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I'm involved in helping assemble material for an official book celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Marine Aviation and need the name of someone from HMM-364 who is has first hand knowledge about the Super Gaggle; specifically its origins, the composition of all its elements, how it was coordinated, and its functioning.
If you are that person, please contact me at <email@example.com>
Thanks and Semper Fi,
Col. USMC (Ret)
Tom, I flew the Super Gaggle mission on a regular basis during the 45 days of it's existence. The narrative at the below url is my description of the experience. The elements involved were the CH-46 transports, a flight of Marine fixed wing aircraft for zone prep, a flight of UH-1E's from VMO-6 for escort and close in suppression and a TAC(A) aircraft, either fixed wing or helicopter. The bulk of the CH-46's were provided by HMM-364 from Phu Bai, but it should be noted that HMM-262, stationed at Quang Tri, frequently flew in the Super Gaggle. I have no personal knowledge of the origins of the Super Gaggle or who had the original idea. My impression is that it was born of necessity for self preservation and was probably the product of several thoughtful aviation and ground Marines. You can get the first hand observations of the Marines on the ground regarding the Super Gaggle by going to the Purple Fox website and exploring the "Warriors of Hill 881" link.
The information and your help are very much appreciated. I was unaware there was so much IFR involved, not always a helo pilots favorite kind of flying. Certainly the Foxes deserve every bit of the respect they enjoy among those of us who flew helos in Vietnam. Semper Fi,
The Super Gaggle was an idea which actually originated with LtCol. David Althoff (then a Major) who was the XO of HMM-262 at Quang Tri..........
Thanks for helping find a key piece of the puzzle. You are the third source who taps Althoff as the originator.
Below is what the book US Marines in Vietnam - 1968 the Defining Year ahs to say.
By mid-February, with the enemy shooting down on a single day three helicopters attempting to reach the Khe Sanh hill outposts, Marine commanders realized that they had to take steps to remedy the situation. According to Major General Norman Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel William J. White, the commander of VMO-6, came to him and stated that the wing needed to work up a plan to keep the outposts resupplied. Anderson agreed and had White sit down with his operations staff to iron out the details. On 23 February, with the assistance of the assistant wing commander, Brigadier General Robert P. Keller, the small planning group, within a day drew up an operational resupply concept, later dubbed the "Super Gaggle."64***
The idea was to establish a small task force consisting of 8 to 16 resupply CH-46 helicopters, about a dozen A-4 Skyhawks and four Huey gunships to fly cover, a Marine KC-130 to refuel the aircraft, and a TA-4F with a TAC (A) in the backseat to orchestrate the entire affair. The Khe Sanh DASC and FSCC insured the coordination of the air and ground fires. In
** Lieurenant General Carey, then serving on the 1st MAW G-3 staff, observed that helicopters were nor always able to use a "visual approach." According to Carey, the "skies were overcast more often than not." The helicopters flew on instrumenrs to Khe Sanh and then "let down through the overcast under conrrol of a TPQ or on a self-devised instrument approach on rhe Khe Sanh beacon. Once underneath they would pick up their fixed-wing escort. This operation required a great deal of coordinarion, generally conducted by an airborne TAC(A) in a TA4." Carey Comments.
*** Gen Cushman, the III MAF commander, claimed to have conceived the idea for the "Super Gaggle." LtGen Robert E. Cushman, Comments on "The Battle for Khe Sanh," dtd 23Mar69 (Vietnam Comment File). MajGen Keith B. McCutcheon, however, credited Colonel Joel E. Bonner, Lieutenant Colonel William J. White, and LtCol Richard E. Carey, with the further commenr rhat Carey named rhe procedure. MajGen Keith B. McCurcheon, Comments on "The Battle for Khe Sanh," n.d. (Vietnam Comment File). This latter version appears to be in conformity with MajGen Anderson's recollections. MajGen Norman Anderson intvw, 3d Session, 17Mar81, pp. 225-6. Lieutenanr General William J. White noted in his comments that the MAG-36 group commander, Colonel Frank E. Wilson, was the one who decided that White should see the wing commander and accompanied him ro the meeting with General Anderson. LtGen William J, White, Comments on draft, dtd 1Oct94 (Vietnam Comment File). In his comments, General Carey wrore; "it became apparenr that we had to do something fast. In discussion with Col Bonner and Gen Keller, Bill Whire and I suggested that we could come up with an answer. I was the considered authority on the fixed-wing participation and Bill provided the helicopter expertise. When all the details were sorted out I suggested the name super gaggle as that is a favorite fighter pilot term meaning, 'perceived confusion of the first order.'" Carey Comments.
