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Airborne Operations in the Cold War

On 27 August 1950, the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment was reorganized and redesignated as the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. The unit was quickly sent to Korea and within the first month defeated a enemy force of 3,000 soldiers.

Capture of Pyongyang, seat of the North Korean government, was in itself a significant victory, but U. N. strategy also included trapping as many of the remaining Communist troops as possible. The 187th Airborne RCT had been standing by for employment in such an aerial envelopment, and on 18 October MacArthur gave the order: on 20 October the RCT was to be dropped.

The Rakkasans performed a textbook parachute assault and heavy drop at Sukchon/Sunchon, villages 30 miles north of Pyongyang, in an attempt to trap fleeing North Korean soldiers. On 20 October, 71 C-119s and forty C-47s participated in the operation, dropping more than 2,800 troops and 300 tons of equipment and supplies at Sukchon and Sunchon. The command also began airlifting Eighth Army supplies to Pyongyang. The airborne operation and fighter attack so startled North Korean troops that they abandoned strong defensive positions, leaving loaded guns with ammunition alongside. On 21 October UN forces from Pyongyang linked up with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in the Sukchon-Sunchon area. H-5s of the 3d ARS evacuated some thirty-five paratroopers in the first use of a helicopter in support of an airborne operation. On October 23 the cargo command concluded its fourth consecutive day of airlift for the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. The Flying Boxcars had airdropped almost 4,000 troops and nearly 600 tons of materiel, including jeeps, trucks, and howitzers.

Colonel Hampton, Commanding Officer of the 314th Combat Cargo Wing, personnally led 120 aircraft on the airborne invasion of the Sukchon-Sunchon area of Korea. Colonel Hampton led the unarmed aircraft of his organzation over the drop zone and heavily defended enemy positions at extremely low altitude, thereby exposing himself to intense enemy ground fire. The 187th Airborne earned their second Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for the parachute assault at Sukchon-Sunchon. By direction of the President, the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism while participating in aerial flight during the period indicated is awarded to General of the Army DOUGLAS MacARTHUR, United States Army. General MacArthur made a flight to the Sukchon-Sunchon area of Korea on 20 October in order to observe and supervise the para-drop of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. During this entire operation his aircraft was subject to attack by enemy aircraft known to be based at Sinuiju.

The 187th Airborne also performed another record-breaking airborne operation into Munsan-ni Valley 23-27 March 1951. The 314th TCG and the 437th TCW air transports flew from Taegu to Munsan-ni, an area behind enemy lines some twenty miles northwest of Seoul, and dropped the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and two Ranger companies -- more than 3,400 men and 220 tons of equipment and supplies. Fifth Air Force fighters and light bombers had largely eliminated enemy opposition. In one of its most important missions, the 452nd Bombardment Group, Light supported the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment's mass parachute drop over North Korean lines at Munsan-ni on 23 March 1951. Leading the troop carrier aircraft over the target area, the group dropped 500-pound bombs, fired rockets, and strafed the CCF front line. On March 24 and 26-27, 1951 fifty-two C-119s and C-46s dropped an additional 264 tons of supplies to the troops at Munsan-ni because surface lines of communication were undependable. This second combat jump at Musan-ni cut off and destroyed large number of forces above the 38th parallel.

Some of the heaviest fighting of the Korean War occured in June and July of 1953. The Battle of Boomerang occured on the night of June 14-15, 1953. After the Battle of Boomerang, the 187th Airborne returned to Korea and asked for all their experienced paratroopers back. Many were sure they were going to make a combat jump and wanted to be part of one. But instead of jumping, the 187th put troops on the frontline as regular infantry. The 3rd Battalion of the 9th Regiment repulsed further Chinese attacks between July 16th and 18th, and the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. The 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment successes in Korea changed the face of airborne warfare and revitalized interest in the use of paratroopers. It also convinced the Pentagon to reactivate XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Combat experience in Korea and the advent of tactical nuclear weapons demonstrated a need to rethink many aspects of Army organization and operations, not only for the regular combat divisions, but for the airborne units whose performance there had not fulfilled the promises of a decade before. From this rethinking process emerged two developments: one, the Pentomic reorganization, which was first applied to the reactivated 101st Airborne Division; and, two, the air assault/air mobile concept, the latter seen not as a replacement of, but a supplement to, the airborne division.

