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US Marine Corps



Vietnam

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address
20 January 1961

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  • US Marine Corps in Vietnam
    The U.S. Marine Corps in the Vietnam War

    The U.S. Marine Corps provided ground, air, supply, and logistic support in the Vietnam War for over two decades as part of III Marine Amphibious Force. Initially in Vietnam as advisors, the Marines forces grew with the need to protect the key airbase at Da Nang. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, more troops arrived and the Marines began to engage in the counterinsurgency effort with small-scale pacification units. Combined Action Platoons – comprised of U.S. Marines and Vietnamese soldiers – were a novel concept that the Marines brought.

    By 1966, there were nearly 70,000 Marines in Vietnam carrying out large scale ground operations against the Viet Cong. In addition to ground combat, the Marines Corps provided air support from helicopter squadrons and fixed-wing aircrafts striking targets in South and North Vietnam. In 1967, the Army leadership in Saigon advocated that the Marines concentrate their efforts on large unit search and destroy operations. The Marines’ mission was split, with fighting against the North Vietnamese Army along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) toward the north, and a counterinsurgency operation waged against the Viet Cong in the villages in the south.

    In the north, the Marines engaged in heavy fighting between Khe Sanh in the West and Leatherneck Square in the Eastern DMZ. They also began to create the McNamara line, a series of strong points, sensors and obstacles meant to detect communist forces crossing the DMZ. The North Vietnamese focused much of their firepower on destroying the McNamara line in its early stages, resulting in many conflicts, most notably Con Thien. The McNamara line ultimately failed to materialize, but the Marines were largely successful in stemming the flow of communist forces across the DMZ, although at a large price. 3,461 Marines were killed in action in 1967 and another 25,525 were wounded. Despite the fewer numbers, it was clear that more troops would not guarantee more success.

    The year 1968 proved to be a watershed for the Marines in Vietnam. The January 31 Tet Offensive – the massive offensive the North Vietnamese launched against South Vietnam in 105 cities on the Tet Lunar Year – was largely repulsed by U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese forces. This was not the case at Hue, a city where Marines fought for 26 days before expelling the North Vietnamese. The Marines also defended Khe Sanh in a 77 day siege, under fire by as many as 1000 shells per day, until the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division broke the siege.

    After footage of these bloody battles was aired on television and with no clear end in sight by 1969, much of the American public support for the war eroded. President Nixon began to bring troops home. Few Marines units were involved in the U.S. military actions in Cambodia or Laos, and while 1st Marine Division fought in major engagements around Da Nang, 3d Marine Division was heading back to base at Okinawa. By 1971, the 1st Division and 3d Marine Aircraft Wing departed for the United States and Japan.

    Marine advisors, fire support personnel, and air units fought during the 1972 Easter Offensive supporting the Vietnamese Marine Corps. A peace treaty was signed in Paris in January 1973. The U.S. agreed to withdraw all of its forces from Vietnam and in turn the North Vietnamese returned its U.S. prisoners of war, 26 of whom were Marines. In 1975, Marines led Operations Eagle Pull and Frequent Wind to evacuate the American embassies in Phnom Penh and Saigon. Immediately after saving hundreds of American lives in the embassy evacuations, President Ford ordered the Marines to rescue the crew of the USS Mayaguez, which had been taken by the Khmer Rouge. A joint task force completed the mission and recaptured the ship, but not without Marine and U.S. Air Force casualties.

    The Vietnam War was costly to the U.S. Marine Corps. From 1965 to 1975, nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia. Of these, more than 13,000 were killed and 88,000 wounded, nearly a third of all American causalities sustained during the war.

    Source: United States Marine Corps History Division
  • Air War Vietnam
    • F-!05 Thunderchief

      Air War: F-105 Thunderchief

      Originally designed as a supersonic long-range nuclear bomber, the F105 Thunderchief could carry up to five tons of bombs. From 1965 to 1970, the Thunderchief did most of the Air Force's bombing in Vietnam, typically carrying a cargo of eight 750-pound bombs. Though primarily an attack aircraft over Vietnam, the F-105 was able to shoot down several MiG-17s and MiG-21s.

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      Specifications
      • Span: 34 ft. 11 in.
      • Length: 64 ft. 5 in.
      • Height: 19 ft. 8 in.
      • Weight: 52,838 lbs. max.
      • Armament: One M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon and more than 12,000 lbs. of ordnance
      • Engine: One Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W of 24,500 lbs thrust with afterburner
      • Cost: $2,136,668
      Performance
      • Maximum speed: 1,390 mph.
      • Cruising speed: 778 mph.
      • Range: 2206 miles
      • Service Ceiling: 51,000 ft.

      F-105 aircrews downed 27 1/2 MiGs while in service in Vietnam–the 1/2 was shared one with a F-4D Phantom crew.
    • F4 - Phantom

      F4-Phantom

      First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The USAF evaluated it for close air support, interdiction, and counter-air operations and, in 1962, approved a USAF version. The USAF's Phantom II, designated F-4C, made its first flight on May 27, 1963. Production deliveries began in November 196. In its air-to-ground role the F-4 can carry twice the normal bomb load of a WW II B-17. USAF F-4s also fly reconnaissance and "Wild Weasel" anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. Phantom II production ended in 1979 after over 5,000 had been built--more than 2,600 for the USAF, about 1,200 for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest for friendly foreign nations. In 1965, the first USAF Phantom IIs were sent to Southeast Asia (SEA).