Page 483 (1968: The Defining Year)
Here is the rest of the write up
Page 485 (1968: The Defining Year)
the first "Super Gaggle" mission flown on 24 February, under cover of suppressive fixed-wing and artillery support, each of eight CH-46s successfully dropped off a 3,000-pound external load "covering less than five minutes when they could have been taken under fire." One helicopter took a hit, but landed safely at the Khe Sanh airstrip. All the rest of the aircraft returned to base safely. General Anderson, the 1st Wing commander, exulted "today, was a small victory." He then wrote, "the only way to beat the enemy is to bludgeon the hell out of him. . . . These coordinated resupply missions under marginal weather conditions undoubtedly will be required again and again in the next few weeks."65*
In a typical "Super Gaggle" mission, a TA-4 would fly to Khe Sanh on weather reconnaissance. When the TA-4 reported favorable conditions, the A-4s launched from Chu Lai, enroute to Khe Sanh, and the helicopters took off from Quang Tri, enroute to Dong Ha where prestaged supplies waited. After picking up their loads and carrying them externally underneath in especially designed cargo slings, the helicopters began the short trip to Khe Sanh flying on instruments and then letting down through a hole in the cloud cover. Just before they arrived, four A-4s struck enemy positions with napalm and two others saturated antiaircraft positions with CS gas carried in spray tanks. About 30 seconds prior to the helicopters' final approach to the designated hills, two A-4s laid a smoke screen on both sides of the planned flight path. As the helicopters flew in behind the smoke, four more Skyhawks carrying bombs, rockets, and 20mm cannons suppressed known and suspected North Vietnamese gun positions. The Hueys followed closely to pick up any downed crews, and a Lockheed KC-130 Hercules orbited high overhead to refuel any A-4s in need. At times, the entire "gaggle" operated in the hills where some peaks reached 3,000 feet with less than 1,500 feet ceilings and occasionally the helicopters took off and landed at Dong Ha with less than 400 feet clearances.66
Using the "Super Gaggle" technique, groups of helicopters could resupply the hills four times per day with little danger of losses. Indeed, only two CH-46s fell to enemy fire during "Super Gaggle" missions, and in both cases, the Hueys picked up the crews immediately. During the month of March, the helicopters in "Super Gaggles" delivered about 80,000 pounds of cargo per day to the hill outposts. Brigadier General Henry W. Hise,** one of two assistant wing commanders, observed, however, that without the fixed-wing support, "the 46s could no longer have supplied the hills." He noted that the Super Gaggle reduced the "hit rate" among the helicopters from 10 per 1,000 sorties to 5 per 1,000 sorties. According to Captain Dabney on Hill 881 South, with the suppression of the North Vietnamese antiaircraft batteries by the fixed-wing aircraft, "you could get in 10 helicopter loads on the hill in one minute and get the birds the Hell out of there and into smoke where the NVA couldn't see to shoot." With obvious Service pride, Dabney later praised the Super Gaggle: "It was a massive, complex, well rehearsed, gutsy and magnificent performance and only the Marines could have pulled it off."67***
On 31 March, with the coming of better weather and the beginning of the pullback of enemy forces from Khe Sanh, the allied command ended Operation Niagara. For the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing it had been an immense effort. In addition to the nearly 7,100 sorties contributed by Marine tactical air to Niagara, Marine helicopters flew over 9,000. Including the Super Gaggle flights, the Marine rotary aircraft carried more than 10,600 passengers and brought in over 3,300 tons of supplies to the Khe Sanh defenders. While the helicopters mostly delivered their cargo to the hill outposts, they also played a part in the resupply of the main base, especially after the enemy gunners curtailed the landings of the large transports. In support of the Niagara operations, 23 Marine fixed-wing aircraft and 123 helicopters sustained some combat damage.68
* General Carey observed that the coordination of the Super Gaggle originated at the TADC. The procedure required A4s from Chu Lai and "helos from Dong Ha/Quang Tri to take off at appropriate intervals so as to arrive at Khe Sanh at the same time. When the delivery was successfully completed and aircraft safely egressed [the area] the cycle [was] restarted for subsequent delivery." He observed that Marine ground crews were the unsung heroes: "Helos and strike fixed-wing aircraft were often reloaded in as little as 30 minutes time and sent again on their way to support their fellow Marines at Khe Sanh." Carey Comments.
** Because of the extended operations in the north, the 1st MAW in January 1968 like the two Marine divisions was authorized two assistant commanders.
*** Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Shauer, the commander of HMM-362, expressed a minority view about the effectiveness of the Super Gaggle. He wrote the "'Gaggle' turned out to be what its name connotates. Uncoordinated event waiting to crash." He believed that the reduction of the hit rate occurred because the NVA had begun to withdraw and just "weren't there." Shauer Comments.
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