HMAS Perth 1st Deployment 2 September 1967 - 10 April 1968

HMAS Perth 1st Deployment 2 September 1967—10 April 1968

 

HMAS PERTH Captain Doyle

 

HMAS Perth, under the command of Captain P. H. Doyle, (above) replaced HMAS Hobart in the Seventh Fleet at Subic Bay on September 14, 1967.

 

While carrying out gunnery exercise north of Subic Bay, Perth was asked for medical assistance by the oiler USS Neches (AO 47). Surgeon Lieu­tenant B. J. Cheffins, Perth's medical officer, was sent on board the Neches and confirmed a case of acute appendicitis. Perth took the sick crew member aboard and returned to Subic Bay at high speed.

 

Operation Pershing

 

Perth arrived off the Vietnam coast on September 26 relieving the destroyer USS Radford (DD 446), and was assigned to the support of the US Army 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) which was conducting the search and destroy Operation Pershing in northern II Corps. This operation was launched in February 1967 to clear the enemy from the coastal region of northern Binh Dinh province, and to assist the Vietnamese to destroy the Viet Cong political infrastructure in the area. In May 1967, Pershing was extended into Southern Quang Ngai province, I Corps. By the end of 1967, more than 5000 enemy had been killed.

 

On the afternoon of the 26th, Perth fired her first rounds ‘in anger’ against caves, trenches and trails in northern Binh Dinh province. Routine H & I missions followed, interrupted by heavy thunder­storms which hampered the spotting aircraft.

 

On September 29, long-range fire was directed against targets in the An Lao valley behind the coastal lowland of northern Binh Dinh, but cloudy weather conditions and thickness of the jungle made damage assessment impossible.

 

At the DMZ

 

Perth was reassigned to the DMZ on September 29 where the heavy cruiser USS St Paul (CA 73) and the destroyers USS Collett (DD 730), USS Edwards (DD 619), USS Morton (DD 948), USS Goldsborough (DDG 20) and USS Berkeley (DDG 15) were bombarding North Vietnamese coastal bat­teries and approach routes in the Cap Lay area. NVA pressure on Marine units in northern I Corps was increasing and a large NGFS task group was required to neutralize enemy positions within naval gunfire range. Perth was sent to the DMZ during the latter stages of Operation Kingfisher in which the 3rd Marine Division battled with NVA units attempting to dislodge the Marines at Con Thien, fourteen miles inland, and two miles south of the DMZ, and lying across an important infiltration route from the north.

 

At the end of September, with five days ‘on the gunline’, Perth had expended 567 rounds of 5-inch ammunition.

 

The first week of October was quiet for Perth as the deteriorating weather heralding the north-east monsoon limited the number of spotted missions. On the 10th, however, clearer weather enabled Perth to engage enemy artillery positions and she silenced a mortar which was shelling a spotter’s position. Viet Cong caught in the open received Perth’s fire as night fell.

 

The tempo of operations soon quickened with Perth firing 395 rounds on the 12th, some of which caused a large secondary explosion at an artillery site and eliminated another mortar position.

 

Sea Dragon

 

In late September 1967, the Sea Dragon task group was restricted to operations below 17°55' north (i.e. south of the cape Mui Ong). It was also required to be on station for NGFS in I Corps at three hours notice. A marked increase in truck convoys and WBLC traffic north of Mui Ong led to the resumption of normal Sea Dragon opera­tions on October 3. On October 17, Perth joined the northern Sea Dragon element, relieving Goldsborough as support ship for the heavy cruiser USS Newport News (CA 148). The first mission took place off Sam Son, a small town on the northern side of the prominent headland Cap Chao, near the estuary of the Song Ma. Here Perth attacked four coastal defence sites while Newport News fired on the primary target. A sweep south into the Bay of Brandon followed before the ships turned north again, searching the coastal bays and river mouths for WBLCs.

