Operation SHUFLY
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  1. #1

    Cool Operation SHUFLY

    Finding the high ground in the Republic of Vietnam's Mekong Delta for the emplacement of an airlifted radio relay van proved tough in 1962.

    Photo courtesy of Barry MacDonnell

    By Chet Decker

    Lieutenant Colonel Archie J. Clapp was in command of Marine Medium Transport Helicopter Squadron 362 during an exercise in the Philippines in March 1962 when he received an order that was so secret he couldn't even share it with his staff. As part of the Marine Aircraft Group 16, First Marine Aircraft Wing, HMM-362 was in the Philippines for a large-scale South East Asia Treaty Organization exercise.

    His squadron was to be the first operational Marine Corps unit to deploy to Vietnam in an operation dubbed "Shufly," and Clapp was one of the few Marines who knew it. It was 40 years ago this month when Clapp lifted off from the deck of USS Princeton (LPH-5) to lead his squadron to a World War II-era Japanese airstrip approximately 85 miles south-southwest of Saigon near Soc Trang, Vietnam, on 15 April 1962.

    "We were to be in place by mid-April of '62," said Clapp, who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va. "And in true military fashion they figured it'd be exactly the 15th."

    HMM-362 and Marine Air Base Squadron 16, Sub Unit 2 were the first units to deploy in Operation Shufly. New squadrons would rotate in approximately every four months until 1965 when the United States' involvement in Vietnam drastically increased.

    Realizing that the 24 UH-34 Seahorse helicopters would not provide all the capabilities Clapp might require, the commanding general of 1stMAW, Major General John P. Condon, beefed up HMM-362 by adding three OE-1 Birddog fixed-wing Cessna observation aircraft and a C-117 Skytrain for liaison and resupply. An additional 50 helicopter mechanics also were assigned.

    Shufly Marines were called on to conduct helo operations in a war against guerrilla fighters using hit-and-run tactics. The Marine Corps soon realized it would need a quick way to get its infantrymen in and out of land engagements.

    "It was a learning experience completely," said Clapp. "No one had been in battles like this since the 'Banana Wars' in the '20s, and of course they didn't have helicopters."

    Shufly provided the Marine Corps a way to test its theories while supporting the Army of the Republic of Vietnam against the Communist Viet Cong. And the Corps had the right man in charge. Clapp had previously helped write a Marine Corps helicopter operations manual detailing the use of helicopters in combat operations.

    His squadron is credited with setting the standard that future helicopter pilots would apply in the war, which was still being waged five years after Clapp retired as a colonel in 1969.

    A former fighter pilot who battled in the skies above Iwo Jima and Okinawa in WW II, as well as a helicopter pilot during the Korean War, Clapp had plenty of aviation experience to draw from as he commanded his squadron during Shufly from 15 April to 1 Aug. 1962.

    He always insisted that helicopters should not go out by themselves.

    "I wanted two helos flying together, and they said, 'That's not being economical,' and I'd say, 'I don't care.' We were the only kind of helicopter with its own rescue means," said Clapp. "I was a former fighter pilot, and I had enough of that feeling of flying over enemy territory where you might be shot down and captured right away. I wouldn't have that happen with my people. So they went in pairs, and nobody had done that before."

    Another Shufly first was the idea to have an airborne reserve helicopter with infantrymen who could help out when situations got hairy below. Clapp's quick-response concept grew into the "Chickenhawk" or "Eagle" fast-reaction force that was so successful during the later years of the Vietnam War.

    "We could respond to what the enemy did on the ground by having other troops airborne in the vicinity. Then we could swoop in and take care of them," said Clapp, whose squadron also helped introduce "running boards" on helicopters to assist troops in getting in and out of situations that required quick entries and exits. The extra step between the helicopter and ground made a big difference for the Vietnamese soldiers who, on average, were a good deal shorter than the Americans.

    The Vietnamese did much of the ground fighting against the Viet Cong in those early stages of the war, and Clapp recalls in his widely published "Shufly Diary" that some of those soldiers he and his pilots brought to the fight did not come back. Although the Marines were constantly fired upon during missions, no Shufly Marines were killed by enemy fire during the approximately four months Clapp's squadron was in Vietnam. "Archie's Angels" as his Marines called themselves were the right team to initiate the 1stMAW presence in Vietnam.

