If you are a Viet Nam veteran, and served on a Quad truck, with the Searchlights, served on a Vulcan or Dusters, or worked with the HAWK missiles, there is a group that you need to know about. They are the National Dusters, Quads, Searchlights Association.
Anti-Aircraft crews trained at Fort Bliss and its ranges at Oro Grande to shoot down enemy aircraft. Deploying to Viet Nam, they were hoping to be the first to shoot down an enemy aircraft in this war. However, as the enemy possessed very few planes, they didn’t get their chance. Instead, the massive firepower that they wielded was put to a different use – against ground targets.
The anti-aircraft crews fielded two different World War Two weapons systems – the Quad .50 caliber machine gun and the 40mm BOFORS automatic cannon – as well as some newer technologies – the Vulcan Gatling gun and the HAWK missile. Add to this the pre-World War Two searchlight, updated with newer technology.
In order to better govern the country, South Viet Nam was divided into four corps tactical zones, each of which contained its own political and military jurisdictions. Each corps commander acted as the political and military chief of the region, with province chiefs and district chiefs underneath carrying out the actual administrative duties. Villages in the corps area were just beginning the democratic process of electing their own governments. Cities such as Hue and Da Nang had mayors who reported to the government at Saigon.
I (pronounced “EYE”) Corps bordered the DMZ to the north. Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail bordered the east. The total area of I Corps was approximately 10,000 square miles. The terrain of I Corps was equally unforgiving, with rugged jungle-blanketed mountains capable of hiding Communist supply bases and camps, as well as facilitating the resupply and reinforcement of the North Vietnamese Army. Although the mountains hid dangers, they were not the only dangerous place. The flatlands of east of the mountains, covered with rice paddies, housed the majority of the residents as well as political agents from the Communist forces, and guerillas. And, the flatlands presented another problem: recruits and supplies.
The Anti-Aircraft Artillery, formally changed to Air Defense Artillery in 1968, made use of quad fifties (Quads), Dusters, Vulcans, Searchlights, and HAWKS.
The Quad trucks mounted a Maxon M45 power turret utilizing four (4) .50 Caliber Browning M2 machine guns. The guns were normally of the heavy barrel style (M2HB), but, sometimes, aircraft guns, with their higher rates of fire, were substituted. The turret itself was driven by a 12-volt electric motor connected to two variable speed belt-drives. One drive was for elevating the guns, the other for traversing the turret. Power came from either two 6-volt batteries connected in series (during World War Two), or a single 12-volt battery (late Korea through Viet Nam). A “Little Joe” gasoline-powered generator, capable of producing 300-watts, charged the batteries, and was mounted at the rear of the turret. The generator was a single-cylinder, 4-cycle engine, manufactured by Briggs and Stratton, Waukesha, Onan, or Homelite, and equipped with a self-starter. Although the generator never powered the turret directly, the manual states that the generator MUST be running when the turret is operating to prevent damage to the electric motors. The batteries can be charged from the truck, but only for short periods.
In the age of jets and helicopters, many questioned the firing accuracy and effectiveness of the quad fifty. Against aircraft, its uses were pretty limited. It was effective against slow-moving aircraft up to about 1,500 feet. This was mainly due to the sighting system. However, when it was deployed as an anti-personnel weapon, as was the case in Viet Nam, it was extremely effective. Its tracer stream alone made a fearsome impression on the enemy and soldier alike.
The sheer volume of fire that a quad fifty was capable of putting out was lethal enough to tip the scales in many situations. And, the tracer stream provided a morale boost to American infantry. The quad fifty quickly earned the respect of all those it supported, be they infantry, transportation, artillery, or other units. The Anti-Aircraft Artillerymen were well appreciated during a battle. While everyone else was taking cover in their bunkers, the Quad and Duster crews manned their weapons and fired back. Veterans who fought alongside both Dusters and Quads recall them well, with an unspoken admiration in their eyes.
The M42 Anti-Aircraft Vehicle, better known as a “Duster,” was one of the family of vehicles based on the M41 Walker Bulldog light tank. The Cadillac Car Division of the General Motors Corporation manufactured “Dusters” from 1952 to 1959. Equipped with a open-topped turret with hydraulic controls (and manual back-ups), Dusters carried a crew of six (although 4 was more likely in combat). The driver and radio operator sat at the front of the vehicle in the hull, and the other four crew-members rode in the turret. Dusters mounted twin 40mm automatic cannon which could elevate from -3 degrees to +85 degrees, and traverse through a full 360 degrees. Each cannon could fire up to 120 rounds per minute with a maximum anti-aircraft range of approximately 16,000 feet and a maximum ground (linear) range of just over 31,000 feet. That’s over 5 miles!
In late 1968, a new concept air defense vehicle test unit deployed to Viet Nam. It became known as the Vulcan combat test team, and consisted of a platoon of four XM-163 vehicles, each mounting the Vulcan M16A1 six-barreled Gatling gun on a converted M113A1 chassis, plus one spare. These had actually been built at the factory, and were not field constructed. The unit was attached to the 5/2nd Artillery operating out of Long Binh. Only the first two vehicles mounted radar, and it was ranging only. The remaining vehicles had dummy radar units installed, as it had already been decided to use these for ground assault. Initial training, as for all Air Defense crews was at Fort Bliss, and all the men were volunteers. Initially, the team of 28 men was sent to Viet Nam for 90 days, then extended for an additional 45 days. All the men earned the Army Commendation medal, with several earning Bronze Stars. Two were killed in action, including the commanding officer. An NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer, i.e., a Sergeant) went on to serve with the 1/44th Artillery and earned a Silver Star.
While Quads and Dusters worked the roads and perimeter defenses, searchlights swept the perimeters at night in both visible and infra-red modes. Searchlight crews used the infra-red mode to find their targets without exposing themselves to detection. They then switched to visible light mode for target illumination and engagement. The Quads and Dusters were quickly on target because the men routinely laid searchlight azimuth indicators parallel with the automatic weapons. In addition, searchlight crews would routinely bounce light off clouds to illuminate some distant area for patrols for better vision or use their infra-red mode to help out nearby positions using starlight scopes.
HAWK means “Homing All-the-Way Killer” and, although it entered the U.S. military in 1952, it is still in use worldwide today. Originally, it was designed to be a low-level system that could be deployed with field armies. Unfortunately, it required large amounts of men and vehicles. However, as nothing else worked quite the way it did, it remained. A few modifications here and there to tweak it, and it is still just as good today as when it first saw action.
The HAWK anti-aircraft units served in Viet Nam with the 97th Air Defense Artillery Group consisting of the 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery (ADA), and the 6th Battalion, 71st Artillery (ADA). The 6/56 had four line batteries, “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” plus a headquarters battery (HHB) and was located in the area near Long Binh and Bien Hoa north of Saigon. Personnel participated in the battle for Widows Village against a battalion of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Tet 1968 Offensive. The unit received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm for that action, plus others in the protection of these areas. The 6/56 returned to the United States on August 2, 1969, the first of the 25,000 man troop withdrawal.