10th Air Transport Brigade

By Danny Johnson

Forty-two years ago the Army organized and activated a new air transport unit called the 10th Air Transport Brigade (10th ATB) (Test). The U.S. Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, better known as the Howze Board, named after then board president, LTG Hamilton H. Howze, played a major role in realizing the airmobility concept. The Howze Board findings of August 1962 recommended the formation and testing of an air assault division, an air cavalry combat brigade and an air transport brigade.

The 10th ATB was activated to support the 11th Air Assault Division (11th AAD) (Test) in February 1963 and was organized as a transportation branch unit. The air transport brigade in this instance was attached as a theater aviation support unit. An Army directive of 7 January 1963 called for a three-phased program of build-up and testing two key air mobility units–an air assault division and an air transport brigade. The new 10th ATB was activated on 5 February 1963 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was attached to the 11th AAD on 7 February. The 10th ATB had no historic connection to the 11th AAD but wore its division patch and adopted the motto “Will Do.”

Personnel for the 10th ATB headquarters came out of the inactivating 3d Transportation Battalion (Transportation Aircraft) at Fort Benning. Interestingly, the 3d was one of the test units during the Howze Board’s airmobility field experiments during the summer of 1962. At full strength, the brigade was authorized 130 aircraft, both helicopter and fixed wing, and 3,541 personnel. Like the rest of the 11th AAD, the brigade’s aviation assets came from throughout the Army. Commanded by COL Delbert L. Bristol, the 10th’s staffing and equipping were carried out in increments proportionate to that of the 11th AAD. The brigade was designed as an aviation and maintenance personnel heavy unit.

The Howze Board envisioned an air transport brigade with its subordinate units being able to provide air movement of personnel, equipment and supplies in support of a combat force. The brigade would be used to supplement the tactical aircraft organic to corps and division, in this case the 11th AAD. Both air transport battalions were organized to command both fixed and rotary wing transport aircraft units. The headquarters also commanded and controlled aircraft maintenance units. The brigade headquarters would be positioned beside the force headquarters; an example would have been a logistical command. As well as transporting combat units, the brigade had the capacity of “retailing” supplies (800 short tons) to divisional units in the battle area up to 175 miles every day.

One of the first units assigned to the 10th ATB in February 1963 was Headquarters, 37th Air Transport Battalion. The 187th Transport Airplane Company, 478th Flying Crane Company, 188th Transport Helicopter Company and 170th Transport Battalion (Aircraft Supply and Maintenance) would follow. More units would be added in July 1963 such as Headquarters, 44th Air Transport Battalion and the 516th Transport Airplane Company. The 37th would later pick up the existing 1st and 17th Aviation Companies from outside the 10th ATB. The 1st would come back from South Vietnam to serve in the 37th. The 50th Transport Airplane Company was activated in March 1964 and assigned to the 37th Battalion. The 44th Air Transport Battalion would also field a non-deployable, administrative unit named the Transport Helicopter Company (Provisional). The 72d Air Traffic Company, an Army Theater level unit was attached to the 10th ATB during the airmobility tests.

The twin piston engine fixed-wing Canadian de Havilland CV-2B Caribou would equip the 187th, 516th and 50th Transport Airplane Companies, as well as the 1st and 17th Aviation Companies. The 188th Transport Helicopter Company was initially assigned the twin piston engine Sikorsky CH-37B Mojave helicopter. The 188th would later receive the Boeing Vertol CH-47 Chinook, as would the Transport Helicopter Company (Provisional) once the 11th Division was equipped. Initially, the 478th Flying Crane Company would use three borrowed CH-37’s until the first four twin turbine engine CH-54A Flying Cranes came off the Sikorsky assembly line in the fall of 1964. The brigade would also have eight UH-1B’s and a Beech U-8 Seminole light airplane.

During 1963 and 1964, the 11th Air Assault Division and the 10th Air Transport Brigade conducted numerous field exercises. The mission was to find out what airmobile units could and could not do in various combat situations ranging from general war to anti-guerrilla operations. The test units, augmented by other forces such as the Fort Benning based-2d Infantry Division, engaged in many field exercises from 1963 through 1965, including Eagle Strike, Eagle Claw, Air Assault, Hawk Assault I, Hawk Flash, Hawk Blade, Hawk Star and Hawk Arrow. One of the largest field exercises conducted was Air Assault II using some 35,000 soldiers during October-November 1964 in the Carolinas, with the 82d Airborne Division as the aggressor forces.

The Project Test, Evaluation and Control Group evaluating the airmobility concept recommended the 10th ATB stay in the Army force structure. However, it was not to be, and the 10th ATB was inactivated on 30 June 1965. An aviation group was substituted to enable greater flexibility. A group would be located at Army level, which had the benefit of being able to be modified swiftly for various combat missions and to support other units. The new organization was the 10th Aviation Group, which was activated in July 1965. It would also oversee activation of numerous aviation companies intended for South Vietnam. There is no official historic connection between the 10th ATB and the 10th Aviation Group.

It was not all bad news for the 10th ATB. Some of its units went on to South Vietnam; for example, the 187th (later 134th) and 516th (later 135th) Caribou companies served in Southeast Asia. The 478th Flying Crane Company (later Aviation Company) and the 17th Caribou Company went on to serve with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam. It is fitting that after all these years the 10th ATB is remembered as one of the critical ingredients in the success of the airmobility concept.