W3 Company - Service Stories

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Stealth and Locstats - Bruce Young
LCpl Bruce Young FSPB PICTON December 1969 [Young]W3 was patrolling in the Nui Thi Vai mountains late in our tour.  2Pl were working slowly down a ridge from the heights and intending to harbour on the flatland at the foot of the mountains.  We knew 1PL under Jim Cutler was also in the area but to the south and I tracked the hourly locstats of his MFC Sgt Larry O'Brien to ensure we kept separation.  Later that afternoon when both platoons had stopped for the night I realised Larry's locstat put 1PL on top of a ridge 500 metres behind us on the same route we had taken, and since this was significantly at odds with his earlier locstats I queried it.  1PL maintained the locstat was correct and that 2PL was wrong so I requested a 'mark mission' [one artillery round landing on a known map reference] so we could both check our locations by compass resection.  The resection established my location was accurate to within 100 metres but 1Pl continued to claim theirs was as well.  Both platoons settled down for the night in defensive harbour/ambushes.

The following morning 2Pl's lead section headed in single file south around the base of the mountain.  I was with platoon HQ and we had just started to follow when an urgent hand signal came from the front indicating we were in close proximity to other friendly forces and to take care not to fire on them.   We had found 1PL's night harbour barely 100 metres away.  So Larry was wrong and I was delighted to tell him..!  But what stuck in my memory was that two forces of about 60 people had moved into defensive harbours from different directions about 100 metres apart and there was so little noise or disturbance that we had no knowledge of the others presence.  Contrast this professionalism with some US forces who cleared their perimeters by firing their weapons into the surrounding vegetation and enjoyed music when they stood down.

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Barbed Wire and Bad Teeth - Pacestick, Bwana, Pinky whatever
In early July 1970 W Coy was deployed to the old American FSPB LE LOI.  After seven months in Vietnam, Coy HQ had become used to hiding away in the bush, where someone scraping nosily with their metal spoon in a mess tin, would get me as CSM scurrying round the perimeter track to give an evil look at the noisy culprit.  Things had changed, now noise did not matter, we even had a TV to relax with.  FSPB LE LOI was far too big for us, it appeared to have been built for at least four times the number of men we had and therefore very difficult to defend with our smaller numbers.  So it was decided to cut the base in half, using the defence stores from the abandoned half to build the new side.  It was a relatively new and interesting experience for me, and I enjoyed putting into practice some military techniques I had learnt over the years. On a smaller scale it was something like living in our base in Nui Dat but not so well organised, I remember thinking that hygiene could be a problem and did not relish the thought that half the Company could be put out of action by jelly belly caused by dirty mess tins.  After a yarn with Ted Gorman our Sgt Cook we organised a half 44 gal drum filled with water, placed a burner underneath, placed it beside the Mess queue and hey presto, every soldier could sterilize his mess tins before each meal.

The bunkers had already been sited and partly built. I  was not impressed with the design, they did not appear to have the equivalent of five feet of packed earth which would stop a bullet and I would have preferred the height of two metres to have been closer to one metre to present a smaller target.  But to get the troops required to get the job done would have reduced the patrols outside the wire which was not on.  The new barbed wire fence across the middle of the old base had still to be sited and this appealed to me as an interesting task.  I talked over my ideas with Sunray and he gave me the OK to go ahead.  Almost every Army course I had attended from my early days as a LCpl, to the three years I had completed at the School of Infantry just prior coming to W Coy, had drummed into me the principles of siting and erecting barbed wire defences.  The erection was a breeze, just a drill which we all had practiced.  The siting principals were not so easy, the tricky one was positioning the line of wire at just the right angle so that when the enemy hit the fence, they would be encouraged not to cut or blow a gap, but to turn and follow the wire which appeared to be heading more into the position.  Of course unbeknown to them a MG would have been sited to fire precisely down their approach route.  During training I had never seen a wire fence erected to obey this principle, the emphasis had always been on teaching how to erect it.  Since my arrival in Vietnam I had been on many helicopter rides and passed over many defended areas, but all barbed wire fences seemed to ignore this principle, the fences appeared to be just sited in a big ring around the bases.  Well Sunray approved the line I suggested and an energetic team of soldiers put the new fence up in record time.  I was not really disappointed the enemy did not put my theory to the test.

