AN ACTION REPLAY FROM THE HAT
Adjutant & OC C Company
the Vietnam War did an infantryman involved
in a battle ever experience an "action
replay", but that is exactly what happened
to Lt Ian Hosie and his soldiers of 7
Platoon, C Company, the 5th Battalion, Royal
Australian Regiment (5RAR) who had been
embroiled in a prolonged engagement with an
aggressive enemy on 31 July 1969. Some years
after the war Lt Hosie received information
that an RAAF gunship helicopter co-pilot,
Pilot Officer Jack Lynch, possessed an audio
tape containing much of the radio
conversations between the ground troops and
the various support aircraft in that battle.
5RAR had just commenced
in the Hat Dich Secret Zone, an enemy haven since
the days of the Viet-Minh (or First
Indochina) War, and in 1969 a
stronghold base for the headquarters and
battalions' of Sub-Region 4 (SR4, about
1,100 men), the battalions' of 274 VC
Infantry Regiment (about 700 strong), both
with a majority of North Vietnamese Army
regulars, and the crack North Vietnamese
Army unit, D67 Engineer Battalion. The Hat
Dich (pronounced "hut zic") area was located
in the north-west corner of Phuoc Tuy
Province to the north of the Nui Thai Vai
mountain complex, straddling the border into
Bien Hoa Province. The combination of both
road (Route 15 from Saigon to Vung Tau) and
extensive waterway approaches through the
marshy Rung Sat to the west of Route 15 gave
it logistical importance, whilst the
undulating and generally featureless dense
tall-timbered jungle of the Hat Dich itself
provided an ideal operational base for the
enemy (see map above).
5RAR's Operation Camden had a twofold task:
first, it provided the infantry protection
for a US Land Clearing Team of thirty
Caterpillar D8s with their huge Rome ploughs
as they felled large tracts of jungle
housing these enemy installations; and
second, by reconnaissance in force, it aimed
at locating and destroying enemy main force
units. Bunker systems of company and
battalion size, generally sited near water,
were frequently located during this
one-month operation for which the After
Action Report summarised the successful
discovery and destruction of over a thousand
bunkers, hundreds of weapon pits and over
1500 metres of tunnels.
7 Platoon was newly-formed after the loss of
3 killed and 18 wounded from enemy mines a
few weeks earlier in the Long Hai Hills. Its
Platoon Commander, 2Lt Dave Mead, plus the
platoon sergeant, two corporals, a lance
corporal and the majority of the riflemen
had to be replaced. Lt Ian Hosie ("Hoss")
was moved from the Tracker Platoon to take
command, new NCOs were promoted from within
the Battalion (including West Australian
assault pioneer, Cpl John ("Doc") Halliday,
who became platoon sergeant) and 23
replacements were obtained from the Task
Force Reinforcement Holding Unit. They
assembled and underwent immediate training
whilst still on
Operation Esso within the shadow of the
mine-ridden Long Hai Hills - a challenging
task. The Battalion then returned to Nui Dat
for a rest during which time 7 Platoon's
training continued. It was a credit to Lt
Hosie and his NCOs that, within such a short
time, the platoon was not only trained to
battle efficiency but was also moulded into
a cohesive team.
The move to the Hat Dich occurred on 29-30
July 1969. C Company 5RAR began operating in
an area about 9 kms east of Route 15 in
dense jungle near the Suói Dá Vang, a
substantial creek which flows generally west
towards the small hamlet of Thai Thien on
Route 15 before emptying into the Rung Sat.
7, 8 and 9 Platoons were deployed separately
well ahead of the bulldozers to ensure no
enemy interfered with the clearing
operation, and within no time were making
contact with enemy forces.
Then, at 0915 hours on 31 July, Hosie's 7
Platoon briefly encountered and fired at
what appeared to be an enemy water party of
5 to 8 men on a well-used track leading to
the stream. Dressed in grey-green uniforms
and carrying AK 47 assault rifles and large
plastic containers, they appeared to take
casualties from a 7 Platoon machine gun
before they rapidly withdrew to the north.
