The Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw (also known as the S-58) was a military helicopter originally designed by American aircraft manufacturer Sikorsky for the United States Navy for service in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role.
Sikorsky H-34s have served on every continent with the armed forces of twenty-five countries - from combat in Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and throughout southeast Asia, to saving flood victims, recovering astronauts, fighting fires, and carrying presidents.
The Sikorsky S-58 was developed from the Sikorsky's UH-19 Chickasaw. The aircraft first flew on 8 March 1954. It was initially designated HSS-1 Seabat (in its anti-submarine configuration) and HUS-1 Seahorse (in its utility transport configuration) under the U.S. Navy designation system. Under the US Army's system, also used by the fledgling US Air Force, the helicopter was designated H-34. The U.S/ Army applied the name Choctaw to the helicopter. In 1962, under the new unified system, the Seabat was redesignated SH-34, the Seahorse as the UH-34, and the Choctaw as the CH-34.
Roles included utility transport, anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, and VIP transport. In it standard configuration transport versions could carry 12 to 16 troops, or eight stretcher cases if utilized in the MedEvac role, while VIP transports carried significantly fewer people in significantly greater comfort.
A total of 135 H-34s were built in the U.S. and assembled by Sud-Aviation in France, 166 were produced under licence in France by Sud-Aviation for the French Air Force, Navy and Army Aviation (ALAT).
The CH-34 was also built and developed under license from 1958 in the United Kingdom by Westland Aircraft as the turbine engined Wessex which was used by the Royal Navy. The RN Wessex was fitted out with weapons and ASW equipment for use in an antisubmarine role. The RAF used the Wessex, with turboshaft engines, as an air/sea rescue helicopter and as troop transporter. Wessexes were also exported to other countries and produced for civilian use.
The U.S. Coast Guard flew the H-34 helicopter from 1959 to 1962.
In 1955, the U. S. Marine Corps received its first HUS-1s as an interim type until the HR2S (later H-37) entered squadron service. However, the HUS lasted far longer in USMC service, and in much greater numbers, than the HR2S ever did. Ultimately the Marine Corps took delivery of 515 UH-34Ds. From the late 1950s until the CH-46 entered service in 1965, the UH-34 operated as the mainstay of Marine Corps helicopter units.
French evaluations on the reported ground fire vulnerabilities of the CH-34 may have influenced the U.S. Army's decision to deploy the CH-21 Shawnee to Vietnam instead of the CH-34, pending the introduction into widespread service of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. US Army H-34s did not participate in Vietnam, and did not fly in the assault helicopter role, however a quantity were supplied to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. These saw little use due lack of spare parts and maintenance.
The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) continued to use the H-34 pattern even after the U.S. Army had phased it out. Even after the USMC adopted their own version of the UH-1, the UH-1E, the CH-34s continued to be used up to and for a period after the Tet Offensive in 1968.
Its higher availability and reliability due to its simplicity compared to the newer helicopters led Marines to ask for it by name. The phrases "give me a HUS", "get me a HUS" and "cut me a HUS" entered the USMC vernacular, being used even after the type was no longer in use to mean "help me out".
U.S. Marine Corps H-34s were also among the first gunship helicopters trialled in theatre, being fitted with the Temporary Kit-1 (TK-1), comprising two M60C machine guns and two 19 shot 2.75 inch rocket pods. The operations were met with mixed enthusiasm, and the armed H-34s, known as "Stingers" were quickly phased out. The TK-1 kit would form the basis of the TK-2 kit used on the UH-1E helicopters of the USMC.
In August 1969, the last Marine UH-34D in Vietnam was retired from HMM-362 at Hue Phu Bai. During that period, enemy action and accidents downed 134 helicopters. Most of the twenty surviving CH-34 helicopters were turned over to the South Vietnamese during the course of the war, though a few were ultimately reclaimed by the Army prior to the final collapse of the Saigon Government.
Pilots of H-34s in Vietnam discovered that some of the design's innovative features carried penalties. The high cockpit made it an obvious target, and the drive shaft created a partition that made it difficult for crew chiefs to come to the aid of the cockpit crew if they became injured. The H-34's magnesium skin resulted in very intense fires, and contributed to significant corrosion problems. The airframe was also too weak to support most of the weapon systems that allowed the UH-1s to become an effective ad-hoc gunship. Nonetheless, the H-34 demonstrated an ability to sustain a substantial amount of combat damage and still return home.
In the late 1950s, Air America, a CIA-created airline, began flying UH-34Ds in Laos, manned by crews on leave from the Marine Corps. When the last military UH-34 left Vietnam, Air America was still in operation with the type, including upgraded S-58Ts.
