CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD T Ey Pt. 2

 

CDT3 Ops Sth Vietnam by CPOCD Tony Ey - Pt 2

 

After a quick shower and what was the Pongos excuse for breakfast, it was straight into the day's sadistic program. A lot of field classes were held so that we could go from the theory straight to the practical. Regular Infantry troops would give demonstrations prior to us practising the real thing. In Canungra they didn't play games. While we were practising the skills of Fire and Movement, they were actually firing live ammunition just over our heads from an old Vickers water cooled machine gun. They told us it was to encourage us to keep our heads down. We didn't need much reminding after that. We spent a lot of time patrolling and learning how to stay alive army style, day and night. On the occasional rare night that we were in the main camp, evening lectures were the norm with updated briefings on the war, VC tactics, map reading and a hundred other things that were designed to keep us alive. When we finally arrived in Vietnam we were quite shocked to find how ignorant our Americans allies were about the country and the people they were sent to fight.

 

We were certainly well prepared and it was a credit to the professionalism of both the Australian Navy and Army. Some US troops arrived in Vietnam not even knowing where the hell to find the country on a map of the world. It was no wonder to me when they were finally chased out in 1975. We were split into 9 man sections with Tom McNab and I being put together. Each section consisted of two men on 'point' carrying US M16s which had the capability of being easily flipped into full automatic mode, a handy function if you were the first to make contact with the enemy. One member carried the M60 machine gun with the remainder of the section carrying SLRs . As Tom and I were the fittest, we naturally gravitated to sharing the "Gun", day about. As it weighed about 30 pounds with a 100 round belt of ammunition, most of the 'Pongo's shied away from it. After a full day's humping an M60 along with the rest of your kit, you came to appreciate a break as point man carrying the very light M16, even though the life expectancy of this forward position was not great. Interestingly enough, the M16 was quite new to the Australian Army at that time and it turned out that our intensive weapons training with the Navy had us one jump ahead of the Pongos and the instructors actually asked us to run the training sessions for M16s once they realized our proficiency with the weapon.

 


Above: An Aussie Sailor under training at Canungra - 1970

 

After two weeks of hell we were all given a day's leave in Surfer's Paradise. It was great to see that civilization still existed. The final week focused on applying our training to all-night ambushes and combined maneuvers. After many sleepless nights in the bush, the grand finale for the course was a forced march back via "Heart-break hill ". On arrival back at camp we were put through the obstacle course for the last time. It was rumoured that one of the water pits on this course was regularly used by the Sergeants Mess as their latrine.

 

John Gilchrist best described the various phases of Canungra training in an article he later wrote for 'Navy News':-

 

Weapons Handling -

 

This consists of learning the methods by which a soldier carries, strips, cleans, fires, cleans again and sleeps with the firearm which he has been issued with. Contact and Ambush Drill (Fire and Movement) - What to do if one is confronted by the enemy. Contrary to general belief, one does not turn and run or shout some battle cry and charge headlong into the affray. Instead the well trained soldier carries out a precise drill designed to put him and his companions into the best tactical position from which he can engage and ultimately defeat the enemy. The drill consists of everyone shouting out what he thinks has happened, running in various directions and diving headlong into the ground which can be either soft bog grass, short hard grass, small sharp stones and gravel, large blunt rocks, a variety of tropical vegetation or mud and stagnant water.

 

Harbour Drills -

 

Any similarity between the harbour which sailors have grown accustomed to entering from time to time and the JTC harbour are purely coincidental. After having marched, doubled or stalked us through miles of South East Queensland, the Platoon Commander decided that the time for relaxation had arrived. He gave a sign akin to a flight deck officer telling a Chopper pilot to start his rotor turning. The platoon of some 30 men, breathed a sigh of relief and commenced a strange ritual which finally resulted in everyone laying down in a large circle facing out, weapon at the ready waiting for the enemy to arrive. The skill required for a Platoon Commander to select a suitable site for a harbour is immense. He must select an area some 50 yards in diameter, the terrain such that Platoon headquarters, the centre of the circle, must be on level ground, well grassed and preferably under a shady tree. The remainder of the circle around the circumference of which he places his platoon in pairs must be sloping so that when the soldier faces out, his head must be lower than his feet. The ground must be covered with small stones, large boulders or ant hills, and in the obvious course of streams of rain water. It is in this harbour that troops will remain for a short period or overnight. Should the stay be overnight, the soldiers' comfort is greatly improved as he is allowed to erect his HOOCHIE, which is a six foot square of moth eaten waterproof material which he strings between two trees about two feet from the ground. Beneath this he prepares his bed, consisting of another waterproof sheet on top of which is placed a sleeping bag, best described as two ultra thin blankets covered by two almost sheer sheets of silk. All this clips together, blankets on the inside and into which the soldier crawls. Considering the amount of sleep the soldier in the field receives, I sometimes considered this to be over-complicated.

 

Ambushing -

 

This is the art of being strategically placed on the ground so as to trap an unsuspecting enemy. Once again the skill required and the thought that goes into the selection of the site is paramount. In practice, what happens is that a section is positioned on the ground, invariably at night, facing a track or road - weapons at the ready, and there you wait. You are not allowed to move, flinch, scratch, pass wind, cough or talk. This may sound easy. However consider the case of two sailors together in a mass of bushes for camouflage, the presence of flies, ants and a variety of bush animals, having marched halfway across Queensland, not had a decent meal for days to complicate matters further, not having been allowed the use of a latrine for hours. Eventually, when you least expect it, the enemy arrives. All Hell breaks loose, blank ammunition is expended in profusion all around you. You blink, allow yourself the luxury of a cough, a scratch and all the normal body functions you have been deprived of and then discover that you have forgotten to load your weapon, the enemy by now had disappeared and you had not fired a round.

 

Miscellaneous -

 

 

Under this heading we were taught such subjects as the Confidence course, best described as a dozen or so objects such as pools of stagnant water into which you jump, barbed wire to crawl under, mud, tunnels of wind and water to negotiate, slippery logs to walk across and a variety of obstacles crossed by ropes. Muscle Toughening - Designed to exercise those few muscles which the remainder of the course have not tortured.

 

Obstacle Course -

 

 

This is the conventional course we have all either experienced or known about. We spent nine days of the course living in the bush. On these days one carried on his back all he could eat, wear, sleep in, on and under, drink etc. The average day's food (24 hours) was:- Breakfast: cup of instant coffee; one or two cereal blocks. These are best described as extremely tough. Lunch; Cup of instant tea or coffee; a packet of biscuits (these are pre-broken and are completely devoid of taste and possess an odour akin to cardboard); a small tin of Kraft cheese. Dinner: THIS IS THE MEAL OF THE DAY! Cup of instant tea or coffee; a selection of the following:- Vienna Sausages - like valve rubber. Luncheon meat. Tuna in oil - use your imagination. Sausages and veges - two 2" sausages, the remainder carrots. Corned Beef ration - standard fare since World War I. Added to this there were such things as curry powder, soup powder, instant rice (takes 10 minutes to cook), condensed milk, sugar, a 10c chocolate block, a packet of fruit drops (recently included for National Servicemen) and last but not least, six sheets of 4x4, polished one side, matt the other. In conclusion, I feel that the main points to be learned from this course were:- 1. Do not join the Army. 2. If you do, do not become a foot soldier. 3. If you are thrown into battle, quickly become Platoon Commander, otherwise you will find survival difficult.