W3 Company - Service Stories

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Training and Preparation for Operations [May until 23 November 1969] - Major Torrance

Maj EJ Torrance RNZIR 1970 [Gundersen]Part 1 - Training in Malaysia
I arrived in 1 RNZIR, Terendak Camp, Malaysia in May 1968 to take up the Operations/Training Officer appointment from Maj Ken Gordon who was scheduled to be posted to 1 ALSG Vung Tau.  The main task of the Operations/Training Officer was to prepare reinforcements for Vietnam.  In the period May to November 180 reinforcements arrived from NZ with the majority going to Maj Lindsay William’s company that was preparing to go to Vietnam as W2 Company.  I recall that in Vietnam during this period we suffered a higher rate of battle casualties than was expected and many soldiers were laid low with malaria.  As a result there was considerable pressure on the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel John Brooke, to send reinforcements before they had completed the pre Vietnam training.  A lot of juggling went on to find reinforcements, however, to the best of my knowledge no one left for Vietnam without having completed the required pre Vietnam training.

In January 1969 I took over command of B Company and carried on the task of training reinforcements as well as helping Maj Larry Lynch with the training of his company that deployed to Vietnam in May 1969 as V4 Company.  In early May I was designated to be the Company Commander of the company scheduled to replace W2 Company in November 1969.  The majority of the company personnel destined for W3 Company arrived in Terendak in May, June and August 1969.

The May reinforcements were greeted with the news of the serious inter racial rioting in Malaysia and especially Kuala Lumpur.  As a result we were all confined to Terendak Camp for a couple of weeks. It came as quite a shock to hear on the radio and TV that “curfew breakers will be shot” and to learn that over 200 had died in the rioting.

The training programme for our Company followed the same successful format that had been used by all the NZ companies.  Guiding us through the thorough and realistic training were personnel from the recently returned V3 Company.  Platoons were taught and then practised their IA (Immediate Action) drills, patrolling, ambushing and harbouring.  Special attention was paid to range and jungle lane shooting and navigation.  Cross training was undertaken to provide us with a “back up” of signallers, medical orderlies and assault pioneers.

Both the 2IC Capt Jim Brown and I made separate reconnaissance visits to Vietnam.  During my visit 10 to 19 June 1969 I spent most of the time with W2 Company in the field.  Of particular interest at the time was the debate over the best way to deal with enemy anti personnel mines, booby traps and bunkers.  Our visits were extremely worthwhile and lessons and techniques learnt were incorporated into the training programme on our return.funeral escort for Vietnam veteran  [Torrance]

During our five-month preparation for Vietnam some members of our Company officiated at/attended the funerals in Terendak Camp of three NZ soldiers killed in action in Vietnam. These funerals were a sobering reminder to us that we were about to enter a very hostile active service environment and that we should leave no stone unturned in our preparations.  It is also interesting to observe that these were the last New Zealanders to be buried at Terendak Camp – a policy change effective from mid-July 1969 allowed for all bodies to be returned to family in New Zealand. [the three funerals were for Cpl Jim Gatenby W2 mid Jun 69, Pte Jack Williams V4 late Jun 69, and Pte Donald Frith V4 mid July 69 - a total of 7 Vietnam veterans are buried at Terendak military cemetery]

funeral escort for deceased Vietnam veteran [Torrance]

Our final exercise was held at the field firing range at Asahan in Johor in October.  It was an opportunity to fire all of our weapons and have a final run through of our drills and routines.  Our advance party arrived in SVN at 0900 hours local 29 October 1969, the main body followed just over a fortnight later. Some other members such as Cpl Barkle had also deployed earlier as late tour reinforcements for W2 and rejoined the company on our arrival.

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Newspaper Articles from this Period

"NZ Troops Earn Ghurkhas’ Praise" – Evening Post 16 July 1969

New Zealand troops won high praise last week from the 3rd Ghurkha Independent Parachute Company in a jungle search and rescue operation in [Johor].  When two Ghurkha soldiers, who were undergoing a selection course for entry to the crack parachute unit, failed to appear on the last leg of a two-day jungle navigation test, the Ghurkhas asked 1RNZIR to help them search for the missing men.  Although due to return to Terendak Camp after an 18-day exercise in the bush, the NZ battalion redeployed immediately to help the Ghurkhas.  The Ghurkha company has in the past played enemy to the NZ battalion and has also formed part of the battalion on exercises.

