ATC(H) – US NAVY, South Vietnam 1967
Modeller: Nicolas Poncini (IPMS Matterhorn & IPMS Ticino)
Official title: “BELL UH-1B HUEY - HAL-3 DET 7 SEAWOLVES & ARMORED TRANSPORT CARRIER (H) – PROGRAM 4 USN RIVER ASSAULT DIV. 91 – MY THO RIVER – SOUTH VIETNAM 1967"
Scale: 1/48 (overall dimension 60 x 25 cm)
Water effect: Prochima 3E epoxy water
ATC(H): scratchbuilt, using Evergreen plastic sheet, various Plastruct profiles.
UH-1B: modified MONOGRAM UH-1C HUEY kit
Figures: modified Verlinden
Construction time: about 6 months (around 200 hrs)
Idea: I have always been interested in the activity of Helaktron 3 (HAL-3 Seawolves) , the US Navy helicopter land-based unit created in 1967 with the mission to provide quick reaction support for the USN small ships patrolling the endless waterways of the Mekong Delta, south of Saigon. Thinking about a way to display an HAL-3 helicopter, I came across Jack Carrico’s website, Brown Water Enterprises. Jack produces a good choice of 1/35 USN river boats, and, most important, a very complete documentation about them, including the ATC boats. Additionally, I had the chance to travel several weeks in the Mekong Delta myself, adding motivation to my idea. Putting all these elements together allowed me to start this project.
The ATC concept was based on the need to provide US troops with river mobility in order to fight Viet Cong troops effectivly. It was decided to modify WW2 LCTs adding armor and armament protected by turrets. This basic modification augmented significantly the weight of the ship, so the sides had to be coated with sagex compartments to improve floatability. The armament was usually 2 x cal .50 and 1 x 20mm gun, plus several free .30 MGs. To protect the ship from hollow charge RPGs rockets, the sides were covered with steel rod screens.The first trials in 1967 showed the urgent need to provide the ATC fleet with an emergency medical capability, so a few ATCs were field-modified to take one helicopter, with the addition of a makeshift platform made from PSP aluminium matting directly build over the existing original LCT bridge. Thus the ATC(H) was born. At this point, the ATC evolution was called Program 4. The next year, 1968, Program 5 modifications improved the concept, adding a larger helicopter platform and an improved armament. Within the fleet, ATC’s were coded “T”, thus the nickname “Tangos”
To start the scratchbuilt ATC model, Jack Carrico’s drawings were invaluable. Unfortunally, most of the documents cover the late Program 5 models, so I had to study carefully the ATC Program 4 pictures and make my own drawings. The basic hull was cut from plasic sheet, while all the components are made of Plastruct profiles, tube and rods. The making of the steel rod screens was very demanding since it is all made from 0.3mm plastic rod equally spaced. Internal detail include Diesel engine, crew room, command bridge and 2 Verlinden collapsible fuel bladders. Most of the details had to be scratchbuilt too, like the rear anchor/mine sweep winch, captain’s deck etc.
The helicopter was not an easy affair, since the old Monogram model has some „C“ version features and some „B“ version features as well. To create a real „C“ model, I had to use a modified an ESCI „D“ Huey rotor and a Cobra Company tail boom. Other parts from the ESCI kit became useful too. To detail the engine compartment, I used a Bell UH-1 Maintenance Manual. All the crew compartement had to be rebuilt, and so was the armament, with the addition of home-made fotoetched M60 ammo links. The markings are those of a HAL-3 DET 7 based at Binh Thuy, on the Hau River. These HAL-3 Hueys were all former US Army refurbished models.
The muddy Mekong water was obtained with the excellent PROCHIMA epoxy water tinted with Humbrol colors. To simulate the typical Mekong acquatic plants clusters I used dryed flowers, used inverted. The two young water buffaloes were converted from 1/50 scale cows, with the typical backwards horns.
This project was really enjoyable to me since it departed from my usual aircraft modelling activity. The USN riverine operations during the VN war are definitly fascinating and are a little known topic, leaving a great array of unusual projects to the modeller.
Text: Nicolas Poncini
Photos: Nicolas Poncini
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