|Tour of Duty '71|
On 25 February, 3 RAR main body arrived in Vung Tau aboard HMAS SYDNEY and flew direct to Nui Dat by US Chinook helicopters.
Two days later the battalion commenced "In Theatre" training in an area east of Nui Dat.
A Field Battery, 12th Field Regiment, the unit's direct support battery, established Fire Support Base Marj on 28 February.
On 1 March, after only four days in South Vietnam, 12 Platoon D Company had the battalion's first contact for the tour, resulting in one enemy killed in action.
The night of 2/3 March witnessed the first major contact for the battalion when D Company, in a company night position, were probed continually for some nine hours by an unknown enemy force. The enemy were well organised and well armed and made continual use of flares and whistles.
An officer and a soldier in D Company were killed in action during an early probe, and others were wounded during the long contact.
As a result of this contact, "In Theatre" training ceased on 3 March and the battalion switched to a detailed search to the north, east and south of the contact area. No sign could be found however, and it could only be surmised that the enemy was a large party moving east of Nui Dat, between the Duc Thanh area to the north, and the populated areas around Dat Do and Long Dien in the south.
On 7 March, Headquarters 3 RAR and a section of A Field Battery, deployed to Fire Support Base Beth, about 9 miles east of Nui Dat and 2 miles west of the Xuyen Moc District boundary. Operation Briar Patch 1 commenced with companies of 3 RAR deploying into the general area between Nui Dat 2 and Song Rai river.
Companies, in rotation, continued to occupy the Horseshoe feature and patrol from it to the east and north, whilst the remainder searched their areas of responsibility.
On 17 March, after eighteen days on operations, the battalion encountered elements of C3 Company D445 Local Force Battalion (D445), 21 miles north west of Xuyen Moc. In this engagement 9 Platoon C Company met four enemy, killing one, wounding one and capturing two weapons and many important documents. These documents were found on the body who was identified as a platoon commander of C3. Company. As a result of this action, C Company was reinforced with a section of armoured personnel carriers, and the Anti-tank Platoon, and were given the task of searching the area north of Xuyen Moc.
On 20 March, a half platoon of 8 Platoon C Company found a recently used track and were following up, when they heard noises and investigated. A fire fight immediately broke out when the patrol found themselves on top of a newly constructed bunker system.
Helicopter "gunships" were called in after the platoon commander was killed and two other soldiers were wounded. The patrol was forced to withdraw, leaving the platoon commander and one of the wounded where they lay.
The patrol was then commanded by a corporal and a problem arose when they ran out of smoke grenades. Their packs had been dropped on hearing the noise and were now some distance from where accurate enemy fire had them pinned down. Efforts to resupply the patrol with smoke dropped by the helicopter gunships and the direct support Sioux helicopter failed repeatedly because of very thick vegetation, difficulty in pin pointing the exact location of the patrol, and enemy fire directed at the helicopter gunships.
The Company was well spread out at the time of this contact and as it became obvious that speed was essential to reinforce the patrol, the following elements converged on the contact area:
As a result of the above contact, orders were issued for platoons to operate as complete platoons as it now appeared elements of D445 had returned to the Province for operations.
The battalion deployed to the north and north east of the contact area in the hope that the enemy would be encountered in his withdrawal, or that the rest of the battalion would be engaged as he moved south west into the Province. A Company 2 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion was placed under operational control of 3 RAR to assist in this task. The enemy however, bypassed 3 RAR and was discovered to be in the vicinity of his old haunts in the area of the Song Rai/Suoi Giau rivers. This required a hasty redeployment in armoured personnel carriers and on foot to encircle the area and then search for his position.
A second troop of carriers was provided by lst Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and by 30 March all elements were deployed and the search began.
A Company 2 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion and D Company 3 RAR were the searching companies. A Company initially occupied a position only a matter of a few hundred yards away from the later located enemy battalion position. Orders to A Company were to search the western bank of the SongRai to a distance of 500 metres.This was considered to be the most likely maximum distance the enemy would occupy a position as he would need to be near water.
