Story 80 - Operation Overlord

5 - 14 June 1971

For Those Who Never Made it Back

By Ken Mackenzie

The following commentary is drawn from a précis of notes I made in my ‘green notebooks’ during Operation Overlord in June of 1971.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Left: Ken's Field Message and Note Book AAB-64 (front cover)
Right: Operation  Overlord, Outline Map (Source 'A Duty First' by Lt Col Fairhead)


In late April - early May 1971, the OC 104 Sig Sqn , MAJ Tony Roberts, called me across to his office. He announced that he was upgrading our Detachment at 4RAR/NZ (then in the process of replacing 2RAR/NZ), to a SGT, CPL and two Signalmen. I was to be the SGT.

A major Operation was being planned and it was highly likely that 4RAR/NZ Battalion Headquarters (Bn HQ) would deploy to the field and remain deployed, like 3RAR, following the Operation. SGT Denis Boland would be my replacement in Communications Control (Comms Con). I was to arrange a handover and move across to 4RAR/NZ, without delay.

[Deja Vu - in February, my predecessor in Comms Con, SGT Mike Didsman, had moved across to 3RAR.  Now it was my turn to head to an Infantry Battalion.]

Suffice to say, a short time later I became part of the Fighting Fourth”.   My assocation with the Bn went back to 1966, when we'd both been part of the 28th (Commonwealth) Infantry Brigade at Terendak, in Malaya.

104 Sig Sqn’s Radio Detachment1 at 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn was now: Myself, LCPL Nick Mazzarol (2IC), SIGS Bob (Dustoff) Martin and Don Willis2. We were part of Support Company’s Signal Platoon. The Bn Regimental Signals Officer (RSO) was the Platoon Commander.

Small World

Within a day or so I’d met two blokes in the SGTs Mess I knew from Malaya, two of my old apprentices who were vehicle mechanics in the 4RAR workshop, and my Company Commander from 1968/69, the remarkable Major Jerry Taylor, now OC Admin Company.

Operation Overlord


104 Sig Sqn Story 80Operation Overlord was a “Search and Clear” operation. It took place in southern Long Khanh Province, close to the Phouc Tuy Province border and north-east of the De-Courtenay Rubber Plantation. This area was known as the “TRAC (Third Regional Assistance Command) Special Zone”.

Intelligence had revealed the 3/33rd North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment, 274th (Main Force) Viet Cong (VC) Regiment, D445 VC Battalion and local VC Units, including: 13 Chau Duc, C36 Sapper Company and the K8 Support Company, were using this area to retrain, re-equip, and reinforce. They were now launching attacks into northern Phouc Tuy Province against local hamlets and villages almost at will. If left unchecked, these forces would quickly threaten the stability and security of Phouc Tuy Province and present a clear and present danger to the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) Base at Nui Dat.

In order to counteract this threat, 1ATF and US Army Forces decided to conduct a major operation (Overlord), the aim of which was to destroy and disrupt all enemy elements in this region.

The plan was for the US Army's 2/8th Bn, 3 Brigade 1st US Cavalry Division (Air Mobile)  to block north-east and east along the Suoi Luc river; 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn was deployed to block south and south-east along the Suoi Ran river system, and A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment (A Sqn, 3 Cav Regt) was to be used as the cordon. 

3RAR was to search between the two blocking Battalions and destroy all enemy found in the area. Operational Control was vested in the Commander 1ATF who’d relocated his Headquarters, 1ATF (Forward) from Nui Dat, to the top of Courtenay Hill, an 800ft feature west of Route 2 at Grid YS450905 in southern Long Khanh Province, and within the sprawling De-Courtenay rubber plantation.

Our Battalion’s first Operation and preamble to Operation Overlord, was “Operation Bhowani Junction”. It took place around the notorious De Courtenay Rubber Plantation from 03 to 04 June 1971. Clear sign of D445 VC Bn’s presence was detected. The operation concluded with our ‘B, C, D and V’ Companies positioned in strategic locations south-east along the Suoi Ran River by late afternoon on the 4th of June.

History would record that Operation Overlord would be the final 1ATF Operation of the Vietnam War.

The following is our deployment story and timeline on Operation Overlord.

