by Jeff Walker

Detachment B’s area of responsibility for intelligence collection and analysis was the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s (ARVN) 1st Corps Tactical Zone, also known as I Corps. The Detachment’s operational location was in a corner of I Corps Compound, the headquarters of the ARVN’s commanding general for I Corps, in DaNang. Prior to 1968, US Army presence in I Corps seemed comprised mostly of MACV Advisors to the ARVN, the proximity of which accounted for the Detachment’s location. With the exception of Special Forces operations, tactical combat operations in the north of the Republic of Vietnam were largely conducted by the US Marine Corps. While security on the I Corps Compound was provided by the ARVN, general perimeter security around the city of DaNang was provided by units of the Marines. Most theater support services were provided for all military units by the US Naval Support Activity. See southern portion of DaNang City Map for location of the I Corps Compound.

Det B The First Year by Robert Rosak

B Detachment was comprised of a headquarters, which encompassed the commanding officer, and supply, maintenance and administrative personnel. There were three mission specialty sections – the Imagery Interpretation Section (II Section), which examined and analyzed aerial photography (imagery) provided by the US Air Force, the Reproduction Section (Repro Section), which produced copies of this imagery and derivative photographic products, and a Delivery Platoon (Good Guys) contingent composed of a pilot, crew chief and aircraft.

The Imagery Interpretation Section operated from a complex composed of a Tactical Imagery Interpretation Facility (TIIF) and two large vans outfitted with desks, tables and map boards. Placed side-by-side, these truck-mounted vans were connected by a site-built shelter that provided a weatherproof corridor between the rear door openings of the trucks. The TIIF and adjacent vans were equipped with light tables, optical devices for examining imagery, computers capable of performing and interpolating measurements, mechanical drawing resources, and communications equipment.

The Hand Held Program consisted of reconnaissance aircraft flying missions with an Imagery Interpreter on board to take pictures with a hand held camera. Det B Hand Held program.

The Repro Section worked from a mobile photographic laboratory, the ES-38, which could develop, print and duplicate the various sizes of film utilized by the aerial reconnaissance acquisition services. The ES-38 was housed in a truck-mounted van and powered by a field generator. Water for the processing of film, had to be obtained locally and was stored in a large, rubber tank. Because B Detachment was in a static location, the van was removed from the truck and operated as a ground unit. Later, a site-built building was added that provided a limited capability for processing conventional film.

In December 1966, B Detachment’s inaugural hand-held camera mission was flown, the resulting imagery being used to support a subsequent ground operation west of DaNang. The film from this mission was developed in the ES-38A and printed using a commercial photo enlarger hurriedly purchased by the Commanding Officer at the post exchange. While B Detachment understood that a new operational capability had been created, due to the small interior dimensions of the ES-38A van, this promising capability was limited inasmuch as conventional film could not be developed and printed while aerial imagery was being processed in support of B Detachment’s primary mission.

In the spring of 1967, B Detachment’s Reproduction Section chief designed a frame building that was erected between two of the permanent masonry buildings. The Army did not provide Hand Labs for MIBARS so building materials had to be sourced locally. The ES-38A was placed on a cement pad and butted up to the wall of the facility in such a way as to allow its quick removal and re-mounting on its truck. Inside the new building, a large opening allowed the ES-38 door to open into the room and provided access to the unit without going outside. The ES-38A’s processing equipment could also be removed easily from the van, to an environment protected from the weather, for cleaning, maintenance or even full operation on the concrete floor. Power was provided by the local city power plant and water was delivered via 1200-gallon water truck.

The opposite end of the building provided a light-tight room with a baffled entryway to serve as a dark room. Reproduction Section personnel spent much of 1967 building tables and scrounging various items of dark room equipment such as developing tanks, processing trays, safe lights, print dryers, chemicals and photographic papers. Some equipment was purchased through the PX and some scrounged from the Air Force, Navy and Army. While the facility did not, in 1967, approach the capability of an established photo lab, it did allow B Detachment to deal concurrently with conventional aerial imagery as well as small-format 35 and 70-millimeter film from hand-held cameras.
The center of the structure provided protected storage and staff space, finally allowing Reproduction Section personnel shelter from Vietnam’s tropical sun and rain when not on duty in the ES-38A.

Don Skinner writes:
When I got there 6/69 we were shooting B&W for happy snaps (our term for personal pictures). The film was free and so was the processing. Then we got this idea to trade our non-compatible film (16mm??? and some other junk) and supplies for Ektachrome and developer. We got bulk reels of Ektachrome so we could load up our cassettes to around 40 exposures each. We had a large wash tray in the Hand Lab that was around 3'x3' and filled it with water to control the temp of the chemicals for developing the film.

Next, we needed slide mounts. I don't remember the deal that was made but the Navy was to supply us with slide mounts for something we had. Anyway, when the slide mounts came they were on a pallet. We had ordered/asked for 2,500 and got 250,000! We were in slide mount heaven!

