The Second Era
1962 – 1971
1961 to May 1966
Acknowledgement. The No. 9 Squadron Association is indebted to AIRCDRE R. A. Scott DFC AFC, (Ret’d) for writing and providing ‘Recollections of Early Days’. It was written specifically for the History Project, covers a wide-range of issues that existed during those early times of No. 9 Squadron’s operations before, during and after the South Vietnam (SVN) Conflict and is a unique and significant contribution. The Association thanks Ray Scott for his efforts in this regard. ‘Recollections of Early Days’ is presented near the end of this section.
Further, most experienced past No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN personnel would also acknowledge his competence and exceptional operational awareness through the astute development of No. 9 Squadron RAAF Flying Standard Operations Procedures (SOP) and the impact of this SOP guidance during the squadron’s future operational conduct in SVN.
Author’s Note. Those Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were the basis for RAAF and Army Aviation helicopter operations and guidance for ADF helicopter aircrew for twenty plus years after No. 9 Squadron RAAF VIETNAM returned to Australia at the end of 1971.
1962 – 1963, some observations
Arrival of the helicopters transported by Hercules C-130 transport aircraft highlighted many deficiencies (loading, rigging, lashing etc) and despite ongoing liaison with AMTDU and the loadmaster fraternity to address these issues, the problems remained for many years.
The Squadron personnel designed and produced ground support equipment (GSE) for both Base and Field operations; air and ground crew training was ongoing, including homing to rescue beacons – the British SARBE and US URC-10 beacons.
During 1962, FLTLT K.J. (Keith) Taylor, Engineering Officer and squadron maintenance personnel underwent Iroquois UH-1B training.
On 29 October 1962, eight Bell Iroquois UH-1B arrived at RAAF Fairbairn (A2-384 to A2-391 inclusive) and the first RAAF crew to fly a UH-1B in Australia occurred in November 1962.
In December 1962 a second order of Iroquois UH-1B aircraft was made and delivered twelve months later (A2-714 to A2-721 inclusive).
High altitude training commenced in February 1963 near Mt Kosciusko and thence in Papua New Guinea (PNG) when two aircraft were transported by RAAF C-130 to Lae, PNG.
The major role for the squadron soon became Army Support and, due to manning constraints, the squadron was fully extended … and tasking. The debate now started between Army and 9 Squadron RAAF regarding living in the field with the Army when on exercise – referred to by some as the ‘tent vs pubs’ argument. It never ended (for the RAAF) until the end of RAAF helicopter operations. One difference was that 9 Squadron support was requested for all Army exercises, but not many Army units went to all field exercises. One Commanding Officer 9 Squadron declared ‘you do not have to practice bleeding’. More difficult arguments arose over air and ground crew fatigue, Army tactical security issues when in the field, and the affect on aircraft and crew availability.
The period 1961 until May 1966 – Helicopters for the Royal Australian Air Force
During April 1961, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) ordered eight Bell Iroquois utility gas turbine engine helicopters titled Bell HU-1B from the Bell Helicopter Company in the USA. The US Army later changed the naming to Bell UH-1B.
These Bell Iroquois UH-1B aircraft were commonly referred to as ‘Bravos’; the D and H model helicopter that subsequently came into RAAF service direct to No 9 Squadron in Vietnam were respectively known as ‘Delta’ and ‘Hotel’.
June 1962, No. 9 Squadron RAAF Reformed
No. 9 (Fleet Co-operation) Squadron RAAF formed from No. 5 Squadron RAAF in January 1939 and, as the pre-cursor Unit to No. 9 Squadron RAAF, operated until its disbandment on 31 December 1944.
On 11 June 1962, RAAF No. 9 Squadron was reformed at RAAF Williamtown, NSW, with SQNLDR Ray Scott appointed as Commanding Officer (CO). The squadron was to be ‘operational’ by June 1963 in the Search and Rescue role and equipped with the UH-1B Bell Iroquois helicopters (ordered in 1961).
The Unit was formed by FLTLT Brian Sullivan. However the infrastructure, buildings, hangarage and accommodation for personnel allocated to No 9 Squadron were assessed by Ray Scott as inadequate, in disrepair or non-existent. The intervention by SQNLDR Scott with RAAF Staff in Canberra on these matters no doubt contributed to the direction that No. 9 Squadron was to move from RAAF Base Williamtown and so No. 9 Squadron ‘relocated’ to RAAF Base Fairbairn, ACT, during November 1962.
Aircraft Technical Training. In 1962, (then) FLTLT K.J. (Keith) Taylor, Engineering Officer and squadron maintenance personnel underwent Iroquois UH-1B training.
Aircrew Training. Iroquois pilot training (H34 Choctaw helicopter) was conducted at Fort Rucker, USA and the six pilots returned to Australia (RTA) in late August 1962. One technical NCO on the Procurement Team, SGT Keith Wadling, underwent basic rescue crewman training. The pilots pictured below at Fort Rucker, USA are:
Other Early Events
The first RAAF crew to fly a Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopter in Australia occurred during November 1962.
In December 1962 a second order of Iroquois UH-1B aircraft was made and delivered twelve months later (A2-714 to A2-721 inclusive). Then in late 1964, a third delivery of eight aircraft eventuated with the arrival of A2-1018 to A2-1025 fitted with the Lycoming 1100 shp T53-L-11 engine (the upgraded T53-L-9).
A2-385 crashed at RAAF Base Fairbairn in January 1970.
A2-386 crashed at Captain’s Flat, ACT, in April 1969.
A2-387 crashed near Fairbairn, ACT, in November 1968.
A2-390 was disposed of in the USA in 1990.
A2-391 was also disposed of in the USA in 1990.
A2-455 transferred to Army Aviation in January 1990 and, in about January 2012 was allocated to the RAAF School of Technical Training (RSTT) as a training aid.
A2-484 transferred to Army Aviation in January 1990.
A2-485 last served with the RAAF at the Aeronautical Research and Development Unit (ARDU) in South Australia.
A2-486 crashed at Port Macquarie NSW, during October 1986.
A2-487 transferred to Army Aviation in January 1990.
A2-488 transferred to Army Aviation in January 1990.
A2-489 transferred to Army Aviation in December 1989.
A2-490 transferred to Army Aviation in December 1989.
A2-505 provided to PNGDF under a DCP arrangement in August 1989.
A2-506 provided to PNGDF under a DCP arrangement in August 1989.
A2-507 transferred to Army Aviation in January 1990 and in about January 2012 was allocated to No. 36 Squadron RAAF at Amberley, QLD for use as a training aid.
A2-508 transferred to Army Aviation in December 1989 (image following page).
A2-486 transferred to Army Aviation in December 1989; provided to PNGDF under a DCP arrangement.
A2-649 transferred to Army Aviation in December 1989; provided to PNGDF under a DCP arrangement.
A2-509 provided to PNGDF under a DCP arrangement in August 1989.
A2-510 provided to PNGDF under a DCP arrangement in August 1989.
Second Purchase of Iroquois UH-1B helicopters (A2-714 to A2-721)
During December 1962, a second order for eight Iroquois UH-1B aircraft was placed and these were delivered twelve months later (A2-714 to A2-721 inclusive). A photograph of one of the aircraft appears below.
A2-703 H – delivered July 1970; to Army Aviation January 1990 thence ~ January 2012 went to the RAAF Museum Point Cook, VIC for display purposes.
A ‘mock-up’ of ex RAAF Iroquois helicopter A2-767 is on external display at the Woolgoolga Diggers Club in New South Wales with an exceptional plaque about the Iroquois Helicopter. A2-767 is a ‘very special’ RAAF ‘Huey’ as it was shot down by enemy in South Vietnam on 17 April 1971 and the memories of those horrific circumstances remain with many veterans and families. A brief summary follows, then A2-767’s current photo and a picture of the plaque below.
At 17 April 1971 of the Chronology, the comprehensive Report from the No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN Unit History Sheet for 17 April 1971 is presented.
Summary of 17 April 1971 Events. On 17 April 1971, Iroquois A2-767 (Dustoff 1) was shot-down by enemy when conducting a Medevac (from the hover with the stokes litter attached to the winch cable), in support of a Regional Forces Battalion (RF Bn) operation in the Long Hai Hills. The crew of A2-767 was FLGOFF Mick Castles, Aircraft Captain, PLTOFF Simon Ford, Co-pilot, CPL Bob Stephens, Crewman, AC Roy Zegers, Gunner and LCPL John Gillespie, Army Medic. PLTOFF Simon Ford suffered serious burns.
