A Diggers viewpoint of being at the sharp end. Gained while serving with 3 Platoon - 'A' Company -7 Battlion (Infantry) Royal Australian Regiment, as a Rifleman in Australia's war - fought in South Vietnam.  

Chapter 4 - Page 21 - Updated October 2013 - Next Page:- End Of Tour 22/35

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[bunker battle 18] [night move - long hais 19] [mine incident 20] [ambushing the australian way 21]


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 end of tour 22

 service 23

my case 24

 PTSD 25



  • Ambushing
  • Routine
  • VC in the Bag!~!
  • Village Ambush
  • CONTACT  - Wait Out!
  • Two buildings hit by 3 platoon fire.
  • Plover & Brew Time.
  • Two Ambush Images Below
  • Image on right, weapons check, mag off, pulling cocking handle, checked round ejecting!

THE BULLET will take you to an incident that is referred to in this story. Images related to the following story lines will load at the bottom of the page while you read!


Ambushing is a Australian key skill in jungle fighting and developed during the Aussie experience in Malaya and Borneo. For 3 Platoon the "shape" of the ambush and Harbour formation was changed from a circle to a TRIANGLE during training in Australia in 1969. Why I don't really know, I think an idea from "action reports" coming from 5RAR, then in Vietnam. However it was a great change and I always felt it was a far stronger formation to fight from as we did not dig in during our tour of Vietnam.

Also it meant that the 'face' of the each side of the triangle was flat, so that no position was in front of another position. Cutting down on the risk that you would not get shot by some one from your own Platoon. "Move into Harbour" was also made in to a 'drill' signaled by holding your arm up at head level and sweeping it around in a circle. The drill was practiced continually, first on open playing fields so all could see the concept. It was carried out when the Platoon was in the bush on exercises and intending stopping for more than a few minutes.

In this way, for what ever the reason we were stopping, the Platoon was ready to protect itself or lay on an ambush. No matter what section formed the "killing group", the other two sections provided security with a far safer formation than the old harbour shape of a circle. Each section would form up as one part of the THREE sides of a triangle, with a M60 Machine Gun at each point. This shape gave very good all round protection both in a night harbour or ambushing a track, which we did on EVERY night in Vietnam, when on operations in the jungle.

Each gun could offer fire support to its own section and the section on the 'next angle' of the triangle. In this formation the killing ground was covered by two M60 machine guns. The Platoon Commander a 2nd Lieutenant (called Boss or Skipper) would be in the middle of the formation with the bloke who carried a most important bit of equipment a radio set, he was the platoon signaler (sig). The Platoon Sergeant would also hutchie up there.

In the jungle it was important to get out of the 'move' formation and into a harbour or ambush position as quickly and quietly as possible. As the shape of the ambush was a 'drill' it enabled all members of the platoon to know were the rest of the platoon was situated to prevent some one being shot by mistake.

Something proved to me when working with a different sub unit I nearly shot a member of that unit and is explained on the page: THE ODD ANGRY SHOT, Page 16

While on the move the Boss depending on the tactical situation would make a decision to ambush a likely looking track and the platoon would go to ground. Then he or the Sgt would make a recce with a couple of Diggers of a good position. Then one Digger would move back and pick up the platoon while the ambush position was kept under watch, this was to prevent the platoon being ambushed its self. Each section would be placed on the ground making sure that they lined up with the other sections. The machine gunners would be given their arcs of responsibility, the rest of us would set up our bed spaces to ensure that during the night when you woke up you knew which way was 'inside' the platoon and which was 'outside' the enemy!

Once the platoon was set in position, a trip flare was set up in the middle of the killing ground, once tripped, the sound and the blazing light could not be missed. To ensure that our skills remind high, during our few stays at Nui Dat, the platoon would set up on the range in sections, lying on our backs when a flare would be set off to our front. Then we would dive over grab weapons and open up on to the figure targets to our front. After a magazine each and a belt from the gunner we would check our hits on the targets. This took place after dark, again to get used to the way we would do it for real.

