On Active Service

Assaulting a Bunker System

The time is 5.30am; feeling tired after my second two hour shift throughout the night on gun piquet. It is one hour before first light, and near time to 'Stand To' and awaken everybody in the section. Stand To required everybody to drop hootchies, pack up gear and combat/basic-webbing kit on. Stand To was for an hour just in case the enemy wanted to attack our position at first light.

Just before Stand Down is given, clearing patrols go out around your part of the perimeter, they would move anti clockwise to avoid bumping into each other. The order to stand down is passed around the platoon once all the clearing patrols are in. Sentries are then posted out in all section positions, out in front of the machine gun, far enough to not hear any sounds or noises from the platoon position. The sentry normally lays out a communication cord which went back to the machine gunner to warn him and the platoon of an approaching enemy with a predetermined tug on the cord. He would then move back to the machine gunner. It was imperative that he is not seen or heard moving back. The morning routine then begins, weapon cleaning, eating, brewing up, shaving, and changing of sentries, generally getting ready for the day. During this period, the section commanders are briefed and orders passed on to all the sections.

The signal is given, 'moving out in 5minutes'; a simple field signal roll your shoulders and the five-fingered sign, talking is kept to a minimum, no noise is premium. The early warning sentries are brought back in by the section 2nd-in-command. The section scouts move to platoon head quarters to await the final signal to move out. Section commanders adjust their compasses, and check the grid references given them. Finally they check their section positions for rubbish, to deny the enemy information on who has been here and how many.

There was a need for section commanders to check maps with all the details given, to make a mental picture of the ground and features you're to travel over, as your map was rarely sighted, because your hands were full with compass and weapon.

Our section was to lead out. Our task is to search a creek line and some high ground for any sign of 'Charlie' (enemy) covering seven grid squares. The morning was bright, no breeze, and hot as usual. As you patrolled you stopped and listened every so often, so the patrol pace was slow. We were attuned to the jungle as we had already been in the field for three weeks; your sense of smell was acute, and your hearing was sharp.

The forward scout moves cautiously forward, and at times looking to the rear to ensure he has not lost sight of the section commander, and watching for any hand signals for direction, or for any other reason.

The area started to open up, and it appeared like we were moving over an old track, which was burnt out from the previous days dropping of napalm (jelly filled petroleum bombs) by the American Forces. No sign that 'Charlie' had been using it. Then suddenly 'Khan', the battalion commanding officer flew overhead in his Bell chopper just above the trees, the noise was deafening, you could see his M16 pointing out the side ready to be used if he received any enemy fire from the ground.

It took a few minutes for our hearing to adjust, but we kept on moving slowly forward. The ground started to fall away in front of us towards the creek; you could hear the running water. The scout was 20 metres from its bank, when he signaled me to come forward by giving the obstacle field signal by crossing his arm across his weapon.

I placed my compass in my pouch, took a more comfortable grip on my weapon, and moved forward taking the machine gunner with me, and placed him in a location that overlooked the obstacle in the kneeling position and met up with the scout. I looked over the shallow creek and the ground in front of us, and lo and behold there was Charlie on the opposite side of the creek looking in our direction!. He was pointing his finger directly at us through the scrub, and appeared to be looking over to his comrades, warning them that we were just 25 metres away.

I could see his face and finger wagging, he was partly obscured and dressed in greens, and wore a green bush hat. He was partly obscured by the bushes and did not seem concerned or to panic, believing that we did not spot him. It was only minutes ago the helicopter flew overhead, and probably stirred them up to have a look around their camp perimeter.

Instinctively I fired five rounds from the shoulder at him, hardly ever an aimed shot at close range. The Gun Group was right at my heels and they fired a burst of 25 rounds across the creek. Automatically the rest of the section moved up behind us, and they all fired off shots.

Charlie did not fire back, which gave us the opportunity to spread out and move into an assault formation. We were partly in assault formation as part of our normal contact drills when we travelled as a platoon. The other two sections moved up to cover our flanks, giving the platoon some form of all round defence as part of our platoon contact drill in close country.

The platoon commander quickly assessing the situation ordered us to assault, as we had the upper hand, and being so close. We assaulted quickly through ankle deep water and gave the enemy no chance to think, sweeping through the position, we found no bodies or sign of the enemy.

The enemy had left everything behind in his rush to get away from the camp. There were about three hammocks, numerous cooking utensils, and some equipment, and clothing hung about drying.

