Administrator’s Note:

Garry Adams is an infantry man with the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.  During the one year tour of duty in Vietnam, his unit fought gallantly against numerous NVA as well as Main Force VC units and achieved great success.  Below is his account of one such battle.   

A Day to Remember

 Garry Adams

February 28th, 1970 – 2 & 3 Platoon’s bunker battle against D 445 & D440 VC Battalions

In February 1970 we were getting towards the end of our tour of duty in Vietnam, we had finished our training commitments with the ARVN at the Horseshoe on Feb 15th and had joined the battalion on Operation Napier in Long Khanh Province out to the east of Xuan Loc.  There was a bit of enemy movement in the area, mostly members of the 274 VC Regiment and the 74th NVA Artillery Regiment.  The tracks were well used and it was only a matter of time before we hit something.  With the fresh signs of enemy it came as a bit of a surprise on the morning of Feb 28th we were given a change of plan.  We were to fly south and go after D 445 and D 440.  It was to be a battalion sized sweep and A Company was act as the blocking force to cut off any escape.

A defector had reported that D445 and D440 battalions were situated about 13 km to the east of Nui Dat along the banks of the Suoi Giau in a major bunker system.  They had just moved out of their havens in the May Tao’s and Long Hai’s having been retrained, reinforced and re-equipped.  He reported that they were well armed with each squad now having additional RPG 2’s and RPG 7’s as well as extra 12.7mm heavy machine guns being allocated to each company.  We had, of course, heard all of this before and took in the information with a fair degree of skepticism.  The tales about D 445 had tended to be somewhat exaggerated over the years and this just seemed to be an additional chapter.

We boarded the helicopters just after lunch and flew south about 45 km to our insertion point in a dry disused paddy field surrounded by large clumps of bamboo.  Once the first two platoons had landed we headed due east.  3 Platoon headed north of us to a distance of about 700 metres before swinging due east and parallel to us.  As usual 5 Section was in the lead and I was out in front.  We had gone about one and a half click through the dry disused paddy’s and bamboo groves when I came to the steep sided banks of the Suoi Giau.  After a quick radio report I was told to push on.  With the machine gun group covering me I moved down to cross the stream, which had reverted to a trickle because of the dry season.

As soon as I reached the bottom of the creek I found where a small rock dam had been placed across the creek to form a watering and bathing point.  The water was still milky with soap and a wet freshly used bar of soap lay drying on a rock.  I gave the enemy “thumbs down” sign to alert the platoon and then crossed the creek to a track that was just past the waters edge but still below the bank.  This track was wide and well used, so well used that it had turned to bull dust and showed dozens of footprints going in both directions.  I was not all that keen on my position and if a large number of enemies appeared from either direction I would be stuffed, there was no way I could survive the climb back up the creek bank to the platoon under fire. 

Geoff Edwards, my section commander, slid down the bank and I showed him what I had found.  He signaled the platoon commander to come down and after a brief discussion it was decided we would follow the track along to the left as the majority of the footprints ran this way.  Away we went again, much slower and very wary.  The track ran north below the edge of the creek bank for another 50 metres or so and then swung east and up over the top of the bank into a small clearing surrounded by bamboo and bush.  As I came up over the bank there was a bit of a commotion on my left and I could see a bush fowl caught in a snare.  I was kneeling down and pointing this out to Geoff and from this low angle I could see a number of fire lanes cut to about knee high in the scrub.  This could only mean that there were bunkers at the other end of these cleared lanes and we were in real trouble if the enemy suddenly woke up to the fact that we were there.

I moved another 30 or so metres along the track and then, only about 20 or so metres away to my right a transistor radio suddenly blared out.  It was quickly turned off after a sharp rebuke from someone away on my left front, there was then a brief and heated exchange between a few people directly to my front.  We were in the middle of a horseshoe shaped bunker system, it did not take much guess work to realize that we had probably found D 445 and D 440 Battalions and it would not be all that long before someone came out to go to the creek and then we would have to fight on their terms. 