In the bush once the flare was in place the Claymore mines would be set up to cover the centre of the killing ground and a couple to cover in front of each Machine gun. Later in the Tour when I was one of the most experienced Diggers the Platoon Sgt had me setting up the claymore mines. The mine was full of deadly ball bearings, to rip and tear a body to pieces.

It was critical before you moved out of the position to ensure that the Gunner for the M60 knew you were moving out in to the 'killing zone'. The second critical issue was to hold on to the trigger device of the mines. This was called a 'clacker'. I have no idea why perhaps because of the noise it made when you triggered it to explode the mine? When you were safely back inside the platoon position then and only then would you attach the clacker to the wires running to the Claymore. When the 'safety' was removed, a metal bar in place and you pressed the clacker together it allowed a circuit to trigger the explosives in the mine. This would send hundreds of metal balls on their way in to the killing ground. The mine was marked, believe it or not, with the words. "Front Towards Enemy". To ensure that in moments of forgetfulness you did not face it the wrong way?

The next day, in the morning getting ready for "stand -too" before full light, all gear would be packed up and put back in to packs. If the platoon was then moving out of the area the claymores would be brought in. Again it was critical to remove the clacker and keep it on you while moving out of the position to make safe the claymores and pack them away.

One morning the Digger packing the trip flare made an error and the flare went off. I was just having a brew, but reacted by diving flat on the ground, picking up my SLR and getting a sight picture of the track and jumping Digger in a few seconds. He was aware of how close it was as he was jumping up and down yelling, 'don't shoot its me', over and over. It was the best thing he could have done, after our heart rates went back to normal we all had a laugh.



Everyone maintained a routine from the way you carried your weapon 'at the ready', to be able to open fire in a moments notice, to packing your equipment as soon as it was no longer required. The ability to pack your basic webbing and gear so that when the Platoon stopped for a meal it was a minimum of effort to unpack, fire up the hexie, cook a meal and a brew, eat and clean up and pack again ready to move was critical. In fact I got so used to the routine being part of my everyday life I got some what frustrated if something occurred to interrupt it.

The routine at night was also critical and important so that security was maintained and you were aware of your position in the ambush relative to the other members of your section and the platoon. During my tour I heard stories of when Diggers woke up and lost their sense of direction and they heard a noise, they fired across the platoon position, as they thought the noise was coming from 'outside' the platoon's position. So it was the utmost importance that your bed space was orientated so that when you woke up in the pitch dark, and unable to see your hand in front of your face, there was no mistake as to which direction you could expect the enemy and where the other gun positions of the platoon were.

When you were able you prepared your bed space as soon as you could. This was carried out by simply cleaning away the leaves and checking you were not going to put your bed on an ants nest or any other form of wild life. If you did it could be a very uncomfortable night. See Night of the Chompers below! Also have a look at the image at the bottom of the page. Its me having a brew and reading a book before the area is cleaned up for sleeping gear. Sometimes I would spray mossie repellant around were my bedroll was going to be and finally I would eat well away from my bed space. The track system would be set up so you would continue to mark the track by moving the leaves along the 'track' between the pits to your right and left. Even in the dead of night it was possible to 'see' the track and with no leaves you made little or no sound. If you had stopped with time for a meal before stand too it was also important to find out were the person you had to awake up after you finished your piquet duty. There is nothing worse than stumbling around the position looking for the next piquet.

Next I would lay out my big pack at the head of the sleeping area, and the hutchie only laid out, so when the piquet came to check on you before last light he knew were you were. This was done without opening the sleeping gear. To prevent any sleeping buddies with many legs, I only put this out when you were able to get in to bed. Then when leaving for my turn on piquet it would be rolled up and put away. To check out this equipment and how it was used have a look at the images on Page 14 'Contact Wait Out'.

Next would be a meal and perhaps time to write back home before it got dark. Making sure that all equipment not needed was packed up and you could move if need be without loosing half your equipment. Then came the order to 'stand too'. It was whispered along the position. Slipping on your webbing and grabbing the SLR you stayed very still and quiet until the order came to 'stand down'. If your piquet was in the middle of the night you were free to go to bed, after stand down.

