Offical History of Clearance Diving Team 3 Vietnam - 2

 

Offical History of Clearance Diving Team 3 Vietnam - 2

 

2ND CONTINGENT

 

The relief team arrived on August 13 commanded by Lieutenant R. J. Burns GM who relieved Lieutenant Shotter as officer-in-charge of CDT3 on August 25. On August 17 and 18, the two teams located and salvaged a US Navy Iroquois helicopter which had crashed into Vung Tau harbour. Four of the five crew members escaped unhurt, but the fifth was killed and his body was not found in spite of a day-long search.

 

Nui Truong Phi

 

On August 26, four members of the new team took part in a junk force raid on a Viet Cong enemy mortars scored several hits on a VNN gunboat and sank it.

 

During the landing, the command junk had succumbed to the heavy surf and had broached to on the beach. Attempts to refloat it were thwarted by accurate mortar and sniper fire and, stripped of all equipment, it was abandoned. For the same reason, the retrieval of two US Army boats previously captured by the Viet Cong also became impossible though the divers had managed to free them of booby-traps and mines. They were blown up.

 

After three hours, the force was relieved by a troop of armoured personnel carriers from A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, RAAC, which travelled along the beach from the village of Long Phuoc Hai where it had been supporting a 1st Australian Task Force operation. The armoured personnel carriers evacuated the force to Long Phuoc Hai from where the injured were flown to the 1st Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau.

 

Able Seaman D. C. Trompp, hit in the arm by a sniper’s bullet during a heavy exchange of fire just as the armoured personnel carriers arrived at the scene, had the unfortunate distinction of being the first RAN casualty of the Vietnam War.

 

By early September, with the easing of the monsoon, weather conditions had improved such that Stabledoor activities resumed on most days and 111 ships were searched during the month; many searches were made in difficult conditions with the divers operating from unsuitable patrol boats instead of the more usual inflatable rubber dinghies.

 

On one occasion, CDT3 personnel disposing of faulty ordnance in the old fort near their base were endangered when rifle shots ricocheted off fortifications six feet from them. A patrol was quickly sent to search the area and after an hour found that two Vietnamese soldiers hunting monkeys had fired at a group of the animals in a direct line with the fort.

 

Though the CDT3 base camp on ‘VC Hill’ was generally undisturbed by the Viet Cong, divers travelling to Vung Tau occasionally received sniper fire on the twisting narrow road down the hill. On September 13, Lieutenant Burns and his divers were fired at from the jungle at the foot of the hill. They fired back as they accelerated out of the area.

 

Underwater chariot

 

The ease with which floating objects could be mistaken for mines or attacking Viet Cong swimmers was illustrated in mid-September when an ‘underwater chariot with one rider sitting amidships’ was seen entering Vung Tau’s northern anchorage. Shipboard sentries fired at the ‘chariot’ and it was apparently hit before being obscured by heavy rain. CDT3 members searched the area but found only a floating log with a vertical projection.

 

Salvage

 

In early October, two divers were sent in an RAAF helicopter to recover equipment from an armoured personnel carrier of A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, RAAC, which had become submerged while attempting to cross the Rach Song Cai (the mouth of the Song Rai, north east of the Long Hai Hills) during the Australian Task Force Operation Kenmore.

 

The team not only undertook the salvage of crashed helicopters and sunken armoured personnel carriers but also carried out underwater repairs and propeller changes on harbour defence patrol boats. In December 1967, they removed 400 metres of fishing net with floats and weights from underneath a patrol craft and straightened the propeller and rudder. Replacement of a propeller while a patrol boat was still in the water could save a three-day slipping of the vessel and ensure that it was back on duty the same day.

 

In October, CDT3 was named EODMUPAC Team 21 for US Navy purposes, later to be changed to EODMUPAC Team 35. With one officer and five sailors, CDT3 was considered to have a two-team capacity, as the standard US Navy team consisted of one officer and three enlisted men only.

 

While trying to make safe the booby-trapped fuse of a 75 mm recoilless rifle round on November 2, Petty Officer R. A. Donne was wounded in the right hand by shrapnel when the fuse exploded, and spent six days in the 1st Australian Field Hospital.

 

Jeparit was given a thorough hull search at Vung Tau on November 20 and on the 23rd the Australian Army vessel Harry Chaui>el had a length of heavy line removed from her starboard propeller.

