“I Was Only 19” Lyrics
Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets
The sixth battalion was the next to tour and it was me who drew the card
We did Canungra and Shoalwater before we left
And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean
And there’s me in me slouch hat with me SLR and greens
God help me – I was only nineteen
From Vung Tau riding Chinooks to the dust at Nui Dat
I’d been in and out of choppers now for months
And we made our tents a home, V.B. and pinups on the lockers
And an Asian orange sunset through the scrub
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only nineteen
A four week operation, when each step can mean your last one on two legs
It was a war within yourself
But you wouldn’t let your mates down ’til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought about somethin’ else
And then someone yelled out “Contact”, and the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours, then a God almighty roar
And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon
God help me – he was goin’ home in June
And I can still see Frankie, drinkin’ tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec. leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
‘Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row
And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel
God help me, I was only 19
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
Any why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only 19
The only thing unusual about this Wallaby 006 mission on the 30th August 1967 was that an Australian army colonel, Colonel White, had made a request to be a passenger for the day. Apparently he had a day off from duties at Nui Dat and decided to, as he joked.
“See what you RAAF blokes are doing to help the war.”
The plane left Vung Tau with P/O Alan Aiken at the wheel. The CO, Squadron Leader Fookes was in the right hand seat. Fookes had a three part role that day: overseeing Alan Aiken’s first flight as pilot since his return from the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia where he had been recuperating from an illness; performing his usual flying duties as rostered; and escorting Colonel White for the day.
At Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon we dropped off the Vung Tau/Nui Dat passengers and took on the personnel and cargo travelling that day. The Wallaby 006 flight’s main purpose was to take passengers and mail from Saigon down through the delta region, the rice bowl of Vietnam, to the island of Phu Quoc (situated off the coast of Cambodia) and return in the afternoon. A secondary purpose was to supplement the daily Wallaby flight from Vung Tau to Saigon and back.
The US Movement Control helped us load the US mail and ticked off the list of passengers permitted to take the flight. The Vietnamese mailman loaded his mail on board. He always travelled with the mail to ensure it was off-loaded at the correct town. And to take on new mail posted to Saigon. He was of small stocky stature with a pleasant disposition.
The loadmaster Alan ‘Rocky’ Hudson oversaw the positioning of the cargo and the passengers. As assistant loadmaster, I helped load it in and strap it down. (somewhere during our travels in Vietnam Rocky and I discovered we had both attended the same state school, Eric Street, North Cottesloe, WA albeit at different times – Rocky was several years older than myself).
Our second stop out of Tan Son Nhut, was Long Xuyen, a pot holed strip appearing not much bigger than a cricket pitch. Two Australian doctors dressed in white clambered aboard. They were going on holidays from Saigon. The shortest way to Saigon from there was around the traps on the Wallaby. Over the coastline, across the stretch of ocean to Duong Dong, half way up the west coast of Phu Quoc Island. It was a green beret base.
Next stop, down to the southern tip of the island, lunch at An Thoi. An Thoi had US naval facilities, including a large support service vessel anchored permanently off the base. An Thoi also housed several US Army units. The most sought after trip to An Thoi was on a Friday when the navy served up seafood, including Clam Chowder.
Since our flight was over the sea and of a relatively short distance, the pilots usually chose to fly at about 500 feet. No chance of snipers and why waste fuel going to any height. The weather was intermittent squalls from a flat cloud cover at about 500 feet. We flew just below the cloud ceiling. We coasted down over the water past numerous islands that usually looked picture postcard. However, with the low grey cloud today the water was dark.
As we approached the base on the downwind leg I walked up towards the front of the aircraft telling the 14 passengers to fasten their seatbelts. I returned to my seat down the rear and strapped in. The strip was made of pierced steel planking (PSP) interlocked to form a firm support on beach sand. It could take most medium sized aircraft. It stretched from near the ocean‟s edge towards a large sand hill. The usual approach was from the sea. We turned onto the base leg and I started to think of lunch. Often enough I watched the wheels of the undercarriage to see whether the pilot was going to ‘grease’ the landing or going to drop it down from a height. But today I couldn’t be bothered. I sat staring at the pile of mail opposite me.
