Tales From the Tiger

Overhead Protection

It was June 1969 and I was new to this game. A Reinforcement on his first operation, complete with fresh greens and an embarrassingly new bush hat. I was a field engineer, (now more romantically referred to as a Tunnel Rat), with 2 Troop 1 Field Squadron and I was out on 5RAR's 'Operation Esso'.

Geoff Hanley was my 'Number 1', the team leader of our two man Splinter Team. He was 'short' with just weeks to go, and he took me under his wing.

In the early days of the operation we were situated in a small, and constantly moving base camp housing and protecting elements of the land clearing team in the Long Greens at the base of the Long Hai Mountains.

Was I nervous? Well, I went ten days in-country before I had a crap if that's any indication. I kept eating, and drinking, and wondering where it was all going. At one stage I convinced myself it must be coming out in my sweat ... there was a lot of that.

In this mini base camp, surrounded by earthen bunds built by the bulldozer operators, we were allowed the luxury of ponchos, air mattresses and mosquito nets. Sin of sins, I even took my boots off when I hit the sack. One night, very early in the operation, I was woken by Geoff telling me to: "get out quick there's movement!" As I rolled off the bedding and began to rise, one of our M60's opened up.

This was it. This was serious. And I wasn't anywhere nearly properly prepared for it. I pulled my boots half on as Geoff yelled at me to move; "over here! over here! he said". With weapon in hand, webbing over the shoulder and boots flapping out sideways, at right angles to my feet, I waddled in the direction of Geoff's voice.

"Under here," he said, as I ducked under a conveniently parked army truck, joining three or four other brave souls. An explosion ripped the air, followed by a moments silence then a barrage of classic Aussie phrases suitable to the occasion.

The VC had fired an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) at the gunner who, by opening fire had given the VC an aiming point. Realising we were failing to contribute to the security of our comrades, we exited our haven beneath the truck and took up positions on the bund wall.

After an hour of 'standing to' and no further action, we were eventually 'stood down'. In the morning, as the sun rose, I glanced at the truck that had been our safe-haven just hours before and winced at the thought of what could have happened.

Perched on top of the truck was a huge rubber bladder, filled with fuel for the bulldozers. Our overhead protection was a huge incendiary bomb that would have turned us to toast had it been hit.

Lesson one from my first operation: Luck will have a lot to do with getting me through my 12 months in this place.


Jim Marrett served as a Sapper with 2 Troop 1 Field Squadron in Vietnam from June 11 1969 to June 11 1970. He was attached to 5RAR operations, mostly with A Company until the Battalion left, then worked with 7RAR.

Scroll to Top