On the 31 March as A Company 2 RAR/NZ(ANZAC) Battalion moved north, 1 Platoon was dispatched to search the area along the Song Rai. At 1430 Hours 1 Platoon found a track showing signs of use in the last 12 hours. Fresh signs of cut timber were found. The remainder of A Company halted while 1 Platoon followed the track, and after only 40 metres, five enemy were seen 10 metres ahead by the forward scout. 1 Platoon imniediately initiated the contact with a sustained burst of machine gun fire. The enemy were surprised and slow to react, but after five minutes heavy enemy fire was being received from the west. Helicopter gunships had been called for, the direct support Sioux helicopter was airborne, and artillery began adjusting fire to the west of the contact point.
The battalion reserve consisting of the Pioneer Platoon in a section of armoured personnel carriers, and a section of mortars who had just arrived in a reserve location to the east of C Company, were ordered to move as soon as possible to the contact area. 4 Troop C Squadron lst Armoured Regiment was ordered to join them.
1 Platoon had been flanked on three sides, had taken casualties and were endeavouring to direct the helicopter gunships onto the bunker system at this time. Difficulty in pin pointing the exact location of 2 Platoon A Company, operating nearby, hampered the employment of the gunships. 2 Platoon had run out of smoke grenades and as they were 400 metres from the bunker system the Sioux helicopter went in to resupply that platoon with smoke.
Confusion existed over whom had thrown a yellow smoke grenade. 2 Platoon thought that 1 Platoon had thrown it and were possibly much closer to the contact than originally thought. The Sioux circled the bunker system to clarify the situation, took ground fire, and was forced to land. The Pioneer Platoon was directed to dismount from the armoured personnel carriers, cross the Song Rai and go immediately to the assistance of 1 Platoon.
The firefight went on for about 45 minutes. The helicopter gunships assisted once the smoke resupply, situation to 2 Platoon was rectified. The enemy then engaged 1 Platoon with 60 millimetre mortars, RPG 7s, grenades and satchel charges, wounding three more soldiers. 1 Platoon then commenced afighting withdrawal and married up with the Pioneer Platoon. Once this had occurred, some 100 metres from the contact point, a medical evacuation helicopter (Dustoff) was called in to evacuate the casualties and in particular one who was seriously wounded. As the Pioneer Platoon threw smoke, so did the enemy, and in the confusion the "Dustoff" aircraft went to the wrong smoke and received ground fire. A door gunner was wounded and later died of wounds.
1 Platoon and the Pioneer Platoon then decided to withdraw to the eastern bank of the Song Rai where the tanks and mortars were, and evacuate their casualties from there. During this withdrawal the enemy followed up the Pioneer Platoon, who sustained one casualty.
Helicopter gunships continued to fire into the bunker area until last light when the artillery and mortars took over.
When V Company 2 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion was placed under operational control of 3 RAR late in the afternoon of 31 March, Headquarters 3 RAR had the following sub-units under its operational control:
The bunker system was entered by C Company on 2 April but was found to be deserted. Subsequent investigation of the system showed that it consisted of thirty two new bunkers with 18 to 24 inches of overhead protection, covering an area 350 by 200 metres. It is believed that D445, less C1 Company, plus possibly elements of K8 Heavy Weapons Company, were in the bunker system at the time of the contact.
The cordon of companies remained in position from 2-12 April and although the battalion group had seven fleeting contact with enemy groups, D445 showed their patience by successfully exfiltrating the whole force through the cordon including what must have been 8-12 stretcher cases.
This proved to be the first of several times during 3 RAR's tour that the enemy displayed his junglecraft and skill by cleverly disengaging from a contact, and then moving out through seemingly impenetrable allied cordons.
On 12 April, elements of D445 were engaged by other 1 ATF units well north of the cordoned area. As a result, the cordon was withdrawn but 3 RAR elements continued to search in the jungles close to the Song Rai river and its tributaries. The monsoon season had not broken and the enemy were still forced to keep within a short distance of good water supplies.
