Organization and Equipment

QuarterHorse Organization and Equipment

It probably should be stated that this is not the present day MTOE for the 1/4th Cavalry but reflects the authorizations during the Vietnam Era.

The First Squadron, Fourth Cavalry was organized and equipped as a divisional armored cavalry squadron. A squadron is the cavalry term for a battalion, and contains four companies, or troops in cavalry lingo. Three of the troops were organized as ground units equipped with armored vehicles, while the fourth was organized as an air cavalry troop and equipped with helicopters. There was also a headquarters troop, known as Headquarters Headquarters Troop. The three ground troops were A-C Troops, and the air cavalry troop was D Troop. The squadron had an authorized strength of about 870 officers and men, although (as was the case with most combat units) this number tended to fluctuate depending on casualties and troop rotation schedules. The squadron was commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, and normally came under the direction of the division Troops were often parceled out to the brigades of the division, and D Troop tended to operate under the control of the First Aviation Battalion. Troop commanders were normally captains, although D Troop usually was commanded by a major. First we will examine the organization of the First Squadron, Fourth Cavalry, and then look at the equipment used by the cav and the tactics they developed for their unconventional war.

QuarterHorse Organization

The three ground troops of the 1/4 Cav were organized as armored cavalry. This meant that they were equipped with armored vehicles and tanks, making up in firepower what they might lack in manpower. Each troop contained three combat (or line) platoons and a headquarters platoon. The headquarters troop was organized differently, as it was intended to direct and support the operations of the line troops. Organization data for the Squadron is taken from a report filed by the Squadron in 1966. Where possible and practical, any organizational changes that took place after that date are noted. This is particularly true for D Troop, which was reorganized in 1967-68. During 1966 the Squadron had an actual strength of 856 officers and enlisted men; almost 20 below the authorized level.

As its name implies, Headquarters Troop (or HHT) provided the Squadron's leadership. The various support services and staff organizations were also found in HHT. These included personnel services (S-1; normally handles the inprocessing and outprocessing of personnel and requests replacements), intelligence (S-2; tasked with identifying enemy units and providing estimates of their effectiveness and intentions), operations planning (S-3; developed plans to meet operational requirements and missions), and supply and repair (S-4; handled maintanance and supply requests). HHT had 202 officers and enlisted men assigned. HHT could be looked at as the "brain" of the Squadron, since it controlled communication, repair, and other functions necessary for the Squadron's operations.

A, B and C Troops

Organized along similar lines, these were the ground combat troops of the Squadron. Each ground troop contained three line platoons as well as a headquarters platoon. The combat teeth of each troop could be found in the platoons' scout squads and tank sections. Each troop had a section of three M48A3s assigned, as well as three scout squads with 2 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles (ACAVs) each, giving each troop nine medium tanks and eighteen ACAVs. Each of 1/4 Cav's troops had an assigned strength of 210 officers and enlisted men. M113s with mortars were also often assigned to each troop. Another popular attachment was the "Zippo" track, which was equipped with a flame thrower. The strengths listed above were ideals; in fact most Troops were often short vehicles, men, or both. These ground troops were the arms and legs of the Squadron, and contained much of the unit's combat power.

D Troop: The air cavalry troop was commanded by a Major instead of a Captain, and arrived in Vietnam equipped with OH-13 scout helicopters and UH-1 Hueys as both lift ships and gun ships. The aerorifle platoon was often used as a Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) unit by the division during this time. During 1968 D Troop exchanged its OH-13s for the OH-6A "Loach" and its UH-1 gunships for the AH-1 "Cobra." It was also during this time that D Troop was effectively removed from Squadron command and placed under the control of the First Aviation Battalion, the Big Red One's helicopter unit. During most of its time in Vietnam, D Troop was divided into a Scout Section, a Gun Section, and the Lift Section. In 1966 D Troop was equipped with 8 OH-13s and 17 UH-1s. At that time the rifle platoon also contained about 50 men. In all, D Troop was home to around 145 officers and enlisted men. The air cavalry troop was the eyes and long arm of the Squadron.

Cavalry Equipment

During the Indian Wars, the Fourth Cavalry rode to battle mounted on horseback, but often engaged their opponents on foot. Vietnam era cavalrymen rode to battle in tanks, APCs or helicopters and almost always fought mounted (with the exception of the aerorifle platoon). The weapons used by the men of Quarterhorse remained remarkably consistent during the war, with the only major reorganization taking place when D Troop changed its helicopters. It should be noted that the heavy concentration of automatic weapons in any cavalry element gave them a shock power well out of porportion to their actual size.

Tanks and APCs/ACAVs

The main battle tanks and armored cavalry assault vehicles of Quarterhorse were its primary weapons, and one which the Army was initially reluctant to send to Vietnam. The tanks in particular faced heavy resistance from within the higher command structure. It was up to the men of Quarterhorse to show that their armored fist had a role to play in Vietnam.

M48A3 Patton Main Battle Tank

Designed, like most U.S. equipment, to face the Soviet Army in Central Europe, the Patton became a very valuable weapon in the war in Vietnam. Although it was being replaced with the newer M60 main battle tank, the M48A3 went to Vietnam and did a tremendous job. It proved to be a very stout tank, difficult to knock out with mines, recoilless rifles, or the infamous rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) common to VC/NVA units. While the M48A2 also served in Vietnam, the A3 varient was the vehicle of choice wth most cavalry units for one simple reason: fuel. The A2 used regular gasoline, while the A3 used diesel. Diesel fuel is much harder to ignite, which made the tank (and thus the crew) more likely to survive hits.
Fresh out of the factory, the M48A3 was armed with two machine guns (a 7.62mm gun mounted next to the main gun and a .50 caliber mounted in a special cupola unit for the tank commander) and a 90mm main gun. One of the more popular crew modifications involved removing the commander's .50 from the cuploa, which was of limited usefulness, and mounting it in the open. This allowed more .50 ammo to be belted into the gun (an important consideration in a firefight). As usual extra machine guns were often welded to the hull, with one for the loader's hatch being especially common. The 90mm main gun, while perhaps not up to battling Russian heavy tanks in Central Europe, proved to be very useful in Vietnam. Based on an anti-aircraft gun of World War Two vintage, the 90mm had a wide variety of shells availble. The most popular proved to be High Explosive (sometimes used with delay fuses for busting bunkers) and the Cannister round. Acting much like a large shotgun shell, the cannister round proved to be devistating against human wave attacks. The tank itself also proved to be a useful weapon, crushing jungle undergrowth and smaller trees when used for "jungle busting."
Of course the Patton did have its weaknesses. Although not overly heavy as far as tanks go, the Patton's size still restricted it to roads during the wet season, and often kept it from using bridges. While the tank did prove to be much more mobile than originally thought possible, its weight was still a limitation.

1st Recon Troop Composition

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This Page Modified 10 Feb 2017

Copyright William Van Horn and Bill Baty 1997