    The darkest day that Operation Shufly Marines experienced came in October 1963 when two helicopters from HMM-361 crashed while searching for American and Vietnamese military personnel who were in a plane shot down during a bombing run. Nine Marines and three sailors were killed aboard the two helicopters.

    A small handful of other helicopters were lost to either mechanical failure or enemy fire as the Viet Cong became craftier before Shufly ended.

    "Every one of our airplanes [helicopters] got hit at least once," said Clapp. "Fortunately, we were not meeting some of the heavy caliber stuff that came along later when the NVA [North Vietnamese Army] entered the battle. We were pretty much contending with just guerrillas."

    Seventeen helicopters were damaged by enemy fire during HMM-362's stay in Vietnam throughout the very early days of the war.

    "While the VC created considerable work for the metalsmiths and mechs [mechanics], they fortunately did not manage to do any damage that came under the cognizance of the doctor," wrote Clapp in "Shufly Diary."

    "[We] came away with a keen awareness of the unique characteristics of this type combat. My squadron had made some 50 combat troop-lift missions which entailed about 130 landings by flights of helicopters against Viet Cong opposition."

    Marines under Clapp's command participated in the largest helicopter lift up to that time in Vietnam when 41 helicopters—18 Marine Corps, 12 U.S. Army and 11 Vietnamese Air Force—dropped off Vietnamese troops north of Saigon on 18 July 1962. Marines conducted the first night troop landing in Vietnam two days later.

    As a direct result of Shufly, the Marine Corps gained valuable experience and knowledge in the tactics of helicopter troop lifts that would prove beneficial in later combat operations involving American troops.

    Editor's note: Chet Decker is a sergeant stationed at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic in Norfolk, Va.

    © 2002 Marine Corps Association.



    Vietnam 1968/69
    Once a Marine...Always a Marine


  2. #2
    Guest Free Member
    Interesting. I was in 3d MarDiv, Comm Co, Hq Bn during that exercise in P.I. I didn't know that helos were involved.

    But that's beside the point. Helos in pairs, and an airborne infantry squad in reserve were tactics that I learned, and accepted as being comon sense.

    What I didn't know was that this "common sense" procedure did not exist before 1962.

    Granted, Col. Clapp said that his operation was unlike anything seen since the '20s.

    I sense a failure of the deskbound military strategic planners to recognize and promote a concept which is now considered to be "common sense". Two up, one following in reserve.

  3. #3
    Thanks Roger,
    Was kind of a strange feeling reading this.

    We left the Philippines exercise to return to Okanawa. The only thing we were told was to store all extra gear and return to the ship with our standard issue and one "civvie" shirt. That was strange then as no civilian cloths were allowed on board ship. We would later learn that it was for our passport photo.

    We were at sea for about two weeks. Had total comunication and light blackout. The ship, with an escort of two destroyers even "hid out" in a typhoon. What a ride!

    The time at sea was used for brifing and to insure that the birds were up to speed. The truth is, we really did'nt know what to expect. We were issued 160 rounds and three grenades. Had M-1s and 38 cal. pistols. We drove the Navy crazy! I don't think they could get rid of us soon enough! The USS Princeton was "owned" by the Marine Corps. The gunny's cooking was great!

    Enough for now. I'll tell more tid-bits if there is an interest.

    Thanks again Roger, the 40 year trip home was well, a surprise!

    Semper Fi

  4. #4

  5. #5
    Registered User Free Member dvldogm33's Avatar
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    Jun 2003
    Kalamazoo, Mi
    The PI exercise was named Tulungan...I still have one of those head hunter machetes picked up as a souvenire.....Semper Fi

  6. #6
    I served on Princeton during Shufly and Tulungan. Remember the guys from 362 (YL), especially the AE's. We had taken in Army "Flying Bananas" two months prior and they were all shot down. After being relieved in Subic by the Valley Forge, we circled Okinawa for three days with a BLT and two squadrons, waiting for orders home or to Hanoi.

  7. #7

  8. #8
    I provided the photos for the Leatherneck Magazine article (April 2002) mentioned in the first post above. If anyone who was there (or maybe their relatives) might be interested in seeing more photos of ShuFly and surrounding sites, here is a small collection, which includes the centerfold photos in the Leatherneck article:


  9. #9
    Thank you very much for sharing! I enjoyed seeing the photos of Soc Trang.

    Semper Fi,


    --------Dang, that was a long time ago!!!!!

  10. #10
    Yup.... but sometimes it feels like I was there the day before yesterday.

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