5RAR Association Website
operations conducted 1969-70


 

australian infantryman's combat badge
Operation federal Overlander

10 March - 8 April 1969

By Captain Mike Battle

 

As a result of an significant enemy threat to the US bases in the Long Binh, Bien Hoa area, Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF),  4th & 9th Battalions The Royal Australian Regiments (4 RAR & 9RAR), had been deployed forward into an Area of Operations (AO) some four thousand metres east of the massive Long Binh post. This base had been developed into one of the largest military complexes in the world and was at that time subjected to regular VC rocket attacks.

On 10th March, 5RAR relieved 9RAR in place and joined HQ 1 ATF at Fire Support Base Kerry, and took over responsibility for AO Arunda. At that time 4RAR was operating in the adjoining AO Belconnen south of Route 1.

The major threat was assessed at being 5 VC Division to the north-east of Arunda. 3/274 VC Regiment was thought to be south of Belconnen severely decimated. 275 VC Regiment was to the north-west. Elements of 33 VC Regiment were thought to be in the AO with 95A VC Regiment last reported on the northern boundary of the AO.

Friendly flanking units around AO Arunda were, 36 Ranger Battalion (US) to the west, 1 Division (US) to the north-west, 3/1 Air Cavalry (US) to the north with Mobile Strike Force to the east.

On the morning of 10 March, A, C and D Companies with battalion headquarters were ferried by CH47 Chinook helicopters into the dustbowl that was Kerry. B Company with A Squadron 3 Cavalry arrived from Nui Dat at 1010 hours. By 1600 hours the relief was complete and CO, Lt. Col Colin Khan of 5RAR assumed operational responsibility for Arunda

For the next ten hot long days the companies carried out saturation patrolling without significant contact. It was thought that the numerous small contacts that 9 RAR had had in the previous weeks were recce parties preceding an enemy thrust to the south. This was not verified. On 29 March, Operation Jungle Bash was conducted north of Kerry. A and D Companies with a Mobile Tactical Headquarters swept the 'Fried Eggs" feature without contact.

Throughout this period the fire support component of the command post was working overtime on clearances requested by innumerable zealous fire support units. At one time the annihilation of D Company was prevented when allied radar spotted an enemy mortar base plate in the D Company position and requested clearance for a counter bombardment. It appeared that the 'Battle of Long Binh' was being fought by artillery with infantry in support!

In spite of, or perhaps because of our heavy patrol programme, no enemy were contacted in AO Manuka. It is probable that because of this extensive coverage of the AO, that the enemy main forces located on the periphery of the AO, were denied reconnaissance of routes and were forced north and north-east where other allied forces were operating.

PHASE TWO

The redeployment into the AO Manuka took place on 27 March. D Company remained in the old AO under operational control of HQ 1ATF. The new Fire Support Base was Sally off Route 1 in the northern part of Manuka. The purpose of this redeployment was to deny the enemy the use of extensive bunker systems known to be in the area and to disrupt with as many casualties as possible, the functioning of HQ T7 (MR7). This headquarters controls the vital VC operations in the provinces of Long Binh, Long Khanh, Phuoc Tuy and Bin Tuy. As the operation progressed other elements of 274 Regiment and D525, a sapper battalion, were found to be in the area.

Most contacts during this phase were against small groups of enemy in bunker systems. In two instances though, ambushes were initiated against large enemy groups. Generally, the enemy reacted to our contacts vigorously and quickly returning fire with RPGs and automatic weapons. In the main bunker systems encountered in the south of Manuka, this fire was particularly heavy.

The MR7 base camp was found by 11 Platoon D Company on Good Friday, 4 April. The platoon was patrolling from the company base and found numerous tracks recently used by the enemy. The forward scout heard enemy voices and simultaneously spotted a bunker ten yards to his front. Grenades were thrown into the bunker and at the same time the enemy was engaged with heavy small arms fire. The enemy again reacted quickly with machine guns, RPGs and automatic weapons, pinning the platoon down. Two casualties, Private White and Private Pike, were sustained in this exchange. An enemy heavy machine gun at this time was laying down heavy fire on the left flank of the platoon. 12 Platoon was sent to help 11 Platoon extract itself. At that time, 12 Platoon were some three hundred yards away in another large enemy system. As 12 Platoon moved in on the right flank it was immediately swept with heavy enemy fire. At this time the gunship helicopters arrived and suppressed the enemy position within fifteen yards of the forward troops. While these gunships were engaging the enemy, 2 platoon were able to make stretchers to evacuate the dead and wounded. The control of the gunships were made difficult as each time the platoons threw smoke to indicate their position, the enemy retaliated with heavy RPG fire in that area. During this period two diggers were displaying exceptional heroism. Private Fitch, a stretcher bearer, discarded his weapon and moved continually under heavy enemy fire to give first aid to the wounded, although he himself was seriously wounded in the stomach. He was subsequently awarded the Military Medal for this action. Private Burridge, a machine gunner, continued to spit out belt after belt of ammunition into the enemy position although this attracted a concentration of retaliatory RPG and machine gun fire at his own fire position. This action allowed the extraction of the wounded from literally the noses of the enemy.

This camp was subsequently assaulted by D Company with tank support. The system was found to comprise on large command post, a hospital bunker and twenty eight fighting bunkers which had been used for a long time. A 'Hoi Chanh' (VC Defector) revealed later, that at the time of the contact, the VC commander of MR7 was in conference in the base camp with three of his regimental commanders.

On 8 April, the operation concluded with the return of the battalion to Nui Dat, tired but proud of its achievements. All companies had met and defeated some of the North Vietnamese units which were known to be the enemies best. The operation had disrupted HQ T 7 and forced them to move out of the area. Consequently the coordination of any enemy offensive activity throughout were delayed, if not prevented.


 

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