Administration Problems with 5RAR in South Vietnam
special mention
 


 

australian infantryman's combat badge
south vietnam 1966 - 67

© Stan Maizey
Second-in-Command
5RAR 1st tour Dec '65 - Dec '66
author stan maizey

Much has been written about our involvement in South Vietnam, particularly of the battles. In my article, I would like to divide it into two parts. The first part will be about the 5th Battalion's (5RAR) preparation for the tour and the logistic difficulties met up until I left the Battalion in December 1966. In the second part I would like to highlight some of the operational aspects of the Task Force (1ATF) from December, 1966 to August 1967.


I was posted as Second in Command (21C) of 5 RAR in December, 1965, arriving at Gallipoli Barracks, Holsworthy in early January, 1966. The Commanding Officer (CO), Lt Col John Warr, was visiting 1 RAR at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam but had left instructions for the training he required until his return.

At this stage, the Battalion was mostly a nucleus of regular army officers, non commissioned officers and men. Consequently, the personnel establishment including first reinforcements, started to arrive during January, 1966 especially from the National Service (NS) Officer Training Unit, Scheyville (near Windsor, NSW) and from the various NS recruit training Battalions.

Whilst no official announcement had been made, it was understood 5RAR would replace 1 RAR in April/May, 1966. Correspondence between opposite numbers of the battalions was taking place and the logistic information included:
 

divider bring as much timber/flooring as possible,
divider scale holdings for at least six months, not three months as shown in the various equipment tables,
divider get a "fisheye" lens for the movie projector,
divider be aware of the various United States (US) codes, codeword's (such as Dust Off, for casualty evacuation), and requisition procedures,
divider get used to US rations.

Training concentrated on shooting, platoon drills, company movement, helicopter assimilation and getting to know one another. During February and early March, 1966, each company was phased through a company training exercise in the Gospers Training Area and the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra. Finally, in March a Battalion exercise under the direction of the CO took place in the Gospers Area to be followed immediately by an exercise under the direction of the 1st Brigade (commanded by Brig Tim Vincent).

During this training, the Q staff was extremely busy ensuring the Battalion was properly equipped. Unfortunately the Ordnance Depots refused to accept our indents as they were multi-listed and not single item indents (that is, one item to one page, this required all of the Battalion Clerks to be seconded to the Quartermaster (QM) for about 10 days to rewrite the paperwork). Then, because no formal announcement had been made regarding 5RAR replacing I RAR those items on the equipment table regarded as warlike stores were returned - Not Approved. Lastly, where we tried to scale our holdings for six months (not three months) the Staff Officers, HQ Eastern Command refused to approve the extra holding or stated "the item is to be taken from I RAR in situ." It was not until late February/early March, 1966, with the announcement that the Australian commitment was to be significantly increased to a two battalion Task Force with supporting arms and a logistic support group (IALSG), that indents were reluctantly processed. However, with the introduction of NS in June, 1965 many items of clothing and equipment were in short supply and the Ordnance replacement system was sadly lacking. For example, some soldiers had only one set of jungle green uniform (other than his protective dress - usually recycled khaki summer uniform), most soldiers had only one pair of General Purpose (GP) boots with steel insert, so each soldier was issued with one pair of 1944 Tropical Studded boots, all soldiers had their entitlements for basic webbing, but in all cases there was little or no reserve in the Battalion Q Store. (War Scale Vietnam Check List).

The final Battalion training exercise saw the Battalion using a range of equipment recently received and still in protective packaging. The exercise was held in foul weather so with the connivance of the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) we managed to get a rum issue for all ranks through the supply system.

