18th 54th 18th CAC Aviation Association
Credit for the following information from Karl E. Hayes book “A history of the De Havilland Otters”. http://www.oldwings.nl/content/dhc3/dhc3.htm
Here are excerpts with relevance to the 18th and 54th Aviation Companies:
OTTERS IN VIETNAM After France granted autonomy to its colonies of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, in May 1950 the United States government announced that a small military assistance advisory group would be established to provide military equipment to the Associated States of Indochina and the French. This small detachment, known as MAAG Indochina, was in place by the end of 1950. Following the defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the independence of these countries was formalized and Vietnam divided into North Vietnam (under communist control) and South Vietnam. In October 1954 an Aviation Division within MAAG Indochina was established, supported by an Army aviation flight detachment. During the years that followed, antagonism grew between North and South Vietnam and by 1960 communist guerrillas from the North had stepped up their activity of infiltrating into the South, with a view to subverting the government of what was by then the Republic of South Vietnam.
In October 1961 General Maxwell Taylor of the United States Army went to South Vietnam to ascertain why its Army was not defeating the communist infiltrators. He concluded that US assistance was required, particularly to provide increased mobility. He recommended “the introduction under MAAG operational control of three helicopter squadrons, one for each Corps area, and the provision of more light aircraft, as the need may be established”. The General's recommendations were accepted and quickly acted upon. The first two units selected for deployment to Vietnam were the 8th Transportation Company (TC) from Fort Bragg, North Carolina and the 57th TC from Fort Lewis, Washington, both operating the CH-21 Shawnee helicopter. The twenty CH-21s of each company were loaded on board the 'USNS Core' at Oakland Harbor, San Francisco which sailed for Vietnam on 21st November 1961. The following month, the 93rd TC and its Shawnee helicopters also sailed for Vietnam.
At that time, South Vietnam was divided into three military corps regions, I Corps in the north; II Corps in the central region and III Corps in the south, which included the Mekong Delta region. I Corps became supported by the 93rd TC, based at Da Nang; II Corps by 8th TC based at Qui Nhon and III Corps by 57th TC based at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airfield. General Taylor's recommendations had been enacted, with three helicopter companies in place, each operating the CH-21 Shawnee, supporting the three Corps areas. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) quickly appreciated this greatly increased mobility which the helicopters delivered, the freedom of movement which they had lacked up to this point, and the great tactical flexibility. In January 1962, the 45th Transportation Battalion was ordered to Vietnam from its base at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to assume control of the three helicopter units. It was based at Saigon. The following month, the US Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was established, and took over the original MAAG Flight Detachment and its L-20 Beaver and L-23 Seminole aircraft.
There was at this stage a need for a supply system service between the Army aviation units in Vietnam. To satisfy that requirement, in December 1961 the 18th Aviation Company and its Otters had been ordered from its base at Fort Riley, Kansas to Vietnam. The 'USNS Core', having delivered the CH-21s to Vietnam, returned to Oakland and on 18th January 1962 set sail again, bringing the 18th Aviation Company and its Otters to Vietnam. To quote from Ralph Young's much recommended 'Army Aviation in Vietnam 1961-1963': “In February 1962 the 18th Aviation Company with its fixed wing Otters was delivered by the USNS Core and became operational in March, after its aircraft had been re-assembled at Tan Son Nhut by mechanics of Air Vietnam.
The 18th soon relocated its HQ to Nha Trang, while the unit's flight platoons were stationed where they could best support US Special Forces units and all the corps areas. 'Low, Slow and Reliable' soon became more than a company motto, as the Otters quickly proved their value in establishing a utility air net capability uniting the widely spread aviation units with their support elements”. The deployment of aviation units to Vietnam continued to accelerate. Included in the units arriving were the 33rd TC at Bien Hoa and the 81st TC at Pleiku in September 1962, to complete the deployment of CH-21 units to Vietnam. Starting the following year, the UH-1 Huey began to replace the Shawnee. Another DHC type to arrive in country was the CV-2 Caribou, the 1st Aviation Company Company arriving in December 1962, head-quartered at Vung Tau. Again, to quote from Ralph Young: “The 1st Aviation Company, nick-named 'Pathfinder', successfully originated an air net, tying together airstrips which ranged from hard surface to sod and gravel, most of which were denied due to their limitations to any USAF cargo aircraft. Soon units everywhere in Vietnam, from MAAG Detachments and Special Forces outposts to Army aviation outfits throughout the country, had begun to rely on and take for granted the regularly scheduled 'milk runs' of the Caribous”. Several more Caribou units followed the 1st Aviation Company to Vietnam.
