103rd Field Battery RAA

HISTORY

VIETNAM 1966-67



Preliminaries

Among the people who were later to serve with us in Vietnam, many established their early affiliation with the Battery in Malaya, where they served together for two years.

That tour of duty was a vital grounding to the nature of service the Battery gave in Vietnam. The benefit of a tour overseas, where training is focussed and the basis of mutual respect is built, was evident in the subsequent performance of the men who filled the junior and senior NCO ranks prior to and during the Battery's Vietnam service. The backbone of the Battery in Vietnam was forged in its term in Malaya.


103rd Field Battery RAA (103 Fd Bty) returned from Malaya during October 1963

and took up residence in Kokoda Barracks, Holsworthy, as part of 1st Field Regiment (1 Fd Regt). After a re-shuffle in officer and senior NCO ranks, the Battery turned to intensive training in air mobility, the major focus of the Army of the time. The Battery trained hard at those techniques, pioneering many developments in the field.


During 1965, signs of things to come were all about us, whoever and wherever we were at that time. In March, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) was warned for departure as the first combat unit to be committed to this new war and in May they departed. The infamous ballots, which identified our 'Nashos', became a reality. Those most affected began their jungle green time about July. In September, 105 Fd Bty from 4 Fd Regt in Wacol went to Vietnam to become part of the 1RAR battle group, as did APC and Engineer Troops who had been our neighbours in Holsworthy. The emerging nature of the war could then be clearly seen, as could the fact that Australian involvement would eventually mean 'us too'. The Battery training program began to reflect that reality. By the end of that year our die was cast.

After leave at Christmas, very intense training was commenced. The Battery took a major part in Exercise Caesar Augustus, with 1 Fd Regt, at Tianjara in NSW.

The manning of the Battery for that exercise, which began in January and ran into April, remained substantially the same for our subsequent tour of duty. Most of the people who would accompany the Battery to Vietnam had joined it by then. Although there were constant moves from group to group, many of the bonds of friendship which last today were cemented in the commonly felt sense of adversity which characterises a peace-time exercise in Australia. With a degree of foresight, although the Battery hadn't officially been designated for Vietnam, all the ammunition normally allocated to a year's training was used up in one exercise. One incident which will live in he minds of those who were there was the fire in the ammunition bay of F gun, resulting in the detonation of about 30 rounds of high explosive ammunition and the destruction of a gun. We can be thankful that no injuries resulted.

Ceasar Augustus was followed by another, Iron Lady, near Gospers Mountain, which exercised only Battery Commander (BC) and Forward Observer (FO) parties. This was our first close contact with 5RAR, who had taken over from 1RAR in Gallipoli Lines across the road in Holsworthy, and was the unit the Battery was later to support for most of its time in Vietnam. This contact was made by the BC, Maj Neville Gair, and FOs, Capt George Bindley, Capt Peter Aspinall and Lt Kerry Mellor.


After Iron Lady, the Battery proceeded to the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra for a sub-unit training program specially directed at the individual and small-group skills seen as needed for service in Vietnam. Like generations of Australian soldiers before and since, members of the Battery found a trip to Canungra hard to forget, and a further source of learning about the value of the other members of a good team.


An additional short period of minor training and a week's pre-embarkation leave saw out the remaining time for most people until the main body of the Battery emplaned aboard a Qantas 707 airliner shortly before midnight on 22nd May 1966.


'Moving In' - South Vietnam

The move to South Vietnam took place in stages and the Battery moved in several groups. The first to depart was a party of thirteen commanded by Lt Mellor, who embarked on HMAS Sydney at Garden Island on 22nd April 1966. With this party went the Battery's guns, vehicles and other equipment. HMAS Sydney arrived off Vung Tau on the evening of 4th May 1966, the party and equipment being discharged from the carrier early on the 5th May. At just mid-day the same day, the first of the airlift groups arrived. This party often, commanded by Capt Aspinall, had left RAAF Base Richmond shortly before midnight the previous night. Fourteen days later the third group, which consisted of Maj Gair and his tactical party, arrived at Vung Tau airport about mid-afternoon on 19th May. This group accompanied the Commanding Officer (CO) of 1 Fd Regt, Lt Col R M C (Dick) Cubis. The main body of the Battery, under the control of Lt John Griggs, arrived at Vung Tau on 23rd May 1966.

