Administration Problems with 5RAR South Vietnam
special mention
 


 

australian infantryman's combat badge
south vietnam 1966 - 1967

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

Life at Nui Dat was a constant struggle - against the elements (the wet season had started), the lack of stores, the discomfort of "home", the inability to adequately defend the base when the Battalion was on an operation, and developing those defences.

Let us first look at the defences of the base. With the wet season each time a weapon pit was dug and before any overhead cover/protection could be found the pit filled with water, thank goodness it was not cold. Trying to fill sandbags with wet clay wasration store at nui dat day two extraordinarily difficult, so whenever possible, I would send a convoy of Land Rovers and Trailers to Vung Tau to fill the sand bags with sand. Whenever the Battalion was on operations there were only three radios (mine, OC Admin Coy and the QM's) left behind, as well the telephones were required on the operation, therefore we literally used message sticks for communications until the Scrounging Platoon (formed in country for obvious reasons and consisting of Coy 21C's and CQMS's and most of Admin Coy) found, by the side of the road, a switchboard, some telephones and radios. The other, and most worrying deficiency was a lack of machine guns for the defence of the base, there were a handful of heavy barrelled FN rifles in Admin Coy and that was it. Again the Scrounging Platoon by exchanging a couple of slouch hats and butter we gained several .30 and .50 calibre machine guns, the former were immediately mounted onto the Sports Cars and the latter were positioned in bunkers in the company areas. Further defence and other base stores were obtained when the Scrounging Platoon under my command and using our Land Rovers and trailers visited the US Ordnance Depot at Vung Tau. We left the Depot with all trailers full of needed/borrowed stores, a stores truck and a water truck. After spending most of the day at the "supermarket", when it came time to leave I found the guard had changed and the Negro Sergeant demanded some form, which of course we did not have. As it was getting very late and because the road to Nui Dat was classified black (unsafe) at night I explained, as courteously as possible, that it was late and we could sort out the paperwork later, consequently I sent the convoy off and when the Sergeant went into the guardroom for advice I took off, the Sergeant fired at us but fortunately he was not accurate. After this foray we were becoming more secure and more comfortable.
 

We had no replacement clothing, boots and webbing, the Tropical Studded boots had provided nourishment for the rubber ants, the clothing had succumbed to wear and tear and could not be replaced, while we took all webbing from the administrative elements we could only put about two thirds of the fighting troops into an operation. During a visit by Commander Aust Force Vietnam (AFV), Maj Gen Ken Mackay, the CO was wearing a very tattered and torn shirt, ... when the Commander learned of our plight he scoured the Headquarters Q Store and we received about 100 sets of greens and a box of webbing.

Many of the soldiers were not in tents because the new tents arrived without tent poles, an RAAF C130 transport aircraft due to bring poles arrived full of toilet paper, the good ship HMAS Jeparit arrived with many stores crates empty, one could only construe there was perhaps sabotage somewhere?

Because of the problems with belted ammunition for the M60 GPMG it was decided to make a sheath from blow up inserts of the field mattress, this kept the rubbish from fouling the belts but the ammunition sweated, then rusted very quickly, we decided to use Regimental Funds to obtain a gross of WD40 aerosol cans of anti rust, after a few weeks when the goods had not arrived we started to investigate and found the cans, together with crates of GP boots and green floppy hats on the garbage tip at Vung Tau, how did these stores get there?

Food became our next major concern, the Australian combat ration was not readily available and we were forced to use unsatisfactory US combat rations. When the Battalion was due to return from operations we would order fresh rations, but most of the time the arrival of fresh rations would signal a need for the Battalion to return to operations. As there was a delay in the installation of cool rooms these rations would quickly become inedible. Indeed, the CO received, in August, a bill for $25,000 for excess rations (these were the fresh rations that had been written off by the RMO and QM) As well, one soldier asked the CO not to order fresh rations because with their arrival the Battalion would be ordered back onto operations. Towards the end of July, 1966 the fresh ration system broke down completely and we were forced to eat frankfurts and sweet corn, three meals per day seven days per week for about five weeks, we had them baked, boiled, fried, grilled and minced, I even sent the WO Caterer to Dalat to buy some fresh vegetables using money from Regimental Funds. The stupidity of the system was the repeated delivery of some fresh rations and ice cream when the Battalion was on operations and there was no refrigeration.

By about mid September, 1966, "home" was becoming more habitable and while the Battalion was on operations the rear elements built, erected and consolidated the base area. A large movie screen was erected (we were fortunate to find a "fish eye" lens in a US Amenities Unit in Saigon). Also in the outdoor theatre, named "The Mayfair", we built a small kitchen to serve steak sandwiches, the inevitable hot dog plus the CO's favourite, 'goffers' (flavoured milk in a can which could be had hot or cold) The screen was a beauty, somewhat like the old drive in theatre screens, I am not sure if the VC, outside the wire, liked our selection of movies! The tents were erected, the cool rooms and refrigeration arrived and were installed. When a couple of Nissan Huts arrived these were allocated to the RMO and Padres. The rain was dissipating, the weather was cooler at night, the company kitchens and canteens were up and running and the Q Store started to get some replacement clothing and equipment. During operations and whenever a re-supply was required we had the company cooks prepare hot soup (which we sent out in Jerry Cans) and steak sandwiches.

On 18th August, 1966, D Coy fought the battle of Long Tan and used the RAAF for re-supply, in the late afternoon and in the rain, the RAAF performed very well. Prior to this battle the RAAF were too timid and seemed to be constrained by peace-time conditions in Australia, therefore, we felt at Long Tan they had joined the war. Unfortunately, during Operation Queanbeyan in October, 1966 the Battalion was required to clear the hills around Nui Thi Vai (to the West of the TF base). As the operation progressed we found occupied caves, booby traps and VC, the CO decided to clear the caves using flame throwers, the stores were assembled and the RAAF Iroquois arrived, the pilot refused to carry the equipment and fuel. After much heated discussion between me, the pilot, then the TF Commander, the RAAF Component Commander and Commander AFV, the RAAF agreed to carry the fuel if the Jerry cans were packed in wooden crates!

Back to the bad days!

In November 1966, I acted as Operations Officer while Max Carroll was on R&R. During this period 5RAR undertook a cordon and search of a small village, Phuoc Hoa, NW of Baria on Route 15. Immediately following this job we were required to clear Long Son Island (this island was a stepping stone for VC between Vung Tau and the Nui Thi Vai hills, mentioned earlier). During this operation the TF Commander decided to deploy his HQs onto the island. These operations gave me a break from administrative duties and provided some operational experience for my next posting which was to HQ I ATF as Operations Officer, taking over from Dick Hannigan, a classmate from the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

I was to leave the Battalion in mid December 1966 after a most eventful year, but one right off the top shelf.


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