AN ACTION REPLAY FROM THE HAT
Adjutant & OC C Company
during the Vietnam War did an infantryman involved in a
battle ever experience an "action replay", but that is
exactly what happened to Lt Ian Hosie and his soldiers
of 7 Platoon, C Company, the 5th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (5RAR) who had been embroiled in a
prolonged engagement with an aggressive enemy on 31 July
1969. Some years after the war Lt Hosie received
information that an RAAF gunship helicopter co-pilot,
Pilot Officer Jack Lynch, possessed an audio tape
containing much of the radio conversations between the
ground troops and the various support aircraft in that
5RAR had just commenced
in the Hat Dich
Secret Zone, an enemy haven since the days of the
Viet-Minh (or First Indochina) War, and in 1969 a
stronghold base for the headquarters and battalions' of
Sub-Region 4 (SR4, about 1,100 men), the battalions' of
274 VC Infantry Regiment (about 700 strong), both with a
majority of North Vietnamese Army regulars, and the
crack North Vietnamese Army unit, D67 Engineer
Battalion. The Hat Dich (pronounced "hut zic") area was
located in the north-west corner of Phuoc Tuy Province
to the north of the Nui Thai Vai mountain complex,
straddling the border into Bien Hoa Province. The
combination of both road (Route 15 from Saigon to Vung
Tau) and extensive waterway approaches through the
marshy Rung Sat to the west of Route 15 gave it
logistical importance, whilst the undulating and
generally featureless dense tall-timbered jungle of the
Hat Dich itself provided an ideal operational base for
the enemy (see map above).
5RAR's Operation Camden had a twofold task: first, it
provided the infantry protection for a US Land Clearing
Team of thirty Caterpillar D8s with their huge Rome
ploughs as they felled large tracts of jungle housing
these enemy installations; and second, by reconnaissance
in force, it aimed at locating and destroying enemy main
force units. Bunker systems of company and battalion
size, generally sited near water, were frequently
located during this one-month operation for which the
After Action Report summarised the successful discovery
and destruction of over a thousand bunkers, hundreds of
weapon pits and over 1500 metres of tunnels.
7 Platoon was newly-formed after the loss of 3 killed
and 18 wounded from enemy mines a few weeks earlier in
the Long Hai Hills. Its Platoon Commander, 2Lt Dave
Mead, plus the platoon sergeant, two corporals, a lance
corporal and the majority of the riflemen had to be
replaced. Lt Ian Hosie ("Hoss") was moved from the
Tracker Platoon to take command, new NCOs were promoted
from within the Battalion (including West Australian
assault pioneer, Cpl John ("Doc") Halliday, who became
platoon sergeant) and 23 replacements were obtained from
the Task Force Reinforcement Holding Unit. They
assembled and underwent immediate training whilst still
on Operation Esso within the shadow of the mine-ridden
Long Hai Hills - a challenging task. The Battalion then
returned to Nui Dat for a rest during which time 7
Platoon's training continued. It was a credit to Lt
Hosie and his NCOs that, within such a short time, the
platoon was not only trained to battle efficiency but
was also moulded into a cohesive team.
The move to the Hat Dich occurred on 29-30 July 1969. C
Company 5RAR began operating in an area about 9 kms east
of Route 15 in dense jungle near the Suói Dá Vang, a
substantial creek which flows generally west towards the
small hamlet of Thai Thien on Route 15 before emptying
into the Rung Sat. 7, 8 and 9 Platoons were deployed
separately well ahead of the bulldozers to ensure no
enemy interfered with the clearing operation, and within
no time were making contact with enemy forces.