This completed the movement of the Battery to South Vietnam, with the exception of two soldiers left behind for medical reasons, who later rejoined the Battery. Key appointments in the Battery at the time of our arrival in Vietnam were:

Battery Commander (BC) Major R N (Neville) Gair

Battery Captain (BK) Captain G H (George) Bindley

Forward Observer (F 0) Cap!ain I G A (lain) MacInnis

Forward Observer (FO) Captain PC (Peter) Aspinall

Forward Observer (FO) Lt K B J (Kerry) Mellor

Gun Position Officer (GPO) Lt J H (John) Griggs

Section Commander Lt D G (Don) Rule

Section Commander 2Lt B J (Barry) Dean

Battery Sergeant-Major (BSM) W02 B J (Tubby) Taylor

Battery Guide (BG) W02 D C (Don) Nolan

Battery Quartermaster Sergeant (BQMS) SSgt DR (Derek) Wolfe

Survey Sergeant Sgt K H (Ken) Borggess

Survey Sergeant Sgt DE (Hughie) Sparke

Signals Sergeant.. Sgt F R (Ray) Pearson

Transport Sergeant Sgt T (Tom) Melvin

Sergeant Cook Sgt M P (Mick) Dear

Detachment Commanders

A Sub Sgt D R E (Don) Begg

B Sub Bdr G S (Jack) Smailes

C Sub Sgt R M (Dick) Rothero

D Sub Sgt R E (Reg) Matheson

E Sub Sgt W J (Bill) Gallagher

F Sub Sgt P J (Paddy) Dumford


Shake Down

The 1 Fd Regt Base Camp for the staging period in May was located some distance from the remainder of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF), it being adjacent to the National Police Training College in Vung Tau. It was with some reservation that we looked on the Battery's other neighbour, a large US petrol and oil installation which was undergoing refurbishment with the liberal use of explosives. Despite the sense of isolation, this situation had some advantages as it allowed the Battery to be divorced from the distraction of major 1ATF activities while we conducted acclimatisation training and brushed up on gunnery procedures.

During this period, which lasted from 23rd May till 5th June, the Battery was visited by 'veterans' of 105 Fd Bty and we had our first good look at the country we had read so much about. For many, such as those who had been Malaya or had recently returned from a tour in Borneo with 102 Fd Bty, South-East Asia was not a new experience.

For all, however, these first days were enlightening, an opportunity to see what  a typical slice of the country was like.


Another dominant feature of life at Vung Tau was contact with Americans on a fairly wide scale. Those members of the battery who professed to be expert 'con-men' had ample opportunity to practise their art. In truth, the help given by the Americans to Australian troops, raw to the theatre, was of immense value.

Little contact was made with the local population, although some members took part in a couple of soccer matches against trainees at the Police College. In these our team was, conscious of the need for diplomacy, thrashed.


Deploying with 1 ATF

Towards the end of May, the US 173rd Airborne Brigade and 5RAR commenced Operation Hardihood, the clearing of the area to be the 1ATF base camp. For a period of three days, Capts Bindley and Aspinall and Lt Mellor went forward to

5RAR and observed first-hand the battalion in action.

Finally, on 6th June, 103 Fd Bty was moved by air to the 1ATF forward  operational base at Nui Dat. This move caused considerable headaches to Capt Bindley, as the support of the two CH47 Chinook helicopters from the 147th Aviation Company was suddenly diverted to a higher priority task. This left the Battery stranded half-way through the move. A dextrous piece of thumb work by the Battery Captain acquired the help of some Iroquois helicopters from the 68th Aviation Company. With their help, the move was completed by nightfall and thus the Battery joined 105 Fd Bty and 161 Fd Bty RNZA in a Regimental gun area in what was to be the southern sector of the 1ATF base. Upon occupation, the Battery was dismayed to find that it had the responsibility of a fairly large sector of the task force perimeter.

A few days after deployment at Nui Dat, Capt ASPINALL was detached to 161 Fd Bty as FO with A Company (A Coy) 6RAR, newly arrived in the country. Lt Mellor was detached to 105 Fd Bty as FO with C Coy 5RAR.


Settling In At Nui Dat


In the beginning, we had only what came on our backs to live with. Though it was only a short while before we could also retrieve what could be fitted onto the back of our Landrovers, there wasn't much room for personal gear there. Our new home for the next twelve months was a bit sparse to start with.