 

Perth hit by enemy fire

 

At 0800 on the 18th, the task unit was in the vicinity of Chau Khe about ten miles south of Sam Son, with Perth steaming two miles ahead of Newport News. The ships had just identified a group of suspected WBLCs as fishing junks when they came under heavy fire from twelve or more coastal defence batteries. Fire was concentrated on Perth as the ships turned away from the coast engaging the enemy artillery with counterbattery fire.

 

Perth was hit just as the turn away was completed. One 85 mm or 100 mm semi-armour-piercing shell hit the rear end of Mount 52, glanced off it, and penetrated 01 deck to explode in the con­fidential books vault.

 

Rallied by the gun captain, Leading Seaman W. J. Young, the crew of the damaged mount quickly restored it to working order, and both of Perth’s 5-inch guns continued the counter-battery fire. This appeared to be effective as the enemy fire stopped after twenty-five of Perth’s rounds had landed in the target area. With further repair, Mount 52 was fully operational four hours later.

 

No compartments close to the confidential books vault were occupied at the time of the explosion, but four sailors moving along the main passageway were injured. Two of these, Petty Officer C. R. Watson and Mechanician R. N. Murdock, were seriously wounded, and were taken by MEDEVAC helicopter to the carrier USS Oriskany (CVA 34) and from there to the naval hospital at Subic Bay.

 

In this action, Perth and Newport News received more than 200 rounds of enemy fire.

 

It was to the credit of Perth’s damage control parties, engineers and shipwrights who carried out repairs at sea using the ship’s own resources that she was soon able to continue her assigned patrol. Moving southwards to evade the westward track of Typhoon Carla, Newport News and Perth continued WBLC surveillance, harassment of choke points and bombardment of coastal defence sites.

 

While completing a fire mission off the Red River Delta, Perth located a junk seen to be listing heavily. As Perth neared the craft it sank; five survivors were rescued by Perth, and two by New­port News, but a shark took the eighth before he could be reached.

 

Southern Sea Dragon

 

On October 24, Perth joined USS Rupertus (DD 851) in Task Unit 77.1.2, with Captain Doyle taking command of the southern Sea Dragon element, and that afternoon Perth detected WBLCs moving south 40 miles above the DMZ. In her first attack on such vessels, Perth sank three within minutes of opening fire. Perth and Rupertus sank one more each before the engagement was completed.

 

October 25, 1967 marked the first anniversary of continuous Sea Dragon operations. In this first year, more than 2000 WBLCs had been destroyed or damaged.

 

In October, 146 WBLCs were sighted, in striking contrast to the early phase of Sea Dragon when an average of 50 WBLC sightings per day were recorded. This marked reduction in WBLC traffic demonstrated the success of Operation Sea Dragon in cutting down the flow of supplies through the Tonkin Gulf, despite a large increase in coastal defence sites and the employment of artillery of greater calibre.

 

In the early months of Sea Dragon, the North Vietnamese coastal artillery had fired 85 mm rounds at the destroyers, but by October 1967, 100 mm rounds were most often used and sometimes 130 mm rounds.

 

After replacing the barrels of both mounts in Subic Bay, Perth was back in the Tonkin Gulf by November 1 as the command ship of Task Unit 77.1.2 with USS Blue (DD 744) in support. The two ships swept south from Mui Ron firing on highway crossings, storage areas, and a radar site under construction north of Dong Hoi.

 

Early on November 2, six WBLCs were taken under fire at the Song Giang river mouth, followed the next day by a bombardment of the Nui Dat boat yard in the Cua Sot, north east of Ha Tinh. Attacks on bridge approaches, a transhipment area, and choke points continued until Goldsborough relieved Perth off Mui Ron on the 7th, allowing her to return to Subic Bay for repair of battle damage and routine maintenance. Perth then proceeded to Singapore for four days’ rest and recreation leave.