When civil strife broke out in the Dominican Republic in April 1965, the United States decided to dispatch troops to protect American lives and to prevent a possible Castro-type takeover by Communist elements. Marines were landed on 28 April from ships offshore and two battalions of the 82d Airborne Division and their supporting forces were ordered to move with minimum essential equipment from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, to Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico, on the 29th of April.

POWER PACK I, as the 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, was designated for the move, contained 2,253 men. Approximately 67 hours after it was alerted, lead elements of POWER PACK I became airborne. Employing 111 heavy drop aircraft and 33 personnel carrying aircraft, the 3d Brigade headed for Puerto Rico. While enroute, however, Washington political and military leaders changed the destination of the force to San Isidro Airfield, Dominican Republic and ordered the 3d Brigade to airland instead of airdrop. This change caused some immediate problems since ground materiel handling equipment was not available at San Isidro to unload heavy drop loads and the equipment had to be unloaded manually. In addition San Isidro soon became saturated and only the 33 personnel carrying and 46 of the heavy drop aircraft were able to land on the 29th. This development separated the troops from much of their equipment at a critical moment. Fortunately no opposition to the landings arose and the missing equipment which had been landed at Puerto Rico was flow in to San Isidro the following day.

POWER PACK II, the 2d Brigade (-) of the 82d Airborne Division, was alerted on 28 April and ordered to move to the Dominican Republic on 1 May. The force contained two airborne battalions and supporting elements with a total of 2,276 men. Using the same planes as the 3d Brigade on a shuttle basis as they became available, the POWER PACK II force also arrived in the Dominican Republic approximately 72 hours after it was alerted. The third echelon of the 82d Airborne Division, POWER PACK III, contained the remainder of the 2d Brigade, consisting of two airborne battalions and support forces, and elements of the 5th Logistical Command to provide logistical backup; it totalled 3,302 men and officers. POWER PACK III was shuttled in between the afternoon of 2 May and the morning of 3 May. POWER PACK IV, the fourth echelon of the 82d, consisted of the 1st Brigade with three airborne battalions and support forces with a total of 3,000 men an officers. It began to deploy from the United States on the shuttling aircraft on 3 May and completed its move to the Dominican Republic the following morning. Thus, in the five day period between 29 April and 4 May, over 10,500 men of the 82d Division and supporting elements were airlifted into the Dominican Republic. Additional Army units with a strength of about 3,000 men including the remainder of the 82d Airborne Division, Special Forces troops, psychological warfare units, signal and transportation elements, arrived in the Dominican Republic prior to 9 May.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade conducted Operation Junction City, the first combat parachute jump in the Vietnam conflict, on 22 February 1967. Other paratroop assaults had occasionally been planned (for example, in NEW LIFE-65), but none were performed until Operation JUNCTION CITY. A battalion from 173d jumped almost simultaneously with multiple helicopter assaults, staged over a wide region. The parachute assault thus served the modest purpose of enlarging the assault force beyond that transportable by available helicopters. The 50th Tactical Airlift Squadron participated in Operation JUNCTION CITY, one the first large-scale personnel airdrops in Vietnam. USAF C-130s airlifted the 173rd Brigade from Bien Hoa to take part in Operation Junction City, near Cambodian border. After the jumps, the C-130s made cargo drops, for several weeks resupplying elements positioned along the Cambodian border. In the final stages of JUNCTION CITY, the 130s sustained an American infantry brigade in "floating" operations over the operational area, making daily drops into newly designated drop zones. The airdrop and extraction capabilities thus were confirmed useful assets, with their greater applications in Vietnam yet ahead.

