1st Air Cav in the Vietnam War After leaving Korea, the 1st Cavalry Division was no longer a conventional infantry unit. The division had become an air assault division as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), commonly referred to as the 1st Air Cav. The use of helicopters on such large scale as troop carriers, cargo lift ships, medevacs, and as aerial rocket artillery, was never before implemented, but by doing so it freed the infantry from the tyranny of terrain to attack the enemy at the time and place of their choosing. In 1965, colors and subordinate unit designations of the 1st Cavalry Division were transferred from Korea to Fort Benning, Georgia, where they were used to reflag the existing 11th Air Assault Division, into 1st Cavalry Division Airmobile.
Concurrently, the colors and subordinate unit designations were transferred to Korea to reflag what had been the 1st Cavalry Division into the 2nd Infantry Division.
Shortly thereafter, the 1st Cavalry Division Airmobile began deploying to Camp Radcliff, An Khe, Vietnam, in the Central Highlands and was equipped with the new M16 rifle, the UH-1 troop carrier helicopter, the AH-1 attack helicopter, the CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter, and the massive CH-54 Sky crane cargo helicopter. All aircraft carried insignia to indicate their battalion and company.
In the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, the largest battle of the Vietnam War, the Tet Offensive, was launched by 84,000 enemy soldiers across South Vietnam.
In the 1st Cavalry Division’s area of operation, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietcong forces seized most of the city of Hu. As the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, fought to cut off enemy reinforcements pouring into Hue, at Quang Tri City, five enemy battalions, most from the 324th NVA Division, attacked the city and LZ Betty (Headquarters 1st Brigade). To stop allied troops from intervening, three other enemy infantry battalions deployed as blocking forces, all supported by a 122mm-rocket battalion and two heavy-weapons companies armed with 82mm mortars and 75mm recoilless rifles. After intense fighting, 900 NVA and Vietcong soldiers were killed in and around Quang Tri City and LZ Betty. However, across South Vietnam, 1,000 Americans, 2,100 ARVNs, 14,000 civilians, and 32,000 NVA and Vietcong lay dead.
In March 1968 the 1st Cavalry Division shifted forces to LZ Stud, the staging area for Operation Pegasus to break the siege of the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh—the second largest battle of the war. All three brigades participated in this vast airmobile operation, along with a Marine armor thrust. US Air Force B-52s alone dropped more than 75,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnamese soldiers from the 304th and 325th Divisions encroaching the combat base in trenches. As these two elite enemy divisions, with history at Dien Bien Phu and the Ia Drang Valley, depleted, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) leapfrogged west, clearing Route 9, until at 0:800 hours April 8, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, linked-up with Marines at the combat base, ending the 77-day siege.
On April 19, 1968, as the 2nd Brigade continued pushing west to the Laotian border, the 1st and 3rd Brigades (about 11,000 men and 300 helicopters) swung southwest and air assaulted A Shau Valley, commencing Operation Delaware. The North Vietnamese Army was a very well-trained, equipped, and led force. They turned A Shau into a formidable sanctuary —complete with PT76 tanks; powerful crew-served 37mm antiaircraft cannons, some radar controlled; twin-barreled 23mm cannons; and scores of 12.7mm heavy machine guns. A daring long-range penetration operation was launched by members of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)’s, long-range reconnaissance patrol, against the North Vietnamese Army when they seized “Signal Hill” the name attributed to the peak of Dong Re Lao Mountain, a densely forested 4,879-foot mountain, midway in the valley, so the 1st and 3rd Brigades, slugging it out hidden deep behind the mountains, could communicate with Camp Evans near the coast or with approaching aircraft.
Despite hundreds of B-52 and jet air strikes in Operation Delaware, the enemy shot down a C-130, a CH-54, two Chinooks, and nearly two dozen UH-1 Hueys. Many more were lost in accidents or damaged by ground fire. The division also suffered more than 100 dead and 530 wounded in the operation. Bad weather aggravated the loss by causing delays in troop movements, allowing a substantial number of NVA to escape to safety in Laos. Still, the NVA lost more than 800 dead, a tank, 70 trucks, two bulldozers, and 30 flamethrowers, thousands of rifles and machine guns, and dozens of anti-aircraft canons. They also lost tons of ammunition and explosives, medical supplies and foodstuffs.
In mid-May 1968 Operation Delaware ceased, however, the division continued tactical operations in I Corps as well as local pacification and “medcap” (medical outreach programs to local Vietnamese). In the autumn of 1968, the 1st Cavalry Division relocated south to Phuc Vinh Base Camp northeast of Saigon.
In May 1970, the 1st Cavalry Division participated in the Cambodian Incursion, withdrawing from Cambodia on 29 June. Thereafter, the division took a defensive posture while US troops withdrawals continued from Vietnam. On 29 April 1971 the bulk of the division was withdrawn to Fort Hood, Texas, but its 3rd Brigade remained as one of the final two major US ground combat units in Vietnam, departing 29 June 1972. However, its 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, Task Force Garry Owen, remained another two months.
This article was written by Commander Web and originally appeared on May 11, 2015 in the newsletter of the Museum of Military Memorabilia at Naples Army Airfield, Naples Florida. We have recently changed the name of the museum to” Naples Museum of Military History” Click the following link to read through the many published articles on our new website: