CDT Ops In Vietnam CPOCD T. Ey. Pt. 1

 

A bloody good read!

Tony has done a great job here in capturing the mood of these controversial times. His exuberence when informed of his posting to CDT3 in Vietnam was common, in fact, at one stage it was very difficult to get an operational posting as many sailors wished for the opportunity to apply their acquired skills in a combat environment and there simply weren't enough billets to go around. It cannot be overstated that at this time in history sailors neither knew nor cared for the politics surrounding the Vietnam War. Australia was at war and we were her warriors - Russ Graystone - CPOFC RAN RTD. (Webmaster)

 

The following is an extract from 'personal recollections' by: Anthony L. Ey - retired Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver RAN - 1965/1985.

 

The long awaited Postings notice from Canberra, announcing the names of those selected for training and deployment to South Vietnam as part of CDT3, came out in May 1970. The Diving Regulating Chief, CPOCD Vic Rashleigh, actually informed me on my 22nd birthday that I had been selected for the team, and it was the best birthday present I could have asked for.

 

By the time the sailor's postings were announced it was common knowledge who the 'Boss' was to be and the rumours were already running thick and fast as to who would be the Senior Sailors of the Team. The entire CD Branch of approximately 100 odd Divers held their breath hoping that they had been selected for what was the most sought after posting in the diving branch. To a man, it was comparable to winning the Lottery. Most of the civilian population at that time would have found this to be a very curious attitude, but we were a dedicated and very proud band of professionals who were anxious to put our training to the test. I don't believe any of us thought too much about the politics or the rights and wrongs of the war, only that we were to have the opportunity to do what we had been trained to do. Vietnam was to be our proving ground and we were all worried that it might be over before we had a chance to get there. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and perhaps most of us would now agree that Australia should not have sent combat troops to South Vietnam, however we were sent, and nothing can erase the past or the fact that Australia tragically lost over 500 of her finest young sons.

 

The 8th team to serve in SVN was officially formed up on the 3rd of July. We all posted into HMAS Waterhen, which was to be our parent establishment for administrative purposes during our workup period as members of CDT3.

 

It was normal for each replacement team to be made up of seven divers. Six would eventually be selected to deploy to Vietnam on completion of the three month work-up period, with the seventh member remaining behind as a standby replacement in case he was needed. The previous team had already needed their replacement; John Aldenhoven, after the death 'in country' of Able Seaman Bobby Wojick. Normally the diver left behind was guaranteed a slot on the following team with the poor devil having to go through the full work-up period twice. Who would remain behind was not announced until the completion of the work-up period and just prior to us all going on 'pre-embarkation leave'. So we 'Indians' all sweated for 3 months and hoped like hell that we would not be the one left behind. Our new boss was Lieutenant Edward (Jake) Linton, already something of a legend in the branch. One of the very first Clearance Divers to qualify in the RAN, Jake had earned a BEM for a particularly deep and dangerous diving operation in the icy waters of Lake Eucumbene. Our second in command was CPOCD John (Speed) Gilchrist with POCD Phil (Narra) Narramore taking up the number three slot. The remaining four Indians were ABCD Larry (Digger) Digney, ABCD Brian (Blue) Furner, LSCD Tom McNab and ABCD yours truly.

 

Our pre-deployment training began with a diving refresher, not that we really needed it, but it started us working and thinking together as a team. The "Bomb & Mine Disposal Section" had been moved from Rushcutter to HMAS Watson and had a name change to 'EOD Section'. It was mainly staffed by veterans of earlier teams with Lt. Alex (Tiger Man) Donald in charge. This training quite rightly focused on weapons, booby traps and ordnance that had been discovered by previous teams, and we were immediately put into the swing of things by exchanging our Navy working dress for Army greens which became standard dress from that point on. This early stage saw us in the normal round of training venues including the Army School of Military Engineering at Liverpool, the demolition ranges at Marangaroo in the Blue Mountains, and the underwater training area of Clark Island. We also attended a week of training at the Army's Intelligence Centre located at Woodside near Adelaide. This little rest proved to be very interesting as we learnt a little about the history, culture and religions of Vietnam with a detailed operational brief on enemy activity within Phuoc Thuy province .

 

We did wonder about the value of that as we already knew we would be operating far to the north, totally separated from the Aussie Army presence. Later, after we had arrived 'in country', I did sometimes wonder what the Viet Cong's D445 battalion was up to at that particular point in time, 500 odd miles away to the south of us. Nobody ever bothered to tell us who was operating in our backyard. I suspect no-one knew. At the completion of the Woodside course, the troops returned to Sydney while our three fearless leaders remained behind and were subjected to a week of the Army's 'Code of Conduct' course. This pleasant little sojourn was meant to introduce selectees to the adventures and pleasures of being a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. It was to be a rude awakening for 3 relatively naive matelots. I was to have the pleasure several years later and it was the most unpleasant experience of my life, something I will never forget. When you are finally released, you tend to have a changed perspective on the virtues of the human race. I presume we lowly sailors were left off the course at that time because the powers that be thought we had no knowledge that would have been useful to the enemy even if we were caught. The stories we later heard made us feel lucky that we were not considered worthy.

 

Our work-up continued with a specialized weapons training course, which much to our surprise was conducted by the Navy's own Weapons specialists at the Naval Air Station at HMAS Albatross. The seven of us learnt how to field strip and reassemble, with our eyes closed, every small arms weapon in the Australian Military inventory. We all became proficient shots with everything from the M60 machine gun through the M79 40mm Grenade Launcher and down to the 9mm Browning pistol. On the range with the M60 we would fire at targets until the barrels became red hot. During one morning session with our 9mm handguns, the seven of us fired well in excess of a thousand rounds. We all felt we could have taken on Wyatt Earp and his crew at the OK Corral, and won easily. As it turned out, on arrival in Saigon we were issued with the much heavier .45 calibre US issue Colt handgun.

 

While we were at Albatross, we spent a bit of time flying with the Navy's 'Helicopter Flight' which was also working up in preparation for deployment to South Vietnam. It was great fun to be chauffeured around at low level and it gave us some insight into what the operational flying was to be like once we arrived 'in country'. We were to come to spend so much time in choppers that we took them for granted as most people take their family car for granted.

 

One interesting little sidelight to our visit to the Naval Air Station occurred the night before we were due to leave. Digger, Blue and I had spent the evening consuming a few quiet beers in the nearby town of Nowra. When we arrived back at the base, a vote was taken and it was unanimously decided to pay a visit to the WRANS quarters, being strictly off limits to all male sailors. I had driven my big red Ford V8 down from Sydney and when we were finally chased out of the Wrans' quarters by the duty Crushers, we made our getaway in my red beast. It didn't take an Einstein to track down the owner of the only Candy Apple Red Ford V8 on base, so at 0800 the next morning I was piped to report to the gangway. I was promptly marched in to see the Regulating Officer who was infamous throughout the Navy; especially for his hatred of Divers. He was Lieutenant "Swoops Swinerton and the 'swine' in his surname was thought by most sailors to be very appropriate. Naval officers were commonly called "Pusser's pigs" by the lower deck, but Swoops brought real meaning to the word. When he finally rounded up the three of us, he rubbed his hands with glee as he told us we were going to be charged with breaking every rule in the book, and if he had his way we would all serve a good long spell in "cells". He then ordered us to be locked up awaiting Commander's Defaulters set for later in the day.

 

Meanwhile Jake got wind that his boys were in cells and had a little chat with the Commander of the base. We later discovered the meat of the conversation was basically that the team was due in Canungra within two days to start our Jungle Training/Battle Efficiency course, and half the team in cells was not Jake's preferred option. As we were in preparation for deployment to a war zone, official charges were definitely not on his agenda. The Commander readily agreed after Jake told him that he would not hesitate to get on the telephone to his boss, the Fleet Commander, if more explanation was required. The Admiral would not have been overly amused to see his operational Diving team delayed by such a petty matter. When Swoops was ordered to drop all charges and release us, he almost had a fit. He had us ushered into his office and with no witnesses present, actually frothed at the mouth as he swore that one day he would have his revenge on us all. He prattled on for ten minutes about how his memory was long and one day we would meet again. Standing at attention listening to the ravings of this lunatic, it was difficult to hide our grins. This made him spit and froth even more until he screamed at us to get off his base and never come back. Going to war certainly had some advantages although Jake made it very clear that he didn't want to have to bail us out again. Narra just had a quiet chuckle to himself and muttered to us on the side, "You bunch of dickheads".

 

We knew we were in for a tough time at Canungra. It was talked about far and wide as a particularly hard and demanding 3 weeks. Almost all personnel posted to Vietnam had to complete the Battle Efficiency (BE) course at the Jungle Training Centre (JTC), as it was then known. We had heard a rumour that the US Military had sent some of its Special Forces instructors to do the course with a view to sending some of their troops over for training, but they had gone home saying it was too tough. Situated in the middle of the hilliest country in Queensland, it was ideally suited for its purpose. It had near vertical mountainsides, tropical jungle, rivers, creeks, lots of mosquitoes and snakes and some very professional instructors. I think to a man they had all served at least one or two tours. It was very comforting to know that these boys were not teaching just from a text book. They had been there and survived, and when they spoke, we listened. From memory there were about 90 on our course and a new course started every week. Our day began with us getting roused out of our cots just before sunrise and it was straight into a nice little morning run, in typical Army fashion - neatly fallen in, keeping in step and wearing ruddy big clod-hopping Army boots.