Then, at 0915 hours on 31 July, Hosie's 7 Platoon
briefly encountered and fired at what appeared to be an
enemy water party of 5 to 8 men on a well-used track
leading to the stream. Dressed in grey-green uniforms
and carrying AK 47 assault rifles and large plastic
containers, they appeared to take casualties from a 7
Platoon machine gun before they rapidly withdrew to the
north. Hosie immediately called for a tracker team from
his old platoon to assist in the pursuit. Private Paddy
Walker and his tracker dog, Caesar, attached to Company
Headquarters (CHQ), were soon on the enemy scent. As
speed and security were essential to a successful track,
Hosie used a lightened fighting patrol (without packs)
consisting of himself, his radio operator, Pte Lance
Reeves, a 6-man section under the experienced Cpl Mick
(Bolts) Bolton (the sole remaining corporal from the
earlier 7 Platoon strength), and the tracking team of
Paddy Walker and his Labrador-Kelpie cross, Caesar. They
set a scorching pace. The balance of 7 Platoon,
commanded by Sgt "Doc" Halliday, and CHQ followed a
distance behind carrying the discarded packs and
After 45 minutes with his nostrils close to the ground
and rapidly closing in on the enemy through the thick
Caesar suddenly froze, lifted his nose and
pointed, straining his body and head forwards, ears
erect. Bolton's section immediately swept through the
designated area but no enemy was contacted, although
there were fresh signs of their having stopped to treat
their casualties, among them some bloody shell dressings
and indications of saplings cut for stretcher poles. The
pursuit continued along the northern side of the creek.
At one point the fleeing enemy split up, one group
crossing the creek, the other staying on the northern
side and moving north-east. Paddy and Caesar, leading
the patrol, followed the second group.
The enemy commander must have realised just how close
the pursuit was to him as he began to employ some clever
avoidance and ambushing tactics. After another half hour
Caesar pointed a second time, and again the assault
section swept through from the flank. This time some
enemy were seen fleeing though the thick scrub and it
became obvious they had doubled back to ambush their own
tracks but had been foiled by the width of the flanking
Caesar's early warning. By now it was
New enemy deceptive tactics were employed. This time
they followed a track but then veered off at a steep
angle through the thick undergrowth for several hundred
metres before hooking back in a semi-circle to ambush
their pursuers on the track. At this point Paddy and
Caesar stopped while Hoss moved forward to give
instructions. As he came close Paddy suddenly raised his
weapon and fired from the waist past his skipper. He had
spotted a Viet Cong in the undergrowth on rising ground
above them 15 metres away preparing to fire his
but fortunately Paddy was both quicker and deadly
accurate. A second enemy concealed in the vegetation
fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) before fleeing.
An immediate assault located the dead enemy but, as he
was dressed differently (in American greens) to the ones
seen earlier, it seemed he might have been a sentry for
a nearby bunker system. Other signs of a bunker system
were also noticed including the distinctive ethnic
smell, cut logs, stumps camouflaged with mud, twigs and
leaves, the heavy use of a track system and close
proximity to water.
As Mick Bolton's section had been working non-stop for
hours during the pursuit and his section machine gun had
just broken its firing pin, Hoss arranged a swap with
Lance Corporal Ian Leis's section about mid afternoon.
CHQ (Company Head Quarters) established a firm base on a small, timbered knoll
near where Paddy had shot the Viet Cong sentry. No
bunker system had been positively located at this stage
so Hoss tasked "Leisy", Sandy McKinnon, Jim McMillan and
a fourth man with a spare radio, to check further ahead
for any bunkers. They silently followed the line of the
30 cm-wide track but kept either side of it in the thick
vegetation. At one point forward scout Sandy noticed a
cigarette lighter beside the track; he checked it; it
worked. Then about 200 metres from platoon HQ Leisy
noticed an unusually bushy area and stopped his patrol
to check it. They slowly crawled up to a large log and
carefully peered over it to discover an enclosed cooking
area with pots, tins, Hessian bags and plastic water
containers near the ashes of an old open fireplace. It
was all well concealed by a bamboo frame camouflaged
with fern fronds and leaves. The patrol crouched looking
at this and small well-hidden tracks leading to what
appeared to be bunkers several metres either side. With
the smell of both cooking and humans now distinct at
such a close range they realised they were actually
within the bunker system. Although the jungle was
completely silent the patrol members, with mouths dry
and adrenalin racing, could hear their hearts thumping.
Suddenly from behind a bunker beyond the cooking hut
appeared two unsuspecting soldiers in grey-green
uniforms, combat webbing with ammunition pouches,
wearing pith helmets and carrying
AK47 assault rifles.
