few damaged aircraft were down more then 24 hours. A very effective recovery operation brought back almost all aircraft that were salvageable and more then a few that weren’t. Losses to helicopter crews in the 45 days of combat flying over Laos amounted to a total of 210 casualties; of this total 152 were WIA, 26 KIA and 32 MIA.


Recovering a Cobra back to Vandergrift

Flying over Laos created unique challenges to aircrews, one of which was the amount of flight time crews endured. Aviation units OPCON to the 101st could not maintain the level of flight hours required to support the operation and at the same time adhere to the USARV flight time regulation which limited pilots to 120 hours per month. A waiver of the regulation was granted to units directly supporting LAM SON 719.

Combat exposure was greatly increased during the operation. Using sortie information from the Aviation Statistical Summary, combat damage rates were established and then compared for aircraft operations over Laos and the Republic of Vietnam during LAM SON 719. This comparison showed that the threat damage was thirteen times greater when flying over Laos.


Wreckage of CH-53 and OH-6 near LZ HOPE in Laos

Anti-aircraft missiles were rare occurrences over Vietnam, however, over Laos there were 14 occasions when missiles were reported or photographed, and although there were no confirmed shoot downs of helicopters by missiles, there were occasions of aircraft being hit at altitudes up to 4,000 feet AGL.

But there is another way to look at aircraft losses during the operation. Aircraft loss rate was 21 losses for every 100,000 sorties, or a loss rate of one quarter of one percent. Another way of looking at it is one aircraft lost for every 963 flying hours. The final analysis shows this to be a very high rate of accomplishment versus attrition.

UH-1H aircraft made up most of the losses with 53 lost for 369 committed. Most of these losses were UH-1H aircraft in the troop transport or resupply role and more than half of these were lost on final approach to landing zones. Two hundred and thirty-seven UH-1H aircraft were damaged on 344 different occasions. Nearly twenty-nine percent of all the UH-1H losses occurred on 3 March and 20 March 1971, with respective operations to assault LOLO and to extract forces near BROWN. Altogether there were 84 incidents of damage to UH-1H helicopters on these two days.


Scrap yard at Vandergrift

As could be expected, the older, slower UH-1C/M gunships suffered much more then Cobras, many of which were hit by 12.7-mm fire but either limped back or were recovered and, eventually, got back in the fight. I have not been able to find exact loss numbers for UH-1C/M aircraft, and can only suspect they are tangled up in UH-1H and AH-1G figures, although combat damage reports record forty-eight different UH-1C/M aircraft damaged on 66 different occasions. The older gunships were the lowest priority for recovery operations and consequently, few were brought back. The required commitment level for UH-1C gunships was 60 aircraft, although more then that were probably committed as replacement aircraft were brought in.


Downed gunship crew in Laos being rescued by Dustoff

Aviation units involved in Lam Son 719

Division Command and Control aircraft
1st Bde (Avn Det), 5th lnf (Mech) /4 UH-1H, 6 OH-58
1st Bde (Avn Det), 101stABN
2d Bde (Avn Det), 101st ABN
3rd Bde (Avn Det), 101stABN

Medevac Units
237th Med Det/Phu Bal and Quang Tri/Khe Sanh
326th Med Bn
498th Med Co (Air Ambulance) maintained a two ship detachment at Khe Sanh during part of February and March.
571st Med Det Khe Sanh

1st Aviation Brigade units
HHC 14th CAB OPCONed to 101st CAG
71st Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 14th CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
174th Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 14th CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
116/176th Avn Co (AHC) served 5 - 7 and 22 - 24 Mar OPCONed to 14th CAB / 23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C / Quang Tri. Only parts of these companies participated with combined assets during the periods indicated.

HHC 223d CAB OPCONed to 101st CAG
220 RAC Kat Killers provided FAC and Aerial Recon support 101st Phu Bai, Unit flew to DMZ and Tri Border area Laos, North and South Vietnam and Khe San. Based at North Phu Bai, with Platoon at Quang Tri and Dong Ha.
48th Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 223d CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C I Dong Ha/ Da Nang
173d Avn Co (AHC) OPCONed to 223d CAB /23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
238th Avn Co (AWC) OPCONed to 223d CAB/ 12 UH-1C, 1 UH-1H
282d Avn Co (AHC) served 5 - 7 and 22 - 24 Mar OPCONed to 223d CAB/ 23 UH-1H, 8 UH-1C
B/7/1 Cav attached to 223d CAB, OPCONed to 2/17 Cav, 101st ABN / 8 UH-1H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A
C/7/17 Cav attached to 223d CAB, OPCONed to 2/17 Cav, 101St ABN /8 UH-1 H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A / An Son / Quang Tri

