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Special Feature

Towing the line
On August 18, Australia marked the 40th anniversary of Vietnam Veterans Day. In this special historical feature, Navy News reflects on the RAN’s contribution to the Vietnam War.

BUSY BODIES: HMAS Brisbane sailors embarking ammunition at sea.
BUSY BODIES: HMAS Brisbane sailors embarking ammunition at sea.
HIT: Damage to HMAS Hobartís funnel after coming under fire during Operation Sea Dragon.
HIT: Damage to HMAS Hobart’s funnel after coming under fire during Operation Sea Dragon.
SWELL TIME: HMAS Parramatta pushes her way through the swell.
SWELL TIME: HMAS Parramatta pushes her way through the swell.
INCOMING: Sailors onboard HMAS Hobart watch as enemy fire falls nearby.
INCOMING: Sailors onboard HMAS Hobart watch as enemy fire falls nearby.

Volume 49, No. 14, August 10, 2006

By John Perryman

The largest single commitment by the Royal Australian Navy to Vietnam was the provision of a destroyer on a rotational basis to the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet for service on what became known as the ‘gunline’.

RAN warships provided naval gunfire support from March 1967 to September 1971. They also participated in Operation Sea Dragon, the bombardment of North Vietnamese military targets and the interdiction of supply routes and logistic craft along the coast of North Vietnam from the Demilitarized Zone to the Red River Delta, from April 1967 until it was suspended in November 1968.

The first RAN destroyers to deploy to Vietnam were the Charles F. Adams class guided missile destroyers (DDG) Hobart, Perth and Brisbane. The Australian DDG’s were well suited for the task of providing Naval Gunfire Support (NGS). Armed with two 5 inch 54 calibre gun mounts that fired a standard 76 lb High Explosive (HE) shell, they were capable of bringing down accurate 5 inch gunfire at a rate of 40 rounds per minute on targets at ranges beyond 14 nautical miles in most conditions.

The Daring class destroyer HMAS Vendetta was also deployed for service on the gunline. Her main armament consisted of six 4.5 inch guns that were capable of providing accurate and rapid fire to a range of nine nautical miles at a rate of 16 rounds per gun per minute. In good conditions Vendetta’s guns were capable of expending up to 100 rounds per minute.

HMAS Hobart was the first DDG to join the US Seventh Fleet on 15 March 1967 beginning the six monthly rotation of RAN destroyers for service on the gunline. Hobart and Perth deployed three times to Vietnam, Brisbane twice and Vendetta once.
The destroyers carried out NGS missions in all of South Vietnam’s four military regions and Hobart and Perth were actively involved in Sea Dragon. Hobart and Perth came under fire on a number of occasions. Perth was hit once during her first deployment and Hobart suffered two killed and seven wounded when she was mistakenly hit by missiles fired from a United States Air Force jet aircraft.

Hobart was awarded a US Navy Unit Commendation in recognition of her service in Vietnam while Perth received both the US Navy Unit Commendation and the US Meritorious Unit Commendation. This honour allowed both ships to fly distinguishing pennants known as ‘burgees’ from their masthead when alongside for the duration of their commissions.
In their five years service in Vietnam, the four gunline destroyers steamed over 397,000 miles and fired 102,546 rounds.

Following in Vung Tau Ferry’s wake

SUPER TROOPER: HMAS Sydney was known as the Vung Tau Ferry after being converted to a fast troop transport carrier during Vietnam.
SUPER TROOPER: HMAS Sydney was known as the Vung Tau Ferry after being converted to a fast troop transport carrier during Vietnam.

By Brett Mitchell

Mention the Vung Tau Ferry to any Vietnam veteran and they will immediately recall HMAS Sydney, the former aircraft carrier that was later converted as a fast troop transport and destined to become the mainstay of naval logistic support operations for Australian forces in Vietnam.

Commissioned in 1948, HMAS Sydney was a keystone in the development of Australia’s post war naval aviation capability and served with distinction in the Korean War. HMAS Sydney was converted for troopship duties in the early 1960s and began her first voyage to Vietnam in May 1965, transporting the First Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, from Sydney to Vung Tau in southern Vietnam.

Between 1965 and 1972, HMAS Sydney undertook 25 voyages to Vietnam and transported 16,094 troops, 5,753 deadweight tons of cargo and 2,375 vehicles. On her first voyage four days were taken to unload cargo in Vung Tau. On subsequent voyages this turn around time was reduced to a matter of hours.
On every voyage HMAS Sydney was ably supported by at least one escort that provided a measure of protection against potential hostile forces. She had up to four escorts in 1965 and 1966, including at times the flagship HMAS Melbourne. Other escorts included HMA Ships Anzac, Derwent, Duchess, Parramatta, Stuart, Swan, Torrens, Vampire, Vendetta and Yarra.

In 1966 the Vietnam supply line was supplemented by two Australian National Line (ANL) cargo ships, Jeparit and Boonaroo. These ships were chartered by the Department of Shipping and Transport on behalf of the Australian Army to transport military vehicles, ammunition, aid and canteen supplies.

In March 1967 members of the Seamen’s Union refused to man Jeparit and Boonaroo. To overcome this difficulty, Boonaroo was immediately commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy with a full naval crew for one return voyage to Cam Ranh Bay and Singapore.

In the case of Jeparit, existing crew who were prepared to continue to serve in the ship were supplemented by a Royal Australian Navy detachment. She made 21 voyages under the Red Ensign with a combined Merchant Navy / Royal Australian Navy crew. Further industrial action in December 1969 prompted the Federal Government to commission Jeparit as one of Her Majesty’s Australian Ships. HMAS Jeparit made a further 17 incident free voyages under the Australian White Ensign. In all she carried 175,000 deadweight tons of cargo to Vietnam before returning to ANL control in March 1972.

ROLL OF HONOUR

RAN sailors who lost their lives while serving in Vietnam

Royal Australian Helicopter Flight Vietnam

LCDR Patrick John Vickers, February 22, 1968
LEUT Anthony Austin Casadio, August 21, 1968
PO O’Brian Cedric Ignatious Phillips, August 21, 1968
Acting SBLT Antony Jeffrey Huelin, January 3, 1969
LS Noel Ervin Shipp, May 31, 1969

HMAS Hobart

CPO Raymond Henry Hunt, June 17, 1968
ORDSMN Raymond John Butterworth, June 17, 1968

Clearance Diving Team 3
AB Bogdan Kazimierz Wojcik, June 21, 1970

 
 

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