We moved back and dropped our packs near the edge of the creek.  The platoon commander radioed company headquarters and told them what we had found.  We were told to move back and get in as close as we could then wait while 3 Platoon swung south towards us.  We were still in the process of moving in when there was firing from 3 Platoons direction still some 300 or so metres away to our north.  The VC could be heard rushing to their positions to our front and flanks as they stood to ready for action.  Out to my right front one of them spotted us and began crawling rapidly back in towards his bunker.  A couple of shots rang out and he slumped down and then all hell broke loose.  They hit us with a tremendous amount of fire, I was standing, crouched, looking for more targets, as were most of the others when the firing started.  I watched in disbelief as the grass, low scrub and saplings around me were shredded by bullets.  There was so much lead flying past at shin height it would have probably meant death to hit the ground at that time.

By some miracle no one was hit and in a brief lull those of us who were standing hit the ground and lay in the rut of the well worn footpad.  The firing started again, heavy machine guns from our front and right and left flanks.  Rocket propelled grenades exploded in the bamboo and scrub around us.  To say we were in big trouble would have been a gross understatement.  The section closest to the creek,  tried to move to the right and flank some of the close enemy bunkers but were met with more rocket and automatic weapons fire and were forced back.  A lone VC dressed in black and carrying a large D10 directional mine made a dash for an old bamboo mound out to our front.  Those of us who could see what he was up to fired at him and there was a big bang as the mine blew up and took him with it. From my position I could see a very leafy tree about 50 or so metres back in behind the bunkers start to shake and shudder as someone tried to climb to get a better shot at us.  I fired a number of searching shots and the shaking stopped.  This happened a few times until I guess they ran out of volunteers for the tree climbing duty.

Ever since the fighting started our artillery forward observer, Bombardier Reg Shepherd, had been on the radio giving the co-ordinates for the artillery to fire on.  I can remember him shouting out that they would be coming in danger close and then, only some 75 metres to our front, in the middle of the bunkers the first of many salvo’s came crashing in.  This quieted the VC for a while; most of them stopped firing and got their heads down below ground level.  We were getting the shrapnel from our own artillery whizzing back over our heads and Reg was making continual adjustments to keep the enemy guessing. 

The artillery fire lifted so the Bushranger helicopter gun ships from 9 Squadron could give the bunkers a work over and we had numerous firing runs across our front and flanks to relieve the pressure, with accurate fire from their mini guns striking bunkers only 25 metres from us.  With all ammunition expended they headed back to Vung Tau to rearm and as they departed a lone American Cobra helicopter gunship appeared above us and radioed us to see if he could lend a hand.  The platoon sergeant threw a smoke grenade to mark our position and as the Cobra wheeled around to line up for his firing run he came back up on the radio and reported 50 or so people moving up behind us along the creek and asked if we had any other friendly troops coming to reinforce us.  We did not, 3 Platoon was in action to our north, Company Headquarters and 1 Platoon were stationary about 2 clicks to our northwest.  The group in the creek answered his question as they began firing at him.  He banked around and hit them with mini gun fire and then pounded them with 40 mm high explosive grenade rounds.  After a few minutes of this he reported that they would no longer be a problem because not many of them were moving anymore.  He thanked the radio operator for being allowed to join in and flew off back to his base.

Dusk was approaching fast and the artillery had been diverted to 3 Platoon, they were in big trouble and had been attacked by what appeared to be a company sized force several times.  Half the platoon had been wounded and there was a real danger that they could be overrun. As a bit of a stalemate had developed in our battle we were ordered to break contact and get to them as quickly as possible.  This was no easy task because the enemy 12.7 mm heavy machine guns were still firing at any movement and they were still firing RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades) at the trees and bamboo above us trying to create shrapnel air bursts over our backs.

One of the machine gunners rose to one knee to try and knock out the machine gun on our left front. As he did so there was a fair bit of firing and an RPG struck a tree next to his head and exploded.  The shrapnel hit him in the face, knocking out one eye and tearing him up a fair bit.  As he fell the number two on the gun, a mad Irishman, grabbed the gun, stood up and fired a long burst into the aperture of the VC machine gun bunker and killed the crew.  This gave us the chance we needed to break out and shortly after the platoon was back in the relative safety of the creek line.  We had a brief clash with five VC and then in the rapidly falling darkness we headed towards 3 Platoon.