After about a month, W Coy received orders to leave LE LOI and we set about cleaning and returning our base stores to the people who had lent them to us.  I remember telling two soldiers to cleanup a dirty field generator and they did a very good job, I was amused at the time to note all the brass couplings had been highly polished.  I had lost a filling from a tooth and on return to Nui Dat took the opportunity to visit the Aussie Dentist.  I have never liked Dentists, they always seem to delight in inflicting pain on people who cannot answer back.  When I walked into the Field Dentist Tent I was not impressed, the equipment reminded me of the torture gear that had been used on me at school over twenty years before.  There was quite a crowd waiting, all Australians I think and when the Dentist called me to the front of the queue, rank has its privileges, but I thought it a bit rude of the Dentist and I felt apologetic with those who had been waiting before me.  But I was wrong, with a big beaming smile the Dentist explained he was very happy with W Coy who had returned his generator far cleaner than he had ever seen it before.  He did a lovely job on my tooth and even filled it with gold, which some New Zealand dentist stole three years later.

To those two hard working soldiers who cleaned the Aussie generator to perfection, THANK YOU, could we have your names please.

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"I'm So Sorry, Uncle Albert" [with apologies to the Beatles..]
A section where people can confess their sins..

Where Gods Get Lost Beneath the Southern Cross ** - Bruce YoungM73 British military compass [internet]
LCpl Bruce Young FSPB PICTON December 1969 [Young]I had just returned from R&R and was waiting in Nui Dat for a flight out to 2Pl when someone fingered me to quickly join a Force Signals Sqn TAOR patrol as MFC.  Going from horizontal to kitted out in 60-minutes meant I cut a few corners.  I thought I had it all together when the truck arrived to uplift me so I relaxed until after we were dismounted on the road to the Horseshoe [very close to the Long Tan battle site] where I found my compass missing from my belt order.  To a MFC a compass is a vital piece of equipment but I figured it out and decided to say nothing: after all, TAOR patrols never had contacts, they never went very far before harbouring, the Aussies were unlikely to notice, and I could map read well enough to be able to figure out a LOCSTAT.  Wrong on every account..!

M73 British military compass [internet]

The Aussie commander [a warrant officer] set off north at a fast walk so pace-counting and observing my arc stopped me using the map to match marked with actual features as often as I would have liked.  Then I noticed that the local vegetation had heaps of dirt piled around the stems under the foliage, a likely sign of concealed digging in the area.  When I pointed this out to the patrol commander he headed off in every direction checking other vegetation and I was soon hopelessly lost.  Finally we stopped to set up an ambush near some good sign and I figured a LOCSTAT out of the commander which I first submitted to the FSCC in Nui Dat before dialling my assigned fire unit, an Aussie mortar section at the Horseshoe.  I had the mortar section register a silent DF at a location near where I thought we were.  The Aussies had some weird ‘L’ shaped ambush and weren’t interested in any advice from me so I setup with a tree between me and the likely initiation point and settled down for the night. 

Just after dark a whole bunch of people started talking Vietnamese and calling to each other just beyond the ambush area so the Aussie commander asked me to call indirect fire onto their position.  Shit..! The silent DF was in theory quite close so I called the mission and whispered to the Aussies to keep their heads down. The Horseshoe reported ‘shot’ [I even heard the primaries] but the impact was a long way to one side, somewhere in the distance along the route we had earlier followed.  Shit again..!  We had come further East than I had earlier calculated and I needed to adjust fire.  But I had no way of getting a bearing to use and adjusting in the dark onto a point likely to be within ‘danger close’ of the ambush was dangerous.  I was casting around for a way out when I recognised in the sky above the Horseshoe the ‘Southern Cross’ star constellation.  The pointers were below the horizon but I could locate South by counting the length 3½ times down. I decided to use the ‘Southern Cross’ to give me a false direction of 3200 mils to adjust the DF [I was ultimately to move the DF 1.4 kilometres before it was close to our area, a huge distance].  Once I had the DF close by and still using false direction I ran the fire across our front and then down one side as directed by the patrol commander, flinching every time I called for rounds in case this adjustment landed on top of the position.  The patrol however thought I was brilliant and probably saved them from being ‘overrun’ [although no direct contact was experienced] but I couldn’t fool the guys in the Horseshoe who thought I was incompetent, especially at map reading.  We found no dead VC the next morning [no surprise] and returned to Nui Dat.  I never found my missing compass and had to steal another from the CQMS store. 

** title from ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’ by Patti Smith – the upper most star of the Southern Cross constellation is visible as far north as Korea.

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Ooops! - Bruce Young
I was ACPO for the mortar section at the Horseshoe.  One night we did a DF to the west near Dat Do.  Using the old flat plotter board with the grid on [we wrote the grid reference of the base plates as being the centre of the board] I read the grid the wrong way [counted left from a known point rather than right] and put the calculations 1000 metres closer to Dat Do [actually just outside the RF post, I redid the figures later].  Someone complained about this dangerous outcome but it wasn't clear which unit was firing at the time [the local RF were also firing somewhere..] so Larry and someone else went to where I claimed to have been firing and collected any tail fins [the whole area was worked over regularly with DF fire from the Horseshoe].  The batch number on the collected fins were compared with what we had in the storage bays and since some apparently matched I was officially off the hook.  However I knew I had made a bad mistake and it encouraged me to actively convince Vince to swap MFC roles.