Wed through Fri, June 2nd – 4th,1971   

Final Briefings, Issues, Checking, Testing, and Packing.

Briefings. There were several of these. In essence, we (Bn HQ), Support Company, Pioneer, Mortar, and Tracker Platoons, supported by a section of 104 Field Artillery Battery (104 Fd Arty Bty) and elements of A Sqn, 3rd Cav Regt, were to deploy by air on June 5th into Area of Operation (AO) Juno in northern Phouc Tuy Province at Grid YS525885, to occupy and develop what would become Fire Support Base (FSB) “Trish”. This included a briefing on the layout of the FSB and sequence of occupation. It was also noted that due to the numbers and proximity of VC/NVA forces, the landings may be opposed.

The RSM with an Advance Party would deploy in a section of M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) on June 4th to monitor and hold the ground.

In our case, we would be deploying from the Battalion Landing Zone (LZ) at Eagle Farm. The only major issue was the mystical disappearance of my 104 Sig Sqn ‘Overlord Operations Order’    into Signal Platoon HQ never to re-appear. Fortunately, I’d already made plenty of notes. However, it put me it an extremely awkward position and remained a source of friction.

When we weren’t spending time in the Bn Command Post (CP) getting to know how 4RAR/NZ operated, our time was taken up with issues of first-line ammunition, pyrotechnics, rations (5 Days) and batteries. Checking and testing of all of our radio equipment, erecting and dismantling each of the RC-292 antennas and checking each component.   Everything worked.   All the equipment was clean, complete and in very good condition. Nick ran a tight ship. He, Bob and Don were a tough, close-knit team who knew their business. Lastly, we double-checked and packed our personal equipment and cleaned our weapons. We finished off with a few quiet beers, went over the next day’s deployment activities and timings, discussed various scenarios and solutions; then had an early night.

Saturday, June 5th, 1971 – “Up and Out”

0430 - Battalion reveille. Early breakfast.    Woken by the Company picquet. Quickly showered, shaved and dressed, then down to the SGTs Mess. Two mugs of coffee and stuffed myself with food - I didn’t know when I’d get the chance to eat again.

0600 - Met up with Nick Mazzarol, Bob Martin and Don Willis and conduct final equipment and personal checks. Lastly, I check that each of our rifles are in the ‘Loaded’ condition, only. Then like ants pouring from a disturbed nest, we join the streams of soldiers leaving the Battalion’s lines - each of us staggering under the weight of our equipment - on the long walks down to Eagle Farm and Kangaroo Pads. Our destination is Eagle Farm.

0625 - Arrived at Eagle Farm LZ to a scene of controlled chaos. Movement controllers are busy allocating everyone into the usual ‘Chalks’ and ‘Lifts’3. They split the four of us into different chalks and lifts. I argued that the four of us need to stay together because we’re the Bn Comms Team – no us – no Bn comms. Quickly told that our allocated ‘chalks’ and ‘lifts’ wouldn’t be changed. Their immediate concern was getting everyone ‘up and out’; and they didn’t want to lose all of us in one hit should the chopper go down. However, this wasn’t mentioned at the previous day’s Lifts Briefing – if it had, we’d have split our equipment between the different ships as extra insurance. As it was, all our gear went one ship so if it had gone down… no comms.

0700 – Under the Rubber Trees beside Eagle Farm. Sweating gallons from our trek, waiting. First the air, then the ground, begins to vibrate. Before we know it, there's a sky full of Huey Slicks. I have never seen so many Hueys in the air at one time. A veritable wall of slicks appears from the west; and begin race-tracking over Nui Dat.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Concept Photo:  Sticks of Huey's coming into the pickup LZ (Internet Source)

Cobras and Huey Gunships are riding shotgun over and around the slicks.

Every two or three minutes, groups of six slicks peel off from the wall of Hueys and land at Eagle Farm. On command of our Movement Controllers, chalks of soldiers stagger out from both sides of the pad, and clamber onto their designated ships. Within a minute, the slicks climb out and rejoin the wall of Hueys above.  

Finally, it’s my turn. I'm in with a two-tube Mortar Team from the Mortar Platoon. We watch our slicks head into the LZ, flare and touch down. We're on the third one in line. We need to make two frantic trips backwards and forwards to get the tubes, base-plates, ammo and then our own gear into the slick. No sooner than we're onboard, than the slick lifts off.