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      • Span: 38 ft. 5 in. (27 ft. 6 in. folded)
      • Length: 58 ft. 2 in.
      • Height: 16 ft. 6 in.
      • Weight: 58,000 lbs. loaded
      • Armament: Up to 16,000 lbs. of externally carried nuclear or conventional bombs, rockets, missiles, or 20mm cannon pods in various combinations
      • Engine: Two General Electric J-79-GE-15s of 17,000 lbs thrust each with afterburner
      • Crew: Two
      Performance
      • Maximum speed: 1,400 mph.
      • Cruising speed: 590 mph.
      • Range: 1,750 miles without aerial refueling
      • Service Ceiling: 59,600 ft.

      USAF, Navy, and Marine Corps Phantom IIs achieved 277 air-to-air combat victories in Vietnam
    • A1-E Skyraider

      In 1963, the U.S. Air Force began a program to modify the AD-5 Skyraider for service in Vietnam and redesignated it the A-1E. Because of its ability to carry large bomb loads, absorb heavy ground fire, and fly for long periods at low altitude, the A-1E was particularly suited for close-support missions.

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      Specifications
      • Span: 50 ft. 1/4 in.
      • Length: 40 ft.
      • Height: 15 ft. 9 5/8 in.
      • Weight: 24,782 lbs. maximum
      • Armament: Four 20mm cannons and a wide assortment of bombs, rockets, mines, grenades, flares and gun pods
      • Engine: Wright R-3350 of 2,700 hp.
      • Cost: $414,000
      Performance
      • Maximum speed: 325 mph.
      • Cruising speed: 240 mph.
      • Range: 1,500 miles
      • Service Ceiling: 26,200 ft.

      A1E's were referred to as "Sandy," a name derived from their USAF tactical call sign in Vietnam
    • B-52 SkyFortress

      B-52

      The B-52 set many records in its 25-plus years of service. On Jan. 18, 1957, three B-52Bs completed the world's first non-stop round-the-world flight by jet aircraft, lasting 45 hours and 19 minutes with only three aerial refuelings en route. It was also a B-52 that made the first airborne hydrogen bomb drop over Bikini Atoll on May 21, 1956. In June 1965, B-52s entered combat when they began flying missions in Southeast Asia. By Aug. 1973, they had flown 126,615 combat sorties with 17 B-52s lost to enemy action.

      B-52 SkyFortress
      Specifications
      • Span: 185 ft.
      • Length: 156 ft. 6 in.
      • Height: 48 ft. 4 in.
      • Weight: 450,000 lbs. max.
      • Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns in tail plus bombs--nuclear or 43,000 lbs. of conventional
      • Engine: Eight Pratt & Whitney J57s of 12,100 lbs. thrust ea. with water-alcohol injection
      • Cost: $7,000,000

      Performance

      • Maximum speed: 638 mph.
      • Cruising speed: 526 mph.
      • Range: 8,338 miles unrefueled
      • Service Ceiling: 49,400 ft.

      The US flew 124,532 B52 missions in Vietnam, expending 2,633,035 tons of ordnance
    • Bell UH-1P Huey

      Bell UH-1P Huey

      The UH-1 evolved from a 1955 Army competition for a new utility helicopter. The Army employed it in various roles, later including that of an armed escort or attack gunship in Vietnam. The USAF, USN, and USMC eventually adopted the model as did Canada, Brazil, and West Germany. The initial Army designation was HU-1, which led to the common unofficial nickname of "Huey." It was redesignated in 1962 as the UH-1 under a triservice agreement.

      USAF orders for the Huey began in 1963 for UH-1Fs, intended for support duties at missile sites, and for TH-1Fs for instrument and hoist training and medical evacuation. The HH-1 H incorporated a longer fuselage and larger cabin for a crew of two and up to eleven passengers or six litters. The USAF ordered these in 1970 as local base rescue helicopters to replace the HH-43 "Huskie." The first of the USAF's UH-1Ns, a twin-engine utility version capable of cruising on one engine, was obtained in 1970.

      Bell Huey
      Specifications
      • Rotor Diameter: 48 ft. 0 in.
      • Length: 57 ft. 0 in.
      • Height: 14 ft. 11 in.
      • Weight: 9,000 max.
      • Armament: None
      • Engine: General Electric T-58 of 1070 shaft hp.
      • Cost: $273,000
      • Crew: One or two
      Performance (UH-1F)
      • Maximum speed: 140 mph.
      • Cruising speed: 115 mph.
      • Range: 330 miles
      • Service Ceiling: 24,830 ft.

      4,865 helicopters of all types were downed by Communist ground fire at a cost of about $250,000 ea.–or $1.2 billion