29 July - 30 August 1969
By Captain Mike Battle
operation had a duel aim. Firstly 5RAR were to protect a
land clearing team (US), and secondly, to conduct
reconnaissance in force (RIF) operations to locate and
destroy enemy main force units in AO (Area Operations)
AO Mindy was
defined by a ten thousand metre circle around the
Fire Support Base Polly.
This area, known to the VC as the Hat Dich Secret Zone, has
been an enemy haven and stronghold ever since the days of
the Viet Minh war. It is to the enemy both an operational
base area, and an important logistic support area, since it
is situated between Route 15 (Saigon to Vung Tau), Route 2
(Baria to Xuyen Moc) and Route 1 (of 'street without joy'
fame). These roads are vital to the VC as it is along these
that their supplies are transported to the villages of Thai
Tien, Tham Tien, Phuoc My and Tham Phouc on Route 15 and
Binh Ba, Ngai Giao and Xa Bang on Route 2. The population of
these villages, being sympathetic to the communist cause,
provided distribution points for their organization.
previous operations, particularly Operation Goodwood by
9RAR, 1 ATF gathered a great deal of information on enemy
patterns of activity and base camps. Consequently a plan was
drawn up to deny the enemy his major base areas by clearing
the area with bulldozers. About thirty Caterpillar D8's with
Rome ploughs, and the appropriate repair and recover
facilities, made up the 501 Engineer Company (US). This Land
Clearing Team (LCT) was in direct support of 5RAR.
units subordinate to MR7 headquarters was known to use the
area. Units of particular importance to 5RAR were the 700
strong 274 VC Regiment, and Headquarters Sub Region 4 which
had a total strength with its three battalions and
supporting units of some 1,100 men. The D67- Engineer
Battalion was known to be still in the southern part of the
AO, and C41 Chau Duc District Company was known to be on our
concept of Operation Camden was that one of his companies
was to remain in the Night- Defensive Position (NDP) of the
LCT and patrol out from it day and night. A second company
was to clear enemy from the areas to be land cleared at a
company was to conduct RIF operations in the AO to locate
the enemy main force. The fourth rifle company, B Company,
was initially detached to train the 2/52 Regiment of 18 ARVN
Division at the Horseshoe.
On the 29
July C and D companies with the Tactical Headquarters flew
into the location of the future NDP which was known as
Cambrai and was being secured by B Company 9RAR. By 31 July
the fire support base named
Polly had been established. During the building of the
base, an enemy mine consisting of twenty pounds of Chicom
explosive connected to a tilt switch and five 82mm. mortar
bombs was detected before it was detonated. At 1615 hours 7
Platoon C Company contacted an enemy unit of platoon
strength in a bunker system. Despite very aggressive
reaction by 7 Platoon the enemy fired accurate
RPGs and machine guns
which forced 7 Platoon to withdraw to evacuate their
casualties. Private J.
McMillan was killed in that action. Three enemy bodies
well planned and executed ambush by 12 Platoon D Company was
sprung at 0545 hours on August 6. The platoon had split into
two groups ambushing the same track, an old logging route,
about seventy yards apart. The southern group heard the
enemy coming and let them pass. The northern group opened
fire when the leading enemy were in their killing ground. By
this time forty five enemy had been counted through the
southern group, when they opened fire. The enemy again
showed fanaticism in returning for the bodies of their dead.
Although after the action no further noise were heard, at
first light, when a sweep of the area was conducted seven
enemy bodies were located with a further nine blood trails.
heavy contact was joined by 3 Platoon and Tracker Platoon
under the command of Captain- Bill Grassick, at 1320 hours
on 8 August. As contact opened, a section of the tracker
platoon was pinned down by an enemy
RPD machine gun. An
immediate assault by the remaining two sections of the
platoon enabled the section which had opened fire to be
recovered. Artillery was falling to the north and east in
depth. Visibility was only fifteen yards and the enemy
machine gun was still firing from the left flank as 3
Platoon assaulted from the right, against the enemy's weaker
flank. Artillery fire was now falling eighty yards from our
characteristically overhead in his 'Possum', employed a set
of 'Bushranger' gunships.
The enemy forward defences were overrun as the gunships
fired twenty yards from the forward troops, Private B. A.
Kneeves at this time had taken a round in the left thigh.
Enemy casualties were one killed in action and one prisoner.