 

A curious incident took place on the afternoon of December 4 when Lieutenant Burns and Leading Seaman M. J. Currie were travelling in their jeep from Cat Lo naval base to Vung Tau. Not far from the Cat Lo base, a jeep towing a boat in a trailer passed them at high speed travelling in the opposite direction and they recognised the boat as their own Boston whaler which was kept at Vung Tau. After a fast two-mile chase, they forced the other jeep off the road into a drainage ditch. The boat and trailer had been stolen from the United States Military Police compound at Vung Tau where it was kept to save the time required to tow it up and down from the CDT3 base on ‘VC Hill’.
 

Explosive Ordnance Disposal

 


Preparing Incendiary grenades before a bunkerdestruction sweep, CPO Dollar, AB Kingston and Alderhoven

 

With twenty-four EOD missions, January 1968 was a busy month. Much of CDT3’s work involved searching for ordnance lost overboard from lighters and patrol boats, or disposing of ordnance items which had been left lying around in a dangerous condition in clubs, bars and aircraft after being ‘souvenired’ by soldiers.

 

More professionally interesting to the team than routine EOD work was the removal and disposal of Viet Cong ‘home-made’ ordnance. On January 12, divers were called to the Vietnamese 5th Special Forces Camp, Xa Long Hai to render safe a ‘homemade’ command-detonated charge fixed to the wire fence. A soldered tin can fifteen inches long and five inches in diameter had been filled with ten pounds of nitro-starch and TNT and equipped with a simple electric detonator.

 

Old French and Japanese ordnance was another problem; the team was not infrequently called in to remove Japanese practice bombs from sites around Vung Tau. Though the bombs contained only a marking compound instead of explosive, their corroded fuses were potentially very dangerous.

 

Late in January when Cat Lo naval base came under fire from Long Son Island, Operation Black Cat went into effect for the defence of military areas and merchant shipping. Viet Cong infiltrators were discovered to be in Vung Tau, including the airstrip, and in the Cat Lo base area.

 

The Vietnamese Special Forces Group at Xa Long Hai requested the assistance of the team to demolish old French and Japanese tunnels and cave complexes in their base area. These demolitions afforded a good opportunity for the destruction of several tons of stockpiled unsafe heavy ammunition. In late March, a similar task was performed when two former French coastal batteries were collapsed to prevent their use by the Viet Cong.

 

On February 10, Lieutenant Burns and Able Seaman D. C. Trompp joined USS Lipar (ATF 85) on a search in the Gulf of Thailand for a crashed US Navy Orion aircraft. It was intended that the team should make safe any ordnance found, but in spite of an intensive search by two US Navy vessels in rough weather, the aircraft could not be located.

 

3RD CONTINGENT

 

On February 12, 1968, the sailors of the relief team arrived in Vung Tau with Lieutenant W. D. H. Lees joining on the 26th. The Second Contingent returned to Australia in early March.

 

Trawler intercepted

 

On February 29, Lieutenant Lees and two divers sailed in USCGC Point Grace to intercept an unidentified trawler attempting to land munitions at the mouth of the Song Bo De, southern An Xuyen province. Market Time surveillance aircraft had detected the trawler the day before, and as it crossed into Vietnamese waters riding low in the water with a large deck cargo, it was tracked by US Coast Guard cutter. The trawler was thought to be fitted with self-destruction charges and it was intended that the CDT3 team would defuse these when the vessel was captured. However, on being intercepted in the early hours of March 1 and ordered to stop, the trawler replied to the challenge with machine gun fire and sped towards the beach. The intercepting cutter, USCGC Winona, opened fire, hitting the trawler with her third 5-inch round. The trawler blew up leaving no survivors and only a small amount of debris.

 

This ship was one of three trawlers intercepted and destroyed that night. A fourth trawler turned back before entering Vietnamese territorial waters.

 

Operation Corral, introduced in early March as part of Stabledoor, required all junks and sampans on the Vung Tau peninsula to be searched on the same day. On March 7, 147 vessels were searched—no weapons or munitions were found, but five unidentified persons were detained. The operation was repeated on March 21.

 

On March 15, Petty Officer W. H. Ellery and four US Navy personnel took part in a thirty-six-hour-long reconnaissance patrol in an area on Long Son Island known to be booby-trapped. One Viet Cong was killed.