The two major users of the Otter in Vietnam were the 18th Aviation Company and the 54th Aviation Company. As referred to above, the 18th arrived in country in January 1962 and continued flying until February 1971, completing a full nine years of combat support operations. Originally it covered all of South Vietnam, until 1965, when the 54th Aviation Company arrived, and from then on the 18th covered the north of the country and the 54th the south, each operating 16 Otters. The 54th continued flying until January 1971. The histories of both these Companies are dealt with in the next chapter. A few Otters flew with Combat Aviation Groups and Aviation Battalions and other miscellaneous units as transport aircraft, but apart from these, and the two main Otter companies, the other users of the Otter in Vietnam were Signal Units. Between 1966 and 1969, Otters were used extensively by the 2nd Signal Group (Tan Son Nhut, Saigon), the 21st Signal Group (Nha Trang) and the 54th Signal Battalion for radio relay work. This involved relaying signals from troops in the field to their base camps, when such signals could not be sent directly due to distance or terrain.
As Curt Brown writes: “I went TDY. January to April 1969 from the 54th Aviation Company to the Aviation Section of the 2nd Signal Brigade out of Long Thanh North. We flew a mission every day with a morning bird and an afternoon bird, each flight lasting seven plus hours as we flew slow, with the engine at minimum power. Altitude was 7,500 to 8,500 feet. We carried three sets of FM radios in the cargo area with three long copper wires out of each wing tip and tail”.
This was not radio relay, but trying to locate the position of enemy convoys.
Transportation Companies played an important role in providing maintenance for the Otters in Vietnam, both General Support and Direct Support, and the following units must be mentioned specifically as they also operated Otters:
339th Transportation Company – The 339th was based at Fort Riley, Kansas supporting the 18th Aviation Company, and traveled to Vietnam in January 1962 together with the 18th. It was established at Nha Trang and was tasked with continuing to support the Otters of the 18th Aviation Company in Vietnam, as well as providing back-up support to the Cargo Helicopter Field Maintenance (CHFM) detachments assigned to the CH-21 Shawnee units then operating in Vietnam. In June 1963, two CH-37Bs arrived with the unit, these big helicopters, which were capable of recovering downed aircraft without major disassembly, providing a much-needed heavy lift capability. The 339th provided maintenance support to the 18th Aviation Company Otters until September 1965, when the 256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repair) was assigned to the 18th Aviation Company. To enable it fulfill its mission, the 339th had its own assigned aircraft complement, which varied over the years, and which included UH-1s, CH-21 and CH-37 helicopters, U-6A Beavers and some Otters. In April 1962, Otter 76119 (249) was assigned to the 339th, until it was damaged in an accident in May 1963. It was replaced by 81689 (298) that month, which continued in use until February 1966. Other Otters were taken onto the Unit's books from time to time, during maintenance, or as maintenance floats for the 18th Aviation Company. The 339th was inactivated in July 1968.
611th Transportation Company – The 611th arrived in Vietnam in October 1962 and was based in Vung Tau. Its mission was to provide maintenance support to aviation units in the Mekong Delta region. It had one CH-21 helicopter, one Beaver and one Otter (53257) assigned to its Recovery Platoon. To quote again from Ralph Young's book: “It immediately began to make a name for itself as it enthusiastically launched into its mission of recovering downed aircraft, supplying spare parts and repairing damaged aircraft, while providing back-up maintenance support to alleviate any CHFM detachment's heavy workload”. In June 1963 two CH-37B helicopters arrived with the 611th, providing a heavy lift capability. The unit's Otter 53257 (99) crashed in May 1965 and after repair was assigned to the 54th Aviation Company. The 611th moved to Vinh Long in 1966 and continued to serve in Vietnam until 1973.