 

On November 27, Perth relieved USS Robeson (DDG 12) as command ship of Task Unit 77.1.2. Perth’s support ship in the task unit was the de­stroyer USS Ozbourn (DD 846). After H & I fire near Dong Hoi, Perth was reassigned the same day to Task Unit 77.1.1, joining Newport News and Collett for operations in the northern Sea Dragon area. The Phu Nghia Thuong boatyard was taken under fire on the 30th together with a radar site and storage cave south of the Bay of Brandon.

 

An analysis of Sea Dragon operations conducted in November found that the decrease in WBLC traffic south of 20° North was primarily due to the destroyer activity. The build-up of enemy coastal defences indicated that the North Vietnamese command found the Sea Dragon force a serious threat to both WBLC traffic and inland military activity.

 

Under fire again

 

On December 3, the task unit was in the Bay of Brandon on a night H & l mission. Newport News was firing on a choke point and highway crossings with Perth engaging coastal defence sites, when about fifteen rounds of shore fire were received, falling some distance from the ships. The task unit withdrew, replying with counterbattery fire.

 

For the following nine days (to the 12th), the task unit remained in the Bay of Brandon area searching for WBLCs and attacking choke points, highway crossings and railway bridges.

 

On the 12th, Perth detached from the Task Unit 77.1.1. and relieved Goldsborongh as command ship of Task Unit 77.1.2 with USS Hamner (DD 718) in support. Bad weather hampered both WBLC movements and the task unit’s operations for the first few days in the southern Sea Dragon zone. But early on the morning of the 15th, WBLCs in the Song Giang mouth were engaged by Perth, and later in the day WBLCs near Dong Hoi were attacked. A total of four WBLCs were sunk and four damaged. Perth then fired on three barges alongside a pier in the Song Giang, starting ex­tensive fires on the pier and in one barge. H & I firings south of Dong Hoi completed a successful period for the task unit.

 

Two days later, Perth and Hamner went to the assistance of an aircraft which had crashed into the sea close to Dong Hoi. The ships patrolled to seaward ready to subdue coastal defence fire while the two pilots were rescued by helicopter.Third time under fire

 

In the early evening of the same day, the ships were conducting a sweep off Dong Hoi when they received shore fire. Eight rounds were seen to fall, the nearest about 300 yards from Perth. The firing stopped when the task unit altered course to seaward. 7th Air Force aircraft carried out three strikes against the artillery sites causing a number of secondary explosions.

 

On the night of the 19th, the task unit was joined by USS Canberra (CAG 2) for an attack on a newly- discovered missile site near Dong Hoi. Perth handed over to USS Robinson (DDG 12) on the 20th and proceeded to Hong Kong after a short stop at Subic Bay for fuel, stores and mail.

 

Christmas 1967 was spent at Hong Kong, and Perth returned to Subic Bay for maintenance until January 7, 1968. On January 9, Perth joined Newport News in Task Unit 77.1.1 for the northern Sea Dragon patrol. In this first day of return to Sea Dragon operations, Perth fired at coastal defence sites while Newport News bombarded bridges, railway crossings, truck convoys and two missile sites north of Cap St. Anne in the southern Bay of Brandon. Perth fired a successful spotted mission of sixty rounds on a highway choke point and associated coastal defence sites south of Mui Ron on the 13th. Major General D. Vincent OBE, outgoing COMAFV, was a guest onboard at the time.

 

A successful attack on thirteen WBLCs north of the Bay of Brandon took place in the morning of the 16th. The task unit destroyed seven and damaged two of the craft as well as firing on coastal defence sites. Two more WBLCs were sunk by aircraft as the task unit left the area. The following day, WBLCs were attacked by Newport News in the Cua Bang immediately south of Cap Bang, while Perth fired on the numerous coastal defence sites which ring the Bay of Brandon. More suspected missile sites were attacked on the 19th, Perth's last day in northern Sea Dragon, and the task unit swept south where Perth left Newport News on the 20th to relieve Goldsborough as command ship of Task Unit 77.1.2. USS Bordelon (DD 881) was the support ship of the unit.

