1st MIBARS In Vietnam!

Lessons Learned In Rocket City

Annotated Graphic Credit: Ron Berryman, "B" Detachment and HQ, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1969-1970

Above:  Map of a Killing Zone.  This military map,  circa 1968, shows the city of DaNang and its proximity to the famed "rocket belt. "  The rocket belt, shown by the line penciled-in by MIBARS personnel to the left of  (A),  was a loose  geographical boundary represented by the circumferential line drawn to the west and the south of the city.  It represented the maximum effective ranges of the two varieties of rockets employed by the Viet Cong.  The northern boundary of the runways at DaNang Main Air Base is in the center of the map, just below and slightly to the right of  (B).  The downtown city center of DaNang is the dark area with the grid of roadways to the left of (C).

Intelligence Keys:

Sharing Knowledge and Experience Theatre-wide

"B" Detachment's primary day-to-day work products were military intelligence assessments of specific areas of interest -- written assessments that were supported by aerial photographs that had been annotated using engineering drawing techniques to show natural or man-made features of interest, people and/or equipment.  From time to time, however, to support the US Army's efforts to share the experiences and insights of individual units with organizations across the military services, components such as MIBARS would be asked to contribute to the development of "intelligence keys" -- a special publication that provided commentary, diagrams and/or photographs of new enemy equipment or tactics.  This was the "lessons-learned" approach to helping military units learn from the experiences of others.

VC/NVA Rocket Artillery -- 14 September 1967

Below is an example of an informational publication issued by the country-wide Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam (CICV) in 1967 that describes the Viet Cong's emerging use of Soviet-made 122-mm and 140-mm rockets against major installations.  These weapons were used repeatedly to attack the DaNang Main Air Base during 1967.

Graphic:  CICV Pamphlet, VC/NVA Rocket Artillery

Photo Credit: MIV

Above:  A previously unpublished and separate photograph of the site pictured in the pamphlet at left, showing Army or Marine Corps personnel on the ground at the launch site the morning after an attack.  Unexpended 122-mm rockets, with dark war heads and light rocket bodies, are barely visible lying horizontally in the L-shaped trenches to the left of personnel seen standing on the ground in the center of the photo.

Graphic:  CICV Pamphlet, VC/NVA Rocket Artillery

This pamphlet provides an example of "B" Detachment's work.  While not an "intelligence key" in the strict sense of the term, the unclassified pamphlet published by the Combined Intelligence Center -- Vietnam (CICV) was developed in response to rocket attacks on allied positions in and around DaNang, and in other areas, to assist military personnel country-wide in applying effective surveillance and defensive counter-measures.  The pamphlet describes weapons and tactics employed by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong (VC) for the use of 122-mm fin-stabilized and the 140-mm Soviet spin-stabilized rockets.  Information on one of the sites used in the attack on DaNang was contributed by "B" Detachment -- the pictures having been taken by a Detachment photographer-observer from the Reproduction Section, with annotated imagery and analysis provided by the Imagery Interpretation Section.  The pamphlet cover, as well as the photo at left -- annotated to orient the view to the north, pinpointing launch sites in boxes, and providing analytical commentary -- provided by "B" Detachment, above, are credited to the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Pictorial Study ST 67-082.

U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Pictorial Study ST 67-082

Seeking Out Launch Locations

"Early one morning I got a call to get my gear together. There had been a 122-mm rocket attack on the Marble Mountain Air Base. A soldier had been killed, and I saw his blood on the floor. The headquarters company building was burned, along with all the records.

When we took off in an Army Bird Dog, we had several coordinates to check out [in looking for] the firing positions. Often the rocket teams would leave trenches where the rockets had been fired, so I looked for those. The coordinates were all over the place and didn’t check out, but then I saw where fresh earth had been turned over, and I asked the pilot to go back.

There were three newly-dug circular trenches where a machine gun could be traversed 360 degrees to fire at aircraft. Then I saw people. They were VC, carrying rockets on stretchers. They were hiding them in a high paddy wall. I took a number of photos, and the pilot put the pedal to the metal and drove the Bird Dog back to Marble Mountain. I made wet prints and ran them over to the TOC [Tactical Operations Center]. I was told the next day that when the Phantoms [F-4 aircraft] hit the paddy wall there were eight massive secondary explosions. Then artillery hit the area all night. The area was just six miles south of the Da Nang airbase runway, and a mile west of a Marine Corps camp on Freedom Road."

Daryl Tucker, "B" Detachment, Reproduction Section, 1967-1968

The rockets, which were originally designed for use from a truck-mounted launcher, had been fired at DaNang from individual launch tubes on earthen berms or fabricated tripod mounts by gunners who were sheltered in the adjacent trenches.  It was eventually determined that aiming had been aided by orienting launch tubes to stakes driven into the ground or angles scribed on a plain wooden board for range and adjusting the height of the berm or tripod for elevation.  Imagery Interpreters noted that attacks were typically launched from  areas that were 1) adjacent to a river [note river in lower left photo], 2) close to a village or hamlet (note village in lower left photo) and, of course 3), from anywhere within the maximum effective range of the two weapons.  The conclusions were that rocket rounds were most probably brought to the firing site one or two at a time in boats (later it was determined that elephants were employed for transport overland), and that in the hands of creative users, the absence of a launcher vehicle was no impediment to the weapons' effective use.    