Breaking down into eight-man sections, the Kiwis quartered an 18,000 square yard tract of jungle and in the second day a section found the missing soldiers tracks.   A second section cut their track and was able to determine the direction they were taking.  The section radioed back the information that one of the soldiers was being dragged by his mate.  British engineers quickly redeployed into the area towards which the missing men were heading and began cutting a helicopter pad.  As the first ‘chopper’ came in, the missing Ghurkhas staggered out of the jungle.  They had heard the power saw and made for the noise.  Dressed only in vest, trousers and boots, with a water bottle but no rations, the Ghurkhas lost their way when a herd of elephants scattered them at 3PM on July 8th.  They found each other at 1PM the next day, but one of them had blood poisoning in both legs incurred when crashing through 'brambles' [emphasis by website editor] to escape the elephants.  Four times they waved at helicopters but the canopy was too thick for the searchers to see them.  The story ended on a happy note: both men were accepted into the parachute company for their feat of survival.  The Kiwis for their part received high praise at the end of a gruelling exercise and for the tracking skill that enabled them to pinpoint the missing Ghurkhas movements.

[Ghurkhas [can be spelt differently] were British Army regular soldiers recruited from the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal].

I was There - Peter Anderson
After the two Ghurkhas were found their regiment sent over cartons of beer so following our evening meal and in post-exercise enthusiasm much beer was drunk.  At some point I think Jim Brown decided that inter platoon scrums were the order of the day, rank was not recognised and all was great fun and much hilarity until somebody threw a smoke grenade into a scrum.  Suddenly CSM Ali Barber was on the scene “Right B Company settle down, no more scrums, drink the beer and get to bed”.  Amazingly no matter what rank everyone settled down, drank beer and went to bed.  Nothing more was said.  The second time that happened was when CSM Mackintosh cleared the OR’s Mess in Nui Dat.  Ah, those were the days.

Usual Crap - Evening Post 8 July 1969

A party of New Zealand journalists must have joined the battalion in July 1969.  In one article in the Evening Post the author wrote the usual cameo pieces about how when visiting B [W3] Coy training in the jungle he found how well trained they were, conditioned to reflex reaction [whatever that is..] and the pride he felt seeing ‘these professionals’.  Other pieces covered the ‘steaming jungles’, a practise claymore mine, his first scorpion encounter, the youth of Major Torrance [at 31 the youngest company commander to serve in SVN] and betel nut chewing in Singapore. 

However one article was honest:  the condition of milk powder in the ration packs.  “Made in New Zealand, it becomes rock-hard and refuses to mix with water.  These days the troops don’t even attempt to use it, they throw it away and drink their tea black.  Yet easily soluble milk powder has been available in New Zealand for years.”

I was There': Mark Binning
"During late 1969 the last 28 Commonwealth Brigade inter-unit rifle meeting was held over a period of a few days. I can't recall how it happened, whether it was as a result of our own unit meeting or what, but four Lance Corporal JNCO's - John Barkle from B Company - myself, Mike Loughran and Gary O'Neil from Mortars, were teamed to represent 1 RNZIR in the M16 matches. The other 1 RNZIR teams did not do very well in the initial rounds of the competition, something that did not sit well with our Battalion Commander, Lt Col Brooke, that is, except the M16 team.  As the competition progressed all the other 1 RNZIR teams were eliminated and saving face for the Battalion was left to the JNCO M16 team. On the final day the team was scoring very well and had a clear advantage over the British, Australian and Malay units. I had been posting exceptional scores during the competition, good enough to be leading our team in the early rounds, but Mike Loughran [later to be a RNZAF Queens Medallist] was snapping at my heels. In the closing rounds Mike closed on me and with some superb shooting took out the Individual Championship and I bagged the Individual Championship Runner-Up. But our four collective scores ensured we were the M16 Match winners, the only team to carry the day for 1 RNZIR in the final 28 Commonwealth Brigade rifle meeting. John Barkle and I went on to Vietnam with W3, Loughran and O'Neil went later with V5 Mortars."

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Part 2 - Preparations in Nui Dat
Our flight to South Vietnam on November 14th 1969 departing 0700 hours was courtesy of a RNZAF C130 Hercules transport aircraft with 47 people aboard.  A second plane flew 70 people from Singapore at 1300 hours 14 Nov 69. The take off from Changi Airport in Singapore was eventful.  Part way down the runway the aircraft slammed into a flock of birds and came to an unexpected stop.  Fortunately we had not lifted off so the incident wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Back to the departure tarmac we taxied for a three-hour delay while the aircraft was inspected for airworthiness.  Having passed the inspection we were on our way at 10am and this time without incident.

