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The Aerial TOW System

On the 29th of April 1972, two NUH-1B helicopters mounting the TOW system arrived at Camp Holloway, Pleiku. These aircraft and crews were assigned to the 17th Combat Aviation Group. The aircraft used the call sign "Hawk's Claw". This was the first time in Army aviation history such a system was deployed to a combat zone.

The XM26 armament subsystem fired a tube launched, optically tracked, wire guided antitank missile which weighed 54 pounds. The effective ranges were 500 meters (minimum) and 3000 meters (maximum). The time of flight at 3000 meters was 14.7 seconds. One problem that arose was that the wire cutters did not seem to work properly. However, after thoroughly checking them out it was found that the gunner was stowing the sighting system too soon and the cutter would not operate with the sight stowed. There were three armament subsystems in RVN with two mounted on NUH-1B helicopters (SN 62-12553 and 62-12554). Each system carried six missiles. When the system arrived in Pleiku, there were 144 missiles in country, with 60 more inbound from the U.S.

The TOW package consisted of one NUH-1B, one UH-1H C&C, and two AH-1G escort gunships. Pending notification of a target, the TOW package was on standby at Camp Holloway or at Kontum on strip alert. Weather permitting, the NUH-1B normally flew at 3,000 feet (AGL-Above Ground Level) and engaged targets at a slant range of 3,000 meters. The C&C aircraft controlled the package, coordinated fire clearance and supervised employment of the recovery crew if needed. Roy Sudeck was the Aircraft Commander of the C&C UH-1H that supported the Hawk's Claw mission. There were standing orders to destroy the system if it was shot down so it would not fall into enemy hands.

The original team arriving from the U.S. with the system included:
LTC Patrick L. Feore Jr
CW3 Lester Whiteis
CW2 Scott E. Fenwick
CW2 Douglas R Hixon Jr
CW2 Carroll W. Lain
CW2 Danny G. Rowe
CW2 Edmond C. Smith
SFC Boyce A. Hartsell
SP5 Ronald G. Taylor
SP4 David W. Lehrschall
Mr. Thomas E Zogorski
Mr. Dennis J. Camp
Mr. James J. Faulk
Mr. Kenneth W. Blum
Mr. James C. Follett
Mr. Hughie J. McInnish Jr
The crew members were organized into three operational teams:
CW2 Lain
CW2 Fenwick

4 Tanks
2 Artillery pieces
3 2 1/2 Ton Trucks
1 3/4 Ton Truck
1 51 Cal. Machine Gun
CW2 Rowe
CW2 Smith

12 Tanks
2 Bunkers
CW3 Whiteis
CW2 Hixon

8 Tanks
3 2 1/2 Ton Trucks
1 23mm Antiaircraft Gun
1 122mm Rockets site
1 51 Cal. Machine Gun
   TOW A/C #553 - Crew Chief SP4 Lehrschall
   TOW A/C #554 - Crew Chief SP5 Evans, W.

The original airborne TOW crews were returned to the U.S. during the month of June after replacements had been trained. The replacement crews are listed below.

Cpt. Terry C. Gannon
Cpt. Delph Todd
CW2 Alvyn G. Chapman
CW2 G. Rockhill
1LT James R. Hammonds

The "Hawk's Claw" TOW system, a precision guided munition (PGM), proved to be very effective against point type targets and proved the concept of an effective tank killing helicopter. [1] The TOW system was credited with playing a significant role in the defense of Kontum. There were a number of times when, because of bad weather conditions, the "Hawk's Claw" provided antitank capability when TACAIR could not operate. During the month of July, the TOW team was moved to I Corps where it operated out of Da Nang under the operational control of the 11th Combat Aviation Group. I have specific data on all 79 missiles fired during the Battle of Kontum from May 2nd through June 1st, 1972. [2]

History of the TOW Missile System

[1] Vietnam Helicopter History - Second Regional Assistance Command - TOW Firings
[2] Video - Confidential Vietnam Combat TOW Missile Firings, May 1972 US Army

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