9 Platoon, C Company,
It's the late
afternoon of 20 September 1969. We (9
Platoon, C Company, 5 RAR) had come across
what appeared to be a well-used track and I
decided, in the absence of other suitable
sites and due to the lateness of the hour,
that we would set up an overnight ambush.
I laid out a typical triangular ambush with
sited at the base covering the selected
killing ground on the track and we quickly
and efficiently went into routine -
and sentries out, tucker started and a
couple of 'gaspers' (cigarettes) before last
light. At this stage of the tour, the
platoon operated like a well-oiled machine,
orders were brief and the Section Commanders
knew their roles very well.
As darkness fell, and with our 'locstat'
(Location Statement) radioed into Company
HQ, we stood to as a group. At the appointed
time, one third of the platoon remained on
'stand to' while the others caught up on
some well-earned rest. The night passed
without incident and following 'stand to'
just prior to first light, we went into
morning routine. Orders had been received
from CHQ and the Section Commanders were
briefed on our initial patrol activities and
direction for the day.
At this stage it was around 0745 hrs on 21
September 1969 as I prepared to give the
order to move out. 7 Section would be point,
then Platoon HQ followed by 8 and 9 Sections
in single file. We were in the process of
shaking out and as I picked up
tail-end-charlie of 7 Section, I caught
sight of movement to my left.
There was a chap of Caucasian appearance
some 5 to 10 metres from me wearing greens
and with what appeared to be a poncho not
dissimilar in camouflage pattern to those
horrible nylon green rain coats we were once
issued with black splotches on them. He had
no head covering and I can still see the
fair skin and blonde hair to this day. He
appeared to be carrying an
What the ?
Our eyes met and my brain went into high
gear as it initially didn't register that
there shouldn't have been any of my soldiers
to my left at that distance. Then I saw the
'Charlie' behind this blonde cove. As the
reality dawned that my diggers were in front
and behind me and these guys were not
friendlies, I raised my own
fired two shots. At the same time, my blonde
'visitor' turned and quickly moved away
through the scrub.
How dumb is this? "He's blonde, he's blonde"
was all I got to shout out before he
disappeared as quickly as I'd seen him.
CHQ was quickly advised of the encounter and
permission was sought and given to follow-up
in the direction that the blonde had fled.
Little did I know that this unusual meeting
would lead to one of the most unforgettable
and toughest days of our tour (Note 1).
With our new compass bearing, and with a
blood trail to follow, the lead Section
hadn't travelled more than 150 to 200 metres
when the first enemy signs were encountered.
I halted the Platoon and using 9 Section as
a firm base, I pushed 7 and 8 Sections to
either flank to reconnoitre and to report
back with their findings.
Both Section Commanders reported fresh signs
of enemy activity including latrines. The
signs were spaced well apart and I began to
suspect that we were near a bunker complex -
just how big we were to find out later. We
regrouped and following a brief orders
group, we cautiously advanced.
"30 this is 33 - contact, wait out".
The confrontation with my blonde 'mate' had
occurred at around 0755 hrs and by 0900 hrs,
we were up to our armpits in alligators.
My original assessment of the extent of the
bunker system, based on the reports of the
frontage was uncannily accurate as we seemed
to be taking fire from widely dispersed
locations. To cut a long story short, an air
strike was requested at around 1000 hrs
because of the suspected extent of the enemy
we'd been well trained in the use of close
air support and I had no qualms about
directing the Forward Air Controller (FAC)
onto the target with his White Phosphorous
(WP) rockets. There was also a degree of
comfort in being told that the aircraft
delivering the ordnance was a RAAF Canberra
of 2 Squadron (call sign Magpie) which
happened to be on station in the vicinity.
Now being a bit of an aviation buff, I knew
that the Canberra was one of the most stable
of aerial bombing platforms and from what
I'd heard, 2 Squadron were earning a solid
reputation for bombing accuracy.
With communications established with the
FAC, on request, both forward sections
popped smoke which was correctly identified
by Jade (Note 2). What was to follow
next is still talked about today at 9
Platoon Reunions and I get the distinct
feeling that I'll never be forgiven in some
have no idea what bombs Magpie 31 (Note 2)
was carrying for the strike, either 500 or
750 pounders but I suspect they were 750
pounders. In later years, I subsequently
read that 2 Squadron initially used 500 lb
bombs but as stocks ran out, they had to
switch to 750 lb US bombs. The earlier bombs
were ex-WWII war stocks. Typical aircraft
loads varied from 10 x 500lb bombs to 6 x
1000 lb bombs. Apparently, within 15 months
of 2 Squadron's operations, all the war
stocks of the ex-WWII bombs were exhausted
and 2 Squadron changed over to the USAF M117
750 lb bombs; 4 in the bomb bay and two on
the wing tips (these bomb racks being an
Australian innovation). Apparently, more
reliable fuses in these bombs resulted in
few of the problems experienced with the
earlier British designed bombs. Comforting
stuff in hindsight.
"33 this is Jade 03. Magpie 31 is commencing
bomb run." "Roger, Jade 03".