The initial organization of artillery support saw the other two batteries, with their greater experience in the theatre, placed in direct support of the two battalions. 103 Fd Bty was placed in general support of 1ATF, which meant we had no direct affiliation with a battalion. This period gave the Battery an excellent opportunity to settle down and find its feet in a truly operational environment. This was quickly accomplished, as the amount of firing done by the task force artillery, as a whole was considerable. While much of it consisted of harassing tasks a good deal was directed at known or suspected enemy positions and a number of mortar baseplate positions.


The Battery was soon giving a creditable account of itself when compared with its more experienced sister batteries.

One of our major concerns in the early period was the apparent slowness of the buildup of stores we needed to establish a secure, healthy base camp which would be a place for reasonable comfort while not on mobile operations.


Over this period some changes were made to the manning of the Battery. Capt MacInnis, as the 'spare' FO, was transferred to regimental tactical headquarters as the Intelligence Officer to help relieve the hitherto unforeseen workload. Lt M G (Mike) Langley joined the Battery as a section commander. Sgt Begg was transferred to Headquarter Battery (HQ Bty) and his place was taken by Sgt K D (Keith) Lawler.

W02 Nolan marched out to a Vietnamese language course in Saigon and his place was taken, very ably, by Sgt Gallagher. Sgt Durnford suffered a relapse of an old knee injury and was also transferred to HQ Bty. F Sub was very competently

commanded by Bdr N L (Noel) Howard in the ensuing long absence of a sergeant. At the same time Bdr DR (Dave) Rothero was also doing an excellent job as detachment commander of E Sub.


The Battery remained in the base location until 19 Aug 1966 with two exceptions.

The first was a "Road Runner" operation into the village of Long Hai. This was one of a serious operation designed to show the local people, as well as the Viet Cong, that 1ATF was capable of using provincial roads and intended to do so with impunity.

The second was to supplement artillery support for Operation "Holsworthy", where the battery moved, in company with 105 Fd Bty and a platoon from A Battery 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 35th Artillery, to a position South of the plantation village of Binh Ba. The move took place on 8th August and the Battery returned to its base location at Nui Dat on completion of Phase 1 of the operation on 12th August.

In the first week of August two more changes occurred in the manning detail. Lt Dean was transferred to HQ Bty as the regimental Survey Officer, Lt B J (Barry) Campbell taking his place and becoming a FO. Lt D J (Doug) Heazlewood joined the Battery in place of Lt Rule, who departed to HQ Bty to fill the appointment of Assistant Adjutant.



Major Contact - Long Tan

The well-known and well-documented battle of Long Tan occurred on 18th August. It was the first major contact by Australian troops in the Vietnam war and 103 Fd Bty took a significant part in the conduct of the battle.

A significant event in the lead-up to the battle was the mortar attack on the 1ATF base on the night of 16/17 August 1966. This attack was launched using 82mm mortars, 57mm rocket launchers and a 75mm gun. The whole action lasted approximately 15-20 minutes in which time more than 30 rounds fell in the regimental area, the majority into 103 Fd Bty.

After the attack had been in progress some 10 minutes, the Battery was ordered to engage a previously prepared Counter-Battery task. The guns 'took posts' under fire and a creditable performance was put up by A Sub, having six rounds 'in the air' before any other gun had fired. As a result of the attack, the Battery suffered two casualties. One was serious, with Gnr PC (Phil) Norris eventually being evacuated to Australia with a serious head wound and the other was a relatively minor wound suffered by Gnr C C (Col) Chapman.


At first light the task of searching for the enemy, their mortar positions, withdrawal routes and present location began. To this end, B Coy 6RAR left the base camp on a patrolling operation early in the morning. As a result of various findings by B Coy during the morning, D Coy 6RAR was despatched to take over from the understrength B Coy. D Coy pushed eastwards towards the rubber plantation just to the north of the village of Xa Long Tan. On the western edge of the plantation the company made contact with 6-7 Viet Cong. This was now mid-afternoon on 18th August. Pursuit was continued east into the rubber until approximately 1600 hours when contact was made with a major Viet Cong force. This contact soon developed into a desperate battle for survival.

The story of the infantry battle has been described elsewhere. This is how the Battery was involved.


At approximately 1600 hours, as the majority of people were 'winding down' from the onerous daytime tasks of improving the defences, and preparing to change to night routines, it was noticed that 161 Fd Bty was firing a large number of rounds of fire for effect. (This was in support of the early D Coy contact). During the day the GPO, Lt Griggs, had been passing on information as to the finds being made by the searching companies and most people had been led to conclude that the enemy responsible for the mortar attack had escaped.

