Piasecki H-21 Shawnee
Operational History

Algerian War

In 1956, seeking a way to use helicopters in a ground attack role in the Algerian War, the French Air Force experimented with arming the Sikorsky S-55, then being superseded in service by the more capable Piasecki H-21 and Sikorsky H-34 helicopters. The H-19 was originally fitted with a 20-mm cannon, two rocket launchers, two 12.7-mm machine guns, and a 7.5-mm light machine gun firing from the cabin windows, but this load proved far too heavy, and even more lightly-armed H-19 gunships proved underpowered. Some Piasecki H-21 helicopters were subsequently armed with fixed, forward-firing rockets and machine guns and a few even had racks for bombs, but the H-21 lacked the maneuverability and performance needed for offensive action. Most CH-21s in service were eventually fitted with a door-mounted 12.7- or 20-mm gun for self-defense only.

The Sikorsky CH-34 was also modified into a gunship by the French Navy. While the CH-34 was effective in the ground attack role, official evaluations at the time 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. Nevertheless, by the close of the Algerian War, attack helicopters such as the CH-34 were being used in synchronized operations with troop-carrying CH-21 helicopters in large-scale counterinsurgency operations.


The CH-21B assault helicopter could carry 22 fully-equipped troops, or 12 stretchers, plus space for two medical attendants, in the MedEvac role. The CH-21B was first deployed to Vietnam in December 1961 with the Army's 8th and 57th Transportation Companies, in support of ARVN (Army Vietnam) troops. The CH-21B/CH-21C Shawnee could be armed with 7.62 mm (.308 in) or 12.7 mm (.50 in) door guns. The CH-21 was relatively slow. Its cables and fuel lines were so vulnerable to small arms fire- it was even rumored that a CH-21 had been downed by a Viet Cong spear.

CH-21 flying over Vietnam.

The Shawnee was the "Workhorse" of Vietnam until it was replaced with the fielding of the UH-1 Huey, and the later fielding of the CH-47 Chinook in the mid-1960s. The Shawnee had two tandem fully-articulated three-bladed counter-rotating rotors. The CH-21 was powered by one Curtis-Wright R1820-103 Cyclone supercharged 1150 hp piston engine. The CH-21B was equipped with an uprated 1425 shaft horsepower (1063 kW) engine.

Wikipedia: H-21 Shawnee