I cannot tell you the formation the slicks are flying in on the way to
the LZ. As a passenger, my vision was always limited to the immediate front,
right and left. I could see slicks flying on either side of us, and at some point, the lift
would shift into a single file of choppers (usually shortly before arrival at the LZ) with HAWGs on the
flanks , to the front and rear. There are other times when I was able to see multiple single file lifts flying around us.
The grunts run/stagger toward the treeline, shaking out into a rough skirmish line as they go. The rest of the squad is in the chopper in front or behind yours, and the whole platoon is forming into a skirmish line around you, with the M-60s on each flank as the rush for the trees continues. Rounds are chambered on the run, and if there is fire from the trees, it is returned on the run also.
At the treeline, the whole unit goes right on in in a rush then flops to set up security. If there
are NVA/VC and they are slow withdrawing there is a short ranged firefight, grenade tossing and hand to hand. If
there are too many, the perimeter is established just inside the trees and the fight is on! If
things are really bad, the grunts are chased out of the trees back into the LZ clearing or over-run, and the survivors are in for a fight they
will never forget. The object is now to hang onto the perimeter as it is established and with each incoming lift, to
expand it, secure it, and then move on into the surrounding jungle after reorganizing from the
assault landing as soon as possible. As soon as the whole battalion is on the ground, including the mortars, this is done. If there is a
fight, mortars set up wherever they can and shoot into the jungle. The slicks are then limited to an approach from
one direction only, determined by the Battalion CO. Gunships orbit and waste any targets of
opportunity, and if there is a fight, the USAF may also get involved with fighter bombers and napalm.
All HQ elements, whether platoon company or battalion are split into two
chopper loads, so if one goes down, all the officers, senior noncoms and RTOs do not get whacked at the same time.
Air and artillery fires into an LZ as preperation for an air assault was never a long drawn out operation. Like I said earlier, no sense in telling them you are coming! And more than one LZ site maybe hit to confuse the issue for the NVA/VC.
Any fire into an LZ or at the choppers or troops means a "hot landing zone" and maybe a real fight after hitting the ground. Cold means no enemy activity.
The battalion CO or XO if he was down, or the senior surviving officer, NCO, or private could call the landing off, or put it on hold if the LZ was a lost cause! If the later two cases were the seniors left, an over run was more than likely imminent and the lucky SOB in charge was already screaming for fires on top of his position and hoping for survival or sweet revenge. BROKEN ARROW was the call and the unit about to be overrun got first priority for everything- air support, artillery support, mortars, and naval gunfire.
If the LZ was lost, or never secured or if the grunts were fighting and running for their lives on the ground, the extraction was called a 'shotgun extraction' - meaning under hostile fire (like shotgun wedding - ie, necessary and no way to avoid it with a hostile father in law and his shotgun supervising the ceremony). A hasty and desperate perimeter defense would be put in place. Soldiers would hastily set up claymores in front of trees or in the open, under fire, and covered by their buddies. The object is too hold the ever shrinking perimeter. Steel pots and anything else is used to scratch a hasty fighting position out of the ground if there is time or hasty barricades are thrown up.
Eventually the perimeter is large enough for a single slick or two, and the last lines of claymores are blown on command, everyone shoots on full auto, and then they run for the slicks while the gooks are recovering from the mass of high velocity metal that was sent their way and hope are still hunkered down. If not, it is a fight all the way to the choppers, who are firing suppressive fires, and the HAWGs are plastering them too. Slicks are often over loaded if the situation is desperate enough and can barely lift off the ground. The wounded first, then the fighters and the bodies (if possible). Often, the dead are knowingly loaded as wounded to get them away.
I have done a shotgun extraction, and never ever want to do another.
Ever. It was really bad and it was touch and go right up to the time we got back to base camp.
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