101st Abn Div aviation units
HHC 101st CAG, 101stABN
163dAvn Co (GS), 101stABN/10 UH-1H, 12 0H-6A

HHT/2/17 Cav, 101stABN /8 UH-1H
A/2/17 Cav, 101st ABN /8 UH-1 H, 9 AH-1 G, 10 OH-6A
B/2/17 Cav, 101st ABN /8 UH-1H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A
C/2/17 Cav, 101st ABN /8 UH-1H, 9 AH-1G, 10 OH-6A

HHB/4/77 ARA, 101St ABN
A/4/77 ARA, 101st ABN /12 AH-1 G supported the operation only when the situation required.
B/4/77 ARA, 101st ABN/ 12 AH-1G supported the operation only when the situation required.
C/4/77 ARA, 101st ABN /12 AH-1G supported the operation as its primary mission and was augmented by assets from the other ARA batteries as the situation required.

HHC 101stAHB, 101stABN
A/101st AHB, 101St ABN /20 UH-1 H
B/101st AHB, 101st ABN /20 UH-1H
C/101st AHB, 101St ABN /20 UH-1H
D/101stAHB, 101stABN/12 AH-1G
235th Avn Co (AWC) OPCONed to 101st AHB / 21 AH-1G, 3 UH-1H

HHC 158th AHB, 101st ABN
A/158thAHB, 101stABN/20 UH-1H
B/158thAHB, 101stABN/20 UH-1H
C/158th AHB, 101st ABN /20 UH-1H
D/158th AHB, 101st ABN /12 AH-1G
D/227th AHB OPCONed to 158th AHB /12 AH-1G

HHC 159thASHB, 101stABN
A/159th ASHB, 101st ABN/ 16 CH-47
B/159th ASHB, 101st ABN /16 CH-47
C/159th ASHB, 101st ABN /16 CH-47
179th Avn Co (ASHC) OPCONed to 159th ASHB, l01stABN /16 CH-47
132d Avn Co (ASHC) OPCONed to 159th ASHB, 101st ABN /16 CH-47
478th Avn Co (HH) attached to 159th ASHB, 101st ABN /10 CH-54A / operated out of their permanent base camp at Red Beach, Da Nang but staged two or three aircraft at Phu Bai each night. Standing commitment was 5 aircraft per day
HMH-463 OPCONed on a mission basis to 159th ASHB, 101st ABN /
16 CH-53 / operated out of their permanent base camp at Marble
Mountain Airbase, Da Nang.
HML367 sent USMC AH-1Gs to escort the CH-53s.
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Just a quick "correction" to this section:

Medevac Units -- Not Medevac units, but Dustoff units. The difference? Medevac was organic to the First Cavalry Division (15th Medical Battalion) and the aircraft had door guns. Dustoff aircraft were unarmed aside from the pilot's and crewmember's personal weapons (for patient protection only per the Geneva Convention). With the exception of the 326th Med Bn, all the Dustoff units were non-divisional units, assigned to the 44th Med Bde (later Medical Command-Vietnam) and provided support on an area basis.
237th Med Det/Phu Bal and Quang Tri/Khe Sanh. aka DMZ Dustoff Provided (along with 571st) evacuation support of ARVN and aircrews in Laos.
326th Med Bn -- organic to the 101st Airborne/Air Assault Division. Delta company was the Dustoff unit. They generally only evacuated 101st patients. During Lam Son, they were responsible for in-country evacuation of US and allied casualties.
498th Med Co (Air Ambulance) maintained a two ship detachment at Khe Sanh during part of February and March. Didn't really maintain a 2-ship detachment so much as they were there to fill in the shortfall in capacity due to combat losses of the 237th and 571st.
571st Med Det Khe Sanh. aka "Phu Bai Dustoff" Provided (along with the 237th) evacuation support of ARVN and aircrews in Laos.
Glad to help. There is a lot of friendly rivalry as you might imagine between the MEDEVAC folks and the DUSTOFF folks. The Dustoff call sign came from a randomly generated callsign assigned to the original unit--they liked it so much they adopted it. Today we say it stands for Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces.

If anyone wants more info or is seeking to contact prior Dustoff/Medevac pilots or crewmembers, the Dustoff Association website is a good place to start. The site is and you can google it.
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Some additional infos:

A) There wasn't only one "Lam Son". The name was used for a series of operations involving ARVN units (distinguishable from the numbers used). It obviously means something in Vietnamese. I once knew what but unfortunately can't remember.

B) The 1st Cav wasn't the only unit outfitting their choppers with door guns. The guys from 101st also did after it became apparent that the VC/NVA wasn't honoring the Geneva Convention.

C) Originally "Dust Off" (two words) was the radio callsign for the 57th Medical Detachment. The name was adopted by basically every MedEvac unit in Vietnam.


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