At about 1630 hours the Battery was ordered to engage in three regimental fire missions in quick succession. Up to that time there had been little 'tactical' traffic assed on the regimental radio net and these fire missions were the first real sign that something big was pending. There followed a short lull, during which time the D Coy commander, Major H (Harry) Smith and the FO, Capt M (Morrie) Stanley of 161 Fd Bty, moved forward to re-group and re-deploy the rest of the company.


At the 'gun end' most took the opportunity to get on with their preparations for the forthcoming night. By that time we had learned to take advantage of any such chance. Further fire missions then followed and it soon became all too evident that the biggest contact so far for 1ATF was in progress. The order 'continuous fire' was given by the FO and relayed to the guns, underlining for the gun detachments the desperation of the infantry situation. During the most intense period of firing, between about 1700 and 1800 hours, heavy, wind-driven rain fell, drastically reducing visibility and making the task of layers and gun numbers extremely difficult.


As the rain fell, a relief force mounted on APCs pushed though towards D Coy. This force, comprised of A Coy 6RAR, included Capt Aspinall as FO and thus the battery was represented at both' ends' of the battle. The relief force was acutely hampered by the rain, reducing visibility to 30-40 metres, and by the fact that the exact location of the beleaguered troops was not known to the A Coy commander. The relieving force eventually drove through an enemy regimental position and over a VC force in an assault formation, to get to D Coy's position.


The sense of urgency created by the radio transmissions from the FOs, at times almost drowned out by small arms fire and grenade explosions, soon permeated to the guns.

Every man on the battery gun position laboured to keep up the rate of fire the situation demanded - and to keep the fire of the guns applied exactly where and when it was needed. It soon became obvious that the supply of ammunition on gun platforms would be the critical factor. The ammunition bays built into each gun pit were big enough to hold about 120 rounds all told. This was clearly not enough. The rest of the ammunition on the position had been stored in a central dump with earth walls up to about 8-10 feet topped with a row of sand bags. The task was to get this to the guns and ready to fire, at the rate of about 6 per gun per minute. An instant 'coolie' labour force was the answer, and it came about through the spontaneous reaction of the men of HQ Bty who, to a man, ran down onto the gun position and went to work.

Though it may have appeared that chaos reigned, with ammunition being hauled and thrown over the walls of the dump and dragged off through pools of mud and water to serve the guns, every gun met every call for fire and none went unanswered for lack of ammunition. Most of us will remember our part in the battle as a succession of incredible sights as people did 'whatever it took' to serve the guns. While we had a certain sense of how desperate the plight of the Infantry had been, and that had been the focus of everything we did, the night was not without its degree of anxiety for ourselves.


At the height of the battle a couple of medium machine guns began firing long, repeated bursts of tracer over our heads from some distance to the South-East. Later in the night, ARVN troops made contact with roving VC only 1000 metres south of the Battery area. The remainder of the night passed without incident.


After about four or five hours, it became clear that the battle was over, at least for the time being. After some badly needed cleaning up and refurbishing our equipment, most of us went into 'night routine' without any clear idea of what the end result of the engagement in the Long Tan rubber had been, so the results, as they were reported progressively the next morning, were eagerly awaited. The Battery accounted for itself very well, firing more than 1000 rounds by 2130 hours when contact was finally broken. This was the highest number of rounds fired by any battery of the regiment during the battle, by a significant margin.

By evening, on 19th August these were the figures                     


Casualty      Killed        Wounded       Prisoner 

Australian      17              22                 -

Vietcong       254              2                  2


It is known that many VC wounded were carried away. Estimates have been made placing VC casualties as high as 700 to 800. Of the casualties, the greatest proportion has been attributed to artillery fire.

Of all that has been said about the battle of Long Tan, here it is worth recording that there were two critical factors. Artillery support allowed the men of D Coy to survive and the arrival and reaction of A Coy and the APCs allowed 1ATF to succeed. It is also certain that if the artillery support we gave had not done the job 'in spades' things would have been very different. In turn, this relied on the determination and effort of every man in a very professional team where the trust and mutual respect developed in our training worked on the day.

Long Tan brought to a close the Battery's period in general support.