56th Transportation Company – The 56th was activated in June 1963 at Fort Lewis, Washington to support the maintenance of Army aircraft based at Fort Lewis. It deployed to Vietnam in October 1964, based at Tan Son Nhut airfield, Saigon. Its mission was to provide direct support maintenance, supply of spare parts and recovery of downed Army aircraft in III Corps area. It had three CH-37 helicopters assigned and one Otter, 53273 (119), which was assigned to the unit from November 1964 until January 1966, and was replaced by 53284 (133) from February to October 1966, and then 53275 (122) which was in use November and December 1966. To quote from the unit's history for June 1965: “The Company Otter (53273) was utilized to haul empty sand bags to Tay Ninh mountain from Tan Son Nhut. With only a helipad available, the sand bags were air dropped, a new experience for the unit”. In November 1965 the Company assumed a new mission of the assembly and disassembly of Army aircraft being transported to and from depot level maintenance in the United States. The Depot was the ARADMAC Depot in Corpus Christi, Texas and the Army aircraft and helicopters were flown to and from the depot by the USAF, mostly using Douglas C-133 Cargomasters and later C-141 Starlifters. In this role, the 56th Transportation Company played an important part in the Otter story in Vietnam. Up to November 1965, any Otters arriving in country had been assembled by mechanics of Air Vietnam. From that date onwards, all Otters arriving in Vietnam, and being sent back to the depot for overhaul, were processed through the 56th Transportation Company. They disassembled the Otters and loaded them on board the Cargomasters for transport to the depot in Texas, and when they returned, they re-assembled and test flew the Otters, which were then collected by their units. When the 54th Aviation Company stopped flying its Otters at Long Thanh North in January 1971, the 56th Transportation Company took possession of all 16 of the 54th's Otters and after a brief period of storage at Long Thanh North, flew them to Vung Tau for disposal by the 388th Transportation Company. End of the Otter in Vietnam The 54th Aviation Company stopped flying its Otters in January 1971 and by the 31st January its sixteen Otters were parked at its base at Long Thanh North under the care of the 56th Transportation Company. The following month, they were flown to Vung Tau and taken on charge by the 388th Transportation Company, which had been given the task of disposing of all of the Army's Otters in Vietnam. Also in January 1971, the 146th Aviation Company stopped flying its Otters, and its three aircraft were also flown to Vung Tau and put into storage, including its two surviving RU-1A Otters. In February 1971 the 18th Aviation Company stopped flying and the following month its Otters were also flown into storage at Vung Tau. The 388th itself was using one Otter (81709) until March 1971. The honor of operating the last flying Otters in Vietnam fell to the 165th Combat Aviation Group, which was operating two Otters until May 1971, 53295 and 92209, and when these two arrived in Vung Tau in May 1971, the 388th Transportation Company then had 34 Otters for disposal. Five of these Otters were transferred by the US government to Nicaragua under a Military Aid Program and set sail from Vung Tau aboard ship in June 1971 for Panama, where they were prepared to be handed over to Nicaragua. 18 of the Otters were handed over to the Government of Cambodia under a Military Aid Program. After a period of instruction for the Cambodian crews, they were flown out of Vung Tau between July and September 1971. The remaining 11 Otters were scrapped at Vung Tau, being deleted from the inventory in August 1971. These eleven were 52977 (50), an RU-1A, 53259 (101), 53320 (187), 53322 (191), 76122 (257), 81714 (331) an RU-1A, 92203 (340), 92204 (341), 92207 (344), 92219 (360) and 92228 (381). Apart from these eleven Otters which were scrapped, during the conflict an additional 29 Otters were lost, categorized as follows: Anti Aircraft and Small Arms Fire 1967-1970……..……5 Enemy attack on air base 1968………………………….1 Combat losses 1967-1970……………………………….6 Operational losses 1963-1970………………………….17 At the same time as the use of the Otter in Vietnam came to an end, so too in Thailand. At the beginning of 1971 there were three Otters in Thailand, 53314 and 53316 serving with the Military Assistance Command and 76120 serving with MAAG Thailand. All three continued flying until June 1971 and were then scrapped and deleted from the inventory in August 1971.