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 longest ever war - fought in South Vietnam.  

Chapter 4 - Page 18 - Updated January 2007 - Next Page:- Night Move Long Hais 19/35

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


'A' Company looses its first Digger in a major fire fight in Bunker System.


 Site Index




  • The Horse Shoe.
  • Battle Battle.
  • Mopping Up.
  • No Rest For The Wicked.
  • No End In Sight. 
  • 7 Images at Bottom of Page
  • Here is a shot of the inner 'Bowl' of the Horse Shoe with a chopper taking off. 

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 the stories!



The Horse Shoe was an interesting place. High ground was valued in Vietnam for obvious tactical reasons. The Shoe was well placed, near the town of Dat Do, and well shaped, as the name suggests the Horseshoe' being the high ground the inner area providing safe and great protection for the Grunts, Artillery and the Armoured Personnel Carriers, (APC's).   See bottom of page for four images of the Horse Shoe. One of them a fire mission by the guns of the Artillery.


On the afternoon of May 21st I was walking up the hill, from the inner bowl of just after lunch. I was climbing up the feature with pains in my gut almost doubling me up. Another Vietnam problem, the 'jungle trots'. Getting to the top of the feature it was clear that there was a big contact in progress close to the Shoe. Scotty said "look at that". Someone was in BIG trouble. Over the steady hum of insects the 'crack crack' of small arms fire could be heard. As i got to the crest of the position, facing roughly North, in the main area of 3 Platoon pits and sleeping bays, someone said "look at that".

Above the trees some few "clicks" away smoke/gun powder haze could be seen above drifting above the trees. Heavier sounds of M60 Machine Guns in long bursts could be heard along with the lighter tinny sounds of the AK47. It was some shit fight, who was it? As 3 Platoon were on "Ready Reaction" Diggers were running around getting their gear squared away; filling water bottles or getting ammo.

For some strange reason i had picked that very day, of all days to sort out my Big Pack and gear, and my big pack was completely empty. I put on my webbing, checked all water bottles i carried 6, some on my on my basic webbing and the rest on the big pack, all full. SLR magazine on. Safety catch on. All spare magazines in pouches, grenades on top. I did not have any food packed and the APC were on the way to pick us up. I was frantically trying to pack some and my sleeping gear when Sgt King arrived. "Thats 1 Platoon in the shit we move as soon as the APC's get here".

Stuff it I would have to go with what I had, and hope it was enough, and we would be back soon? Or so I thought. I was not going to worry about it when Diggers are in the shit. It sounded like a huge battle, the biggest gun fight I had heard since arriving in country. I checked my water bottles again. The roar of diesel engines announced the arrival of the APC's as they charged up the hill towards us.

Three Platoon was divided up in to its three sections waiting by the side of the road, so we could just jump in as soon as the ramps came down. The sound of the battle still very clear, with M60 machine guns rattling away. As the tracks skidded to a halt we jumped in quickly and found a seat. The Tracks moving off before the rear door was fully closed; they never did that as a rule. It was a wild ride, no one said anything, lost in their own thoughts. This is it i thought! One of my worst nightmares about to come true, a Bunker System fight and from the sounds of the gunfire a Big One.

It seemed like no time at all when the tracks pulled up. I ventured a look through the top hatch. The Tracks were in an open area, bamboo all around, spread out in a fan shape like a pack of cards, their guns covering the jungle. Diggers from 1 Platoon were talking to APC commanders giving them information about the situation. Their jungle greens were 'black' with sweat. Some had frag wounds on their faces, blood seeping from them. They looked totally exhausted and in shock. Every one was trying to get information from them; "the bloody Tanks pissed off and left us in there", one distressed Digger said. 'Tanks' i thought 'must have been bad if the the tanks had to pull out?

NOTE:- This is not the full story. The Digger was in shock and obviously upset. Yet it was not till years later, when I read the book Conscripts & Regulars that the facts became clear to me and told of the bravery of the Armoured Corps Diggers in saving many lives that day.