 

CDT3 was fully occupied on April 3 and 4 assisting in the salvage of a Mohawk reconnaissance aircraft which had crashed into Vung Tau harbour on March 29. Harbour patrol craft and the divers carried out an extensive surface and underwater 
search without success until the pilot’s body floated to the surface on April 3, disclosing the position of the crashed aircraft. A light aircraft of the US Army Tactical Reconnaissance Wing crashed on take-off at the Vung Tau military airfield on April 18. CDT3 members recovered eight 2.75 inch rockets which were removed to a safe area and destroyed.

 

A Viet Cong attack on Vung Tau from Long Son Island on April 23, kept the team busy for three days collecting rocket fragments, motor casings and unexploded 75 mm recoilless rifle rounds.

 

On May 11, members of the team checked a stranded barge on mudflats in Vung Tau harbour and found a waterproofed package hidden in an air space. After Lieutenant Lees had cleared all personnel from the area, he cut the package open to find two M26 grenades in a safe condition. The bilges of the barge were then searched but no further ordnance was found.

 

Aircraft salvaged

 

The Market Time patrol craft PCF 71 took the team to a position 180 miles south west ofVung Tau in southern An Xuyen province on May 24 to recover bodies and radio equipment from a US Air Force Cl23 Provider aircraft. While on a defoliant mission, this aircraft had crashed in four feet of water less than a mile from enemy-controlled territory. The fuselage was crushed and half buried in mud with the cockpit covered. In four and a half hours of diving, the team recovered the emergency radio equipment and codebooks. Because the recovery of bodies and further equipment was not possible, the aircraft was blown up in position on the evening of the 26th.

 

A UH-ID helicopter of the US Army 126th Assault Helicopter Company crashed on June 6, while landing at the Vung Tau military airfield. The damaged rockets and grenades still on board the aircraft were removed in just over an hour, transported to a safe site, and destroyed.

 

A fork-lift truck unloading an ammunition barge on June 15 accidentally put a hole in a 750 lb fire bomb. Napalm spilt over the barge and other firebombs and then flowed into the water. As one spark could have set off 150,000 lb of napalm, the fire danger was high. Petty Officer Ellery and Able Seaman J. R. Henry successfully salvaged all the napalm from the water as well as that which remained in the bomb casing, and as much as possible from the barge. The collected napalm was taken out to sea and burnt.
 

Lieutenant Lees donned an armoured vest on July 23 to remove a M79 grenade from a Chinook helicopter damaged by fire. The fire had caused the grenade to leave its cartridge and travel a short distance in the aircraft. Such a heat-damaged grenade is extremely dangerous to handle even if it has not travelled far enough to become fused. The grenade was removed to a safe area and detonated.

 

Rung Sat Operation

 

While assisting a Vietnamese regional force patrol to clear landing areas along canal banks in the Rung Sat special zone on the night of July 19, Lieutenant Lees and Petty Officer Ellery intercepted a Viet Cong platoon travelling to Vung Tau in nine sampans.

 

An ambush was set up and on being raked by fire from the patrol hidden in the jungle, the Viet Cong group replied with grenades and automatic weapon fire.

 

Twenty-five Viet Cong were killed in this short engagement which lasted only twenty minutes and two damaged sampans were found the next morning.

 

During early August, thirty tons of ammunition (the accumulation of three years) were destroyed by CDT3 at the 1st Australian Task Force Base, Nui Dat. Similar disposals were carried out for the US Army 148th Ordnance Company at Vung Tau, including two large truck loads on the 22nd.

 

4TH CONTINGENT

 

The relief team arrived in Vietnam on August 13, 1968 and Lieutenant Lees handed over to Lieutenant C. J. Littleton on the 28th. The outgoing team returned to Australia on September 3.

 

US Navy EOD

 

In late September, arrangements were made for a CDT3 diver to work with the US Navy EODMUPAC Team 40 in Da Nang, Quang Nam province, and in the Cua Viet near the DMZ. Leading Seaman D. N. Rhook was the first member to be attached to EODMUPAC 40. These attachments not only provided the US Navy teams with extra personnel for special operations, but also gave CDT3 members useful additional experience.

 

Further destruction of unsafe ordnance was carried out for the 1st Australian Task Force when three team members destroyed thirty-five tons at Nui Dat on October Diving activities in October included removing a bent pitometer log from the hull of MV Jeparit and removing a fishing net that had fouled the rudder and propeller of the merchant ship Belgium Victory. This last obstruction took one and a half hours to cut away. On the 15th, a landing craft of the US Army 5th Transportation Company which had been fired on by Viet Cong while proceeding down the Mekong from My Tho was searched for rocket fragments. One RPG-7 round had exploded in the master’s cabin while another had detonated in the cargo stowage. The team recovered parts of the rockets.