Junction City involved 22 US and four South Vietnamese battalions in an 83-day operation supported by massive air and artillery fires. The results included only 2,728 enemy casualties, about 33 per day. Similar "search and destroy" operations produced h similarly "underwhelming" paltry enemy casualty figures. Operation Junction City yielded fewer enemy dead than one could have expected, but that was because the 9th Vietcong Division simply retreated into the sanctuary of Cambodia. The communist supply network in the Iron Triangle was never as robust after Junction City.

The JUNCTION CITY assault remained the largest American paratroop operation of the Vietnam War, but others followed. On 02 April 1967 a total of 356 toops (including Montagnards) of 5th Special Forces Group (ABN), 1st Special Forces: Detachment A-503 Mike Force: Co's. 2 & 3 jumped into Bunard, Phouc Long "Happy Dragon" Province Vietnam as part of Operation Harvest Moon. At 0600 hrs on 13 May 1967 a total of 486 troops of Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne): Detachment A-503, Co's. 3, 4 & 5; 4.2 Mortar platoon & Hdqts. group conducted a water jump at 700 ft. as part of Operation Blackjack in Seven Mountains ( Near Chi Lang, 1km S of Nuai Yai), in the SW corner of Vietnam. And on 5 October 1967 a total of 250 troops (w/ARVN paras & Australians) of the 5th Special Forces Group (SFG), Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force), Co's 24 & 25, ll Corps Mike Force (Detachment B-20, B Co. 5th SFG) conducted Operation Blue Max in Bu Prang, Vietnam. A number of other much smaller operations were conducted by special forces detachments.

In the early morning hours of 25 October 1983, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, spearheading a US joint forces assault on the Caribbean island of Grenada, conducted a low-level parachute jump to seize an airfield at Point Salinas. In all, over 500 Army Rangers from the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions made a combat jump into Point Salines Airport. Their mission was to protect the lives of Americans and restore democracy to the island nation. Operation Urgent Fury was a five-day fight covering most of the 120-square-mile island. Problems beset the operation from the start. The loss of the inertial navigation system in the lead C-130 aircraft meant that the flow of C-130s, had to be adjusted in the air and delayed the parachute assault by the Rangers at Point Salines. Adjusting the sequence of aircraft lost the JSOC forces the cover of darkness, cost them tactical surprise and mixed the Ranger units on the landing zone. Delay of the airdrop until daylight put it thirty-six minutes behind the Marine assault at Pearls and cost the Rangers and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces tactical surprise. The 21 October 1983 news report that US warships had been diverted to Grenada had robbed the operation of strategic surprise.

As the Rangers' C-130s approached the Point Salines airfield, the Cubans put up stiff resistance using antiaircraft guns and automatic weapons. Lieutenant Colonel Wesley B. Taylor, USA, commanding the 1st Ranger Battalion, decided to reduce the time of descent and vulnerability to ground fire by having his men jump from five hundred feet. Once on the ground a company of Rangers assembled at either end of the airfield. Hot-wiring a bulldozer, they used it to clear obstacles strewn on the runway. Once the Rangers had seized the airfield, they went on to rescue American citizens and eliminate pockets of resistance. Five Rangers from 1/75. made the ultimate sacrifice, never to step foot on US soil again.

Air Force Combat Controllers played a vital role in the 1983 Grenada rescue operation. The first airborne insertion occurred with an MC-130 airdrop of twelve combat controllers and a force of US Army rangers from an altitude of 500 feet. Each combat controller carried a typical combat load, 90 pounds of equipment in addition to about 40 pounds (no reserve rig) of parachute gear. CCT quickly established a command and control radio net and air-to-ground radio communications in order to work inbound aircraft for follow-on airdrops and airland missions. They also acted as forward air guides for US Air Force gunships and US Navy fighter aircraft.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:20:23 Zulu