The Battle of Soui Tre took place March 18 and 19, 1967. At the time I was the Commanding Officer (CO) of the 118th Attack Helicopter Company (AHC). The company was a part of the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion. For this operation out battalion was augmented with the 335th AHC on March 18 and the 68th AHC on March 18th.
Saturday, March 18, 1967
On the above date the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion had the mission to insert an Infantry unit into a landing zone (LZ) in War Zone C. The operation was staged from a pickup zone (PZ) located on the edge of Ap Trai Dan. The Infantry unit’s mission, with a direct support artillery unit, was to establish a fire base om the location of the LZ. The original plan called for an Armored Cavalry unit to go out and secure the LZ. Once secured the 145th Cbt Avn Bn was to airlift the Infantry unit from the PZ to the LZ. I believe it was to require six or seven lifts. En route to secure the LZ the Armored Cav unit was ambushed and stopped. Their efforts during the day were unsuccessful and they failed to complete their mission.
There were two Assault Helicopter companies participating in this battalion operation - the 118th AHC under my command and the 335th AHC, a company on loan to the 145th from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The 335th was assigned as the direct support aviation company.
Around mid-afternoon a standard combat assault operation was considered but rejected. After waiting all day, the 145th mission was cancelled and the AHC’s were released to return to their respective home bases. The mission would be continued on March 19th.
Sunday (Palm Sunday), March 19, 1967
On this date the 145th Cbt Avn Bn had the mission to return and complete the mission from the previous day. This time it would be a combat assault insertion of the Infantry unit. The operation was again staged from the PZ on the edge of ApTrai Dan. The 118th AHC was a participating unit. The 68th AHC replaced the 335th AHC on Sunday. Our final briefings on the operation were conducted at the PZ. The 68th AHC was designated the lead company for the operation. The final briefing provided several facts - War Zone C had a limited number of LZ’s that could handle a battalion sized combat assault; no preparatory fires were planned; and our formation would have ten aircraft in each company. There would be a two-minute separation between the two companies.
The operation began around 0900. The 68th made its approach into the LZ, disembarked their troops; took off and reported the LZ “COLD”. It was a surprise and some relief to hear that transmission. The 118th made its approach to the LZ. The troops disembarked and I was just starting my takeoff when there was a horrendous explosion behind me. Radios became alive and reported that three aircraft near the middle of our formation had been damaged and were burning. The 118th aircraft managed to fly out of the LZ. One aircraft from the 118th reported control problems and had to quickly land just a short distance away from the LZ. A Bandit Gun Team put protective cap on them until help could arrive. Five aircraft got back to the LZ, still in flyable condition. A sixth aircraft got back to the PZ a little bit late despite moderate damage. It could not be used when the mission continued. At this point the 118th had only five operational aircraft.
The operation was temporarily stopped to assess the situation. In a span of a few minutes the operation was resumed. The troops on the ground from the first lift would secure an area in the LZ to accommodate flights of five aircraft.
In the second lift, the two flights of five ahead of me in the 68th went in and out with no problems. As directed, I came to a hover and the troops jumped out. Before I could start my takeoff, there was a strong explosion in front of my helicopter. Everything went black and the XO and I were both struck by debris The explosion blew out the chin bubbles, part of the windshield and bent the front doors. We had to exit the aircraft through the cargo doors. The major explosion to the 118th’s formation in the first lift was a rigged unexploded 250-pound bomb.
It was an assault that could have had fewer difficulties for our unit, but it was successful.