Direct Support

On 18th August 1966, 103 Fd Bty became Direct Support (DS) Battery to 5RAR,

relieving 105 Field Battery of that task. The initial allocation of FO's was:

A Coy Lt J C (John) Long (attached from 105 Fd Bty)

B Coy Capt Aspinall

C Coy Lt Mellor

D Coy Lt Campbell

Up to this time Capt Aspinall (A Coy 6RAR) and Lt Mellor (C Coy 5RAR) had been they had done since their arrival in South Vietnam.

The first operation in Direct Support of 5RAR was called Smithfield, and was a continuation of the Long Tan action. It was hoped that this operation would encircle and capture any stragglers from the battle. During the operation the Battery occupied two positions, both within the Task Force perimeter. This was necessary to gain extra range to cover the more remote companies during their search. The first position was at the western end of the newly completed, but not yet used, airfield. The second position was, without doubt, the worst seen by the Battery during its whole tour. At the South-Eastern comer of the 1ATF base, on the low banks of a perennial stream, the position was apparently well grassed, but on driving on our tractors and guns they sank into two feet of mud of fairly thin consistency. Fortunately the operation lasted only a further two days and the Battery returned to base, filthy and sodden.


5RAR returned the same day in similar condition and empty-handed to boot, there having been no contact whatsoever during the operation which lasted from 19th to about 23rd August. On return to the base, Bdr Smailes received his promotion to Sergeant.


The next operation was Toledo, by the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, two battalions of the US 1st Infantry Division and 5RAR. For 5RAR this was virtually a continuation of Smithfield, whereby B Coy did not even return to base. A large VC force had been located north of the Nui Dinh hills. 5RAR was to form the southern 'arm' of an encircling movement by the combined force. The operation had very small results in enemy killed but recovered a large arms cache hastily abandoned by the VC after a B52 strike, the first witnessed by troops of the Task Force. During this operation the Battery occupied a position in the Binh Ba village cemetery. Apart from additional care being exercised when digging weapon pits and the observance of a Bhuddist funeral, nothing untoward happened. Operation Toledo concluded on 8th September.


The next major operation, called Crows Nest, did not begin until 30th September. The intervening three weeks were well spent on improving our base camp defences and accommodation, both of which by now were beginning to take some definite form.

During this time Sgt Borggess departed for Australia, his place being taken by Sgt J W (John) Lofdahl. For Crows Nest, the Battery accompanied two 155mm M109 selfpropelled guns from Battery A, 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 35th Artillery to a position alongside the Duc Thanh airstrip. This was done to support C and D Coys of 5RAR, with 1APC Sqadron, in an effort to capture a VC force that had been blocking provincial route 2 and collecting taxes north of Duc Thanh. The operation yielded little tangible result. On its completion on 3rd October, Lt Long returned to 105 Fd Bty and departed for Australia with the remainder of 105 Fd Bty. Capt S N (Steve) Gower of 101 Fd Bty, recently arrived from Australia, took over as FO with A Coy.


The Battery was soon 'in the scrub' again, when on 6th October it moved, this time with four guns of Battery A, to a position near the village of Ap Ong Trinh Dp, on Highway 15, to support operation Canberra. This was a clearing operation of the Nui Thi Vai hills. The first position occupied proved unsuitable and a second, nearer to the village, was occupied on 7th October.

On 9 Oct, B Coy reported that they had surrounded a group of about 30 VC and planned an immediate attack supported by a comprehensive fire plan prepared by the FO, Capt Aspinall. The 1ATF intelligence staff, meantime, made an assessment that the enemy group was the Headquarters of 274th Regiment, of Sth VC Division. In the belief that a similar battle to that of Long Tan could have been provoked, this time where the fire support situation was not as favourable to 1ATF, it was decided to withdraw. The order came within 30 seconds of the attack being launched, and B Coy was ordered to withdraw from the area. Disappointed, but who knows whether fortunate or not, they complied under vigorous protest from themselves and the CO of 5RAR. After the withdrawal the area was solidly hit by artillery, mortars and ground attack aircraft, which generated some further 'secondary' explosions of a curious nature. The next day C Coy moved towards the area from a different direction and encountered an elaborate system of booby traps. By the descriptions sent back by the FO, Lt Mellor, the whole side of the hill had been some kind of munitions 'factory'.

Operation Canberra had proved a costly venture, as casualties amounted to two killed in action, 30 wounded in action, two APCs badly damaged and two helicopters (one Iroquois and one Sioux) lost. It was therefore with a sense of frustration that we redeployed to the 1ATF base area.