Later we got an Omega 4x5 enlarger with a color head attached. We made some connections and soon had color print chemicals and paper. I was the only one who had any color print experience so I got to play. I again used the 3'x3' wash tray for temperature control for the chemicals. These chemicals needed to be kept in even closer temperature control and this time I needed to keep the plastic bottles of seven different chemicals in some kind of order instead of letting them just float around where ever the liked. Temperature and time are very important for correct color and saturation. The chemicals needed to be at 68 degrees but the best I could do was 72 so the time had to be adjusted. We did make some color prints but we went back to slides as those were much easier to work with.

While working in the Hand Lab I got tired of going around and turning each individual safe light on. I decided that had to end so I rewired the electrical circuits for the safe lights and with the flip of one switch they all came on or went off.

The Delivery Platoon used a deHavilland Beaver, U6-A, aircraft to transport military intelligence products to supported units, ferry personnel between DaNang and the battalion headquarters in Saigon, and to fulfil other transportation requirements on a timely basis. The aircraft was at first maintained at the Army/Marine Corps airfield at Marble Mountain and later moved to DaNang Main Airfield. Det B had U6-A Beaver "Good Guy 182" until it was hit by morter rounds according to Bob Crowell. 1969/1970 Det B had Good Guy 582 and 682. Can any more information be provided? Don Skinner.

Initially, B Detachment personnel were quartered in various hotel rooms that had been rented throughout the city by the US Naval Support Activity. Enlisted personnel were quartered in several buildings. In the fall of 1967, approximately September or October 1967, Enlisted personnel were moved from the Palace Hotel to a rear building (squad bay) of the Marine Security Unit across the street from the DaNang Hotel. After TET ’68 and the workload allowed, the Enlisted personnel moved to the Modern Hotel, approximately April 1968. (If anyone knows exact dates for these locations, please add them). The Catholic Church, just behind the Modern Hotel was a good landmark because it was the tallest structure in downtown DaNang.
Docked just up river from the Modern Hotel was the German hospital ship, the Helgoland.

The DaNang Hotel had a cafeteria style restaurant for the Enlisted personnel on the ground floor, the EM Club was on the second floor and the NCO Club was on the third floor. In the evening movies were shown on the covered, open-air roof.

Officer personnel, also originally scattered throughout the city, were eventually quartered in a villa rented by the US Naval Support Activity. Messing facilities and service clubs were scattered throughout the city. See DaNang City Map for locations that were significant to B Detachment personnel.

The MIBARS officers' quarters, which was jokingly referred to as "The Villa," was a run-down single-family house on Quang Trung, a side street to Bach Dang. The property was acquired after it was vacated by a covert unit -- but that's another story. The Navy provided an indigenous guard at the front gate, but the sides and rear, which bordered civilian residences, had only a masonry wall. The Officers, all by themselves on that residential street, were sitting ducks and would have made an easy target any day of the week, but especially during the Tet Offensive.

Gene Pianka Remembers:

TET 1968

In the lead-up to TET, the unit reviewed many missions over the Khe Sanh area as this Marine base was surrounded and under siege during January '68. I Corp compound was attacked during the night of January 30th with several VC killed inside the compound. I don't believe any Det B personnel were working that night. During the next morning the unit was on alert as fighting was still going on in the village immediately behind the southern end of the compound. An old WWII prop plane was involved in the battle as I recall it strafing the village and dropping some bombs. (I've also read of thie engagement in a book on the Vietnam War). After the end of the engagement, enemy dead were brought to, and laid out, on the helipad directly across the street from the Det B area when the local residents could view them for a day or two before they were taken away.

On the night of the 31st, the Detachment was on alert all night at its barracks across the street from the DaNang Hotel as rumors were there was to be an attack on the hotel from the direction of the fishing village north of the barracks. Nothing happened that night or on succeeding nights, but the unit increased ammo for all from five rounds to five full clips.

Workload, i.e - the number of missions, increased significantly during this time and work hours increased to 18 hours on and 12 off seven days a week if I remember correctly. Also during this time frame, the size of the unit increased with a contingent of Michigan National Guardman joining the unit. They came with M-16's - we still had M-14's.

A significant number of missions reviewed were over HUE. It was during this timeframe that several members volunteered, or were volunteered to, be sent to Phu Bai. I believe one was Ted Adams.

Don Skinner remembers:
I was working the night shift in Repro. Things had slowed down and I went over to the II vans to shoot the bull and see what was going on over there. While I was there we heard some rockets hitting in the not too far distance. We were starting to get a little nervous so we headed for the bunker. We had just gotten to the bunker when a rocket hit close enough that I heard something hit the bunker. The next morning before heading back to the hotel I checked the outside walls of the bunker and found two chunks of shrapnel imbedded in the wall. I got a screwdriver and used it to remove the two pieces, one I gave to my roommate, Marky Mason.
Shrapnel removed from the bunker, photo by Don Skinner

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