The South Vietnamese troops were being assisted by CAPT Albertson, US Army Special Forces Advisor, and CPL T. D. Blackhurst, Australian Army Training Team (AATV).
RAAF Iroquois Support to the Civilian Community, 1962 – 1966
There were many and varied tasks that were conducted during the early days of Air Force helicopter operations. The three images with comment that follow are excellent examples of that task variety; two are from the 1963 floods in Australia and the third from a 1965 civilian aircraft fuselage recovery in PNG.
Acknowledgement and Source. WOFF Dennis Roles OAM RAAF (Ret’d) is a special and highly valued contributor to the 9SA Operational History Project.
This precise and unambiguous contribution relates specifically to incidents and the dispositions of each Iroquois helicopter allocated to No. 9 SQN RAAF. WOFF Roles’ research and detail, based upon maintenance observations and records, highlights the numerous and varied situations, many critical, that the helicopters and their crews were exposed to in times of peace and war. Being a No. 9 SQN RAAF member at any time from whatever role, category or mustering, could never be described as ‘dull’.
The various models of the USA manufactured Bell Iroquois Utility Helicopters employed by 9 SQN were titled: B or ‘BRAVO’, D or ‘DELTA’ and H or ‘HOTEL’ i.e. UH-1B, UH-1D and UH-1H Model. The RAAF classification number assigned to the Iroquois family of aircraft was A2 followed by the unique fuselage/aircraft number.
A2- 1018 (UH-1B)
Crashed and burned during an overshoot from a pad 12 miles NW of Vung Tau, SVN on 18 October 1966. The wreckage was destroyed by explosives. The aircraft was crewed by FLT LT’s Cliff Dohle and Peter Middleton, SGT Gordon Buttriss and LAC Thomas Farr.
SGT Buttriss was awarded the George Medal for his exceptional bravery during this incident.
A2-041 (RAAF number 085) was obtained as the replacement aircraft.
A2- 1019 (UH-1B)
Written-off in South Vietnam, April 1967 following an in-flight engine compressor failure and subsequent heavy landing. The aircraft was subsequently rebuilt within No. 9 SQN at Vung Tau airfield. It was returned to Australia from SVN in October 1968 and was later allocated to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) for display within the post-WW II Gallery.
A2-1166 (RAAF number 649) was obtained as the replacement aircraft.
This helicopter was returned to Australia from SVN during February 1968. At one stage, was a training aid at the RAAF Radio School, Laverton, VIC, along with A2-1024.
Aircraft was returned to Australia from SVN in March 1968.
This aircraft was returned to Australia during October 1968. It crashed near Hornsby (NSW) after engine failure on 10 November 1977. In 1990, was given to the town of Nyngan, NSW, by the Government of the day for display (related to flood rescue work conducted by No. 9 SQN around that time). This aircraft was one of the two resupply aircraft at the Battle of Long Tan, SVN on I8 August 1966; the other was A2-1024.
The aircraft was damaged significantly by enemy ground fire in SVN in September 1967 and returned to Australia from SVN in February 1968.
The aircraft was written – off following a heavy landing in South Vietnam in June 1967 and was returned to Australia from SVN during January 1968. However, it was partially rebuilt ‘in–country’ at 2AD prior to its return using parts from A2-1019. At one stage 1024 was a training aid at the RAAF Radio School, Laverton, VIC, along with A2-1020. A2-1024 was one of the two resupply aircraft at the battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966 and was later allocated to the Australian Special Air Service Museum in WA for display purposes.
1025 received significant battle damage from ground fire in Sep 1967 (7 hits requiring over 100 man-hours of engineer repair work). It was returned to Australia from SVN during January 1969 and had the distinction of being the last No. 9 SQN Iroquois UH-1B model to be returned to Australia from Vietnam.
Initial RAAF UH-1B Model Replacements – ‘Deltas’
One of the larger UH-1D Iroquois version (airframe and engine) helicopters was delivered to No. 9 SQN in 1966 and a second one delivered in 1967.
A2-085 (UH-1D) (A2-041) (c/n 5085)
Delivered to No. 9 SQN as UH-1D during November 1966 and was returned to Australia from SVN in March 1968.
A further six were delivered to No. 5 SQN RAAF (A2-505 to A2-510), the UH-1D model was superseded by the UH-1H; same fuselage but was powered with the 1300shp Lycoming T53-L-13 engine. Later, RAAF retrofitted the UH-1D Deltas to Hotel standard (MIRAD program).
A2-649 (UH-1D) (A2-1166) (c/n 5649)
Also delivered to No. 9 SQN as a UH-1D during November 1967 and was returned to Australia from SVN in March 1968.
Later RAAF UH-1B Model Replacements – ‘Hotel Model’
The following information is extracted from a RAAF News item (November 1991) researched and written by FLTLT John Bennett.
‘ …….. Sixteen UH-1H were ordered to replace the UH-1B in 9 SQN and were delivered direct from the US Army to Vung Tau, SVN. Aircraft A2-376 to A2-383 were received in February 1968 and ……. followed in July of that year with A2-766 to A2-773.’
The aircraft was delivered during December 1969. In February 1970, a compressor failure during gunship operations resulted in a very heavy landing (hovering autorotation) on Kanga Pad at Nui Dat but an engineer work -party from Vung Tau managed to get it serviceable and flown back before dark. Another Engine failure resulted in a crash landing on the mud flats behind the beach at Vung Tau on 04 May 1970 whence it was almost completely immersed in salt water before being extracted by US Army Chinook MLH helicopter prior to nightfall. It was subsequently rebuilt in the maintenance hangar. It was brought down by enemy ground fire again in early March 1971 and had to be extracted by Chinook MLH. On 31 March 1971 she was again severely damaged by ground fire and required extraction from Nui Dat by Chinook MLH yet again. A2-110 was returned to Australia from SVN during December 1971.
On 27 February 1980, during an attempted rescue mission she hit the sea surface whilst flying in severe weather conditions caused by a nearby cyclone. Control was regained and the aircraft flown to a nearby beach on Fraser Island, QLD. There, it was later blown over by winds in excess of 75 knots. It was again rebuilt.
Along with some other ‘hueys’, 110 was selected as an airframe to contribute to ADF Aviation Heritage as a display aircraft. In 2013 – 14, Iroquois A2-110 was allocated to the Vietnam Veterans’ National Museum at Phillip Island, VIC and is proudly located there as a ‘resident on display’.
This aircraft was delivered in December 1969 and returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971. A2-149 also has the distinction of being the first Air Force Iroquois to be handed over to the Army in 1987.
A2-376 was received by No. 9 SQN in February 1968. 376 received 32 holes as a result of an enemy mine detonation in early 1970 and prior, in February 1970, suffered an in-flight engine failure dictating entry to autorotation and forced landing into a paddy field about a mile from Sanford Airfield and thus required extraction by Chinook. She was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971.
A2-377 was delivered during February 1968. In June 1970, she received hits from enemy ground fire, which pierced a fuel tank. A2-377 was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971.
A2-378 was delivered February 1968 and was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971. On 11 January 1974, following a short shaft failure and when attempting a fast ‘running autorotational landing’ in an area with scattered trees on sloping ground 15 miles NW of Stanthorpe, QLD, the aircraft crashed. Aircraft Captain Reg Van Leuvan was fatally injured, Crewman Peter Vidler was killed and Crewman Monty Jesinowski and tradesmen Earl Murray and Jerry Riches were seriously injured.
This helicopter was delivered February 1968. She was modified within No. 9 SQN at Vung Tau, SVN to accommodate aerial spray equipment and was the only 9 SQN Iroquois so modified; returned to Australia from SVN in October 1971. Later, on 29 July 1977, while tasked to support mapping work for the Australian Army Survey Corps (under the DCP for INDON and PNG), the aircraft crashed near Wamena, Baliem Valley, Irian Jaya. The Aircraft Captain, FLTLT Ralph Taylor was killed in the impact. The site was at high altitude in thick jungle with trees up to 60 ft high and very rugged terrain and remoteness made rescue of the aircraft very difficult; she was never recovered.
A2-380 was delivered in February 1968 and was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971. Crashed and destroyed in October 1981 on ‘Exercise Kangaroo 81’ in SWBTA, QLD, after tail rotor drive failure. An Australian Army soldier was killed and the squadron was grounded immediately. The No. 9 SQN ‘hueys’ were external loaded to the bush airstrip by No. 12 SQN RAAF Chinook MLH helicopters and subsequently transported to RAAF Base Amberley by RAAF C-130 aircraft.