Two concentric circles drawn on a map from the center of the DaNang Main Air Facility, showing the maximum effective range of each rocket, clearly defined the width of the so-called "rocket belt," the band of potential launch areas to the west and south of the air field.  These VC artillery attacks gave DaNang its nickname -- "Rocket City."  The rocket belt received considerable nightly attention from U.S. Air Force gun ships, which rained down tremendous amounts of very visible firepower on suspect areas and activities using modern-day gatling guns.  Because of the literal stream of fire produced by these gun ships -- converted C-47s and other transports -- they were referred to collectively as "Puff, the Magic Dragon."

Military Intelligence Keys

"We also started to develop photo interpretation keys.  Keys are basically a dictionary of object shapes that assist the II [Imagery Interpreter] to identify the objects that he sees on the photo.  Keys make the interpretation process faster and more efficient.  We shared the finished product with the Vietnamese Imagery Interpretation Center, the MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam] Intelligence Center and anyone else who could use them, including the Intelligence School at Fort Holabird."

LTC Michael Tymchak, HQ, Commanding Officer, 1965-1966.

Graphic: CICV Pamphlet, VC/NVA Rocket Artillery

Graphic: CICV Pamphlet, VC/NVA Rocket Artillery

Above, two additional pages from Pictorial Study: VC/NVA Rocket Artillery.  The page at left diagrams the launch site "used to launch the 122mm rock attack against DaNang Airbase on 15 July 1967," showing the direction of fire, rearward blast areas and "L-shaped" fire control pits.   According to the text, this site was located 10,500 meters southwest of the airbase.  The photo at right shows the major components of the 122-mm rocket, the weapon used in this attack.

The Soviet 122-Millimeter Fin-Stabilized Rocket In Application

Photo Credit: Cal Korf, HHC, Air Reconnaissance Liaison Officer (SARLO), 1967-1968

Photo Credit: Cal Korf

Above, Left: The rocket body of a 122-mm rocket fired into Tan Son Nhut Air Base.  This fragment would be a part of Section "E" of the rocket component layout shown in Pictorial Study: VC/NVA Rocket Artillery at right, above.  This section of the weapon would house the rocket motor and propellant charge and, as shown here, could survive impact if explosion of the warhead failed to occur.  Sections "A" and "B," also shown in the component layout above, the fuze and warhead, unless duds, would be destroyed by explosion on impact.  Above, Right:  Example of the damage done by the 122-mm round to the reinforced concrete surface of an air field.

MIBARS Under Attack!

Cal Korf:  "This rocket attack occurred in late February 1968. According to Brice, the dates of 19 & 24 February seem about right as to when they had the rocket and mortar attacks which lasted 5 or 6 nights in a row. The major damage as indicated in the photos happened on one night, although there was a week's worth of fairly consistent bombardment, always in the wee hours of the morning. These photos were the property of the USAF and were limited in revealing the entirety of the damage. The Air Force was trying to keep a tight lid on specific details and limited access regarding visitation of the flight line. One of the significant disasters was a rocket hit on the mortuary trailers totally knocking out the refrigeration system. These trailers were fairly close to the MIBARS II trailers. The stench that emanated from the mortuary trailers was overwhelming. In addition to the total destruction of several [F-] 101's there was an F-4 and C-130 that were significantly destroyed.

Brice Gilson:  "I remember CK [Cal Korf] arranged a flight line pass for several of us to drive out to the flight line to see the aircraft revetments and parking ramps that were hit. The one thing I remember most was the RF-4 in the revetment with a dud rocket half buried into the PSP under the aircraft’s wing. I remember thinking at the time that as the aircraft revetments were all lined up in a row, once the VC [Viet Cong] had the range; all they had to do was crank the mortars across from one end to the other. Later they also found a dud rocket that had penetrated the roof of the 460th [Tactical Reconnaissance Wing] headquarters.  Think it was found when they were having a change of command ceremony."

Cal Korf:  "As an aside to the rocket attack story I can relate the story that resulted in the cessation of the rocket attacks on Ton Son Nhut. The night that GEN Creighton Abrams assumed command of MACV from GEN Westmoreland we had a rocket attack of 17 missiles (none of which caused significant damage). The next morning I was in attendance at the morning briefing and GEN Abrams told the staff that he wanted the rocket attacks stopped. The briefers commenced providing the stock line that they had been feeding GEN Westmoreland that the VC just came out in the late night, launched the rockets, and disappeared into the night. GEN Abrams interrupted them and said: "You didn't hear me, I said I wanted the rocket attacks stopped. Every time one of them lands it chills my ass."  The 460th Wing Cmdr [Commander], BG [Brigadier General] Robert Holbury briefed the Wing on the immediate mission. All three squadrons were given the mission of "mapping" the greater Saigon area and they were to fly at 500 feet. His final instructions were: "You all be careful out there."  They flew the mission and all other air traffic was suspended during the operation.  I believe that MIBARS produced the aerial map and an infantry battalion was detached from III Corps and assigned constant perimeter security for the greater Saigon area. We did not have another rocket landing in the vicinity of Tan Son Nhut or MACV [Military Assistance Command – Vietnam] during the duration of my assignment after that."

Photo Credit: Cal Korf

Above:  Damages sustained by the 1st MIBARS headquarters component housed at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Airport during the Viet Cong's in-town rocket attacks of February 1968.

Cal Korf; Brice Gilson, "HHC," Operations (S-3) NCO, 1967-1968

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Evaluating Aerial Reconnaissance Imagery I

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