It was a simple matter of taking off your basic webbing and placing  so you could get it on at a moments notice, then getting out the bed role lay it along the inside of the hutchie. Placing the SLR next to that and taking your boots off, when you were able, and climbing in to the bed roll. When you had settled down you always made sure that you could touch the SLR's pistol grip with little effort. The first thing you reached for when you woke up at any time. Sometimes  with the sounds of the jungle and few human sounds, it was hard to imagine that 30 other Diggers were with in cooee of you.

Once the platoon was set in position, a trip flare was set up in the middle of the killing ground, once tripped, the sound and the blazing light could not be missed. To ensure that our skills remind high, during our few stays at Nui Dat, the platoon would set up on the range in sections, lying on our backs when a flare would be set off to our front. Then we would dive over grab weapons and open up on to the figure targets to our front, after a magazine each and a belt from the gunner we would check our hits on the targets. This took place after dark, again to get used to the way we would do it for real.  


Of course after dark there was nothing to do but sleep and despite the nerves at times I found it easy at times to fall asleep knowing that soon you would be on piquet duty. When I was training setting down to sleep was not much of a problem yet as soon as I started working on operations I realised I had an issue with how I slept? There was no way I could settle down with my back to an open area. My skin used to craw when I tried it. The result was to get used to sleeping on my back. It was simple really. If I wanted to be able to check out my surroundings without indicating that I was awake and alert I need to train my self to sleep on my back.

Then is was a simple matter of if awoken during the night, I could check my arcs without moving my head or making any noise. Try it your self. Sleep on you side then hear a noise behind you and try and roll over without making any noise? Mostly if woken up it would be someone moving inside the Platoon's Ambush perimeter and once you identified the direction of the snoring, farting, coughing what ever, you could relax and try and drop off again. But if there was movement along with the sound, it was a matter of getting your hand on the pistol grip of the SLR and be ready to use it. Of course it was mostly a Digger coming to get you for piquet and I would be instantly aware and ready to go.

Sitting up and reaching for my GP boots. "Shit don't do that" came the whisper, "you scared the fucking crap out of me tony". "Sorry mate, I'll be right with you". To ensure that the woken Digger was awake and knew what he was doing, the off duty Digger would wait for you and take you back to the gun position. So it was a routine of boots on, roll up the sleeping bag (to get the bugs out), stand up put on webbing. Then roll the rest of the hutchie over your gear in case it rained. Then you followed him to the Gun Position. There he would show you the position of the 'clacker' for the Claymore mines, just which tree had the cclaymore mines, were the gunner was sleeping, the list and times for the night and a watch that had a luminous dial so you could see the time. Then it was a long wait while you sort to make time move, with your will, while you concentrated for two hours until it was your turn to go and get the next Digger.

Nights that were clear and bright were no problem. You could see the track and some times down each direction that the VC should move, if you were in the killing group? This roll was shared around to give all a go. When you were not in the killing group, your position was set up to protect if the VC did a sweep after contact. They were very good with breaking contact and sweeping around to hit the enemy (us) side on. At least you knew that you were one of three positions on the look out; as every Section in the Platoon, 7, 8 and 9 had some one manning their M60 Machine Gun. Although this was not always the case, as I found out some months later, when I was working with a section to help out as they were low in numbers.

As I was traveling with PHQ while I was carrying the radio (25 set) and Platoon Head Quarters did not pull piquet, except me of course. For some reason I woke up and it was outside my piquet hours. But on the spur of the moment I checked the gun position because I could not see anyone sitting up? With a little light it was possible using 'dark adaption' (see Night Vision Story on Page 10 Oink becomes a Digger) to see shapes in other parts of the position. Sure enough I could not see anyone sitting up as they were lying down sleeping. I gave him a dig in the ribs and a harsh "what the fuck are you doing?" He struggled to sit up and said "I was very tired". "Arn't we all mate, but your supposed to be watching our BACKS!"

In the end I agreed to take an hour on the gun, while he got his head down and he would cover my last hour. Many weeks later a group of us were talking and the incident came up. The blokes nic name was Frog for some reason and one by one they all said they had caught him asleep on piquet, over the past months. This was practically a court marshal offence. The Section Commander with us, a Clp stormed off and we found out later that he had smacked the bloke in the mouth and had him removed from the unit. He was gone in 30 minutes and I have not seen him from that day to this one.

