|Decorations||4 DSO; 2 MBE; 26 DFC; 1 CGM; 1 GM; 9 DFM; 3 BEM; 34 MID; 1 foreign award|
No. 9 Squadron RAAF
On 6 June 1966 eight Iroquois helicopters from 9 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), landed at the Vung Tau airbase, Vietnam. The Bell UH-1B Iroquois or "Huey" is almost synonymous with the Vietnam War and for the next five and a half years 9 Squadron's Hueys supported the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF).
9 Squadron had performed maritime operations during the Second World War. In 1962 the squadron was reformed and was based at Fairbairn air base, outside Canberra. 9 Squadron was one of the RAAF's two helicopter squadrons. The other, 5 Squadron, had been serving in Malaysia since 1964, as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve at Butterworth. When it was announced in March 1966 that a helicopter squadron would be sent to Vietnam, it was assumed a separate flight would be created, as had happened with the Caribou's of RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam. However, it was later announced that 9 Squadron would go to Vietnam as a whole unit and 5 Squadron would return to Australia. A period of reorganisation at Fairbairn followed.
On 12 April 9 Squadron was renumbered 5 Squadron, while the existing 5 Squadron became 5 Squadron Detachment C, until it was disbanded on 29 April; the 9 Squadron detachments at Williamtown, NSW, and Darwin also became detachments of 5 Squadron. Then, not having existed for even one day, 9 Squadron was reformed on 13 April with eight Iroquois from 5 Squadron. 5 and 9 Squadrons were closely associated for the rest of the war. 5 Squadron's activities supported 9 Squadron, as personnel trained in Australia with 5 Squadron before serving in Vietnam with 9 Squadron. 9 Squadron left Australia by ship and air; the helicopters and crews were transported to Vietnam aboard the HMAS Sydney, while the other personnel were flown aboard a Qantas charter flight.
Based at Vung Tau, the squadron's role was to support 1ATF by transporting troops and resupplying units in the field with ammunition, water, and food. When the road from Vung Tau to 1ATF base at Nui Dat was cut or threatened by the Viet Cong (VC), the squadron worked with 35 Squadron in resupplying the base.
The squadron carried out a number of different types of missions: inserting and extracting Special Air Service patrols, evacuating wounded troops, spraying herbicides and pesticides, dropping leaflets, and flying "olfactory reconnaissance" or "people sniffer" missions. The squadron supported every major operation conducted by the Australians, eventually flying 237,424 missions. Between July 1967 and November 1971 16 officers from the Royal New Zealand Air Force served in the squadron.
9 Squadron achieved a high reputation and worked closely with the army. However in the first few months of its deployment there was some tension between the squadron and the army due to the air force not meeting the army's expectations. The squadron's helicopters did not have armour and crews were not issued with flak jackets (which had to be "scrounged" from the Americans). Relations improved after the Battle of Long Tan in August, when two of the squadron's helicopters flew through heavy rain at treetop height to deliver ammunition to the Australian troops.
In 1968 the squadron's size was increased to 16 Iroquois helicopters. Four of the squadron's Iroquois were subsequently modified into gunships, which carried twin-fixed forward-firing 7.62-millimetre mini-guns and two seven-tube 2.75 inch rocket launchers, in addition to the two door-mounted M60 machine-guns. These "Bushranger" gunship were able to cover troop-carrying helicopters approaching "hot" landing zones and provide fire support.
9 Squadron flew its last mission in Vietnam on 19 November 1971. In December the squadron's 16 Iroquois took off from Vung Tau for the last time and landed on the deck of the Sydney for the return trip back to Australia.