The 1st Amtrac Battalion Goes to the Philippines

                            …Riding the wind. How we got there

In the late winter and early spring of 1974 elements of the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion left Camp Schwab, Okinawa and traveled to U.S. Naval Station, Subic Bay, Philippine Islands for training. One of the two tractor companies in the battalion and about half of Headquarters and Service Company made the trip.

The primary mission of the 1st Amtrac Battalion at the time was to train and prepare reinforced Amphibian Tractor platoons for attachment to Battalion Landing Teams deploying from 4th and 9th Marines out of Okinawa. These platoons would carry the assault elements of a BLT from ship to shore during an amphibious landing. A reinforced platoon consisted of 10 LVTP-7s (landing vehicle tracked-personnel), one LVTR-7 retriever vehicle, and one LVTC-7 command vehicles. We always had at least two platoons deployed in this manner during my year tour on Okinawa. Of course other training and vehicle maintenance was constantly going on at the same time for those units not preparing for deployment.

The 1st Amtrac Battalion was an interesting organization in 1973-74. The only Amphibian Tractor officers on the island were the Battalion Commander and a bunch of lieutenants commanding the tractor platoons. To fill the gaps 3rd Marine Division assigned officers of other MOSs to the battalion. The Battalion XO was an infantry officer, the S-3 (me) an infantry officer, the S-4 was an artillery officer, and all three companies (A, B and H&S) were commanded by tank officers. For most of the year that I was there the battalion was commanded by LtCol "Stub" Chace, a renowned Amtrak officer throughout the Corps. He told us that since there were a lot of strong senior Amtrac Staff NCOs in the battalion, that us non-tractor rats couldn’t do too much damage.

The battalion had just received the new LVTP-7 model amphibian tractor. The tractor park at Camp Schwab also held all the old LVTP-5 models as well, and they were being prepared for transfer to the Taiwanese Marine Corps. This transfer occurred about midway through my year tour.

 

                                   The Old LVTP-5                                                               The New LVTP-7                     

The LVTP-7 is still in the Marine Corps inventory and has been equipped with more armor, a more powerful engine, better armament and other upgrades. It was redesignated as the Amphibious Assault Vehicle model 7 (AAV-7) in the late 1970s.

In late 1973 a decision was made to send a large detachment from the battalion to Subic Bay for training. The live fire ranges in the Zambales training area near Subic were considerably better than those on Okinawa. One tractor company would remain at Camp Schwab to provide platoons for deploying BLTs. Sufficient elements of H&S Company would remain behind for logistic and administrative support. The battalion commander would remain on Okinawa and make periodic visits to Subic during our approximately six-week stay. The battalion XO would stay at Camp Schwab. That left me, the battalion operations officer, in charge of all elements in the Philippines.

The tractor company and all other battalion vehicles would proceed from Okinawa aboard the USS Frederick (LST-1184). I would take a small advance party to Subic to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the battalion. We would fly to the Naval Air Station at Cubi Point, across the bay from Naval Station Subic, from the Naval Air Facility at Naha on the southern end of Okinawa.

USS Frederick (LST-1184)

The advance party proceeded to NAF Naha on the day of departure and discovered that we would make the trip in a Marine Corps R4D, or C-117 as it was later designated, the "Gooney Bird". This was the military version of the Douglas DC-3, the venerable transport that had dropped the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions behind the Normandy beaches on the night before D-Day, 6 June 1944. The Marine Corps was the last of the U.S. armed services to use this aircraft operationally, retiring the last one in 1982.

We arrived at Naha at the prescribed time only to be told that there would be a several hour delay in departure time. There were some requests to visit the PX or get some lunch on the base. I turned everyone loose directing them to return to the terminal by a specified time that would get us all back before departure for Cubi Point. Several officers and I then departed for the officers club to grab some lunch. As we were returning we saw our Gooney Bird sitting in front of the terminal with propellers turning. They were leaving early and appeared not to care if everyone was aboard or not. We ran across the hardtop, threw our baggage aboard, leaped into the open door on the port side of the aircraft, and took a quick muster. I gave the crew chief a thumbs up that all were aboard. If I had been a few minutes later the flight would have left without the senior man on board. Try explaining that to the battalion commander.

USMC R4D/C117. The Last of the Gooney Birds.

We finally got off the ground and flew for the next 4 ˝ to 5 hours, arriving at NAS Cubi Point late in the afternoon. Six weeks later we made the return trip to Okinawa in a U.S. Air Force C-141 and it took about 1 ˝ hours. In any case, the lead elements of the 1st Amtrac Battalion had landed. We were assigned billets for the night and the next morning got busy preparing for the arrival of our Amtracs and Marines. We were to be billeted in the Upper MAU Camp on a ridge line between Subic and Cubi Point, and were to use the maintenance facilities of the Lower MAU Camp at the foot of the ridge and near to the waters of Subic Bay (see map).

Upper MAU Camp-Subic Bay, P.I.

Subic Bay-Cubi Point Map

Thus ended the first in many adventures we were to have over the next six weeks. More T.I.N.S. Tales of life in this tropical paradise will follow, and there are some noteworthy ones to tell. Until then…

                                                                                            Semper Fidelis,

                                                                         Dirck Praeger sends