UH-1 Huey Gunship vs NVA/VC Forces 1962-75

BOOK REVIEW by Todd Shugart

Author:  Peter Davies

Publisher:  Osprey Publishing Ltd

Price:  £13.99

Date:  2021

Pages/Format:  80 page softback

     The latest in the Osprey Duel series is an in depth look at the UH-1 Huey Gunship and the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces who opposed the former government of South Vietnam and its American, Australian, and New Zealand allies.  Peter Davies, a renowned and prolific writer of multiple volumes on the USAF in Southeast Asia, dives into the development, employment, and many derivatives of the Huey Gunship program.  The challenges, successes, and tragedies are covered through the standardised Duel format beginning with a chronology, design and development, specifications, an overview of the strategic situation, an analysis of the combatants from both sides, several US accounts of combat employing newly tested airmobile tactics.  The book concludes with an larger look at the statistics and analysis of the UH-1’s employment as a gunship and some other gunship tests such as that of the ill fated AC-47A Chinook gunship program.

     The UH-1 Huey helicopter started off as a troop transport that allowed 6-10 fully loaded infantry troops to ride into largely inaccessible areas via landing zones, thereby taking the fight to the enemy.  This initially caught the VC and NVA forces off guard.  However, it was soon apparent that the “slick” transport Hueys needed more than just the 2 M60 side mounted machine guns.  The idea of providing escort, LZ preparation, and close air support integral to the helicopter formations was seen as a great innovation over reliance on fast moving jets or propellor planes.  The advantage of using the same UH-1 Huey airframe was not lost on the designers.  However, with all the weaponry and ammunition needed for a gunship version it was found that the gunships, particularly the earlier versions were underpowered and they actually struggled to keep up with the slick formations.  But this was resolved by launching the gunships first or with the slicks flying at a slower speed to keep the gunships with them.  The author looks at various armament configurations and the employment of enemy weaponry such as the DShKM 12.7mm “Duska” heavy machine gun and the twin barrelled ZPU-2 14.5mm anti-aircraft gun.  Both of these weapons proved deadly to all types of helicopters.  

     Operations such as Plei Me in the Ia Drang Valley and Operation Lam Son 719 (incursions into Laos) are used to show how typical operations were conducted and the results of airmobile tactics.  USAF, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, US Navy, and USMC Huey operations are explored and discussed briefly in single or two paragraphs each.  Gunships proved invaluable at protecting slicks and providing support to the infantry after insertion into the LZs.  And the threats posed by the various small arms, anti-aircraft artillery, rockets, and other weapons are shown in detail throughout the book.  Even the late war XM26 TOW anti-tank missile systems mounted on the UH-1 are covered.  The graphics are up to the usual excellent Osprey standard.  For example, on page 66, there is a local area map shown with threat range rings imposed for various threats.  Various formation geometry graphics are also a notable addition in this volume.  The analysis section at the end is a sobering read.  Of the 7,000 Hueys used in Vietnam over 3,000 were lost to all causes but surprisingly the majority were lost to weather and accidents.  The only issue I have with this book is on pages 73-74 where the author leads the reader to believe that all US Army helicopter pilots were Warrant Officers.  This is not true.  While the majority were Warrant Officers, every aviation platoon, company, and battalion commander were commissioned officer pilots, just as my father was.  But this does not detract from a rather informative and well illustrated look at Huey gunship operations and the weaponry used against them.

     In summary, I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the Vietnam War, Huey gunships, or NVA/VC weaponry.  The airmobile concept and the tactics employed by both sides are explored in good detail and this is another worthy addition to Osprey Duel series.  

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