Now, how many of us can remember sitting on
the 'thunder box' (toilet) back at the Dat
enjoying a quiet read when the battery of US
155mm howitzers opened up on a fire mission?
Well, their 'blast effect' was like getting
bitten by a mosquito compared to what
Now remember that we were only wearing our
'green armoured suits' and no head
protection other than the ubiquitous giggle
hat when Magpie 31 delivered her 'eggs' on
Jade's WP smoke. What happened next almost
Mary and Joseph! He's bombing us!" or so it
felt. The ground shook and the detonations
lifted one bodily off the ground, ground
which one was trying to burrow into for dear
life. The 'crap and corruption' that came
flying through the J (jungle) was
unbelievable - it felt as if the jungle was
literally being torn apart around us and if
trees, foliage and dirt were being flung at
us at alarming pace; surely the shrapnel
wasn't far behind (some things one simply
Sure enough, chunks of dead shrapnel started
dropping in and around our positions. Brown
corduroy pants would have been preferable to
our Jungle Greens. The pucker factor was
zero. Don Teichelman still has vivid
memories of the 'shrapnel shower' and to
this day, he regrets not keeping a piece as
In actual fact, all safety distances had
been employed to the letter. That being the
case, pity help anyone on the receiving end
of a brace of 750 pound bombs, let alone the
full complement of six of the things -
that's 4,500 lb of high explosive and
shrapnel delivered with deadly accuracy onto
With the air strike completed and with Jade
3 doing the target bomb assessment, it
dawned on me that the only cover that I'd
had throughout the entire air strike was my
trusty Special Forces (SF) aluminium-framed
pack which I'd pulled in front of me. "Holy
Dooley! Some protection!" Strapped down one
side (the side that just happened to be
facing the bunker system) was a
(Light Anti-Tank Weapon) on top of the pack
complete with detonating cord and
detonators, and a bandolier of ten
magazines, each with 18 rounds of 5.56mm;
'staring at me' on the other side of the
pack was a thermal grenade and two
C Company as a whole had some 'fun and
games' all that day with running contacts.
A LFT (Light Fire Team) was called for
around 1650 hrs and they arrived on station
at around 1730 hrs to assist in our
clearance of the bunker system. It
turns out that there were some 45 bunkers,
including command bunkers, barbed wire,
kitchen etc and from documents later
recovered, we'd hit a base camp of D445
Battalion. Oh, happy days.
And what about my blonde 'mate'? I guess
we'll never know. There are stories to this
day of Russian advisors working with
'Charlie' and even the more elaborate tale
of the Caucasian working with the VC who
wore two pearl-handled revolvers Western
style. Fact or fiction? Who knows??
However, if the OC (Officer Commanding),
Major Claude Ducker, MC can officially
report a VC in a kilt (look it up in the War
Diary - it's true), then I'm sticking to my
guns about my 'blonde VC'.
Some 43 years after the event, I decided to
try to identify the pilot of Jade 3 and the
pilot and navigator of Magpie 31. I thought
it would be interesting to have a yarn about
their support of us that day and to give
them some perspective of being on the
receiving end of that support.
I ascertained that Jade 3 most likely would
have come from the 19th Tactical Air Support
Squadron (TASS) as they covered the III
Corps area in 1969. As for the aircraft,
that's was a little difficult as 19th TASS
operated Cessna O-1s (Birddogs), Cessna O-2s
(twin engine push-pull configuration) and
North American Bronco's in 1969. However,
something told me that it was an O-2.
I contacted the historian of the American
FAC Association, Rick Atchison (Nail 229),
with a request for assistance in identifying
our FAC pilot. The FAC Association has a
good network and within a very short space
of time I was in touch with retired USAF
Captain Jim Farris. Jim was the pilot of
Cessna O-2 and his call-sign? - Jade 03.
We have regularly corresponded since that
time, sharing reminiscences of our time in
South Vietnam in 1969. Not surprisingly, Jim
has a very high opinion of the Aussie digger
and thoroughly enjoyed working with us in
the FAC role.
As for who flew Magpie 31, this is proving
to be a little harder. I'm trying to get
hold of or at least get access to the 2
Squadron Operations Log or even the pilot's
logbook - at least 2 Squadron is a current
operational RAAF squadron again.
If, however, the RAAF followed the usual
system, the Magpie 31 callsign may have been
allocated permanently to a particular
aircrew during 1969. Hopefully, the pilot
and navigator shouldn't be too difficult to
track down via the 2 Squadron Association.
Stop Press: I have located an image on the
Australian War Memorial site taken in
Vietnam on 26 August 1969 with the following
caption: "An aerial photograph showing the
damage resulting from a mission flown by
RAAF Canberra bomber crew Magpie 31 (Pilot
Officer S.S. Welsh and Flight Lieutenant
N.L. Duus)." Have I found 'our' Canberra
crew? Time will tell.
9 Platoon, C Company, 5 RAR, 1969/70
1. According to the Battalion War Diary, the
incident occurred on 21 September 1969 at
Grid Reference YS565700.
2. According to the War Diary, the FAC was
"Jade 03" and the Canberra was "Magpie 31".
read the article 'VC in a Kilt'
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS