The Village of Dat Do
special mention
 


 

australian infantryman's combat badge
the village of dat do
AN INFANTRY PLATOON'S PERSPECTIVE

Brian London OAM., DCM
Both Tours

Mine Clearing Teams searching for mines in Dat Do

The village of Dat Do located south-east of the Australian task force base was well known as an hostile VC Village. The population contained a high percentage of VC families, Viet Cong infrastructure and sympathisers willing to live in co-existence with each other. 5 RAR along with a troop of tanks from 1st Armoured Regiment, armoured personnel carriers from B Squadron 3rd Cavalry and 2 Troop 1 Field Squadron Engineers were on 'Operation Esso' in the Dat Do District. As part of this operation.
 
D. Company was allocated the task of relieving a company of 9 RAR who had concluded their operations in Dat Do Village. D. Company arrived in Dat Do by APCs and proceeded to deploy as a company in a vacant block within the village. The company commander directed his platoons to take up their positions within the defensive harbour (circular defensive position) . 10 platoon led and began to deploy from 12 o'clock through to 4 o'clock, 12 platoon, commanded by Sgt. Rod Lees, began to deploy his troops from 8 to 12 o'clock. 11 Platoon was to fill in remainder of the defensive position.

It was during the harbour routine that Sgt. Lees stepped on a M16 Mine. The sound ofSappers searching for mines near the village of Dat Do the explosion died away leaving only the lingering pall of black and gray smoke in the air. The commander of 10 Platoon ordered his men to stay where they were and not to move. The platoon commander of 10 platoon recalls "I moved towards Rod's position and saw at least two of his platoon were dead and most of the remainder were wounded. On reaching Rod I saw that he was so badly wounded, I gave him no chance of survival." (Sgt. Rod Lees miraculously survived his horrendous wounds). In a single mine explosion D. Company had lost almost a complete platoon. It was later discovered that two more mines were planted in the vacant block, one had malfunctioned the second by another miracle, was not stepped on.

On completion of the evacuation of the dead and wounded, D. Company occupied a firm base and prepared to continue the operation. The commander of 10 Platoon was given the task of ambushing in the village on night one. It is usual for the ambush commander to conduct a detailed reconnaissance of the ambush site however, this was not possible due to the certain observation by the inhabitants of the village. A drive around the village with the company commander and passing through the proposed site (a cross road) was the only reconnaissance carried out.

The other problem was being observed setting up the ambush. The only solution was to wait until after curfew and place the troops in the ambush site after dark. The platoon set out at last light and proceeded to the ambush area. On reaching the site, it was discovered that the cross roads were over grown in some places and not suitable. A new site had to be found and the commander decided to move to the next road junction . The new site was better suited to the task although there was not a lot of room and some of the ambush party would be in the front yard of one house. Time was running out (2000Hrs) and the chances of contacting the enemy whilst still setting the ambush increased by the minute. Trip flares were set along with claymore mines and the platoon placed in their final positions. After a period of time steady rain set in, the commander took a moment to look at his watch, it was 2230 Hrs. Concentrating again on the approaches the commander could just make out the outline of figures moving into the ambush area. They were only metres away. Counting six enemy with more behind, the commander waited for the inevitable. Seconds later the trip flares went off followed by machine gun and rifle fire. The enemy dead were falling only a few feet from the 10 Platoon groups.

A radio message was sent to company HQ (contact report) informing them of the contact details. It was not possible to give an accurate report on enemy dead at that time and the ambush commander decided not to conduct a search by torch light for fear of exposing the search party to danger from any enemy still alive. The decision was also made to remain in the ambush site until first light and to recover the dead at that time.

The platoon remained on 100% alert but, it was not over yet. At 0300 hrs firing broke out again and an explosion occurred within the platoon position severely wounding two members of 10 Platoon. The enemy broke contact after this second encounter and the ambush party had no choice but to abandon the position. The main problem was how to evacuate the wounded? A helicopter was out of the question. The radio which was working well before was now jammed with interference (enemy interference or not is unknown) The radio frequency was switched to the Mortar Net and although interference was present, the call for assistance got through. A vehicle was sent from the firm base and the wounded were loaded and escorted back by 10 Platoon.

Once back at the base camp, the ambush commander was debriefed by the OC D. Company. There was just enough time to issue new orders to section commanders including Support Section, (now attached to 10 Platoon) and return to the ambush site before first light.

Once again the platoon set out to revisit an area and a situation only vacated a short time ago. Through the mist of first light the party approached the ambush site and before them lay the bodies of six enemy dead. One of the dead was dressed in South Vietnamese uniform complete with U.S. rifle and pack. At least two enemy escaped.

"It was not so much the number of enemy, moreover, who they were. The documents taken from the bodies identified them as senior ranking officials of the Dat Do Village Cadre and is probably the reason for the return of the enemy at 0300 hrs."The ambush commander
 

QUESTIONS

Why did the enemy Cadre take such a risk in moving on that night in June 1969?

POSSIBLE ENEMY SCENARIO         (Enemy Appreciation)

1. The operations of 9 RAR had contained the movement of their forces from within the village and stymied village access to their main forces outside.

2. The relieving Australian force had suffered heavy casualties in the mined area and would be incapable or, at least unwilling to conduct ambush operations to-night.

3. This would be the best time to re-establish contact with main forces outside Dat Do that is, before the relieving Australian unit has time to recover and regroup.

CONCLUSION (Possible)

The Village Cadre will re-establish contact with their main forces to-night with the objective to plan future operations, organise the supply of essential items and provide intelligence on enemy forces.

Like so many soldiers on that day, they didn't make it.

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CASUALTIES OPERATION "ESSO" 15 JUNE -15 JULY

BOTH SIDES

AUSTRALIAN - 9 KILLED IN ACTION - 58 WOUNDED

U.S. - 2 KILLED IN ACTION

VIETNAMESE ARVN - 3 KILLED IN ACTION-13 WOUNDED

ENEMY - 29 KILLED IN ACTION- 30 WOUNDED