8 Platoon C Company 3 RAR contact 20 March 1971, Phouc Tuy Province, Vietnam [actuality recording]

Accession Number AWM2018.458.1
Collection type Sound
Measurement 46 min 43 sec
Object type Actuality recording
Physical description compact disc (CD)
Maker Lee, Gordon
Place made Vietnam: South Vietnam, Phuoc Tuy Province
Date made 20 March 1971
Access Open
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975

Item copyright: Unlicensed copyright

Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

Description from notes by CO 3RAR Colonel Peter Scott DSO:

46 minute extract of operations during the afternoon of 20 March 1971 when a half platoon of 8 platoon became engaged with elements of D445 VC [Viet Cong] Battalion in a bunker system.

The recording was made by then Corporal Gordon Lee, a member of the Signals Platoon. He used cassette tapes to record radio transmissions in the Battalion command post and subsequently transferred them to a CD.

The radio traffic includes the voices of then Lt Col Peter Scott, CO 3RAR (call/sign 9) flying in a Bell helicopter over the contact area and pilots of helicopter gunships Bushranger 71 and 72, a DUSTOFF helicopter, tanks and APCs.

The conversations in the air are quite clear but the replies from the ground troops are not; so it is really a one-way record of what was happening during those 46 minutes.

This encounter with the enemy began at 1342 hours on 20 March when half of 8 Platoon C Company (call/sign 32) met elements of D445 Battalion in bunkers norther east of Xuyen Moc. The patrol lead by 2nd Lieutenant David Paterson was moving in single file along an APC track in a southerly direction when sounds of chopping and digging was heard. Paterson told everyone to drop his pack and spread out into open formation along the track and then ordered a M79 and a rifle grenade fired. The patrol then proceeded to sweep in the direction of the noise. The enemy, although surprised, resisted strongly the Australian presence and opened fire with AK47s, RPG 2s and a satchel charge.

David Paterson, Privates Alan Gould and Martin Macanas the M60 machine gunner were all wounded in the ensuing fire fight, Paterson fatally. The enemy fire forced the patrol to withdraw leaving two of the wounded where they fell. Paterson while still conscious ordered the patrol to withdraw and leave him where he was.

Cpl Peter Manoel, a two-tour veteran with 3RAR, assumed commanded and immediately requested Bushranger support. These gunships, designated Bushranger 71 (FO David Freeman and co-pilot PO Ron Betts) and Bushranger 72 (Flt Lt Norm Goodall and co-pilot PO Phil Smith) arrived at about 1412 hours and requested the patrol (call/sign 32) throw smoke to indicate their position. Unfortunately the two wounded, Paterson and Macanas, were about 30 metres away towards the enemy position which made it almost impossible for the gunships to engage the enemy without a clear indication of where everyone was. Because the patrol carried only one smoke grenade and had already used it, the remainder being in the packs dropped before the firefight began, a few minutes later Bushranger 71 made a low pass to drop some smoke grenades and received about 20 rounds of enemy fire during which co-pilot Ron Betts was mortally wounded.

I adopted a policy immediately a contact occurred to utilise the direct support helicopter (a Bell 47G-3B1 Sioux) and fly over to the contact area to better understand the situation. On this occasion I had to wait for a second helicopter to arrive for my use as I had previously allowed the BC to use the one allocated to the battalion that day.
When it arrived I immediately flew to the area of the action and attempted to drop a bag of smoke grenades to the patrol. Although I was able to maintain radio contact with Cpl Peter Manoel I was very reluctant to “hover” over his exact position to avoid indicating their position to the enemy and also presenting an easy target for the enemy and suffer the same fate as Bushranger 71 earlier. Unfortunately Manoel had little success in retrieving these grenades because of the heavy and thick undergrowth and intense enemy fire. I returned to FSB BETH to obtain more grenades a few more times and returned to drop more grenades to the patrol without success.

In the meantime I had ordered the remainder of C Company, a troop of tanks with a section of battalion mortars in AMCs and the Assault Pioneer Platoon in a section of APCs to concentrate on 8 Platoon ASP. I ended up guiding the tanks and the BC the APCs to the contact area as well as effectively taking command of the operation.

Very difficult to say exactly what times the conversations on the tape took place as many are not recorded in the 3RAR Ops Log of that afternoon, but generally it can be determined after the orders were given for the tanks, APCs with the Assault Pioneer Platoon and the remainder of C Coy to concentrate on the patrol in contact and before DUSTOFF actually evacuated the casualties at 1748hrs. So probably the recording is between 1700 and 1748hours.

The following call signs can be identified throughout the recording:
CO 3RAR (call/sign 9)
7 Platoon (c/s 31)
Half 8 Platoon in contact (c/s 32)
Half 8 Platoon not in contact (c/s 32A)
Bushranger 71
Bushranger 72
Assault Pioneer platoon (c/s 62)
APCs of 1 Troop (c/s TA1)
4 Troop C Squadron (tanks) (c/s T4)
DUSTOFF (c/s 29)

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