A Land Clearing Team of heavy bulldozers and associated equipment was deployed into the general area of the major D445 contact. The aim of land clearing was to divide the heavy vegetation into sections thus allowing easier air surveillance of enemy movement, and facilitate previously impossible ground and air deployment of troops. Elements of 3RAR were continually involved in providing close protection for the plant and operators during this long and arduous task.
Operation Briar Patch 11 commenced on 25 April as 3 RAR forces continued to search for D445. The companies moved gradually further north and north east, along the axis of Route 328 and to the north of Xuyen Moc.
On 27 April, Headquarters 3 RAR and a section of A Field Battery moved from Fire Support Base Beth and established Fire Support Base Ziggie about 8 miles north of Beth amidst the tropical gardens of the abandoned village Thua Tich.
On 2 May 1971, an element of 3rd Battalion 33rd North Vietnamese Regiment (3/33 Regt) was reported to have moved south into Phuoc Tuy Province to an area some 4 miles to the north west of Fire Support Base Ziggie. Elements of 3 RAR deployed in the suspected infiltration area, but 3/33 Regiment withdrew north into Long Khanh Province without contact, and 3 RAR turned its attention once more to its principal area of interest.
By 10 May 1971, intelligence reports were continually stressing the probability of a threat against Xuyen Moc village from the north by D445 and with this in mind, companies of 3 RAR operated in the infiltration routes to the north of the village. Although some sign of local Viet Cong guerillas was found, no contact was made.
During May, continuing intelligence reports had indicated the presence of 3/33 Regt and D445 in the area east of Route 2, on the Long Khanh-Phuoc Tuy border. On 5 June 1 ATF deployed against these enemy units on Operation Overlord.
The 1 ATF plan was to block with A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment and 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion in the south, and 2nd Battalion 8th US Cavalry in the east. 3 RAR was the searching force moving south east towards the junction of the US Cavalry and 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion.
All rifle companies had been relocated at Nui Dat by 3 June to make the redeployment more economical. Battalion Headquarters deployed from Fire Support Base Ziggie (20 miles to the north east of Nui Dat) to Fire Support Base Pamela by American and Australian Iroquois and Chinook helicopters at dawn on 5 June.
3 RAR companies were inserted on the morning of 5 June using two means. A and B Companies were transported up Route 2 by vehicles to a helicopter pick up zone, from where they were then flown to conduct their air insertions. C and D Companies moved by armoured personnel carriers. D Company, mounted in 2 Troop A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment, with C Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment (minus two troops), departed Nui Dat at 0400 hours, moved up Route 2 into Long Khanh Province, and then east to occupy a blocking and reserve position north of the area to be searched. The carriers continued on and secured a landing zone for A Company while the tanks went still further to establish a leaguer from which to operate. One Section of 3 RAR Mortar Platoon mounted in carriers was with the tanks.
D Company got into position quickly. A Company landed and then moved south as planned toward the area suspected of being occupied by D445.
B Company was then air landed further west of A Company. This was a "hot" insertion and the helicopter gunships suppressed the edge of the timber line to the south and south east and the landing went unopposed. (It was later established that 3/33 Regt must have been engaged by the gunships during the suppression of B Company's landing zone). B Company then pushed south into very thick country, found one recently constructed but unoccupied bunker but had no further contact that day.
Meanwhile C Company had secured the area to be occupied by the fire support base, and after dismounting from their carriers, commenced their search operation to the east.
The fire support base was established without incident. This base consisted of Headquarters 3 RAR and Support Company, the Mortar Platoon less one section, the Anti-tank and Pioneer Platoons, and A Field Battery. A mine was detonated the next morning just 100 metres away from the base and it was thought to have been laid the night the base was established.
Late on the afternoon of 6 June, after sweeping to the south, west, and then north, 5 Platoon B Company reported hearing, and came into contact with a few enemy in bunkers in very thick jungle. The platoon was ordered to withdraw, occupy a tight defensive position and engage the enemy with artillery and mortars. The area suspected of being occupied by the enemy was between 5 Platoon and B Company's landing zone of the day before. B Company was ordered to move against the enemy position on 7 June, and to assist them a troop of tanks was despatched to try and marry up with 5 Platoon.
