Recollections by Wing Commander Peter Spurgin, Commanding Officer No. 9 Squadron.
January 1981 – November 1982
During this period, No 9 Sqn was involved in, inter alia:
- Army support including troop training and Gunship fire-power demonstrations;
- Tactical development exercises in particular Fighter vs Helo, tactical navigation and self-sufficiency in field deployment;
- Survey operations in the Eastern Indonesian Island area;
- Relief operations in the Island Kingdom of Tonga
- Joint exercises with SAS, Army and Navy;
- Deployment to MFO Sinai for Peacekeeping operations.
Tactical deployment stores were built up during the period with the objective of being self-sustaining in the field. This would allow 9 Sqn to deploy at short notice and operate independently for a period of time with the equipment thus acquired. This would pay dividends for the RAAF in due course. A secondary consideration was the obvious intention by Army to take over the helo operations which Sqn personnel at the time understandably did not want to happen. The move away from the ‘motel syndrome’ did not work in the long term however.
A tactical development cell was formed to explore various operational scenarios including Army support under hostile air conditions ie where air superiority had not been established. This may have been an unliklely scenario, but it created an area of high interest and developed skills in piloting and teamwork as well as stimulating thought on various tactical scenarios. Tactics included individual aircraft navigating at low level with troops on board (taking advantage of shadow and terrain to avoid detection) to rendezvous with other troop carrying UH1-H at a specified point and time for a company insertion.
The following extracts are from the log book of Wg Cdr P.C. Spurgin (with some elaboration where necessary).
- Feb. Gunships-Fire Power demo- Gunships -Puckapunyal.
- March. Float training in preparation for Indonesian survey operations with the Australian Army surveyors.
- May. Deployment to Saumlakki an Indonesian Island 270 nm directly north of Darwin to support survey personnel. On 4th May, two UH1-H deployed, one fitted with floats and one with skid configuration. Both had winches and would operate together in separate areas in HF contact. All operations involved extensive over-water flight. Monsoon conditions added to the interest. The object of the operation was to position the Army surveyors based at Saumlakki on strategic ‘trig’ points on various volcanic Islands to the west and north –west of Saumlakki. Eventually, the contingent moved to the Island of Moa as the ‘trig’ positions moved further to the west stretching UH1-H ops to the max. The move to Moa (200 mn west of the Saumlakki base) was itself an interesting exercise. The 9 Sqn and Army surveyor contingent consisted of around 100 personnel and equipment. Water needed to be found in sustainable quantity on Moa. A small party flew to the Island on the 20th May with Indonesian ‘Jantop’ in tow as interpreter. The party landed near a small village, whose chief figured WW III must have broken out as the last aircraft to operate from the small (now overgrown) airstrip were Japanese in WW11. The party located a source of water (in a cave which led to artesian water of absolute purity which the Army chlorinated anyway) and the contingent happily moved to beach–side 11 x 11 tent accommodation. Fuel was provided from 44 gal drums landed from a barge outside the reef and herded ashore by enthusiastic natives.
- April. RAAF Air display rehearsals and exercise comprising airborne assault and solo UH1-H display by Flt Lt Rider.
- June. Oakey Helo vs Fighter tactics exercise.
- July. Shoal Water Bay (SWBTA)- Exercise Platypus with Navy.
- Oct. 15-17: deployment SWBTA Pre K81 operation with SAS. Self sustainability in the field demonstrated – cam techniques explored with UH1-H ops from ‘hides’ in the Army deployment rear area (ie simulating tactical ops in hostile air environment with emphasis on precision low level navigation, min comms, dispersed routes for rendezvous and formation run-in for company assault.
Oct. Kangaroo 81 Army support exercise. During this exercise, and on the 30 Oct, Flt Lt (RNZAF) Holden’s UH1-H, A2-380, experienced tail rotor failure on take-off and subsequently the aircraft crashed, caught fire and was destroyed. One soldier was fatally injured and one 9 Sqn crewmember suffered burns injuries. The accident was due to a failed Marmon clamp which secures components of the tail rotor shaft.
- Dec. Advised of deployment of No 9 Sqn assets to MFO Sinai scheduled for Feb 82
- Jan. Preparations underway with Wg Cdr TC Wilson for deployment of 9 Sqn aircraft , personnel and tactical deployment stores to El Gorah Sinai.
- Feb. Landing trials on HMAS Tobruk (12th). 9 Sqn aircraft loaded on board HMAS Tobruk together with small contingent of pilots and maintainers headed off to the Sinai to join MFO with Wg Cdr TC Wilson as first Austair Contingent Commander.
- March. Hurricane Isaac support-deployment to Tonga by Herc for relief operations devastation of Island communities following the hurricane. Distribution of emergency supplies to the various island communities carried out.
- June. Ex Seastrike at Shoal Water Bay training area (SWBTA) with HMAS Tobruk (recently returned from Middle East).
- July. Self deployment to PNG via Weipa to Pt Moresby for training and ops Mt Hagen, Medan and Kar Kar Island. Aircraft authorised for landing near volcanic core for deployment of activity monitoring devices by local vulcanologist.
- August. Ex Diamond Eagle Townsville.
- Sept. Preparation for the Commonwealth games. End of Tour .. posted to MFO Sinai as Contingent Commander.