By Aviation Electricians Mate First Class William Rutledge
Seawolf Door Gunner 69,70,71,72
The Seawolves of HA(L) 3, an all volunteer Squadron do not have a long history or tradition going back to Korea or WW II. HA(L) 3 was commissioned and decommissioned in Vietnam and not known by many except by those that served and by the Sailors, and ground forces who owe their lives to their courage and devotion.
In early 1966 the Army, who had pioneered Helicopter Gunship tactics were flying in support of Naval Operations from Navy Ships covering the initial Brown Water Riverine Forces. It was soon discovered that there were difficulties. It was felt that Naval Aviators and Navy Enlisted Door Gunners trained in Gunship operations would more readily adapt to the rigors of the mission requirements, in that the Riverine Forces and Navy SEALS operated around the clock and in all weather conditions. A dedicated Navy Air unit was needed to cover the River operations; therefore the Seawolves were established, first from 4 detachments from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One in July 1966. With one month training flying with the Army, the Navy Pilots and Enlisted Gunners from HC1 relieved the Army and assumed the mission duties and opened a new chapter in Naval Aviation.
Using cast off, underpowered Army UH1Bs reconfigured with night flying capabilities, HC1 distinguished themselves in combat, flying attack missions in many large battles. In April 1967 HA(L) 3 was commissioned from the four HC1 detachments which became HA(L)3 Detachments 1-4 . For better coverage as more River units and SEAL Teams were added the Seawolves evolved into nine detachments flying missions in III and IIII Corps and Cambodia. The Seawolves mission expanded to cover not only Riverine Forces, but also Marines, Army and all other friendly forces in contact with the VC/NVA.
Each detachment consisted of Two UH1B Gunships, except Det 2 staging from Nha Be which at times had four Gunships and double crews. The other eight dets had 8 Pilots and 8 Gunners, two each per bird flying alternate days to provide 24 hr coverage unless short of crewmen then they flew every day. The Gunships were heavily armed (an understatement) at first configured with two external seven shot rocket pods and 4 M60 Machine Guns fired by the Pilots. The Door Gunner fired a stripped down free M60 MG fired in an unusual way resting on the arm. Many Gunners experimented with twin M60, twin.30 Cal MG, automatic grenade launchers, and other weapons that could be used to decimate the enemy. Also carried aboard were personal weapons, rifles, pistols and various grenades, marking smokes and flares. Later the 4 external M60 MG were replaced by two 6 barreled Miniguns firing 4000 rounds per minute. Reconfigured several more times the Gunners ended up with a .50 Cal on the right door of the lead bird and a right door mounted Minigun on the trail with Free M Sixties on the deck of the Gunship as back ups.
The Squadron had two homeguard bases, with the best staff and maintenance in the world, first at Vung Tau, and as the Sqd grew and moved South, Homeguard was moved to Binh Thuy near Can Tho to be central to the 9 detachments which forwardly staged to be near enemy strongholds or areas of heavy activity. Only Det 2 at Nha Be never moved, the other Dets were Nomads of the Delta, Staging from small Naval Tactical Support Bases, with a contingent of Riverine Forces, Navy SEALs, outside of isolated Outposts, Special Forces Camps, canal banks, LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) and YRBMs anchored in the rivers or just off the coast for quick strike capability.
Type missions flown were tree top, low level patrols to search out and destroy enemy troops, supplies and staging areas. Rocket and MG attacks putting in fire on the enemy to within a few feet of friendly forces, Hot Medivacs of WIA/KIA, Insertion/extractions of SEALs and other Spec Ops forces, Covert missions in Vietnam and Cambodia, Body Snatches(kidnapping) to get intelligence. Most missions flown were at night, in inclement weather and under heavy enemy fire at 90 knots. For the most part the Army tactics and operating procedure manuals were tossed as in they did not fit in our ever changing situations and specialized missions.
HA(L) 3 also had UH1L support Helos received in late 1969. They were nicknamed Sealords and played an active role in supporting the Seawolves in their combat missions. Manned by a Pilot, Copilot and an Enlisted Crew Chief they flew supply missions, Special Ops with the SEALS, Medivac duty and assorted other missions under enemy fire. They could be configured for combat and let the Squadron fly more missions, not having to call on the Army Slicks for they had other missions of their own to cover.
HELICOPTER ATTACK (LIGHT) SQUADRON THREE was decommissioned in March 1972 at Binh Thuy, RVN after flying over 120,000 Combat Missions and has the Distinction of being the only such designated Navy Squadron to every fly in combat and is the most decorated Navy Squadron in History. The Seawolves lost 44 Pilots and Gunners Killed and over 200 Wounded in Action.
The Seawolves of HA(L) 3 were awarded the Presidential Unit Citations 6 times, the Navy Unit Citation 6 times, and the Meritorious Unit Citation once. The average # of Combat Missions flown by the Gunship Pilots and Gunners in a one year tour was 600 each, with many multiple tour Gunners having from 1000 to 1700 missions each.
At this time the Seawolves have had 59 Door Gunners inducted into the Enlisted Combat Aircrew ROLL OF HONOR aboard the USS YORKTOWN located in Patriots Point , SC. Their names are inscribed on plaques along with selected Naval Air Warriors from past wars.