 

In late October, the divers assisted with the expansion of the US Navy Support Facility at Cat Lo by attaching explosive charges to steel wharf piles which were hindering new construction. This task, which varied for a short period the routine of EOD work, was more in keeping with the peacetime role of the divers.

 

The exchanges with US Navy EOD teams continued in November when divers were attached to EODMUPAC Team 39 at Mobile Riverine Group A, based at Dong Tam near My Tho.

 

In December, a strange request came from the US Army 36th Evacuation Hospital which asked for advice when a patient who had eaten C-4 explosive was admitted. CDT3 was able to inform the hospital of the chemical composition of the explosive and its possible effects on the human system.

 

On December 10, Coastal Group 33 based at Cat Lo asked for CDT3’s assistance in recovering bodies and weapons from an ambush site in the Rung Sat. A sampan containing arms, diaries, snorkels and webbing was recovered.

 

1969

 

By late January 1969, it was decided that most of the Stabledoor ship inspections were to be made at night as this was the most common time for swimmer/sapper attacks and these night inspections began on February 5.

 

On January 13, Chief Petty Officer B. W. Wilson and Able Seaman R. H. Spicer joined a Task Force 115 group in an operation to destroy bunker complexes on three miles of river banks in southern An Xuyen province. The demolition teams were landed after an hour of napalm air strikes and a reconnaissance by patrol craft and in their six hours ashore destroyed sixty-five bunkers, thirteen huts, a concrete revetment, and a grenade booby-trap. Four bursts of sniper fire did not cause any casualties.

 

A further Task Force 115 operation in southern An Xuyen in early February involved Petty Officer R. J. Cox and Leading Seaman Rhook. In the six-day operation which was designed to destroy bunkers, firing positions and other fortifications on river banks, sixty-three bunkers, sixty-four structures, twenty-five sampans, forty-two irrigation dykes for illegal rice paddies, and one bridge were destroyed, a large number of Viet Cong mines were captured and fifty-three Vietnamese were detained for questioning. The American adviser accompanying the group was killed, and several soldiers were wounded in action.

 

Two 2.75-inch rockets were salvaged from a crashed L19 observation aircraft and detonated at the Vung Tau airfield on February 17. The same day, a booby-trapped M26 grenade was removed from the 36th Evacuation Hospital and that evening two damaged 500 lb napalm bombs, one of which had been pierced by a fork-lift truck, were recovered in the sub-port area. The hole in the pierced bomb was plugged, and the two bombs together with napalm-contaminated earth were removed and burnt.

 

5TH CONTINGENT

 

With Lieutenant A. A. Davis in command, the members of the Fifth Contingent arrived on February 11, 1969 and assumed full responsibility for CDT3 operations on the 26th. One of the first tasks carried out by 5th Contingent divers was assisting the Australian Army, at the request of the commander of the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group, by removing and replacing the starboard propeller of the tank landing ship Clive Steele.

 

On March 13, Harbour Clearance Unit 1, based at Cat Lo, requested the team’s assistance in clearing a sunken tug of its explosives prior to salvage. The tug had foundered during a storm at the mouth of the Cua Soirap, on the western side of the Rung Sat, and though it had lain off a beach in a Viet Cong held area for ten days, Lieutenant Davis and Able Seaman M. Ey established that it had not been booby-trapped and it was later raised.

 

Log barricades

 

On March 25, CDT3 was requested by Coastal Group 33 to clear a large log barricade which was preventing the passage of patrol boats in a channel in the Mekong Delta. Chief Petty Officer A. V. Rashleigh and Able Seaman A. J. Sherlock went to the area with an officer and two men of Harbour Clearance Unit 1. The barrier, 100 feet wide and fifteen feet deep, was found to be constructed of nipa palm logs bound together with wire, without any hidden explosive devices. While accompanying troops kept up suppressive fire on the banks of the canal, two hundred feet of hose charge was placed in position and the barricade blown up.

 

More log barriers were cleared from the Rach Bai, Kien Hoa province, by Petty Officer J. Brumley and Able Seaman J. Garrett in early May, and on June 23 Able Seaman Garrett and Aviation Ordnanceman Scott (a US Navy sailor from EOD-MUPAC Team 33 in Saigon) spent eight hours at sea in order to reach the scene of a riverine force operation in Long Phu district, Ba Xuyen province, which had come to a temporary halt as log barricades were blocking a canal. The divers blew up seven of the barriers and the operation resumed.