3 Platoon had moved another seventy-yards when they were
again hit by savage enemy fire from hidden prepared
positions. Tracker Platoon was still pinned down by snipers
in trees. Lance-Corporal G. E. Johnson was seriously wounded
in the hand and arm. A
Dustoff aircraft was called in, and with the 'Bushrangers'
suppressing the area, winched out the casualties. This
aircraft was taking ground fire from the west. US fighter
bombers were next used to drop napalm and 250 pound bombs
into the enemy position. Under the smoke the enemy counter
attacked. The airstrikes were held while the enemy thrust
was stemmed by fire and movement. Contact was finally broken
at about 1800 hours. Throughout the night the enemy
withdrawal was harassed by a
'Spooky' gunship and artillery fires in depth. A sweep
next morning by the full company disclosed that the enemy
force, identified as the 1st battalion 274 Regiment had
taken heavy casualties. Twenty seven well constructed
bunkers, several cookhouses and a large command structure
On 21 August
across on the western side of the AO, 3 Platoon and Pioneer
Platoon again engaged an unknown force of enemy in a bunker
system. After hearing voices to their front, the platoon
called in artillery fire in depth while they leap frogged
forward by fire and movement drills. The thrust was met by
heavy RPG, machine gun and
AK47 fire from the enemy
bunker system. Heavy casualties were being caused by enemy
60mm mortars landing just behind the assault sections.
Captain Bill Grassick, the commander of the force was
severely wounded in the leg.
Gunships were firing in
support only twenty yards in front of the forward troops and
this allowed extraction of the wounded to a point thirty
yards behind the contact. Lieutenant John James took command
and directed the sixteen casualties to a 'Dustoff'
position a further thirty yards to the north. The two
platoons formed a defensive perimeter. As the 'Dustoff'
aircraft came in they were fired on by
RPG fire. Mortars were
still falling among the wounded and the perimeter causing
casualties as fast as the 'Dustoff' could get them out. The
sky was thick with aircraft as dusk made flying conditions
perilous. Some of the aircraft in this area at this time
were three 'Bushranger'
gunships 'Dragon' and 'Radar' US gunships a 'Jade' FAC
(Forward Air Controller), four 'Dustoff'
(medevac) helicopters and a set of 'Black
Ponies' (OV Ground Attack Fighters (US)). With all these
aircraft on the company command net it was becoming
impossible for the company commander to speak to his
platoons. 'Bushranger 71' alleviated the air situation by
acting as traffic controller.
documents later revealed that the enemy force encountered in
the action was the complete 3rd Battalion, 274 regiment This
enemy report of the action stated that they suffered
thirteen killed and twenty five wounded. The two Australian
platoons lost one killed and thirty seven wounded, some of
whom remained on duty. These were only two of forty separate
actions fought by 5RAR on this operation. Enemy units
identified in contact were 1st Battalion and 3rd battalion,
274 Regiment, numerous sub-units of Headquarters Sub Region
4, D67 Engineer Battalion, C41 Chau Duc Company and 84 Rear
Camden was characterised by enemy aggression. Rather than
immediately breaking contact and withdrawing, the enemy
stayed and fought in his prepared positions and defied the
immense support of air and artillery to dislodge him. He
then withdrew under the cover of the Vietnamese night. Not
only did he employ snipers in trees, but he tenaciously
clung to the 'Diggers' as they pulled back to evacuate
casualties and to take resupplies of ammunition. This tactic
was well executed and consequently those enemy hugging our
perimeter avoided most of the artillery and air ordnance
being hurled in behind him.
Operation Camden 105 battery
in direct support fired some ten thousand rounds. Most of
this was in support of actual actions, and in blocking
positions on the likely enemy withdrawal routes. At all
times the response of the Battery was very quick and
reassuring to the troops in contact.
of the complexity and importance of the Viet Cong bases in
this Hat Dich area can be seen from the results of the Land
Clearing Team. Moving its Night Defensive Position three
times, the team cleared 3,354 acres of jungle in the month.
In this area they destroyed 1,029 bunkers, 379 weapon pits,
1,000 yards of tunnels and 650 yards of trenches. Not only
did the enemy have these base areas denied to him, but his
access and communication routes previously concealed by the
jungle canopy, were now exposed to aerial observation.
systems found varied in size but averaged between twenty to
forty actual fighting bunkers sited in mutual support. The
average bunker dimensions are ten feet by six feet, by five
feet deep, with between three and five feet of overhead
protection (logs, dirt and camouflage). Some systems had
interconnecting crawl trenches and tunnels. Normally no more
than two feet of the overhead protection is above ground
level. Very cunningly camouflaged with grass and ferns
planted in the roofs, The bunkers usually defied detection
until our troops were literally right on top of them. In
some instances the presence of a system could be determined
by enemy sign. This was usually heavy track activity, the
stumps of trees, or smell.
average contact, the enemy opened fire on our troops only
when the VC were sure our troops were going to find him.
This was usually ten to fifteen feet along carefully
concealed fire lanes. Extraction of the wounded under these
conditions was a dangerous task. On no occasion though, was
a wounded man left behind by his 'mates'.
On 30 August
a very weary, but proud and confident battalion of veterans
returned to its base in the Nui Dat rubber for what, on
paper, was to be a two weeks rest.
note: For a more detailed description of 7 Platoon C
Company's bunker contact go to the 'Special Mention' section
on the contents page and click on 'Anatomy of a Bunker
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