|Tour of Duty '71|
This incident happened just a few short days after we were "in country" and were still extremely new to this business of war.
This is by Mike English (one of our company section commanders) who wrote a book about our 1971 tour entitled "The Riflemen".
On the night of the 2nd March 1971, 3RAR's rifle companies settled into their night defensive positions and began the routine of posting sentries, eating, and cleaning weapons. This had now become second nature, and the riflemen were growing accustomed to the rigours of patrolling and searching for the ever elusive enemy. Many of the riflemen still felt that the training "in country" was almost like an exercise being conducted in Australia. This was to change within a few hours.
By 1820 hours on the night of 2 March, C and D companies had settled into their respective night positions. C Company harboured up with 5 Troop C Squadron 1 Armoured Regiment. D Company harboured up on the edge of a narrow finger of a paddy field with a reasonable amount of visibility. At 2000 hours both C and D companies reported movement on their perimeters and probing by an enemy force of unknown strength.
At 2020 hours, 11 Platoon, under the leadership of Lieutenant David Horner, sighted one to two enemy 20 to 30 metres away from their position. The claymore mines were immediately fired and the area to their front was engaged by the platoon's machine-guns. Illumination was also called for and a sweep of the area was about to commence when approximately ten enemy were sighted outside the perimeter. The machine-gunners opened fire in an effort to suppress the area with small arms fire.
At almost the same time, 10 Platoon, commanded by Lieutenant John Wheeler, sighted an unknown number of the enemy in front of the south-east section of the harbour. The platoon immediately engaged the area of the sighting with small arms fire. The enemy were using whistles and flares as a means of signalling and directing their fire and movement onto the perimeter.
Incoming AK47 small arms fire was being received by 10 Platoon. Suddenly a large explosion was heard in the 10 Platoon position, and, amid the flying metal fragments, two of the riflemen were killed--Lieutenant John Wheeler and Private Paul Manning-- with Private E.G. Strickland and Private Keith R. Hammond wounded. These casualities had a profound effect on the whole battalion; nobody could believe it had happened and so quickly after 3RAR's arrival.
Before the explosion Lieutenant Wheeler was seen moving fron position to position, at great risk to himself, giving support and encouragement to his troops. It was later suggested that for an explosion of such a magnitude it could have only been a satchel charge. A close inspection later revealed that many of the trees in the surrounding area had metal fragements embedded in them, similiar to a 20 pound high explosive round.
Those involved directly and indirectly in the battalion's first major contact came to the sudden realisation that Vietnam was a real war where people got killed and wounded.
Many of the riflemen in the battalion came to grips with the situation very quickly, yet others never made the transition.
They would, years later, become the unseen casualties of the Vietnam war.