Recollections  SVN   - Phil Perrin 29th Jan 1968 to 21st Jan 1969

 After OCS Portsea, I was posted as platoon commander /instructor at a National Serviceman training Battalion in Victoria. When that period of National Service Training ceased at the end of 1959,  I was posted to 1 FLD Regt as a Gun Position Officer(gpo) with 105 Fld Bty which moved to Wacol Qld as the nucleus of the newly raised 4 Fld Regt. Each gun detachment was equipped with a 25pounder and as part of force Ambrose a 4.2 inch mortar. Force Ambrose was raised as a reaction element for possible deployment to trouble spots in SE Asia. I was then posted to 131 Div Loc Bty as Survey section commander at North Head (Manly Depot). From there, I was seconded to Dept of Supply, Weapon Research Establishment (WRE), missile troop Army Guided Weapons Trials Unit (AGWTU). Whilst at WRE they sent me to the USA to assess a programme to use a modified Redstone military missile for launching from Woomera in South Australia---this activity was named 'Special Project Army Research Trials Australia' (sparta) ---I remained with SPARTA until Aug 1967.

 Upon release from WRE I was posted to 131DLB as next Detachment Commander in SVN and was immediately sent to Canungra for a 21 day 'purgatory course', commonly known as “A Battle Efficiency course” where I became very, very fit. From there I was immediately sent to the Rockhampton area to join the 'shake down'/marry-up “exercise with 1st Battalion RAR and 102 Fld Bty. In my opinion this was a waste of my time with 131 DLB as the organisation had next to nought to do with a Task Force Arty Tac setting and there was no advice or assistance as to my intended role in the New Year.

I was also attempting to arrange resettlement for my family into married quarters at Holsworthy---my wife had to do almost all of it. It was mid/end of Oct 67 by the time I actually got to 131 DLB and was able to glean what was before me and meet up with personnel in the unit.

 Courtesy of a QANTAS 707, on 29 Jan 1968, myself and 7 other DLB individuals departed Sydney for SVN via Darwin and Singapore (where we were told to not look like soldiers!!). We touched down at Tan Son Nhut airport late that same day and were accommodated at Camp Alpha until the next day when Wallaby airlines flew our 8 personnel to Luscombe airfield Nui Dat.

 At this time Task Force HQ (fwd) was operating at FSB Anderson where I went to meet up with the CO 4FLD Regt. Capt Hamilton came back to Nui Dat for handover activities which were completed by 31 Jan/12 Feb. I sent Sgt Brian Ruddick to FSB Anderson while I familiarised with the unit and Nui Dat dispositions and Arty Tac...a steep learning curve.

 To celebrate our arrival, the enemy put on a brilliant display called 1968 Tet offensive and infiltrated Baria. This required a reaction force of infantry and Apc's to clear the town street by street with artillery illumination for most of the night.

At FSB Anderson, a strong second wave of attacks began and locator Jim Menz was KIA and Marty Van Driel was seriously wounded .... Changeover of personnel was implemented.

In mid March, I was ordered to inspect the site of a SAS Sqn ambush on the firestone trail ...the patrol had successfully destroyed a tractor and trailer with a photo showing the results; it was known as 'the tractor job' but from the air I could not identify the objects so the pilot and I mutually agreed to land and recover the items (we had a light fire team in support) I was not aware of the rules which stated choppers were not allowed to land---anyway I recovered a brand new Chicom 75 rcl barrel and two anti-armour 75rcl cased rounds. The little Sioux chopper performed well!

The Detachment certainly had its share of characters, some hilariously good guys; some not so good, but after this lapse of time I dare not put names to the different categories. One such incident was their d-i-y construction of an observation tower in the new area being occupied by the arrival of a third Bn and another gun Bty. Their combined efforts made the leaning tower of Pisa look perfectly upright soldier would have been game enough to climb it.!!! However, the construction of the Sound Ranging CP under the watchful eye of Geoff Jebb was a masterpiece of construction---it became known as the “Sound Lounge”...most apt as it contained about six reel-to-reel tape recorders on the day the TF Commander decided to visit.

John Martin and Geoff Jebb identified a national trig point at Nui Chau Chan about 15k's east of Xuan Loc(YT6010 ) and occupied by a US communication unit and quite heavily defended. Geoff had a good rapport with the occupiers and it basically overlooked all of our was from here that survey managed to get accurate fixation over a distance of 40k's using the tellurometer.

Our survey equipment was first rate. The radars were most useful when they could be sited correctly, but this was not that often due to the constraints of FSB's and protection of our operators and equipment. Our attached RAEME Mechanics were a god send and fully integrated with our detachments. The level of training and proficiency of our operators was first class with the senior members conducting training all the time. Geoff Jebb had identified personnel to be part of the Sound Ranging base Command Post  The Detachment had a very good working relationship with both 4 Fld Regt and 12 Fld Regt.