After moving a short distance 5 Platoon was in contact again and the remainder of B Company plus the tanks moved quickly to their assistance. It was most unusual for the enemy to remain overnight after being discovered, and it was a surprise to find him still there the following morning.
As the tanks moved towards 5 Platoon, they encountered occupied bunkers on the tree line which the helicopter gunships had fired into two days ago and about 400 metres to the north of 5 Platoon. Helicopter gunships were called in to assist and the remaining troop of tanks was sent to assist the other.
D Company was placed on alert and mounted in carriers ready to move to the assistance of the tanks. The order to execute was given shortly afterwards.
During 7 June, artillery, mortars and Australian and United States gunships engaged the enemy bunker system while B Company evacuated its casualties and received urgently needed ammunition. During one such resupply a RAAF Iroquois was shot down by enemy fire whilst over the contact area. At 1500 hours D Company with two troops of tanks assaulted the bunker system from a position 400 metres to the north, but the enemy had fled. B and D Companies married up for the night.
At about the time that D Company's assault began, C Company found another bunker system about 1 mile to the south east which had been occupied a few hours previously. From documents found in the thirty one bunkers, the occupants were identified as elements of D445.
In the B and D Companies system of forty seven bunkers, documents identified elements of 3/33 Regt.
Both enemy units being sought had therefore been discovered by the third day and from subsequent intelligence, had moved completely out of the 1 ATF area of operations. Subsequent search operations by all companies over the next few days revealed sign of the enemy's speedy withdrawal.
The contact on 7 June once again showed how we always appear to come off second best and the enemy escapes. There is no doubt that the weight of supporting and attacking fire would have inflicted more casualties than the five enemy who were found dead in the area.The battalion withdrew to Nui Dat on 14 June for its first real rest since arriving in country on 25 February.
On 18 June 1971, Operation Hawker commenced and companies deployed to the north of Xuyen Moc again searching for the elusive D445.
Although the searching companies found small unoccupied transit camps, a munitions factory and old caches, no substantial sign of D445 was found.
On 15 July, intelligence reports commenced to filter in suggesting the prescence of elements of D445 in the vicinity of the now abandoned Fire Support Base Beth, to the west of Xuen Moc. 3 RAR concentrated to search the area. In the course of the following five days, the Pioneer Platoon and 2 Platoon made contact with the Xuyen Moc Guerillas, and 9 Platoon contacted elements of the Reconnaissance Platoon of D445 being guided by a local guerilla.
3 RAR continued to search for D445 for another seven days, but once again the enemy managed to quietly and successfully withdraw to their safe havens in the province border regions. Operation Hawker concluded on 27 July 1971.
During the course of Operation Hawker, I ATF had continued to receive intelligence concerning the presence of North Vietnamese units in the most northern regions of Phuoc Tuy province, a few miles to the west of the area where Operation Overlord had been conducted in early June. On 28 July, in response to this information, Operation Iron Fox was mounted and 3 RAR moved by armour and air into the Phuoc Tuy-Long Khanh province border west of Route 2. 3 RAR were to be the blocking force for a sweep to be conducted from the east by 4 RAR. Headquarters 3 RAR once again temporarily left Fire Support Base Ziggie and established Fire Support Base Kate.
During the first phase, 4 RAR came into heavy contact with a North Vietnamese battalion. On 1 August, Phase Two of the operation saw 3 RAR sweep from their blocking positions, and as A Company swept to the west, they cleared and destroyed a bunker system which had been recently occupied by elements of 274 North Vietnamese Regiment. 3 Platoon came into contact with a North Vietnamese soldier to the north east of the camp. On 5 August, the operation ended and 3 RAR returned to Nui Dat.
On 10 August, Operation Inverbrackie commenced with 3 RAR elements deploying in the immediate area surrounding Xuyen Moc. B Company immediately came into contact with a well armed enemy force entrenched in a bunker system just to the north of Xuyen Moc, and it was only after considerable artillery and air support that the enemy were dislodged.