Next minute a huge noise arrived overhead, an Aussie Gunship. A chopper, a Bushranger Gunship was so close above the Track the noise was deafening. It looked as if you could put your arm up and touch it.

Turning, turning, Going from right to left. Almost on its side, its gunners stretched out of the side of the chopper hanging by their safety straps, firing their M60's back in to the Bunker System. 'Give it to the bastards'. The noise was incredible, i sat down. What are we waiting for lets get this over with.  See below for an image of a Centurion Tank, the same battle tank used with great success in Vietnam.

Someone produced a damaged M60. I could see people sitting on the top of the Track pulling at the cocking handle trying to free it. It had taken some direct hits from AK 47 rounds. "Where did that come from", someone asked "Its Noel's from 1 Platoon, he got hit". BANG - the gun had a round up the spout and it discharged, Shit!~! Diggers went everywhere, i jumped up to have a look across at the APCs on the other side of the clearing to see other Diggers jumping off or lying flat, thinking someone was firing at them. "OK its OK", someone shouted. Thank God no one was in front of the muzzle. A close one.

It was decided that we were going to do something rarely done against a bunker system. We were going to assault in to the position.  See note about Book at bottom of page for result of our assault. "We are going in" said Sgt king "the Tanks first, then us. Get out of the Track move away take cover, then we will suss out the situation. Blakey you stay close to the track & but keep an eye on me as I want you to stick with me".

I had to see this. struggling to stand up through the press of diggers standing in the hatch. To look out the top of the APC, i saw the 3 Tanks, Centurions, line up and head for the bamboo to our right. Where was my camera at a time like this? BOOM - BOOM - BOOM. Each Tank let fly with a Splintex round, flaying the bamboo, bits flying off ever were. I sat down again, checking the safety catch on my SLR.

Finally we were on the move, soon to be out of this sardine can, its Bloody HOT!~! It seemed we moved only a few yards, "Move Move", the ramp was falling, Diggers were throwing themselves out of the Track and dashing a few yards and hitting the deck, rifles at the ready. I moved out of the Track ran a few yards and dropped to one knee, so i could have a look around.

BOOM - BOOM - BOOM. The Tanks still moving forward continuing to fire at the dense bamboo. You could clearly see there track marks in the ground. They continued out of the bunker system and out of our ear shot. With the Tanks gone it was a bit quieter now. Bits of Bamboo was floating all over the place.

With little wind it drifted down to be kicked up as Diggers walked around. It was very hot and sticky, I needed a drink. I was trying to see if there was any danger around, i recon my eyes were huge! With huge areas of bamboo now blasted away, there were large open areas giving a good sight distance for any VC still in the system. They would have to be still in the bunkers with the volume of M60 rounds that the Bushranger was pouring in to the position. With the Platoon in position Sgt King STOOD nearby, calm as could be, smoking a cigarette, this relaxed me a bit.

"LOOK OUT!" the warning was loud and urgent. Swinging around I saw a Viet Cong Soldier coming out of a bunker about 10 yards behind us, no weapon no shirt. Then a second VC, no weapon. Then just as quickly, a third VC with greens on jumped out of the bunker hands in the air, no weapon. I was heading their way, my SLR at the shoulder, finger on safety catch. No weapons so you can't shoot them. 7RAR was very strict on the conventions about shooting unarmed enemy. Shit happens!~!   

At this stage of the tour I still did not hate them, as I came to do later. This was a reaction when the Battalion lost some Diggers, including this day as I was to find out the next day. One Digger that was closer tried to pull the trigger, he said that his weapon jammed. "Don't shoot, don't shoot", a Captain came running over, "we need them alive". The VC were shaking all over, standing together. The bamboo was no longer there to hide them. They had survived the attack by the Bushranger Gunships and the Tanks running over their bunker and now they had some SLR's up their noses with some determined Diggers behind them. No wonder they were shaking, YET, no-one touched them. I doubt if the situation was reversed that the Viet Cong would have treated Aussie soldiers as well!~!

