On Active Service

My Diary - The Ambushes of February 1970


The author, Dennis (Digger) Nevins was a machine gunner in 7 Platoon, C Company, 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. The Battalion served in Vietnam from February 1969 to March 1970.
“Digger” kept very comprehensive diaries of his Vietnam service, and was known by all as the gunner in the bashed up slouch hat. Digger chose this form of headwear over the Army issue Bush Hat, in respect of those who fought so bravely on the Kokoda Trail, New Guinea, in the Second World War.
Some diary entries have been sanitised to protect the sensitivities of those who haven’t experienced combat.
Here is Digger’s story of the ambush of 9th – 11th February 1970.

Don Harrod
18 July 2013

9th February
We saddled up and moved out of the ambush we had set on the 7th. We moved to a LZ (landing zone) about 500 yards away. The going was fair, but a lot of the country was covered with prickly bush. We harboured next to a running creek and the LZ at 1100 hours. The resupply didn’t arrive until 1400, so in that time, we had a 'dobie' (wash) and a shave. On the way to this LZ, we crossed a good track about 100 metres from where we harboured. Dave Nicholls came out on the resupply and Marine, Masowita, Pica and Mulready returned. I placed my gun in the killer group which comprised Lt Ian Hosie, Jack Bradd and Andy MacDougal.

10th February
Nothing yet, but Hosie is very confident with this track, but I believe that if there is no result today, the VC know we’re around.

1 Platoon with CHQ (Company Headquarters) made contact on 8th Feb – they hit a platoon. The result was 2 enemy KIA, 2 suspected KIA, and 4 suspected WIA. On contact, 1Platoon pulled back 100 yards and engaged with M79. Normal picquets were carried out. 8 Platoon found a cache – a rice pit 8ft x 3ft x 3ft containing 200lb of rice, but if full, it would hold 1600lb. 9 Platoon also found a cache. Both were mined with instantaneous grenades. One track was mined with a M16. 8 Platoon spotted 2 VC, but they shot through. D Company hit 6 VC, and claimed 2 KIA, 2 possible WIA, and captured 2 AK47’s. Call sign 6-2 hit 5 enemy dressed in greens, with 2 packs and papers captured. D Company has 12 KIAs on this Op so far.

Normal picquets were carried out today. It is now 1800, and 8 Platoon have been in contact since 1630. They are in bunkers, and the VC are fighting. These bunkers are very close to where we engaged 84 Rear Services in September. 8 Platoon have employed gunships, but the VC aren’t moving, so now the tanks are coming in. I think that 5 of 8 Platoon have been wounded, but none seriously. The CO is overhead with the gunships. During this contact we were hearing whispers that the enemy from the 8 Platoon contact may withdraw out onto our track.

At 1900, our group were lying on our backs after having tucker. I heard the shuffling of leaves. It was a light shuffle and sounded like a pig moving, but the senses said “No way”. We turned onto our bellies – Jack, Andy and I were behind a fallen log. My gun was on top of the log, which at that moment was a bugger. The three of us had to keep down below the top of the log, but Hosie was at the end of it. I looked to see what the boss was doing, and he was there with his magic box of tricks waiting for the right moment. When we set this ambush up, the skipper was debating about a trip flare, as the area had thick trees but no scrub. My killer group was 30 yards from the track, as that was the nearest cover. Because of that the boss thought that a small group of VC in darkness could make their way through unnoticed, so he decided to put in a trip flare. The lead VC stopped five feet from the trip flare. In the boss’s words he was wondering “Had he seen the trip in the fading light, or was he waiting for his cobbers to catch up.”

Hosie didn’t wait, and engaged the magic box. In a flash, off went 12 claymores with white phosphorous (my sketch shows 11, but my diary shows 12). I describe it as ugly, powerful and beautiful, and at the same time there was fire and a sheet of white. Bill Hartley and his mob were hooking in well to our left – Smithy’s gun was firing on our right – but we were the lucky buggers as they were directly in front of our group and we knew we had them knackered. The boss was firing M79 plus M26 and W.P. (White Phosphorus) from the launcher. I didn’t record Jack’s or Andy’s weapons, but I remember them having SLRs, and Jack throwing grenades. When firing ceased, I’d fired 440 rounds at a rapid rate.

We had two enemy still alive, and they were talking to each other and doing a lot of moaning. We got our Bushman Scout Phuong to come around and tell us what the two were yapping about. One was saying he was 'buku' (mortally) hit. They had crawled out of the killing area (not true as we found out next morning) and both were had it. Phuong couldn’t speak English so in the dark he was hard to follow. Andy and Hosie fired M79s into the area to try and put them out of their misery. I said to the boss “Leave the buggers alone because while they’re yapping we know where they are”. The skipper replied that you wouldn’t do that to a kangaroo. Then Jack and the skipper started throwing grenades, but they couldn’t get them far enough. It did however stop the two yapping a little – but the boss wanted to make sure these two were out of pain. I can tell you I wasn’t bothered.

Hosie went away to our left and fired a M79 round directly onto the track. The blast came back and Hosie dropped – he had received shrapnel in the upper leg. Jack and Andy got him and laid him down in my gun position. Jack applied three field dressings – the boss was in a lot of pain but refused to take morphine. During this period the boss was still trying to give some orders, but Jack cut in, saying “I’m sorry Sir, but you are unable to command. I’m taking over”. The boss, to his credit, let Jack take over and kept quiet. Ian Hosie was one of the finest commanders a digger could have been with for two years.

A DUSTOFF arrives at 2215 hours. It hovered above the trees throwing scrub everywhere. A Jungle Penetrator was lowered and our skipper was taken away.

11th February 1970
The next morning, we carried out a sweep, and I fired another 110 rounds as this occurred. The end result was five bodies and one heavy blood trail, which was counted as a kill. There were two drag marks into the scrub on the far side of the ambush, which could have been WIAs, but we will never know as we didn’t follow up. One VC attracted our attention – he had taken off his webbing and placed it with his money neatly beside him. He died with his hands behind his head and a slight grin on his face, as if to say “If I’m going to die, I’m going to die happy”.

2 Section moved out of the LZ with 3 AK47s, documents and captured gear, and brought back a resupply of ammo. We then carried out admin tasks. We moved out at 1100 hours with 2 Section leading to a LZ, 2000 yards away. We got there in good time as the going was OK. 8 Platoon were already there, with 'tracks' (APCs). 9 Platoon, CHQ and tanks came in after us.

They were all pleased with our effort. I was proud of 7 Platoon (Yep, that’s what I wrote!). Our platoon is being split up, with our section going to 9 Platoon, and we’re not happy, but the OC told us that this had to occur as we were so severely under strength. 9 Platoon has a SGT in charge. 2Lt Lambert is back in Nui Dat with hand or finger trouble.

Below is a photo of Hosie’s Magic Box, and my sketch of the ambush.


Electrical detonating device, designed by Lt Ian Hosie which allows for the detonation of up to 12 M18A1 Claymore Anti-Personal Mines with one activation.


Lt Ian (Hoss) Hosie, Platoon Commander 7 Platoon, also referred to as the boss, or skipper.


Corporal Warren (Jack) Bradd, Section Commander, 7 Platoon.


Lance Corporal Andrew MacDougal, Section 2IC, 7 Platoon.


Digger Nevins sketch of the ambush position.


© Dennis 'Digger' Nevins
7 Pl C Coy 2nd Tour

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