CA MAU, Vietnam -- Talk about helicopter gunships and most GI's are likely to conjure up a vision of a sleek AH1G Cobra. But South Vietnamese soldiers and US Advisors in the Delta are apt to think of a lumbering UH1 "Huey" so loaded with guns and rockets that it can barely pull a respectable hover.
Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3, the US Navy's only helo attack squadron, flies the oldest gunships in Vietnam, but not even the Cobra packs more firepower.
From April through June, the squadron reportedly killed an estimated 700 enemy soldiers and destroyed more than 400 sampans and junks.
Though the Seawolf gunships are close to 10 years old, they are no easy mark for Communist gunners. Earlier this year, four Seawolf crews tackled an enemy unit near VC Lake, 20 miles southwest of Ca Mau, taking continuous ground fire as they tore at the Red positions with rockets and machine gun fire, said Lt(jg) Robert Cannis, 28.
The four ships were hit 13 times, but none was downed and no one was injured, Cannis said. The squadron has not lost a bird to ground fire since December, according to Capt Charles O. Borgstrom Jr., Seawolf commander.
In a campaign against the enemy waterborne supply lines in the U Minh Forest in May, fliers from Det 3 in Ca Mau, led by Lt Don Thompson, 29, destroyed over 100 enemy sampans, Cannis said. Flying only at night, the detachment often hit 10 or 15 sampans in a single mission, he said. Secondary explosions indicated that many of the boats were carrying ammunition or explosives, he said.
The Seawolves also act as medevac ships at times, stripping off some of their armament to cut down on weight. But most of the squadron's medevacs are pulled by Sealords, whose primary mission is carrying men and supplies for Navy units. The squadron averages about 50 medevac missions a month, most of them for ARVN units.
Though the Seawolves were formed to protect Navy convoys in the Delta, many of their missions now are flown in support of South Vietnamese ground units. And earlier this month, the Navy pilots scrambled to help protect a downed Army helicopter north of Ca Mau. Three Army ships were downed in a four day period during heavy fighting between ARVN and VC units, Cannis said.