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'Sharks' chew up 22 NVA on air assault from the Southern Cross for May 22, 1970

Electronic copy of article provided by Leslie Hines

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By SP4 Peter R. Sorensen

FSB BRONCO – (11th INF BDE IO) — Twenty-two NVA fell to the rocket and gun fire of the 174th Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter) as the "Shark" gunships turned a routine combat assault into a four hour air-ground battle.

Twelve of the company's "Dolphin" utility ships were lifting one battalion of the ARVN 4th Regiment and a rifle company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry into landing zones 20 miles northwest of Duc Pho. A heavy fire team of three Shark gunships were providing cover and scouting for the operation.

"Cork Pass" with its mountains, valleys and triple canopy jungles is the naturally sheltered sanctuary of the NVA. "As expected from previous visual reconnaissance flights and intelligence reports, we found well used trails, fresh .51 caliber emplacements, bunkers and structures we think were rice collection points. We saw areas where the foliage had been cut to be used as camouflage, but as on numerous other occasions we could see no movement," stated Captain Stephen S. Riddle, Weaverville, N.C. Shark gunship platoon leader.

Said Warrant Officer James E. Rich, Wilmington, N.C., "We hovered over a small river bed and began marking enemy positions with smoke. We spotted a NVA, fully equipped with an AK-47 evading and we killed him. Then we began to work the area over. Captain Riddle rolled in with rockets and machine guns. Then all three Sharks rolled in."

Captain Riddle continued, "When we started marking the area with smoke, the enemy must have gotten excited and started to move. You could tell they were NVA because they were all wearing grey uniforms with cut-off pants, ruck sacks, camouflage and carrying weapons. They were well equipped; you could see entrenching tools sticking out of their packs."

"When my ship rolled in, we killed three. On this pass we must have hit a command post because a company-size element panicked, split into large groups and ran," Captain Riddle added.

It was now that the gunships took full advantage of their fire power.

Debris and shrapnel splattered into the air, as the gunships made successive dives.

Piloting the Air Mission Control helicopter over the battlefield was the commanding officer of the 174th Aviation Company, Major Fredrick G. Blackburn, Kansas City, Mo., "There was superb coordination between the gunships and the ground troops. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Roger A. Culbertson, Longview, Wash., who had just assumed command of the battalion, was far sighted and flexible enough to change his troop landing zone in view of the enemy situation and deploy a reaction and blocking force."

Continuing Major Blackburn said, "Seeing the smoke from the air, Colonel Culbertson was concerned about the welfare of his men in that their positions were being lost from view. But enemy positions and escape routes were well marked and a gunship was on hand at tree level over our men.

In a war that often bogs down into a routine of hide-and-seek and blind man's bluff, it is a tribute to the men of the 174th Aviation Company who continually maintain their high level of flying and fighting ability patiently waiting for the enemy to make that final fatal mistake. Twenty-two confirmed dead can forget. But many more NVA must live with the sight of smoldering scorched earth, a grey pall in a sunless afternoon, a sickening panic and the gleaming white Sharks teeth diving through the murk spitting rocket and machine gun fire into his once secure world.

Photo Caption: These choppers from 174th Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter) turned a routine air assault into a four hour air ground battle in which 22 NVA lost. The ships were lifting one battalion of the 4th ARVN Regiment and one company from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry into landing zones northwest of Duc Pho. (U.S. Army Photo)

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The copy of this issue of the Southern Cross was a personal purchase from Carlisle Barracks Military History Institute by Leslie Hines.

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