We turned onto finals and the landing commenced. It was a rough one. The wheels seemed to clatter along for some distance much louder than usual. Caribous can land in a very short distance which was the norm, and then a fast taxi to the exit ramp. This landing was long and noisy. And then a sudden jolting stop. I sat there sucking in my breath relieved that we were down.
Until suddenly sea water started gushing up through the floor!
I unbuckled my belt and jumped up to press the two toggle switches that operated the ramp and the cargo door. Nothing happened. The batteries, which are housed under the floor, were swamped. I jumped back to the yellow and black handle that released the port side entry door. The plane was starting to list to port. It just stayed locked in its hole by the water pressure. I pulled the cargo door release handle and watched in horror as it came away from its hinges but stayed floating blocking the rear exit which was already under water.
The water was rising rapidly. I looked back towards the front to Rocky who yelled at me to pull the starboard side door handle. I had to stretch up by this time to reach it. Pulled it. Nothing happened. The door stayed right where it was. The two Australian doctors, who had wasted no time in getting down to the rear of the aircraft, stood behind me pushing me, shouting desperately for me to do something.
It suddenly occurred to me that the door was only held in place by gravity because by now the plane was listing severely to port. I got the two doctors to push me upwards towards the door and when within reach I punched out with my fist. The door went flying. The three of us scrambled out into the ocean. The plane had stopped sinking leaving a triangle of air inside down the length of the fuselage. The triangle was about 12 inches on each side. Enough for the passengers to breath if they held their heads up against the corner of the roof.
As we scrambled onto the outer skin sticking up above the water, collecting ourselves, the two pilots emerged from the front of the aircraft. One or both of them was bleeding from the face/ear. They, like me, had discarded their helmets instinctively.
“Don’t you think you should help the others get out of there!”
Asked Sqn Leader Fookes in a sharp voice. I looked back towards the doorway. The Vietnamese mailman was standing in the doorway with his head above water. I motioned for him to get out of the doorway into the ocean and as he did we were joined by Rocky Hudson who started ushering the rest of the passengers out the door.
The passengers and crew lined themselves up along the exposed fuselage and, although it was not a particularly cold day, a number of them were shivering. I was in the water holding on to the starboard wing which was floating. A US Navy bloke asked me what the water was like. “Fine.” I replied and he jumped in for a swim.
On swimming around the aircraft I noticed that both wings had snapped off but were still floating in position. The port undercarriage had snapped off and was floating out from underneath the port wing. While the starboard undercarriage was still intact in the down position. It was the pushing up of the starboard undercarriage that had caused the plane to roll to the port side and there it sat corner on, on the bottom. The tailplane was leaning over sticking out of the water like a cross. (Ref: Photo “The RAAF In Vietnam‟, P120)
It took about 20 minutes for a number of US patrol boats to reach us and take us off the plane. However they did not take us to shore which was about 300 yards away. They took us to the US Service vessel. We were directed to a lunchroom, told to lose our clothes and put on blue pyjamas. Lunch was served and by the time we had finished eating, our clothes were returned clean, ironed and still warm. While stripping down I noticed a large square bruise on my abdomen. While I didn’t feel the crunch at the time, my seatbelt had done its job.
A noticeable absentee from the lunch was Rocky Hudson. We were informed that he had been injured in the crash and taken to the hospital ward. When we caught up with him on shore he showed us his strapped ribs and lacerations on his back in the shape of a fire axe. He had been thrown forward onto the bulk head which housed a fire axe.
The officers had ended up in an officers mess. This included the Australian Army Colonel White. I found them to ask “what happens next”. Was told that Vung Tau had been notified and that a spare Bou would come down tomorrow to pick us up. Colonel White was bemoaning the fact that he had lost his glasses in the crash and was blind as a bat without them.
The US Army put on free beer for all the passengers. The bar was in a Nissan Hut near the beach. A big flag over the bar had “FUCK VIETNAM‟ sewn in the stars and stripes of the US. The army blokes wasted no time in asking me what we had on board. “Passengers and mail mainly.” I told them. “But were you carrying Mae Wests or anything for travelling over the water.” I thought it was funny that we had all the safety equipment necessary but didn’t get time to use it. We were soon motoring out to the crash in their tinny.
