174th Assault Helicopter Company
DOLPHINS & SHARKS
174th History -- 1968, Part 1
TET OFFENSIVE -- OPERATION NORFOLK VICTORY
(1 January 1968 to 30 april 1968
The early part of 1968 will long be remembered in Vietnam. Enemy troops staged their greatest offensive of the long war in the first two months of the new year. One of the hottest and most contested areas in the country was Quang Ngai City, in the Northern portion of the 174th Aviation Company’s area of operations.
The UH-1C Shark gunships and the UH-1D Dolphin slicks of the 174th were repeatedly called upon to put forth their greatest effort to repel Viet Cong and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) offensives. On 31 January, at approximately 0500 hours, the primary Shark gunship team was scrambled to Quang Ngai City. WO Russell Doersam and his co-pilot, WO Michael Magno, found that a battalion-sized enemy unit was trying to surround the Quang Ngai Airfield on the west side of the city. the enemy troops had already overrun an ARVN training camp, occupied the hospital, and seized numerous public buildings.
Warrant Officer Social Hour on the front porch of the Shark Hootch in Duc Pho. Left to right: Russell "Duffy" Doersam, Jim "Moon" Young, Joe Moys, the back of Danny "Rug Rat" Burton, Bob Hall, the profile of Bill "Murf the Surf" Murphy, and Chuck Miller. All are Warrant Officer Shark pilots. See this photo enlarged on the 1968 photos page. Photo by Jim McDaniel, Spring 1968.
On its initial run, Doersam in the lead Shark took several hits from automatic and small arms fire. The second Shark, flown by WO Charles Miller and WO Dan Burton, made firing passes at the heaviest concentration of enemy fire on the ground, and also took numerous hits. After many passes at the still poorly illuminated enemy targets, it became apparent that more firepower was necessary and the secondary gunship team was scrambled. The second team, led by Capt. Thomas Woods, was briefed by the primary team and the ground commander. The ground commander reported that the southwest corner of the perimeter was under heavy pressure by a platoon-sized VC force using mortars and automatic weapons. Capt. Woods directed his team on passes on the designated area and greatly relieved the pressure there. At this time, the Sharks were diverted to the overrun ARVN (Army of South Vietnam) training camp, leaving the southwestern perimeter to a set of Air Force fighters.
After the secondary team made on pass on the training camp, WO Doersam arrived with his primary team on station. A fifth Shark had replaced one of the Sharks that had originally been on the primary team; however, it received too much battle damage to return immediately. (Note, Jim McDaniel remembers that the damaged Shark was the one his friend Russell Doersam was leading the initial attacks in, and it was shot up too badly, including a windshield being shot out, to fly again after he managed to limp back into Duc Pho. Doersam “pulled rank” on the replacement Shark crew when he got back and took that pilot’s aircraft so he could return to the fight.) Due to the Shark firepower, the ground troops were able to retake the training camp and the Sharks were able to lend support to numerous smaller battles that had broken out throughout the city.
WO1 Mike Magno, left, and Russell "Duffy" Doersam in the
174th Operations hootch in Duc Pho. Photo by Jim McDaniel, 1968.
Thanks to the superhuman maintenance effort by the 409th TIC (Transportation Corps) Detachment, the 174th gunships returned for mission after mission over the beleaguered city. One of the Sharks took 22 hits during the day, and another that was grounded early in the fighting (Doersam’s) later returned only to receive eight more hits.
At sunset, the city returned to friendly hands: 367 enemy had been confirmed killed with 238 of them credited to the 174th ships. The five Sharks had flown a total of 34 hours and taken 33 hits. Despite the heavy and accurate enemy fire, the 174th suffered no casualties. The Sharks were highly praised by the American advisory, and credited with preventing a complete overrun of the two major strongholds protecting the district headquarters of Quang Ngai Province.
Left to right: Warrant Officers Chuck Miller, Dennis McCormack, Jim McDaniel, Bob Hall, and Frank Marshall. All but McCormack, who is the 174th Assistant Maintenance Officer, are Shark pilots. Also see this photo enlarged on the 1968 photos page. Photo property of Jim McDaniel, Spring 1968.
In order to maintain the momentum he had during the Tet Offensive, the enemy needed to obtain arms and ammunition badly. The 174th was instrumental in helping to stop the flow on this supply. On 29 February, at 2230 hours that night, the Dolphin flare ship was alerted for a possible scramble mission. A Navy radar aircraft had spotted a communist trawler on its radar screen The trawler was located approximately seven miles northeast of Duc Pho. At 0100 hours, the flare ship and a Shark gunship team were scrambled to the area. When the 174th ships arrived on the scene, Navy Swiftboats had already taken the enemy vessel under fire. The flare ship immediately started illuminating the area, and the Sharks rolled in with miniguns and 2.75-inch rockets. The enemy trawler threw up a wall of 12.7mm machine-gun fire, but due to the combined efforts of the Swiftboats and the 174th helicopters, the trawler ran aground. The captain of the trawler, realizing his hopeless situation, elected to destroy his ship. It was later ascertained that 4,000 rifles, 1,000 57mm recoilless rifle rounds, and an inestimable amount of other ordinance had been destroyed.
Besides these two major actions, the 174th was instrumental in combating enemy actions during the Tet Offensive in the Southern I-Corps. The Dolphins and Sharks participated in 22 combat assaults and four extractions during the 30-day period. The 174th also ran 134 resupply missions and 18 medical evacuations, while suffering only three personnel wounded. The 174th dealt the enemy a harsh blow by killing 315 NVA and VC troops.
Duc Pho was not forgotten by “Charlie” during the Tet push. At 0130 hours on 1 February, the 174th area received 35 to 40, 60mm mortar rounds in the company area, most of which landed on or near the flight line. Knowing the 174th aircraft are a vital instrument to the US effort in Southern I-corps, the local VC launched another barrage at Dolphin Park on 13 February, this time using 82mm mortars. The VC destroyed one ship and damaged two in the five minute attack. After both attacks, the Dolphin flare ship and two Sharks were scrambled but returned with unknown results.
In the midst of the heavy fighting, the command of the 174th changed hands. On 1 February, Major Glen D. Gibson replaced Major Thomas W. Wheat as commanding officer of the 174th. The 174th was hampered during the early part of the year by nonavailability of aircraft. At one time, the company was down to 19 of the authorized 23 slicks and five of the eight gunships. This did not, however, prevent the 174th from performing its mission of supporting the Americal Division’s 11th LIB (Light Infantry Brigade).
Outgoing commanding officer Major Thomas W. Wheat. Photo by Jim McDaniel, 1968.
Incoming commanding officer Major Glen D. Gibson. Photo by Jim McDaniel, 1968.
On 7 March, in support of Operation Show How, eight slicks of the 174th carried 344 troops of the ARVN’s 4th Regiment from their base camp to an area about ten miles southwest of Quang Ngai. Later that day, nine Dolphins transported 288 11th Brigade soldiers northwest of Quang Ngai in support of Task Force Barker.
On 8 April, 225 troops of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry were lifted from LZ Dragon to an area ten miles northwest to kick off operation Norfold victory.
The problem of aircraft shortage was greatly relieved early in the Spring, with the arrival of new “H” model slicks (UH-1H’s). The “H” models, with the more powerful L-13 engine, increased the 174th effectiveness on all missions. The new ships could carry more cargo and troops in one trip and thus cut down the sorties necessary to complete resupply and assault missions.