I take stock of my surroundings - I'm one off the left-hand side door. The door-gunners motion a wave, smile, and hand-sign for us to hold our rifles with the barrels pointed vertically down at the floor.

We do a climbing circuit of Nui Dat, join the herd of Hueys and then head north. Route 2 is out to our left. My rolled down sleeves are flapping like crazy in the beautiful cool air.

The assault into what will be FSB Trish in AO Juno is 15 minutes away...

Approx 0730 - North of Nui Dat. The cool air rushing in the doors has turned cold and I'm shivering. Our Huey is moving around in the rotor-wash turbulence from the ships in front. We are flying nose to tail in ascending order front to rear. From my perspective, we're far too close to the ship in front. There are strings of slicks out to our left and right in the same formation. The left seat pilot turns around to us, motions, and points out to the right front of the ship. Off in the distance is a huge pall of dust/smoke and what appear to be gunships. As I wonder whether dust/smoke is from gunship runs or landing Hueys, the strings of slicks on our right begin to move away towards the pall.

The Door Gunners motion five minutes and continually remind us to keep the barrels of our weapons pointed vertically down at the floor. I look around at the mortar guys. They've all got wide eyes and grim faces. So far, there’s no indication that our LZ is hot.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Concept Photo:  Air assault into to the LZ (Internet Source)

Then we're descending and falling back from the slicks in front of us. Up ahead, is a huge open area surrounded by what appears to be a mixture of jungle and rubber trees. The Door Gunners are now hunched over their M60s, looking out and down. The nose of the Huey flares, the rotor thud is deafening, then we’re out the doors and hit the ground hard. We grab tubes, base plates, ammo and our gear and drag it all clear of the rotor disc and crouch down facing out. The Door Gunners give us a 'thumbs-up' as the slick ‘pulls pitch’ and lifts off.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Concept Photo: Quickly moving off the LZ (Internet Source)

We quickly move forward and off the LZ as more slicks are coming in behind us. I grab my gear and head for where I know Battalion HQ will be. A CH-47 Chinook pushing a billowing cloud of red dust flies low across in front of me. A Bulldozer is slung beneath it. I see other Chinooks bringing in 105mm artillery pieces and slung pallets of 105mm ammunition.  

Nick, Bob and Don are already there. Nick’s got readable comms on a 10ft whip. Amidst the confusion of noise and movement, we quickly unpack an RC-292 antenna. Connect four mast sections, add a '3 up - 4 down' element configuration, hook it into the '77, hold the ‘292 up and call the Net Control Station (NCS) on the Task Force Command Net. A 5x5 reply booms in.

We quickly insert the remaining mast sections, erect and stake the antenna. By this time, the Battalion Operations Officer (OPSO) and 2IC of Support Company have appeared. Our Assault Pioneers are finishing off the two parallel slit trenches for our temporary Battalion CP, as others are already well into excavating the Main CP.

Approx 0900 - RSM arrives to show us our position on the perimeter. Leave Don to man radio and head out where pioneers are laying concertina wire. We’re slotted around 60 feet in front of a section of 105mm Howitzers.

And about 40 feet in from the perimeter wire.

Walk along wire with the RSM, WO1 Wally Thompson4 He remarked they’d harbored here quietly the previous night, watching NVA movement to the north (Wally was on his third tour of duty in Vietnam). He points out neighbors and our ‘left and right of arcs’. We have a good field of fire and view. An M60 Strong Point is at our 3 o’clock.

Before he leaves, the RSM advises that we have a Standing Patrol and Listening Posts out to our immediate front. They are due to come in through our wire prior to Stand-To. He reminds us of the “Rules of Engagement”5 and reinforces the need for us to remain alert and keep our eyes open.