A full examination of the area was cut short as 5RAR was required for road security on Highway 15 while the US 196th Light Infantry Brigade moved from Vung Tau to Long Binh. This brief spell, an operation which lasted from 11th to 16th October, was code named Robin.


Queanbeyan followed immediately, this being the follow-up to

Canberra, an attempt to clear the Nui Thi Vai hills. Queanbeyan ended on 26 Oct, without further major incident on the broad scale. The significant note of interest to the Battery was that we were regularly subjected to some unwelcome harassment from two 'friendly' guns positioned at the village of Phu My, which insisted on keeping to their pre-arranged firing program, irrespective of who got in the way.

Some further changes were made to the manning of the Battery at this time. Lt Mellor was detached to the 1st Battalion 83rd US Artillery as Liaison Officer and Lt Griggs gave up his chair as GPO to take over as FO with C Coy 5RAR. Lt Langley took the position of GPO. 2Lt P S (Peter) Sadler, who had been attached as a section commander since operation Canberra, returned to his survey tasks. Bdr P J (Peter) Prewett marched in to take over F Sub. W02 Nolan returned to the Battery to resume as Battery Guide, Sgt Gallagher having been promoted to W02 and moved to HQ Bty as Signals Warrant Officer.


Commencing in early November, operation Yass was a cordon and search of the village of Lang Phouc Hoa, and a prelude to operation Hayman, which was a search and destroy mission on Long Son Island. This operation produced a measure of success for 5RAR, but no operational incidents for the Battery. Towards the end of the Operation, Maj Gair departed, to return to Australia in time for Staff College.

Command of the Battery was taken by Maj M E P (Mick) Burge. Operation Hayman was the first sight of the Battery by the new BC.

The operation, which concluded on 11th November, was followed by a period of almost three weeks in the base area. This valuable time was again used to carry out work on the wire and accommodation facilities.

From 1st December, the Battery again supported 5RAR in an operation to provide security on Highway 15, this time called operation Canary, while the US 9th Infantry Division moved to Long Binh. While out on Canary, 2Lt I V (Ian) Reid, who had arrived from Australia, joined the Battery as a Section Commander. The operation passed without any major contact by 5RAR, but graphic evidence as to enemy activity was forthcoming one night when, approximately 2000 metres from D Coy, two companies of ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) trainees were over-run by VC during a company training exercise on the Van Kiep rifle range. Canary ended on 14th December and on return to base Capt Gower returned to 101 Fd Bty, which had taken over as Direct Support battery for 6RAR. Capt A J (Tony) Wales, of 161 Fd Bty installed himself on our radio net as FO with A Coy 5RAR.

The period from 14th December through to the new year passed uneventfully with the exception of two nights (23rd and 24th December). These were spent at the Eastern end of Luscombe Airfield in support of operation Albany, a series of ambushes designed to prevent infiltration into the village of Duc My.

The first operation of the New Year was Caloundra, a cordon and search of the Binh Ba area. The most noteworthy feature of the operation from the Battery's point of view being that the initial gun position at the Western end of Luscombe Field was occupied at night. It was while in this position that 2Lt M J (Mick) Gallagher, who also had arrived from Australia, joined the Battery as a Section Commander. On 19th Januay 1967 the Battery moved to a gun position near the village of La Son to support Band C Coys in operation Wollongong, a heavy programme of patrols around the 1ATF base. A position immediately north-west of the task force base was occupied from 25-30 Jan to support A Coy in the same operation.

Some further changes were made in the manning of the Battery. W02 Taylor returned to Australia for medical reasons and W02 Nolan to further his language studies. W02 Gallagher was welcomed back to the Battery as the BSM and Sgt

Matheson again took up the duties of Battery Guide. Early in February, Capt Aspinall was re-posted back to Australia, to 104 Mdm Bty. Lt Langley stepped forward to be FO with B Coy 5RAR and Lt Heazlewood assumed the responsibilities of GPO.


The last major battalion-sized operation for the Battery was Renmark, a search and destroy mission in the Long Hai hills. The operation, which lasted five days, from 18th to 23rd February 1967, was the last Battery deployment of our tour in Vietnam.

Two positions were occupied, one in a wooded area at the foot of the hills and the other in a rice paddy area near the ruined village ofHoi My.

