HMAS PERTH 2nd Deployment - 19 September 1968 - 20 April 1969

HMAS PERTH RAS with USNS Vietnam

 

Captain D. W. Leach commanded HMAS Perth for her second Vietnam deployment. Perth left Sydney on September 19, 1968 relieving HMAS Hobart at Subic Bay on the 29th. She then proceeded to Da Nang to support the US 3rd Marine Division and in a short period of NGFS fired five spotted missions in which a large amount of ammunition was expended to destroy enemy bunker complexes too effectively booby trapped for troops to search.

 

Sea Dragon

 

Having been ordered to join the Sea Dragon task group on October 9, Perth sailed north to take over from USS Berkeley (DDG 15) as the command ship of Task Unit 77.1.1. After one WBLC patrol in the northern Sea Dragon zone in company with USS Furse (DD 842), Perth was relieved by the battle­ship USS New Jersey (BB 62) which had been re­commissioned in April 1968 for one deployment to Vietnam. Perth replaced New Jersey as command ship of the southern Sea Dragon task unit with USS Leonard F. Mason (DD 852) in support.

 

Perth under fire

 

Two and a half hours after the exchange of duties with New Jersey, Perth came under fire as she completed a bombardment of the Xom Ray truck park near the Song Giang mouth. Perth and Mason had just turned away from the coast when the shore batteries opened fire landing thirty rounds at distances ranging from ten to 500 yards from Perth. Some pieces of shrapnel from the nearer explosions landed on the ship’s upper deck. Perth made smoke to camouflage her evading movements and replied with counterbattery fire.

 

 

Though poor weather at this period caused many proposed spotted firings to be cancelled, on the 14th a beached WBLC south of the Song Giang estuary was fired on and left wrecked.

 

On the 15th, bombardment by Perth and eight bombs dropped by two A4 Skyhawk aircraft from USS Intrepid (CVS 11) completely destroyed the Dac Nguyen highway bridge. Two days later, another truck park, at Vung Chau, was extensively damaged.

 

To enable the heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CA 70) to be near the DMZ where her fire power of six 8-inch guns could be utilised at short notice, Perth and Canberra (which had replaced New Jersey as the command ship in the northern Sea Dragon zone) exchanged duties, with Perth again becoming command ship of Task Unit 77.1.1.

 

Mighty Yankee

Operation Mighty Yankee on October 21 saw Perth and USS Bausell (DD 845) patrolling to seaward while USS Dubuque (LPD 8) released fourteen North Vietnamese prisoners of war east of Vinh, sending them ashore in a motor-whaler.

 

DMZ

 

PERTH Vertrep at sea - Vietnam

 

The task unit left northern Sea Dragon after three days of routine H & I and spotted missions including a successful bombardment of the Tu Dung highway bridge, and Perth proceeded to I Corps where she joined New Jersey on the gunline near the DMZ.

 

Perth was assigned an area immediately south of the DMZ where she assisted the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, and the 1st Brigade, US 5th Infantry Division.

 

Though enemy activity in the DMZ was at a less intense level than in September, contacts with the 320th NVA Division, in the process of with­drawing to the north through the central area of the DMZ, were frequent in early October. The units directly supported by Perth were engaging the 138th NVA Regiment, preventing its penetration into Quang Tri province.

 

Perth remained in this general area until Novem­ber 5, firing on artillery positions and bunkers, fortified villages and troop concentrations. Harass­ment fire was a nightly activity with one foray north into the southern Sea Dragon sector on the 27th, accompanying New Jersey.

 

Sea Dragon suspended

 

On November 1, President Johnson ordered a cessation of air, ground and naval bombardment of North Vietnam, including the northern sector of the DMZ, to take effect at 2100 hours local time. This meant the immediate suspension of Sea Dragon with the task units being disbanded and most of their ships reassigned to NGFS. To prevent any accidental breach of President Johnson’s orders, NGFS ships operating in northern I Corps were generally not permitted to operate nearer to the 17th Parallel than five nautical miles.

 

Perth spent the next four days in NGFS near Da Nang before leaving for Hong Kong for five days of rest and recreation after thirty-three days at sea.

 

Perth returned to southern II Corps to spend four days providing NGFS for the 26th Regiment ROK Tiger Division in Operation Hae San Jin 5 before leaving for IV Corps where she remained off the coast of Kien Hoa and Vinh Binh until the end of the month, firing for the 7th and 9th ARVN Divisions on Viet Cong bunkers, troop positions and sampans. Relieved by USS Joseph Strauss (DDG 15) on the 30th, Perth left for a seven day maintenance period at Subic Bay.

 

Return to the gunline

 

Perth returned to Da Nang on December 12 relieving USS Dupont (DD 941). After night harassment firings in the Da Nang harbour and a coastal patrol off Da Nang which were witnessed by Rear Admiral R. I. Peek OBE, DSC, Second Naval Member, who was embarked for a short visit, Perth left for IV Corps on the 16th to relieve Strauss. No sooner had Perth taken up station, than she was sent to southern II Corps near Phan Thiet where, with USS Davis (DD 937) and USS Fechteler (DD 87), Perth provided NGFS for ele­ments of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade in Operation McLain.

 

McLain, which began in January 1968, was a large search and destroy operation ranging through the provinces of Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan, Lam Dong and Tuyen Due in southern II Corps, and Binh Tuy province in northern III Corps. Com­pleted in January 1969, McLain resulted in more than 1000 Viet Cong being killed by the combined efforts of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 44th ARVN Division.

