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Roy “Doc” Savages’ Diaries

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APRIL 1967 TO APRIL 1968

 
 

We flew out of Sydney on the 2nd of April 1967 our first stop was Darwin from there to Manila and then on to Tan Son Nhut Saigon, from there we flew by the wallaby flight which was an RAAF Caribou to Nui Dat in the Phuoc Tuy Province.

On arrival there the Charley Company group was attached to 'C' Coy 5RAR, the Tiger Battalion, the first day I was shown the defences, where the 50 Cal Machinegun was, where the Claymore Mines were and where I was to go should we come under attack.

I had three weeks in country before the main body of 7RAR arrived as they were coming over by the HMAS Sydney, affectionately known as either the Rustbucket or the Vung Tau Ferry. In those three weeks I went on a few patrols and spent a week down at the Horseshoe, which we were to fully develop as a Company Base later. Our living quarters were 16 x 16 tents, sandbagged to stop shrapnel, with duckboards as floors. This wasn't a problem as we were to spend very little time in base.

Click to Enlarge

C COY TENT LINES AT NUI-DAT

Lt John (Rolly) Paget Pl Comd 7pl C Coy 7RAR

 

7RAR occupied the north-western sector of the Task Force Base. Phuoc Tuy Province is one of eleven provinces comprising the 111 Corps Area, it lies Southeast of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with the provincial capital Phuoc Le, often referred to as Baria being 110 kilometres by road from Saigon. Phuoc Tuy (literally meaning Prosperous and Peaceful) is divided into five districts: Long Le, Long Dien, Dat Do, Duc Thanh, and Xuyen Moc. All of which were accessible by roads of varying construction and security.

The Province is slightly smaller than the Australian Capital Territory and had a population of 113,000. My first night in Nui Dat was a sleepless one as our Artillery fired Missions all through the night, at about 4am I was virtually thrown out of bed by a B52 strike on the Nui Thai Vais (Commonly known as the Warburton Mountains) a lot of controversy has revolved as to how they got that name. I have heard someone say they got their name from a range in South Australia, it was a South Australian who told me this I personally believe they got their name from the song of 1961 which starts "They say don't go on Warburton Mountain" etc anyway after getting over that the 175mm Guns (US) fired a mission over the top of us, these guns have a range of approximately 32,000 metres and break the sound barrier when going overhead.


American 175mm Guns

The other wakie call we had to get used to was just on first light two Jet Fighters, normally F4 Phantoms (US) would come over and turn on their afterburners and climb vertically this was cause a sonic boom.


F4 Phantom

When the main body of the Battalion arrived we settled down to improve the defences.

Our first shakedown Operation was down in the Long Green area near the coast and was called Operation Lismore. During this operation the Battalion killed seven enemy and destroyed a series of enemy bases. We were dropped into a rice paddy by choppers from the US Army Task Group at Vung Tau plus the RAAF, the landing zone was first prepared by an Artillery Barrage followed by Gun Ships raking the LZ with machineguns and rockets. As we approached, the Chopper Gunner tapped me on the arm and pointed to a hole just above his head, both gunners then opened up on the treeline as we went in and didn't stop until we were clear of the choppers.

During this Operation my section came under fire from the right flank, I immediately put in a section attack, when we got to the area where the firing had come from we found four men tied up, one was dead the other three were badly wounded we had stumbled in on a Viet Cong execution squad. They got away and we found out from the wounded they had taken with them seven prisoners, one being a local youth leader from Dat Do.

The final result of that Op apart from all the cashes and systems destroyed was 7 enemy KIA, 12 WIA and 1 prisoner. Although the area was heavily booby-trapped (159 Viet Cong booby traps were deloused) we lost no casualties.

The extraction from that Op was funny. My platoon (7 Pl) was last to be picked up when the choppers landed we raced across the wet paddy to them, I was standing on the skids helping my section get in when I realised this Big Buck Negro Door Gunner had hold of my webbing and was pulling me in, we were 20 feet up and rising rapidly and I was still on the outside of the chopper. When I finally got in, the pilot turned around and yelled to me "Nearly left you behind that time Boy!" He was laughing his head off. Me, I was just relieved to be heading home to Nui Dat.

My recollection of my first tour is not as good as the second as I have lost some of my diaries, there were quite a few large battles against 275 VC Regiment and the Battalions of D440 and D445.

Our first casualty occurred by our own hands. I was acting platoon Sgt at the time and we had stopped for a break when the order came to saddle up and move out when a rifle shot rang out followed by a scream.

I had a fair idea straight away what had happened. I raced across and found Jimmy Cox who had been shot through the back, I immediately started work on him, I pissed everyone except the Medic off out of the way so they wouldn't have to witness the sight, there was virtually nothing we could do for him as his intestines were hanging out, a Dustoff was immediately called for. As I held Jim's intestines in my hands he was crying, he just looked at me and kept saying over and over again "Why me?" he took five minutes to die, when the Dustoff came he had been dead for fifteen minutes, however I let everyone think he was still alive, He was winched up on a Stokes Litter.


James George Cox
KIA 26 June 1967
Lest We Forget

That night I stood for what seemed like an hour plus in the Monsoon rain to try and get the blood and bone off me, it has never come off.. I told the troops Jim had died on the way to the hospital.

Four days later we were patrolling near the Song Rai when the forward scout (Charley Sparrow) ran into two enemy. Before the enemy knew what was happening, Charley casually shot them. I can't remember too much about the remainder of that Op which lasted another three weeks. I'm afraid that incident with Jimmy Cox over-shadowed everything else.

After our return to Nui Dat there was a night when my section was on piquet when the sentry woke me and said that he had some Yanks on the radio asking us to direct them through the wire, I picked up the radio and asked them to say again their message, they stated that they were a patrol from an American unit operating in the area and that they had casualties could we please show a light and direct them in through our wire. I told them to "wait out". I then got on to the Battalion Command Post by landline and told them the story and that I believed that they were VC. They asked me to try and keep them talking. This I tried, however after a few minutes they stopped transmissions.

