Fire From The Sky by Richard Knott

Book Review: Fire From The Sky

12 April 2006

Noted historian and naval aviator Capt. Richard Knott's latest offering, Fire From The Sky, details the operations of the Seawolves, the U.S. Navy's only helicopter gunship unit of the Vietnam War.

Knott, who logged thousands of hours as a pilot during a thirty-year Navy career, interviewed more than sixty Seawolf veterans and accessed numerous unit reports in compiling this record of the HAL-3 (Helicopter Attack Light) squadron. The result is a comprehensive and fascinating account of the unit's history from in-country creation to deactivation.

The book reveals that the very first Seawolves were actually Army aviators and crewmen who flew Huey gunships from converted Navy transports (Landing Ship Docks) in support of task force 116, the Riverine craft in the Mekong Delta.

Seawolf gunships on patrol

A pair of Seawolf gunships on patrol
Photo by: Bill Rutledge

The author explains that Navy pilots and door-gunners took over from their Army counterparts in September 1966 and continued their close fire support operations until the squadron's stand down in March 1972.

In addition to the historical detail, the book contains several remarkable accounts of door-gunners hanging out of speeding Huey's whilst single-handedly firing M60 machine guns in close support of endangered SEAL teams, South Vietnamese Marines and PBRs (Patrol Boat River).

One such story from former door-gunner and three-tour veteran Bill Rutledge is indicative of quality of Fire From The Sky's detailed and eye-opening anecdotes.

Seawolf door gunner Bill Rutledge (left) and pilot

Seawolf door gunner Bill Rutledge (left) and pilot in Binh Thuy in April 1970
Photo by: Bill Rutledge

“When we arrived over the town,” explained Rutledge, “the marines popped smoke to show us their forward area, and we rolled in hot down the streets of the town, all weapons blazing and taking heavy ground fire from everywhere. We put in three strikes within yards of our “friendlies” and had to go back to the ship for a hot turnaround.

“Our other detachments were doing the same thing, and we had to take turns using the ship's deck. After several hours putting in strikes, the marines began pushing the enemy back. We put in more strikes at the edge of town, picking Charlie off like flies.

“The fire was intense, and I couldn't believe we hadn't been blown out of the sky. The enemy was entrenched, and jets were called in with napalm. What a sight! Our Det. Rearmed and refuelled six times that day, as did our other Dets.”

Fire From The Sky is both historically precise and an engrossing read and accurately conveys to the reader the bravery and skill of these warriors. In doing so it helps to explain the close bond between SEAL and Seawolf veterans.

Fire From The Sky: Seawolf Gunships in the Mekong Delta is available from (affiliate link)
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