The activation of the 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Helicopter Squadrons, was the result of the inactivation of the 516th Troop Carrier Group (Assault, Rotary Wing). The 516th had been a victim of an Air Force and Army dispute over control of assault helicopters. The “20” series Helicopter Squadrons were activated at Sewart AFB, Tennessee on 9 July 1956, assigned to the 18th Air Force and attached to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing. The Squadrons were formed by absorbing the personnel, aircraft, and equipment of the 345th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Rotary Wing).
History of the (courtesy of Harry Dunn)
23rd Helicopter Squadron 1955-1958
The original H-21 Squadron , 345th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Rotary Wing) which was operational in Sewart AFB Tennessee under Maj Gregg Hartley, when Don Berger and I had come from H-19 helicopter training at San Marcos, TX..
Starting in November ’55, we flew the H-21 at Sewart AFB with Maj Jesse Ammons, Capt Ed Hook and many others.
On 6 July ’56, the 23rd Helicopter Squadron (under the 322nd Air Division in France) was initiated and transferred from the 345th Wing.
The squadron was set up with 4 Detachments.
Headquarters Detachment with Jim Blackburn as CO., Jesse Ammons was Vice CO, Jesse Lewis was Instructor and Standards, Dave Ryan was Personnel, Art Godwin – Comm, John Rivers and Don Berger – Maintenance.
1st Detachment consisted of Bob Roy, Larry Cooper, Chuck McClusky, Dick Lanzendorf, and Al Rogers;
This Det went with the Headquarters at Phalsbourg AB, France.
4th Detachment was Don Berger, Carl Crews, Harry Dunn, Bill Kuschel and Chuck Smith; also to Phalsbourg AB
2nd Detachment was Ed Hook, Norm Eldridge, Carl McTaggart, and Jim Barron; which shipped off to RAF Wethersfield UK.
3rd Detachment was Stewart Spenser, Don Clayton, Herb Trail, Royce Bowman and Watson; which went to Wheelus AB, Libya in support of TAC fighter Training.
On 12 October we departed from Tennessee. The helicopters were cocooned and shipped with Pilots and crews by the Military Sea Transportation Service from Biloxi/Gulfport, LA (or a week or two avoiding a tornado around Florida) to across the Atlantic and on Bremerhaven Germany. We docked there for a few days while the H-21s were de-cocooned and put back together and flight tested. One engine at Bremerhaven had failed piston rods (very common at this time!)
On 7 November, the first two H-21s left Bremanhavenin and headed across south Germany toward Phalsbourg AB. Along the way, one of the helicopters No. 52867 – we were in the British zone near RAF Alhorn – had an engine failure and a quick autorotation in a farm near Badbergan in northern Germany. Spent a week in the local “guasthouse”. The winter snow and a British Van crew guarded our bird a couple miles out – while waiting a call from UASFE at Ramstein (they didn’t know where we were!).
A week later a British\Officer came by and took three of us to RAF Alhorn (left 2 of the crew to wait for an engine change). Next fun was they took us to a train out of Oldenburg – which none of us had ever been on – and went down to Stassbourg. The only military people at Phalsbourg were about 2 hours away- and picked us up after midnight.
Our wives had already been shipped in a troop carrier and were a few weeks ahead of us and were living in Italian “trailers” on the base. The runway – built by the French, for a Fighter Wing – had sunk in – so the 23rd Heli guys were only Officers/Crews around except for two Doctors, a Priest and some cooks! We provided our own music and dancing! We had to drive or fly to Ramstein to pick up our “funny money” since no or little US money used or available!
A week later – a crew flew back up to Badbergen to pick up the bird which had been an engine failure. On the return to Phalsbourg – the third engine failure occurred within 1-2 miles of the last failure. The folks from RAF Alcorn came in with several helpers and large trailer to tow the bird back to the airfield. The road was one of the somewhat ancient brick roads which just barely had the width of the H-21 wheels. With several troops, flashlights and night – the crew just trying to guide the tow truck missed a brick, which jammed one of the rear wheels as the truck kept moving and ripped the entire landing gear rigging out of the cabin and the H-21 rolled over on its side! The next morning the H-21 was literally cut in half and hauled up to RAF Alcorn and then flown in pieces to Chataureaux AB in France for major overhaul. It is unknown what happened with the H-21?
Operations began at Phalsbourg on 7 Nov ’56 (Cdr Jim Blackburn, Jesse Ammons, Bob Roy and the Pilots and Crews). Primary operations were for airlift for families between Phalsbourg, Landshtul, Ramstein, Sembach, Hahn, Bitburg Hospital, Spangdahlem, and Weisbaden Hospital. Other missions supported radar sites along East German border.
Some of interesting missions:
Four of the H-21s in Wheelus Det 3, which was at Wheelus AB – primarily supporting the TAC Fighter training aircraft at a Vertical bombing range west of Tripoli.