 

Viet Cong ambushes

 

On two occasions during the Fifth Contingent’s tour Chief Petty Officer Rashleigh and Able Seaman Sherlock recovered enemy bodies after successful VNN ambushes. Late in March with a US Navy sailor attached to CDT3, they recovered a body, weapons and documents near Vung Tau after Vietnamese sailors had ambushed a sampan carrying four Viet Cong.

 

Accompanied by Lieutenant Davis, the two CDT3 sailors were again to be called in to recover bodies and equipment on June 24 when five Viet Cong in a sampan were ambushed by the local VNN Junk Force north of Long Son Island. One dead Vietnamese was brought to the surface along with a Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifle and grenade, some other ammunition and a case full of documents.

 

The night of April 21 saw the major task for the month when Lieutenant Davis and Able Seaman Garrett spent seven hours removing a suspected mine jammed between the propeller and propeller-guard of the Philippines tug Parkin. The ‘mine’ was found to consist of two 4.2-inch mortar projectiles, one of which was still in its cardboard carton. To remove it they cut through the jammed projectiles close to the propeller tip.

 

Swimmer/sapper attack

 

At 0130 on May 23, a call for assistance was received from the Vung Tau port security officer as enemy swimmer/sappers had penetrated into the sub-port area and were attempting to fix demolition charges to the De Long pier and the ships berthed alongside it. With Lieutenant Davis absent from the area, and Petty Officer Brumley and Able Seaman Sherlock employed on ship searches in the outer anchorage, only three of the team, Chief Petty Officer Rashleigh and Able Seamen Garrett and Ey, were available to counter the Viet Cong swimmers.

 

When Chief Petty Officer Rashleigh and Able Seaman Garrett arrived at the sub-port area, they found that one swimmer had been captured and that an unidentified object had been observed in the water on the inboard side of MV Heredia, which was berthed alongside the pier. Realising that the object was likely to be an explosive charge, Chief Petty Officer Rashleigh ordered the pier to be cleared of all non-EOD personnel, while Able Seaman Garrett, knowing that a second enemy swimmer was lurking under the pier in the darkness, entered the water to investigate and defuse the suspected mine. He found the object suspended alongside the Heredia by a wire secured to the underside of the pier and as it was sealed, he could not examine it in position. The Heredia’s master was advised to move his ship away from the pier.

 

Petty Officer Brumley and Able Seaman Sherlock had been recalled by this time and joined  Able Seaman Garrett in searching for other explosive devices while preparations were being made to move the Heredia. However, it did not prove necessary to move the ship, as the hanging object partially exploded, confirming that it had been a Viet Cong ‘home-made’ mine, and thus demonstrating the defects of its amateur construction. It was estimated to have contained sixty lb of explosive. Had all the explosive detonated, the Heredia would have been seriously holed.

 

After the explosion, a search for further charges revealed a Russian PM-2 limpet mine attached to a metal fender alongside the pier. This was removed by remote control, but on examination it was found to be unarmed as the enemy swimmers had been disturbed at an early stage of their mining attempts. The second enemy swimmer, captured after several hours of searching, admitted that a second Russian limpet mine was in the area. This mine could not be located in the sub-port, but four days later was found washed up on a beach five miles away with a buoyancy bag attached, and in an unarmed state.

 

After this episode—the high point of the fifth contingent’s term in Vietnam—the months of June and July were something of an anti-climax, as with a combination of bad weather and a general lull in the fighting throughout South Vietnam, the team experienced the quietest period of its tour.

 

6TH CONTINGENT

 

Commanded by Lieutenant A. Donald, the Sixth Contingent left Australia for Vietnam on August 12, 1969.

 

The new contingent’s first operation required a return to Kien Hoa province, to the Thanh Phu district, when on August 26 Lieutenant Donald, Petty Officer B. J. Bailey, Leading Seaman B. J. Bullock and Able Seaman R. A. Barclay accompanied a force of fifty Vietnamese troops and their US advisers to destroy bunkers on the banks of the Rach So Loi and the Rach Bang Cung. The divers took their first Viet Cong prisoners in this operation.

 

Tra Vinh Mine

 

Left - American Chief Warrant Officer with VC Mines found in the Long Tau River Channel in Saigon.

