2nd Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment

Between 1966 and 1971 each of three “sabre” squadrons of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) completed two tours of Vietnam. The SAS was based at Nui Dat where they acted as the “eyes and the ears” of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) and operated throughout Phuoc Tuy province as well as in Bien Hoa, Long Khanh, and Binh Tuy provinces. The SAS personnel were highly trained and their role in Vietnam varied from conducting reconnaissance patrols and observing enemy movement to offensive operations deep in enemy territory. The SAS had the highest “kill” ratio of any Australian unit in Vietnam. The Australian SAS operated closely with the New Zealand SAS and New Zealand SAS soldiers were attached to each Australian squadron.

2 Squadron arrived in Vietnam in February 1968 to replace 1 Squadron. It conducted its first patrol on 5 March and by the end of month had completed 29 patrols. Up until that time the SAS had primarily concentrated on carrying out reconnaissance and surveillance patrols. However, 1ATF commander Brigadier R.L. “Ron” Hughes wanted to use the SAS to harass VC bases and attack their supply lines and the SAS undertook more offensive operations.

In April the squadron began conducting “rece-ambushes”, where patrols carried out reconnaissance of an area for several days and set ambushes on possible tracks. These patrols were different to earlier patrols, when a patrol would either conduct reconnaissance or set ambushes - not a combination of the two.

In May SAS operations were limited to Phuoc Tuy province, as the helicopters that normally supported their missions were being used to establish Fire Support Base Coral in Bien Hoa province. Heavy fighting ensued and helicopters were in high demand. Whereas in April the squadron had conducted 32 patrols, it deployed only 12 the following month.

The pattern of patrolling resumed in June and July and the squadron performed a number of other tasks as well. This included providing a bodyguard for Prime Minister John Gorton when he visited Saigon, and instructors to train South Vietnamese soldiers from the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Wing at Van Kiep, in Baria. The SAS also had an exchange program with the US Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) teams operating in the Mekong Delta. The squadron’s most unusual task, however, was Operation Overboard, were they used fishing nets, supported across a river, to “catch” a sampan being used by the VC to resupply their forces.

In October Brigadier Cedric Pearson took over the Task Force but was not as enthusiastic about the SAS as Brigadier Hughes. The squadron’s role subsequently reverted to intelligence gathering and some ambush patrols. In December the squadron supported the infantry during Operation Stellar Bright and again during Operation Goodwood in mid-January 1969. The squadron completed its first tour the following month and returned to Australia on 21 February 1969.

2 squadron began its second tour two years later, arriving at Nui Dat in February 1971 and deploying 23 patrols by March. All but one of these patrols were deployed to the province’s eastern sector, patrolling in an arc from the South China Sea to the Long Khanh border.

By now the enemy had, in the main, withdrawn from Phuoc Tuy province and was operating along its borders. In May 1ATF moved its operations into Long Khanh province and the SAS also operated across the border, patrolling east and west of the Courtney rubber plantation. These patrols quickly produced results through ambushing VC, capturing documents, finding enemy trails, and even attacking a bunker system. In July information gathered by the SAS helped form the basis for Operation Iron Fox, a large “hammer and anvil” operation conducted by 3RAR and 4RAR/NZ.

In August the Australian government announced that 1ATF would be withdrawn from Vietnam before Christmas. The last SAS patrol in Vietnam lasted for five days, from 1 to 5 October, but there was no contact with the enemy. During its ten months “in country”, 2 Squadron had conducted 100 reconnaissance and 67 fighting patrols. The advance party from the squadron left Vietnam on 7 October. The main body followed three days later, flying out of Nui Dat for Vung Tau and from there to Australia.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • First tour: 1 died, 12 wounded and injured
  • Second tour: 1 died, 2 wounded and injured

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Vietnam War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • First tour
    • 1 MC
    • 1 MM
    • 5 MID
  • Second tour
    • 1 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • AWM95/7/11/1: 26 February - 31 March 1968, Narrative, Duty Officer's log, Annexes unit diary
  • Horner, David Murray, SAS : phantoms of war : a history of the Australian Special Air Service, (Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2002)
  • Malone, Michael John, SAS : a pictorial history of the Australian Special Air Service 1957-1997, (Northbridge W.A.: Access Press, 1997)
  • McKay, Gary., Sleeping with your ears open : on patrol with the Australian SAS, (St Leonards, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 1999)