I Was There: Mark Binning  I do recall that the lot #'s didn't match many of the lot #'s we were using or had back in Nui Dat at that time.  If I recall correctly, locals were blaming the mortar rounds for killing one of them and wanted compensation (they could claim $US2000 if civilians were killed by accident).  Hope you didn't continue to read your maps that way when you were a MFC!  As I recall Vince didn't take much convincing, I think he found it physically pretty tough.  The rest of the tour suited him.

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2RAR's Car Park at FSPB Tess - Bruce Young
LCpl Bruce Young FSPB PICTON December 1969 [Young]2RAR were thought of by W3 as a dull battalion, without imagination, and since lacking in original thought were likely to follow the textbook slavishly.  Here's an example of that 'textbook' mentality.  2RAR were at the time at FSPB Tess, about 150 metres off the north edge of SHW 15 west of Baria and about half way to the 'White Lady' statue.  For some reason 2Pl, operating nearby, were picked up in APC's and taken there.

It was the start of the wet season and FSPB Tess, surrounded by a bund high enough to obscure the various armoured vehicles dotted around the perimeter, suffered from a high water table.  As 2Pl approached the turn-off it was obvious that the dirt scooped out to create the bund had left a deep moat around the base and the way in to Tess had to be negotiated through a 6-foot deep mud cesspit.  The first APC to attempt the crossing became bogged and a recovery vehicle from inside the base was called to drag it clear.  The other APC's also had difficulty crossing.  Given this, it was difficult to understand why the Regimental Police [RP] Section immediately inside the bund entrance had a number of spaces marked out by iron pickets with the sign 'car park' prominently displayed.  It was obvious no normal car would ever get to park in those carefully reserved spaces but somewhere in a military manual I imagine there was a staff requirement to handle visitors to a firebase by providing parking for their vehicles, and that the parking was obviously unnecessary did not remove the staff requirement to provide it.

2Pl were directed to a piece of ground set aside nearby for visiting troops [another staff requirement no doubt...], but an area totally devoid of any shelter or structures.  Someone had also thoughtfully dug shell scrapes for the visitors [another staff requirement..?] but given that these were not covered and it was the wet season they had filled with water.  2Pl needed some way of erecting cover from the rain, and since the New Zealander's considered the car park to be superfluous some enterprising Kiwi’s shuffled away to quietly reappear with a bunch of iron pickets to which shelters were quickly attached.  About 30 minutes later a worried RP approached us and asked if we had removed the car park pickets.  He was advised we hadn’t.  He then looked really concerned and explained that “the RSM had noticed the car park had been dismantled and he was required to rebuild it, any idea where he could get more pickets..?”  "Yeah mate, same place we did, over there" [in the opposite direction].  The RP never returned but when we redeployed away from the base the next day the car park was back...

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How did W3 measure up..? - Doug Mackintosh
During the stand-down period at the end of our tour, an invitation was received from the Australian Brigadier for Maj Torrance and the CSM [me] to join him for morning tea.   I appreciated the gesture, I had not heard of a CSM going to such things before.   We presumed it was to say goodbye and to thank us for Whisky 3 efforts during our 12 months in Vietnam.   I remember the Brigadier as a courteous gentleman who made me at ease immediately.   One of his questions surprised us both; he asked why were we better than the Australians..?   We stumbled to a hasty reply, and said it was due to our different method of shooting (the Wooster, close range system).   The correct answer is much more complicated and could be examined some other time.

Were we better or just more effective?   Of course I thought so.   But how do you measure such things.   Many factors come into it, but perhaps there is just one overriding fact, which dominates all others.

The role of the infantry in battle is to close with the enemy on the ground and destroy (kill) him.   The following statistics compare us with the other rifle companies in the two battalions W3 served in:

6 RAR/NZ: A B V D and W Coy (Sp Coy not considered)

Operation En KIA Own KIA
Marsden 22 4
Blue Water 0 0
Napier 38 1
Gisborne 8 3
Magnetic 0 0
Waipounama 1 8
Townsville 13 2
Independent Ops 25 0
Total: 107 18
     

2RAR/NZ: A B V D and W Coy (Sp Coy not considered)

month

En KIA Own KIA
May 5 3
June 3 2
July 7 0
August 7 2
September 15 0
October 2 2
Total: 39 9

Comparison:

KIA total W3 Rest of Bn average other
Enemy 146 54 92 23
Own 27 3 [1:18] 24 1:6
W3 lost x1 soldier for every 18 enemy KIA,
other coy average loss x1 for every six enemy KIA

Case closed..!

Authorities:   6 RAR History page 133.   2 RAR History page 51
.   W3 Records.

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