A2-381 was delivered during February 1968. On 21Aug 1969, when captained by PLT OFF R. B. (Bob) Treloar, she was damaged by ground fire and shrapnel while evacuating 14 wounded members of 5RAR after a heavy contact. Previously an American medevac (‘Dust-Off’) helicopter had managed to winch several casualties before being driven off by enemy fire. Treloar moved his helicopter into position to take others on board. As a second man was being winched up, an enemy RPG exploded at treetop level killing one of the casualties waiting on the ground to be rescued. By the time a third man was being hoisted, the VC enemy were only 30 metres away and firing RPGs and small arms directly at the helicopter.
Shrapnel peppered the aircraft, with the perspex windscreen being holed barely an inch from the head of the Co-pilot, FLT LT I.F. (Jim) Satrapa, and along the top window and the left door. As soon as the wounded soldier being winched was on board, Treloar began pulling away. Before he could get the aircraft to a safe distance, it was hit by six rounds of AK47 fire. Both crewmen were struck by bullets but were saved by their body armour protection. One of the soldiers on board the aircraft undergoing medevac was further wounded in the head and groin adding to the initial neck wound he suffered in the original contact on the ground.
After return to Nui Dat and the transfer of the wounded to another aircraft, an engineering inspection of A2-381 revealed eleven bullet holes along with shrapnel damage including a holed fuel tank. One round was found to have passed up between Treloar’s feet, smashed thru the instrument panel and lodged itself in the aircraft structure. Battle casualties in the action were 1 KIA and 37 WIA with a total of 8 RAAF and 6 US ARMY helicopters involved in that action.
On a rope extraction task in support of 3 SQN SASR in Long Kahn Province SVN on 15 October 1969, A2-381 experienced a flight controls hydraulic failure, crashed and was subsequently destroyed; the No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN incident report extract is below.
This aircraft was delivered in February 1968. During gunship operations and piloted by FLT LT Bruce Townsend she was struck in a fuel tank and engine by enemy ground fire. It crash-landed below the high water line on a beach near the Long Hai Mountains; the incoming tide covered the fuselage and broke its back. It was recovered by US ARMY CH-47 and subsequently returned to Australia from SVN on about 30 June 1970 for use by No. 5 SQN RAAF as a training aid.
A2-383 was delivered in February 1968. On 20 March 1971 and not long after participating in a Sniffer Mission that produced few readings, the Bushranger gunships, led by FLGOFF Dave Freedman as BR 71 and Aircraft Captain of A2-383, were called to GR YS465539 to support 302 RF Company who were in contact with an unknown number of enemy. Later, during the early afternoon, the Bushrangers deployed to support 2 Platoon C Company 3RAR near Xuyen Moc (loc GR YS648786) when that Unit was under heavy contact with their Platoon Commander and Signaller wounded and separated from the main column. Confusion was rife as the main column had expended their smoke grenade markers and was unable to indicate to the Bushrangers any demarcation line between the enemy and themselves. Obviously appreciating the life or death situation for the soldiers without smoke markers and the inherent danger for the aircraft and crew from flying low and slow over a contact situation, they went ahead. Bushranger 71 (crewed by Freedman, Betts, Moran and Morgan) was hit by 16 or more rounds of enemy ground fire which caused extensive systems damage and seriously wounded the Co-pilot PLT OFF Ron Betts.
FLGOFF Freedman managed to recover the aircraft to a Fire Support Base (FSB Beth) where it was later extracted by US ARMY Chinook MLH helicopter; Bushrangers 73 and 74 were called forward. PLTOFF Ron Betts was medically evacuated by helicopter to RED EARTH, the 8th Field Ambulance pad at Nui Dat, and then to the US 24th EVAC Hospital at Long Binh where unfortunately he subsequently died from his wounds.
Additionally, Dustoff 1 (Armstrong, Buchanan, Bloxsom, Munson), flew three Australian battle casualties (1 KIA, 2 WIA) from the contact area to VAMPIRE Pad (1st Australian Field Hospital – 1AFH) at Vung Tau.
A2-383 was returned to Australia from SVN during December 1971.
When a No. 9 SQN RAAF Detachment was supporting Australian Army Survey Corps personnel (mapping) on 28 September 1974, A2-383 crashed on Mt. Bosavi, PNG at 8,500 feet AMSL. Although thought to be repairable, it was destroyed in situ; two images of the crashed A2-383 are below showing remnants of the right front fuselage section including pilot’s seat/station.
Following the RAAF crash investigation and Board of Inquiry (BOI), the Aircraft Captain was charged with Negligent Conduct in operation of the aircraft. He elected a Summary Hearing by a RAAF Member of Air Rank, declined a Courts Martial, and was awarded a ‘Severe Reprimand’.
Replacement Iroquois A2-455 was collected from Heli 3, (then) Saigon, in June 1971. Later that same month she had her tail boom severed by ground fire. This helicopter was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971.
A2-703 was delivered in July 1970 and was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971. Transferred to Army Aviation January 1990 and in about January 2012 the helicopter went to the RAAF Museum Point Cook, VIC as a display aircraft.
A2-723 was also delivered to No. 9 SQN in July 1970. During OPERATION OVERLORD, at 1104 hours on 7 June 1971 when conducting a resupply of ammunition from the hover for B Coy 3RAR at GR YS506936, the aircraft (call-sign Albatross 06) was hit by enemy .50 calibre machine gun fire and crashed into the trees. Sadly, the Aircraft Captain FLTLT Everitt ‘Lofty’ Lance and Gunner CPL Dave Dubber MID, were killed. Co-pilot PLTOFF Greg Forbes, Crewman CPL Peter Vidler and the 3RAR pad master SGT Jimmy Griffith were injured.
This aircraft was delivered during July 1968. From Maintenance Records, A2-766 had the distinction of having the first engine to run to maximum overhaul hours in the same aircraft (1030 hours) with the scheduled engine change taking place in October 1971. The aircraft was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971.
A2-767 was delivered during July 1968. The aircraft was on a medical evacuation task (Dustoff) on 31March 1971 some 8 miles east of Nui Dat near the Song Rai River and crewed by PLTOFFs Ken Phillips and Reg Van Leuven and LACs Alan Bloxom and Ken Thompson, when it was hit by enemy ground fire in the fuel tanks, main rotor and engine combustion chamber. The enemy had thrown identical smoke to the friendly troops on the ground and the aircraft crew identified the enemy smoke as the ‘friendly’ marker. The aircraft carried out a forced landing at FSB Beth, Sadly, LAC Alan Bloxom was killed during the incident. Alan was on his second tour with No. 9 SQN in SVN having completed a previous tour of duty during September 1966 to September 1967. A2- 767 was extracted by US Army Chinook MLH and was repaired.
During July of 1968, A2-768 was delivered to the squadron. On 14 June 1970, the aircraft received 18 rounds of ground fire which required 5 days repair work: Paterson, Mitchell, Jones A. and Scheer were the crew.
On ground impact during a patrol insertion (PI) 6 miles north of Nui Dat, 768 rolled and caught fire. The crew was FLTLT Chris Ellis, Captain, PLTOFF Dick Marlin, Co-pilot, LAC Duncan McNair, Crewman and AC Wayne Scheer, Gunner. Sadly, on 20 July 1970, LAC Duncan McNair died from the injuries. A2-768 was destroyed in-situ on 3 July 1970.
Was delivered during July 1968 and crashed after an engine failure in September 1968. It was rebuilt by the US Army at a local maintenance facility and returned to No. 9 SQN. On 26 October 1969 during a Dustoff, it was destroyed after crashing 15 miles NW of task force headquarters Bien Hoa Province, SVN. The crew was, FLTLT Max Woolf, PLTOFF Derek Knights, SGT Felix Parker and LAC Ray Price. A2- 149 was received as the replacement airframe in December 1969.
This ‘huey’ was received by the Squadron in SVN during July 1968 and was returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971.
NOTE. Iroquois A2-770 was destroyed with all on board when it flew into the side of a hill at night near Port Augusta (SA) on 25 November 1978. The CO, WGCDR Peter Mahood DSO, pilot, crewman Steve Milsted, flight fitter Paul Gallagher, PLTOFF Paul Mason, co pilot and Barry Johns, flight fitter A, were killed. A memorial plaque is at the site, which is inside El Alamein Range on the hillside about 2 km SW of the actual El Alamein army camp.
