Tales From the Tiger

My First Contact

I was sent to Vietnam as a reinforcement on 13th May 1969 and spent the first 3 weeks at 1 ARU, (Army Re-Enforcement Unit) and was posted to B Company 5RAR on 4th June along with about 10 other Reos' (Reinforcements). We were allocated to either 4, 5 or 6 platoons. I was put into 6 platoon. After meeting all the 'old hands' it was down to settling in and adjusting to the way it was done and a new learning process was about to begin.

The first day was spent collecting weapons, webbing, ammo etc. being shown where the weapon pits were, the 'gun position' for night pickets, and all the little things that you had to know and remember that were important for harmony within my new group for the next 12 months,

The next day started with a refresher training course on what the Company had learned from their last operation that had just finished. D Company was Ready-Reaction Company (on stand by), and  B Company was on standby (backup). Just after lunch we heard that D Company had been sent to  Binh Ba to assist in a contact that had occurred between the VC and a troop of Centurion tanks. We were then put on 30-minute stand by to saddle up and help out. Around 1400hrs (2.PM) that afternoon we were on the APCs and heading towards Binh Ba.

We were setup as a blocking force on the Southern side of the village and secured the area from Route 2 to the perimeter of the Rubber Plantation, and from what I would call a safe distance, witnessed the battle that had been going on for some time, it was the first time that I had seen the awesome fire power of the 'Bushranger Gunships', and the destruction that they were capable of. This attack lasted for some time and finished late in the afternoon.

That night we were to harbour up in the bottom corner of the rubber trees along with Company HQ. 4 and 5 platoons were set up in blocking positions along the length of the rubber trees. Pickets were set and rostered for the night and I was to share my shift with Don Campbell the Section Commander from 0400hrs (4am) till 0600hrs (6am)I have to admit I didn't sleep too deep that night, not quite sure what was going to happen, looking and listening out into the darkness and thoughts going through my mind how to handle a contact, do I remember the drill? All the things I had been told and practiced back at Singleton and Ingleburn during training. Remember to aim low in the darkness, don't drop the front of the rifle, but lift the butt more, I had a couple of magazines all laid out in case I needed them in a hurry. All was quiet during the night until about 0230hrs (2:30am) when 4 Platoon had a contact some 200 metres from our position. After that I think that was when I learnt how to sleep with my eyes and mind open. Don and myself were woken to replace the last piquet. We moved onto the M60 for our shift.

We talked quietly between ourselves with Don taking the gun and me as No2. Don gave me plenty of reassurance as to what to do and how I should assist him if needed, at that stage the adrenaline was still running high but Don made me feel confident.

The rest of the night was quiet until 0600hrs, (6am) when Don gave me a nudge and said that someone is out in front of us, we could hear their voices, talking loudly and hurriedly amongst themselves, the next thing the M60 opened up and fired towards the voices, not the 5 round bursts that we had done in practice back home but a continuous burst, maybe 20 - 50 rounds, do you know how loud a M60 sounds from that distance?

At that stage I picked up my SLR and started to fire at where the enemy were located. There were red tracer going from our position and green tracer coming back in from theirs. At one stage I heard an almighty whoosh. I found out later on that it was a RPG ( Rocket Propelled Grenade), and it must have gone straight through our position and landed outside somewhere as I never heard it explode.

When the contact was finished and daylight became stronger, we went out to do a search and sweep of the area, and came to where they were positioned but failed to find any dead or wounded. In fact not even a blood trail; The only thing we found was the spot where they were firing from. All the rubber trees were bleeding white sap or latex at least seven or eight feet from the ground. So much for trying to aim low, but they returned us the same favour.

It suddenly dawned on me that I was outside the harbour perimeter and had not changed over my magazine from the initial contact. I took it off, put it in my map pocket and quickly replaced it with a fresh magazine. We returned to the harbour and had a quick breakfast and brew, and at that stage I had started to settle down and get myself back to normal.

It was during my brew that I wondered to myself how many shots had I fired off during my first contact. I pulled the magazine out of my pocket and noticed that it was heavy and still had a couple of rounds in it, so I started to flick out the remaining bullets to work out how many shots I had fired in anger. I pushed out 1-2-3-4-5-6, there were still some in there, 7-8-9-10-11, what's going on I thought, 12-13-14-15-16, I couldn't work this out 17-18-19-20, a full magazine, still unable to work it out I checked all my magazines, nine still full and one on the SLR, I checked that one out and it was full as well, 200 rounds accounted for, the same amount I was issued before we left the 'Dat', at that stage it dawned on me when I realised, that when the initial contact happened at 0600hrs, amid all the excitement, I had forgotten to take the safety catch off in the first place!

I had stuffed up in my first contact and never mentioned it to anyone until quite a few years later at a ANZAC Day reunion and it still brings a few laughs.

By Greg 'Spike' Dwiar
B Coy 2nd Tour

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