Three of us get stuck into collecting 12 pieces of heavy, semi-circular steel ARMCO Culvert Channeling from where they’ve been dropped in the centre of “Trish”, drag them back to our position, and begin digging 2 x 2 man fighting positions. Standard “square C” design; 6ft long x 18 inches wide by 4 ft 6 inches deep - sleeping bays at each end covered with ARMCO and topped with 18 inches of Over-Head Protection (OHP). Fighting positions get done first - and must be down to 4’ 6” before stand-to. Digging is relatively easy – for a change. A dozer is working behind us, pushing up bunds of earth in front of the 105’s.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Concept Photo:  Fire Support Base setting up and digging in.   
Note: Kiowa (Bell OH58A) in the back ground (AWM P02636.030)

June 7th - 1971 “Mid Afternoon”

Temperature’s around the 110-degree mark; digging is dirty, tiring and thirsty work. And shirts have to stay on6. We’re also filling sandbags with the spoil from the pits for our OHP. Bob goes off to relieve Don at the CP. There’s lots of yelling and movement at the 105’s. Don arrives and mentions elements of 3 RAR are now in contact to our northwest. 

A deafening explosion and concussion makes us jump. We turn around towards the guns and there are two more. The 105s are firing a contact mission in support of 3RAR, right over our heads. Within 3 minutes we have splitting headaches and ringing ears, but we can’t stop digging. The gunners laugh and poke fun at the way we flinch each time they fire their 105s.    

104 Sig Sqn Story 80

Photo:  104 Field Battery 105mm Howitzer (M2A2) at FSB Trish (AWM P07256.036)

 June 7th - 1971 "Late Afternoon" 

Don Willis returns to Nui Dat. Spent nearly all day on the radios listening to the Operation unfold. 3/33rd NVA, 274 VC Regt and D445 VC Bn are believed to be in a major bunker system around 6 klicks from us. 3RAR’s Callsign (CS) ‘20’ appears to be up against them in heavy contact. And it must be danger-close because US Gunship Pilots want the Ground Commander’s initials. Dustoff stood-by then called by 3RAR. Also reported that a Huey has been shot down during resupply/Dustoff for 3RAR and one battalion member wounded in mortar incident. Other 3RAR elements supported  by Tanks, APCs and gunships plan to encircle them. Our 105s now firing almost continual contact missions for 3RAR (they fired over 400 HE shells in this action). Our Bn’s task is to provide fire support  and to block potential escape routes that enemy troops may use to exfiltrate the area.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Photo:  3RAR and Armour moving into bunker systems on Operation Overlord (Internet Source)


The Standing Patrol and two Listening Posts come back in thru our wire. We start preparing for Stand To. Ten minutes later, our clearing patrol moves quietly out through our wire at 12 o’clock. They will clear an area of two visual distances around to the M60 strong point at 3 o’clock and come in through their wire. At the same time, three other clearing patrols are going out thru the perimeter wire at 3’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock. We sit quietly on the edge of our pits and wait for 9 o’clock’s patrol to appear.

Mike Jauncey is sitting beside me. He arrived earlier today as a replacement for Don Willis. We chat in whispers, ducking down into our fighting pit to drag on the cigarettes we have carefully concealed in our cupped hands. Suddenly, two single shots boom out from where our clearing patrol should be. A short pause, then sustained bursts of rifle and M60 fire. The M60 gunner to our right burns a 100rd belt through his gun. Then silence. Nothing moves. Eyes straining to penetrate the quickly fading light. I call out twice to the 3 o’clock M60 gunner but he doesn’t answer. For a moment I think the clearing patrols have clashed.

The RSM goes running past us heading for the wire. He’s yelling out for everybody to hold their fire. I reckon he’s crazy – everyone’s jumpy as hell - adrenalin is pumping and our hearts are in our mouths. He’ll get shot for sure. Mike’s eyes are wide as saucers.

I’m sure mine are the same.

More silence…

Several minutes later, 9 o’clock’s patrol comes in through our position followed by the RSM. Nobody speaks. The RSM moves quickly past us towards the 3 o’clock M60. He’s swearing and not very happy.

The rest of the evening, then the night, passes uneventfully.

The story we get later is that the forward scout of our clearing patrol spied a guy in camouflage clothing up a tree looking into our area. This guy notices the scout and shinnies down the tree. The scout takes two shots at him at the same time he sees others near the tree - and the whole patrol opens up on ‘em.

And the M60 guy to our right says he saw a guy with an AK47 near his wire and opened fire. 

But we reckoned the real story was that our scout had an “AD”7 and rest of the patrol opened up to cover for him. And we figured that the M60 guy on our right had dozed off at his gun – got startled by the gunfire – and hauled back on the trigger – which accounted for the 100-round belt… 

However, this incident was officially logged a Bona Fide enemy contact. So, who knows?

