Story 48 - Op Burnham with 6RAR/NZ

By Garry Swalling, 104 Sig Sqn


I had joined 6RAR/NZ late August 1969 on detachment from 104 Sig Sqn.  By the time I got there they had just seting up of the Long Tan Cross and completed the ceremony.  Op Burnham was the first Operation after that.

The images in this story have water damaged, because I dropped my Canon Canonet 28 camera into my fighting pit, which had a foot of water in it at the time.

We loaded on choppers at Kangaroo Pad just down from the104 Sig Sqn wire front.

Preparing to load at Kangaroo Pad, Nui Dat

...and saw the scenery to kill for!

Heading for FSPB Diggers Rest   Heading for FSPB Diggers Rest

FSPB Diggers Rest

Busy first day at the Landing Zone (LZ) of course!

Arriving at FSPB Diggers Rest

Arriving at FSPB Diggers Rest

Arriving at FSPB Diggers Rest

On arriving, I dug a shell scrape and helped get the 1ATF Command Network Link working.

Late that day, I was moved to the spot where my pit was to be.  I was to share with the Support Company M60 machine gunner Peter Canney, but he hadn’t turned up, so I was still on my own when evening stand-to came around, with an unfinished pit.

I was on stand-to by myself till about 2300 hour, and I was relieved by two blokes, the best looking jokers I had ever seen, even though it was pitch-black.

The next morning, the wire went out.

On that second day, afternoon I think, a Chinook with an under slung load of mortar shells crashed just outside the wire, and of course it might have been shot down, so it was pretty tense.  The rest of the day, mortar shells were cooking off and exploding, so we were on stand-to and didn’t get much done for setup.  This was only my bloody second day on operations!!

I was told later, with no real confirmation that a dixie cup was found lodged under the controls, and while the rear rotors were letting the aircraft down, the front rotors were lifting until it basically stood on its backside and fell out of the sky.  Sadly five US Army serviceman were KIA in the Chinook crash.

104 Sig Sqn Story 48

Continued to work on my pit, then and I got moved again, because the wire was further out!  However my pit mate Peter had arrived late on day 2, so I had help with the new pit.  It was wet season, and water built up in the pit. As I said, I dropped my camera in it.

Digging in at FSPB Diggers Rest   Garry Swalling talking on K Phone back to the CP

Our new gun pit was on the wire, so we had land line back to the CP.  On 21st September, we were on stand-to all night, because of reports of a VC party close by.  All kinds of aircraft were flying over, and the mortars and artillery were just about constant.  I can still hear the BRRRRR of Spooky’s mini-gun. 

One of the aircraft at work over FSPB Diggers Rest

One of the Victor Company patrols (Kiwis) found a VC bunker on the 9 Sept, with this Facit CM2-16 mechanical calculator and I had a photo taken with it, because I did my apprenticeship on Facit typewriters, and some of the blokes in the workshop worked on this model!

Garry Swalling holding a Facit CM-2 Mechanical Calculator located in a bunker   Facit CM2-16 Mechanical Calculator

There were a fair number of contacts by the field companies, and we were kept busy.

I knew a bloke in 101 Field Battery, and they were inventive over there.  Half a 44 gallon drum is a bath, and with enough mortar shell pallets, the sky’s the limit.

I put a couple of pallets in my sleeping bay, because I dug it too deep, and it kept going under water.  I slept in 6 inches of water for the first week.


In our off-duty hours we might do a patrol with Support Company.  I did a couple at FSPB Diggers Rest, a few at Discovery, and I discovered my inner Grunt at FSPB Picton, doing a fair number.  I was rifleman, radio operator, forward scout and machine gunner on different patrols.

Peter Canney (6RAR/NZ enjoying a Cigar at FSPB Diggers Rest   Garry Swalling enjoying a Cigar at FSPB Diggers Rest

At least that’s how I remember it 42 years later, lots of digging, not much rest.


Details on the US Army Boeing ACH-47A Chinook (ASN 64-13161) that crashed on approach to FSPB Diggers Rest on the 30 May 1969, has been provided by Stephen Pemberton, as follows: 

I would just like to make a few corrections, firstly the Chinook crash was caused by mechanical failure with the rear rotor, secondly there was no Dixie cup jammed under the controls, and finally the slung load was 105 howitzer ammo not mortar ammo.  How do I know these details?   Well I was the Air Dispatch Corporal in control of all Chinook and Skycrane movements in and out of FSB Diggers Rest - on my 3rd day in Vietnam.  I was in radio contact with the Chinook and the pilot had just identified our yellow smoke before crashing, killing all five crew members.

My sortie sheet list the load as 4 A2’s of 105 ammo and 7 internal pacs.  7 Australian soldiers owe their lives to the American air crew who decided because of their fuel running low they would not set down at Nui Dat to pick the troops up, until the next sortie when they would refuel.

I have lived with that crash every night since 1969 and I have a small commemoration garden in my front yard dedicated to those five Americans. Each year, I hold a commemorative service on the anniversary of the crash.

Stephen Pemberton, OAM
Ex 176 AD Coy, Nui Dat

The five US Army KIA were from the 205th Aviation Company, "Geronimos", 11th Aviation Battalion, as follows:

CW2 Robert Vernon Grey (Pilot)
CW2 Marvin Jean Butterfield (Pilot)
SP5 James Franklin Mott (Flight Engineer)
Sgt Gregory Neese Trimnal (Crew Chief)
SP4 Scott Mitchell Verner (Gunner)

Chinook 64-13161
Memorial to the five US Army servicemen in Stephen Pemberton garden


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