The CH-34 Choctaw remained in service with US Army aviation units well into the late 1960s, and was standard equipment in Army Reserve and Army National Guard aviation units, until replaced by the UH-1 Iroquois utility helicopter. Indeed, the last Choctaw was not officially retired until the early 1970s. Sikorsky production ceased in 1970, with 1,800 built.
The French Navy adopted the SH-34 Seabat in 1955, using the helicopter during the Algerian War of 1956-62. Beginning in 1956, the H-34 saw its introduction into combat during intensive operations with the French in Algeria. The French Army had earlier modified the H-19 and Piasecki H-21 with rockets and machine guns for use in a ground attack role; the French Navy performed the same modification to the CH-34 which was developed under the name Pirate and was extensively used in counter-insurgency airborne operations. The H-19 proved underpowered for the ground attack role, and the H-21 lacked mobility. The H-34 was able to carry more armament, including a MG151 20 mm cannon firing from the cabin door, two M2 .50 cal. machine guns firing from the cabin windows to port, and batteries of 37- or 68-mm rockets. 73 mm rockets and additional machine guns were also employed on some versions. Official evaluations at the time had indicated that the CH-21 was more likely to survive multiple hits by ground fire than was the CH-34; this was assumed to be a consequence of the location and construction of the CH-34's fuel tanks.
France bought 134 Choctaws in parts from the United States and assembled by Sud-Aviation. A further 166 were manufactured later locally for the French Army, Navy and Air force, these again produced by Sud-Aviation.
The helicopter was also built and developed under license from 1958 in the United Kingdom by Westland Aircraft under the name "Wessex". The Royal Navy was the primary user for the Anti-Submarine Warfare role. The RAF and Royal Marines used the Wessex, with turboshaft engines, as an air/sea rescue helicopter and as troop transporter.
A crisis arose in 1962 as Brunei was not included in the newly formed Federation of Malaya and Indonesia threatened confrontation, including a continuation of the effort started by the North Kalimantan Liberation Army. By February 1964, RAF and Royal Navy Helicopters including some Westland Wessex operating from bases in Sarawak and Sabah to assist Army and Marine detachments fighting guerilla forces infiltrated by Indonesia over its one thousand mile frontier with Malaysia. In Borneo, the helicopter played a major role in fortifying the frontier and maintaining the frontier strong points by airlifting supplies in.
A total of around fifty-five Westland Wessex HU.5s went to the South Atlantic in 1982, though a few of these, sent as replacements, did not arrive until after the end of hostilities. The The prime role of the UK Marines helicopters was the landing, and moving forward, of Rapier missile systems, fuel, artillery and ammunition.
21st May of 1982 845 Squadron's Wessex HU.5s supported British landings on East Falkland. Some days later short-term SAS observation posts were inserted, with help from Wessex HU.5s, on the mountains behind Stanley. All six of 848 Squadron's Wessex HU.5s were reduced to burning wreckage after the container ship 'Atlantic Conveyor' was hit by an Argentine Exocet missile.
The H-34 was the primary VNAF helicopter until replaced by the Bell UH-1 Huey.
A joint air force/paratroops delegation studied helicoters used by the French Army and recommended the acquisition of the Sikorsky S-58 and on February 13th 1958 the first pair arrived in Israel, followed by another helicopter in March. The "Rolling Sword" squadron, which operated all IAF helicopters at the time, operated only a few examples until 1962 when 24 S-58s earmarked for the West German air force were covertly routed to Israel.
At the outbreak of the Six Days War the "Rolling Sword" squadron had 28 airworthy S-58s. The helicopters begun the war evacuating downed pilots, but became more involved as the ground war progressed. On the night of June 5th-6th the S-58s airlifted 600 soldiers behind Egpytian lines in the center of the Sinai after Israeli armour had met fierce resistance. This ground force destroyed an Egpytian artillery position, hastening the collapse of the Egyptian front. On June 7th S-58s were tasked with airlifting Israeli paratroops to capture the southernmost point in the Sinai, Sharm-A-Sheik, but arrived at the site to find it abandoned.
During the final operation of the war, the conquest of the Golan Heights from the Syrians, the S-58s flew Israeli paratroops in to take control of the southern Golan. In three separate airlifts on June 9th-10th, the paratroops were inserted behind Syrian lines and attacked retreating Syrian forces.
The S-58 continued to fly combat missions after the end of the War, mainly against Palestinians infiltrating Israel or against their bases in Jordan. On March 21st 1968 they participated in the operation of Karama, bringing Israeli troops in and out as well as evacuating the wounded. This was the last operation of the S-58 as it was retired shortly later, replaced by the Bell 205 and Aerospatiale Super Frelon.
Accidents and incidents
Specifications (H-34 Choctaw)
Published - July 2009
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