The very worst were the nights during the wet season. As the sound of the rain as it advanced through the jungle sounded like an express train. The the rain would arrive like some one pouring buckets of cold water over you and it would take your breath away.

The Platoon had made the first kills of the tour, in such an ambush while on the first operation with 2 VC KIA, however I was not with them, being ill I had been left back at NUI DAT by the Boss. I was not a happy camper at the time.

VC in the BAG!~!

However I was with the Platoon during a successful ambush on the 23rd April 1970 when a group of Viet Cong walked along a dry creek bed that the platoon had staked out. It had started the day before when B Company was fighting into a bunker system and the platoon was moved towards the area to form a blocking force. You could hear the automatic fire, the steady loud bangs of the M60's and the lighter crackle of the AK47's. Some times while on the move 'dead' rounds would whistle through the trees. Then there was an attack from some fighter planes who dived towards the ground and dropped their bombs and swept skywards again, we could see it through the breaks in the trees as we moved across open areas and the planes in their dive, attacking, it looks just as it does in the movies.

Finally after moving for hours we found a dry creek bed on the edge of some open areas. Lucky for us the area next to the creek was high enough and just big enough for the platoon to lay out its bed rolls to try and get some sleep that night. It did not last long when about 0300hrs we could hear some noises down in the creek bed, in our section we could not tell if someone from the platoon was just moving around or the enemy. A huge bang woke up those not yet on the alert when John from another section, banged on the "clacker" to set off the claymores, to our left.

The result was a VC KIA, a platoon commander of D445, his pistol still in plastic rapping. Moving out later on, his sandals lay on the ground with blood on them, close to were he was buried in the dry creek bed. I remember thinking that it was not much to show for a human life. Another red figure on our "Kill Board" at Nui Dat.

At first light a check of the area found a blood trail so the Boss called for a Tracker Dog. The dog along with his Digger arrived by CO's chopper and together with a small patrol started to follow the blood. Soon on the radio came a call from the patrol commander that they could see a large party of enemy walking across an open area, some carrying AK's and many carrying Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG). The rest of the platoon quickly got its basic webbing on and hiding our big backs as best we could, moved out of the creek area to join the patrol. By radio we were told in what direction to follow and swung left across another open area back the way we had come the day before, most of the Diggers had grins on their faces getting ready for a possible contact with the group we thought at this stage might be North Vietnamese Army Regulars?

I was feeling a little uncomfortable as I had loaned my M16 to one of the patrol and was carrying his SLR and webbing which didn't fit, so it was just flapping about my waist. I was half running next to the Boss, we were trying to keep up with the rest of the platoon when a large explosion followed by smoke billowing from some trees about 250 meters to our right rear, that was followed by heavy automatic fire from M16s. It was clear that the patrol had not waited for us and were now firing on the enemy and had used a M72 rocket luncher as a tree burst. Yet we were running the other way? For some reason I had a brain wave and said to the Boss "We should be going that way", pointing at the last of the smoke.

He looked at me, then over at the area and for one minute I thought he was going to agree, but he said, "we have to join up with the patrol". A few minutes later we had followed the sound of the firing and hit the ground all around the patrol, I was still with the Boss so was able to hear the discussion about what the patrol commander had seen.

Expecting to have the enemy respond I was trying to get the webbing organised so I could get to the magazines if needed, however there was no reaction from the enemy group and after a short wait the patrol commander went over with a few Diggers to check out the area. He reported that the nogs had taken off leaving some papers and the start of cooking fires for a meal. When seen at first the patrol had thought they might be Australians because of them wearing bush hats and basic webbing, however Aussies don't carry RPG so they had waited for the group to cross the clearing and settle on the ground before opening fire.

It would have been interesting if the enemy had decided to have ago at the patrol at that point or if the Boss had made up his mind to sweep through at the point of the smoke, as its not often you get a platoon sized enemy unit in the open patrolling like Aussies. Its possible they were from the Bunker battle the day before with B Company, perhaps waiting for the Aussies to leave so they could move back in? The result was we were ordered out of the area "immediately" by the CO over the radio as the rounds from the contact had landed near other Australian units and they did not like it much, so we moved back to get our big packs and moved on.