 

Assigned to IV Corps on the 19th, Perth had just neared her NGFS station when she was ordered to return north and fire on targets for units of the 18th ARVN Division forty miles south-east of Saigon. Perth returned to her IV Corps station the next day. Her short diversion to III Corps meant that Perth had fired in all four Corps areas and the DMZ as well as engaging Sea Dragon targets.

 

Christmas at Vung Tau

 

Perth anchored at Vung Tau on Christmas Day to observe the Christmas truce which had begun at 1800 on Christmas Eve. The Reverend F. Lyons, chaplain RAN, celebrated midnight mass in the wardroom and  relatives of the ship’s company serving in the Army in Vietnam were invited on board for the day. At 1800 that evening, the truce ended and Perth fired a final spotted mission twenty- five miles south of Vung Tau before leaving for Keelung, Taiwan, on the 27th for a three-day recreational visit to that port and to Kaohsiung.

 

On passage to Keelung, Perth spent six and a half hours unsuccessfully searching for a sailor who had fallen overboard from the troop transport USS Geiger (T-AP 197).

 

1969

 

Having returned to IV Corps on January 9, 1969, Perth fired the 5000th round of her deployment on the 12th during a week-long program of spotted missions at anchor during the day, and harassment fire underway at night. In her fourth period on the gunline Perth destroyed or damaged 86 bunkers, 184 structures, twenty-eight sampans, one 20ft cargo vessel, four junks, four bridges, three trucks, three artillery sites and killed six Viet Cong, in 56 spotted missions and 73 harassment missions.

 

Yankee Station

 

USS Waddell (DDG 24) relieved Perth in IV Corps on the 17th, allowing Perth to proceed to Yankee Station, where she joined Task Unit 77.9.2 headed by USS Parsons (DDG 33) for three days of combined exercises.

 

It is interesting to note that Perth and Waddell were two consecutively-built guided-missile des­troyers, and in this IV Corps handover, went along­side one another for the first time since their construction in 1964.

 

On the 25th, Perth joined Task Group 70.4 with Rear Admiral E. C. Fairfax USN flying his flag in the carrier USS Hornet (CVS 12). Perth and six accompanying US Navy destroyers took part in the anti-submarine exercise Beacon Lamp 1/69 until the 28th, when she joined Task Group 77.3 relieving USS Agerholm (DD 826) as command ship of the destroyer screen for the carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) wearing the flag of Vice Admiral R. W. Cousins USN.

 

Rear Admiral H. D. Stevenson, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, on a visit to RAN units in Vietnam, stayed overnight on board Perth on February 1.

 

Perth was relieved as screen command ship by USS Black (DD 666) on February 5, and arrived at Subic Bay on the 7th, spending eleven days along­side carrying out maintenance with the assistance of the ship repair facility.

 

On the 19th, Perth left Subic Bay for Vietnam, and 110 miles west of Subic, was diverted back to Grande Island to help in a search for a missing US Navy F4 Phantom aircraft. Lieutenant Com­mander W. G. Ritchie, Perth’s direction officer, took the ship’s whale-boat and investigated a group of fishing craft near the area of the crash. The fishermen had seen the aeroplane crash into the sea the previous night, and had recovered a few items of survival kit. The position of the downed aircraft was marked with a buoy and Perth retraced her course to Vietnam taking up station off Thua Thien province near Flue on February 22.

 

Patrolling the waters between Hue and the DMZ, Perth fired a series of spotted missions. In southern Quang Tri province, the 3rd Marine Division Operation Dewey Canyon was in progress to clear a major NVA logistic supply area.

 

Operation Victory Dragon 8

 

From February 25 to March 3, Perth gave NGFS to the 2nd Brigade ROK Marine Corps in Opera­tion Victory Dragon 8 about fifteen miles south­east of Da Nang in the vicinity of Hoi An. Star shell was fired to illuminate areas under attack, while harassment fire stopped enemy movement and mortar attacks. Spotted missions were also fired on fortified villages and bunkers, assembly areas and supply points. Victory Dragon 8, in which 164 Viet Cong were killed, was a later phase of operations in the tactical area of responsi­bility of the 2nd Brigade for which Hobart had provided NGFS in Phase 2 in September 1968.

 

On March 3, Perth relieved USS Oklahoma City (CLG 5) in Da Nang harbour and anchored to provide harassment fire for Operation Eager Pursuit. During the day, Perth patrolled to sea­ward, firing harassment missions at night.

 

Operation Kentucky Jumper

 

On March 6, Perth was assigned to the support of Operation Kentucky Jumper in southern Thua Thien province. Kentucky Jumper, mounted by the US 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) continued until August 1969 and resulted in 317 Viet Cong killed. Perth contributed to the 409 NGFS missions required in the operation. Another 101st Airborne Division operation claimed Perth’s support from the 8th to the 16th. This was Opera­tion Sheridan, centred south of Phan Thiet in Binh Thuan province. Here Perth fired the final salvo of her deployment on the night of the 16th.

 

After an eight-day maintenance and recreation period in Hong Kong, Perth returned, to Subic Bay where she was relieved by HMAS Brisbane on March 31. The next day she sailed for Singapore en route to Australia. On passage to Perth, Western Australia, the ship was stopped in the Sunda Strait at sunset on Sunday, April 7, when a memorial service was held for the 460 officers and sailors of the first Perth, the RAN cruiser sunk with the USS Houston on March 1, 1942 in the Battle of the Java Sea.

 

Perth arrived in Sydney on April 20, 1969, having steamed 44,820 miles, fired 7648 rounds and come under fire once in her second deployment. To add to the distinction of the US Navy Unit Com­mendation awarded for her first tour of duty in Vietnam, Perth received the US Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation for her second tour. This was presented to the ship’s company on August 28, 1970 by the American Ambassador, Mr W. L. Rice.