 

On January 22, the task unit fired on a river crossing south of Mui Ron three times as truck convoys reached it. This bombardment appeared to stop truck movement south of the river. However, increased truck movement south to the DMZ soon became noticeable, so that choke points, highways, and storage areas received high priority as targets, with Task Unit 77.1.1. (Newport News and Blue) being temporarily assigned to assist Perth and Bordelon. Perth made a successful attack on a storage area at Dong Hoi on the 23rd, destroying or damaging twelve buildings.

 

Fourth time under fire

 

While firing on a highway bridge near Cap St. Anne on the afternoon of January 25, the task unit was tracked by enemy radar and received about thirty rounds from coastal defence artillery posi­tioned just north of the cape. As Perth and Bordelon withdrew, several rounds fell between the ships which were 2500 yards apart. Although task units had received enemy fire about seven times per month for the previous six months, this was the only attack on a task unit for the month of January At Perth’s request, aircraft from the USS Coral Sea (CVA 43) soon arrived to carry out a strike on the offending coastal defence site. One A-4 Sky- hawk aircraft was hit by a SAM missile and the pilot, Commander Woolcock USN, ejected ten miles from the task unit. His successful rescue was coordinated by Perth. One of the several SAM missiles fired was seen to pass over Perth and explode a mile distant. This coastal defence site was attacked again on the 27th.

 

Though WBLC traffic was decreasing as reports of truck convoys increased, Perth was quick to engage WBLCs sighted, and two were destroyed by direct hits in the mouth of the Song Giang on the 29th. The increase in truck convoys indicated a logistic build-up for the heavy fighting that raged near the DMZ and further south during Tet 1968.

 

CNS embarked

 

On January 31, Vice Admiral Sir Alan McNicoll KBE, CB, GM embarked in Perth for a two-day visit to Sea Dragon. This was the first time that a Chief of Naval Staff had flown his flag in an Australian ship in operations of war.

 

Early in February, with heavy fighting continuing around the DMZ, Task Unit 77.1.2. continued to be responsible for surveillance as far north as the Bay of Brandon as well as the southern Sea Dragon Group 77.1. while Task Unit 77.1.1 was assisting with NGFS for military operations in the DMZ.

 

On February 1, six WBLCs were attacked near the Cua Nhuong to the south-east of Ha Tinh. In spite of harassment by anti-aircraft batteries, the spotting aircraft continued to direct Perth’s fire with good effect and four large WBLCs were destroyed.

 

Perth’s final operation before leaving for Subic Bay to re-gun and carry out routine maintenance was the bombardment of a truck park north of the Song Giang. Perth was then relieved by USS Hoel (DDG 13) on February 2.

 

Captain Doyle commands Sea Dragon

 

On February 14, Perth returned to Sea Dragon relieving Hoel, and Captain Doyle assumed the double role of Commander, Task Unit 77.1.0 and Commander, Task Unit 77.1.2. As Commander, Task Unit 77.1.0., he was the surface action group commander and responsible to Commander Task Group 77.1. (Seventh Fleet Cruiser Destroyer Force) for the planning and conduct of all Sea Dragon operations. USS Mansfield (DD 728) was the support ship for Task Unit 77.1.2. Operations in the southern Sea Dragon area began with a WBLC heavily damaged, two small boats sunk, and a secondary explosion on the beach when Perth fired on targets at the mouth of the Kien Giang.

 

An unusual incident on the morning of February 16 served to highlight the danger of coastal navi­gation unassisted by radar, when Perth and Bordelon intercepted the tank landing ship LST 1067 fifteen miles north of the DMZ. With a Korean crew, this US Military Sea Transportation Service vessel was conveying 117 US Army troops with their equipment from Saigon to the Cua Viet in Quang Tri province. The ship missed the Cua Viet in bad weather and kept going north until inter­cepted. Mansfield was directed to escort LST 1067 back to the DMZ.