The VC with is shirt off looked like a boxer. Well fed and fit, well built, more so than any Viet soldier i had seen. Within a few moments he was leading a couple of officers around showing them the place, like he owned it. The transformation was amazing. We were told as they translated from him that the Bunker System had 53 Viet Cong in it, they had been repairing it for a few days and had their Policitical Advisor with them. '53 nogs shit! No wonder they fought so hard' This only took a few minutes and Then Sgt King was heading back to the platoon as we had been given an area to 'clear and check'.  


I was able to check out the first point of contact. The VC had let the Diggers within 10 feet of a key bunker and then opened up. I will never forget the sight of a line of gear. From left to right, SLR magazines, water bottles, rounds of ammunition etc, some with blood on it. It was if someone had said; 'ok drop your gear here' and everyone had just thrown all their gear down. It was clearly the area where the Diggers had reached before the Cong had opened up. We moved back to the RV with 3 Platoon to talk about what we were going to do next.  

Rattttaaaatttaaaattt the commander of the APC backing us up opened up with his 30 cal machine gun. The rounds going over our heads "What the fuck are ya doin" a few pissed off Diggers wanted to know? After hitting the deck and looking for targets. "Over there" he answered pointing and then opening up with the 30 calibers machine gun again; "I can see a VC".

Sgt King then took charge. Putting the sections in position he gave the order to move through the system. "Ok this one first", he said as he threw his M26 grenade. The grenade made a dull 'THUMP' type of noise as it detonated. He then put a full burst into the opening of the bunker with his M16. Someone put a toggle rope on what was left of the VC to clear him out of the entrance of the bunker, but the body kept braking apart. "Ok throw another grenade into the bunker behind him, just in case there are more in there". This was done. THUMP! Dust flew out of the bunker.

It seemed a long time as we moved from bunker to bunker, burst of automatic rifle fire, take off safety clip, pull pin, toss grenade forcefully into bunker, stand away from entrance; burst of automatic fire. I saw a dark slit in the ground ahead, not sure if it was a bunker i fired at it, hitting it flipping it over, it was a length of wood. Not much point being embarrassed it could have been something i had seen bunkers you would just walk past, hidden very well, and my aim was still working, i had hit it!

When we were satisfied there were no more VC left in OUR position, we went to ground waiting fresh orders. Because of the safety rules used in Australia, we still had the grenades taped, as well as a safety clip, and the pin. After this experience we cleaned up what was left of the grenades with tape and never used it again.

Sgt King would kick your arse if you wore a grenade like you see in the movies, hanging off your gear. This was due to the number of soldiers killed and wounded in the past. In fact the first Digger KIA in Vietnam was killed this way. All our grenades were placed inside ammo pouches. I wore the 57 patten pouches, you can see in the photos taken at Kapooka, on the pages about my Rookie training. They had plenty of room for SLR magazines and grenades, of which i carried four. Two on spigots. These are like rocket lunchers which fit over the muzzle of an SLR and with a special holder for the grenade.

A small patrol was sent out to see what was in front of us, the rest of the Platoon following the Infantry MOTTO; don't stand when you can sit, don't sit when you can lay down, get the weight off your feet, get a brew on when you can. Sgt King moved back in to the centre where we had dismounted from the APC's, to have an 'O' group with Company Head Quarters (CHQ) and i tagged along. I could see a group of Diggers working hard in giving first aid to a female VC badly wounded by a 90mm recoilless rifle that 1 Platoon had used to good effect in their defence during the battle.

Despite the best efforts she died before a Chopper arrived to take her to hospital. I wounded why were they bothering? "Ok lets go". Sgt King and I rejoined 3 Platoon, he went off to tell the Section Commanders what next; I followed the motto. (Don't stand when you can sit.  Don't sit when you can lie down. If you can brew up, go for it!)