Reacting swiftly and taking advantage of their obvious
amazement and fear, Leisy fired at them from point blank
range, dropping them to the ground.
Enemy rifle fire seemed to erupt from every bush to
their left (north) as the four men hastily pulled back,
Jim McMillan effectively using his
M79 grenade launcher
to give them an initial break. Some enemy began to
pursue them, firing both small arms and
RPGs, but Leisy's men, using leapfrog fire and movement, covered
each other and halted the enemy as they retreated to
their platoon firm base. They reported their findings to
their platoon commander: numerous enemy in at least 4 to
6 bunkers, well-concealed on the high ground to the
north of the stream. These were not black-pyjama Viet
Cong but North Vietnamese regulars. They were well-armed
and aggressive but had taken casualties.
It was 1645
discussed the situation with the acting Company
Commander, Captain Bill Titley, and it was decided from
prior experience that a quick aggressive assault would
not necessarily be met by a staunch defence but would be
more likely to cause an enemy withdrawal. Initially
Hosie prepared his plan of attack on what he thought was
a small platoon position: with air and artillery support
they would do a left flanking assault with two sections
up and one in reserve, while CHQ remained in the firm
base. The attack H hour (start time) was set for 1730
Then things began to unravel: artillery and mortar
support were unavailable and the fighter attack aircraft
could not be employed because of the danger to the
assaulting sections who would be too close to the target
impact zone. As well, one rifle section remained with
CHQ as part of the firm base thus leaving just two
sections of 6 men each plus Platoon HQ for the assault,
with its sole fire support from a RAAF gunship
helicopter (light fire team). Hoss asked Paddy if he
could assist in the assault. His reply was both
tactically sound and given with Paddy's typical
Aboriginal humour in an exaggerated accent:
"Boss, dem black blokes am good at lead'n and track'n
but no good at attack'n. Dem white troops are legendary
and best at dat, but dem poor black troops am hopeless."
In fact, despite the small quantity of ammunition held
by the tracker (this assisted his speed of movement),
Paddy said he would assist if required, but Hoss decided
against it, keeping him for his specialty.
By now the late afternoon downpour of rain had begun.
Hoss designated Ian Leis's section with acting forward
scout, Sandy McKinnon (usually a machine gunner), to
lead the assault force to the bunkers through the scrub
well to the north of the track. "Take as much time as
you like Mac," he instructed Sandy, noting that stealth
and surprise from this different approach might provide
one of their few advantages. The undergrowth was thick
and visibility limited as they slowly but quietly
progressed towards the enemy. Sandy did not see the line
of camouflaged bunkers until an enemy suddenly loomed
two metres to his front raising his
AK47 to fire. The
rounds slammed into Sandy's chest with such force that
he was thrown several metres onto his back. Other rounds
that had struck his weapon shattered it and forced it
from his grasp as he was propelled away. The North
Vietnamese soldiers had been in position and, although
surprised by this sudden appearance, were ready and
immediately opened up with all their weapons at Leis's
section and Platoon HQ who all hit the ground and
returned fire. The onslaught had all the sudden
explosive force of a sprung ambush.
"I've been hit, I've been hit." Sandy said as he
struggled to regain his feet, realising that the
traumatic impact to his chest had caused serious
injuries. Doc Halliday, who was close by, yelled at him
"Friggin' get down or you'll get another one!" (This was
the second time Sandy had been wounded in as many
The light fire team gunship (radio call sign "Bushranger
71") had arrived as the assault sections' were moving
towards the bunkers and soon after the battle began was
requested by Hosie to fire its rockets at the bunkers
through the forest canopy, and provide cover to the
assaulting troops using its mini guns and mounted twin
M60 machine guns.
[It is from this time that the audio tape commences,
small extracts of which are shown in italics. The
chopper captain was a New Zealander, Flight Lieutenant
Ted Creelman, whose co-pilot and crewman were
Australians', Pilot Officer Jack Lynch and LAC Alan Lamb.]
The momentum of the Australian assault was stalled by
the ferocious impact of the well-armed and larger force.