 

On the 18th, the task unit operated in the northern Sea Dragon area bombarding radar sites, and Perth fired the 10,000th round of her deployment at a coastal defence site south west of the Bay of Brandon. Three barges beached on the coast north of Dong Hoi were left badly damaged after Perth attacked them on the 19th.

 

Vinh

 

Twelve miles inland from the mouth of the Song Ca River, south of Cap St. Anne, is the town of Vinh, an administrative centre and market town for the agricultural and forest products of the Song Ca valley. Vinh, with its associated river port Ben Thuy, is a major logistic staging point with many military storage areas. On February 23, the task unit took advantage of a spell of bad weather to fire on targets near the town unhampered by enemy radar or coastal defence fire.. back in the Tonkin Gulf relieving Hoel as command ship of Task Unit 77.1.2. Blue was assigned as support ship. Later that day, radar and SAM sites were fired on near Vinh.

 

NGFS

 

LSFC GFCS Operator

 

On March 12, Perth and Blue relieved Buchanan and USS Hollister (DD 788) in Task Unit 70.8.9. for a short assignment providing NGFS for US Marine forces near the DMZ. Twenty-three H & I targets were assigned to Perth to be fired on twice during the night; frequent firings delivered more than 400 rounds onto trenches, bunkers, artillery sites, troop positions and a sampan concentration.

 

The task unit resumed operations in the southern Sea Dragon area on the 14th, with Rear Admiral S. K. Kinney USN, Commander Seventh Fleet Cruiser-Destroyer Force, flying his flag in Perth during a short visit. On the 15th, Perth scored direct hits on three bridges on the Song Giang River and started fires in the area. That night, Major General A. L. MacDonald OBE, the new COMAFV, joined Perth for an overnight stay while WBLCs were sorted out from fishing boats in the Bay of Brandon.

 

Perth fired on bridges and artillery sites in the Bay of Brandon in a ‘farewell visit’ on March 22, and in the final action of her six months of Sea Dragon operations sank a ferry in the Cua Ron, south of Mui Ong.

 

On the 23rd, Perth was relieved by USS Epperson (DD 719) and was visited by Vice Admiral W. F. Bringle USN, COMSEVENTHFLT, who spoke to the ship’s company before Perth left for Subic Bay. Perth handed over to Hobart at Subic Bay on March 31 and returned to Sydney on April 10, 1968.

 

Perth fired 13,351 rounds in her first deployment and steamed 64,750 miles coming under fire four times. She was the only RAN ship to be hit by enemy fire.

 

For her service in Vietnam as a unit of the Seventh Fleet, Perth was awarded the United States Navy Unit Commendation which was presented by Admiral J. J. Hyland USN, CINCPACFLT, at Sydney on July 21, 1969.

 

THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY

WASHINGTON

 

The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in commending HMAS PERTH (D-38) for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

 

For exceptionally meritorious service from 9 September 1967 to 5 April 1968 in the planning and execution of combat missions against enemy aggressor forces in direct support of Free World objectives. While operating as a unit of the l'. S. SEVENTH Fleet, HMAS PERTH delivered extensive, destructive naval gunfire against enemy supply routes, coastal defense sites, troop concentrations, and fortified positions in both North and South Vietnam. The prowess and teamwork displayed by the personnel of PERTH were uniformly characterized by personal valor, professional acumen, and individual initiative. Although often within the range of enemy artillery emplacements, and frequently under fire from North Vietnamese coastal defense sites, PERTH quickly responded with skill and resource­fulness, silencing enemy batteries while maneuvering adroitly to avoid sustaining any damage or injury to herself. The tenacity, professionalism, and dedication demonstrated by the officers and men of PERTH reflect great credit upon themselves and the Royal Australian Navy.

 

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