16 OCT 1967: Viet Nam and Royal Australian Navy Helicopters deploy to Viet Nam. An RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV ’67) joins the US Army’s 135th Aviation Company EMU at Vung Tau, supporting American troops in South Vietnam. The EMU (Experimental Military Unit) was formed around the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company. The 135th had previously flown Caribou transports as a tactical air transport company, but was reoriented for helicopters following the Johnson-McConnell agreement of 1966, when all fixed-wing aircraft were transferred to the United States Air Force and all rotary-wing aircraft to the United States Army.
The 135th was integrated with the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam, an Australian contingent of eight pilots, four observers, four aircrew, twenty-four technical sailors and mechanics, and six administrative personnel, all drawn from 723 Squadron RAN. Four of these contingents were deployed during the Australian participation in the joint unit (RANHFV 1 through 4). The Australian officer in charge of the RAN contingent became the executive officer of the 135th Company, and because of their more extensive training and experience when compared to the American personnel (for example, one US Army flying instructor assigned to the company had only 125 hours flying experience, while each RAN pilot had over 1,000 hours), Australian personnel commonly filled out leadership positions throughout the company.
The collective name for the combined unit was the Experimental Military Unit, or EMU. The name was a backronym for emu, and was selected by the 135th before their deployment for being a large, fast, and highly mobile Australian bird. However, the designation amused Australian members of the company, because emus cannot fly.
The EMU was officially part of 12th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade, and was part of the US Army chain of command. A separate chain of command for RAN personnel was maintained to the Commander Australian Forces Vietnam. The Australian command chain was rarely used: David Farthing, who led RANHFV 3, claims he only had to use it once during his twelve-month deployment.
The main role of the EMU was to provide transport and support for units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), United States Army and Marine Corps, and Australian Army. For this purpose, the company was equipped with UH-1 Iroquois helicopters: thirty UH-1D or UH-1H ‘Slick’ troop-carrying helicopters (the EMU was the first Assault Helicopter Company to be equipped with the ‘H’ model), and eight UH-1C gunship helicopters (nicknamed Taipans, after the venomous Australian snake). The company was divided up into five platoons: two troop transport, one gunship, one maintenance, and one headquarters.
A typical daily deployment consisted of ten Slicks (plus a spare), two teams of two gunships, and a Command and Control helicopter (designated ‘Charley Charley’). The helicopters would depart base at dawn, collect a unit (typically from the United States 9th Infantry Division, the United States 199th Infantry Brigade, the South Vietnamese III and IV Corps, or the 1st Australian Task Force), perform a combat assault, then return the unit to their base before dark. Other duties performed by the EMU, particularly from 1970 onwards, included dawn and dusk assaults; night hunter-killer patrols, which consisted of one Slick armed with flares, two gunships, and a Charley Charley armed with a high-power searchlight and a twin 0.50 calibre machinegun; and joint operations with the United States Navy SEALs, which typically involved locating and capturing senior Viet Cong personnel. More; http://ow.ly/R4fx30fVodx