Western Pistol was a program to attempt identification of Soviet helicopters operating in Western II CTZ. It increased concern that it could represent a threat to the I FFORCEV operational area.
The operation was proposed by Seventh Air Force in January 1969, approved by COMUSMACV, and implemented on 1 February 1969.
The program established a nightly prohibited flying area, emplaced C Battery, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery HAWK radars in the area and employed airborne vehicles to investigate the tracks.
For approximately three weeks in March, an Army antiaircraft searchlight was positioned in the area. Also, representatives from the MACV Office of Scientific Advisors made three visits to record C Battery, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery HAWK radar’s Doppler audio returns form track detection, for comparison with cataloged recordings of foreign nation’s helicopters.
Track data reported by the Combat Reporting Post at Pleiku and C Battery, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery HAWK radar site at LZ Oasis were recorded and analyzed during April and early May. Most of the tracks were investigated by helicopters crews scrambled from strip alert at LZ Oasis.
On the night of 10 May 1969, LZ Oasis came under ground attack and C Battery, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery had two prime radars destroyed by rockets and also sustained damage to other equipment.
On 27 June 1969, the Director of the TACC briefed COMUSMACV on the project status and recommended the termination of the project. Approval was granted by COMUSMACV.
Threat of Enemy Helicopters 2d LAAM Battalion, Chu Lai
Command Chronology Report, 2d Light Antiaircraft Missile Battalion, Marine Air Control Group 18, First Marine Aircraft Wing, Located at Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam, 1 June 1968 to 30 June 1968 (SER:002A18468, 2 July 1968 (SECRET)
Part II. Significant highlights.
In the past month enemy helicopters have been operating in and around the DMZ, above Doug Ha. The 1st Marine Air Wing has become deeply concerned over the threat. The Air Force Combat Reporting Post (CRP) located at Dong Ha has been unable to detect or control aircraft to intercept the helicopters because their radars are unable to paint them at the altitudes day are flying. The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing directed that 2d LAAM Bn conduct a series of tests to determine if the Acquisition and tracking radars in the LAAM Bn inventory could in fact detect, acquire and pass position information with sufficient accuracy to the CRP to allow airborne interceptors to destroy the threat.
To the above end, on 26 and 27 June 1968, the Battalion embarked on a series of tests to determine the feasibility of utilizing the Pulse Acquisition Radar, Continuous Wave Acquisition Radar and Continuous Wave Illuminator Radar in conjunction with the Battery Control Central to detect and acquire low flying helicopters and fighter interceptors. The position plots of the helicopters and fighter interceptors were passed from the BCC over land lines to the AAOC in geographic references coordinates (GEO REF), and were placed on the Vertical Plotting Board. A qualified Air Controller used the information from the plotting board to conduct the intercept. In the first test, four A-4’s were utilized to attempt the intercept. The intercept information was fed to the lead A-4, the remaining three A-4’s were two to three miles in trail of the lead A-4. The idea was to close the lead A-4 with the target and on command from the AAOC to drop illumination flares. The trail A-4’s were then to close the eliminated helicopter, identify it and destroy it with rockets/20mm guns. The results of this test pointed out that the HAWK Radars are capable of detecting helicopters and fighter aircraft at low altitudes (1000 feet at 30 miles) and reporting the information with sufficient accuracy to complete an airborne intercept. Six attempts were made to illuminate the helicopters, one four occasions the helicopters reported that the flares were all around him at a distance of about 500 yards. The in-trail A-4’s were unable to see the helicopter although the helicopter pilot reported seeing the A-4’s.
A second test was conducted utilizing the same reporting and plotting procedures to control A-6’s. The A-6 was vectored to the helicopter and then utilized its internal radar to acquire and lock on the target. Three out of four interceptors were successful wire acquisitions and lock ranges varied between 7 and 19 miles.
The tests concluded that the principle of reporting plot information from HAWK Radars to the AAOC is sufficiently accurate to conduct and airborne intercept with information taken from a vertical plotting board. The test further showed that the A4 dropping flares could not adequately illuminate the target to identify and destroy it. The second position of the test pointed out that the A-6 is capable of locking on and intercepting the helicopter with intercept information provided from the AAOC.
On 24 June 1968 a reconnaissance of the Dong Ha area was conducted by 2d LAAM Bn. A position collocated with the Air Force CRP was selected. Battery B, 2d LAAM Bn stands ready to move out on order with a Low Altitude Detection Unit, consisting of a Pulse Acq, CWAR, CWIR, BCC and necessary support equipment and personnel to provide low altitude detection and to report plot information to the CRP for the conduct of low altitude airborne intercepts.
In September 1968 the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery (HAWK) moved to the vicinity of Chu Lai, RVN, and conducted a relief of the 2d LAAM Bn (USMC), establishes command and control facilities and assumed responsibility for low and medium altitude air defense of the Chu Lai area.
