Beer is 20 cents a can at our boozer. Two cans per man per day, perhaps.
We are taking a few days to settle in. We’ve cleaned up our lines as best we could and a couple of us went outside the wire to collect some bamboo for the inside wall of the boozer.
Did I say outside the wire? What a strange feeling that was. All the local Vietnamese had been moved out to beyond mortar range, about four kilometres, and the base is surrounded by barbed wire and other wired obstacles, including mines and claymores, to a depth of 100 metres. Moving outside all this protection feels rather odd. I am on high alert just in case Nigel is out there planning to take a potshot at us.
We drove out by Landrover along a dusty road looking for a clump of bamboo and it wasn’t long before we found some. While we were hacking away at it, some Yanks came by in an APC. The guy up top, the vehicle commander, held up both arms with his fingers on both hands showing the peace sign (or V for victory). Peace brother. They stopped to have a look at our Landrover. “How do you Aussies drive these things?” One of them asks as he simulates changing gears in the driver’s seat. “You wanna swap your Jeep for our APC?”
You could imagine the problem if we arrived back at the CQ in an APC. “Where’s my fucking ‘Rover you pricks?”
The Yanks went on their way and we got back to the boozer without being attacked, you could say I survived my first mission; I went two kilometres down the road and returned unscathed.
Nui Dat was a funny place. There was a small hill where the super grunts lived, the SAS. North from the hill was a rather large airstrip running east/west. It catered for winged aircraft such as the Hercules, Caribou and Pilatis Porter. To the east were the rubber trees that housed the infantry battalions. To the south of the hill was a large helicopter pad with the dust-off chopper nearby. Also around that area were the tankies and the artillery guys; and a few other hangers on.
Next door to us were the New Zealanders, two companies of infantry who formed part of our unit. We are now called the Anzac Battalion. Our full title is the Second Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment/New Zealand (ANZAC) Battalion or 2RAR/NZ(ANZAC)Bn. for short. It may not mean much to you but for us blokes it is about getting it right. To get it wrong is the same as someone spelling your name wrong. Note how capitals are used for the word Anzac when describing the actual troops.
The first few days involve a lot of introductory training. One of the NCOs had an Armalite, known colloquially as the M16. It is a black lightweight automatic assault rifle capable of spewing out 5.56 rounds at a very fast rate. It is its high velocity that does the damage. A round can penetrate the flesh of a limb and not do too much damage except for a smallish entry and exit wounds. But if that round hits a bone it will shatter causing severe wounding. It looks like a plastic toy rifle.
The NCO carries out safety precautions on the M16 and says, “This weapon is in the unloaded condition. The chamber is empty, the working parts are forward and there is no magazine on the weapon.”
Yep, that seems about as unloaded as you can get to me. He then attaches a magazine containing rounds onto the weapon, grasps it by the barrel and holding the muzzle upright he strikes it butt first onto the table in front of him. He then puts the weapon into his shoulder, aims it at the pit behind him and pulls the trigger. The weapon fired!
He goes on to explain, “When the weapon is in the unloaded condition the safety catch cannot be placed on ‘safe’ like the SLR for example. Simply placing a magazine containing rounds on the weapon and giving the weapon a jolt is enough to move the working parts to the rear, pick up a round from the magazine; and chamber the round. The weapon is now at the instant condition, that is, if the trigger is activated by your finger or caught on a bit of webbing or a stick or something like that, the weapon will fire.”
Shit! How dangerous is that?
This weapon is used by the scouts, section commanders and the poges in platoon headquarters. I hope they keep an eye on them. I will explain what a poge is later.
The same NCO, who now has our full attention, moves on to a detonator (det). We have to handle dets for the Claymore mine. I’ll also explain more about Claymores later as well. All you need to know at this stage is that it is an anti personnel mine that contains explosive and ball bearings. To arm the mine a digger has to physically place the det into the mine, then a simple electric charge will set it off. By taking the det out of the mine it is perfectly safe for the digger to carry around in his pack.