Hosie immediately called for a tracker team
from his old platoon to assist in the
pursuit. Private Paddy Walker and his
tracker dog, Caesar, attached to Company
Headquarters (CHQ), were soon on the enemy
scent. As speed and security were essential
to a successful track, Hosie used a
lightened fighting patrol (without packs)
consisting of himself, his radio operator,
Pte Lance Reeves, a 6-man section under the
experienced Cpl Mick (Bolts) Bolton (the
sole remaining corporal from the earlier 7
Platoon strength), and the tracking team of
Paddy Walker and his Labrador-Kelpie cross,
Caesar. They set a scorching pace. The
balance of 7 Platoon, commanded by Sgt "Doc"
Halliday, and CHQ followed a distance behind
carrying the discarded packs and additional
After 45 minutes with his nostrils close to
the ground and rapidly closing in on the
enemy through the thick undergrowth, Caesar
suddenly froze, lifted his nose and pointed,
straining his body and head forwards, ears
erect. Bolton's section immediately swept
through the designated area but no enemy was
contacted, although there were fresh signs
of their having stopped to treat their
casualties, among them some bloody shell
dressings and indications of saplings cut
for stretcher poles. The pursuit continued
along the northern side of the creek. At one
point the fleeing enemy split up, one group
crossing the creek, the other staying on the
northern side and moving north-east. Paddy
and Caesar, leading the patrol, followed the
The enemy commander must have realised just
how close the pursuit was to him as he began
to employ some clever avoidance and
ambushing tactics. After another half hour
Caesar pointed a second time, and again
the assault section swept through from the
flank. This time some enemy were seen
fleeing though the thick scrub and it became
obvious they had doubled back to ambush
their own tracks but had been foiled by the
width of the flanking sweep following
Caesar's early warning. By now it was early
New enemy deceptive tactics were employed.
This time they followed a track but then
veered off at a steep angle through the
thick undergrowth for several hundred metres
before hooking back in a semi-circle to
ambush their pursuers on the track. At this
point Paddy and Caesar stopped while Hoss
moved forward to give instructions. As he
came close Paddy suddenly raised his weapon
and fired from the waist past his skipper.
He had spotted a Viet Cong in the
undergrowth on rising ground above them 15
metres away preparing to fire his
AK47, but fortunately
Paddy was both quicker and deadly accurate.
A second enemy concealed in the vegetation
fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG)
before fleeing. An immediate assault located
the dead enemy but, as he was dressed
differently (in American greens) to the ones
seen earlier, it seemed he might have been a
sentry for a nearby bunker system. Other
signs of a bunker system were also noticed
including the distinctive ethnic smell, cut
logs, stumps camouflaged with mud, twigs and
leaves, the heavy use of a track system and
close proximity to water.
As Mick Bolton's section had been working
non-stop for hours during the pursuit and
his section machine gun had just broken its
firing pin, Hoss arranged a swap with Lance
Corporal Ian Leis's section about mid
afternoon. CHQ (Company Head Quarters)
established a firm base on a small, timbered
knoll near where Paddy had shot the Viet
Cong sentry. No bunker system had been
positively located at this stage so Hoss
tasked "Leisy", Sandy McKinnon, Jim McMillan
and a fourth man with a spare radio, to
check further ahead for any bunkers. They
silently followed the line of the 30 cm-wide
track but kept either side of it in the
thick vegetation. At one point forward scout
Sandy noticed a cigarette lighter beside the
track; he checked it; it worked. Then about
200 metres from platoon HQ Leisy noticed an
unusually bushy area and stopped his patrol
to check it. They slowly crawled up to a
large log and carefully peered over it to
discover an enclosed cooking area with pots,
tins, Hessian bags and plastic water
containers near the ashes of an old open
fireplace. It was all well concealed by a
bamboo frame camouflaged with fern fronds
and leaves. The patrol crouched looking at
this and small well-hidden tracks leading to
what appeared to be bunkers several metres
either side. With the smell of both cooking
and humans now distinct at such a close
range they realised they were actually
within the bunker system. Although the
jungle was completely silent the patrol
members, with mouths dry and adrenalin
racing, could hear their hearts thumping.