Rifleman Jim McMillan (a reinforcement to 7 Platoon only
a few weeks earlier) scrambled to a mound from where he
fired furiously into a bunker. His platoon commander
also used this mound to better observe the enemy layout,
but within minutes Jim was mortally wounded through the
heart. He rolled over into the arms of Hoss who urged:
"Hold on Jim, hold on."
"No, I can't. I'm going, I'm going ..." Jim replied.
He died instantaneously. There was just a small hole and
a tiny spot of blood to his left shirt pocket.
The withering enemy
RPD machine gun fire with
its distinctive green tracer, together with the
explosions of the
RPGs was coming from just a few metres
away. It was deafening and like a deadly sheet of hot
metal slicing through the air and undergrowth just centimetres above the heads of the assault section and
platoon HQ, pinning them down. It stripped the foliage
from above the prone soldiers so that leaves and
branches rained down and settled upon and around them.
Hoss, acknowledging the crisis, said to his sergeant:
"We're in the shit, Doc."
He shouted orders from his position but immediately
attracted increased fire upon himself and his
Nearby, National Service rifleman, Private Rod Zunneberg,
was caught unable to move in an enemy fire lane. He
"For Christ's sake Jim, shoot 'em so I can move."
Rod couldn't understand why Jim was not firing ... Jim was
Rod's predicament was relieved, and he believed his life
saved, through the furious firing and aggressive actions
by his section commander, Ian Leis, who silenced at
least one bunker by shooting directly into its firing
slit. That caused the enemy to momentarily slow their
firing long enough for Rod to roll to a less vulnerable
English-born machine gunner Pte Colin ("Rastas") Jones
was also firing intensely at the bunkers, an action
which immediately attracted additional attention from
the enemy. To reduce the silhouette of his
gun, Rastas folded the bipod legs to keep the muzzle
closer to the ground as his weapon pounded away at the
defensive position. It was his gun that gave the most
effective covering fire for the extraction of their
Cpl Jock MacLean, section commander of the reserve
assault section, repositioned his men to put in a right
flanking attack, but the scrub was so thick as to be
almost impenetrable and the enemy fire again too strong
so that their movement was halted 50 metres from the
objective. Hoss ordered them to pull back and redeploy
about 100 metres on the left flank of Leis's men, and to
attack again from that angle. This would enable better
fire support at right angles from Leis's section when
the new assault closed in on what the platoon commander
assessed would be the rear perimeter of the bunker
system. Overhead "Bushranger's" mini guns gave close
covering fire to MacLean's section as it tried to move
into position past some open spaces made by old B52 bomb
Unfortunately the bunker
system was far more extensive than initially thought and
instead of hitting the rear they really had struck a
lateral extension of the original bunkers, all of which
were occupied by well-armed enemy. Within a short time
that left flanking assault was also pinned down by
RPG and machine gun fire with experienced
section 2nd in command Lance Corporal Barry (Bazza)
Baker, and recent reinforcements, machine gunner Pte
Andy MacDougal and his number 2, Pte John (Buddah)
Martini, isolated on the left flank close to the forward
line of bunkers. This was the first indicator that 7
platoon was in fact facing a force considerably larger
than initially estimated, and one that now appeared to
be of company strength (the position was later found to
be 150 metres in diameter and to have been occupied by
members of 4th Battalion SR4).
Andy poured machine gun fire at the nearby bunkers and
in doing so attracted intense return fire from adjacent
ones that were sited in mutually supporting positions. A
barrage of RPG 2 and
RPG 7 fire exploded all around and
above him and Buddah. The explosions of the heavier
7 were particularly ear shattering and as Andy recalled
later, their heat was like "putting your head in a 300
degree fan-forced oven." His number 2, Buddah Martini,
was wounded in this exchange when an
RPG exploded in a
tree above them, showering them with branches, foliage
and white-hot shrapnel. The worst shrapnel wound was to Buddah's inner thigh just above his left knee, exposing
but not severing the main artery.
"Are you badly hurt?" yelled Andy.
