5RAR and Mine Ware, Vietnam War


© Brian London OAM., DCM.
Both Tours
author: Brian London OAM., DCM.

The concept of mine warfare is not new. Highly developed during the Second World war and used in conflicts since that time, mines and their use remains a contentious issue.

Mines in all their variants, were designed as a means of defence and a deterrent against attack from enemy forces.

Minefields (Anti-personnel mines in the main) are usually placed around defensive positions or to deny access to areas of strategic value. These areas should be protected by barricades of barbed wire, recorded and accurately plotted on military maps as well as being covered by fire from infantry weapons. The deterrent value is best achieved by the obvious signs that a mined area exists.

In Vietnam, allied forces used these weapons conventionally; around defensive outpostsa mine casualty and bases. One example was the construction of a minefield by the Australian Task Force from the feature known as the "Horseshoe'' to the coast of South Vietnam. The construction consisted of two parallel belts of barbed wire six feet high and six foot wide and separated by two hundred yards. The length was about seven miles and a dense minefield was laid between the two fences. This barrier fence and mine field presented a formidable obstacle provided it was patrolled daily to check for breeches or attempted breeches.

To allow local farmers to work the land outside the fence, several gaps were made and controlled by Vietnamese police. Farmers were required to register as they left for theiranother mine casualty day of work. On return each person was accounted for and the gaps sealed at night. Any attempt by unregistered persons to enter the protected areas were soon discovered as they had not registered earlier in the day. In principle the system worked well. A great deal depended on surveillance of the entire area 24 hours a day. This task was given to various units and sub-units including the South Vietnamese forces. Observation from the air during daylight hours and patrols at night prevented the Viet Cong access to the valuable rice harvest and tax money which they so desperately needed. To be vigilant was the key, to falter in this regard would cause a weak link in the chain.

A weak link did develop; South Vietnamese units tasked to do a share of the patrolling failed to adequately perform their duty. This allowed the Viet Cong to breech the fence and over a period of time, remove hundreds, if not thousands of mines from the mine field. The Viet Cong now had a weapon to be used against allied forces - the M16 'Jumping Jack' mine.

The mines taken from the Horseshoe Mine Field were used against The Fifth Battalionanother mine casualty during 1966/67 and 69/70. The Viet Cong did not use the M16 mines in the conventional form. Instead, the VC planted mines in villages, likely helicopter landing zones and approaches to their jungle bases. As VC units were dislodged from camps and villages, their mines remained in the ground, unmarked. The amount of indiscriminate mine laying by the Viet Cong may never be known.

The Doctors, Nurses and Medical staff have our respect and admiration for having to contend with scenes like these; day in and day out.

The lackadaisical approach by government forces in patrolling the mine field, indirectlyanother casualty led to the death or horrendous wounding of many Australians throughout the remainder of the war in Vietnam.

The situation became so bad that the mine field was dismantled and the remaining mines destroyed; leaving the eastern approaches open to the enemy.