In the meantime the Det 2, with 4 other aircraft were based at RAF Wethersfield supporting England based bombing/gunnery ranges.
ONE of our most interesting assignments was to provide a three ship flight demo for the Paris Air Show in 1957. The day prior to our demo we gave preliminary show for the head of the USAF delegation at Dreau AFB. During one of our landing approaches the forward rotor blades of the #2 aircraft hit the rear blades of the lead aircraft.!!! We all landed immediately. Each of the rotor blades lost about 18″of length. THANK GOD FOR WOODEN BLADES. After an inspection of all aircraft, and an all night work effort we got two sets of blades and one rotor hub from Phalsbourgh, changed them, flew over to Paris and gave a flawless demo. (Believe it or not)
In Dec ’57 the 23rd was shut down and many of the H-21s were given to the French in Algiers (for an ongoing war). The pilots and crews were transferred to other sites, and aircraft and many went back to the states. A couple of us went to Dreux AB for C-119 Flying Boxcars – 12th Troop Carrier Squadron (3 years -2600-hrs-in my case). Don Berger went to Ramstein for a couple of years for Air Rescue helicopters. Some went to TAC Air and others scattered back to the states. The 23rd was inactivated on 8 January 1958.
The 23rd was gone!
(Attached are pictures of the ‘Beer Mug” from the 23rd Helicopter Squadron at Phalsbourg, France.)
Harry P Dunn
The following is submitted by John Rivers:
I would like to add some information to the excellent history provided by Harry Dunn about the 23rd Helicopter Squadron:
The helicopters from the 23rd Sqd. were flown from Seward AFB to Brooks AFB in Mobile, Alabama for cocooning and preparation to be placed on the flight deck of the USS Tripoli, a WWII aircraft carrier converted to a cargo ship, for transport to Bremerhaven, Germany. I, along with the majority of the squadron personnel, went on the USS Tripoli.
There had been a history of engine problems with the H-21, and the flights from Bremerhaven to Phalsbourg had a couple of engine failures. The aircraft, 52-8667, had an engine failure, then a ground accident being towed to RAF Alhorn. I took a crew from Phalsbourg to RAF Alhorn to prepare the aircraft for flight in a C-124 to Chataureaux AB. We used the same type dollies to place the aircraft in as we had used to take an H-21 to Alaska. About six months later, Lt Lansendorf and I went to Chataureaux AB to test the aircraft, and then flew it back to Phalsbourg.
When the 23rd was deactivated in 1957, the aircraft from Phalsbourg and RAF Wethersfield were flown to Bremerhaven, Germany for transport back to Brooks AFB, Mobile, Alabama. There was no way they could be cocooned, and they were going to place them on the flight deck of the USS Tripoli, the same ship that had taken the helicopters to Bremerhaven in l956. The salt water spray would have destroyed the aircraft, and I insisted they be put below deck. We finally figured out a way to lift the helicopter with the cranes so they were pointed nose down and would go down the elevator opening then roll out on the hangar floor below deck. The helicopters at Wheelus AFB stayed there.
In 1965, I was back at Wheelus AFB as the Detachment Commander of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing flying F-100’s, and one morning a Lt. said he had to talk to me about a serious problem. The problem was that they had been involved in a discussion with the helicopter pilots in the Officers Club the previous night about fighter pilots being able to fly a helicopter, and they made a bet with the helicopter pilots, and said we will even put our commander up to see if he can fly a helicopter. The helicopter pilots bet them a meal that I couldn’t fly one. I showed up on the flight line to fly the H-21, and you can guess what happened. I had more time in the H-21 than the pilot who was to check on my ability to fly a helicopter.
I went through helicopter pilot training in early 1953, then went directly to Korea to the 2157th Air Rescue Squadron, Third Air Rescue Group, and from there was assigned to the 516th Troop Carrier Assault Rotor Wing (TAC), then the 23rd Helicopter Squadron.
There is so much information that I would like to pass on to the younger pilots, but I better stop and get this information in the mail.
Thank you for keeping the history.
John S. Rivers
*Vietnam War and After:
The 23 designation was reconstituted and reactivated 8 April 1966 as the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron headquartered at Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, and operated from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, from 15 April 1966 – 22 September 1975.
The 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron flew O-1’s as Forward Air Controllers (FAC)’s. They inactivated on 22 Sep 1975 only to be reactivated on 30 Nov 1975 at Bergstrom AFB, Texas to train forward air controllers. They then moved to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona on 1 Jul 1980 until their deactivation on 1 Nov 1991.
Finally, on 15 Jan 1994, the Air Force reactivated the unit as the 23rd Flying Training Squadron at Fort Rucker, Alabama to train future helicopter pilots in the UH-1H “Huey”.