CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD T Ey. Pt. 6

 

CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD Tony Ey. Pt 6

 

driver, so we had no alternative but to turn around and head back the way we had come in. On the return trip he managed to flatten everything he had missed on his first pass. Luckily for us, he drove at about twice the speed, and no-one expected us to be foolish enough to return. By the time we arrived back at the beach, we were quite content to eat cold C rations and forget about the hot shower, even though the tanky insisted he knew another 'shortcut' to Phu Bai. We let him find it without us. One evening a Negro gunner on another tank decided to test fire his .50 calibre machine gun. He didn't think it was necessary to tell anyone and unfortunately Jake just happened to be standing below and slightly in front of the weapon when this dickhead cut loose. The noise and blast shock from a 50 cal is rather severe to say the least. By the time Jake had finished with the happy shooter, he was under no illusion as to the error of his ways and what would happen if he ever did it again. Not only did the idiot nearly burst Jake's eardrums, he put everyone unnecessarily on full alert as we assumed we were under attack.

 

Our eventual return to Da Nang was aboard a Chinook during a heavy morning sea fog. The pilots had to remain visual so we headed west at treetop level at about 100 knots through the swirling mist. I sat behind the pilots enjoying the low flying immensely. Eventually we found Highway One, turned left and followed it home.

 

The following official 'Summary of Salvage Operations in Military Region One during the period 10 Oct. - 21 Nov. 1970' was reported by Captain M. A. Horn, Commander US Naval Support Facility (NSF), DaNang: "During the period 10 Oct to 21 Nov 1970, the US NSF DaNang was involved in several salvage operations which required extensive coordination of Army as well as Navy assets, and which demanded the dedicated and courageous efforts of many US Navy, US Army and Royal Australian Navy personnel. These salvage operation responsibilities were in addition to the normal mission requirements of the US NSF, DaNang and were completed only through the exceptional efforts and devotion to duty of many individuals. On 10 Oct 1970, the Vietnamese Navy MSC 116 went aground on an isolated beach just south of the mouth of the Cua Viet River. The USS DELIVER arrived on scene and commenced initial recovery efforts the same day. Two days later, upon being assigned as area support coordinator for the MSC 116 salvage operations, the Commanding Officer, US NSF, DaNang, immediately inspected the salvage site and began making arrangements for a coordinated salvage effort using all available US and Vietnamese Army and Navy resources. Eventually a salvage force was assembled which included NSF DaNang work forces and diving barge, USS DELIVER, USS COHOES, USS CONSERVER, and Army CH-47 and CH-54 helicopters. Two Army tank retrievers were obtained from the US Army at Dong Ha and delivered to the site. Units of Vietnamese Navy Coastal Group MID 92 also participated, and the 1st ARVN Division contributed a bulldozer, crane and security forces. Heavy surf and seas made the entire salvage operations dangerous as well as difficult. The USS DELIVER workboat had capsized outboard of the MSC 116 the first day, obstructing salvage efforts until it was removed. A unique combination of a CH-47 helicopter, a CH-54 sky crane and a tank retriever were used to move the craft from deep water to the beach. The salvage of the workboat and its return to USS DELIVER in good condition represented a monetary savings of approximately $37,000. The passage of two typhoons during the period 16-25 October, twice forced the temporary suspension of recovery efforts and eventually rendered the MSC 116 unsalvageable. However, during the period 12 Oct to 3 Nov under the direction and coordinating efforts of the Commanding Officer, US NSF, and by the untiring efforts, bravery and devotion to duty of salvage team personnel, all salvageable machinery, equipage, equipments and material were recovered from the grounded ship under the most adverse conditions.

 

 


L-R Furner, Ey, Linton, Gilchrist, Digney, Narramore

 

Three other salvage operations were also conducted in the DaNang harbor area by Commanding Officer, US NSF, DaNang while the MSC 116 recovery effort was underway. During the passage of Typhoon JOAN on 16 Oct 1970, the Vietnamese Navy PCE 12 dragged anchor and grounded in DaNang Harbor. Commanding Officer, US NSF, as on-scene Commander, director of salvage operations and salvage support coordinator, assembled a salvage force. Using LCM-8's, pusherboats, US Army tugs, and with the USS COHOES standing by, the PCE 12 was successfully salvaged on 17 October, less than 48 hours after being reported aground.