A2-771 was delivered in July 1968. The exceptional attitude and skill of No. 9 SQN RAAF maintenance personnel was again demonstrated in December 1970 when the laminated center work deck of the aircraft was replaced in the hangar (an Aircraft Depot level repair task). Returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971.
Delivered in July of 1968 and was built up as the first Bushranger gunship in March 1969. The aircraft was the focus of a very sad accident when on 31 July 1970 on a resupply task and when landed at a FSB helipad with rotors turning (throttle rolled back to ground idle). Whilst the crew members were doing their external load hook electrical and manual release checks prior to an external load sortie, the driver of an APC who had (as normal) positioned his APC outside the rotor disk with the ramp down for the load to be transferred to the helicopter, apparently climbed from the hatch, walked rearwards on top of the APC and jumped to ground. As he did, he jumped into the turning main rotor and was killed instantly. 772 was crewed by FLGOFF Ron Mitchell, Aircraft captain, PLTOFF Graeme Chalmers, Co-pilot, and LAC’s Lance Harris and Neville Sinkinson, Crewmen.
On 6 November 1971 during some of the last SVN Bushranger operations, she also had the distinction of firing the two millionth M134 (minigun system) round in-country. Returned to Australia from SVN in December 1971 and crashed and was destroyed near Hiran Nandan, PNG on 11 June 1973.
Another of the helicopters delivered in July 1968. During December 1970, 773 took enemy ground fire when supporting AS 7RAR soldiers about 5 miles east of Xuyen Moc, Phuoc Tuy Province. The aircraft sustained extensive systems damage (fuel, instrument and electrical), was landed nearby and thence recovered successfully by US Army Chinook MLH helicopter. A2-377 was on the same mission as 773 and took one enemy round that caused damage necessitating skin repair and a main rotor change.
A2-773 was the prototype airframe for the ‘in-house’ development of the BUSHRANGER GUNSHIP; she was returned to Australia in December 1971.
Delivered in July 1971 from Tuy Hoa as a replacement; returned to AS in December 1971.
A2-771 in 2012
After a superb restoration, ex RAAF Iroquois A2-771 or ‘Huey 771’ proudly took up residence at the Air Force Aviation Heritage Centre, RAAF Base Amberley in SE Queensland. Below, two photographs from the ‘Welcome Home Huey 771’ Ceremony conducted on 21 July 2012 at
Disposal – Iroquois Helicopter Asset
After the Iroquois aircraft were retired by Army Aviation, the helicopters were stored in the Brisbane area to await the Defence Material Organisation (DMO) disposal plan. Many were subsequently allotted to Australian Defence Force related organizations throughout the nation for display purposes.
Disposition of Bell Iroquois Helicopters (A2) operated by the RAAF during 1962 until 14 February 1989, courtesy of RAAF News
A November 1991 Iroquois helicopter article written by FLT LT John Bennett in the RAAF News, appears here on the right and a further document from RAAF News on the following page (date uncertain).
AIR OPERATIONS – SOUTH VIETNAM 1966 – 1971
During the Squadron’s commitment in South Vietnam, it provided utility helicopter support to 1st Australian Task Force elements and at times, to personnel from the ARVN and South Vietnamese Regional Force. The wide scope of those supported elements may be appreciated from the information presented in the following section.
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY TOURS OF VIETNAM
The Australian Order of Battle for Vietnam War: Army
Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), 1962-1972
First Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR): 2 Tours 25 May 1965 – 14 July 1966, 19 January 1968 – 28 January 1969
Second Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) (2RAR/NZ Anzac Battalion): 2 Tours 20 March 1967 – 18 June 1968, 28 April 1970 – 4 June 1971
Third Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) (Old Faithful): 2 Tours 12 December 1967 – 5 December 1968, 12 February 1971 – 19 October 1971
Fourth Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR) (4RAR/NZ): 2 Tours 20 January 1968 – 30 May 1969, 1 May 1970 – 12 March 1972
Fifth Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR): 2 Tours 1 April 1966 – 4 July 1967, 28 January 1969 – 5 March 1970
Sixth Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR): 2 Tours 1 April 1966 – 5 July 1967, 7 May 1969 – 28 May 1970 (this tour was as 6RAR/NZ Battalion)
Seventh Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR): 2 Tours April 1967 – April 1968, February 1970 – March 1971
Eighth Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR): November 1969 – November 1970
Ninth Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (9RAR): 5 November 1968 – 5 December 1969
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE ELEMENTS – SOUTH VIETNAM
The Australian Order of Battle for Vietnam War: Royal Australian Air Force
Headquarters Royal Australian Air Force Element, Australian Force Vietnam Headquarters Saigon
Royal Australian Air Force Contingent, Vung Tau
Royal Australian Air Force Caribou Transport Flight, 8th August 1964 – 1st June 1966 Base Support Flight, May 1966 – April 1968, Vung Tau
Number 1 Operational Support Unit, February 1968 – February 1972, Vung Tau
Number 5 Squadron Airfield Construction Squadron, 1964 – 1972,Vung Tau, and Phan Rang
Royal Australian Air Force Element 161 Recce Flight 14th September 1965 – 8th March 1972, Nui Dat
No. 35 Squadron, 1st June 1966 – February 1972: The first RAAF operational unit to see service in Vietnam, the RAAF transport flight arrived at Vung Tau in August 1964 with six Caribou aircraft. The unit was redesignated as No. 35 Squadron on 1 June 1966 and left Vietnam in February 1972.
No.9 Squadron, April 1966 – November 1971: No. 9 Squadron, equipped with Iroquois helicopter to support the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF).
No. 2 Squadron, April 1967 – June 1971: The third and last RAAF operational squadron to serve in Vietnam was No. 2 Squadron. I was based at Phan Rang and returned to Australia in June 1971, 13 years after having left Australia from Darwin en route to Butterworth, Malaysia.
RAAF Members also served with the United States Air Force during 1964 – 1972: RAAF fighter pilots were given the opportunity of serving in Vietnam as Forward Air Controllers. In addition to duty as FACs, six fighter pilots also saw service in American Phantom aircraft Squadrons in Vietnam.
RAAF NURSING SERVICE (MEDEVAC FLIGHT): RAAF nurses tended the wounded on the medical evacuation aircraft which transported them from Vietnam to Australia usually via Malaysia.
RAAF CHAPLAINS: RAAF Chaplains attended to the spiritual needs of RAAF personnel as well as Australian and US troops.
No. 9 SQUADRON RAAF IN SOUTH VIETNAM – OPERATIONAL SERVICE
13 April 1966-8 May 1967
9 Squadron arrives in south vietnam
3 May 1966 –No. 9 Squadron RAAF Detachment ‘A’ arrived in Vung Tau, South Vietnam.
06 June 1966 – No. 9 Squadron elements arrived at Vung Tau aboard HMAS SYDNEY; the eight Iroquois UH-1B helicopters were flown to Vung Tau airfield. These aircraft were the third batch of Bravos delivered to the RAAF (A2-1018 through A2-1025 inclusive). The main party of No. 9 Squadron RAAF arrived at Saigon via Qantas chartered aircraft on 12 June 1966 thence travelled to Vung Tau by bus.
12 June 1966 – No. 9 Squadron RAAF arrived in Vung Tau, SOUTH VIENAM
December 1971 – No. 9 Squadron RAAF redeployed from Vung Tau to RAAF Base Amberley, QUEENSLAND
The operational area during the Vietnam War is defined in Schedule 2 of the VEA as the area of Vietnam, including the waters contiguous to the coast of Vietnam for distance of 185.2 kilometres (100 nautical miles) seaward from the coast. The period during which Vietnam service was active is specified to commence from 31July 1962 to and including 11 January 1973. In 1997, service rendered in the operational area ‘Vietnam (Southern Zone)’ between 12 January 1973 and 29 April 1975 was also deemed as warlike service.
WGCDR Ray Scott was posted as Commanding Officer No. 9 Squadron RAAF and took the Squadron with its eight Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopters to Vietnam in June 1966.
FLTLT K.J. (Keith) Taylor was the first Senior Engineering Officer (SENGO) of No. 9 Squadron in Vietnam.
No. 9 Squadron RAAF maintenance personnel supported Australian Army Aviation Units such as 161 Recce Squadron at Luscombe Field, Nui Dat.
