Story 74

104 Sig Sqn Defence and Employment 

By Denis Hare OAM BEM

"The area occupied by the forward HQ complex is too large to be effectively protected by
the Defence Platoon.  Sigs must be made responsible for their own security."

104 Sig Sqn on Patrol in South Vietnam



There were lots of valuable lessons for Signals from the Battle of Coral Balmoral in May/June 1968.  One of the most important was the men became very fatigued working long communication shifts after setting up the communication equipment, plus the ongoing work to improve sector defences, gun pit duties, clearing patrols, stand-to periods, etc.  They also had to keep digging their own pits ensuring overhead cover.  Extra manpower from the Squadron was flown in to assist and replace some exhausted soldiers. 

In the OC Communication Report (2) post Operation Toan Thang after the battle. The OC, 104 Sig Sqn Major Norm Munro proposed the following

“Defence and Employment Section. On future operations it is proposed to raise a D and E Section of one NCO and ten to twelve men.  The role of this section will be to provide a force whose sole purpose is to construct defences and man the perimeter pits.  This section will ease the pressure on the remaining personnel of the Fwd Op Sigs Gp in the first few days of deployment.  Once satisfactory defences are completed the section would return to NUI DAT.  If sufficient notice of deployment is given it is proposed that the D&E Section would undergo concentrated weapon handling and practice firing course.”

First Deployment Defence and Employment Section

 Headquarters, First Australian Task Force (HQ 1ATF) deployed to Fire Support Patrol Base (FSPB) Lion on Operation Capital early Nov 1968.   This was the first deployment of a Defence and Employment (D&E) section by the Task Force Signal Squadron.  Because of the lessons from FSPB Coral, 104 Sig Sqn also deployed key communications equipment (Switchboard and Telegraph) in an Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV) Type M577 for the first time. 

 I was the D&E NCO I/C and our role was to ensure the unit defences under the direction of the SSM, while our communicators secured communications and attended to their overhead cover personal sleeping arrangements.  We worked our butts off digging to ensure our deployed defences but we had a little help from the engineers.   Now that we had an ACV somehow a small fridge had been added to the SIGCEN stores.  This enabled us to get some assistance with our diggings from the ginger-a-beer digging machines, for a cold goffer (soft drink). 

104 Sig Sqn
Denis Hare at FSPB Lion

 The ACV SIGCEN was powered by two 10KVA generators, one working while the other fuelled and on standby.  Unfortunately one of the generators became unserviceable, an urgent replacement was requested.  Also unfortunately the Task Force Commander came into the SIGCEN to check on the generator issue and found the fridge!  He was not happy and that same helicopter that delivered the replacement generator to the FSPB also took our fridge back to his tent at Nui Dat.  The Brigadier let it be known the owner could when we returned to Nui Dat, drop round to his tent and claim it!  This never happened and he ended up with his own bar fridge!  Also our OC was not happy after the Commander had discussed it with him!     

 104 Sig Sqn104 Sig Sqn ACV (Callsign 85C) SIGCEN at FSPB Lion
Note the wire to help protect against incoming rockets

Outside the Wire

I got the opportunity while at the FSPB to do a day infantry platoon patrol east of road 328.  During this patrol we located a number of bunker systems.   The bunkers were very well built from bush material (tree trunks, etc) with lots of overhead cover.  Dirt from the bunkers, not used in construction, was carried and deposited around tree bases to aid concealment from the air.  We put up balloons so the bunkers could be relocated and destroyed later.

104 Sig Sqn Map section showing patrol area east of Road 328 (Xuyen Moc 6430 II)


Once the 104 Sig Sqn defence arrangements were completed, the 104 Sig Sqn D&E section returned to Nui Dat by Helicopter.

Additional signals personnel for our sector setup and defence became a  Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for 104 Sig Sqn deployments with HQ 1ATF (Forward) in South Vietnam post the Battle of Coral Balmoral

 In the Training Report (3) to HQ 1ATF in Oct 1969 the OC, 104 Sig Sqn gave details on the way the Squadron deployed as follows:

 “When deployed the squadron forward element is normally located on the outer perimeter of the FSPB and is responsible for the defence of its own sector and for its own clearing patrols with in that sector.  There is also the requirement ot assist other FSPB units in conducting ambush patrols around the base.

 On deployment into a FSPB a defence element, consisting of the Squadron SM and approx. 10 personnel is constituted in addition to the normal FSPB component.  This defence element is responsible for the construction of the bunkers, weapon pits and normal defence works, while the normal component is engaged in setting up the communications systems.  The defence element returns to Nui Dat as soon as the defence works have been completed.”

104 Sig Sqn in support of HQ 1ATF (Forward) deployed a D&E section in South Vietnam for the last time on Operation Overlord, June 1971 to Courtenay Hill (4).  The group deployed for the first three days under the direction of the SSM and include ten signalmen before returning to Nui Dat.

104 Sig SqnComment:  The Task Force Signal Squadrons of the Vietnam War were not only communicators but combat troops as per the RASigs role.  However they were the only Arms Corps soldiers as part of the 1ATF Order of Battle (ORBAT) who weren’t granted retrospective approval for  the Army Combat Badge (ACB) after 90 days service when it was introduced in 2005. 


1.    Commander's Analysis from Op Hayman (First HQ 1ATF/103 Sig Sqn deployment forward from Nui Dat in 1966).  
       Commanding Officer After Action Report, Operation Hayman AWM95-1-4-27, Page 17.
2.    OC Communications Report – See  Para 24d.
3.    Training Report – 104 Sig Sqn – See Part 5 - Defence.
4.    Report on Operation Overload, Annex A to 104 Sig Sqn Monthly Report – Jul 71.  See Para 16d. 
       The report is part of 104 Sig Sqn War Diary AWM95-6-2-52.

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