June 8th through 14th – 1971

June 8th. Finished off final OHP layer over sleeping bays. Two of us are working on perimeter defence improvement, two working in the Bn CP. We returned to our position  for lunch and find some mongrel had been thru our rucksacks. All lost precious food, personal items, plus my spare bandoleer of M16 magazines. Mightily pissed off over the mags. We have our strong suspicions.

"30 in Contact!"

Charlie Company soldier was wounded (WIA) by NVA squad moving east away from main Soui Nhac bunker system. His platoon was covering a ‘Y’ track junction from center of ‘Y’. Sentry posted close to track saw two NVA moving quickly along track from the left across his front. He engaged them, but didn’t observe other NVA soldiers following close behind; who immediately engaged and wounded him. NVA did not stop and continued east. Maybe vanguard of larger group. Dustoff stood by.

CO leapt into Kiowa then moved to low and slow orbit over the contact location. Charlie Coy Comd exceedingly agitated as helo noise was covering further enemy movement around his position and making his control of contact drills and situation exceedingly dangerous. He directed the Kiowa " exit area", "Now!"  CO not impressed.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Photo:  Kiowa (Bell OH58A) - On lease from the US Army in 1971
(Source 'Target Charlie' by Steve Eather)

Sleep is patchy due to continuing artillery night contact missions. Also had some fun when FSB Trish became a 'malfunction grid'8 for 105mm illumination rounds out of FSB Pamela. Had to stay in sleeping bays and bunkers until fire mission ceased. Spent illumination shell casings whooshing loudly as they crash down into our FSB. Miracle no casualties or damage caused.

 June 10th – 1971 '‘Tub Time”

Shower Unit flew into FSB Trish this morning. A Chinook carrying two giant water bladders and several water pumps set-up shop right across from LZ. There are four showerheads at each of four shower points.

And we go across 16 at a time. When my blokes have come back, down I go. Filthy clothes off, 30 seconds under tepid water, out, dry and filthy clothes back on. Red dirt is now so thoroughly ingrained into our skins that it won’t come out.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80Concept Photo:  Field showering Vietnam style (Internet Source)

Small, Small, World.

As Fate would have it, I run across Bruce Cameron (A Sqn) and Barry Cane (104 Fd Bty), at the same shower point. The three of us were Drill Instructors back in 1968. Now, three years later, we’re all Sgts within 300m of each other in different units on the same FSB in Vietnam! And none of us knew the others were here! We swap notes, catch-up on gossip and info. Really great to know we can call on each other in an emergency.

[We would meet again as WO1s at Enoggera in 1984. Bruce was RSM 6 Bde, Barry was RSM of the Arty Regt and I was RSM 1 Sig Regt]

 June 12th - 1971 “Mid-Morning to Late Afternoon”

APC CS Tango Alpha came up on the Task Force Command Net calling "Contact!" Explosions / Heavy 50 and 30 Calibre / Small Arms Fire / Yelling over the top of his transmissions. General confusion as Tango Alpha CS is not releasing his ‘push to talk’ (PTT) and consequently jamming the Net. Tango Alpha CS pleading for help and on verge of panic; apparently many killed (KIA). Says the two APCs preceding him have been destroyed or disabled. NCS is trying to contact the accompanying troops on their frequency without success. Situation sounds dire.

The Task Force Command Net quickly changed to its alternate frequency - Comms are 5x5. Battle now raging close to 1ATF (FWD) at Courtenay Hill? Our US Forward Air Controller (FAC), CS “JADE” is coordinating Gunship and Fast Mover support.9 Must be Danger Close situation, as Aircraft Commanders  are asking for the Ground Commander’s Initials.10

Distinct possibility that people (2?) captured by enemy.

CO reacts our B Coy and Assault Pioneers into the battle area (during the engagement, one of our B Company diggers was struck on the head by a spent 20mm shell casing fired by an F4 Phantom jet during a strafing run over the enemy bunker system. He picked it up and still has today!).