Suddenly from behind a bunker beyond the
cooking hut appeared two unsuspecting
soldiers in grey-green uniforms, combat
webbing with ammunition pouches, wearing
pith helmets and carrying
AK47 assault rifles.
Reacting swiftly and taking advantage of
their obvious amazement and fear, Leisy
fired at them from point blank range,
dropping them to the ground.
Enemy rifle fire seemed to erupt from every
bush to their left (north) as the four men
hastily pulled back, Jim McMillan
effectively using his
M79 grenade launcher to
give them an initial break. Some enemy began
to pursue them, firing both small arms and
RPGs, but Leisy's men,
using leapfrog fire and movement, covered
each other and halted the enemy as they
retreated to their platoon firm base. They
reported their findings to their platoon
commander: numerous enemy in at least 4 to 6
bunkers, well-concealed on the high ground
to the north of the stream. These were not
black-pyjama Viet Cong but North Vietnamese
regulars. They were well-armed and
aggressive but had taken casualties.
It was 1645 hours
discussed the situation with the acting Company
Commander, Captain Bill Titley, and it was decided from
prior experience that a quick aggressive assault would
not necessarily be met by a staunch defence but would be
more likely to cause an enemy withdrawal. Initially
Hosie prepared his plan of attack on what he thought was
a small platoon position: with air and artillery support
they would do a left flanking assault with two sections
up and one in reserve, while CHQ remained in the
firm base. The attack H hour (start time) was set for
Then things began to unravel: artillery and mortar
support were unavailable and the fighter attack aircraft
could not be employed because of the danger to the
assaulting sections who would be too close to the target
impact zone. As well, one rifle section remained with
CHQ as part of the firm base thus leaving just two
sections of 6 men each plus Platoon HQ for the assault,
with its sole fire support from a RAAF gunship
helicopter (light fire team). Hoss asked Paddy if he
could assist in the assault. His reply was both
tactically sound and given with Paddy's typical
Aboriginal humour in an exaggerated accent:
"Boss, dem black blokes am good at lead'n and track'n
but no good at attack'n. Dem white troops are legendary
and best at dat, but dem poor black troops am hopeless."
In fact, despite the small quantity of ammunition held
by the tracker (this assisted his speed of movement),
Paddy said he would assist if required, but Hoss decided
against it, keeping him for his specialty.
By now the late afternoon downpour of rain had begun.
Hoss designated Ian Leis's section with acting forward
scout, Sandy McKinnon (usually a machine gunner), to
lead the assault force to the bunkers through the scrub
well to the north of the track. "Take as much time as
you like Mac," he instructed Sandy, noting that stealth
and surprise from this different approach might provide
one of their few advantages. The undergrowth was thick
and visibility limited as they slowly but quietly
progressed towards the enemy. Sandy did not see the line
of camouflaged bunkers until an enemy suddenly loomed
two metres to his front raising his
AK47 to fire. The
rounds slammed into Sandy's chest with such force that
he was thrown several metres onto his back. Other rounds
that had struck his weapon shattered it and forced it
from his grasp as he was propelled away. The North
Vietnamese soldiers had been in position and, although
surprised by this sudden appearance, were ready and
immediately opened up with all their weapons at Leis's
section and Platoon HQ who all hit the ground and
returned fire. The onslaught had all the sudden
explosive force of a sprung ambush.
"I've been hit, I've been hit." Sandy said as he
struggled to regain his feet, realising that the
traumatic impact to his chest had caused serious
injuries. Doc Halliday, who was close by, yelled at him
"Friggin' get down or you'll get another one!" (This was
the second time Sandy had been wounded in as many
The light fire team gunship (radio call sign "Bushranger
71") had arrived as the assault sections' were moving
towards the bunkers and soon after the battle began was
requested by Hosie to fire its rockets at the bunkers
through the forest canopy, and provide cover to the
assaulting troops using its mini guns and mounted twin
M60 machine guns.
[It is from this time that the audio tape commences,
small extracts of which are shown in italics. The
chopper captain was a New Zealander, Flight Lieutenant
Ted Creelman, whose co-pilot and crewman were
Australians', Pilot Officer Jack Lynch and LAC Alan
The momentum of the Australian assault was stalled by
the ferocious impact of the well-armed and larger force.