 

On September 23, Petty Officer Bailey and Leading Seaman Bullock disposed of a Viet Cong water mine near Tra Vinh in Vinh Binh province. As the mine had been recovered three weeks before the CDT3 personnel examined it and had been exposed to extremes of temperatures, it was decided not to shift it from the village street but to dismantle it on the spot.
 

Petty Officer Bailey cut through the outer casing, to find that the conical ends were empty buoyancy chambers and that the main charge was in a canister clamped inside the outer casing. When the detonator was removed, the bulk charge was taken to a safe area to be exploded. It left a crater ten feet deep and twenty-five feet across.

 

Barricaded canals

 

On September 29, Lieutenant Donald, Petty Officer J. Thompson, Able Seaman Barclay and Able Seaman J. C. Pocklington with four members of the Saigon-based EODMUPAC Team 33 cleared a very large log barrier at the mouth of a canal running off the Song Co Chien, Kien Hoa province. This operation was typical in that one patrol craft carried an ambush team while another conveyed the EOD personnel. Overhead an armed helicopter provided air cover. The two patrol craft fired on the area for twenty minutes with white phosphorus and proximity-fused shell before the ambush team went into the canal to set up defensive positions. While this was being done, Lieutenant Donald and Petty Officer Thompson fired a charge underwater to set off any hidden mines. There were no secondary explosions. The second patrol craft came up into the canal and directed 50-calibre fire into the scrub to discourage Viet Cong interruption of the demolitions.

 

When the divers entered the water of the forty foot-wide canal, they found that not only were there about 140 vertical logs, but that about another 150 were pushed in among these at varying angles, making a very tangled raft-like barrier thirty feet square. Hose charge was laid out across the barrier and detonated. After the debris had settled, the remaining vertical stakes were removed and the canal was swept with a chain. There was no enemy activity on this occasion, although Viet Cong ambushes had earlier been common in the area.

 

The divers engaged in another major canal reconnaisance in October to locate bunkers from which enemy fire was directed at passing patrol craft.

 

Two US Coast Guard cutters sealed off the ends of the canal which was inside the mouth of the Song My Thanh in the north eastern tip of Bac Lieu province while the reconnaissance party proceeded up the canal in two armed ‘skimmers’ (twenty-one-foot-long fibreglass vessels with twin forty-hp outboard motors armed with a forward M60 machine-gun and crewed by a driver and two gunners). Overhead, two OVIO Bronco aircraft gave air cover to the operation as the skimmers swept along the canal observing and recording the position of bunkers and searching sampans.

 

Every so often the progress of the armed probe was halted when the propellers of a skimmer fouled on canal weed. The skimmer would usually reverse to clear the weed, but if this manoeuvre did not work the engines had to be raised and the weed pulled off the screw by the driver, while the other two crew members sat motionless searching the canal banks for signs of Viet Cong activity. Only once in this foray were the skimmers fired at, and in the return of fire at least one Viet Cong was killed.

 

CDT3 divers carried out four major demolition operations in November destroying bunkers, huts and tunnels on Dung Island in the Song Hau Giang and in Ke Sach on the southern bank of the river north west of Dung Island.

 

Aircraft salvage

 

The fifth operation for November was the salvage of part of an OV1C Mohawk aircraft which had crashed in seven feet of water near Ba Dong on the coast of Vinh Binh province on the 16th. Lieutenant Donald, Petty Officer Thompson,

 

Leading Seaman Bullock and Able Seaman Pock-lington were taken to the vicinity of the aircraft by US Coast Guard cutter, and because the water was too shallow for the cutter to get closer than one and a half miles, the team was then transferred to the site by a light observation helicopter which lowered the divers and their explosives into the water near the wreck.

 

The aircraft’s engines were recovered and lifted clear, but deteriorating weather accompanied by a heavy swell made further salvage out of the question, and also made it too difficult to fix explosive charges to the wreck. The wreckage was finally destroyed by charges which were lowered into its cockpit and fuselage by the helicopter.

 

The year finished with an attempt at salvaging ordnance from an OVIO Bronco aircraft which had gone down in the Rung Sat while on a low-level reconnaissance mission. On December 21, Lieutenant Donald, Petty Officer Bailey and Able Seaman Barclay were taken to the area by helicopter with thirty Vietnamese marines who were deployed around the site for the team’s protection. The divers had to jump into thigh-deep mud as the helicopter could not land in the mangrove swamp. Then followed a 200-yard slog through the mud to the wrecked aircraft which was deeply embedded with the cockpit about eight feet under the surface. As the wreckage had burnt out there was no ordnance left to recover but an attempt was made to check the cockpit for the bodies of the crew. This was unsuccessful as the mud choked the pump which the divers had brought and was too thick to be cleared away with buckets. A Chinook helicopter winched up the men, diving gear and pumps at the conclusion of the operation. On two further occasions the site was searched for the bodies of the crew but without success. They were subsequently recovered by a fully-equipped US Navy salvage team.