All in all; I have always, even to this day; regarded it as a missed opportunity to met the nogs on level terms. Not that 3 Platoon thought it was Rambo or anything, but it was an opportunity to have a crack at an enemy unit in an area that was just right for a platoon contact, without the nogs using bunkers to shoot the shit out of us. Another frustrating day! The way unfortunately, the war was fought in Vietnam at times!~!        


It is not usual for a whole village to be ambushed but that's just what A Company did in MAY 1970. We were at the Horse Shoe at that time and 3 Platoon was given "warning order, "there will be an 'O' Group at 1400hrs". This meant we would be going out that night so time to get gear sorted, get a meal, shit, shave, shower, shampoo whatever. The Section second in-charge or 2i/C for 7 section would issue ammo link Link for the M60 machine gun, claymore mines so they were spread around the section Diggers. We called him the "Diggers batman" real name Jock & a nice bloke for a Lance Jack. (Lance Corporal) 'O' Groups were relatively informal, as long as you were awake and paying attention it was ok. Some times a map would be used to point out the target area or ground you would be working in. A likeness would be made on paper or in the soil like a kid playing with mud, called of course a 'Mud Map'.

When working close with other units like tonight, with the other platoons of 'A' Company it was important to know exactly were they would be in relation to your own position. Also what fire support would be available from the Artillery at Nui Dat, or perhaps mortars fired by the Battalion's Support Company. Once I remember we were so far away from fire support we were told that our support would come from a ship.

Tonight we were going to try something new. As it was believed our troop movements were being past on to the VC by local sympathises. The Company was planned to arrive at our set positions around the village just at last light. The Village chief would be told at the last minute to prevent any information being past on. When the method of insertion was read out, "walking", groans came from everywhere. In fact a few of us coined the phrase "Grey's Greyhounds" after the bus line in Australia, to reflect the feeling we walked a bloody lot in 7RAR.

It was called an 'Ambush' but it was far from the normal ambush situation. I'd never heard of a Company ambushing a village before this was going to be interesting. The village was Phouc Lois and although not far from the Shoe. To arrive at the village at the right time, we would be walking in a round-about route through the bush to get there. I was surprised to see that we would be taking the 90mm recoilless rifle would be going along. Having been trained in support weapons back in Aussie, including the Carl Gustoff, I was sweating on who would carry the 90mm?

When it was not me picked, I breathed a silent sigh of relief. It was a heavy sucker and at this time of the year, it was bloody hot. "Ok you lot get fell in". Soon we were lined up ready to go. We moved out of the Shoe with 1 Plt, in the lead followed by 2Plt, CHQ and then us. As we left the area every Digger cocked their individual weapons, and "switched on". That is forgetting every thing else on your mind and focusing on the job at hand. Watching your arcs and making sure that your safety catch was placed to 'off' on your weapon.

Now and then by looking through the bush you could make out the roof and sometimes a side of a local houses, so as usual no sound was made by anyone. Talking was replaced by signs and hand signals. Suddenly the 'thumb down' sign was past down the line. ENEMY. Everyone froze. Absolutely still trying to see through the bush, looking hard, listening for any strange noise. "KEEEEEEEEEEE" The forward scout must have bumped a plover, a bird, the noise they made was terrible. I still hate that sound to this day. An image of that pesky breed is

We got the 'Thumbs up' signal, the all clear. Off we went. What ever was seen must not be a threat to us? The light was starting to fade so we must have been getting close? I was thinking 'i hope we are on the ground before it is fully dark'. We passed close by 1 Platoon setting up near the road south of the village, 2 Platoon had already moved into their ambush position to the south-west.

We crossed the road, Route 44 in a tactical manner and moved around the west side of the village. Next we passed CHQ setting their position up, I could see 'Father' talking on the radio. We continued around to the North of the village quite close to Route 44, running to the Shoe. The sections were placed on the ground about 2030hrs. I was in a group facing south and the village. The Long Hais lay to our right, the light was fading fast as we got in to our ambush positions. It was now dark!  