Another night my section was again on piquet when two of my men, Pte xxxx and Pte xxxx failed to show up down at the Bunker, so I went looking for them. I found them in their tent a little worse for wear, so I told them they had ten minutes to get down to the bunker and nothing would happen to them, within ten minutes xxxx had shown up. Ten minutes later I again went looking for xxxx. He was in his tent. I told him to get down to the bunker NOW, his words to me were, "My name is Private flx? Xxxx and nobody tells me what to do!" He then pulled a pistol on me and cocked it, I don't think I've ever moved so fast in my life, I got the pistol off him and frog marched him down to the platoon commanders tent. At the same time our platoon sergeant arrived back from the sergeant's mess inebriated and thought I was holding everyone up so decided to make a prick of himself and try to disarm me.

After we got things sorted out I went down to the bunker while xxxx went up to BHQ. The next day he got 28 days confinement plus 28 days loss of pay. I was nearly a casualty.

In July 1967 I was sent down to Saigon as Saigon Guard Commander, it pissed us off to see how the Australian troops were living in Saigon and getting paid extra to do so, to be posted to Saigon to me was like being posted to Kings Cross, anyway I was in charge of the Sergeant's Hotel in Cholon and John Sexton was in charge of the OR's Hotel.

While I was down there I struck up a friendship with an American who worked at the Cholon PX (Post Exchange). Anyway, one night after a few beers we went back to my Guardroom (it was my night off) this Yank saw an F1 Sub Machinegun and picked it up, before I knew what was going on the bloody thing went off stitching the cement roof causing no harm or damage, I immediately thought, "How the bloody hell am I going to explain this?"

I got on the phone and rang the MP's who were around within ten minutes, the Corporal in charge turned out to be a bloke who had spent the whole time in Malaya in my platoon with me, he looked at me, at where the bullets had landed then asked me to step out in the alleyway, which I did.

He then asked me to repeat my story again so I told him again that someone had fired a burst of Sub Machinegun fire through the window from the alley, (by this stage the F1 had been thoroughly cleaned) for some strange reason the bastard didn't believe me.

Considering where the rounds landed I wouldn't have believed me either. He then told me for the record we should search the alleyway of which I agreed, the smart bastard then said, "Well, don't you think you should bring your weapon?" The funny thing about that night was that some of the senior NCO's had crawled under their beds, I am sure that even now on ANZAC day quite a few of them tell the story of how Viet Cong attacked their hotel that night.

The next day I was fronted to the Commander of Saigon and got my arse kicked and told not to leave my hotel until I was due to leave Saigon, which was the next day. Two hours before we were due to leave the Yank who had caused the problem turned up with a truck full of tinned food. He said we could take the truck as well. I never found out whether he was joking or not but we all took what we could carry and headed for Tan Son Nhut to get the Wallaby back to Nui Dat.

Just short of Nui Dat we were told to strap in, they then lowered the tail ramp and another Caribou put it's nose under our tail, our aircraft then peeled off and dived, leaving our stomachs back up where the other aircraft was. They then had a dogfight.

During the year the battalion mounted many operations, one being to clear Slope 30 which was an area north of Nui Dat near Binh Gia, an enemy strong point. How we did this was to relocate the villagers to a place called Ap Suoi Nghe. We then burnt their old village so as to deny the enemy accesses (so we thought). This proved wrong and the villagers resented us for it.

On arriving back in Nui Dat we were given our usual two cans of beer, like all the other times we ended up with more due to the non drinkers, anyway we thought we were pretty safe the first night in. However, at around 2300hrs Hoa Long came under attack and our company was reacted down route two to set up an ambush outside of the village.

We were taken from our company position to the other side of the Task Force by trucks. When we got into our ambush position, we settled in. It wasn't long before the enemy came along and tried to get through us.

The next day it was clear we were not in good shape so The OC did his block; we had a quick Opdem sent in and instead of going back in to base we were given the task of clearing between Hoa Long and the Nui Thai Vais.

When we got in to the mountains we came under fire from our front. We did a sweep and struck a bunker system, we could see smoke coming from one of the bunkers (which turned out to be a cooking fire with fresh rice cooking). The OC was up the front with us which was unusual, he decided to throw a grenade in, so he pulled the pin and threw it, we waited and waited, nothing happened, he had forgotten to pull the tape from around the striker lever, anyway he then asked me to throw one, I directed Browny to, at this stage the OC was standing up telling everyone to get down that a grenade was going to be thrown. Woodsy in his soft-spoken way had to inform him that it had already been thrown, he got down just in time. We could now see why OC's are kept in the rear.

In August 1967 we were on operations to the North of Binh Ba when my section found a strange looking bag up a tree. I checked it out for trip wires and found none, but to be on the safe side I attached a rope to it and got behind cover and pulled, nothing happened so I prised it open, by this time the bag was on its side. When I got it open I was greeted with a cloud of white dust, the bag was full of white powder. I immediately began to vomit, as the white powder got down into my lungs and in my eyes, the section had to carry me back to the platoon base where I held up the platoon as I was too sick to move. . I never did find out what was in that bag. Slippery Dowling took down all the markings on the side.

On the same operation on the 6th of August I lost a good mate of mine in a large action just 1000 metres from us. A Coy became engaged in what was to become known as the battle of Suoi Chau Pa against a Battalion sized force of the 274 VC Regiment.

A Coy lost 6 killed and 20 wounded. Our company was moved just before last light to try and block off the enemy withdrawal. We ran four clicks in full gear, that night we engaged the enemy to our front with no results. On checking the area the next day, we found an unexploded 500lb bomb right in front of us. If we had hit that with our fire it would have proved interesting.