As we approached we were warned off by the US Navy. A patrol boat was anchored near the plane. “We have salvage rights and you are not to come any closer!” someone ordered through a megaphone. I replied that I had my M2 folding stock carbine on board and it was the only weapon I had. A diver who was standing in the aircraft’s doorway, indicated that he had found the carbine. They allowed me to take it back. I was grateful. I asked them if they could look for a pair of prescription glasses (you mean spectacles!). They found them and I was able to return them to their owner. The army and I were disappointed enough to want to return to the boozer and keep drowning our sorrows with the free beer.
The next morning we heard the replacement Bou arrive. As we walked to the aircraft there were a number of VC trussed up on the beach with guards pointing rifles at them. If we had looked a sorry sight the day before, these blokes were worse. I couldn’t look at them for long. It was too disturbing. (there was a military prison on the island)
We boarded the rescue aircraft and were happily on our way. I was sitting second from the back next to Bill “Toff” Peters, the assistant loadmaster. I looked up to where Sqn Ldr Fookes and Colonel White, sitting opposite each other, were leaning forward and having a conversation. Suddenly there was a flash from the floor to the ceiling. It looked like a flash of static. The two men jerked back into their respective seats while the loadmaster came back and inspected the occurrence. It was a tracer bullet that had past up between their noses and just missed the cross feed fuel line by a centimetre.
As Colonel White disembarked back at Nui Dat he turned to us and said
“Next time I have a day off I’m going out with our troops on patrol through the disease ridden, leach infested jungle. It’s safer!”
For about a month the tail of A4-171 stuck out of the water like a warning cross. Then it disappeared. The shape of the plane was still visible in the sea grass on the bottom, but the story went that too many pilots thought it was either a hazard or an omen and the US Navy blew it up.
If this story in no way resembles the account described in the book „The RAAF IN Vietnam‟, (pages 120-121), that‟s because it was written from the memories and nightmares of the crewman who was sitting down the back of the aircraft, me. The official story in “The RAAF In Vietnam‟ compiled by Chris Coulthard-Clark, was provided by the crew who sat up the front of the aircraft. The words “ten feet deep‟ (ref: “The RAAF In Vietnam‟, P120) and “easy egress‟ (ref: Dakota, Hercules and Caribou In Australian Service – P.193-194) don’t really fit into this story. The photo on page 120 gives an idea of the degree of list of the aircraft, and how much was actually left above waterline when she had stopped sinking.
In writing the “official‟ record, the provider of the “facts‟ has surely done Alan Hudson a disservice. It describes how Cpl A R Hudson, who was seated up the front of the aircraft when it crashed, whilst sustaining several broken ribs and severe lacerations, must have managed to swim under water, in his flying suit and flying boots, past 14 passengers, and release the starboard emergency exit allowing all the passengers and loadmaster(s) to jump into the sea. (P121 mentions “loadmasters‟ in the plural. The description does not mention who the other loadmaster was and what he was doing while Rocky was performing this miraculous feat.) The disservice is that had Rocky actually done that, he would surely have been Mentioned In Dispatches.
My questions are: “Where did Chris Coulthard-Clark obtain his misleading information?” and “Upon reading the descriptions in both books, why has no one come forward and offered a correction?” , i.e. someone else who was there.
Peter “Dutchy‟ Forster (was: D P van Kessel)
I grew up in Paddington in Sydney early in 1944. As WW II was in full swing, my dad was in the army but as he had been declared unfit for overseas service, he had been posted to the coast watchers group over at Fremantle. Mum and I were left in Sydney and after a while dad arranged a swap posting with a fellow army bloke who was a guard at the prisoner of war camp at Hay in NSW. Dad wanted to get closer to Sydney and the guard wanted to get home to WA, so it was a win for both of them. Mum and I then moved down to Hay where we stayed for about 12 months. After the war, we all went back to Sydney and lived in Hargrave Park, which, at the time was a large Army camp, over the road from Warwick Farm. After that, we moved to the Sydney suburb of Revesby and that house is still in our family.
