US Marine Corps
BOOK REVIEWCAVALRY OF THE SKY, THE STORY OF US MARINE COMBAT HELICOPTERS, LYNN MONTROSS, HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK, 1954, 270 PP
1. In order to gain victory in the pacific, United States had displayed one of the most dangerous weapons ever made, atomic bomb. The US Marine Corps realised that the devastating effects of atomic weapons called for new landing force procedures and equipment to replace those which had won so many decisive victories in WW II. They went ahead to utilise the third dimension of assault landing, by the use of helicopters. The Helicopters saw its first combat service in Korea. The US Marine Corps had Sikorsky utility helicopters, which were a part of HMR -161, the premier helicopter transport squadron and VMO-6 the first observation squadron.
2. The author of this book, Lynn Montross, was born in Nebraska. Mr Montross studied at the University of Nebraska and later, joined the staff of the Chicago Daily News and did free-lance writing, fiction and nonfiction. He also served for three years in an infantry regiment during World War I. Later During this time he also gathered material for his book‘Cavalry of the sky' which is a factual account of the marines tactics of exploiting the vertical envelopment of the helicopter in using it both in assault and logistic role. The marines started the use of helicopter in 1946 when the helicopter technology was itself in nascent stage. From 1950 till his death in 1961, Mr Montross worked as a historical writer for the United states Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. He wrote numerous books and articles on military and historical subjects. The author credits the Marine Transport Helicopter Sqn 161 for the title of this book, a translation of the Latin inscription ‘Equitatus Caeli' on the striking insignia which was first introduced during that units Far East operation.
3. The author takes the reader through a kaleidoscope of events which depicts the various stages of evolution that the helicopters progressed. The US Marine Corps carried out various changes in the doctrine and experimented regularly to employ and devise new tactical roles for the third dimension platform. The helicopter took active part in Operation Packard II wherein the first mission of HMX - 1 was to determine the best route for a salvage party sent to extricate a mired down amphibian vehicle. Later it was tasked to bridge the New River Inlet where five crafts of HMX - 1 flew 66 passengers and large number of equipment. It left no doubts in the minds of the marines that the ugly duckling of military aviation had proved itself worthy. The flying windmill was there to stay. The ubiquitous characteristic of helicopter was now to be exploited in the operations that followed. The book highlights the active participation of helicopters of the VMO-6 recce squadron which saw its first combat employment in Korea. It also proved itself in the roles of casualty evacuation and soon was better known as ‘wings of mercy'. The author also brings out the concept of helicopter employment to war for the first time.
4. The narrative of Operation Windmill, Operation Summit and Operation Bumblebee brings out the effectiveness of this platform. The figures tell the account of Operation Bumblebee. The operation showcased the helicopter as an ideal platform for logistical support of Marines. During the Operation, 12 HRS-1's flew whole day, providing logistic assistance at the rate of 31,589 pounds per hour. Each helicopter made 27 trips (one way) of the 15 mile leg and moved a total of 11 tons of load. The same support if tasked to land transport would involve huge resources and time penalty would be four times. VMO-6 also flew large number of casualty evacuation sorties. The helicopters were introduced to Marine aviation in korea, and it proved itself to be an asset for future combat. The helicopter met and surpassed the expectations spelled out for it. The tactics formed at Quantico, Virginia by HMX-1 had proven itself beyond doubt in Korea and the future of Amphibious operations would see more of this ubiquitous platform.
5. The book concludes with the fact which is also endorsed by Frank N. Piasecki, a helicopter designer, that in times to come the technological breakthroughs will be to increase the speed of helicopters and the aeroplane designers will endeavour to add vertical-lift capabilities on their machines. The author has to be credited with a narrative in which all marines can take pride. It is a true contribution to the history of the maritime corps as the nations force in readiness.