By Mark Albertson: If we are successful, the Air Mobile Concept will be a dynamic advance for the Army. If we are not, we will go back to flying Piper Cubs, if we have that much left, and the Army and the country as a whole will lose one of the things that . . . can mean the difference between victory and defeat in future land combat. — COL George P. “Phip” Seneff Jr., 11th Aviation Group, 11th Air Assault Division (Test).1
Troops from the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). / ALL PHOTOS FROM ARMY AVIATION MAGAZINE
On August 20, 1962, the Army’s Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, AKA the Howze Board, released its findings on what would come to be known as the Airmobility Concept. These findings were based on computer wargame simulations2 and actual field exercises.3 And the vehicle of choice to carry forward the concept . . . the helicopter.4 And the living embodiment of the criteria set forth by the Howze Board . . . the 11th Air Assault Division (Test).
LTG Hamilton H. Howze urged the conversion of the 82nd Airborne into the air assault division projected by his committee. He was overruled by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who instead authorized an expansion in Army personnel for fiscal year 1964, from 960,000 to 975,000.
This would enable the new unit to be organized from scratch. And the order for such a force came down on January 7, 1963. And the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was activated at Fort Benning, GA on February 15, 1963, BG Harry W.O. Kinnard in command.5
11th Air Assault Division (Test) has its unit roots in the 11th Airborne Division. The “Angels” were activated on February 25, 1943, seeing action in the Philippines at Leyte and Luzon.
With the cessation of hostilities, the 11th Airborne landed in Japan as part of the post-war army of occupation of the Home Islands.6 The “Angels” were deactivated on June 30, 1958; reactivated briefly on February 1, 1963, then re-designated 11th Air Assault Division (Test) on the 15th.
Among those units attached to the 11th AAD early on were those from the 187th Infantry Regiment;7 as well as the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion.8 In addition to the activation of the 11th AAD, a logistics support unit was organized in the name of the 10th Air Transport Brigade.9
An Army CH-47 Chinook is shown airlifting an AO-1 Mohawk during operations of the 11th Air Assault Division conducted at Fort Benning, GA. Carried by sling load, the Mohawk is flown straight by means of the ‘sock’ at its tail.
Training focus was on air assault; drilling infantrymen on the new concepts of joining combat and engaging the enemy. Provisional supply bases of fuel and stores were made available and organized to keep pace with helicopter units on a fluid battlefield. Hence the idea of FARP or the Forward Arming and Re-Fueling Point.10
Another innovation was artillery fire support for the landing zones. This included rocket-firing helicopters to support attacks by air assault troops; bolstered, in part, by experience gleaned from Army Aviation support of Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units in Southeast Asia.11
In September 1963, Air Assault I exercises at Fort Stewart in Georgia, saw the Airmobility Concept put through its paces on the battalion level of operations. The following year, October 1964, Air Assault II was conducted and by comparison, an exercise on a far grander scale.
Air Assault II sprawled across two states, the Carolinas, taking in some 4,000,000 plus acres. 35,000 troops were committed, with the 11th AAD squaring off against the 82nd Airborne Division; the latter engaged in the role of an enemy conventional force as well as that of insurgent opposition. The first of the four weeks slated for the exercise was conducted during a hurricane, Isabel. Flying conditions were abysmal; a swirling vortex of wind, rain and fog, leaving many aviators peering through windscreens opaque as a bucket of mud.
Yet 120 helicopters managed to shuttle an infantry brigade 100 miles through the ire of Mother Nature.General Kinnard summed up the results of the Air Assault exercises thus:
Beyond what I believe to be its capabilities to perform roles normal to other divisions, I am even more impressed by what I feel is its ability to perform in unique ways beyond the abilities of other divisions.
For example, in a low scale war, I believe it can exert control over a much wider area and with much more speed and flexibility and with much less concern for the problems of interdicted ground communications or of difficult terrain.
In higher scales of war, I see this division an unparalleled reserve or screening force capable of operating over very large frontages.
By properly picking times, places and methods, I believe it can also operate with devastating effect against the rear of the enemy.
Faced with the threat or use of nuclear weapons, I believe it can widely disperse and yet, when required, quickly mass (even over irradiated ground, blown down forests or rubbled cities), strike an enemy, then disperse again.12
Kinnard’s men would have a chance to showcase their training in Southeast Asia. Up to 1965, airmobility consisted, for the most part, of Army Aviators ferrying South Vietnamese troops into action against the Viet Cong.
But Hanoi was raising the ante. With the Gulf of Tonkin incident, it was certain as sunrise that first string American air assault troops would be coming off the bench to spell ARVN’s second eleven. On July 1, 1965, 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was re-flagged as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and 27 days later, President Johnson ordered the airmobile division to Vietnam.13
In November, at Ia Drang, 1st Cavalry air assault forces took their peacetime training into action against North Vietnamese regulars, decisively defeating same in a game-changing demonstration of mobility not seen since Hitler’s panzers steamrollered Poland in September 1939.