 

On 25 Oct 1970, Typhoon KATE tore six US Army contract barges loose from their moorings in DaNang Harbor, one of which, loaded with ammunition, exploded and scattered munitions throughout the inner harbor area . Using US NSF personnel, equipment and craft and assisted by US Army Support Command pusher boats, three of the remaining five barges were recovered and returned to safe moorings by 26 Oct 1970. On 30 Oct 1970, the swollen debris filled DaNang River, with a 14 knot current, forced the German Hospital Ship HELGOLAND aground near the mouth of the river. Commanding Officer, US NSF boarded the stricken ship, surveyed the situation and after receiving the concurrence of HELGOLAND's Captain, assumed the responsibilities of on-scene commander of salvage operations. A water depth survey in the vicinity of HELGOLAND was completed, equipments and material were readied and plans were made for extraction as soon as the swollen river and swift currents permitted. The timing of the extraction effort was critical; tugs had to be positioned as soon as the river current subsided to eight knots, but before the river level receded and left HELGOLAND more firmly aground. Four tugs were brought in on schedule and hooked in tandem to one tow line attached to HELGOLAND's stern.. Radio was used to coordinate all evolutions and to insure that the towing, deballasting and use of HELGOLAND's propellers properly maximised the salvage efforts. The swirling, treacherous current demanded expert seamanship to prevent HELGOLAND from being swept against the breakwater directly downstream from her position. Salvage team personnel met the challenge and their coordinated efforts pulled HELGOLAND clear, narrowly avoiding collisions on three occasions and safely anchoring HELGOLAND on 1 Nov 1970. In each of the recovery operations conducted in DaNang Harbor, the rapid professional response, the untiring efforts of all personnel, and the close cooperation exhibited by US Navy and US Army personnel, in the face of extremely hazardous weather and sea conditions, were directly responsible for the success of these salvage efforts.

 

On 3 Nov 1970, as the MSC 116 salvage operation was drawing to a close, NSF personnel, returning by helicopter to DaNang, observed an overturned YFU grounded near shore off Tan My. US Army Support Command, DaNang confirmed that YFU-63 and its crew were missing and requested the assistance of Commanding Officer, US NSF, DaNang. An initial investigation of YFU-63 on 4 November indicated there was no possibility that any of the eleven crew members were trapped alive in the compartments. Commander Seventh Fleet was requested to provide a salvage ship and salvage operations began on 5 November with the assistance of USS COHOES, a large fleet tug, a NSF diving barge, many salvage personnel, perimeter security forces, and much equipment, such as air compressors, pneumatic tools, cutting torches, tow wires and heavy lines. Efforts to pull YFU-63 off the beach and to right her were severely hampered by adverse weather and heavy surf conditions. Nevertheless a helicopter, two tank retrievers and two bulldozers were added to the salvage forces and efforts to recover the craft continued until 15 November when, after Herculean efforts to refloat or parbuckle YFU-63 were unsuccessful, it was necessary to cut into the hull to remove ammunition and other material and to search for bodies of crewman who might have been trapped in compartments. In spite of heavy seas constantly breaking over YFU-63 and perilous diving conditions, the salvage team recovered the ship's engineering log, quartermaster's notebook and other documents but discovered no bodies. On 21 Nov 1970, with a tropical storm imminent, Commanding Officer, US NSF, DaNang determined further salvage efforts were no longer feasible and terminated the operation.

 

Throughout the period of 10 Oct to 21 Nov 1970, unusually severe weather conditions posed a constant threat to all salvage operation personnel. What would, even under the best of conditions, be difficult became extremely hazardous and complicated by high winds and seas, swift currents heavy surf and near-constant rain. Under these conditions exceptional performance and acts of personal courage were commonplace. These individual efforts and the close coordination of air, sea and land units from different commands and countries made it possible to save millions of dollars of assets without loss of life or injury to any salvage team personnel. The professionalism, self sacrifice, initiative and devotion to duty exhibited under these hazardous conditions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service". This report is interesting to read because it gives an insight into the way official reports are written, i.e. - to make the Commanding Officer look very professional and competent, thus enhancing his future career prospects.

 

Phil Narramore and I were afforded an interesting experience when a U.S. Army Air Cavalry unit requested our assistance. Based near Phu Bai, they had lost a Helicopter Gunship during one of their recent mission and it was presumed to have crashed into a shallow waterway in Charlie country, as a returning crew had sighted part of a rotor blade protruding from the muddy water. Our priority was to firstly recover the bodies of the two man crew, and then any ordnance or weapons. The task was quite unpleasant due to the total lack of visibility and the affinity Vietnamese leeches seemed to have for Australian Divers, or me in particular, as Narra 'pulled rank' and did not get in the water. He 'supervised'. As it turned out, it was not their chopper, but a gunship that was eventually identified as one that went missing during the Tet Offensive of 1968. While we were at their base camp, U.S. Army Rangers (our operational security), had us join them in their ongoing 'rappelling' training. We also had the chance to socialize with the Air Cav pilots, interesting because the average age of these young gung-ho gunship pilots was about nineteen. As a unit of the US Cavalry, their dress uniform still included hats identical to the ones worn in General Custer's day. They kept them hanging in their bar and when a pilot was lost, they would take his hat from the rack, place it on the bar, toast his memory and get on with their drinking, trying not dwell on the fact that it could have been any one of them.