No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (5ACS) RAAF Detachment A deployed to Vung Tau, SVN and was tasked to undertake the significant works program on the Vung Tau Airfield environs
(hangarage, work and security facilities, catering, ablutions and accommodation). 5ACS departed Vung Tau in August 1967.
Author’s Observation. Based upon my personal ADF helicopter Command, flight instruction, pilot and air liaison experience over a long period (1970 – 2000), there is little doubt that (then) WGCDR Ray Scott was the patriarch of No. 9 SQN and the Air Force Helicopter fraternity from 1962 and until No. 9 SQN RAAF was disbanded at Townsville, QLD on 14 February 1989.
Ray Scott conducted the planning, research and coordination (in particular with Keith Taylor) necessary to establishing a RAAF helicopter capability and its preparation for combat. His initiative and competence prepared the squadron for the success enjoyed during the 5.5 years in Vietnam. His development of such a realistic and outstanding set of No. 9 SQN RAAF Iroquois Helicopter Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) – Vietnam, was but one example. These proved to be operationally effective for a small Unit such as No. 9SQN RAAF, SVN particularly in the specific tactics and manoeuvres that enabled and sustained the successful force preservation, appreciation of limitations and mutual support aspects.
No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN Tasks
It all looked quite straight forward in the terms of the No. 9 Squadron Standard Operating Procedures – SVN (SOP) sheet that aircrew retained as the basis (legend) for recording the day’s flying sorties / operations break-up in the Flight Authorisation Book (RAAF A-71) and in their individual Log Books.
Author. The copy here is of the original item that still remains in my Pilot’s Flying Log Book (AFO 10/J/1) and at the time of writing is 45 years old.
The formal guidance for the Recording of Daily Flying Activity was contained at Chapter C/8 of the SOP.
In reality though, straight forward flying operations were often not the case regardless of whether the flights were planned or un-planned.
The majority of the tasks flown by aircrew of No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN were challenging and sometimes hazardous due to influences on the ambient conditions such as local weather (hot and tropical with increased Density Altitude) and seasonal change, the high aircraft all-up-weight (AUW) particularly for the gunships and the small landing sites (LS) or landing pads (LP) often surrounded by tall trees and, the enemy threat. No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN helicopter support to the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) was considered the most dangerous of the Air Force deployments with aircrew frequently exposed to close range enemy ground fire.
Planned and Un-planned Tasks.
Planned events were briefed to participating aircrew and they were outlined on each Aircraft Captains’ Pilot Mission Brief (PMB) which he carried on a ‘clip or knee board’ in the aircraft. At the end of the flying day the PMB which by then recorded the sortie, freight, pax, flight time and other relevant information would be handed to the OPSO and expanded upon if necessary (particularly for INTELL).
Un-planned events were usually ‘time critical’ due to the potential for ‘loss of life’, friendly battle casualties during engagement or withdrawal after contact with the enemy, and with non-combat serious or life threatening injury to AS soldiers.
A No. 9 SQN RAAF Iroquois helicopter unserviceability or damage that dictated a ‘forced landing’ or aircraft shut down somewhere in the TAOR was also in this category. The No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN ‘Bushranger’ gunships and slick helicopters and / or the ‘Dustoff’ would be ‘scrambled’ to get airborne as quickly as possible. The helicopters were involved mainly in the transportation of troops, SAS Patrol Insertions and Extractions, resupply for troops in the field, casualty evacuation (‘Dustoff’). Other wide-ranging and varying tasks were grouped as Administrative Tasks (ADM. – either for RAAF or 1ATF), and Special Tasks (SPEC. – ‘Sniffer’ operations, tasks in support of downed aircraft or rescue of personnel, tasks external to the TAOR and tasks of an unusual or non-repetitive nature).
13 June 1966
No. 9 Squadron’s first operational mission was flown in support of a 1st Australian Task Force unit, the 5th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR) and was the air transport of 9,000 lb of ammunition to Nui Dat. Start of the often ‘difficult times’ between Army and RAAF within HQ 1ATF at Nui Dat
10 July 1966
The first Special Air Service (SAS) patrol extraction (PE); 6 patrol members lifted from a landing pad (LP) by two No. 9 Squadron Iroquois. Enemy ground fire directed at the two choppers on the LP with the door gunners returning fire. The SAS PE continued without further incident. This PE was conducted without gunship support as the US Army gunships arrived late on the scene. Note. This first SAS PE is also an example of a ‘hot’ extraction (patrol extraction by helicopter, under enemy fire).
Intelligence indicated that the dominant enemy in the 1 ATF TAOR were the Viet Cong 274 Regiment (5th Viet Cong Division) and the Provincial Mobile Battalion D445 (VC).
18 August 1966
Battle of Long Tan – No. 9 Squadron was involved in supporting D Company 6RAR
21 August 1966
Another SAS patrol under enemy ground fire was extracted from a LP north of Nui Dat by a No. 9 SQN RAAF ‘slick’ helicopter, again without gunship support.
Note. Gunship helicopters were ‘choppers’ configured with purpose built weapons e.g. mini guns and rockets and tasked solely with providing offensive air support for Army / land force elements. Note. Slick helicopters were armed with door guns for self protection only and conducted the wide-ranging tasks such as troop lift, logistic support, patrol insertion/extraction and medical evacuation (Dustoff) and many other special tasks. The following pages are extracts of the No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN Commanding Officer’s Report (A50) concerning the ‘hot’ SAS Patrol Extraction (PE) without any form of gunship support that took place on 21 August 1966:
18 October 1966
The first squadron aircraft destroyed was Iroquois A2-1018 (Bravo Model). The replacement aircraft was UH-1D A2-085 (Delta Model).
George Medal for Gallantry. Resulting from the crash of RAAF Iroquois A2-1018 which had been carrying a cargo of ammunition and explosives, No. 9 Squadron Crewman, Sergeant Gordon Buttriss, was awarded the George Medal for Gallantry for his display of courage and actions in hazardous circumstances when he instrumentally saved four personnel from the crashed helicopter before it caught fire and ignited the explosive cargo.
First reported battle damage to a 9 SQN RAAF aircraft; Iroquois A2-1021 rotor wash initiated a friendly anti-personnel mine.
No 5 ACS completes the Bellman hangar at the No. 9 Squadron RAAF maintenance facility, Vung Tau Airfield .
Two replacement aircraft, the larger Iroquois UH-1D (Delta) A2-085 and A2-649, were delivered. (Another six were delivered to No. 5 Squadron RAAF, A2-505 through A2-510).
A dedicated No. 9 Squadron RAAF Iroquois helicopter (Dustoff 01) was tasked to provide 24 hour aero-medical evacuation (AME) support and was stationed at the 8th Field Ambulance (8 Fd Amb) Nui Dat helipad. The 8 Fd Amb used the call sign ‘Red Earth’. A second Iroquois (Dustoff 02), also on 24 hour AME support, was positioned at the No. 9 Squadron RAAF lines at Vung Tau. The crew of Dustoff 02 also conducted night flying training from Vung Tau Airfield. The call sign for the 1st Australian Army Field Hospital (1AFH) located within the Army 1st Australian Logistic Group (1ALG) facility at the Vung Tau Back Beach area was ‘Vampire.’
RAAF and Army Medical Orderlies became part of the Dustoff aircraft crew complement from this time.
From Feb 1967
5 ACS, Det. B, deployed to Phan Rang, SVN for construction works to support No. 2 Squadron RAAF then had a short stint at Vung Tau.
SQNLDR Clive Cotter posted in as SENGO No. 9 Squadron (27th March).
Australian Government approved No. 9 squadron’s aircraft strength to 16. A staunch effort was required to overcome RAAF Technical Branch preference for UH-1B or D models with the L-11 engine on fleet compatibility grounds rather than the UH-1H with the more powerful L-13 engine based on a demonstrated operational requirement.
No. 2 Squadron RAAF deployed to Phan Rang, SVN; operated as part of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, USAF.
No. 5 Squadron RAAF had become the helicopter training Unit for No. 9 Squadron RAAF, the Search and Rescue (SAR) Flights located at a number of RAAF Bases, and the RAN. The Navy pilots were posted to either No. 9 Squadron for operational duty or to No. 5 Squadron as flying instructors (QFI). Iroquois UH-1B A2-1019 was written-off due to heavy landing damage after its L-11 engine compressor failed however, it was recovered successfully. The replacement aircraft was Iroquois UH-1D A2-649.