A point worthy of remark here is the freshness of American troops, most of who went into action for the first time and against a tough and wily opponent. They came away with a victory, as opposed to similar initial efforts by American troops at places like Bull Run, Kasserine and Osan with Task Force Smith.
Despite the fact there was still much to learn, the transition of peacetime development to wartime employment of airmobility seemed on its way.
The advent of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was an important step in the evolution of airmobility. But more than that, it was the attestation of a factor that was not only a prerequisite, but without which the efforts of p-eople like Howze, Williams, Kinnard, and Seneff would have come to naught.
And that factor was that everyone was basically on the same page – from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to Secretary of the Army Elvis Stahr, to General Howze, to General Kinnard and so on down the Army food chain. Minus this, victory at Ia Drang would not have been possible.
- See page 30, Adam Thomas Givens, The Air Close to the Trees: Evolution and Innovation in U.S. Army Assault Helicopter Units During the Vietnam War.
- Computer wargame models for the Howze Board were conducted by Research Analysis Corporation and Technical Operations Incorporated.
- Four battle models were chosen to challenge Airmobility: A Warsaw Pact attack on Western Europe; versus Chinese Communist Forces in Asia (obviously the stalemate of the Korean War was still fresh); and, that of blunting threats to Africa as well as Central and South America.
- The Army’s attempt to base air mobility on the helicopter during the 1960s was not too unlike the transition in mobility from the horse to the truck and tank during the 1920s and 30s.
- However an important factor to keep in mind here was that the United States was not the only power wrestling with mobility during the years leading up to the Second World War, sharing the stage with such kibitzers as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Britain, France . . .Yet during the 1960s, American practitioners of Airmobility virtually wrote the book.
- General Kinnard was among those of the 101st Airborne Division who were encircled by General Baron Hasso von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army at Bastogne. He is popularly known to have urged General Anthony McAuliffe to respond to German entreaties for surrender with the eloquent yet steadfast rejection of “Nuts!”
- See page 551, U.S. Army in World War II, Special Studies: “30 August: JAPAN—Occupation of Japan in force is begun by U.S. forces. 11th AB Div is flown to Atsugi Airfield, and 4th Marines, 6th Mar Div, lands at Yokosuka Naval Base”
- The “Rakkasans” were attached to the 11th Airborne Division in World War II, and, were the first Allied troops to set foot in Japan on August 30, 1945.
- According to MAJ Thomas I. McMurray and MAJ Larry E. Scoggins in the History of the 227th for the year of 1965, on February 11, 1963, “the 31st Transportation Company (Light Helicopter) was re-designated and activated as Company B, 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, and brought to the battalion its twenty-two CH-34 helicopters.” Page 2, McMurray & Scoggins. “On February 15, 1963, Company A, 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion was activated as the second of the battalion’s units. Company A was designated the aerial weapons armed escort company; their UH-1Bs and armament systems arriving in late April 1963.” Page 2, McMurray & Scoggins.
- The 10th Air Transport Brigade was not organic to the 11th AAD; rather, a unit of logistics support.
- See page 20, Forward Arming and Refueling Points for Mechanized Infantry and Armor Units, chapter 2, “Review of Literature,” by Captain Jarrold M. Reeves, Jr., USA. “The Vietnam War and its heavy reliance on helicopters led to the FARE (Forward Area Refueling Equipment) study and caused the research and development of Forward Area Refueling Equipment. The FARE not only provided the equipment for the Forward Area Refueling Point for helicopters, but also for ground equipment.” “The culmination of the original plan of action was the development of the Forward Arming and Refueling Point Doctrine explained in FM 1-104, Forward Arming and Refueling Points, published in 1985.” See page 3, Reeves.
- The use of rocket-firing UH-1s
- in support of air assault units at landing zones was much like Luftwaffe’s employment of the Junkers Ju-87 dive bomber to support panzer units at the point of the Wehrmacht’s armored thrusts.
- The blackened portion of General Kinnard’s observation underlines the ambidextrous nature of airmobility, where the pliability of the concept allows air assault forces to operate as either regular or irregular troops.
- General Kinnard’s affirmation, then, coincides with the following practitioners of regular and irregular warfare: “When the situation is serious, the guerrillas must move with the fluidity of water and the ease of blowing wind. Their tactics must deceive, tempt and confuse the enemy. They must lead the enemy to believe that they will attack him from the east and north, and they must then strike him from the west and the south.
- Guerrilla initiative is expressed in dispersion, concentration and the alert shifting of forces.” Pages 103 & 104, Mao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare, translated by BG Samuel B. Griffith, USMC (Ret). “Throughout the Resistance War . . . our strategic line was to extend guerrilla warfare everywhere . . . we chose the positions where the enemy was relatively weak to concentrate our forces there and annihilate his manpower,” page 139, People’s War, People’s Army, by General Vo Nguyen Giap. “When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him; when well fed, to starve him; when at rest, to make him move. Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you,” page 96, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, translated by BG Samuel B. Griffith, USMC (Ret).
- (13) See page 16, LTG Harold G Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young.
Mark Albertson is an award winning historian and contributing editor to ARMY AVIATION magazine.