The one thing I learnt from that night was that at night soldiers tend to fire high, so with this knowledge for the rest of my military career I taught all my soldiers that at night when aiming, when you think you are on target, aim even lower again, that way if you miss you will at least skip the rounds into the target.

Jim Hayes, known to all his friends as "Gabby", stayed true to form even to his death, you see he put in his last Will and Testament that a certain amount of money be set aside so that once a year a toast to the Regiment could be made. On arriving back home in Australia and after the Will was read, it was decided that on or close to the 6th of August each year the Sergeant's Mess would hold a Gabby Hayes night and that a toast to the Regiment would be drunk. This carried on through to and after the linking of 7RAR with 5RAR. I personally hope it is still a tradition in 5/7RAR.

 

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Myself and Gabby Hayes in the
Adelaide Hills 1966

Gun Op Santa Fe
These were the Tanks that opened up on us
Camp on Santa Fea

Another operation, "Op Paddington" was around highway 329 Northeast of Xuyen Moc, it had been reported that the 274VC Regiment and 5VC division were in the area. It was a combined operation with the US 9th division with the ARVN to the east. We were to be the Anvil, the Yanks the Hammer, at this stage before I go any further I'll copy my diary entry of the warning order exactly as I wrote it down.

Op Paddington to be conducted along highway 329, Enemy. 123VC regiment, 5VC Div HQ, 274VC regiment plus elements of group 89 they have Heavy Machineguns, 106mm Rocket Launchers plus 120mm Mortars. Friendly. 7RAR, 2 ARVN Marine Battalion, 11 ARVN Cav Regt, US 8th Div, 4 x 155 Batteries, 3 x 105 Batteries, 1 x 175 Bty, plus self propelled & Dusters. US 9th Div commander has just had a unit wiped out, Battalion attachments. 4 x Combat Engineer Teams, 1/43rd Aviation Battalion, 2 Company 106 Battery in direct support plus 108 Bty.

Task. Initial fly in to LZ GR654697. Company Tasks D coy to hold Nui Dat, A Coy clear N/E, B Coy clear S/E, C Coy fly in to LZ first secure and occupy defensive position West bank of Soui Loc 1st lift out as Coy from LZ to defensive position at GR668703.

Reveille 0600hr's Breakfast 0645-0700 Equipment check 0730 fly out 0800 from Luscombe.

The fly in went without a hitch. We then moved out to the Northeast of the LZ, we were given the order to dig in as the idea was for us to be in a block position while the US 9th division swept the enemy down in front of them into us.

My section dug in near an old well which I converted into a fighting pit, however whilst digging I dislodged six small snakes which dropped into the well. That night mortars starting falling close to us. Everyone headed for their pits, I had a choice, risk the mortars or the snakes, I chose the mortars. The next day I dug another pit. Just doesn't pay to cut corners!

On the second day around 1100hrs we could hear tanks approaching our front, next thing US tanks came rolling out of the scrub on the other side of the clearing.

The enemy had escaped again through the South Vietnamese lines during the night. My section on that Op was, Scout, Dave Willis, Machinegunner, Len Skevington, no.2 on the Gun Smarty, 2ic Slippery Dowling, Riflemen, Harry Woods, Chris Seymour, also to carry the M72 and Tim Hayes. We moved to the east of Xuyen Moc and linked up with three M48 tanks from the US 9th division, that night my section was to ambush a track junction 1,000 metres out to our front.

That afternoon I approached the tank commander and told him of our intentions for the night. He said no sweat and ringed our proposed position on his map. At 2215hrs that night all hell broke loose as the night exploded with high explosive shells falling all around us, I called for a checkfire over the radio as I could hear the primaries going off. The bloody Tanks were firing at us. The next day my men wanted to go and punch the Yanks up. I found out later that when the commander had gone off piquet the oncoming piquet was still half-asleep and got his orders mixed up so he ordered the Tanks to fire six rounds into the area that was circled. I think we all aged ten years that night.


American M48 Battle Tank

Between operations we did cordon and searches of villages such as Ap Soui Nghe, Ngai Giao, Binh Gia, Hoa Long, Vin Than, La Van, and Dien Cung. During September whilst up around the North of Binh Ba we were Mortared by the 6RAR mortars this mistake was due to an error on the part of the FO the Mortars were walked through us we received two casualties. The FO broke down.

On the 27th of October we flew out of Nui Dat on operation 'Santa Fe' this op was to the north of Xuyen Moc round Thua Thich the fly in went without opposition and we commenced patrolling immediately.

This was another combined operation with 2RAR, 106 Fd Bty RAA, 109 Bty RAA, 161 Field Bty RNZAQ, 2/25 Artillery (US), 3/5 Cav (US), Battery A 1/83 Artillery (US).

The Fire Support Bases were "Lion", and "Wilton" with the ARVN at Fire Support Patrol Base "Tiger".

The enemy we were expected to come up against were D445 battalion, elements of 1 Battalion 275 regiment, Group 84, C500, T75, and T77. FSPB Wilton was secured on the 27th of October at 1030 hrs and was ready to receive Guns by 1100hrs.

2RAR moved into AO Barracuda while 7RAR moved into AO Swordfish, on that day we found an old tunnel system and a Cache of Tapioca.

28 OCT 67

We are continuing our patrolling, at 0825hrs at Grid Reference 527787 we came into contact with 2VC with no results.

1 NOV 67

At 0945hrs we were patrolling towards Thua Thich when we came under fire from our front we moved forward cautiously when all of a sudden out of the grass popped this VC; he aimed his Thompson Sub machine gun. Before we could react, there was a deafening sound of a bolt going forward on an empty chamber; he had not pushed his magazine in far enough. That night we set up an Ambush only 200 metres from where that contact was, we were not expecting trouble, as we knew that the enemy knew we were in the area.

