Air Rocket Artillery Units In The Vietnam War

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2nd BATTALION 20th ARTILLERY, “DUTY NOT REWARD.”

The 20th Artillery was formed on June 03, 1916, as the 20th Field Artillery in the Regular Army. The regiment was organized on June 01, 1917, at For Sam Houston, Texas as an element of the 5th Division on September 05, 1921, the unit was inactivated at Camp Bragg, North Carolina.

The 20th Field Artillery was relieved from its assignment to the 5th Division on October 16, 1939, and activated June 1, 1940, at Fort Benning, Georgia, and concurrently assigned to the 4th Division ( later the 4th Infantry Division). The unit was reorganized and redesigned as the 20th Field Artillery Battalion on October 01, 1940. The battalion was inactivated February 13, 1946, at Camp Butner, North Carolina.

The battalion was activated October 15, 1957, in Korea and concurrently assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. The unit was redesigned the 2nd Rocket Howitzer Battalion, 20th Artillery, on July 01, 1960. It was redesigned 2nd Battalion, 20th Artillery, on September 01, 1963. On July 01, 1965, the battalion was transferred from Korea to Fort Benning, Georgia, and reorganized.

The battalion has campaign participation credit for St. Mihiel and Lorraine (1918) in World War I and for Normandy (with arrowhead), Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsca and Central Europe in World War II.

The battalion received the Belgian Fourragere, 1940, for action in Belgium (cited in the Order of the Day for the Belgian Army) and for action in the Ardennes (cited in the Order of the Day for the Belgian Army). In Vietnam the unit received the Presidential Unit Citation (streamer embroidered PLEIKU PROVINCE) and the Valorous Unit Citation (streamer embroidered TAM QUAN).

There were only two ARA Battalions in the history of the Army that served in Vietnam. The 1st Cavalry had the first ARA battalion followed by the 101st Airborne. The 1st Cavalry ARA Battalion arrived at Qui Nhon, Republic of Vietnam on September 01, 1965. Charlie battery flew their first mission two days latter in support of elements of the 101st Airborne Division. That was the enemy’s first look oat the rockets of the 2nd Battalion (Aerial Artillery), 20th Artillery. At that time the rockets of this very unique unit were mounted on UH-1B Huey helicopters. This gave the unit the ability to provide immediate artillery fire support to airmobile units, often operating beyond the range of conventional artillery. Due to the fact that the aerial artillery pilot was at the target site, his fire could be quickly adjusted for maximum accuracy and could provide extremely close fire support.

On September 18, 1965 the battalion demonstrated another new technique, the “light ship,” a Huey mounted with seven landing lights. The illumination the ship provided proved extremely effective as a tool for base security. On October 3, 1965, the battalion fired the first SS-11 guided missile to be used in combat . In all between September 17 and October 20 the battalion flew 78 missions and expended 2,870 rounds of rockets.

In late October of 1965 the battalion was called up to provide support in the Pleiku Campaign, for which the division would win the Presidential Unit Citation. Alpha Battery saw the first major action in the campaign when Plei Me came under attack the night of October 29-30. The pilots bombarded enemy forces assaulting and mortaring the camp. As one platoon expended its ordnance another would take its place.

Charlie Battery was positioned for the campaign on a small strip on a tea plantation south of Pleiku City. On the night of November 12-13 the enemy attacked the position in battalion strength. As the first mortars hit the camp, pilots ran to their helicopters and quickly had them all in the air, the first instance in Vietnam when all aircraft evacuated without loss from an airstrip under attack.

Bravo Battery flew a unique mission in the closing days of the campaign when on November 28, Special Forces requested that the battery destroy the gates of a fortified VC village. The gate was protected by booby traps and weapons positions from which the enemy delivered fire. Three well aimed SS-11 wire-guided missiles blasted the gates open.

The Vietnam War was the first helicopter war. The helicopters provided “airmobility” speed, freedom of movement and firepower on the battlefield and it has been said that the Pleiku Campaign was the triumph of the airmobile concept.

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