The operation began poorly when, instead of the two designated, only one helicopter was provided for the Battery reconnaissance party, necessitating a quick reshuffle on the LZ, a fact that pleased no-one. The party was then deposited in the wrong place and had to make its way on foot to the position selected the day before, which was, and would remain, without any protection. After about two days, it was decided to move to a position better placed to give coverage of the area of operations. If things had begun badly, they now got worse.

Equipment breakdowns had become a constant and nagging problem, it was not unusual for guns to go 'out-of-action' and in again several times in a day or night.

The cause was clearly 'overwork' of our L5s, which were known as 'pack' howitzers and were unsuited to the sustained fire support we were required to provide and to the continuous operation we subjected them to. As the Battery was the only fire unit in range, re-deployment to the new position took place by 'stepping-up', one section (three guns) at a time. Just as the first section was deploying, two of the guns developed faults before getting into action. In the midst of dealing with this, a loud explosion was heard, together with the sight of a pillar of smoke, about 4-5 kilometres from our front. While the remaining gun was laid and readied for a potential fire support task, efforts were made to ascertain what was happening.


The news from B Coy was not good. A large (about 500lb) bomb had been set up as a mine and had been detonated as the command APC had driven over it. Casualties were clearly numerous and effective command and control had to be re-established over a company in a very vulnerable position.

At the same time the section in the old gun position also reported that two guns had also gone out of action, leaving the battalion supported by only two guns, and they were about 5 kilometres apart! Efforts to get guns into action became an intense preoccupation and remained so for the next 36 hours. Fortunately, the battalion's immediate needs for fire support were not pressing, as the enemy did not follow up with any form of assault. As the battalion regrouped, later in the evening and the next morning, the Battery gave fire support to other companies, which were deployed to force a way into what appeared to be some sort of the logistic depot. The command detonated mine had clearly been part of the local defence'system.

Operation Renmark was a costly affair, the losses being eight killed in action and 23 wounded. Those killed included the Company Commander of B Coy.


{edit: (one source) could not decide if the 500lb bomb was command detonated or just sheer bad luck.   No wiring or hiding position was found.  Trigger mechanism was a THICK piece of bamboo split at end with copper contacts.   The APC destroyed was the lead APC not the command. K/WIA  totals vary only slightly and is usually 9/10 KIA and 30/31 WIA.

Comment: Peter Jones, Lance-Bombardier}


While it did appear that the C20 VC Coy had been contacted on 22 Feb, the operation was not pursued due to a developing threat to the base area, where we returned on 23 Feb. To add to the sense of wasted effort, further bad news had been received just prior to Renmark. Capt Peter Williams from 161 Fd Bty had briefly relieved Lt Griggs as FO with C Coy for a small cordon and search operation within range of the base area. In a most unfortunate incident involving a VC booby trap, he was fatally wounded along with the second-in-command of the company, Capt Williams had been within two weeks of return to New Zealand at the end of his tour.

On a more encouraging note, some time later Lt Langley was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in taking over command of B Coy in the aftermath of their major casualties and taking decisive action to secure he position while order was restored.

The only other operational moves by the Battery were when a section was deployed at the' Horseshoe' from 8th to 16th March 1967 and again on 10th and 11th April. Both these moves were to cover wiring operations by 5RAR in the Dat Do and Long Hai area.




The final activity of major significance in our tour in Vietnam was the change of the Battery's base area to a central location in the 1ATF base. This move was made on 15th and 16th April 1967. From there we handed over the task of Direct Support Battery to 161 Fd Bty RNZA on 26Apr 67. 5RAR moved back to Australia few days later and were replaced by 7RAR.


A small episode occurred one afternoon during the last few days in action, which may be said to characterize the efforts of 103 Fd Bty during its tour. As a gesture to the desire for some small celebration to mark our time together, the Battery was permitted to come 'out of action' for about two hours for a 'farewell party' which we knew would impossible later. There had been some critics of this activity on the basis that it would impair our effectiveness. Shortly after coming back into action, those critics had to eat their words when 103 Fd Bty, being called on to participate in a regimental fire mission, reported ready first by a significant margin. Our usual practice.


On 1st May 1967, 103rd Field Battery RAA came out of action for the last time in Vietnam to hand over the gun position to 106 Fd Bty, completing almost 12 months continuous service in action. During this period the Battery fired a total of28,468 rounds.



This record, so far, is the result of recollections by several of the battery officers and is obviously not the full and personal story of the men who made up a very effective unit.