Captured weapons a BAR and Thompson sub machinegun

2 NOV 67

At 0100hrs we were awakened by the sound of Ox Carts approaching, they were approaching from our left along an old unused road (route 330). Myself and Smarty (my Machinegunner) plus Dave Willis were on the right flank of the ambush, at 0115hrs the first Oxcart was along side me when the ambush was sprung.

The first enemy being only about three feet from me was thrown out of his cart by my first burst, the enemy that had been in the second cart took off and ran the gauntlet of the whole ambush. I was changing mags when he ran past me, Smarty's machinegun blew the back of the guide rod off and jammed, so I directed Dave to get him, he fired one round and his rifle jammed. I then picked up the claymore firing device and waited until I thought he would be just in front of the claymore then pressed -- NOTHING -- If there was any such thing as Tats Lotto in Vietnam then that soldier should have bought a ticket. The Soldier that I had blown out of the cart was moaning just across the track from me. This moaning kept up for sometime. To go out to check him on such a dark night would have been stupid. After a while the moaning ceased when he died from the wounds he had sustained.

The next day just after dawn, I went out to check the body and to see why the claymore had misfired I found out that the wire had been shot clean through. I don't know who had done it. On checking the body of the VC I found he was wearing a belt with a buckle made out of an artillery shell. I now have this belt and wear it every now and again to remind myself of how lucky we had been on the 1st of November 1967.

 

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From Left: Doc Savage, Ross McMillan, Tim Haynes
Slippery Dowling and Dave Wills

7 NOV 67

I am sitting in the middle of an enemy bunker system. At 0800hrs this morning we started our days patrol. At 1040hrs we came under fire from 3 to 5 VC in a bunker system to our front. The weapons they were using I thought were a BAR, Thompson Sub-machinegun and AK'S. We immediately went into our contact front drill and started to sweep forward the firefight was brief and lasted only about 20 minutes resulting in 3 VC KIA, 1 X Thompson Sub machine, 1 X M1 Carbine, 1 X AK47 and 1 X BAR Captured.

The system we are in is a battalion size camp with over 100 bunkers and 100 metres of trench. In the area we have found 3 x M26 grenades, 9 x BAR mags, 4 x Thompson mags, 440 rounds of assorted ammo and a 500 pound bomb with the explosive removed. We have also found some mines.

The camp was booby trapped, I had an A frame for my pack, something I didn't usually carry, I dropped my pack by sitting with my back to a tree, then releasing the straps I then went to search the camp area. We found 3 M16 Mines set up, these we deloused. After that I sent Barry Brown to get my pack, he came back white as a ghost. Between the two spikes of my A Frame was a mortar round set up as a booby trap, without that A Frame my pack would have set it off.

 

Click for Enlargement

 

A mortar round set up as a booby trap

8 NOV 67

At 1707hrs we contacted 3 to 4 VC in a bunker system not far from yesterdays, the Machinegunner on seeing the enemy raised the gun with his right hand, held the belt with his left and fired the gun one handed, 'quite a feat' he killed two VC straight off, what made me feel a little sick was when we got back to the bodies their dog was eating the brains of one of the VC. We put the dog down.

We captured 1 x French SMG, 1 x M1 Carbine, 1 x Springfield Rifle, and 1 x Chicom Rifle. There were 5 bunkers, 12 weapon pit type bunkers which we destroyed along with an Ox cart.

Enemy dead

 

9 NOV 67

At GR607848 we found a camp with 8 bunkers, 2 signal centres with Diapole aerials and telephone lines believed to have come from the area of our contact the previous day, we followed this wire to GR 602850 where we found a telephone, this camp was believed to be a hospital due to the large amount of medical equipment found in the area. At 2130hrs we engaged movement with unknown results.

In the Camp found a fresh grave and were ordered to dig it up. When we got down to the body all we found was a moving white mess (Maggots). There was nothing under the mess. It wasn't long before we were all in discomfort due to the lice that was in the grave infact it was bordering on pain. We had no water to wash ourselves with and our clothes were crawling with the lice. I radioed back to Company with a request for Kerosene and clean uniforms to be sent in. This request was denied. So we spent three days in agony before we reached the Song Rai. (River)

10 NOV 67

A Coy have been attacked by an unknown number of VC who detonated a large home made mine resulting in two Australians KIA, Six Australians wounded plus one Australian evacuated with shock.

At 1226hrs A Coy contacted two possible main force or mobile force VC resulting in two VC KIA, and two AK47's captured. It is believed that these VC were responsible for the mine attack.

11 Nov 67

Today we reached the Song Rai. Thank God. I put out Sentries and we all fell into the river to relieve ourselves of these bloody lice.

12 NOV 67

General Outline: the battalion will move back to Nui Dat on the 16 NOV 67. Our luck is staying true to form. The battalion will fly back to Nui Dat; we will remain under operational control of A Sqn 3 Cav Regt to assist in the movement of the road convoy from FSPB Lion to Nui Dat.

The results of operation 'Santa Fe' were Australian losses 3 KIA, 8 WIA. US losses 2 KIA, 14 WIA, 1 Rome Plough damaged, 2 M48 tanks damaged. Enemy losses: 38 KIA (Bodycount), 1 KIA (possible), 5 WIA, 3 WIA (possible), 5 PW's, 54 weapons, 67 grenades destroyed, 25 mines destroyed, 75 UXB's destroyed, 3,000 rounds Small Arms Ammunition, large quantity medical supplies, 2 petrol engines, 6 ox carts, 3 bicycles, 2 typewriters, 1,500 lbs. of polished rice, 11,700 lbs. of paddy rice, 69 camps destroyed, 813 bunkers destroyed, 237 military structures destroyed, and 1,600 metres of tunnels destroyed.