We stayed there for an hour, looking through the equipment for information. We untied the hammocks, and shared them around. Everybody had one by now as we used them to keep ourselves off the wet ground, and were more comfortable to sleep in. What was left we burnt.

We did not follow up Charlie, as other platoons were in close vicinity in the area, and they were given the task to search and later found a dead body within 500 metres of the camp. Because of the contact, the company commander sent a message that Company HQ would tag on behind us.

Once we were linked we moved on, and once again my section was given the task to lead the company out. The only noise we could hear was the running water as we moved along the creek's edge. We were all on edge, and nervous knowing that the enemy were around.

There was a tendency for forward scouts to initially move very slowly after having being in contact. I waited for him to look around, and gave him the field signal to step out a bit, as we had a lot of ground to cover that day in our search pattern.

Forty minutes later a field signals came forward for a five minute break, and section commanders to come here, was sent forward from platoon HQ. The platoon commander said the first leg was over and to change direction for the next stage. We both checked and confirmed compass bearings. As I moved back to the section I briefed everybody and the scout. We again moved off cautiously.

The ground now started to rise in front of us, and when it does, you always think bunker systems. Within 10 minutes strong signs started to appear. The scout called me forward and pointed out a well-worn track following the high ground. I sent the message back to the platoon commander that I was going forward to do a recce. Signs were very strong when I noticed trees were cut very short to the ground with tufts of dirt with grass sitting on top to camouflage the stump, which made it harder to see from the air, or even from the ground.

As I moved forward, the ground started to rise sharply then to my left I noticed where there had been a sentry position. The grass was compressed, and the area was cleared and only recently used, cigarette butts were strewn everywhere. I didn't notice the sentry position until I was practically standing on it.

My finger moved on the trigger of the M16, thumb wrapped around the safety catch, and searched ahead. With the track still rising, I noticed a woodpile neatly stacked which stood a metre high. Then I noticed movement beside it that caught the eye, and I realised it was someone's backside dressed in black pants.

Having the advantage and surprise, and not having time to throw my pack off, I rushed forward up the rising ground turned my safety catch to fire on the M16, jumped around and fired two rounds at point blank range into this woman's back, her ponytail hung low and the muzzle flash parted her hair. Within that split second, I looked up and noticed others squatting around weapons between their legs, about twenty of them. I attempted to fire into the group but the weapon would not fire, I had a double feed and had no time to carry out an immediate action to clear the obstruction as I was in an awkward position.

This was an enemy camp; an old bunker system. The enemy were only five metres away. They were in as much shock as I. They did not move for that moment in time, with their mouths wide open. I was not going to stick around, so I flung myself backwards into dead (low depression) ground behind me with the enemy taking up fire positions just above. I threw the pack off, keeping my arms and knees close to the ground as enemy fire was just above my chin, I cleared the weapon, and crawled back to the section, who were by then firing over my head, giving covering fire.

The enemy group put up strong resistance for about five minutes, and fired a couple of RPG2 (rocket propelled grenades) into the trees. Their intention was to collect the body, drag it away and piss off!

Then all of a sudden the enemy firing ceased, not a noise came from their direction. We also stopped firing and listened. Then, within minutes, the platoon commander ordered us to assault the bunkers.

We rushed forward firing and as we went pass the wood pile and deeper into the position nobody was there. Still deeper into the position we advanced, shouting, making out we were a much larger force, cutting as we went forward with our machetes. Chinese Chicom mines and electrical wire were lying around, or it could have been signal wire.... we were not certain, but we cut it anyway. The wiring stood out, as it was coloured blue; their mines are bigger than our own claymore mines, and very nasty.

No claymores were found or bodies, and the position was an old one, all the weapon pits were filled in and blown up by other units that had moved through the area maybe American or South Vietnamese. We did find a large cassette tape recorder with propaganda on it tucked away in a collapsed pit wrapped in plastic, which was sent back to the battalion intelligence group to be scrutinised.

They must have heard us earlier or in the first contact, and they were getting ready to move on from all indications. The woman was acting as the sentry it seems, but happened to turn around at the wrong moment to hear what was being said, and took her eyes off the track and did not see me rushing up. What Luck! as I was on the track for a few minutes before I noticed her.... and in full view?

Some enemy did come sneaking back to have a look and unfortunately shot Jack Loader in the back, he survived and went on to serve for many years.

The day continues, another platoon takes over as point (lead). Ammunition throughout the platoon has been reallocated, no doubt ambushing tonight again, bloody tired, still shaking, will think of home.


© Trevor Cheeseman
1966-67 1969-70

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