On arrival at Vung Tau Airport in Vietnam we were able have a chat with members of W2 Company that were on their way back to Singapore.  War stories were quickly exchanged and probably grossly exaggerated.  The incredible number of military aircraft both in the air and on the ground was our first reminder that we were in a war zone.  One after the other ground attack aircraft, the OV-10, took off and disappeared over the horizon.  Helicopters were buzzing about like bees around a honey pot.  USAF Starlifter and Hercules were landing, being unloaded and prepared for departure.  The thought came to mind as to how do they control all this air activity?  We were then quickly reminded that we were in Vietnam to do a job.  Live ammunition was being distributed under the direction of our 2IC Capt Jim Brown, who had been in theatre for some weeks [arrived 29 October 1969] as head of our advance party.  He briefed us on weapon safety and the immediate action drills that would come into play in the unlikely event of being ambushed during the 50 kilometre open truck ride to Nui Dat.  And then we were off.  It was hard to know where to look as there was so much to take in.  First impressions of the countryside were that it was very like Malaysia.  Vietnamese peasant farmers were tending paddy fields, buffaloes were grazing and wallowing in water holes and flimsy attap sheathed houses dotted the landscape.  It all looked very familiar.  But there was a difference.  Guarding the approaches to the first bridge that we crossed was a sandbagged bunker manned by Vietnamese soldiers.  It was a sight that we would see throughout our stay – vital points manned by sentries around the clock.

We arrived safely at Nui Dat and went directly to the W3 Company lines set among the rubber trees of a former large rubber estate.  I was taken to my new home - two 4 metre by 4 metre tents joined together.  With floorboards, electricity, a bed and desk it looked very comfortable.  One tent was my office and the other was the bedroom and a one metre high sandbagged wall surrounded the tents.  The combined Officers/Sergeants dining room and lounge, the Coy HQ office and the QM Store were close at hand no more than 20 metres away.  Beyoentrance W3 Coy lines Nui Datnd the office and store was the soldier’s mess and cookhouse and further to the rear were the soldier’s accommodation lines.  It was all very compact and functional and during the course of the next 12 months we would spend only 50 days in this location.

entrance W3 Coy lines Nui Dat

In Nui Dat all of our food was prepared and cooked in our company cookhouse under the control of our Chief Cook Sgt Ted Gorman.  Right from the outset I was impressed with the standard of food on offer.  A large amount was canned food and sourced from the USA.  Fresh vegetables and milk came from or via Hawaii on a daily basis.

We were in the “dry” season so the fine powdery brick red soil left its mark everywhere.  Despite the low speed limit on the surrounding roads the air, particularly on windy days, was filled with a reddish haze.  The dry season meant that it would be some time before we saw rain again.  The daytime temperature was a little cooler than Malaysia but nevertheless very pleasant.  The nights were also cooler than we had expected.

Our orientation programme was in full swing the day after we arrived.  We were taken through an air assault simulation, and began to work with both the tanks and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC’s).  As the new kids on the block we were given a fire power demonstration of all the weapons available to us.  We were reminded of the safety considerations when using the tanks, guns and mortars and invited to practice the calling for and the directing of these weapons.  We were invited to join some of the Tactical Area Of Responsibility (TAOR) patrols that provided security to the Nui Dat base both by day and night.  On one particular “settling down” exercise the company was attached to a troop of Australian APC’s.  For an entire day we charged around an area not far from the Task Force Nui Dat base.  In the process a number of the APC’s threw their tracks and we had to wait while their crew restored our means of traction.  The troop commander assured me that he knew where he was at all times as the terrain was familiar to him.  And, as he had been in Vietnam for nine months he “knew the ropes”.  I got the distinct impression that this Australian Lieutenant troop commander was showing off to these Kiwi new boys.  He loved every moment of his time as the chief instructor and I think he took delight in seeing us being tossed around inside the APC’s like washing in a washing machine.  Evening came and we set about to settle down for an overnight laager.  The troop commander set his APC’s in a wagon wheel formation and I set the company in a defensive formation around the perimeter.  Having gone around in circles for most of the day I did not know exactly where we were on the map.  The troop commander assured me that he knew where we were so I agreed that his grid reference would become our night location statement (LOCSTAT).  This was sent to the base HQ in Nui Dat [YS417692 is recorded in the 6RAR war diary, 2.5 Km west of Nui Dat] and we agreed that I would join him later in the evening when the defensive fire (DF) target was fired.  As we were close to the base and did not have any priority for registering our target it was about midnight before our turn came up.  The first ranging shot from the 105mm-artillery gun based at Nui Dat was calculated to fall 1000 metres from our present location.  We could then estimate the direction and distance to the fall of shot and use “sound ranging” to adjust the next shot closer to our night location.  We were advised that our first shot was on its way.  The crack and thump of the exploding shell was ear splitting and shell fragments were pinging off the sides of the APC’s.  The round had fallen no more than 30 meters from our perimeter.  After checking that everyone was OK an investigation was held.  The round was accurate.  We were 1000 metres astray with our night location!  After that initial fright we adjusted the fall of shot and registered our DF target.  We were very lucky that night and learned some valuable lessons.  Number 1 was to never trust as gospel the word of a so-called expert map-reader.  We needed to check, check and check again. [see this link for another article on navigation in Vietnam]  Number 2 was the value of having dug shell scrapes so that everyone in the open was below ground level.  Had the soldiers been in the open casualties may have resulted.  [It is not known if the war diary LOCSTAT entry was corrected...]

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more:   Ops while with 6RAR [Nov 24 1969 until ANZAC Day 25 Apr 1970]


Tom Cooper Remembered - [article and photo based on recent research into the 3Pl accident, replacing an earlier article from the Weekend Herald April 25-26 1998 which was found to be inaccurate]
Tom Cooper [on right] with mates
Tom Cooper [on right] with mates

Tom was wounded by friendly fire on 10 October 1970, being struck a glancing blow to the head by a bullet.  He was winched with three other wounded New Zealanders from the accident site by US Army 'dustoff' helicopter about 40 minutes after being wounded and flown to the 1st Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau.  Unconscious from the gunshot wound, Tom’s condition was assessed as critical and needing immediate specialist treatment and he remained on the helicopter which then flew him to the US 24th Evacuation Hospital [24 Evac] at Long Binh.  Tom died of his wound sometime on 11 October 1970. The formal identification of Tom's body was done by Capt Bill Blair RNZIR who was flown to 24 Evac probably during the morning of 12 October 1970.  On arrival Capt Blair was directed to join a long queue of people waiting to identify their unit dead but once the US staff realised that he was there to identify a deceased Kiwi soldier he received VIP treatment, being quickly ushered into a long green tent and shown the body.  [Tom’s cousin Sgt Bill Cooper RNZIR, a clerk with NZ Component in Nui Dat, also viewed the body in Vung Tau before it was repatriated].  Tom’s body was embalmed in Saigon on 14 October 1970 under arrangements from the NZ Embassy and returned to New Zealand in a hermetically sealed aluminium casket by RNZAF C130 Hercules which left Vung Tau on 19 October and arrived at RNZAF Base Auckland on 22 October 1970.  Tom was received by HQ Auckland Army Area before being passed into the care of his whanau [extended family] headed by his uncle Rua Cooper [the then Speaker for the Maori Queen] who had been responsible for Tom’s upbringing from the age of 16-years.  His body lay in state for three days on the Te Awamarahi Marae Tuakau, Port Waikato before, on the Maori Queen’s orders, being buried in the Royal Graveyard [Tainui urupa] on the sacred Taupiri Mountain above SHW1 in the Waikato.  Tom’s sister Liz recollects that her brother was buried with full military honours including gun carriage and graveside volleys by soldiers from Ngaruawahia Army Camp. 

The steel body casket used for the repatriation of Tom Cooper’s body was by some coincidence on a trailer on the tarmac at Vung Tau airport on 10 November 1970, several members of W3 Coy waiting to fly out of SVN that day sat on it before reading the label and realising what it was.

Research in 2007 found discrepancies between official records and the dexisting Cooper headstone with errorsetail on Pte Cooper’s headstone [see photo]; these concerned his regimental number, age, and date of death :  Tom’s headstone was found to have two factual errors: an incorrect regimental number [correct number is 482859] and incorrect age [Tom was 22 in October 1970; his DOB being 17 July 1948].  Some soldiers believed Tom to have died late in the afternoon of 10 October, a date also recorded in the 2RAR record book and the HQ NZ V Force Operational Summary for October 1970.  However other records differ; a newspaper report dated 11 October  1970 reports him as wounded and at a US Army hospital in Long Binh, a further article dated 13 October reports he died of wounds.  The HQ NZ V Force report ‘Personal Data of Deceased’ records the date of death as 11 October 1970, as does other paperwork used to repatriate the body.  Capt Hart RAAMC stated to the official investigation that Pte Cooper had died on 11 October 1970. 

original Cooper headstone with errors

Although the death certificate has not been located it is acceptable to believe that Tom Cooper died of wounds sometime on 11 October 1970, at least 12 hours after first being wounded.