During the preparatory phase, and on advice from 1RAR, we tried to shed our Anti- Tank (ATk) weapons, an 84mm Rocket Launcher (Carl Gustav) held by the rifle companies and a 106mm recoilless rifle (RCL) held by the Anti-Tank Platoon, (ATk) but to no avail.5RAR 'Sports Car' The latter equipment was mounted on a Land Rover and after discussion within the Battalion, the Armourer, Sgt Mick Henrys, came up with the idea to mount a machine gun on the vehicle, primarily for convoy protection. These six vehicles became known as "Sports Cars" and were invaluable in their modified, albeit illegal, role. We were required to take the ATk equipment to war where they languished in the Q store, except for two 106mm RCL which were located either side of the flag pole guarding Battalion Headquarters in the base area. At the same time, and with a submission by I RAR, to support our request we tried to amend the Equipment Table to obtain more M60 General Purpose Machine Guns (M60 GPMG), radios and telephones for base area defences but this was refused with the comment "not until the CO has personally established the need," read how we overcame this deficiency later in the article.

During the build up of men and materials, as bad as the Ordnance system was, the Engineer and Medical systems were magnificent. The Engineer system provided us with1 australian logistics support group a good supply of timber and the School of Military Engineering at Casula provided instructors for training in mines and booby traps, barbed wire fencing and sandbagging. The Medical system, particularly 2 Camp Hospital at Ingleburn, provided instructors for First Aid, Health and Hygiene training, vital stores and priority to members of the Battalion with respect to inoculations.

In April 1966 the Battalion Advance Party flew out, to be initially fostered by 1 RAR at Bien Hoa, then to proceed to the sand dunes at Vung Tau to establish a camp for the Battalion prior to the occupation of the base camp at Nui Dat. One company and all the Battalion stores and vehicles departed in mid April 1966 on HMAS Sydney while the remainder of the Battalion flew out from Richmond RAAF base in Boeing 707s over a period of three weeks. In mid May 1966 the last element of the Battalion, including myself departed for South Vietnam. On arrival at Saigon's Than Son Nhut airport we were disembarked and received our weapons and equipment. We then embarked onto a US C123 transport aircraft for the flight to Vung Tau. We waited nearly two hours, closed up, in atrocious heat and humidity before take off.

On arrival in country, it was immediately obvious that some of the stores we were required to take over from 1 RAR were unserviceable from normal fair wear, especially tentage and the MI6 rifles. The rifles arrived without cleaning accessories and the armourer was required to fashion cleaning rods from heavy gauge fencing wire.

Life at Vung Tau was hectic with acclimatization, getting to know the supporting troops,5RAR lines on the beach at Vung Tau the jargon and aerial reconnaissance's of Phuoc Tuy Province (some of these were decidedly hair raising). The US 68 Aviation Company based at Vung Tau air base deserves special mention because this unit provided wonderful support whenever required. Prior to leaving Vung Tau we had an officers' Dining In at the Pacific Hotel (a big French colonial hotel taken over by the US as Officers quarters) where the aviators were present. The Battalion provided the cooks and stewards and the Band played a tremendous rendition of "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines", which brought the house down.

Operation Hardihood, the clearing, then occupation, of the Task Force's base camp at Nui Dat, began in mid May 1966, with initially the US 173rd Airborne Brigade and then in late May 1966, 5RAR came under command 173rd Bde for the final phase of the operation. The Battalion was assisted by a company of 1 RAR. During the operation the Battalion was very active to the North of Nui Dat and had many contacts, mostly with groups of three to five Viet Cong (VC). Unfortunately, we had our first Killed in Action (KIA), Pte E.W. Noack, an national service soldier from South Australia. In early June, 1966, the contacts diminished and it was decided to commence occupation of the' TF base camp at Nui Dat. Just prior to the rear echelons of the Battalion and the TF moving into the area, the Battalion was warned of a likely assault by 274 VC Regiment. The CO called for an urgent re-supply of ammunition, particularly belted ammunition for the M60 GPMG's, Claymores and mortar rounds. While the ammunition was being assembled I asked for helicopter support, from 68 Aviation Company, to lift the ammunition forward. The Q staff has removed most of the packaging to reduce weight and bulk but there was still a considerable amount to move. When the helicopters arrived, I asked the pilot how much, by weight, could/would each aircraft carry. In typical US nonchalance the pilot replied 'Fill it (the aircraft) up' which we did. When we could put no more in he gave the thumbs up, lifted off about one metre, bounced the aircraft and got to about three metres then moved forward, bounced again and was airborne.

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