BANG! BANG! Someone had fired a SLR. Everyone not down on the ground at first got there fast. "Don't shoot, don't shoot its us", someone kept yelling. The returning patrol had been seen by a nervous Digger, lucky he did not have the M60 or an automatic weapon. The returning Diggers hot and flushed, not impressed by having been shot at. There was a fair bit of 'fuck you' thrown around at the guilty party until they were told to settle down. But fair enough the country was not that close now they tanks had done a bit of gardening, he should have made sure of his target before firing. Later in the year I did something similar, by changing my sight picture, a slight delay that stopped me from pulling the trigger and perhaps killing a member of our patrol. I realised it was so easy to make an error.

I could see that a few Diggers were shaken at the events of the afternoon. The word came to 'saddle up'. We put our big packs on and mine being mostly empty was quite light, and moved into formation then moved out a few hundred meters in a straight line from the bunker system, to settle down for the night. It was important with so many sub-units about to prevent a shoot out between Australians.

During our Tour, 3 Platoon was hit twice by other Aussie units leading to a member of 3 Platoon being killed and some Diggers wounded. I was impatient about the lack of light as we would miss out on a hot brew, something I was looking forward to, big time. Also the move was taking us away from the noise at the Bunkers, at least being used to the jungle noise you could detect movement by humans. We were acting as a protection force in our present position but I did not think that any VC would be in Cooee of this place? 


 Our task was to wait in our present Loc Stat overnight and then we would get further orders. We had moved into our night formation and had just started to get settled down when hell arrived. WEEEEEEE THUMP CRACK! Down on the deck again. A "Fire Mission" was in progress. 155s were firing from Nui Dat and it seemed we were the target. They were firing H&I, that is harassing and interdiction, fire as a cut off near the bunker system. They had not been told that a Platoon had moved further out from the system? The bloody rounds were far too close for my liking, sharapnel was flying all over the place. It was hitting the bamboo and cutting thorough it like a knife through butter. Thousands of shards of bamboo flying all over the place and drifting down all over us. I remember thinking "how on earth did the Diggers in WW1 put up with being on the end of this for months on end?"

Then something happened I never expected. Diggers started to call out to Sgt King to cancel the fire mission. I now understood real fear. At least I was not the only one really packing it. The rounds continued to fall, the crap flying through the air falling on us, bamboo falling to the ground. The worst part was hearing the weeeee as the round cut through the air, wondering just were it was going to land? "What if they shift the target this way? Do they know we are here?" My head was pressed on the ground, I was lying as flat as I could get. I reached out and pulled and dragged my pack next to my head and lifted it up trying to get some protection.

Grabbing my hot brew off the fire holding on to it so it would not tip up. My face was on the earth, I could see the ants going about their daily tasks, taking no notice of the ground shaking or my face pressed in to the earth inches from them. THUMP! CRACK! That was too bloody close. The most frightening element of the whole affair was you could practically hear the rounds leave the Gun. The continue its sub-sonic journey to drop around us. Did they know we had taken the Bunker system or not? I glanced up to see a very think length of bamboo cut in half and go flying. Enough of that, I put my head down and pulled the pack closer.

"Come on Sarge, this is shit, its too close call it off" This time it was ME. I could not stand it any longer and asking it to be stopped. I expected to get my head bitten off and would not blame him, you just don't talk to a Sergeant like that and definitely not in the field. However, Sgt King reached out and Garry handed him the radio handset. Calmly and with care he said, "this is three zero alpha, CHECK FIRE, i say again check fire, over". Finally it stopped. Thank God. But what was next?

Not much in fact the night went relatively quickly and quietly. A chance for frade nerves to relax a bit? "Stand Too, Stand Too". The whispered words came along the section. You could hear the sounds of bed rolls being folded and put into packs. Being near the enemy's bunker system, the platoon were fully switched on and ready for action. However it was soon fully light and with full vision came the order "Stand Down". The platoon started to fix up breakfast, clean weapons. I had a brew on. More trouble was just about to arrive.