The Commanding Officer 4Fld Regt, Lt Col R Gardner approved the Locators club and approved the naming as 'the Menz Club'

Sound ranging equipment arrived in September 1968, but 2, or possibly 3 of the batteries were damaged beyond repair. Geoff Jebb had made overtures to visit a US Sound Ranging base along the DMZ, north of Dong Ha at Gio Linh and Con Thien. Our team consisted of Brian Smythe and Kevin Browning. Our drive in two jeeps to the border of SVN and NVN was rudely interrupted by a breached highway between two vast paddy fields. Fortunately an ARVN truck came from the opposite direction and was able to winch our jeeps across the thigh high rushing water. Gio Linh was on the site of an old french fort and we could look down onto 'freedom bridge's spanning the river. We couldn't see the base operating as it was not in operational mode but the CP was sort of interesting....I think Geoff was more than happy with his WW2 equipment. Our return to Saigon was in a deluxe 12 seater twin rear engine jet business plane but a higher authority (CIA?) took it off us at Da Nang where we stayed overnight at Australia house.

 I did have work trips to Saigon and Vung Tau but came away with the distinct impression that they were not in our theatre of war!  Going to clubs and restaurants armed with a new cake of soap or to really lash out at the economy with a can of hairspray as gratuity for good service!

Leisure time are kidding me!

I shall not go into operational activities except to say that whenever Task Force HQ was split into Fwd and Rear, I went with the former. Of course, the most frightening activity was FSB Coral.

Task Force HQ was in the road convoy at Bearcat when Coral was hit on the first night. When we arrived at the base, the men looked mentally and physically exhausted. The next day the base was really buzzing and the troops showed an air of confidence as they witnessed controlled defence and APC, s patrolling around the base. The US Arty 2/35 arrived and had bought their own ground defence in the form of 'dusters' (twin 40 mm Bofors mounted on a tank chassis).

The LP bearings were quite good and among the artillery craters we found 3 base plate locations and a neat stack of 30-40 mortar rounds plus one NVA with his foot blown off. We had in support Spooky, Puff the magic dragon, ground attack aircraft (Phantom F4), helicopter gunships, arty and mortars outgoing----how on earth I was granted air clearance I have never been able to work out. 

On 6 June Coral was abandoned and as everything left the base the engineers blew up TGFHQ and left in a cloud of dust leaving just 7 of us standing in the open with a defensive umbrella of 16 infantry. After about 15 minutes, our Chinook appeared, circled us then flew away, saying it was too dangerous to land but would return!

I was about to tell my radio operator to start digging again when the Chinook reappeared with two escorting gunships.We all loaded rapidly and as circumstances happen Peter McKie was the last person to step off FSB Coral.

 One of our bns was operating (I think co was LtCol Charlesworth) from a Bn base 1k west of route 15 when a village, Ap Ong Triah, claimed they were hit by a  mortar bomb from our base during the night killing two villagers and wounding an oxen. The Bn denied firing at all and sought our help through TFHQ. A US 'compensation team' was on its way from Saigon. With 3 locators, we flew into the Bn base and were taken by APC to the village which was known to be anti Aust. The APC had three ambushed VC on the front which were dumped in the village....not a good start and in the front of the house were two coffins and family members. Worse still was the fact that crater analysis was not possible as the bomb had exploded in the thatched roof, and as was normal, the house was fastidiously clean despite the trauma. So we then examined everything for some shrapnel...several smallish pieces were found and then Brian Ruddick found a piece about 1inch by 1inch in a pole upright---it was the shoulder (and colour coded) piece of a 60mm (I think ogive is the word) so we then went to the ARVN compound about one k south of the village where the US adviser said he hadn't heard their mortar fire but willingly gave us a bomb to keep for comparison....the Bn CO was happy of course and nothing more was heard.

 The second favourable task was at a village on the beach east of the Long Hai range. The villagers claim they received a hit from an Aust ship off the coast.  There was, in fact, a ship off the coast, but with the aid of the US adviser who helped our little team of locators find the fuse and determined it was a 105mm round. My assumption was that an ARVN Artillery unit located west of the Long Hai range had fired at the mountain pinnacle, missed, and the round carried a few k's to the village. The local ARVN soldiers were notorious for losing their personal weapons (sold or stolen?) and were not allowed to carry arms. Whilst waiting for our return chopper flight my little team and the adviser walked along the beach which had 20 or so fishing boats beached. Heading towards us came two narrow gutted US Cobra gunships obviously on patrol. They were about 200 metres above us but did a smart about turn to from whence they came, and then sped towards us in an obvious attack mode. One was about 20 meters above the beach directly at us while the other cobra sat out over the ocean in an overview position. Our US adviser friend said the fact that we were carrying side arms in this area, dressed in sweat covered greens would have attracted their attention. I immediately told my digs to put their weapons in their left hand and if they were so inclined to wave, do so with their right arm!!!!! This was one of the most fearful events in my tour. A cobra heading straight at you in attack mode is something I'll never forget!

On RTA I was promoted to Major as OC of AGWTU Woomera where no-one appeared to be interested in SVN and no-one had been to SVN so there was no soft let down by being able to talk about experiences.