"I think I'm OK," answered Buddah who had turned a
"Well, throw us your ammo, patch yourself up and do it
tight, mate; then get yourself out of here" said the
Bazza Baker leopard-crawled up to Buddah as he was
applying his shell dressing to pad the gaping wound and
strapping it to his thigh before the wounded man slowly
crawled away and extracted himself from the action.
Bazza was concerned about some firing some distance to
their flank so moved to a position 10 metres to Andy's
left. They were now alone and isolated close to the
bunkers on 7 Platoon's extreme left flank. Andy
continued firing as targets occurred, including one who
was aiming his
RPG towards Hosie's platoon headquarters.
Platoon signaller, Pte Lance
Reeves, radioed back to CHQ:
"30, this is 31, we have three casualties. Dustoff,
[CHQ was radio call sign 3 or 30 ("Three-Zero") while 7
Platoon was call sign 31("Three-One").]
"31 this is 30, yes we've got you. We have Dustoff
standing by, over."
CO 5RAR, Lt. Col Colin ("Genghis") Khan (call sign "Niner"),
was hovering in the
"Possum" bubble helicopter nearby
just above tree top level:
is Niner, I have arranged Dustoff through my means."
(meaning he had
passed this onto the Battalion Command Post using
another radio net). The presence of the popular Genghis
was a real morale boost for the diggers below.
Hosie spoke to CHQ:
is 31,we have three casualties: two bad. It looks like a
sizeable bunker system. I've tried to whip around to the
left but it is a bit doubtful."
By this time both assault sections were unable to
advance because of the larger defending force with its
superior firepower. It was apparent to Hosie that his
force was too small to overrun this high quality NVA
enemy whose effective use of its weapons was both
accurate and intense, particularly along well-concealed
fire lanes trimmed low through the undergrowth. After
some time he reported on the radio:
"31, it's too big. I'm pulling back. When can we get
Details of the three casualties were provided: "two walking and one
litter; one is very bad, over."
Colonel Khan, overhearing this, suggested to Bill Titley:
3 this is Niner, tell 31 if he can get those
casualties back closer to your loc, there
are a few shell crater clearings I can see
there suitable for Dustoff. Also that will
enable you to get Bushranger in, as well as
safely extracting your casualties, over.
"3, that is being done. He's extracting
himself now and as soon as they are
sufficiently clear we'll get Bushranger and
Dustoff in, over."
medical treatment provided to the wounded soldiers in
difficult conditions was fairly basic at this stage.
Platoon medic, Pte Max Hedley, had quickly reached Sandy
whose chest wound had caused blood to well in his mouth.
"I think I'm dying," said Sandy to Max, who replied,
"C'mon Mac, you'll be right. We'll get you back."
Hugging the ground Sandy crawled onto Leisy's shoulder
as they worked their way back to where Platoon HQ was
now located. Hoss, unaware of Sandy's injuries, asked,
"Where's your weapon, Mac?"
"I've been shot, sir," he answered. "Where?" asked Hoss.
Sandy opened his shirt to reveal his chest wound. "Oh
shit" said Hoss, "Leisy, can you get him back to CHQ?"
By this time Leisy was out of ammunition, having
expended all magazines for his
M16 Armalite. The two men
slowly began their journey to the rear under fire,
Sandy, strangely feeling little pain but very unsteady
on this feet and supported by Leisy. He refused to lie
down for a rest however, fearful he would go to sleep
and not wake up.
Max Hedley next attended to Buddah Martini, stemming the
blood flow with field dressings and administering
morphine to relieve the pain, then painting the letter "M" on his forehead (in his own blood) to warn others of
the medication given so far. Being close to the enemy
weapons and restricted to the prone position, there was
only so much that the medic could do. Rifleman and
trained medic, Pte Bob Wyatt, had also experienced that
grief and despair of not being able to do anything for
Jim McMillan when he reached him and attempted to help,
before assisting in extracting his body.
minutes had passed since the first assault had been
A major problem was to extract themselves from under the
enemy's noses, a difficult task with two wounded men and
one dead. Crawling on their sides and pulling with their
one free hand Doc Halliday, Rod Zunneberg and Max Hedley
began desperately dragging Jim's body through the
tangled undergrowth with the enemy fire just inches
above their heaving bodies.