The following is the assessment of what could be done with A2-1019 written by Clive Cotter, Senior Engineering Officer (SENGO), No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN (original letter can be found below):
Group Captain (GPCAPT) Michael John Haxell DFC, RAAF (Ret’d), General Duties Pilot and Flying Instructor
Group Captain Haxell was generally known within the Air Force as ‘HAX’. By any yardstick, this ‘boy from Sydney’ was one of the RAAF’s most outstanding airmen and officers, certainly within the Air Force’s helicopter fraternity.
He joined the Air Force as an apprentice airframe fitter, re-mustered, successfully conducted his pilots’ course and Iroquois helicopter conversion and flew helicopter combat operations in SVN with No. 9 Squadron RAAF during his tour of duty 04 November 1966 until 15 November 1967. He was posted to No. 5 Squadron RAAF at RAAF Base Fairbairn and apart from doing many and varied RAAF courses through the development of his career, he is best known for his long-term and consummate flying instruction for the many keen but ‘ham fisted’ young students converting to the ‘Huey’ en route to join No. 9 Squadron RAAF in the Vietnam War.
The hallmarks of his high order flying and instructional skills included empathy (aircraft and student), a ‘learning environment’ that was relaxed and enjoyable, use of humour and a de-briefing style that seemed ‘non-critical’ of the students’ abilities or lack thereof.
When he finished flying, ‘HAX’ fulfilled a number of roles at Air Force Office in Canberra, and retired as a Group Captain.
End of 1966
400,000 American combat troops in Vietnam. Free World Military Armed Forces (FWMAF) in support of the South Vietnamese military defence of South Vietnam included US, AS, NZ, ROK, Thai and Philippine defence force elements.
RAN Pilots and No. 9 Squadron RAAF. During 1967, eight RAN pilots attached to the RAAF were posted on a twelve month flying tour of duty with No. 9 Squadron RAAF in Vietnam. Source: Navy News, 1968.
SQNLDR P. Reed posted as CO No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN.
No. 9 Squadron airframe and paint shop facilities constructed. At Kanga Pad, Nui Dat, the main helicopter landing and parking area refuel facility became operational.
RNZAF Pilot postings to No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN. These postings commenced in July 1967.Up until the withdrawal of the Squadron in December 1971, sixteen ‘Kiwi’ pilots of varying rank (seconded from No. 3 Squadron RNZAF), served a 12 month ‘tour of duty’ with No. 9 Squadron SVN with FLGOFF Brian Senn being the last pilot to do so in 1971. The first two ‘Kiwi’ pilots so posted were FLTLT A.R. Mills GDPLT who arrived in SVN on 4 August 1967, and FLTLT J.B. Clements GDPLT who arrived on 10 November 1967. Notably, five of the RNZAF pilots were awarded a DFC.
No. 9 Squadron RAAF experienced its first operational casualty (12th July) – Leading Aircraftman John ‘Jake’ Henson was hit by ground fire during a re-supply task.
Albatross 05 was the dedicated call sign of the No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN aircraft tasked to transport VIPs. When VIP tasks were over for the day, 05 would be tasked ‘as required’ along with the other No. 9 SQN RAAF Iroquois helicopters.
The Aussies and Kiwis got on very well together when flying and socially, although some banter or ‘minor sledging’ did occur. However, this cannot be said of the plaster of paris model of the flightless bird native only to NEW ZEALAND that hung by a stainless steel chain in ‘Kiwi Corner’ of the Officers’ Mess at Vung Tau. The following photograph is the replacement for the battered previous bird that had undergone many indignities at the hand of RAAF ‘bograt’ pilots. The ‘duty of care’ by the Kiwis to protect this endangered species did not last for long as within minutes of the bird’s installation, the new plaster kiwi mascot ‘had a dart up its nether regions’.
6 August 1967
The first No. 9 Squadron pilot operational casualty was SQN LDR Jim Cox. When hovering to conduct a hoist rescue of 7 RAR troops (Operation Ballarat – Battle of Suoi Chau Pha), enemy fire commenced and he sustained a bullet wound to his leg after the bullet had ripped through his flying boot. Co-pilot PLTOFF Pete Davidson took control and flew the battle-damaged helicopter back to base.
9 August 1967
News item on 9 squadron
A2-1023 and A2-1025 were badly damaged by enemy ground fire.
3 October 1967
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Corporal John ‘Snow’ Coughlan Iroquois Crewman, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) for his exceptional bravery and actions in rescuing injured and burned crew members of a crashed US Army gunship helicopter. CPL Coughlan had been winched down to the crash site following the Albatross 04 (FLTLT Bob Thompson, pilot) response to the gunship’s distress call and after searching and locating the wreckage in known enemy territory. Right, ‘Snow’, gentleman and great character, ANZAC DAY 2013 in Melbourne.
No. 9 Squadron aircraft revetments on Vung Tau Airfield were completed.
Iroquois aircraft aerial spraying rig was manufactured by squadron personnel. Squadron commenced aerial spraying operations at Nui Dat. Later on, UH-1H A2-380 became the dedicated ‘spray aircraft’ with an ever-present and pungent chemical smell.
7 November 1967
Aerial drop in Vietnam to supply the Australian Task Force
John Grey Gorton became Australian Prime Minister after the death of Prime Minister Harold Holt.
From the Government’s 1967 decision and order for16 Iroquois UH-1H (Hotel) aircraft, A2-376 to A2-383 were delivered direct to No. 9 Squadron at Vung Tau, SVN. The Bell Iroquois Hotel model was fitted with the Lycoming 1300 shp T53-L-13 engine.
25 March 1968
SQNLDR R.H. (Ron) Tucker posted as No. 9 Squadron SENGO.
23 April 1968
Vung Tau Airfield receives heavy enemy rocket attack; all No. 9 Squadron equipment was undamaged but 50 yards from the No. 9 Squadron hangar a US Caribou transport aircraft was destroyed.
21 May 1968
WGCDR J.A. Paule posted as Commanding Officer (CO) No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN. WGCDR J.A. Paule – Author’s comment from personal observation. John Paule was a highly effective Squadron Commander and esteemed by most people that worked with, or for him. ‘JP’ as he was known, was Commanding Officer of No. 9 Squadron RAAF on two occasions: 1968-1969 in SVN and 1973-1975 at RAAF Base Amberley QLD. After an exceptional Air Force career, ‘JP’ retired with the rank of Air Vice-Marshal.
The remaining Iroquois UH-1Hs (Hotel) were delivered similarly in July, A2-766 to A2-773 inclusive.
This action enabled the Iroquois Bravos to be returned to Australia to No. 5 Squadron RAAF at Fairbairn ACT and the Search and Rescue
(SAR) Flights at RAAF Darwin, Williamtown, Pearce, Butterworth in Malaysia and, the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) at RAAF Edinburgh SA.
‘RAAF VIETNAM SOP FOR NO 9 SQUADRON’ was first issued.
No. 9 Squadron ‘in-house’ Gunship Development was underway led by Squadron Leader Brian Dirou DFC, Pilot. The prototype aircraft was UH-1H A2-773; flight trials commenced and development continued until November.
A2-769 suffered Category 4 damage and was subsequently rebuilt at a local US Army maintenance facility Iroquois.
late January 1968
Tet Offensive 1968. Disregarding the seven day truce from 27 January until 3 February, the VC, backed by the regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA), launched a massive offensive throughout South Vietnam. No. 9 Squadron RAAF was heavily involved in providing air support. American troop strength peaks at 540,000.
Iroquois A2-149 was received as a replacement aircraft.
18 March 1969
SQNLDR D.A. (Don) Tidd posted as No. 9 Squadron SENGO.
21 April 1969
No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN ‘in-house’ Gunship Development ‘Bushrangers’ became operational.
The following is a Gunship Project Progression document contributed by Brian Dirou:
FLGOFF Bob Upham MID GDPLT, No. 9SQN RAAF SVN
Bob served in SVN with No. 9 SQN from21 January 1970 until 21 January 1971. He was a skilled ‘slick’ and gunship pilot, determined, highly respected and was valuable mentor for the less experienced aircrew.
Also, and unknown to most, he was a very keen and talented photographer who used flair and innovation in his works.
Author’s Note and 9SA Acknowledgement. Bob also took numerous photographs at the 2012 Commemoration, Reunion and ‘Welcome Home Huey 771’ event at RAAF Aviation Heritage Centre on RAAF Base Amberley and these can be viewed below. The 9SA acknowledges Bob’s support through his high quality contributions (SVN and subsequently); his efforts have significantly enhanced many aspects of the Albatross to Black Hawk History Project.