Two days later, 8 Platoon engaged Xuyen Moc guerillas in a bunker contact south of the village. Searching continued for a further ten days until it became obvious that the enemy had fled the area. It was important to note that all the enemy contacted during Operation Inverbrackie were operating within or on the boundary of the Xuyen Moc District civilian access area.
During the operation, the Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of 1 ATF combat troops by Christmas 1971. 3 RAR were later informed that the unit would be amongst the first group to leave and would depart for Australia in October. The battalion almost to a man was jubilant at the thought of being home with their families by Christmas, but was left a little breathless at the thought that the end of the tour had suddenly gone from being about five months away to a short seven weeks.
All the administrative preparation which would have occurred during the next five months now had to be completed in the next six weeks.
Primarily because of the administrative load, Headquarters 3 RAR found it necessary to redeploy to Nui Dat and control the companies from the command post situated there.
On 22 August, Operation Inverbrackie concluded and 3 RAR regrouped at Nui Dat.
On 23 August, Operation Cudlee Creek started with companies deploying to the area between Nui Dat 2 and Xuyen Moc. The operation and redeployment of companies was planned to allow sub-units time at Nui Dat to commence their administrative preparations for the return to Australia.
Fire Support Base Ziggie, perhaps the most elaborate fire support base to be constructed by Australians during their involvement in South Vietnam, was finally closed on 24 August after some four months of occupation by Headquarters 3 RAR and elements of A Field Battery 12 Field Regiment.
On 31 August, 6 Platoon located an occupied enemy camp about one mile south of old Fire Support Base Beth and very close to civilian access areas. After three separate reconnaissances, a marker balloon was erected about 100 metres from the camp.
Monsoonal rain and low cloud prevented the use of air support during the afternoon and so plans were laid for a dawn attack preceded by air and artillery preparations.
At 0700 hours on 1 September, ground attack aircraft bombed the camp and this was followed immediately by an artillery bombardment.
B Company, supported by armoured personnel carriers, pressed home the attack only to find that the airstrike had not been on target and that the enemy, who were in occupation at the time of the strike, had fled to the north, thus avoiding both the artillery and the attacking ground forces. Immediate air reconnaissance was carried out and fresh tracks were seen to the north.
7 Platoon, who were in a blocking position to the north, engaged two enemy moving north east about six hours after the B Company assault.
Documents in the camp identified C2 Company and the Signals Platoon of D445. Once again however, the enemy had demonstrated his uncanny ability to escape through a cordon, even in daylight hours, with circling aircraft looking for sign of his movement. Sub-units continued to search around the Xuyen Moc area without further success and on 14 September 3 RAR returned to Nui Dat.
On 17 September the Advance Party of 3 RAR returned to Australia by RAAF Hercules aircraft.
The following day 3 RAR deployed into an area cast of Xuyen Moc extending to the Province border and south to the sea.
On 19 September 1 ATF intelligence reports indicated the possible entry once again of elements of the 33rd North Vietnamese Regiment into Phuoc Tuy Province north of Duc Thanh. 3 RAR redeployed to the area west of old Fire Support Base Ziggie and Operation Mount Torrens concluded after only 48 hours duration.
1 ATF mounted Operation Ivanhoe to counter the threat of a major build up in the north cast sector of Phuoc Tuy Province. 3 RAR blocked along the eastern edge of the area of interest with 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion sweeping towards the 3 RAR company positions.
Fire Support Base Maree was established 1000 metres to the west of old Fire Support Base Ziggie. Elements of 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion came into heavy contact with elements of 33rd North Vietnamese Army Regiment on 21 September. The enemy exfiltrated at least three groups north east, once again successfully avoiding the blocking companies. Searching continued until 1 October and although many small installations, camps and tracks were located, the enemy had obviously fled.
At 1800 hours on 1 October, 3 RAR concluded Operation Ivanhoe, returned to Nui Dat and ceased its offensive operational commitment.