The Cooper family accepted an offer to have the headstone replaced, the ceremony was held 26 January 2008.

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Welcome Home - Yeah Right..! - Bruce YoungLCpl Bruce Young FSPB PICTON December 1969 [Young]
I returned to New Zealand with 161 Battery when it withdrew from SVN April 1971.  They staged through Singapore where I joined them and we then spent two days huddled in a C130 Hercules before we arrived at RNZAF Base Auckland in the early evening of 11 May 1971.  There was a lot of fuss being made around the battery's return and I decided to avoid it and the inevitable barracks bed by shouting myself a hotel room in Auckland City.  I then intended to watch the 161 Bty and 4 Tp NZSAS parade up Queen Street the following lunch hour.

I asked the movements NCO to give me a ride into the city and he reluctantly dropped me off outside a hotel in or near Queen Street which he thought would have a vacancy.  As I was wearing my Dacron's with medal ribbons I was conspicuous in the busy hotel lobby.  I realised after a lengthy wait that I was being ignored by the male desk clerk so I fronted the desk and asked for a room for the night.  The clerk smirked at me and said that there were no spare rooms, try down the street at another pub.  As I turned away I heard him say to another man "certainly sir, we have spare rooms…".  I thought "You prick..." but decided I wouldn't let it ruin my evening.  I didn't know what lay ahead...

I tried the second hotel and again was turned down.  This time the clerk [male again] looked down his nose at my Dacron's before rejecting me.  I realised that being in uniform wasn't getting me anywhere.  I decided to phone some hotels in the area hoping the anonymous approach might be more successful.  I was definitely feeling like Joseph but without the donkey or the pregnant wife, alone in a strange city late at night.

I made my first call from a phone box near the bottom of Queen Street.  Somehow I stuffed up the dialling and the Post Office operator popped on to ask who I was trying to call.  She sounded sympathetic and I ended up telling her about my sorry plight and asking if she could recommend a friendly hotel.  She immediately told me I could have the stretcher in the back of the operators workroom if all else failed, but that she would try a couple of places for me.  I never heard the first conversation but she popped back and simply said "I see what you mean..".  The operator then rang the Travelodge opposite the Viaduct and just around the corner from my phone booth.  With me listening this time she explained about the returned soldier trying to find a bed, to a female clerk who immediately said that a room was available.  I was feeling pissed off, I had the offer of the Post Office stretcher [I hoped..] and I decided to put my cards on the table.  I said to the hotel clerk that I had been rejected by three hotels that night because I was a Vietnam veteran and was in uniform, and I didn't fancy arriving at her hotel to get the same treatment.  The clerk told me I was very welcome, just turn up.  I thanked both her and the operator [who told me to call back if I still had issues] and walked to the Travelodge.

The hotel had double glass doors in the entrance.  As I approached the doors I could see a female desk clerk having a heated argument with a male colleague.  When I entered the first set of doors they noticed me and the man gave me a stink look, similar to the ones the other male clerks had earlier that night. He then spun on his heel and "pissed" off.  The female clerk gave his retreating back the discreet fingers and it was obvious that I had again struck a hotel with issues with servicemen.  I approached the clerk but before I could say anything she said, loudly, "welcome sir, are you the gentleman who rang for a room..?".  I asked her if there was a problem and she was all smiles, "oh no sir, no problems here."  She then treated me like any other guest, arranged with room service to get me food and basically went out of her way to make me feel like someone who mattered.  I have never forgotten her welcome, or the support from the Post Office operator.

I have sometimes wondered what the issue with the male clerks was.  There was a big anti-Vietnam demonstration planned for the next day during the battery parade, were they nervous..?  Did they let their personal feelings intrude into their job..? Was it official hotel policy..?  Were they just big PRICKS..?  Are they in government today..?

Contrast this with a time in 1988 when I was a UN peacekeeper in Iran.  The Iranian officials were known to be very demanding and less than happy with the UN mission and movement through Teheran airport was expected to be a protracted business.  Yet leaving on our first flight outside the country John Fisher and I were intercepted by a customs officer and personally escorted through all the processes in a matter of minutes.  We decided he had children in the Iranian armed forces and was appreciative that the UN had helped stop the war.  Way to go Iran, show those Auckland'ers some manners and appreciation..!

I did attend the 161 Battery welcome home parade, but that's another story..!

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