Passing US Dustoff “Medevac 66” comes up TF Comd Net. Offers to extract friendly casualties from contact area. Medevac 66 asks for confirmation that one WIA missing a leg and Papa Zulu (Pick-Up Zone) is hot. Cannot hear ground transmission(s) to Medevac 66.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Concept Photo: Dustoff "Medevac 66" (AWM EKN/67/0145/VN)

Dustoff lands through fire and extracts WIA. Pilot’s voice is calm, and 'matter of fact', throughout entire extraction and he advises he’s inbound to the US Army’s 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh. We’re fortunate he was nearby.

Grid references passed in clear indicate that the battle is now concentrated around a bunker system that parallels a creek line within 1500 metres of 1ATF (FWD) at Courtenay Hill and most probably involves 3/33rd NVA Regt or 274 VC Regt.

Confirmation received that no personnel captured by enemy. The two missing personnel have been accounted for.11   

We were later briefed that three M113 APC carrying members of the D&E Platoon were sent to an area west of Courtenay Hill to investigate ‘Agent’ reports of enemy activity. However, no enemy activity was detected and they returned to Courtenay Hill.

Later that same day, further reports were received of enemy activity in the area. The Platoon reboarded the APCs and proceeded back to the area by the same route they’d travelled earlier in the day. During the return journey, a box of M18A1 Claymore Mines fell from the leading APC [each M113 carried a box of six (or more) Claymore Mines. These were used for protection at Halts and Harbours]. The second APC stopped and a soldier retrieved the claymores, which were stowed next to this APC’s own box of claymores.

At the same time, the last APC slowed to a stop to maintain his tactical distance.

In the meantime, the lead APC, which had continued on, rounded a slight bend and was struck by an RPG-7, severely wounding both the Driver and Crew Commander and disabling the APC.

All three APC were immediately engaged by enemy fire. A Satchel Charge was thrown onto the second APC, which detonated both boxes of claymore mines as well as the first-line ammunition also stored on top of the APC. The catastrophic explosion killed or badly wounded all those aboard.

It was the Crew Commander of the third APC who’d called in the contact. Maintaining his tactical distance from the second APC had kept him out of the killing zone and allowed him to provide a firm base of fire in support of his leading elements caught in the ambush.

I have also heard that that the explosion on the second APC was caused by an RPG-7 striking the claymore mines. Whatever the cause, it was a terrible and tragic day for the D&E Platoon. And one I have never forgotten.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80   104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Recovered APC Tangp Alpha 84B at Nui Dat
(Left photo supplied by Nev Haskett and right photo supplied by Ken Mackenzie)

Warned by OPSO to standby for move to Courtenay Hill at Grid YS 450905, with CO.  Mission: Provide Step-up Battalion Command Net for the Battalion Headquarters relocation onto Courtenay Hill.

PM June 13th - 1971 “Courtenay Hill”

Choppered from FSB Trish into LZ below Courtenay Hill, with CO. Trudged up Courtenay Hill with great difficulty, as everybody was trying to get down off it.

1ATF (Fwd) is in the process of moving from Courtenay Hill back to Nui Dat. It gives me the impression of controlled chaos. Manage a quick ‘Hello’ to a few of the 104 Boys, before they leave.

Working out of two M577 Armoured Command Vehicles (ACVs) with Tent Annexes deployed. A US Army CH47 Chinook arrives overhead with a large, slung, wire basket of Defence Stores. Desperately try to wave him off but he ignores us and descends anyway. The enormous downdraft from his twin rotors destroys the tent annexes, sucks every piece of paper out of the ACVs and badly kinks two ‘292 antenna masts. Miracle that nobody was hurt. CH-47 Crew Chiefs’ laugh and wave as they depart. They’re the only people laughing; it wouldn’t have been so funny if we’d had troops in contact. Spend the next half hour picking up our scattered codes, maps, message pads and logbooks from across the top of Courtenay Hill. Do the best we can with the twisted and bent annexes and the 292s.

104 Sig Sqn Story 80
Photo:  HQ 4RAR/NZ Bn on Courtenay Hill September 1971.   Photo supplied by Nev Haskett
Click photo for marked up details by Ken Mackenzie

The rest of Battalion HQ, Support Company HQ, Tracker and Pioneer Platoons begin arriving and are complete on Courtenay Hill by early next morning.

Operation Overlord was officially over.