Rifleman Jim McMillan (a reinforcement to 7 Platoon only
a few weeks earlier) scrambled to a mound from where he
fired furiously into a bunker. His platoon commander
also used this mound to better observe the enemy layout,
but within minutes Jim was mortally wounded through the
heart. He rolled over into the arms of Hoss who urged:
"Hold on Jim, hold on."
"No, I can't. I'm going, I'm going ..." Jim replied.
He died instantaneously. There was just a small hole and
a tiny spot of blood to his left shirt pocket.
The withering enemy
RPD machine gun fire
with its distinctive green tracer, together with the
explosions of the
RPGs was coming from
just a few metres away. It was deafening and like a
deadly sheet of hot metal slicing through the air and
undergrowth just centimetres above the heads of the
assault section and platoon HQ, pinning them down. It
stripped the foliage from above the prone soldiers so
that leaves and branches rained down and settled upon
and around them. Hoss, acknowledging the crisis, said to
"We're in the shit, Doc."
He shouted orders from his position but immediately
attracted increased fire upon himself and his
Nearby, National Service rifleman, Private Rod
Zunneberg, was caught unable to move in an enemy fire
lane. He yelled:
"For Christ's sake Jim, shoot 'em so I can move."
Rod couldn't understand why Jim was not firing ... Jim
was already dead.
Rod's predicament was relieved, and he believed his life
saved, through the furious firing and aggressive actions
by his section commander, Ian Leis, who silenced at
least one bunker by shooting directly into its firing
slit. That caused the enemy to momentarily slow their
firing long enough for Rod to roll to a less vulnerable
English-born machine gunner Pte Colin ("Rastas") Jones
was also firing intensely at the bunkers, an action
which immediately attracted additional attention from
the enemy. To reduce the silhouette of his
M60 machine gun, Rastas
folded the bipod legs to keep the muzzle closer to the
ground as his weapon pounded away at the defensive
position. It was his gun that gave the most effective
covering fire for the extraction of their casualties.
Cpl Jock MacLean, section commander of the reserve
assault section, repositioned his
men to put in a right flanking attack, but the scrub was
so thick as to be almost impenetrable and the enemy fire
again too strong so that their movement was halted 50
metres from the objective. Hoss ordered them to pull
back and redeploy about 100 metres on the left flank of
Leis's men, and to attack again from that angle. This
would enable better fire support at right angles from
Leis's section when the new assault closed in on what
the platoon commander assessed would be the rear
perimeter of the bunker system. Overhead "Bushranger's"
mini guns gave close covering fire to MacLean's section
as it tried to move into position past some open spaces
made by old B52 bomb craters.
Unfortunately the bunker
system was far more extensive than initially
instead of hitting the rear they really had
struck a lateral extension of the original
bunkers, all of which were occupied by
well-armed enemy. Within a short time that
left flanking assault was also pinned down
RPG and machine gun
fire with experienced section 2nd in command
Lance Corporal Barry (Bazza) Baker, and
recent reinforcements, machine gunner Pte
Andy MacDougal and his number 2, Pte John
(Buddah) Martini, isolated on the left flank
close to the forward line of bunkers. This
was the first indicator that 7 platoon was
in fact facing a force considerably larger
than initially estimated, and one that now
appeared to be of company strength (the
position was later found to be 150 metres in
diameter and to have been occupied by
members of 4th Battalion SR4).
Andy poured machine gun fire at the nearby
bunkers and in doing so attracted intense
return fire from adjacent ones that were
sited in mutually supporting positions. A
barrage of RPG 2 and
RPG 7 fire exploded
all around and above him and Buddah. The
explosions of the heavier
RPG 7 were
particularly ear shattering and as Andy
recalled later, their heat was like "putting
your head in a 300 degree fan-forced oven."
His number 2, Buddah Martini, was wounded in
this exchange when an
RPG exploded in a tree
above them, showering them with branches,
foliage and white-hot shrapnel. The worst
shrapnel wound was to Buddah's inner thigh
just above his left knee, exposing but not
severing the main artery.