Map of the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery HAWK Radar Surveillance Detachement Lz Oasis
Unidentified Enemy Helicopters in Western II Corps
In January 1968, reports of unidentified helicopter sightings in the Western II Corps Tactical Zone (CTZ) increased concern that this could represent a threat to I Field Force Vietnam (FFORCEV) operational area. This matter aroused operational interest because the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) might be transporting men and equipment by helicopter from Cambodia to strategic locations in South Vietnam.
A program to attempt identification of these tracks was proposed by 7th Air Force in January, approved by Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV) and implemented on 1 February 1968. This operation was code name “Western Pistol”. As you can see by the below listed aircraft and HAWK radar equipment committed to this operation the threat was taken very seriously.
Operation Western Pistol HAWK Radar Surveillance Detachment
During the reporting period ending 30 April 1969 elements of the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery continued Operation Western Pistol. Operation Western Pistol was a MACV directed joint Army/Air Force project.
The following items of HAWK equipment were used for this project:
a. Battery Control Central
b. Pulse Acquisition Radar
c. Continuous Wave Acquisition Radar
d. High Power Illuminator Radar
e. Range Only Radar
The concept of operation required that an Air Force controller be station in the HAWK Battery Control Central. This officer uses ground-to-air UHF radio and HAWK radar returns to vector Army and Air Force aircraft to the vicinity of unknown tracks. Friendly air crews attempt visual and /or photographic identification of unknown flying objects (UFO). The following types of aircraft have been used:
a. AC 119- Shadow
b. AC 47 – Spooky
c. A1E – Spad
d. UH 1 – Shamrock
e. OV 1 – Mohawk
f.UH 1G – Cobra
g. OH-6A – Cayuse
Throughout this period a restricted flight area west of LZ Oasis (From the Cambodian border at YA 8200, east to ZA 1000, north to ZA 1040, west to the Cambodian border at YA 6840) was in effect. 7th Air Force notice to airmen (NOTAM) 588 was distributed to all friendly agencies operating in the prohibited area. This NOTAM outlined the geographic limits of the prohibited flight zone and directed that all flights below 800 feet and operating in that area from 1800 hours to 0600 hours coordinate in advance with the Control and Reporting Post (CRP) at Pleiku.
The battalion commander 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery directed that a special operations center, a combined manual AADCP and modified FDC, be organized for project Western Pistol. The operations center is collocated with the HAWK radar detachment and has communication links to Army ground surveillance and counter radar sites, Air Force ground control radar, prime control and reporting post (CRP) radar at Pkeiku and Fire Support Coordination Center, 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. All sighting are reported to the CRP at Pleiku for correlation and possible identification.
Since the operation began the HAWK radars operated from 1800 – 0600 hours daily. The daylight hours were devoted to extensive equipment maintenance, which resulted in a minimal amount of HAWK system downtime.
As of 30 April 1969, over 365 unidentified tracks were received since the operation began, the majority of which were detected by the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery pulse acquisition radar. However, positive identification of the aircraft was not established. A study of track data by the 7th Air Force and battalion personnel indicated that the vast majority of tracks occurred between 2300 and 0200 hours. Tracks were consistently observed following stream beds, valleys and appeared to terminate in areas displaying characteristics of natural or prepared landing zones. Track characteristics showed speeds from a normal 60 knots to in excess of 150 knots. Doppler returns associated with the HAWK tracking radar indicted aircraft of a rotary wing design.
On several occasions when being directed to the vicinity of USO’s friendly air crews have observed airborne red lights. However, the UFO’s consistently out maneuvered the friendly aircraft resulting in the aircrew’s inability to make a positive identification.
On 9 March 1969, representatives from the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery coordinated with the Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam (CICV). CICV provided information on enemy ground activity within the Western II Corps area of interest, in the form of a pattern analysis form 1 January to 31 March 1969. Analysis of all available CICV intelligence for possible correlation with UFO track data indicates that UFO’s appeared to originate in known enemy base camps in Cambodia and on numerous occasions, terminated in the vicinity of known or suspected enemy concentrations and supply points in the 4th Infantry Division area of operation.
In early April 1969, a free fire zone for ground targets was established by the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. The zone was located in an area of high density UFO track activity and probable landing zones. Within this area, any target on the ground to include UFO tracks appearing to land may be fired upon.
6th Battalion, 56th Artillery adjusted Field Artillery Guns
Collocated with the detachment at LZ Oasis was an eight inch howitzer battery. These weapons would immediately respond to fire missions initiated by the HAWK detachment commander. It should be noted that field artillery adjustment of fire was effected through the use of the Tactical Control Consol in the HAWK Battery Control Central (BCC) by observing PAR returns of bursting projections. In the Western pistol Operation Center, all track data was converted to polar coordinates by detachment personnel and was passed to the battery FDC in an extremely rapid manner.
