Night Training–UH1H Down

Night Training–UH1H Down

Article by: Tom Rozman and Robert Ginn

A combat division was deployed to East Asia.  Though designated as an infantry division, it was a hybrid organization, not quite infantry, mechanized or armor.  One brigade comprised two mechanized battalions and the divisions armored cavalry squadron.  Another brigade consisted of two tank battalions and an infantry battalion.  A third brigade consisted of three infantry battalions.

The division was shy one maneuver battalion—to compensate, the cavalry squadron was placed under the brigade with two mechanized battalions.  This brigade occupied a north-south running valley with steep medium altitude mountain ranges as the valley rims.  The brigade with two tank battalions and an infantry battalion was positioned in a parallel north-south running valley to the east.

Positioned forward in this parallel valley was the division’s combat engineer battalion.  About a mile south of the engineer battalion in the vicinity of a major town, the division’s two tank  and one infantry battalion brigade took up position.  About a mile south of the tank heavy brigade the three infantry battalion brigade took position.

The division’s artillery battalions were distributed in support of this initial maneuver positioning.  Some additional Corps artillery was arranged to reinforce these fires.  The nature of the terrain presented some defensive advantages to the infantry battalions and their fire support.  The main ridges and smaller tributary ridges provided ample positions from which the valley floors could be dominated by observation and fires.

But the limited number of maneuver battalions, even employing the engineer battalion, combined with the base mobility of the four infantry battalions, restricted timely flexibility of the division commander to shift position of battalions in a fluid, numerically superior opposing force situation.  The division commander needed some capability that would allow him the ability to leverage his limited forces to optimize the terrain to neutralize a numerically superior attacking force.

The division commander had experienced combat in the same valleys 20 years earlier as a young infantry officer.  He had first hand experience of infantry combat and mobility and fire support or lack there of in this rugged terrain.   He also had combat experience at brigade command level and assistant division command level in combat in another broken terrain theater.  In the latter, he had gained experience in the effective use of the developing application of another means of tactical mobility for maneuver forces as well as support—the helicopter.

On assessing the available combat assets in the division and the likely developments an active operational situation would entail, the division commander determined that he must leverage his limited maneuver and fires assets.  He quickly determined that the lever of advantage was his aviation assets in his divisional aviation battalion, supplemented where possible by other aviation assets in country.  He promptly embarked on an aggressive program of unit and fires tactical maneuver.  These took the form of tactical exercises that used aviation assets to neutralize the effects of the rugged terrain on the concentration and dispersing of forces and fires quickly and flexibly against the likely tactical scenarios that could be expected.

He did not shrink from performing these operations at night.  Though aviation night vision capabilities were improving, they were still far from today’s standards and night vision goggles were not yet available to the flight crews.  Safety would be given full attention, but the inherent operational risks of employing aviation against mission meant some risk being present with all operations.  The commander determined that with proper planning, attention to detail in operations, especially safety and maintenance, the risks could be minimized.  And, the ultimate tactical benefits against potential active operations would be a life saving combat multiplier.

Thus began an aggressive program of tactical maneuver using aviation assets to enhance the agility and mobility of the four infantry battalions and their fire support, attempting to turn the rugged terrain into an advantage using aviation in direct support.

This included enhancement of fires planning and concentration by moving firing batteries by air as well as optimizing gunship employment in the broken and mountainous terrain.

The work was progressing very well over several weeks and the division team was adding greatly to its abilities in employing aviation as a mobility and fires multiplier to great effect.  As daytime proficiency increased, the division commander determined that operations transition to developing a night operations capability.  Division, brigade and battalion operations staff  shifted their planning and training focus on night movement, maneuver and support.

Early in this night operations cycle a battalion tactical air movement from one several thousand foot high ridgeline to another of similar height across the valley about 3-4 kilometers was planned.  On the night of the exercise there was no moon.  The exercise got underway about 2100—it was end of summer.

At about 8,000 feet the Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver (ADC(M)) positioned his aircraft to observe the movement of the UH1H formations as they loaded infantry at the ridge top PZ (pick-up zone) and discharged them at the designated ridge top LZ (landing zone) across the valley.  All that was visible of the aircraft to track movement were the aviation lights supplemented by radio traffic on the command net.

Several iterations of the movement had deployed about 1/3 of the battalion from the PZ to the LZ when a flash and subsequent radio traffic at the LZ indicated that a UH1H had gone down.  The command aircraft immediately descended to a landing site where the  ADC(M)’s jeep was waiting.  He moved directly to the LZ.

On arrival enough light was now available on the ridge top to gain a preliminary idea of what had happened.  The aft section of the UH1H lay on the ground on the reverse slope while the transmission had ripped through the forward section of the aircraft pretty much shredding the fuselage. The UH1s had been flying in flights of 3, loose “V” in and out of the PZ and LZ.  As one flight descended into the PZ in the dark, they did not see a burial mound that stuck up above the surrounding ridge.  The right ship flew into the mound at 60 knots.  The effect was sufficient to create a resistance that held the airframe which was not strong enough to contain the transmission and its momentum, the latter ripping forward through the aircraft.

Miraculously, the crew survived, although the pilot was hit in the back of his helmet by the transmission as it exited the aircraft and suffered considerable injury to his skull.  The pilot, co-pilot and crew chief were medevac’d from the scene and the remainder of the aircraft were sent back to the battalion airbase.

As for all such incidents an investigation followed with necessary findings and recommendations.  Injured aircraft crew were given the best available medical care in country and support by their unit.

That said, the incident did not alter the working initiative by the division commander to greatly enhance the division’s effectiveness as a combat force using the division’s aviation assets as a force multiplier.  Safety planning, already heavily emphasized, received redoubled focus.  But the work embarked upon to employ aviation capability to greater effect continued unabated and in the event produced a significant increase in the division’s readiness and capability to confront its difficult mission.

From a leadership perspective at the level of a combat division, two observations seem of particular relevance.

The new division commander demonstrated a capacity for innovation against a clear vision of how he intended to confront mission and in an environment at first blush that did not seem to support the vision.  Importantly, he was highly effective in communicating this vision and engaging his leader team to realize the vision.

The division commander demonstrated a resolute approach to pursuing goals that listened to new input but would not retreat from pursuing change and innovation, even in the face of set back.

The program of innovation as noted continued and to notable success.  But of greater impact was the impressions made on more junior leaders in the leadership team by the example of the division commander.  Many of these rising leaders would apply what they had experienced in their later assignments as Army leaders.  The Army would benefit greatly from this transfer of approach and experience.

Tom Rozman is an American soldier of 27 years and 23 years in public civil sector, who led 15 organizations of 14-800 soldiers/employees.

He has extensive Canadian roots on his mother’s side, all French speakers into his mother’s generation, back to the early French settlement in Quebec and Acadie. At least 7 soldiers to include one officer were known to have been members of the Carignan Salieres Regiment. He has extended family in Canada today that he remains connected with. His wife’s father’s family is from Newfoundland many having served in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in WW I.

Many readers have his ancestral names and are probably related. As well he has traveled to Canada many times to include his honeymoon in Nova Scotia, traveling not only there but British Colombia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario, Prince Edward Isle, and Quebec.

Robert Ginn is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.   He served in the US Army in several positions including Chief of Quality Control for the Army Undergraduate Flight Training Program.   He retired from the technology industry having served as an Executive Vice President and President of Software Development and Implementation Companies.