A small, sandbagged bunker on the north-western side of Courtenay Hill was to be my home until the 5th October 1971

4RAR/NZ(ANZAC) Battalion was the last Australian Infantry Battalion to serve in the Vietnam War. They were a great unit and I was proud to have served with them.

What I wore and carried - June 5th – 14th 1971

104 Sig Sqn Story 80In my experience, a soldier’s ‘Field’ load was very much an individual thing. Whilst Bn/Unit SOPs normally dictated who, what and where, certain items would be carried. The rest was up to the person who had to carry it.

 Water was a major issue. Most of us carried as much as we could.

Webbing and Rucksack

Mixture of US/Australian M-1956 LCE12 web equipment (with SAS ammo pouches);

8 canteens (each with a cups canteen steel), plus US 2-quart collapsible canteen

Entrenching Tool, with Cover, and

US Army Tropical Rucksack on aluminum frame.


Weapons / Ammunition / Pyrotechnics


Colt 5.56mm M16A1 Rifle with 24 x 20 rd Mags (in ammo pouches and bandoleers, Field Dressing taped to rifle butt as per Bn SOP;

Bipod in pouch

Cleaning Kit

LSA Oil  

Colt .45 M1911A1 Pistol, 3 x 7 rd Mags, plus box of 50 .45 Cal cartridges13

KBar Knife;

M7 Bayonet and scabbard;

M18 Smoke Grenades x 2;

Flares Trip, M49A1 x 2, and

Flares Para (Illumination) x 2.


Personal Equipment – In No Particular Order


5 Days rations (It was 4RAR SOP was that food would not be resupplied in under 5 days. So, US ‘C’ Rations had to be broken down into 5 main meals with coffee/tea, sugar, chewing gum, etc. Otherwise, it was too bulky to carry);

Several Packs of Camel/Lucky Strike Cigarettes and Zippo lighter;

1 x Shirt spare (in Bed Roll);

1 x Trousers spare (in Bed Roll);

1 x Socks spare (in Bed Roll)14;

Safety Razor and pack of 5 blades;

Shaving brush;


Signaling Mirror;


Cut-down toothbrush;

Tooth paste 1 x small tube;

KFS set;

Dixies x 2;

Dog Tags on Chains x 2;

Handkerchiefs x 4;

Towels Hand Green x 2 (also used these to wrap-up/around anything that would rattle);

Boots x 1 pair;

Boot Brush;

Hootchies x 2 (Bed Roll);

Poncho Liner x 1 (Bed Roll);

Mattress Cover x 1 (Bed Roll);

Mattress Inserts x 3 (Bed Roll);

Hat utility;

Sweat Rag, extra long, x 2;

Nylon Cord Green, approx 60 ft;

Karibeeners x 2;

Millbank (Water filter) Bag;

Sewing Kit;

Safety Pins and Fuse Wire (qty)15;

Camouflage Cream, Black and Green x 2;

Stove Hexamine;

Tablets Hexamine or Trihexene;

Pocket Knife;

Camouflage Raincoat (useless for keeping rain off but kept me warm at night);

Pliers Sidecutting x 1;

Plastic Tape, 1 Inch, Black - 3 x rolls;

Platoon Rollbook;

Field (Green) Notebook x 3;

Radio Logbook x 2;

Message Pads x 2;

Writing Pad and Envelopes in plastic bag;

Pens/Pencils x various;

Paludrin and Dapsone Tablets (Anti-Malarials);

Field/Shell Dressings x several;

Flashlight (Anglehead);

Strobe Light, and

Sandbags x 2.


Communications Equipment


Between four of us, we had the following communications equipment. Thank goodness we didn’t have to carry it very far!


