In February 1965, the allied war situation in South Vietnam was in serious disarray. Conditions grew worse in the central provinces where, according to MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) staff assessments, the Viet Cong had virtual control of large areas. Overland routes from the coast to Pleiku and Kontum remained blocked as well as the coastal road above Nha Trang. Although Viet Cong movements were largely screened from the allies, three North Vietnamese regiments began gradual shifts southward through the hill country north and east of Pleiku. As the crisis deepened, Air Force C-123 Providers were called upon repeatedly to lift supplies over routes normally served by road, to haul in reinforcements and to provide flareship support for posts under attack. To the American transport aircrews the urgency of their missions was obvious.
Airlift became more crucial with the intensified communist attacks starting in May. In late spring, in three separate operations, C-123s moved relief forces to Phuoc Binh, Dong Xoai and Quang Ngai in response to enemy attacks. More dramatic was the three-day airlift into Cheo Reo southeast of Pleiku, which began with a tactical emergency operation on the evening of June 30th.
Following a normal day of in-country airlift (normal for Vietnam) a call came into our office at Tan Son Nhut at about 1600 hours (4:00 pm local time) requesting an all out effort for assistance in supplying a South Vietnamese airborne unit which was heavily engaged with North Vietnamese forces in the vicinity of Cheo Reo. (Normally the day’s C-123 airlift operations would be terminated before dark as operations were VFR (visual flight rules) due to the country’s mountainous terrain and limited navigational aids aboard the C-123s.) The transports landed into the night using flareship illumination and makeshift runway lighting. In the initial four hours, a C-123 landed every eight minutes and the fleet delivered sixteen hundred troops with their equipment and ammunition. Radio communications for air traffic control were lacking until the arrival of combat control team personnel the second day. Another 1,000 men were airlifted into Cheo Reo over the next two days along with 290 tons of cargo. Offshore C-130 Hercules were called in to assist in the operation and hauled in 105mm artillery and small arms ammunition from Pleiku. On July 4th and 5th, the airborne unit was extracted to Pleiku and Kontum principally by the C-123s.
Immediately following the Cheo Reo operation, an air movement began to Dak To under similar conditions. These combined efforts, including resupply and extractions within a ten-day period, required over six hundred C-123 sorties and included the movement of over ten thousand troops.
Meanwhile, the closing of Highway 19 between the coast and Pleiku necessitated continued air resupply into Pleiku and entailed over two-hundred C-130 sorties from Qui Nhon during June. Road convoys in mid-July eventually punched through to Pleiku after a clearing operation by fourteen South Vietnamese battalions with the assistance of C-130 and C-123 transport of men and material. These and other airlifts provided the margin that permitted the Vietnamese to hold their own during this critical period.
In 1965, stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, I, along with a C-130 pilot, an operations officer and several enlisted personnel were responsible for the day-to-day scheduling, controlling and flight following all of the 315th Air Commando Group’s tactical airlift throughout Vietnam and the Southeast Asian Theater. The critical airlifts into Cheo Reo and Pleiku would be but two of the many in which we would be involved.
Source: Office of Air Force History, The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia “Tactical Airlift”.