 CONTACT  - Wait Out!

Suddenly we could hear automatic weapon fire and see tracer. From the radio I could hear a "Contact - wait out' message. Then the information that CHQ had seen as many as 8 Viet Cong and had opened up and were firing in to the village, from our front right across our front. We had been walking in that area  a few minutes ago how close had we been to walking in to the VC? You could see the red tracer going from our right in to the village and green tracer coming from the village. In the distance you could hear the guns firing from the Horse Shoe. "POP HISSSS" artillery rounds arrived over our position. The area lit up with bright yellow light. Then we could see them, the Viet Cong. They were right in front of us. Perhaps a few hundred meters away moving from right to left in front of a long white building.

One Cong was carrying a AK47 and using the high step. Once again I was near the platoon commander, "Boss can we open fire?" I could not believe we could actually see VC and we had not been given the order to open fire yet? "FIRE." We did not need any other invitation. I slipped the safety catch off and aiming at the Cong with the AK I fired about 10 rounds, I could hear the rest of the section blazing away..

The Cong returned fire straight away, the streams of green tracer was flying our way. You had to remind yourself that these 'fireworks' could kill you. I picked another target and fired the rest of my rounds and quickly dropped down and changed magazines then used the top of the paddy bun to aim and continued firing. I was concentrating on keeping my fire down on target and not firing high. A problem we had been trained to react to while shooting in darkness.

The illumination was still arriving and you could still see the VC moving across our front. "BANG." What was that? "RPG keep your heads down" It had flown over our heads and landed in the middle of the platoon area, but because we were spread out along the paddy buns, it had hit no one. 'Pretty impressive' I thought, they were certainly no beginners reacting quickly and getting fire in to our position. Fortunately no trees for the RPG to hit.

"Cease fire, cease fire." was the order? 'You have to be joking', I thought. Slowly the fire from the section slowed and then stopped. "BANG". This time we had fired the 90mm, no explosion, bugger. "BANG" another one this time an explosion. Someone thought that they saw a light in a house to the left of the village and then put 2 rounds from M72s were fired into the house, it sort of 'shuck' and clouds of dust flew up.

The radio started to chatter". The boss was talking to 'Father' in CHQ, then he said, "we are going to sweep towards the village". "Blakey you move over to Jonesy and watch our backs went we move". I had to run over the ground targeted by the RPG to reach the other Digger and when the platoon started to move towards the village in sections. We followed a bound at a time as the platoon moved its position closer to the village. The illumination was now stopped so we had to use our night vision to run over the ground. What had happened to the VC we never found out but one unlucky Cong walked past 2 platoon and after a chase they killed him. It was an uncomfortable night huddled on the side of a paddy but trying to get some sleep after the excitement of meeting the Viet Cong head on.

There is no doubt it was exciting, to be able to actually see the Viet Cong and engage them. I remember being surprised in the fact that they used green tracer and that we used red tracer? Easy to tell who was who and just where they were? I was pleased that I had concentrated on my job and not allowed the incoming fire to distract me. The next morning we were moved back to the Shoe and never used the tactic again.

This was a great pity as it obviously had worked and worked well. However it was one of the silly contradictions of that war. The village was one on the road that the Company used to move to NDP Brigid. The long white building was very clear from the road. I took a photo of it one day while we were being trucked down to Brigid once again. Also I took one of the house we suspected that the enemy had moved into.  


 The images below, the left is of the 'white building', although it seemed longer in my memory? The image on the right is the building that was hit by two M72 rockets.


Above Image:- This of course is me before starting to clean up the area for a night stop and ambush.

BIRD? Why a bird? Well this is a shot of the annoying Plover. Its harsh call echoing far into the night when you disturbed the dam things! I hate the birds to this very day!


These two images show what it is like to look out across the land from an 'Ambush' Position. The Long Hai Mountains dominated the whole area that 3 platoon worked in for most of the Tour in Vietnam.




[bunker battle 18] [night move - long hais 19] [mine incident 20] [ambushing the australian way 21] [Sky Images]

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