It is to be hoped that more can be added to paint a full picture of some of the human stories that should not be forgotten.



103 Field Battery History in Vietnam

by the Australian War Memorial


The 103rd Field Battery served a 12-month tour of duty in Vietnam. The battery was raised in May 1960, as part of the 4th Field Regiment, and served in Malaya between

1961 and 1963. On its return to Australia from Malaya the battery was stationed at Holsworthy, Sydney, as part of the 1st Field Regiment.


The 103rd Field Battery arrived at Vung Tau, South Vietnam, in May 1966. The following month the battery moved by air to Nui Oat, joining the 105th Field Battery and the 161st Field Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, in a regimental gun area in the southern sector of the Australian base.

The 103rd Field Battery remained at Nui Dat over the next two months, leaving the base briefly for a "Road Runner" operation and temporary relocation to a position south of Binh Ba in order to provide additional artillery support for Operation Holsworthy (5-18 August).


The highlight of the battery's tour of duty in Vietnam was its involvement in the battle of Long Tan (18 August).

The night before the battle the Australian base at Nui Dat

received a mortar attack, with many enemy rounds falling into the regimental artillery area. During the attack the 103rd Field Battery suffered two casualties, one of whom had to be evacuated to Australia.

Throughout the battle, gunners from the battery worked desperately in driving rain and failing light to provide artillery support for the hard-pressed infantrymen of the 6th Artillery, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR). With ad hoc teams of labourers maintaining supplies of ammunition to the guns, the battery was able to fire over 1,000 rounds during the battle. The 103rd Field Battery, moreover, was the only artillery unit to be supplied by air during the battle when ammunition was

brought in by a Chinook helicopter. In order not to present a stationary target to the enemy, the helicopter did not stop; it rolled along the ground nose-up, unloading pallets of ammunition as it went.


After Long Tan the 103rd Field Battery began to operate in direct support of 5RAR. This new relationship meant that the battery would spend more time away from Nui Dat.

During Operation Toledo (23 August to 8 September) the battery occupied a position in the Binh Ba village cemetery, while 5RAR attempted to encircle an enemy force north of

the Nui Dinh hills. For the rest of the year the battery operated mainly in support of 5 RAR operations to the west of Nui Dat along Route 15 and, on one occasion, on Long

Son Island.


The 103rd Field Battery's first major task of the new year was Operation Caloundra (9th-10th January 1967), a cordon-and-search mission north of Nui Dat by 5RAR. The battery then moved to a position near the village of La Son as part of Operation Wollongong (11 January to 14 February), which consisted of a series of patrols throughout 5RAR's

Tactical Area of Responsibility. In late January 1967 the battery moved to another position immediately north-west of Nui Dat in connection with the same operation.

Operation Renmark (18-21 February), a search-and-destroy mission in the Long Hai hills, marked the 103rd Field Battery's last major involvement with 5RAR.

The battery deployed to two positions for this operation: the first in a wood at the foot of the hills; and the second near the ruined village of Hoi My.

Lieutenant Michael Langley, from the 103rd Field Battery, was acting as a forward observer with B Company, 5RAR, during Operation Renmark. On 21 February B Company was being transported in armoured personnel carriers when the leading

vehicle ran over and detonated an enemy mine, resulting in a massive explosion and many casualties. When another mine exploded as the infantrymen were leaving the other vehicles, it became clear the Australians were in a minefield. Without regard for his own safety, Lieutenant Langley moved within the minefield to assist the wounded, before taking command of the company and securing the position. Langley received the Military Cross for his courage and leadership.


From 8-16 March and 10-11 April the 103rd Field Battery was stationed at a Fire Support Base south-east of Nui Dat, known as the "Horsehoe", to provide cover for wiring operations being undertaken by 5RAR in the area.

The 103rd Field Battery's close relationship with 5RAR ended on 15 April, when the battery began moving back to

Nui Dat in preparation for its return to Australia. On 1 May the 103rd Field Battery was relieved by the recently arrived 106th Field Battery.

During its 12-month tour of duty the 103rd Field Battery had fired 28,468 rounds.

In May 1967 the 103rd Field Battery became the 103rd Medium Battery. The battery exists in the present-day Australian Defence Force, as a subunit of the 8/12th Medium

Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery.

Battle Honours

Nil

Casualties

6 wounded

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and the  Vietnam War Nominal Roll.

(external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

BurgeL M E P

Gair, R N

Decorations

1 Military Cross



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