"God, give us strength," grunted Doc, a man small of
stature but big of heart, as they struggled to extract
Jim's body in these desperate conditions.
To assist the extraction Hosie coordinated increased
fire support for each man or group as they pulled back.
He called in the gunship fire as well, throwing smoke to
clearly identify their position. Above the din Barry
Baker and Andy MacDougal heard the call "withdraw" from
their far left flank position. Baker threw smoke for the
gunship (call sign "Bushranger 71") but deliberately
lobbed it behind himself and Andy so that Bushranger's
fire would come even closer to them and strike the
nearest bunkers just 15 to 20 metres away. It was risky
but justified in the circumstances.
"Bushranger 71, I can see smoke coming through
the canopy and can hear small arms fire from
"31, yeah, that's us; you're above us now. We're
firing that to cover our blokes getting out,
began pulling back while Andy held his position and
continued firing to cover the others till they were
clear. This achieved its aim but also attracted intense
enemy fire upon himself. Then he and Bazza gradually
At CHQ Bill Titley was requesting an ammunition resupply
and was preparing for the
Dustoff evacuation of the
wounded from his end where the trees were about 60 feet
"Niner this is 3, have you noticed any suitable
spots for Dustoff to come in, or will it be
"Niner, it looks like winching from a bomb crater
closer to your loc, over."
shouted orders were still attracting close attention
from the enemy however, with the result that his
headquarters group was hit by a number of exploding
RPGs, one hurling Hosie to the ground in one direction
and his platoon sergeant, Doc Halliday, and medic Max
Hedley several metres in another direction into an old
B52 bomb crater. Another blast threw radio operator
Lance Reeves about five metres through the air and upended
him so he landed on his head with the radio set propping
his feet into the air. The blast not only stunned Lance
but also temporarily deafened him, so that even by the
time he got his radio set operational again he was
unable to hear CHQ trying to make radio contact:
this is 30 over."
this is 30 over."
calls were repeated several times over the next few
minutes without response.
this is 30 over."
several minutes Pte Reeves answered.
deafening sounds of explosions and small arms
fire in the background):
"30, we have a Dustoff position to your rear,
closer to our loc, as soon as you can extract
"31, say again over."
(He still had
"30, when can you get back here, over?"
"31, to your loc over?"
"30, affirmative, over."
this is 30, tell your sunray that as soon as he
is clear enough from the enemy, throw smoke so
Bushranger can engage. He hasn't got much fuel
"Roger, wait out."
detected what 7 Platoon was doing and began to counter
attack through the scrub. This was also part of the
North Vietnamese enemy tactic of "hugging" its enemy so
as to avoid artillery, mortar and aerial fire called
down on their defences. It enabled them, as Australians
said, to "hold our belt and still punch us." It meant in
this situation that Hosie would have to call in
Bushranger's fire very close to his own troops.
Bushranger now; I'll throw smoke, over."
smoke to identify their extremities for the gunship.
Smoke thrown over.
this is Bushranger 71, I see yellow smoke. What
distance for suppression from the smoke, over?"
bearing of 2800 from the yellow smoke, over."
compass bearing from the smoke was essential to ensure
the helicopter gunship engaged the enemy and didn't
shoot up friendly troops.]
this is 30, what distance is the enemy from the
yellow smoke, over?"
they are assaulting us, over!"
roger we'll get Bushranger straight in, out to
you; Bushranger 71 this is 30, the enemy is
close in on the yellow smoke on a bearing of
2800. Engage over."
"Roger, we're rolling in 20 seconds. We'll start
about 50 to 100 metres out initially, over."
could you bring it in to 50 metres from the
this Bushranger 71, rolling in now."
"What's that over?"
"Bushranger 71, commencing firing path now, over."
one of our flanks is also just throwing smoke."
"Roger, we'll be firing to the south-east of that
made a strafing pass, successfully firing at the
"Keep on that, over."
"How's that fire, over?"
that's lovely, over."
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