THE LIGHTNING BUG DRONE ARTICLE (February) is a good read about a largely unheralded effort to reduce U.S. aircraft and aircrew casualties by using modified target drones for reconnaissance work over highly protected targets. But it didn’t go far enough with the development of the navigation systems required for the highspeed, low-altitude flights. In the early 1970s,approximately 20AQM-34Ms were upgraded with LORAN C/D and radio altimeters to provide precision navigation without radiating the aircraft’s presence with signals such as Doppler and the DC-130 Microwave Control and Guidance System (MCGS). As part of the Buffalo Hunter Program, these drones made many flights using the U.S. Coast Guard supported Southeast Asia Tactical LORAN D Chain with very few losses.
Air vs. Artillery at Junction City
REGARDING THE ARTICLE ON OPERATION Junction City(April),Iwasthe1stInfantry Division air observer at this battle. Your article has some errors involving the Battle of April 1, 1967. First, what you call LZ George was actually the Battle of Ap Gu. Second, it did not begin on April 1, but rather the afternoon of March 31. It went on all night,about 21⁄2 klicks from the Cambodian border.Third,only one U.S. battalion was there,the 1/26,commanded by Lt. Col. Alexander Haig. Fourth, and this is really the big one,the Viet Cong attack was not broken by air power. The Air Force was there but we had to be careful using it. I was firing six artillery batteries from six directions and it would have been very poor form to shoot down one of my own.
As I arrived over the area, flying from Phu Loi, it was still dark and there were lots of tracers and explosions. We established radio contact with ground units and with 1st Infantry Division artillery units at firebases, mostly to the east and southeast.As dawn started to break, I was just amazed by what I saw.The VC had not covered their heavy weapons positions, and I observed machine guns firing, mortars, recoilless rifles and large numbers of troops advancing and closing on our position— out in the open! I immediately called for a 60-second time on target.There were four 105 batteries ,one 155 and one 8-inch battery. A battery fire for effect was called for. When all units reported that rounds were on the way, I told infantry to find a hole and get down.I used the Air Force guys in the tree lines to the north and northeast.
My experience is that we could move artillery right up next to our positions very quickly and pound away with no damage to our troops.Air power was great,but initial strikes generally were 400 to 1,000 meters too far out.
Rod Paschall responds: Thank you for your fascinating battle account. Landing Zone George and Ap Gu are the same location. I used the LZ name because the official history of Operation Junction City,written by General Bernard Rogers, uses it as a reference point for action descriptions; Ap Gu is rarely used. The contact begun at 1300 hours on March 31 was a company-size action that was broken off at 1705. What I called“the next significant clash in Junction City”began at 0445 the next day with several hundred 60-, 82- and 120mm rounds hitting U.S. positions manned by two companies of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, and one company and a recon platoon of the 1st Battalion,16th Infantry. The preparatory fires lasted until 0515. Seven minutes later, the main VC/NVA ground assault began and featured all three battalions of the 271st VC Regiment and elements of the 70th Guard Regiment. That action was the “significant clash.”
Colonel Haig’s battalion was not the only battalion involved. Lt. Col. William Simpson brought his 1st Battalion,2nd Infantry into LZ George on the morning of March 31. That same day, at 1555 hours, Lt.Col.Rufus C.Lazzell brought in his 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry and landed at LZ George. My comment about the role the Air Force played in the victory was based on Haig’s statement to General Rogers that “with the arrival of the air,tactical air and especially the ordnance, the CBU [cluster bomb] ordnance was the main factor.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.