We moved as quickly and as quietly as possible, expecting any moment to be engaged in another full scale engagement.  We could hear the enemy moving around every now and then off to our right.  In the darkness 3 Platoon were hard to find and eventually one of its section commanders, Cpl. Hans Fleer, who won a well deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during the fight, came down through the bunkers and the enemy force and guided us back to the platoon’s location.  There weren’t many of them left standing, 13 of the 26 had been wounded, all would require evacuation.  One of my friends, Owen O’Rielly, had been shot under the right eye and the bullet had exited behind his left ear.  He was cold and clammy to touch and I thought he was dead when I had a look at him.  We grabbed all of the ammunition from the wounded and strengthened the perimeter and waited for the enemy to have another go.  (Owen survived)

At about midnight the dust-off helicopter came in to take out the wounded.  It was now as black as the ace of spades and he was forced to hover and winch out the wounded.  He turned his searchlight on to illuminate the hole in the treetop canopy so he could lower the Stokes Litter.  The large number of enemy that now surrounded us thought this well lit helicopter was a pretty good target and fired a few rounds at it.  I can still see the door gunners blazing away as the wounded were winched to safety.  After two trips all of the wounded had gone on their way to Long Binh and we were left alone with a lot of enemy still moving through the jungle around us.  At one stage of the night one of them began calling out to us, calling on us to surrender, “Uc-dai-loi, Uc-dai-loi, you are surrounded, surrender, you have no hope, surrender or we will come and get you.”

This show of confidence was a little unnerving, we only had about 38 effective fighters left out of the two platoons, we were low on ammunition and we knew we were surrounded by a very large force.  If they decided to hit us with an all out assault they could have easily overrun our position.  Machetes were out and ready, as were entrenching tools and bayonets, ready for a last ditch, hand to hand fight if they came at us.  There was one great ace “up the sleeve” in our favour, Reg Shepherd, our artillery forward observer had plotted the location of the talkative VC and called a fire mission in on his location.  The 105mm rounds crashed in and then one of them, hit by white hot shrapnel, began to scream, a long keening and piercing scream that seemed to go on forever.  This unsettled the VC, they had been unable to deal a knockout punch to either platoon during the afternoon’s fighting.  They had been hit hard by artillery, and helicopter gun ships and now this one screaming man seemed to be the last straw.  Reg called in another fire mission and the screaming stopped abruptly.

 After the echoes of the explosions had faded we could hear the clanging of pots, pans and other equipment.  They were packing up to move, they had lost interest in the fight and they were on their way out of the area.  About 3.00 a.m. there was silence, no more sounds coming from the bunkers and then the chilling sound of mortars being fired of in the distance.  We thought we were going to be hit and there was more than a little relief when the word came around that they were our own, being fired onto likely enemy withdrawal routes.

A couple of hours later it was light and Company Headquarters came up to join us.  The O.C. had the shits with us because the enemy dead had been left laying outside our perimeter and demanded that they be buried immediately.  A couple of us went and dragged them into the bottom of a nearby bomb crater, shoveled some loose dirt over them and threw a few palm fronds on top of that, then, as far as we were concerned they were as good as buried, fortunately the O.C. did not look too closely at our handy work. 

 After our weapons were cleaned and the ammunition had been redistributed it was time to go back into the bunkers.  I led the way back down into the scene of our battle the afternoon before and I was a little edgy as to what might be waiting for us.  Fortunately they had gone and it then became a task of searching the bunkers for equipment and information.  I searched the bunker from which a machine gun had given us so much trouble.  The machine gun tripod was still there, shot to bits.  A lot of ammunition had been left behind and there at the back of the bunker was a North Vietnamese helmet, quite a souvenir.  I picked it up only to find that its previous owner’s cranium was still stuck inside it, glued in place with drying blood and muck.  It had already started to stink so I threw it off into the scrub.

