Landing Zone

Landing Zone

A Landing Zone or "LZ" is a military term for any area where aircraft land.

In the United States military, a landing zone is the actual point where aircraft land (equivalent to the commonwealth landing point.)

In commonwealth militaries, a landing zone is the cartographic (numeric) zone in which the landing is going to take place (e.g., a valley). The actual landing area is the area in which the landing is going to take place (e.g., the field where the aircraft are to land). The landing point is the actual point on which aircraft are going to land (e.g., a point of the field). Each aircraft has a different landing point.

Landing areas are most commonly marked by coloured smoke. The standard procedure is for those at the landing area to "pop smoke" (set off a smoke grenade) and declare this over the radio. The pilot says when smoke is seen and what colour the smoke is. Those on the ground then respond with what colour the smoke should be. Smoke of a different colour can mean the landing area has been discovered and compromised by enemies, and the pilot will usually have the authority to cancel any landing.

Vietnam War

LZs were used to a greater extent in the Vietnam War than in other wars because of the widespread use of helicopters. Helicopters were usually the fastest way around Vietnam, and as such, there needed to be Landing Zones for them to land at. LZs allowed troops to be moved to closer positions near the front. While many LZs were temporary, being little more than a clearing in the jungle or a clearing made using defoliant bombs that cleared everything in a diameter of 150 feet, many others were semi-permanent.

The LZ would be constructed with a barbed wire perimeter with sandbag bunkers installed as defensive positions with interlocking fields of fire. Typically one line company (100 or so soldiers) would remain as perimeter defense and often the mortar company was stationary at this location taking up positions along a portion of the perimeter. The remaining battalion infantry companies would conduct operations in the vicinity of the LZ. All but the most isolated LZs also included at least a battery of three 105 howitzers and a fire support center. Some larger LZs placed in critical locations would include a 155 battery as well.

LZ's operated by the First Cavalry Division, especially in war zone C in 1968 and 1969, were often established for specific operations or to draw out the North Vietnamese Army (NVA)units thought to be operating in that area. When the enemy was decisively engaged, forced to move or determined to be operating elsewhere, the LZ would be abandoned for a new location.

LZ Carolyn was one such LZ. First established as a special forces outpost near Cambodia at Prek Lok in Tay Ninh province it was abandoned and later occupied by mechanized elements of the 1st Infantry Division. LZ Carolyn was situated in a location especially irritating to the NVA. Astride one of the main access routes to Saigon for the NVA and VC, its presence was a constant problem for them. In April 1969 the 2/8 Cavalry reopened the LZ and began operations in its vicinity. The hornet's nest had been prodded. Incoming rocket and mortar rounds were a night and day occurrence. Skirmishes near the LZ were common. Then on the night of May 6, 1969, an entire regiment (95C) attackd the LZ defended by 300 troops. As described by [ Tom Lane] :

In the early morning darkness of 6 May, the NVA retaliated with an intensive rocket and mortar barrage, followed by a massive 95th Regiment pincer grand assault against 2 sides of the base an hour later. LZ Carolyn's garrison was reduced by the absence of several line companies on patrol, and the withering defensive fires of the battalion's COMPANY C and E were unable to prevent the onrushing battalions from storming through the wire and into the LZ from both directions.

Six perimeter bunkers were overrun, one of the medium howitzers was captured, and the enemy threatened to slice through the center of the base.

The Americans counterattacked with all available personnel, the officers involved being killed at the head of their troops. Artillerymen, supply and signal personnel, and engineers fought and died as emergency infantry reserves. The counterattacks were hurled against both enemy penetrations, but the most violent fighting occurred on the northern side, where a seesaw battle raged for possession of the 155mm howitzer position. During the course of the battle, this weapon exchanged hands 3 times in hand-to-hand fighting deceded at close range with rifles and E-tools.

Overhead, rocket-firing AH1G Cobra helicopters rolled in, ignoring heavy flak, and blasted the NVA with rockets and miniguns. Air Force AC47 SPOOKY and AC119 SHADOW aircraft, supported by fighter-bombers, were employed against the numerous enemy antiaircraft weapons ringing the perimeter.

Controlled and uncontrolled fires were raging everywhere, and it seemed that the LZ was ablaze throughout its entire length. Waves of NVA infantry charging into the southern lines were met by defending troops who took advantage of the aviation gasoline storage area. They shot holes in the fuel drums and ignited them to create a flaming barrier, which effectively blocked further enemy penetration. In the LZ's opposite sector, a medium howitzer gun pit received 3 direct hits which touched off a fire in its powder bunker, yet the crew calmly stood by its weapon and employed it throughout the night.

Both 105's ammunition points were exploded by enemy fire around 0330, and shrapnel from more than 600 disintegrating rounds in the 2 dumps sprayed the entire LZ for more than 4 hours. LZ Carolyn appeared threatened with total destruction as the thundering conflagration tossed detonating arty projectiles to shower men and equipment with flying rounds and burning shell fragments.

The defending artillerymen and mortar crews fought in desperation heightened by the loss of commo between most weapons and their fire direction centers. The initial enemy barrage destroyed commo from the 155 gun sections to their FDC, forcing crews to individually engage targets on their own volition by leveling tubes full of BEE HIVE or HE charges. When telephone lines from the mortar tubes to their FDC were severed, the direction personnel switched to a bullhorn to relay fire commands across the deafening noise of the battlefield. The battalion mortar platoon's four tubes fired 1500 rounds, ranging from critical illumination to searing WP. In all cases effective fire support was maintained.

Ammunition shortages quickly developed. As on-hand mortar ammunition beside the weapons was exhausted, volunteers dashed through fire-swept open areas to retrieve more rounds from storage bunkers. The destruction of the 105 ammo points caused an immediate crisis in the light howitzer pits. The cannon cockers were fored to redistribute ammo by crawling from one gun section to another under a hail of enemy direct fire and spinning shrapnel from the exploding dump. The crews continued rendering direct fire, even though they were often embroiled in defending their own weapons. One light howitzer section caught in an enemy cross fire between a heavy machine gun and rifles, until the artillerymen managed to turn their lowered muzzle and pump BEE HIVE flechettes into the enemy. All automatic weapons fire against the howitzer was instantly silenced. Cavalry counterattacks reestablished the perimeter, and the enemy force began withdrawing, breaking contact at 0600.

The 1st Cav troopers suffered 9 dead and 160 wounded. The 95C regiment of the NVA army suffered hundreds of dead and many more wounded. Six were captured alive. The LZ was abandoned 2 weeks later.

Tactical Landing Zones

Tactical landing zones (abbreviated to TLZ) are landing zones selected on the battlefield for the insertion of troops or supplies. A TLZ can be used for the landing of an aircraft (interms of the Royal Air Force this could be a Hercules carrying supplies or troops or any of their helicopters such as the Merlin, Puma or the Chinook). This would be situated in an area which is safe or easy to defend and troops are carefully trained in the insertion process and defensive circles are common.

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