The NCO places the det under a piece of meat about the same size as a man’s hand. He sets the det off with an electric charge and the piece of meat flies through the air and comes down in a mangled mess. That could be a digger’s hand if the det goes off while he is holding it.
Why weren’t we taught stuff like this in Australia?
Later we are taken over to the dust-off helicopter. The dust-off is essentially an ambulance helicopter. It carries no munitions although I suspect the pilots and crew carry personal weapons in case the chopper goes down. The dust-off chopper also has a large red cross on a white background located on both sides of the aircraft and maybe underneath, I’m sot sure. It is crewed by Yanks.
We pile out of the trucks and climb all over the dust-off helicopter while a couple of yanks wearing Ray bans stand by looking quite bored.
One of them speaks, his white teeth glowing in the South Vietnam sun a perfect foil to his dark sunglasses. Excuse me for thinking that these guys are big noting themselves. The two things I recall from their instructions are that the diameter of the wings is 48 feet, they need a clearing to be only 50 feet in diameter and they will land the aircraft. And I believed them; we’ve all heard stories about how amazing these pilots are. He told us that this was preferable to hovering above the canopy winching a wounded digger up to them. They were sitting ducks while hovering and they would rather be on the ground.
The last thing he said to us was, “We take no Kilos!”
“What the fuck is a kilo?” someone whispered.
“Oh, about two pounds.” came the response.
“No fuckhead, he means KIA – killed in action!”
The final bit was a firepower demonstration. This must have taken some organisation. We moved outside the wire. There were APCs guarding us and choppers circling overhead. The battalion was herded together in a one group, what a target for the VC.
First up the APCs showed us their firepower, 30 cal and 50 cal machine guns. We all loved the sound of the 50 cal. Next came the mortars and then the artillery, each showing the various types of ammo which most of us had seen before.
Enter the centurion tank, the dinosaur of tanks. It rattled forward and parked. The tankies brought our attention to a tree about 800 metres away on a slight hill. The tank let go a heat (high explosive anti tank) round, shattering our eardrums, and the percussion blocked our ears as well jettisoning plenty of dust from the tank. It was immensely powerful, but it missed the tree. In fact we could see the trajectory of the round; it went straight through the fork!
The tankies were not happy with all the jeering, so they fired another round and the tree bit the dust. I was surprised how accurate they were for such an old jalopy.
The culmination of the firepower demonstration was the air capability of our supporting aircraft. First up were the Bushranger helicopters. These were the normal Huey helicopters fitted out with mini guns, rockets and twin M60 machine guns on either side. They looked awesome.
But they were not as awesome as the Cobra gunships. These were assault helicopters. They were narrow and the pilots were seated behind one and other. They had rockets, mini guns, 40mm grenade discharger, you name it. Even with a full payload on board they were very manoeuvrable and the flying skills of the pilots really impressed us. And they not only looked awesome but they sounded awesome as well.
The last demo showed two jet aircraft dropping their ordnance (see how quickly us dumb grunts pick up the lingo) right on top of that mangled tree 800 metres away. It all happened in a matter of seconds. To make the spectacle more entertaining, loud speakers were set up so we could hear what they were saying as arrangements were made to drop their bombs.
Boy what a powerful demonstration of the type of support that is available to us dumb grunts. We became very confident that we would sort these bad guys out now. The VC had nothing like this.
Hey, I just had a thought. They should have invited the VC along. After watching a very powerful display like that the VC would surrender on the spot; and we could go back home. Mission completed.
I’d better tell our CO, Johnny Three Fingers, of my great idea. No wait, he may recognise me as the bloke who wouldn’t salute him and throw me in the slammer!
Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the VIETNAM WAR. If you can’t wait, read more of this story now – or wait out while we reproduce it on these pages.
Hi guys. I am a good-looking, opinionated old fart who relishes a spirited debate on any topic regardless of how much I think I know about it.
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