Other bunkers showed signs of how devastating the artillery had been.  I searched another two bunkers that had taken direct hits through the entrances while still fully occupied.  It looked as if someone had spray painted the interior with blood and then decorated it with flesh and bone.  In the heat of the morning the place had begun to smell very badly and we were glad when the searching was finished.  The bunkers were counted, fifty in our area and another fifty or so around 3 Platoon’s location.  A nominal roll giving the enemy strengths had been found and we all began to realize just how lucky we had been.  We had fought the better part of two enemy battalions as well as the Ba Long District Headquarters group and that would have given the enemy a strength of around 600 give or take a few.

We started to get a few visitors to have a look around our battleground, the C.O., Lt. Col. David Butler and Padre Mills came in to see us and to have a talk to the boys.  While the padre was talking to a couple of us he told us what had happened to 8 RAR up in the Long Hai’s.  Alpha Company 8 RAR had hit a couple of M16 mines and had lost 9 KIA and 15 WIA at the time we had been fighting in the bunkers.  Along with the 14 wounded from our company we had just had the highest single days casualties since the Battle of Coral in 1968 where an equal number were killed and wounded and this was the second greatest loss of lives since Long Tan in 1966.  It had been a tough day indeed for the Australian Army in Vietnam.

We were sent after the withdrawing enemy force, it was not hard to follow them, hundreds of people all heading in the one direction left a very big track.  Along the sides of this track we could see where large numbers of stretcher poles had been cut down and piles of bloodied bandages showed there had been a lot of wounded.  We had been on their trail for a couple of hours when there was a brief burst of firing behind us.  The Kiwi’s had been following about half an hour behind us had killed three enemy soldiers who had been hiding somewhere and must have thought we had all gone.

The trail led us to the south west, towards the village of Dat Do and we came to an area where the wounded had been loaded on ox carts, then the main force had dispersed, some heading east to the May Tao mountains, others going west to the Long Hai hills and what was left going south into the areas known as the Long Green and the Light Green.   We hunted them for a few more days, living off what rations we had left and drinking water out of buffalo and wild pig wallows, not taking helicopter re-supply because we did not what them to know where we were. We had one more contact and Delta Company hit a company sized camp and had three men killed and then the operation was at an end.

This large well armed enemy force had been forced out of a large bunker base camp and had been forced to disperse to escape detection.  They had taken a lot of casualties, how many would never be know.  As for our wounded, they all survived, even Owen who had been shot through the head.  They had flown him to the big American base at Long Binh where a priest came down to say the last rites over someone they thought was dead.  As he began his ritual Owen sat bolt upright and said to the priest “You can piss off, I’m not dead yet you bastard.”  Word had it that they nearly had to give the priest the last rites because he got such a fright.

Fighting in bunkers was a deadly game for infantrymen, the enemy had everything in their favour.  They had chosen the piece of ground on which they would fight if necessary.  Each bunker could support its neighboring bunker with automatic weapons fire.  They were under ground while we were trying to maneuver on top, totally exposed to everything they could throw at us.  Most of the time the bunkers were well camouflaged and were difficult to see unless you were right on top of them and as you were trying to knock out one bunker you would have two or three other bunkers trying to knock you out.  Sometimes it was just too tough and dangerous, especially against the NVA, to continue fighting in them and we would pull back and let the artillery and air strikes give them a work over before trying again.

 For two isolated and under strength platoons to be caught up in bunker fighting against such a large and well armed and aggressive force was a recipe for disaster but, sometimes luck is on your side and on that long afternoon and night of February 28th, 1970, lady luck was certainly sitting amongst us.  There are days in a lifetime that you will always remember and I know that February afternoon will stay clearly in my mind until the day I die.  Even as I write this description I can close my eyes and still see the grass and scrub being slashed down by bullets all around me and the bright flashes as the rocket propelled grenades exploded above us in the bamboo.  I can still smell the stench of blood and decaying body fragments in the bunkers I searched and on the darkest of summer nights when I stand outside and allow my mind to go racing back to that night long ago I can smell the dank jungle we lay in, waiting for the enemy to come to try an finish us off.

 


©Vietnamese & American Veterans of the Vietnam War, 2005 All Rights Reserved

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