17 NOV 67

I was evacuated to Vung Tau with possible Malaria. At the 1st Field Hospital it was confirmed that I had Malaria I was evacuated to the Evac Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay by C123 Baby Herc.

It was during this time that the second battle of Dakto was fought. The American Radio station stated what a victory it was, however, the casualties who were brought into the hospital said they got their asses kicked but good. After I was fit enough to get out of bed I began to explore the hospital area, it was at this time I met up with an American by the name of Chuck Quinn who was from 101 Airborne just down the road from the hospital. He was from Alvin Texas and had a wife by the name of Barbara who wrote to me for some time. Anyway, Chuck would sneak me in a uniform and we would go out and have a few beers, the trouble was getting out of the main gate. I used to tell the MP's I was an adviser out of Pleiku, they never believed me and threatened me everytime I went out.

I always managed to get back in though. One night I was returning with Chuck, he had stolen a jeep to take me back to the hospital. We didn't stop at the gate, went round a corner and ended up with a Volleyball net wrapped round us when we took a detour.


From L to R Chuck Quinn from Alvin Texas, Ronny J Moore from Garland Texas, Myself, Bob Mayberry and Rob Porterhouse
101 Airborne

When I was fit enough to be sent back to my unit, I was given a piece of paper and told to make my own way back to my unit.

At the airport I asked for a flight to Nui Dat, knowing full well they would not know where the hell it was, they said they didn't have a flight going there, however, they had a flight out to Saigon the next day, I said that would be fine and booked into the US Airforce Barracks for the night. I went into Cam Ranh that night and enjoyed myself.

The next day I flew to Saigon, I still had money so I decided to push my luck as the Yanks had given me a week to get back to my unit. I booked into the US EM's hotel near To Do Street and had a ball, you see I was discharged from the American hospital in American greens so the American Military police left me alone after I opened my mouth and told them I was Australian, and the Australian Military police left me alone because they thought I was American. When my money ran out I reported to the Australian Hotel in Saigon where I was fronted up to the RSM who informed me they had been looking for me, he gave me a kick up the arse and the next day I was on the Wallaby Flight back to Nui Dat.

I got back just in time for a Cordon and Search of Ngai Giao. On the 16th of December 1967, an Australian vehicle was ambushed at Ngai Giao killing 2 Australians and 2 ARVN; all weapons were captured so the Battalion was warned out for the Cordon and Search of Ngai Giao, La Van and Dien Cung.

22 DEC 67

Cordon is to go in at last light. The search will commence tomorrow. A Coy will be north of the ARVN outpost. B Coy will remain in Nui Dat. D Coy will cover the West Side roughly along route 2 plus checkpoint Bravo on route 2.

C Coy Mission: Search South East of La Van Hamlet.

Execution General Outline: The company will move north by APC's at 1630hrs to just south of Ap La Van, debus at checkpoint Bravo and move straight into Cordon.

Order of March 9 Pl, 8 Pl, and 7 Pl. In position by 1830hrs, 2 platoons will act as Search Parties, 8 Pl will remain at the checkpoint. 7 Pl group, normal plus FO AC four police and two Interpreters.

Task: We are the last platoon in the order of March, we are to cordon south of La Van in four man groups. Search south at 0800hrs on the 23rd working south the north evacuate civilians to screening point.

1600hrs Company Parade move to Luscombe 2 tracks for the platoon. Entrenching tools to be carried. Shellscrapes to be dug. Two Claymores per section to be carried.

Admin and Log: 1 days rations plus Grappling Irons, 500 rounds per Gun, 1 M79 per section, all trash to be collected in sandbags. Tim Hayes to remain in Nui Dat as 3RAR area work party, hopefully we will return to Nui Dat on the 24th.

25 DEC 67 O Group

Operations 5VC Division have moved out of the province along with 275 VC regiment. 274 VC regiment is still in the province with D445 and D440 Battalions somewhere within the province.

A Coy and D Coy are out; C Coy is on standby, also Duty Company. Recce tomorrow, myself, Sgt's Walsh, Craig and the CSM. We will go from Porky Seven LZ by chopper to look at our new AO (Area of Operations). Weapons to be correctly banded by standto tomorrow night.

27 DEC 67

We did the Recce yesterday and as the chopper was landing at Porky Seven after the Recce the door gunner was supposed to point the barrel of his M60 down, however as I jumped off the chopper he swung the gun round and the front sight caught me under the left buttock ripping it open. I received six stitches without a local, boy did that smart. Oh well, I can always say I was cut down by a Machinegun.

28 DEC 67

Weapons check tomorrow, there will be two Ordinance Corps Pogo's to inspect them starting with 9 platoon at 0720hrs. Make sure all weapons are put back the way they should be, e.g. No automatic safety catches on SLR's, no pistol grips or telescopic sights either.

Duty platoon tomorrow, Ptes Holden, Dunne, Scheafer, Mess, Donovan, Albert and Newman to man the .50 Cal. O'hare, Hayes and Smart CSM's work party. Mace, Williams, Kelleher, and Skevington under Cpl Fallance Piquet. Ptes Sparrow and Seymour 3RAR work party, Pte Phillips, Nicholson to band weapons, Pte Willis Runner, Pte Gunston and Mathews Saigon Guard.

29 DEC 67 O Group

We are off standby tomorrow, 1 section to work on bunkers plus burn grass. There is a blitz on, get all stores back to the CQ. Pte Ayers and Williams 0720 for 3RAR work party (I'll be glad when 3RAR arrive in country), Pte Hayes, Curly, Dunne and Albert to Ap Suoi Ngai. We are to start 3 to 4 man patrols in the TAOR (Tactical Area of Responsibility) they are to lie up, move, lie up, move.

