• Edward William Colmer posted an update 8 months ago

    Operation: Phase II Garryowen, in AO Frog, Thua Tich District commenced with the APC insertion of a 17 Man 3 SQN SAS ‘saturation’ reconnaissance patrol, between: the 18 – 27 May 69, at YS 527897 grid reference on the eastern- edge of the Courtenay Rubber Plantation, of a main east-west track system. This main track system was considered the major logistical support route for 84 Rear Services and main force elements, just 10 – 11 clicks north of the old abandoned village of Thua Tich, with 35 sightings revealing the enemy movement of 780 plus VC/NVA with 595 plus enemy moving in a easterly direction.These patrols were aimed at gathering intelligence, concentrating on enemy movements based on their mainly east-west logistics supply routes, prior to commencement of Operation LAVARACK by 6RAR/NZ in AO- Vincent; Hat Dich region, commencing in late May 1969.

    As a result of the SAS observations, 2 Troop shifted operations from AO SCORPION, in accordance with the 1 ATF allocation of AO FROG, to B Squadron 3 Cavalry Regiment, from 0600H 28 May 69.

    With the 2 Troop composite fighting force group complete, complimented by reinforcements from CET [Combat Engineer Team] APC, 5 RAR MORTAR CARRIER TA85B, and infantry from D&E Pl elms C/S: I- 63, this 2 Tp group of nineteen carriers, (specifically extended for this area of operations), ‘out of artillery range’ rolled into the adjoining AO Frog for the purpose of conducting reconnaissance in force operations, with the tactical establishment of five area ambush locations. With the nexus premised on the remains of the resettled village of Thua Tich, the main ambush post was positioned adjacent to the old abandoned village gates, on route: 328, from: 28 – 30 May 1969, with the forward 1 Mortar Section Sp Tp, 3 Cav, 5 RAR Mortar Platoon APC TA85B [armed with .50 Cal heavy machine-gun], tactically positioned, ‘with the front towards the enemy’, in the night’s ambush harbour position, between two trees, clearly exposed openly on the SOUTHERN side; diagonally positioned, as a necessity to provide accurate APC Mortar fire clearance. This opened the entire SOUTH-EAST aspect of route 328, extending 500 metres to the forward listening post scouts location, providing effective mortar fire control, in coordination with claymore detonation and .50 cal heavy machine-gun fire.

    At 2030H on Thursday the 29 May 69, ‘forward listening post scouts’, of D&EPl reported by radio that a large force of 50+ VC were moving quickly in a Northerly direction along route 328, “redball” Thua Tich, well- armed, and carrying large packs. 2Tp HQ allowed three leading forward scouts to pass through the ambush ‘killing ground’ before detonating the ambush, with the immediate explosive concussion of claymore mines, heavy machine -gun fire, and immediate fire mission of 20, 81mm HE mortar rounds, accurately attacking this large enemy force – head -on, with the mortar barrage impacting between the two ambush sites, and further to the eastern side of route: 328 where the enemy were withdrawing. This immediate action by the 5 RAR Mortar Pl team prevented the enemy from regrouping and considering a counter attack. During the course of the night, at the direction of the 2 Troop Commander Captain Thomas Arrowsmith MID MG, SPOOKY was employed for 75 minutes, putting down prophylactic mini-gun fire around the two ambush locations, with particular attention focused on the EAST & SOUTH o deter any regrouping, and to effectively cut- off the most likely escape routes.

    At 2200H, 2/A Coy & D Coy 6 RAR were rostered on ready reaction with a 30 minute notice to move to Thua Tich, with Coy APC Troop, Tanks, Section Guns & Engineers. Fortunately, the 6 RAR Ready Reaction Force wasn’t required. At 0400H, Friday the 30 May 69, following further movement reported from D & E Pl, this 5 RAR Mortar Pl fired a further 18 HE, 81 mm mortar rounds, with illumination, concentrating fire to the open area SOUTH-EAST of D & E Pl elms 63 listening post, preventing any intended regrouping and early morning counter-attack.

    The enemy KIA resulting from the conjoint ambush included personnel from: K4, D445; Medical Platoon D445; Recce Elements of D440; Medical Elements of D440; Ba Long Provincial Intelligence Reconnaissance and Sapper Unit; Elements of a Ba Long Provincial Party Org. The manner of movement, non-tactical, single file and fast, of the enemy and the equipment carried was suggestive of a long term move by a complete unit. Quantities of modern surgical instruments and medical supplies indicated that one of the KIA was a physician surgeon (believed to be a female medical practitioner). The VC group was well-armed and heavily laden. Several wallets contained US survey maps of ARVN/US units and outpost locations, with one sketch map containing a detailed attack plan for a large battalion plus assault on Baria.

    About 1352H that day, during the course of a Temporary Cessation of Offensive Operations from: 0600H 30 – 0600H 31 MAY 69, In Observance of Buddha’s Birthday, this complete 2 Troop group, supported by Possum 4; Bushranger 71 and a Light Fire Team(LFT) Bandit 30, Iroquois Helicopter (Huey) Gunship were ambushed en route: 328 to Xuyen Moc by a force of 10-15 determined NVA/VC enemy forces dressed in khaki & black uniforms, with a rear TA23 Section Carrier struck by an RPG 7, that fortunately failed to detonate, with another exploding RPG shattering the turret window of a rear column APC.

    As a result of the engagements from the 29 – 30 May 69, a total of 20 enemy were killed and a further five wounded for no Australian casualties. More could have been killed, but the bodies were recovered by the enemy. The engagement also included the capture of a large assortment of weapons, explosives, documentation and food resources. The four-man mortar crew from 5 RAR Mortar Platoon played a significant role in the success of these engagements. This demonstration of calm resolution, initiative, courage and assuredness under fire, was a credit to the professionalism of these men, the 5th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, and consequential to the success of this engagement, and overall success of OP: Phase: II Garryowen.

    Ted Colmer