"Are you badly hurt?" yelled Andy. "I think
I'm OK," answered Buddah who had turned a
"Well, throw us your ammo, patch yourself up
and do it tight, mate; then get yourself out
of here" said the machine gunner.
Bazza Baker leopard-crawled up to Buddah as
he was applying his shell dressing to pad
the gaping wound and strapping it to his
thigh before the wounded man slowly crawled
away and extracted himself from the action.
Bazza was concerned about some firing some
distance to their flank so moved to a
position 10 metres to Andy's left. They were
now alone and isolated close to the bunkers
on 7 Platoon's extreme left flank. Andy
continued firing as targets occurred,
including one who was aiming his
RPG towards Hosie's
Platoon signaller, Pte Lance
Reeves, radioed back to CHQ:
is 31, we have three casualties. Dustoff, over."
[CHQ was radio call sign 3
or 30 ("Three-Zero") while 7 Platoon was call sign
"31 this is 30, yes we've got you. We have
Dustoff standing by, over."
CO 5RAR, Lt. Col Colin
("Genghis") Khan (call sign "Niner"), was hovering in
helicopter nearby just above tree top level:
is Niner, I have arranged Dustoff through my
he had passed this onto the Battalion Command Post using
another radio net). The presence of the popular Genghis
was a real morale boost for the diggers below.
Hosie spoke to CHQ:
is 31,we have three casualties: two bad. It
looks like a sizeable bunker system. I've tried
to whip around to the left but it is a bit
By this time both assault sections were unable to
advance because of the larger defending force with its
superior firepower. It was apparent to Hosie that his
force was too small to overrun this high quality NVA
enemy whose effective use of its weapons was both
accurate and intense, particularly along well-concealed
fire lanes trimmed low through the undergrowth. After
some time he reported on the radio:
"31, it's too big. I'm pulling back.
When can we get Dustoff, over?"
Details of the three casualties were
provided: "two walking and one litter; one
is very bad, over."
Colonel Khan, overhearing this, suggested to
3 this is Niner, tell 31 if he can get those
casualties back closer to your loc, there
are a few shell crater clearings I can see
there suitable for Dustoff. Also that will
enable you to get Bushranger in, as well as
safely extracting your casualties, over.
"3, that is being done. He's extracting
himself now and as soon as they are
sufficiently clear we'll get Bushranger and
Dustoff in, over."
medical treatment provided to the wounded soldiers in
difficult conditions was fairly basic at this stage.
Platoon medic, Pte Max Hedley, had quickly reached Sandy
whose chest wound had caused blood to well in his mouth.
"I think I'm dying," said Sandy to Max, who replied,
"C'mon Mac, you'll be right. We'll get you back."
Hugging the ground Sandy crawled onto Leisy's shoulder
as they worked their way back to where Platoon HQ was
now located. Hoss, unaware of Sandy's injuries, asked,
"Where's your weapon, Mac?"
"I've been shot, sir," he answered. "Where?" asked Hoss.
Sandy opened his shirt to reveal his chest wound. "Oh
shit" said Hoss, "Leisy, can you get him back to CHQ?"
By this time Leisy was out of ammunition, having
expended all magazines for his
M16 Armalite. The two
men slowly began their journey to the rear under fire,
Sandy, strangely feeling little pain but very unsteady
on this feet and supported by Leisy. He refused to lie
down for a rest however, fearful he would go to sleep
and not wake up.
Max Hedley next attended to Buddah Martini, stemming the
blood flow with field dressings and administering
morphine to relieve the pain, then painting the letter
"M" on his forehead (in his own blood) to warn others of
the medication given so far. Being close to the enemy
weapons and restricted to the prone position, there was
only so much that the medic could do. Rifleman and
trained medic, Pte Bob Wyatt, had also experienced that
grief and despair of not being able to do anything for
Jim McMillan when he reached him and attempted to help,
before assisting in extracting his body.
About 45 minutes had passed since the first assault had
A major problem was to extract themselves from under the
enemy's noses, a difficult task with two wounded men and
one dead. Crawling on their sides and pulling with their
one free hand Doc Halliday, Rod Zunneberg and Max Hedley
began desperately dragging Jim's body through the
tangled undergrowth with the enemy fire just inches
above their heaving bodies.