A selection of historical, quality photographs from Bob’s No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN tour is presented below.
1969 – 1970
Sixth Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) did two tours in South Vietnam, 1 April 1966 – 5 July 1967 and 7 May 1969 – 28 May 1970; the latter tour was as 6 RAR/ NZ-Anzac Battalion.
14 May 1969
WGCDR R.W. ‘Nugget’ Hibben posted as CO No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN.
footage of bushranger rearming before flight
17-19 August 1969
The Dustoff Iroquois crewed by Bob Treloar, Jim Satrapa, Tony Huntley and John Kerins received nineteen enemy hits when supporting A Coy 5RAR elements who were engaged in fierce fighting; A Coy had suffered 1 KIA and 31 WIA. American Dustoff and No. 9 Squadron RAAF Dustoff aircraft and crew attempted hoist recoveries of the wounded covered by the Bushrangers’ heavy fire. FLGOFF Treloar was awarded the MID for his action. FLGOFF Mike Tardent, the ‘Bushranger 71’ aircraft captain provided vital support during this action and he was later awarded the DFC.
15 October 1969
A2-381, hydraulic failure during SAS Patrol extraction by rope; crashed and was written off.
A2-376 sustained battle damage due to a mine detonation and had 32 holes patched.
13 February 1970
Enemy mine damage to A2-379 piloted by PLTOFF Ian Fogarty. See images further along.
7 March 1970
SQNLDR K.J. (Keith) Taylor posted as SENGO on his second tour of duty with No. 9 Squadron at Vung Tau.
26 March 1970
A2-770 received two rounds of ground fire.
15 April 1970
New RAAF commander arrives in Vietnam
22 April 1970
Prime Minister Gorton announced that one of the Task Force’s three battalions on the ORBAT would not be replaced in November 1970 (8RAR).
WGCDR P. Coy posted as CO No. 9 Squadron.
4 May 1970
Due to engine failure just north of Vung Tau airfield, the pilot of A2-110 flew a successful auto-rotation onto mudflats. Although the aircraft had been immersed in sea water it was recovered by a US Army Chinook helicopter before nightfall. Following maintenance A2-110 continued in RAAF service until December 1989.
11 May 1970
20 June 1970
A2-382 (gunship), received enemy fire in the Long Hai hills and due to battle damage (engine and fuel tanks) an emergency landing was made on a beach about two miles from the incident location. The aircraft could not be recovered before nightfall; engulfed in sea water and written-off.
A2-768 hit by 18 enemy rounds; off-line for five days for repairs.
A2-377 sustained ground fire damage to its fuel tank
The No. 9 Squadron Forward Servicing Party (FSP) arrangement was established at Nui Dat.
FLGOFF Chris Beatty DFC, GDPLT RAAF
Chris Beatty, GDPLT, served in South Vietnam with No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN from 13May 1969 until 13 May 1970 and on 22 April 1970, he was awarded the DFC for his flying performance in combat with No. 9 SQN.
Due largely to his piloting skill, he was posted to Central Flying School (CFS), the ‘flying instructors’ school’ at RAAF Base East Sale VIC where he made a valuable contribution from July 1975 until 1978.
Subsequently, Chris served for a number of years with No. 12 SQN RAAF flying and instructing on the Boeing CH-47C Medium Lift ‘Chinook’ helicopter from RAAF Base Amberley SE QLD and was Commanding Officer No. 12 SQN RAAF during the period 6 December 1984 to 29 November 1987. Nicknamed ‘Speedball’, Chris had a most significant and successful RAAF career and retired with the rank of Air Commodore.
18 June 1970
Ceremony marking 40,000 flying hours
28 June 1970
No. 9 Squadron RAAF Vietnam completed 40,000 flying hours ‘in country’.
Iroquois A2-110 – ‘The Snake Incident’: This aircraft was involved in an unusual “un-airworthy” incident when it was discovered that a 1.6 metre-long snake had taken up residence, requiring considerable dismantling of the aircraft before the unwelcome passenger could be removed.
Maintenance personnel detect cracking tail booms on a number of aircraft.
Replacement aircraft Iroquois A2-703 and A2-723 were collected from Pleiku, SVN, and a fourth gunship was configured and was ‘put on line’ on 31 July
Gloucester Cup 1969/1970 awarded to No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN
3 July 1970
A2-768 crashed; written-off. Crewman LAC Duncan McNair was seriously injured and sadly, he died as a result of those injuries on 20 July 1970.
Special ground handling wheel fitments were manufactured to enable movement of gunships configured with rocket pods. Modifications to the Iroquois under-fuselage were done so that each ‘slick’ aircraft could carry a Stokes Litter externally but still give crewman access for in-flight hover rescues using the stokes fitted to the hoist cable. Air Transportable Cabins for the FSP at Nui Dat were received.
30 November 1970
SQNLDR Mac Weller posted as SENGO No. 9 Squadron RAAF SVN.
A2-773 took enemy ground fire when supporting 7RAR soldiers about 5 nm east of Xuyen Moc and due to the considerable damage (fuel, instrument and electrical systems) it was landed and recovered by US Army Chinook. A2-377 was also working with 773 and she received one hit which required skin repair and a main rotor change.
SQNLDR Frank Clough DFC GDPLT, No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN
He was from Sydney and a talented sportsman and later he was a RAAF fighter pilot for many years. Subsequently, he served two tours with No. 9 SQN in SVN, 12 May 1967 to 6 June 1968 and, 14 May 1970 until 11 February 1971. His specialty was with No. 9 Squadron’s ‘Bushranger’ Iroquois gunships, was the Flight Commander of the Gunship Flight and, he was awarded the DFC in December 1971. Frank was one of one of the great characters of the RAAF especially at No. 9 SQN and was admired by all who had the good fortune to have known him.
23 February 1971
On a Dustoff mission to the Long Binh area, aircraft A2-376 piloted by FLGOFF Warren Rhone, conducted an auto-rotation near Sanford airstrip and transmitted an emergency radio call. Most squadron aircraft went looking for ‘our downed bird’ but after a short time were recalled as A2-376 and the crew were reported as safe. A US Army Chinook helicopter external-loaded 376 back to Vung Tau (cause of the incident was a Fuel Control Unit (FCU) malfunction).
Back in Australia at that time, serious floods occurred in New South Wales. FLGOFF Nick Hobson DFC of No. 5 SQN RAAF located in Canberra ACT, was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) for his notable participation in the flood support operations.
The note of congratulations from Senator Tom Drake-Brockman, Minister for Air, stated in part: ‘… The outstanding service you have given to the Royal Australian Air Force, and in particular the professional competence and determination you displayed in rescue operations during the March 1971 floods in New South Wales, have made this a very well deserved award …’.
8 March 1971
No. 9 Squadron RAAF Vietnam completed 50,000 flying hours ‘in country.’ This occurred on No. 9 Squadron Iroquois call-sign Albatross 01 (Zero One) captained by PLTOFF Graham Christian with FLGOFF Bob Redman as co-pilot.
20 March 1971
PLTOFF Ronald William Betts was WIA when he suffered multiple enemy gun fire wounds while delivering gunship support for 3RAR soldiers who were in a serious contact with the enemy and had friendly wounded. He was co-pilot of a gunship, A2-383, when it was struck by 16 (or 20 rounds) of enemy ground fire. The aircraft captain FLTLT Dave Freedman, managed to force land the helicopter at a nearby Fire Support Base (FSB). Sadly, Ron died from his wounds later that day.
During the same combat operation, aircraft A2-110 incurred six bullet holes (windows, flooring and skin) and A2-379 was holed once.
31 March 1971
This action involved Iroquois A2-767, A2-110 and A2-773 when flying in support of Australian wounded troops north of Nui Dat. When operating the recue hoist during a Dustoff mission, A2-767 Iroquois crewman LAC Alan Bloxom was wounded-in-action (WIA) from a burst of enemy ground fire. He subsequently died of his wounds in hospital. The pilot, Ken Phillips, force-landed the badly damaged helicopter at nearby FSB Beth whence it was recovered safely by a US Army Chinook helicopter. All three helicopters suffered damage (major to A2-110) and were recovered by different means.
March – April 1971
This period was considered the most difficult and challenging period for aircraft maintenance during the No. 9 Squadron commitment in Vietnam due to battle damage to many aircraft and the spate of tail boom failures.
