Support: April 18, 2002


Helicopters came into use at the end of World War II. The first models were underpowered and classified as experimental. But several dozen were sent out to combat zones (out of the 130 the U.S. built during the war.) Now, over half a century later, some of the stories of how those early choppers were used are surfacing. It is generally accepted that the first use of helicopters to evacuate wounded troops was in Burma, on April 15, 1945. This was just one rescue of one injured pilot way up on the side of a mountain. But it turns out that much more extensive use was made of these early R-4 and R-6 in the Philippines two months later. There, an army regimental commander noted helicopters operating from ships offshore. LTC Clyde Grant's 112th Cavalry was operating on the mountains and jungles and he was having a hard time getting his badly wounded troops to the hospitals in the rear. The helicopters (which had been written about for over a decade in the popular press) appeared to be just the thing needed for evacuation casualties. Colonel Grant pestered his divisional commander until the services of the helicopters were obtained. Between 16-29 June, 70 badly wounded Army troops were evacuated by four helicopters. Sometimes the pilots went in under fire. These early choppers could only carry two people, and for a medevac, that meant just the pilot and the patient. The wounded were flown some 56 kilometers to field hospitals outside Manila. This was yet another example of how the troops will quickly seize on any new technology and use it in ways the designers didn't consider. The new helicopters were seen as more effective reconnaissance vehicles. But to combat commanders with critically wounded troops, the choppers were obviously meant to move the casualties quickly to a hospital. This saved lives and did wonders for troop morale. 


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