6th Battalion, 56th Artillery Command Observed NVA Helicopter
On the night of 10 April 1969, while flying in a friendly intercept aircraft the battalion commander, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery and several members of the aircrew observed a UFO with the outline characteristics of a Soviet Mi-6 Hook helicopter. Again, on 20 April 1969, another aircrew sighting was made and the UFO observed had the characteristics of a Mi-4 Hound, Soviet helicopter.
LZ Oasis Mother's Day 10 May 1969
On Mother's Day 10 May 1969 12 km southwest of Pleiku City the 4th Infantry Division Headquarters at LZ Oasis received indirect fire from small arms fire from an unknown size enemy force resulting in friendly killed, wounded and missing with enemy killed. The Hawk site had two prime radars destroyed by rockets. One Hawk radar was destroyed by a direct hit.
Sgt. Clifford Wippel, Heroism at Landing Zone Oasas
It took almost four years for a former Ellensburg soldier’s heroism to be recognized, but Clifford Wippel, 28, has finally received the Army’s Commendation Medal with “V” Device for his conduct under fire in Vietnam on May 11, 1969.
He learned of the award only recently, according to his father, Mose Wippel of Ellensburg.
The award recognized Wippel’s heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. Sergeant Wippel distinguished himself by valorous actions on May 11, 1969 while serving as Communication Sergeant with C Battery, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery. On that date, Landing Zone Oasis came under an intense mortar, rocket and ground attack from a battalion size enemy force. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Sergeant Wippel, with complete disregard for his personal safety, braved the hostile fire as he moved to each bunker position along the perimeter to insure that communications links were operating property. He then established communications with the command bunker, and took part in holding of the instrumental in the successful defense of the landing zone. Sergeant Wippel’s personal heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service, and reflect great credit upon himself great credit upon himself, the Americal Division, and the United States Army. Ellensburg Daily Record April 27, 1973
The result of the action 10 May 1969 at LZ Oasis:
10 killer in action (KIA), 1 died of wounds (DOW), 16 wounded in action (WIA), 3 missing in action (MIA)
1 M151A, 1 50 Caliber Machine Gun, 1 Radio Beacon, 1 Water Truck, 1 Fire Truck,
3 5/Ton Trucks, 1 Pulse Acquisition Radar (C/6/56th Arty HAWK),
1 Continual Wave Acquisition Radar (C/6/56th Arty HAWK),
1 High power illumination radar (C/6/56th Arty HAWK),
1 Battery control (C/6/56th Arty (HAWK), 1 Conex, 3 M151A1, 3 M37, 1 V-100,
2 GP Medium Tents, heavily damaged, 5 GP Medium Tents, lightly damaged
5 Packs, 1 SKS, 1 Field phone, 4 AK-47 magazines, 1 Radio case, 3 B-41 Rockets,
41 Increment charges, 3 Pith helmets, 8 Blocks of explosives, 3 US type signal pistols,
4 Unknown type booster charges, 3 Pounds quinine, 2 B-41 Rocket launchers,
1 B-40 Rocket launcher, 3 AK-47's, 6 B-41 Rounds, 1 9mm Pistol, 14 Satchel charges,
1 60mm Round, 5 Pull charges, 3 RKG-3, 2 US watches, 6 M-79 Rounds,
1 NVA Wire spool w/100 feet wire, 15 50 Caliber ammunition cans full of rice,
27 Pair undershirts, 38 Pair pants, 49 Shirts, 21 NVA Mess kits, 650 Rounds AK-47 ammo
18 B-40 Rounds, 46 ChiCom grenades, 1 MS Grenade, 40 Stick grenades, 8 Fuze assemblies
85 X-shaped charges, 30 Pounds rice, 82 Small C-4 explosives charges, 2 Picks, 18 Shovels,
2 Pounds black powder, 67 Blasting caps, 4 Canteens
Leaflets which picked them up off the ground the morning after the 1969 Mother’s Day battle at LZ Oasis, Central Highlands, Republic of Vietnam.
Soviet Helicopters Operating in II CTZ
Two helicopters were identified in northern II CTZ near Special Forces Camp Plei Me (A-255). The first identification was on 10 April 1969 when the HAWK radar system at LZ Oasis detected an unidentified aircraft. Chase aircraft were dispatched and pursued the intruder which was later identified as the Soviet MI-6, a helicopter having a maximum cargo capacity of 13 tons. On 20 April 1969 the second identification was made when a chase aircraft pursued and identified a Soviet MI-4 HOUND cargo helicopter. Though there has been no confirmed evidence of the use made of these aircraft it is believed that they are employed to transport equipment and troops into II CTZ from Cambodia. Operational Report of 5th Special Forces Group (Abn) for the Period Ending 30 April 1969. RCS GSFOR-65 (RI)