RAN Detachment 9 Squadron RAAF


The RAN Detachment of 9 Squadron RAAF comprised eight Fleet Air Arm-pilots who were sent to 9 Squadron at intervals from February to May 1968. The pilots were first posted to 5 Squadron RAAF at Fairbairn, Australian Capital Territory, for three months operational training on Iroquois helicopters before joining 9 Squadron at Vung Tau.


Lieutenant A. A. Hill, the first of the RAN pilots, joined 9 Squadron in February. He was followed a month later by Sub-Lieutenants G. E. S. Vidal and M. J. Ward. The remaining pilots joined in May, with Lieutenant Commander R. A. Waddell-Wood becoming officer-in-charge of the detachment.


9 Squadron

It was particularly appropriate that 9 Squadron should have acquired an RAN Detachment, as the Squadron itself began as No. 101 (Fleet Cooperation) Flight in July 1925 which was formed to provide aircraft for naval reconnaissance and survey.


In November 1928, equipped with six Supermarine Seagull seaplanes, the Flight embarked in the seaplane carrier, HMAS Albatross. In the 1930s, the Flight operated improved versions of the Seagull from RAN cruisers.


In World War II, 9 Squadron (given its present title in 1939) operated Vickers Walrus amphibians from a number of RAN ships. Detachments also served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. 9 Squadron was disbanded in December 1944.


Re-established in 1962, 9 Squadron was equipped with Iroquois UHIB utility helicopters, and given the dual role of search and rescue and close support for the Army. It was sent to Vietnam in June 1966.


The RAN pilots joined 9 Squadron at a time when it was replacing its eight UHIB Iroquois with the more powerful and larger UHIH model and increasing its strength from eight to sixteen aircraft. In addition to the RAN detachment, thirteen pilots were supplied by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.


9 Squadron operations


Typical Nui Dat Accomodation


9 Squadron was required to operate in direct support of the 1st Australian Task Force based at Nui Dat, an abandoned rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, the administrative centre of Phuoc Tuy province, and nearly twenty miles from Vung Tau. From Nui Dat, task force operations ranged throughout Phuoc Tuy.


With almost all task force operations air-mobile in concept, the first major role of 9 Squadron was to provide a troop-lift capacity for the Army. In this role it was assisted by US Army helicopter companies, including the 135th (the EMUs) from November 1967 until late in 1968.


The Squadron’s second major task was resupplying troops in the field with food, ammunition, clean clothing and stores.


An equally important role was aerial fire support, and to give 9 Squadron a greater capacity for direct support of Army ground operations, a specially-modified UHIH was introduced early in 1969. The ‘Bushranger’ helicopter was a UHIH equipped with a modified XM-21 armament sub-system of two rocket pods, each holding seven 2.75 rockets; two miniguns, each capable of firing 4,800 rounds per minute; and two M60 machine guns, handled by door-gunners. This armament sub-system could be removed in three hours to convert the Bushranger gunship to a troopcarrying slick if additional troop lift capacity was required for an operation.


The Bushrangers, operating as a light fire team of two helicopters, escorted slicks in combat assaults, provided suppressive fire on enemy bunkers and protected MEDEVAC aircraft. They also supported slicks which inserted and extracted Army Special Air Service patrols in enemy-occupied jungle areas. The extraction of SAS patrols, especially ‘hot extractions’ when the patrols were in contact with the Viet Cong, was a particularly dangerous operation for 9 Squadron aircraft which were required to land and take-off in small clearings, or hover over jungle within range of hostile fire while taking on board the SAS members.


A high degree of flying skill was also called for in missions flown in support of troops operating in the Long Hai hills, five miles north-west of’Vung Tau, where the Viet Cong were entrenched in a complex of caves and bunkers. Here changeable air currents, few and small landing pads in the narrow valleys, and the everpresent danger of hostile small arms fire combined to place the pilots in constant jeopardy.


Iroquois helicopters of 9 Squadron RAAF flew missions in support of Australian Army units Ammunition, food and supplies were moved to forward positions in constant dawn-to-dusk operations.


9 Squadron also carried out a round-the-clock stand to for medical evacuation of wounded soldiers, who were taken to the nearest field hospital.


9 Squadron remained operational in Vietnam until November 1971. Sub Lieutenant J. R. Brown, who was the last RAN pilot to leave the Squadron, had departed in May 1969. 9 Squadron’s last helicopters were returned to Australia on board HMAS Sydney in December 1971..


LCDR R. Waddel-Wood OIC RAN Det 9 Sdn RAAF