March – Sep 1971
March – North Vietnamese Main Force Units re-enter Phuoc Tuy Province. 33rd Regiment extends its operations therein. June and July -1 ATF troops contact 33rd Regiment and 274th Regiment elements. August and September – 1 ATF continued operating in northern Phuoc Tuy. 21 September – 4RAR engages an enemy battalion in a bunker system, intense fighting, 6 Australian soldiers KIA.
17 April 1971
On 17 April 1971, Iroquois A2-767 (Dustoff 1) was shot-down by enemy when conducting a Medevac (from the hover with the stokes litter attached to the winch cable) in support of a Regional Forces Battalion (RF Bn) operation in the Long Hai Hills. The crew of A2-767 was FLGOFF Mick Castles Aircraft Captain, PLTOFF Simon Ford Co-pilot, CPL Bob Stephens Crewman, AC Roy Zegers Gunner and LCPL John Gillespie, Army Medic. PLTOFF Simon Ford suffered serious burns.
The South Vietnamese troops were being assisted by CAPT Albertson, US Army Special Forces Advisor, and CPL T. D. Blackhurst of the Australian Army Training Team (AATV).
Extract from the No. 9 SQN RAAF VIETNAM Unit History Sheet/Commanding Officer’s Report of the 17April 1971 incident:
.. Dustoff 1 ….. was called to 93B of 302 RF Coy at YS476507 to Medevac RF casualties from a land mine explosion ….. the aircraft took ground fire, lost power and crashed over the winch site, busting into flames. Beneath the aircraft was an Australian MATT adviser, a US adviser (both killed) and one RF in the stokes litter with part of his lower legs missing, who managed to get clear. The four RAAF members ….. escaped from the aircraft but the Army medic 3170244 LCPL Gillespie J. F. was killed. FLGOFF Castles then transmitted over “GUARD” frequency on his survival radio the condition and number of crew members, and headed for 9E’s location to the SW. The area was still insecure and the possibility that it was mined, still existed. The Dustoff then successfully joined ground callsign 93E. The Bushrangers, led by PLTOFF Ron Bishop and who had been providing cover for the Dustoff, had problems ascertaining friendly positions, partly because of their spread and partly because 93B (English speaking) had been killed in the crash. The Bushrangers then suppressed while ALBATROSS 01 (Captained by WGCDR Pete Coy, Commanding Officer No. 9 SQN) went down to 93E’s location and picked up the 4 RAAF members from Dustoff 1, plus 4 RF casualties from the original mine incident. Co-ordination between ALBATROSS 01 and the gunship team which was alternating 4 ships, particularly considering the communications problem with the people on the ground, was first class.
This was an horrific event … the aircraft crash killed crew member TPR Gillespie, Medic Orderly (8th Field Ambulance), and those caught beneath, CAPT Albertson, CPL Blackhurst and four wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. Another RF soldier who had lost his legs managed to drag himself clear of the wreck. In hazardous circumstances, the four surviving Iroquois aircrew managed to vacate the burning wreck through mutual assistance and sheltered among nearby rocks. This happened while the fire-fight between the Regional Forces soldiers and the enemy continued. The surviving crew members were winched out by another helicopter flown by the Commanding Officer, WGCDR Peter Coy, under suppressive fire from the No. 9 Squadron gunships. The CO flew his aircraft and crew back to the incident PZ and recovered the wounded Vietnamese soldiers. Aircraft A2-149 and A2-772 incurred minor battle damage when supporting the operation.
WGCDR Peter Mahood was posted as Commanding Officer No. 9 Squadron in Vietnam and continued as CO No. 9 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley QLD until 1972. Several temporary COs (including Bruce Lane and Tom Ward) were appointed until the new CO John Chesterfield arrived early in 1972.
Iroquois A2-723 crashed on a resupply mission during Operation Overlord when reportedly receiving enemy and was ‘written-off’. Regrettably, FLTLT Everitt ‘Lofty’ Lance, pilot, and CPL David Dubber, gunner, were killed while the co-pilot and crewman survived with relatively minor injuries.
4 June 1971
No. 2 Squadron RAAF (Canberra bombers) relocated from Vietnam to RAAF Base Amberley, QLD.
5 and 6 June 1971
The squadron flew all 15 Iroquois aircraft on-strength during these days supporting OPERATION OVERLORD. A forward servicing party operated at FSB Jane. A record aircraft serviceability rate of 90.4% was accomplished.
Replacement Iroquois A2-455 was collected from Heli 3, Saigon, and A2-915 from Tuy Hoa. A2-455 had its tail boom severed by enemy ground fire and A2-772 received friendly fire that holed a fuel tank.
The Payne gunship ammunition system became operational (an ‘in-house’ development). A2-383 was struck by one enemy round.
28 July 1971
The Squadron flew 16 aircraft on OPERATION IRON-FOX.
27 Sept 1971
Headquarters RAAF Forces Vietnam transferred from Saigon to Vung Tau, Phuoc Tuy Province, SVN.
Note. A relatively small number of Australian military advisers remained in Vietnam after the withdrawal of 1 ATF but this ended shortly after the election of the Whitlam government in December 1972.
No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN Maintenance and Maintainers (5 ½ years)
‘Military Operations is only that which is logistically feasible’ – Source: Army Staff College Directing Staff Member in 1985.
No. 9SQN RAAF a record aircraft serviceability rate of 90.7% was achieved.
From No. 9 Squadron RAAF Vung Tau aircraft maintenance records:
7 aircraft were destroyed during No 9 Squadron’s 5 ½ years in Vietnam
23 recorded instances of aircraft taking enemy ground fire, half of those 23 happened during the period November 1970 to November 1971
250 ‘D’ servicing and 22 ‘E’ servicing were performed ‘in country’
Letters To and From Home
As the Vietnam War era preceded the existence of e-mailing and mobile phones with texting, writing and receiving letters from family and loved ones was exceedingly important particularly for the No. 9 Squadron personnel who were married.
FLTLT Ian Clark, GDPLT, RNZAF served with No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN during 1970 – 1971 and wrote many letters to his family in New Zealand. The No. 9 SQN Association is indebted to Ian and his family for allowing the 9SA to incorporate the Clark’s package of personal (amended) letters that were communicated during 1970 – 1971. The letters can be found here: https://raafdocumentary.com/lettershome/
The Clark family’s contribution may well be unique (it is doubtful that a similar package with the same origins is in existence). Also, it is highly significant because the items cover the personal sentiments, observations and mention of specific events for a couple from another nation (NZ); he, a member of another Air Force (RNZAF) in a strange, remote country overseas (SVN) and flying with No. 9 SQN RAAF on combat helicopter operations during the Vietnam War.
Music and Concerts
No specific musical contributions from ex 9 SQN RAAF personnel became available for this project. However most people posted to No. 9 SQN RAAF SVN enjoyed listening to music and a few played the guitar.
Graham Hale’s outstanding contribution reference to FLGOFF Graeme “Snoopy” Shields and that he played the guitar in the RAAF Pop Band. So at some times, for example around 1968 – 1969, there was a local RAAF Pop Band.
Also, everyone absolutely loved attending the Australian Concert Groups’ performances when they were staged.
The very ‘big thing’ at the time was the Open Reel Tape Deck and accessories e.g. tuners, amplifiers, speakers, and most No. 9 SQN personnel purchased such items when they went on Rest – in – Country (RC) for a couple of days to Penang, Malaysia, courtesy of the No. 35 SQN RAAF SVN Caribou (F/W SRT) operators who lived and worked beside No. 9 SQN RAAF personnel at Vung Tau. Additionally, portable cassette players were very popular.
9 November 1971
No. 9 Squadron flew a 16 Iroquois helicopter formation to mark the Squadron’s performance in Vietnam and its impending departure.
Oct -Dec 1971
1 ATF withdrawal conducted and completed. The 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR) departed Vietnam on 8 December 1971.
No. 9 Squadron departed Vung Tau, SVN. Again, HMAS SYDNEY embarked the No 9 Squadron helicopters, crew and maintenance complement. She sailed via Townsville (short stop-over) to Caloundra (near Brisbane) whence the helicopters flew off HMAS SYDNEY in formation and later, arrived at their new home, RAAF Base Amberley. Most of the squadron left Vung Tau SVN on 17 December 1971 and flew to Townsville, joined with the HMAS SYDNEY complement and 4 RAR personnel, and marched through the city.
29 February 1972
1OSU disbanded at Vung Tau; personnel returned to units in Australia.