In 1950, I started at Padstow Primary school and then East Hills boys high. I joined the boy scouts and ended up as Troop Leader. I also joined the Army Cadets and after two camps at Singleton Army base, I made up my mind that the Army wasn’t for me.
In the mid 1959, I saw an advertisement in the local paper looking for RAAF Appies, and not being a Rhodes Scholar, I thought, this is for me. I did all the tests at Rushcutters Bay and after passing, was off to Wagga on the 16th January, 1960. I was inducted into 14 Appies (the tulips) and passed out on the 14thDecember, 1962 as a fully-fledged sumpy and was posted to 2AD. I had 18 months at 2AD working on Winjeel and DC3 engines.
After 2AD, in July 1964, I was posted down the tarmac to 86 Wing, which at the time contained 36 Sqn (A Model Hercs) and 38 Sqn (Dacs, Caribous and a Meteor). About this time, the RAAF had committed the Caribous to Vietnam and being young, single and bullet proof, I wanted to go too. I approached the 38 Sqn WOE and after a bit of wrangling, managed a posting to 38 Sqn and after 3 weeks, and a week’s pre-embarkation leave, I was off to La Viet. During my 3 week stay at 38, I didn’t learn a lot as the blokes who had gone to Canada to accept and learn the aircraft were still over there, so it was a case of the blind leading the blind. However, as the aircraft were brand new, there wasn’t a lot to do and all we had to do was bung in petrol and oil and the thing would fly.
I arrived at Vung Tau on the 22nd August 1964 and Joined RTFV (RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam) and like most of the other tech blokes, still didn’t know an awful lot about the aircraft. We had no ground support equipment (GSE) so a lot of our time was spent making work stands, gantries, tool boards and we spent as much time as we could with the Yanks learning all we could.
As there was no accommodation for the RAAF contingent, apart from tents on the airfield, the CO at the time, the late Chris Sugden, decided that tents weren’t what was needed and arranged for two down-town, water-front villas to be rented. We moved into one, the officers into the other and it was a very comfortable way to wage war.
I ended up doing 8 months with RTFV, (August, 1964 to April 1965) and during that time had a few detachment trips away to Danang, Saigon plus an R&R trip to Butterworth for the Compass Swing.
By chance, someone got talking to some South Vietnam army blokes who had the parachute flash on their shoulder and we asked where and from what did they jump. It turned out that although they were a parachute regiment, they hadn’t done a lot of parachuting as South Vietnam didn’t have the aircraft from which they could jump. Back then we used to send an aircraft down to Saigon each morning empty – it would pick up its first load there. We mentioned this to the boss, Chris Sugden, who offered to take the blokes with us out of Vung Tau and they could jump from the Caribou as much as they wanted. We did this for some time and eventually, the boss of the jumpers asked whether any of us would like to try a jump. Most of us jumped at that with both hands – why not, we were young and bullet-proof after all.
We had some instruction from a retired old ex-army bloke who used to instruct jumpers during the second world war and it was decided that we should jump into the ocean as we figured the water was a bit softer and a lot more forgiving than terra firma. We were fitted with May Wests and instructed to dump the chute when we were about 10 feet from the water – that way the chute would not fall on our heads and drown us!!!!! A good idea we thought!!
As we worked a 6 day week, it was arranged that we would jump on a Sunday, so the big day arrived, we were kitted out with parachutes, May Wests, etc, loaded up into the Caribou and off we went. It was a huge buzz, and we spent quite a few Sundays thereafter leaping out the back of the Caribou.
Probably wouldn’t be allowed today.
Eventually, I was posted back to 38 Sqn and by this time, the blokes who had been in Canada learning the aircraft had arrived in Vungers to take over. Back in Oz and towards the end of 1965, the CO announced that the Canadian trained blokes were due to leave Vietnam and had to be replaced, so he was looking for volunteers to go back. A few of us put up our hands, we were still single and the earn was good too, so why not? At the time, my fortnight pay was $54 gross and in Vietnam it was tax free and we also got $58 in allowances – at the time a fortune for a young single bloke. So in Dec 1965 I was on the way back for 9 months with the option of extending for another three.