 

1970

 

While Stabledoor and routine EOD and diving tasks continued, demolition operations away from Vung Tau were time-consuming tasks for the sixth contingent. There were eight of these operations in January, all in an area around Phu Cuong, north of Saigon; all resulting in the destruction of bunkers, tunnels, trenches and observation posts and the capture of enemy weapons, sampans, ammunition, food and clothing. The force carrying out these operations was made up of two patrol craft, ten Vietnamese Regional Force soldiers and seven EOD personnel (three US Navy, two CDT3 and two VNN). Petty Officer Thompson and Able Seaman Barclay were the RAN members.

 

Further search and destroy operations were undertaken in February with Coastal Group 33. Three operations in the Phu Cuong area from the 2nd to the 11th resulted in three bunkers and a quantity of ordnance being destroyed with at least three Viet Cong killed.

 

On February 15, the divers returned to Dung Island to demolish barricades in a canal. Two barricades about thirty feet long by ten feet wide were blown up with hose charge, allowing the supporting patrol craft to travel further up the canal to the largest barricade which, 230 feet long and sixteen feet deep, was constructed of 200 eight- to ten-inch diameter vertical logs interlaced with smaller logs. Hose charge again gave a spectacular demolition. Twenty bunkers were destroyed along the banks of a canal in the same area the next day.

 

This contingent’s final search and destroy operation on March 23 was an insertion in two patrol craft to a canal west of Ap Hoa Bin, on the Song Cua Tieu, in eastern Go Cong province. Guarded by local troops, the team entered a heavily booby-trapped area destroying two bunkers and other structures and then moved further along the canal to explode twelve more bunkers.
 

The team’s last salvage operation was the recovery of the pilot’s body, ejection seat and wing j cannons from an A1 Sky Raider aircraft which had crashed into a river near Thanh Phu, Kien Hoa province and which was lying in twenty-six feet of water.

 

7TH CONTINGENT

 

On March 31, 1970, Lieutenant R. S. Blue assumed command of CDT3 after the Seventh Contingent had relieved its predecessor.

 

The major task awaiting the new team was the sorting and disposal of a large quantity of unserviceable and over-age ammunition which was stored in various localities in the Vung Tau area. This had come to light as the American withdrawal progressed. Some of the ordnance was destroyed, but the rest, including grenades (American and enemy), mortars, mines, rockets, Claymore mines, detonators and small arms ammunition was retained.

 

In April, CDT3 members recovered weapons. ] ammunition and personal equipment from an Australian Army assault boat which had sunk in the Song Co May, between Vung Tau and Baria on March 13.

 

Also in April, Lieutenant Blue and Chief Petts Officer J. F. Dollar ran a two-day training seminar for members of the Go Cong provincial forces and popular forces in which eighteen officers and men were taught how to make fuses and small charges, were instructed in bunker demolition, and were shown how to recognise booby-traps.

 

Search and destroy operations continued with two team members twice joining a VNN EOD I team and its US adviser on a sweep through river I and canal banks north of Phu Cuong. On May 13. I a tunnel and bunkers were destroyed and two I Vietnamese civilians were detained for questioning. I

 

Dong Ha clearance

 

A special EOD unit had been formed from US I Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and RAN I personnel in March 1970 to clear ordnance from the I Dong Ha logistic base located in I Corps abou: I fifteen miles south of the DMZ in Quang Tr. I province. In June 1968, a successful enemy attack I had destroyed the ammunition supply dump in the I base and though various attempts had been made to I clear the area of ordnance, these had been aban- I doned and the area was sealed off.

 

As the joint unit could provide only abou: I twelve men at any one time to work in the area I progress was necessarily slow. From March 24 until May 7, ninety acres were cleared with 1025 tons of ordnance being destroyed and ammunition worth US $1,587,000 salvaged. The large amount of damaged ammunition made the task similar to the clearing of an anti-personnel minefield. Dong Ha was considered by EOD experts to be the most hazardous area to have been cleared in Vietnam. During the clearance operations the team wore steel helmets and flak jackets in temperatures which reached more than 105°F during the day. Their task was not helped by sporadic sniping from Vietnamese soldiers in the base which sometimes caused clearing operations to be halted and the area temporarily evacuated.

