159th ASHB, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam - Part 2

Page title - 159th ASHB, Assault Support Helicopter Battalion
101st Airborne Division
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Submitted by Charles Lee

159th ASHB - Battalion Headquarters, Phu Bai, South Vietnam.

The 159th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion was formed in country to be command and control for the medium and heavy lift helicopter units in General Support of the division. The army concept during this time was that the division has assigned aircraft as internal assets, i.e., lift capabilities for combat troops. In addition there was gunship units which were in support of the aviation assets, and could also support ground troops if needed. 

A CH-54 Skycrane recovers a CH-47 ChinookHueys were the main stay for moving troops, administratively and for combat missions. To assist in large administrative troop movements and to resupply the artillery, engineers and other units needing large heavy items moved, the 159th was established with 3 companies of Chinooks and a company (-) of CH-54 or Cranes. The CH-54 company was actually a platoon of 4 aircraft. the 478th Heavy lift company assigned to the 159th ASHB was based at Da Nang, RVN. It was commanded by a Major, had 4 aircraft and 8 - 10 commissioned and warrants assigned as pilots. It maintained a company headquarters and supply room as did all the other full size aviation companies. Their mission was general support of the entire division, as was the Chinooks assigned to the battalion. Because of the scarcity of aircraft, and the age of the pilots, these were the "Old Men" of aviation. Seldom seen, awe inspiring, even to other pilots. Due to the limitations of the Chinook during the late 1960's, C - engines limiting the Chinook to approximately 10,000 lbs of lift, the crane or CH-54 was the "Heavy" lift unit and used for Mini bulldozers, 155mm howitzer moves, recovery of Chinooks, etc. Later with the full "C" engines mounted on the Chinooks, the Chinook could outlift the CH-54 and caused its demise. Today, the D Model Chinook will lift more than the CH-54 could with a reduced amount of fuel.

The Battalion headquarters was organized in 1967 - 1968 to command and control the medium and heavy lift units. The 478th was assigned from the 1st Cav. Division, A and B company of Chinooks were formed from units already in country. (B company may have formed stateside and joined as a completed unit, this writer has no specific information on the formation of A and B companies).

The Battalion Headquarters consisted of the Battalion Commander (LTC), XO (Major, usually waiting on rotation stateside or to command a company), Personnel S-1 (CPT), Security (S-2), Operations and Liason (S-3), and Supply / Logistics (S-4), Assigned to Supply was a Non Aviation Warrant as the property book officer. He was the ONLY non aviator assigned to the unit.

In addition to the primary staff, listed above, the Battalion level was assigned a Headquarters and Headquarters company. This was commanded by a captain, also an aviator. This unit housed all the personnel and records for the command element, clerks, drivers, staff officers, etc. This unit also provided vehicle support for all the staff sections, jeeps, maintenance, etc.

During this period, the battalion was also authorized two OH - 6 helicopters for command and control of aviation operations. These aircraft had a 2 man maintenance unit assigned to the Headquarters company. Minor maintenance was allowed at this level with all major support coming from one of the subordinate units or from the 5th Transportation Group assigned to the 101st Division. 5th Transportation Group did up to Divisional level maintenance. The Transition into the OH - 6, later the OH - 58 was accomplished at unit level by the unit training officer. One of the staff officers had the additional duty of Instructor Pilot for transitions into the OH-6.

All pilots were qualified in the Chinook, prior to being assigned to the battalion or one of its companies.

The Headquarters company was not authorized a mess facility for the unit and command. In our case, we were within walking distance to "C" company and used a combined mess facility to feed Headquarters and C company.

During this time, the S-2 at the 159th had the responsibility to coordinate with all units in the NW corner of the Support Base, 1 Chinook Company, two Huey Lift Companies, 1 signal Battalion, and run a roster for perimeter support and security. Members of all units were assigned to guard duty on the perimeter of the compound. Our section was approximately 3,000 meters. It surrounded all the units pulling guard duty, plus the ammunition supply point for the division. Inside the base, each unit would be responsible for having its own internal security patrols, as well as reactionary forces that could be gathered and sent to the base perimeter if needed as reinforcements.

Added duty for the troops assigned to each unit might very well mean a crew chief or flight engineer might go 2 - 3 days without sleep, fly all day, guard duty at night, fly the next day and pull maintenance on the aircraft as needed. 

Source :

Charles Lee, Section Leader/Platoon Leader/Motor Officer, C/159th ASHB, 101st Airborne Division, Bn S-2, 159th ASHB, RVN '68 '69.

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