I am to take a six man Ambush patrol out, check radio codes and how to get there, Pl comd will give initial brief OC will check. Weapons to be carried are, 1 M60, 2 SMG's, 2 M16's 1 SLR plus 1 Claymore per man, 1 Starlight Scope, and a M79. Slippery Dowling to take the 4 man patrol with him. Skevington (MG) Randy O'hare (SLR), Willis (SLR).

We are to do a search and destroy operation in the Cu Bi, Xa Bang and Ngai Giao area. The enemy is still being supplied through the Slope 30 area. The Americans were hit to the north yesterday, the casualties were 8 KIA, 2 MIA and 25 WIA Command Detonated Mines found at GR 454864 fresh diggings have been seen south-west of Cu Bi. Rubber Plantation there is increased VC activity in the area. 2RAR are on operation 'Forest' in the Coorparoo area.

Battalion Task: Search and destroy in AO Liz 2 Companies plus BHQ1 Coy will be at the FSB. 1 Coy plus BHQ will move towards Nui Nam. 106 Battery will motor up the road to the FSB 2 Companies will fly to Za Bang outpost area. We hopefully return to ATF on the 8th of Jan. A Coy and D Coy to fly. B Coy will be at the FSB. C Coy will move up AO Mike. Task is to Search and destroy plus Ambush in the AO's.

Execution General Outline: The company will move by APC's to FSB, if possible we will move through the Rubber to Nui Nam establish a Company Patrol Base then patrol out. If there are no sign of VC then the platoons will be given an AO. Order of March 7 Pl, 8 Pl, and 9 Pl with CHQ between 7 and 8.

Timings: Reveille 0530. Breakfast 0600-0615. Lines inspection 0630. Platoon parade/Coy parade 0645 next to the magazine. APC's will be in location. We are to lose our platoon commander Lt Paget.

3 JAN 68

We have been patrolling up through the rubber and have skirted Binh Ba it is hot work and we are now digging in for the night.

8 JAN 68

A very quiet Op we are returning to Base today.

Between the 9th and 25th of January 68 we patrolled out from Nui Dat. During the day we worked around the area as well as over in 3RAR's area.

25 JAN 68

We have been warned out for operation 'Coburg' today, it will be a quiet op as there is to be a cease-fire for TET (Chinese New Year). All we have to do is sit the TET out 4 clicks (4 kilometres) Northeast of the Bien Hoa Air Base.

We are going into Coburg with a new Platoon Comander a 17124 Lt J W Langler I have reservations about him.

 

Click for Enlargement

 

My section just before Op Coburg 1968
Back row from left Tim Hayes, Chris Seymour in front of him is Harry Woods, Roy Savage, John Smart
At front from left Randle O’Hare and Bill Osborne

The method of VC surrender during TET will be hands over the head; weapons pointed to the ground and shirts off.

We flew out from Luscombe Field up to the Bien Hoa Province and landed in an area secured by an American Company from the 9th division. I spoke with one of the squad leaders to get an idea of the area we would be working in. He asked me what our intentions were so I told him we intended to set up a Fire Support Base and patrol out into the hills. His words to me were "Man, you don't go out there that's Cong country." They had been sitting in the one spot for a week without moving, without digging in either.

That afternoon the Guns were brought in and Fire Support Base 'Anderson' was born.

26 JAN 68

Enemy score so far is A Coy has got 1 VC KIA when bedding in the Mortars. B Coy has 4 enemy KIA. C Coy have 2 enemy KIA, D Coy got 2 enemy KIA (Woman and Child)

At GR 607827 Callsign 22 (2 Pl B Coy) found a VC minefield sign plus recently built bunkers.

1 Brigade 9th division (US) moved north.

C Coy's mission is two fold. 1. To search and kill in parts of AO's Sam, Sierra, and Romeo. From there we are to move into block positions on tracks etc, from GR 605835.

8 platoon normal plus two engineers, check radio codes, they are to be second in the company column and are to establish ambush in the centre.

9 platoon normal plus MFC they will be third in the move.

7 platoon normal plus FO AC. We will be first platoon into the area, 3 section is to take the point, be ready to move at 0745hrs. We will move out on a bearing of 5300 mills for 800 metres to GR 610830.

At GR 264208 Jade (Aircraft) spotted 4 VC and called in Arty. Results were 1 VC KIA 1 WIA.

While we were moving into our position this afternoon American Gunships mistook us for enemy and opened up on us. I believe they mistook us because we were wearing bush hats and not American Steel Helmets. The rounds were landing all round us yet no one was hit. (A bloody miracle). The problem we had was we could not talk to the aircraft so we had to go through company to battalion, however, after two runs on us they were either satisfied or they recognised us as they flew off to the north.

I have a bad feeling about this Op!!


American Cobra Gun-Ship

Last night 2RAR fired a claymore - results were 1 enemy 'Porcupine' KIA. At GR 237133 Victa Coy (New Zealanders) contacted 6 VC results were 2 VC KIA. At 0830hrs they hit again, results 2 more VC KIA.

B Coy 2RAR contacted VC results 1 VC KIA, 2 WIA. At 0940hrs they hit a VC Machinegun and swept through, the results were 2 VC KIA plus a heavy blood trail. They lost 1 friendly KIA and 2 WIA (1 serious, 1 not).

B Coy 7RAR have just been in contact results 1 VC KIA.

A Coy while clearing a landing zone for BHQ and mortars killed 2 VC. This is turning out to be an interesting Op.

The VC we are contacting are mainly Guerrillas and have been operating up to section strength.

My section consists of five men and myself, I will carry the M79. Smart the Gun plus 300 rounds of ammo, O'hare SLR plus 200 rounds for the gun, Osborne M16 plus 200 rounds for the gun, Hayes SLR plus a claymore, Seymour SLR plus a claymore.

Tonight is the start of the TET so we should have a breather for at least 72hrs.