 

Nha Be operation

 

Between May 20 and 22, Petty Officer J. W. Kershler participated in a raid into a Viet Cong occupied area in the Rung Sat near Nha Be. The regional force troops accompanying the EOD team located a Viet Cong base camp and in an exchange ot fire killed six Viet Cong. The EOD team bivouacked for the night while the camp was attacked with air strikes. The next day, captured weapons and food caches were removed from bunkers in the camp and the bunkers themselves were blown up.

 

On June 15, Able Seaman G. Kingston accompanied two U S Navy EOD personnel and five salvage divers from Harbour Clearance Unit 1 to examine a sunken assault craft at Thoi Binh on the border of the U Minh in An Xuyen province. It was checked for ordnance and booby-traps and was then demolished.

 

Able Seaman Wojcik

 

Able Seaman B. K. Wojcik, on loan to EOD-MUPAC Team 32 in Cam Ranh Bay, was killed in a motor vehicle accident on June 22. Leading Seaman J. A. Aldenhoven replaced him in CDT3 on July 9.

 

Explosive package

 

A successful anti-swimmer operation was carried out in the early hours of June 28 when the USS Meeker County (LST 980) berthed at the De Long pier reported sighting a nylon line tied to the pier and a swimmer near the ship. CDT3 divers immediately went to the ship and Petty Officer Kershler located a black plastic package slung on the nylon line between the pier and the ship’s port rudder post. To keep the suspected charge clear of the bottom, a patrol boat took one end of the rope while Petty Officer Kershler cut the supporting line. The patrol boat crew handed the rope to Lieutenant Blue in a ‘skimmer’ who towed the package 1000 yards away, leaving it marked with a buoy. While this tow was in progress, Able Seaman Kingston recovered a snorkel at the ship. It was intended to leave the package on a mud bank for twelve hours before examining it, but it exploded four hours later causing no damage. The enemy swimmer was not captured.

 

From June 29 to July 1, a large area on top of ‘VC Hill’ above the CDT3 base was cleared of seventy-four Claymore mines for the US Army 369th Signal Battalion which operated a communications station on the hilltop.

 

Vung Tau Ordnance

 


Picture Left: Harbour Control Tower VC Hill Vung Tau
 

 

July 13 and 14 were taken up with the clearing of the US Navy ordnance facility at Vung Tau. A large area was filled with damaged rocket pods, loose small arms ammunition, pyrotechnics, and ammunition spilling out of broken pallets with much of the material covered by drifting sand. From this, 30,000 lb of damaged ordnance was taken by landing craft to a beach on Long Son Island and detonated when the accompanying infantry patrol had made the area secure as a well-placed Viet Cong mortar could have shelled the group while the ammunition was being unloaded and stacked.

 

A ‘torpedo’ reported by a VNN junk to be lying opposite Binh Dinh village near Vung Tau was found to be a 500 lb bomb. On July 16, an Iroquois helicopter from 9 Squadron RAAF winched CDT3 personnel onto the site and the bomb was taken out in a cargo net to Long Son Island where it was destroyed on the shore.

 

CDT3 members participated in two search and destroy missions in July. On the 9th, three divers joined Coastal Group 33 in a landing near Thoi Thuan in Kien Hoa province where they cleared booby traps and destroyed a bunker complex inland from the beach. Warm food and burning fires indicated recent Viet Cong occupancy, but there was no contact with the enemy.

 

Ba Xugen sweep

 

The US Coast Guard cutters Point Cypress (WPB 82326) and Point Morone (WPB 82331) landed two regional force companies, their American advisers, and three divers some distance up the Song My Thanh, Ba Xuyen province, on July 26. In three hours, the force swept 3000 yards along the northern bank of the Song My Thanh, destroying twenty-four large bunkers, one large structure and two sampans.

 

The team stayed overnight at the Coastal Group 36 base opposite the south-eastern side of Dung Island and on the 27th, accompanied by five SEALS (US Navy commandos) and Coastal Group 36 advisers, the divers destroyed log barricades in a canal on the island.

 

On August 12, enemy sappers laid a charge near the tug Michael at the De Long pier. Though internal damage to the ship was extensive, the hull was not pierced. CDT3 members called to the scene found some nylon line and a crater in the harbour bed.