An unworried VC soldier appeared. It was obvious that the enemy soldier had business in the bunker system and someone had forgotten to tell him it was now full of very pissed off Australians. He was soon to be informed in a rather rude way. He was heading for the platoon's position, his AK47 still slung over his shoulder. Bang Bang Bang. M16 rounds broke the silence. "One enemy seen", was the call. Back on the ground again, where there is one, there could by more? I left my brew going hoping to grab a mug of coffee before having to move out, as I am sure they would send us after the dick head. An M16 opened up, on automatic this time, then......Weeeee THUMP! CRACK!

"Bloody hell not again", I thought "who is calling this in?" CRACK! CRACK! Once again hearing the artillery rounds coming through the air. "Fuck them off Sarge", someone finally called out. This time is was answered by a stern "Shut Up". I could see his face. I was not about to risk opening my gob twice in row, so I just put my face back in the dirt. No doubt about it, this stuff was a lot closer than last night. Any one piss off the Artillery boys back at the Dat of late?

This was serious. It was also the longest minutes of my life........CRACK! CRACK! Then SILENCE!................ Beautiful! They must have paused to have a brew? The bamboo drifting down with dirt all over the place and into my cup. Stuff it! What a waste of water I could ill afford. This time we got an apology. Seems as if the 'atmospheric conditions' had changed, causing the rounds to change flight path and land closer to us than last night, and that was close enough. They fired due to the 'contact' to act as a cut off. One of the Section Commanders took some of his section out after the VC but found no body or foot prints. I don't know if the fire mission worried the VC or not, but it was an experience I would not like to repeat. In fact I was feeling a bit sorry for him and glad I was not 'out there' were he was probably still running.  


We moved out later that morning. As we went through the system again near other elements of A Company I asked, "any news about Noel?", (the wounded gunner) "he did not make it mate, he died". I spit the dummy. Making a few comments about what I thought was a poor tactical approach to the bunker contact, "Shut up", I was told. I did. Without meaning too, I shed a few tears of anger, frustration and regret.

Although not a friend of Noel I had worked with him a few times in Australia. Then I turned my anger and hate against the Viet Cong and worked off my feelings. I needed to focus on the job at hand and not be distracted. You needed to be switched on, with your mind fully on what you were doing.

The next ten days were very frustrating. Looking, looking more patrolling. The enemy had obviously given the place a big miss. Setting up ambush after ambush. At least I did not have a lot to carry having not packed my gear. During the last few days I had to go around and beg food. Everyone had tins they did not like and a few took pity on me. With no one to blame except myself, I made up my mind it would not happen again!

BOOK:- "The Year I said Goodbye" by Peter Winter. Published by Wakefield Press.

Reading this book this month some 33 years later I find out information from a 'Hoi Chanh' who told A Company that there were over 60 enemy in the system and that we killed 26 enemy. As well as finding abandoned weapons, gear, documents, food and medical supplies. A Hoi Chanh is an Ex-Viet Cong who has surrendered under an official program called the 'Chieu Hoi program'. Flyers were dropped over the jungle in likely enemy areas telling them to surrender. There is an example of this flyer on the 'Enemy on the Phouc Tuy Province Page'.

This is the full story of the Bunker Battle and will not be added to.



The shot on the left is the view coming in to the Horse Shoe at the Main gate, with the MPs bunker on the right.

Right: A Fire Mission!

© "Tony (oink) Blake" Left image - A shot of a Gun position looking towards the Long Hais in the distance. (R) Looking down on the 'inner bowl' of the Shoe.

© "Tony (oink) Blake" A Centurion Tank.

While this photo was taken in Australia this is the Tank which took part in the Bunker Battle on 21st May 1970.






© "Tony (oink) Blake"

A Chopper very close, over head. Very similar to that black day in the Bunker system. A side on view to a Huey Chopper. The work horse of the Vietnam War. Also known as the "Chopper War. Even DUSTOFF Choppers, those tasked to carry the wounded from the Battlefields carried M60 machine guns, to defend the aircraft and the crew as the NVA or VC did not respect or follow the Geneva Convention.




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

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