29 JAN 68

0200hrs there are flares over the Bien Hoa Airbase plus a lot of traffic over the radio. It seems that the Airbase is under attack (so much for the TET cease-fire) I am writing this by torchlight using a red filter.

30 JAN 68

C Coy 2RAR killed a VC who seemed to be drugged. B Coy 2RAR killed 2 VC at GR 241150. 150 VC dressed in black have been seen heading this way. A Coy and B Coy 7RAR are both in contact at this moment.

0400hr Victa Coy are in contact so far they have 2 Friendly WIA and have killed 2 enemy.

D Coy Callsign 43 (12 platoon) have had movement to their front for 40 minutes. Quite a large force is heading our way.

0900hrs B Coy is in contact no casualties. D Coy killed 1 VC. Callsign 21 (4 platoon) from B Coy hit 10 VC no known KIA or WIA. There were 4 Friendly WIA. There is a jittery feeling in all companies.

Reports are coming in that Saigon is under attack along with all Provincial Capitals, there is supposed to be a VC Regiment heading our way to do over Bien Hoa. I can't see us being able to stop them.

We have asked for more Claymores and the APC's will be bringing them in shortly. We will put out all Claymores tonight.

We came under fire from across the clearing. An airstrike of F4 Phantoms and Huey Gunships were called in resulting in a 58 VC KIA body count.

31 JAN 68

Last night we lost Ross McMillan. It was after dark when we were told to put out all the Claymores. I started first by passing the word around to the right that I was going out in front of the platoon, I waited until the word got back to me from the left, then went out and set my Claymores. I then passed the word around that I was back in, this was repeated by the second section commander, we then waited for Ross to send the message round that he was ready to go out when all of a sudden an M60 machinegun opened up. I don't know about anyone else but I know my heart stopped as the whole front opened up. By the time the mistake was realised it was too late.

1 FEB 68

We hit 10 VC today with the result of 1 VC KIA, 1 AK captured plus a pack full of money. Results so far. As of 31 Jan 68. KIA 82 WIA 4 Friendly KIA 4 WIA 46.

2 FEB 68

Artillery engaged 1015 VC Regiment with the results of 30 to 60 VC KIA. At 0814hrs a US battalion was attacked on three sides by a VC regiment just to our north we could hear the firefight from where we were.

We are now Standby Company for the Task Force. 3RAR have been rushed to Baria. There is a lot of activity south and north of our position. Dong Nui is being attacked. We are expecting at least 2,000 to try and get through us.

This afternoon we engaged 3 VC who seemed to be carrying a 60-mil rocket or mortar tube. My troops plus myself are getting tired from lack of sleep! If there is any activity the piquet is to WAKE ME FIRST!

A VC Divisional HQ plus 2 companies hit Van Kep killing 22; the enemy received 1 KIA plus 7 or 8 WIA.

3 FEB 68

We contacted unknown enemy strength resulting in 1 VC KIA. He was carrying ammunition for an RPG7 (4 rounds) and was main force. Van Kep was hit again this time friendly losses were 5 APC's destroyed 150 to 200 ARVN killed. Enemy was 275 VC regiment and are now withdrawing Northwest. 274 VC regiment is withdrawing to the Southeast after a Skirmish at Trang Bong.

3RAR killed 3 VC after a contact with 47 well built, well-dressed VC.

VC has so far lost 10,000 dead.

4 FEB 68

O Group: The VC has failed in their task in Saigon. 633 VC have been killed in Saigon so far. Tan Son Nhut is again open for R & R. So far 13,000 VC have been killed, 3,000 POW's have been taken. 400 Free World troops have been killed. At Bien Hoa 196 VC have been taken prisoner, 1,041 VC WIA. At Long Tien 250 VC have been killed.

The 1st Australian Task Force in the Bien Hoa Province have killed 75 VC, 12 by air, 13 by artillery, 1 POW. A Coy 2RAR have just killed 3 enemy, wounding 1 (POW). B Coy 7RAR are in contact results 1 VC KIA, captured 1 x 7.62 MG, 3 AK47's, 1x 9mm pistol.

We are not impressed, as we have just been brassed up by D Coy. (Trigger happy bastards). Callsign 33 are to clear where the VC were killed. We are to move south of FSB Harrison.

O Group 1900hrs: We are to move to GR 188169. 0800hrs ready to move to the creek fill water bottles. Each section to take an extra claymore from the APC's coming in, how the hell we are going to carry them I don't know we are loaded down now.

We are to recce the area for VC tracks, we will patrol north then move due east. 9 platoon are going south. 8 platoon are taking CHQ and water bottles. If possible leave at lest one full water bottle with CHQ. We are rationed up until lunch on the 6th. Dorothy Dix says we May be out 24 hours after that. Pinky was hit on the head with a shovel. We must get our maitdems in before we move.

5 FEB 68

Last night Callsign 9 Alfa was in the area. We are to move to the creek junction at GR 182269.

0900hrs we were patrolling 200 metres passed the creek when the field signal for enemy came back. On moving up an  enemy soldier could be seen squatting down having a shit which was to be his last. An assault was carried out killing the enemy, next thing we came under bloody heavy fire from our front. There seemed to be  at least 4 to 5 12.7 Heavy Machineguns firing at us plus everything else that goes along with them.

We were caught with no cover. I pulled my pack in front of my head which was ridiculous as I had the claymore strapped to it, plus a pack would not stop a rifle bullet let alone a 12.7 round, next thing there was a scream from my right, Mick Ayers had taken a 12.7mm through the chest

Click for Enlargement

 

Enemy 12.7 Heavy Machine-Gun

I realised if we stayed there we would all end up the same, as the fire was murderous. We got the order to pull back to the creek line so I set myself up to cover the withdrawal as we had to get Mick back. I stayed there until I thought they would be far enough back, then I withdrew myself. I had been there on my own for five minutes, yet it seemed like a lifetime. I had to fight down the fear I was experiencing.