2 x KAL-55B (KAC) Code Wheels plus Numeral Code for 7 Days;

1 x Signal Operating Instruction (SOI) x 28 Days;

1 x Set of Operations (Ops) Code x 28 Days;

2 x AN/PRC-77 VHF Radios, with CES16 plus extra H189GR handset;

2 x AN/GRA-39 Remote Control Units;

2 x LS-166U Speakers;

2 x RC 292 Antenna;

8 x BA3386 Magnesium Batteries17;

2 x 12 ‘D’ Cells for AN/GRA 39, and
1 x ¼ Mile Pack of Assault Cable



1. Both 3RAR and 4RAR/NZ had permanent 104 Sig Sqn Radio Troop detachments of a SGT, CPL and two 2 Signalmen, assigned to them. 
2. Signalman Mike Jauncey, replaced Don Willis  on June 7th, 1971.
3. A Chalk is a designated group of soldiers and a Lift is a dedicated aircraft or number of aircraft.
4. WO1 W.T.C (Wally) Thompson was on his third tour of duty in Vietnam. He was a highly respected and very well-liked RSM. In 1983, Wally was appointed the first RSM of the Army. He passed away on 19 April 2012.
5. Rules of Engagement

1.  They are positively identified as enemy
2.  They open fire first and are not obviously friendly
3.  They fail to stop when challenged and are not obviously friendly
4.  By night they approach a position and are not obviously friendly
5.  If in doubt – do not shoot

The Rules of Engagement were implemented primarily for our own safety as well as Vietnamese civilians. These rules were continually emphasized during training in Australia. And we were constantly reminded of them “In-Country”. There were large, conspicuously, posted signs listing the Rules of Engagement in every unit and sub-unit, in Nui Dat.  In spite of this, two of our Companies still clashed on one operation. Thankfully there were no casualties.
6. We were never allowed to remove our shirts when digging-in or filling sandbags – we could have them undone, but never off.
7. “AD” or Accidental Discharge. This is when a person accidentally fires his weapon. This term was later amended to “UD” or, Unauthorised Discharge, to overcome legal difficulties posed by the earlier term of ‘Accidental’.
8. Predicted landing location of spent illumination shell casings.
9. “JADE” was the Callsign of our resident US Army FAC who flew an O2 Cessna [when bored, he would occasionally ‘dogfight’ with 547’s (Classified Signal Troop that operated inside 104 Sig Sqn’s area) Pilatus Porter]. “Fast Movers” were US Airforce F4 Phantom Jets delivering 500lb Bombs, Napalm and 20mm Cannon Fire into the contact area.
10. US/AS Aircraft providing ‘Danger Close’ air-support to troops on the ground would always ask for the “Ground Commander’s Initials”. This was a means of confirming that they were actually talking to the ground commander involved, and to ensure that the ground commander was aware and understood that ‘friendly’ casualties may occur.
11. This devastating ambush was carried out by the 274th (MF) VC Regiment.  I've always suspected they were preparing to launch an attack on Courtenay Hill and were interrupted by the appearance of the D&E Platoon. 
12. LCE – Load Carrying Equipment, colloquially known as ’Webbing’.
13. I’d “inherited” a brand new 1944 US M3A1 .45 SMG and a beautiful M1911A1 Colt .45 Pistol. I passed the M3A1 on to a US Army Advisor at Long Dien, and kept the Colt. It was a tough, robust, ultra-reliable pistol that packed a big punch. Unlike my issue 9mm Browning, which remained locked in my trunk back at 4RAR. And the Colt fitted neatly into the Browning’s Holster too, as did its spare magazines.
14. No singlets or jocks. Singlets were useless. Waist and leg band bands on jocks rubbed against skin and when combined with constant sweat and dirt, would chafe and produce nasty rashes on lower back and inner thighs.

15. Prior to being posted to Vietnam, I was sent to the School of Military Engineering at Casula, NSW to complete a Mine Warfare Instructors Course. A large part of this course was devoted to the Mines, Booby Traps and IEDs we would encounter in Vietnam. It was a serious and sobering eye-opener. One of our instructors was the legendary Engineer WO2 Brett Nolan. He strongly advised us to always carry a supply of Safety Pins and Fuse Wire, just in case. So, I always did.

[There was a family connection to this course. My Maternal Grandfather, Sapper William Henry Moran DCM, MM, CdeG did the original version of this course at Casula in 1915, prior to embarking for France during WW1.]

16. Complete Equipment Schedule – List of accompanying items essential for the proper operation of a particular piece of equipment.
17. I always carefully removed and retained the heavy, clear, plastic covers from the BA3386 Batteries. Correctly folded, they were perfect for keeping my Wallet, Notebooks and Roll Book dry. I still have several in one of my trunks. They were one of the few things left after the thieves at 1ALSG had been through it.


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