"God, give us strength," grunted Doc, a man small of
stature but big of heart, as they struggled to extract
Jim's body in these desperate conditions.
To assist the extraction Hosie coordinated increased
fire support for each man or group as they pulled back.
He called in the gunship fire as well, throwing smoke to
clearly identify their position. Above the din Barry
Baker and Andy MacDougal heard the call "withdraw" from
their far left flank position. Baker threw smoke for the
gunship (call sign "Bushranger 71") but deliberately
lobbed it behind himself and Andy so that Bushranger's
fire would come even closer to them and strike the
nearest bunkers just 15 to 20 metres away. It was risky
but justified in the circumstances.
"Bushranger 71, I can see smoke coming through
the canopy and can hear small arms fire from
"31, yeah, that's us; you're above us now. We're
firing that to cover our blokes getting out,
began pulling back while Andy held his position and
continued firing to cover the others till they were
clear. This achieved its aim but also attracted intense
enemy fire upon himself. Then he and Bazza gradually
At CHQ Bill Titley was requesting an ammunition resupply
and was preparing for the
Dustoff evacuation of the wounded from his end where
the trees were about 60 feet high:
"Niner this is 3, have you noticed any suitable
spots for Dustoff to come in, or will it be
"Niner, it looks like winching from a bomb
crater closer to your loc, over."
shouted orders were still attracting close attention
from the enemy however, with the result that his
headquarters group was hit by a number of exploding
RPGs, one hurling
Hosie to the ground in one direction and his platoon
sergeant, Doc Halliday, and medic Max Hedley several
metres in another direction into an old B52 bomb crater.
Another blast threw radio operator Lance Reeves about
five metres through the air and upended him so he landed
on his head with the radio set propping his feet into
the air. The blast not only stunned Lance but also
temporarily deafened him, so that even by the time he
got his radio set operational again he was unable to
hear CHQ trying to make radio contact:
this is 30 over."
this is 30 over."
calls were repeated several times over the next few
minutes without response.
this is 30 over."
several minutes Pte Reeves answered.
deafening sounds of explosions and small arms
fire in the background):
"30, we have a Dustoff position to your rear,
closer to our loc, as soon as you can extract
"31, say again over."
(He still had
"30, when can you get back here, over?"
"31, to your loc over?"
"30, affirmative, over."
this is 30, tell your sunray that as soon as he
is clear enough from the enemy, throw smoke so
Bushranger can engage. He hasn't got much fuel
"Roger, wait out."
detected what 7 Platoon was doing and began to counter
attack through the scrub. This was also part of the
North Vietnamese enemy tactic of "hugging" its enemy so
as to avoid artillery, mortar and aerial fire called
down on their defences. It enabled them, as Australians
said, to "hold our belt and still punch us." It meant in
this situation that Hosie would have to call in
Bushranger's fire very close to his own troops.
Bushranger now; I'll throw smoke, over."
smoke to identify their extremities for the gunship.
"Smoke thrown over."
"31 this is Bushranger 71, I see yellow smoke.
What distance for suppression from the smoke,
"31, a bearing of 2800 from the yellow smoke,
compass bearing from the smoke was essential to ensure
the helicopter gunship engaged the enemy and didn't
shoot up friendly troops.]
"31 this is 30, what distance is the enemy from
the yellow smoke, over?"
"31, they are assaulting us, over!"
"30, roger we'll get Bushranger straight in, out
to you; Bushranger 71 this is 30, the enemy is
close in on the yellow smoke on a bearing of
2800. Engage over."
"Roger, we're rolling in 20 seconds. We'll start
about 50 to 100 metres out initially, over."
"31, could you bring it in to 50 metres from the
this Bushranger 71, rolling in now."
"What's that over?"
"Bushranger 71, commencing firing path now,
"31, one of our flanks is also just throwing
"Roger, we'll be firing to the south-east of
that smoke, over."
made a strafing pass, successfully firing at the
"Keep on that, over."
"How's that fire, over?"
"31, that's lovely, over."
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