By the time we got back to the creek line the Artillery was falling onto the enemy position. After a quick O Group we were told to dig in, as there was to be an airstrike by F4 Super Sabres dropping 500-lb bombs, plus napalm. This worried me, as they would be landing just 200 metres from us.

The artillery kept falling until just before the strike came in. We were told to mark our position with smoke so the FAC (Forward Air Controller) could identify us. I could smell the fear around me as it has a distinct smell all of its own.

I was just as scared as the rest but tried not to show it. SHIT! When the first bomb landed the earth moved, trees were cut down all around us I had to keep my mouth open against the concussion, how anyone could live after having that fall on them was something I just could not comprehend. After the first strike the artillery was brought in again while we waited for the second airstrike. After the second strike the order came no one wanted to hear. We were moving back in.

I went round to brief all the Men there were two L/Cpl's, who were refusing to go back in so I lectured them on Gallipoli, teamship and the Australian trditions, I threatened them with a charge of cowerdice I then to prove a point, deliberately stood up, with a few rounds flying overhead and slowly started walking to the next pit, about ten metres from them fear took over and I ran the remaider of the way, diving over a Log

O Group: The company is to move into the enemy camp area, order of March will be 8 platoon, and 9 platoon then 7 platoon. All packs will be dropped so make sure you carry everything you need. We may not see our packs again for some time so make sure you have a couple of meals with you.

If the camp area is empty then crawl forward, if we get in the shit then bug out. At 1230hrs 8 and 9 platoons came under heavy fire cutting down nineteen Australians within the first five minutes.

By this stage the battalion mortars had been moved up in APC's to support us. A 'DANGER CLOSE' mission was called (danger close meant we were taking all responsibility off the Arty and mortars should we receive casualties from our own fire which we did). It was incredible we could see the rounds landing in trees to our front.

At this stage I personally believed we would not see the hour out. I started moving my section forward to couple up with  9 platoon. I dived into a creek line where all the wounded were being looked after and I can remember Hooky Hughes saying to me, "Don't go that way Doc there's a 50 Cal up there." Even though he was wounded he could still think of others. Not having much choice away I went.

I dived up alongside Bob Macfarlane and remember him smiling at me and saying, "Let's hope we can talk about this in the PA (Park Avenue Hotel, Rockhampton) in a couple of months."

A light fire team was brought in just before last light. I can remember the bloke along side of me saying, "Doc I need a shit" my answer to that was, "If you're game enough to put your head up then go ahead". He did it lying down, which did not impress anyone, as we had to stay in that position for some time. That night we brought in Dustoff Choppers to evacuate our wounded. I thought at the time lucky bastards at least they're out of it.

The pilots of those choppers had guts as they used their landing lights while they winched up the wounded. Strangely the enemy never fired on them, I supposed they had their own problems getting their wounded out.

We spent a very long sleepless night, the next day Bob and I started to move forward I  took a deep breath, got up and ran across the fire lane the 12.7 had been firing down and dived for cover. From this position I could see the bunker.

At this stage Bob came up with "The Plan", "I'll get my machinegun to fire at the bunker from the right, you get your machine gun to fire from the left, we'll both crawl forward under the fire, then throw grenades into the bunker."

I thought it sounded too much like Vic Morrow (Off a TV show of the time called Combat). Anyway, I crawled over to my gun and told them "The Plan". As soon as I started moving I pulled a grenade out of my basic pouch and started crawling forward, hoping that our gunners knew what they were doing, I didn't want to end everything by being shot up the arse by my own men. Our guns never opened up.

When I got about half way I turned around to see how far Bob had got. I saw him grinning at me; he hadn't moved a bloody inch! He yelled to me "You're half way there now you might as well take it out!"

I looked at the bunker and thought, beauty I'm on the side of it, so I pulled the pin on the grenade, got up and started running towards it. As soon as I stood up I realised my mistake; I wasn't on the side but was looking down the mouth of it.

I let go of the striker lever, threw the grenade in and dived on top of the bunker. I thought to myself what am I doing here. I got up to dive off as the grenade went off. The concussion blew me off the top, when I opened my eyes I was looking down the mouth of another bunker.

I put my M16 in and pulled the trigger, it fired one round and jammed but by this time Bob was kicking me out of the way. We spent all that day taking turns in clearing the area while the enemy withdrew. I still have the grenade pin from the first bunker and still use it as a key ring.

Graham Griffiths  crawled forward under enemy fire to pull back some of his wounded. By last light we had cleared the system and the

The next day the CO flew in to congratulate us and could not believe what he saw, we had taken on an NVA Battalion dug in position with a very understrength company.

7 FEB 68

O GROUP - CO 7RAR sends his congratulations, Victa Company is now in contact results are 2 VC KIA. The enemy are withdrawing back through us to their safe havens. The operation has been extended 3 more days.

We will move back to the assemble area and our packs, there will be a resupply at 1500hrs. Our task will be to recce forward and occupy to the fullest extent of the camp. We have been away from our packs now for two days.

Tomorrow we will move out due east and do a detailed search of the area. Victa Company have hit the enemy withdrawing from our contact, the results are 5 VC KIA, 11 VC WIA. We will move out after the choppers leave.

9 FEB 68

3RAR will relieve us tomorrow.

10 FEB 68

We returned to Nui Dat. The TET Offensive is over for us thank God! From that operation on I never trusted the M16 rifle and never carried one again on OP’s due to the fact that 1, after continuous firing the build up of carbon would jam the rifle, and 2, we hit the enemy with the rifle four or five times before they would go down. At least with the SLR when you hit the enemy they would be picked up and dumped right then and there.

The remainder of our tour was quiet and in early April 68 I flew out of Saigon on the battalion advance party arriving in Sydney around midnight.

 

 
 

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