Anatomy of a Rescue in Vietnam
Ask any one who has been in combat and they'll probably tell you that the assertion that, "War is Hell," is an understatement at best. Yet in the mists of the fighting, there are those who are trying to save lives. So perhaps one of probably the most satisfying roles in war (or peace for that matter) is to assist in the rescue of a fellow human being.
In the attempted rescue of "Hellborne 215" and the downing of Jolly Green 23, twenty-five different units were directly involved.
|The HH-3E helicopter is a altered version of the CH-3 transport helicopter, modified for combat rescue missions with armor, defensive armament, self-sealing fuel tanks, a rescue hoist, and in-flight refueling capability. It was developed for aircrew rescue missions deep into North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The were always at least two Jolly Green involved in any rescue mission. One would take the position of flying low (to go in for the rescue) and the other would fly high as a back-up. Many downed aircrews were rescued by Jolly Green Giants and their crews.|
Aircraft: A-1E Skyraider
|Rescue helicopters were escorted by specially-trained pilots flying propeller-driven A-1E Skyraiders (call sign Sandy). These adaptable aircraft were used as escorts for rescue helicopters on recovery missions for downed crew members, providing fire suppression to hold the enemy at bay while the helicopters performed the rescue. |
Aircraft: A-1H Skyraider
|The A-1 was known as the Spad when not dedicated to the role of search and rescue escort. While Sandys would escort and remain with the Jolly Greens, sometimes the need for some extra suppression was called for and Spads would be called in to soften up the area.|
Aircraft: Cessna O-2 Skymaster
|Trails were assigned the 20th TASS and flew out of Quang Tri and Hue. |
When an aircraft was shot down during a close air support mission in South Vietnam, a Forward Air Controller (FAC) was usually on scene within a short time. He relieved the orbiting wingmen of the downed crew when they ran low on fuel and had to return to base or look for a tanker. The FAC would maintain visual and radio contact with the survivor(s) and act as a relay to the mobilizing SAR effort.
These FAC's used the Cessna O-2 Skymaster which was the military version of the civilian Model 335 Skymaster. The twin-engine, twin-tailboom O-2 had greater endurance and a little more speed than the more familiar O-1 Birddog, but still remained essentially unarmed carrying only smoke rockets. This low flying, slow moving Skymaster was the primarily aircraft used by FACs to mark targets for both attack aircraft and ground troops.
Aircraft: Huey Helicopter Gunship
|Marine Huey Helicopter Gunships from the Marine Observation Squadrons (VMO-3) which was assigned to Hue / Phu Bai at the time of the rescue attempt. At full strength the unit had 33 officers, 194 enlisted, 12 Huey gunships and 6 slicks. The Hueys were often called in to cover other units and used the call sign "Scarface."|
Aircraft: A-4E Skyhawk
|Hellborne 552 was a Skyhawk from the same unit as the downed jet, VMA-121 Green Knights, MAG-12, 1st MAW, at Chu-Lai Air Base.|
Aircraft: Grumman A-6A Intruder
|The Grumman A-6 Intruder is a two-man all weather, low-altitude, carrier based attack plane, with versions adapted as aerial tanker and electronic warfare platform. The A-6A primarily flew close air support, all weather and night attacks on enemy troop concentrations, and night interdiction missions.|
Aircraft: Navy F-8 or F-4 Phantom
|These were assigned the 366th TAC Fighter Wing, DaNang, USAF and could also be called in for additional suppression support.|
Aircraft: UH-1E Huey Gunships
|These gunships were assigned to the Marine Observation Squadron VMO-6. At the time of the rescue efforts the unit was operating from Quang Tri Air Base and using the call sign Seaworthy. |
The UH-1E Huey helicopter gunships were armed versions of the Huey also used to carry troops into combat. They were equipped with two (one on each side) forward pointing M-60 machine guns along with a pod of seven 2.5 inch rockets, that were aimed and fired by the pilot. In the open doorways of each side were M-60 machine guns used by door gunners.
Aircraft: Fast Movers
|Cheetah was an F-4Cs of the 433 TFSq, 8th TAC Ftr Wg, Ubon, Thailand (USAF) |
The F-4C Phantom was the workhorse of the tactical air support fleet. These jet fighter-bombers had a range or 1,000 miles at speeds up to 1,400 mph and could carry a payload: 16,000 lbs.
Besides serving as helicopter refuelers, these HC-130Ps carried mission coordinators whose job it was to assemble and manage the Search and Rescue Task Force (SARTF) of helicopters, escort fighters, and tankers. "Crown" directed the Jollys to the downed flyer, as well as to their refueling rendezvous points. They also acted as a communication link between rescue forces and higher echelons. Many missions required lengthy helicopter holding times adjacent to a survivor’s location while escorting A-1 "Sandy" and jet aircraft bombed and strafed enemy positions to "sanitize" the area for pickup.
To reduce response time following a shoot-down, the Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Service designated four helicopter refueling orbits. Two were over the Laotian-North Vietnamese border, one was located over central Laos, and the fourth was east, over the Gulf of Tonkin. HC-130P crews established holding patterns prior to U.S. air strikes to immediately support combat SAR helicopters.
|King - An HC-130P airborne command post. |
Queen - The Rescue Control Center (R CC) at Da Nang
Jocker - was the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) at TSN
By this run down of the units involved in the rescue attempt it is apparent that every effort was made to recover the pilot of "Hellborne 215".
It also illustrates the tremendous about of men and equipment that were dedicated to the rescue efforts during the war.