By Walter J. Boyne
Establishment of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
The combined results of [testing] and the operations in Vietnam led to the establishment of the iconic 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), uniting the resources of the Second Infantry Division and the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). There was a mad scramble to obtain the necessary personnel and equipment, but an advance party arrived in the Republic of Vietnam on August 25, 1965. It immediately proceeded to An Khe, where it began a new tradition.
The 1st Cavalry initially fielded four types of helicopters, the Bell OH-13S Sioux, Bell UH-1 Iroquois, as transport (UH-1D) and gunship (UH-1B), and Boeing Vertol CH-47 Chinook. Each was significantly improved over time, and each received many specialized modifications. They were supported by other Army helicopters, including several Sikorsky models.
While the innovation was continual, the new techniques were impressive, and the results of both in-country combat and state-side testing were congruent, the Army possessed pitifully few assets. Between December 1961 and early 1965, the U.S. Army had only 248 helicopters in Vietnam, clearly not enough to perform the duties demanded of them. Few of them were yet of desired combat standard. This disgraceful situation was the direct result of failure in previous years to invest in the necessary research, development, and production called for by the visionaries of the helicopter movement. Virtually the same condition exists today. Incredibly, current production funding is almost exclusively devoted to tired designs from many years ago. Many advances in both U.S. and foreign helicopter design are being ignored in the name of economy. As a result, the richest country in the world, the United States, is fighting twenty-first-century wars with twentieth-century helicopters. Unless there are radical changes, it may well be doing so in the twenty-second century.
From 1961 to 1965, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were learning much from the American efforts to use helicopters to profitably employ South Vietnamese troops. A study group headed by Brig. Gen. John Norton found that the Viet Cong had already introduced heavier machine guns (12.7-mm) into South Vietnam and planned to employ 37-mm cannon. The Viet Cong had also begun locating their anti-aircraft weapons to control the most desirable LZs, which, in effect, forced ARVN troops to use LZs preferred by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong were also mustering larger forces, to the degree that they were expected soon to be using division-size units. Air-mobile forces would find that their work was cut out for them.