While I was there for the second tour, (Dec 1965 to Dec 1966) Caribou 173 pranged at Ba To (16th Aug 1966) and I was sent to Ba To to assist in the repairs. The crew of the aircraft was Dick Cooper, Captain, Stew Spinks, Co-pilot, Barry Ingate, Loadmaster and Fred Robinson, a Cpl Framie who was the assistant Loadmaster for the trip.
The first thing we had to do was move it off the runway so it (the rwy) could be used again and then scrounge equipment and parts to get the aircraft airworthy again. We spent 10 days there, replacing a wing and engine and eventually it was flown out by Wng Cdr Charlie Melchert. When I got back to Vung Tau, the base was closed because of the Long Tan battle.
As a “thank you” for spending the 10 days putting the aircraft back together, we were all given a weeks R&R – I took mine in Hong Kong.
After my 9 months was up, I decided to stay on for the next 3 as the money and conditions were good (we were still in the Villa) and finally I returned to Australia, with another posting to 38 Sqn. By this time they were calling for Load Masters and as I was sick of working on dirty oily old engines I put my hand up and in Feb 1967 I started the Loady’s course. After I finished that, I learnt that part of the deal was you were required to do a flying tour of Vietnam – so back to Vung Tau we went but as I’d already done two tours, the posting was for 6 months with the option of 2 X 3 month extensions.
By this time, the squadron had left the Villa and moved into the quarters on the base.
Just prior to going back for the third tour, some friends asked me to accompany a friend of theirs, a pretty young single girl, to a ball. She wanted to go but at the time didn’t have a partner. I thought “why not??” so off we went, had a great time and I must have made a hit because she thought as I was going off to war I must be tough brave and strong, so she offered to write. To make a long story short, we kept in touch and eventually, after I come home for the third time, we got engaged and then married – and we’re still together.
This time, as being part of the aircrew, I saw an awful lot of the country and I managed another trip to Butterworth for a compass swing and I had some R&R in Bangkok. A lot of the time we didn’t know what the day would bring. Our usual task was to carry a load from airfield A to airfield B then at B the Air Movements people would ask us to take a load to airfield C. At C we would get a load which had to go to D – and so it went. We used to carry all sorts of things, from mail to live animals and on one trip, after we had taken some live cattle into Ban Me Thuot, I was asked by the US load controller if we could do him a favour and take an elephant down the road to a special forces camp. He said they were trying to make a road at the special forces camp and didn’t have enough heavy machinery – this was the only load I refused.
The elephant was eventually walked out.
At the end of the 6 months, I’d had enough and decided thank you but no thank you, so I decided to head home, once again, back to 38 Sqn. That was in April 1968. On arrival at Richmond, I was asked to become the aircrew technical training instructor, which I did for about 10 years.
In July 1969, I got a trip to Canada to pick up Caribou A4-275 and help ferry it back to Richmond. We had the aircraft fitted with ferry tanks, which gave it about 20 hours endurance, and we decided to take the Pacific Route.
This was via Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, Moffatt Naval AS, then to Hickam in Hawaii, then over heaps of water to Johnstone Island (Atoll) (about 600 miles West of Hawaii), then to Kwajalein in the Marshalls, just as they were landing on the moon – and there were communications ships everywhere. We had more important things to do. After Kwajalein, it was off to Port Moresby then down to Richmond, all up 70 flying hours.
There wasn’t a lot of room in the aircraft as it was chockers with equip and as a lot of the flight was over water, we also carried a navigator and had a Loran fitted. This was plugged into the power socket that usually powered the winch and when it was being used we disconnected the HF set and used the HF antenna in the Loran. Our longest leg was 16 hours, 25 mins in the air, all over water, from Moffat NAS to Hickham Air Base on Hawaii – scary stuff as we were miles overweight when we left and if something nasty had happened on take-off, our only option was to switch everything off, cross your fingers, crash forward and hope for the best. The Nav did a good job too as Johnston is only a dot in all that water and about 2 ft above high water mark and if we had been a few degrees off, left or right, we’d have missed it.
The Johnston Atoll area was used during the 1950s and 1960s as an American nuclear weapons test site—for both above-ground and underground nuclear tests. It was also used for a rocket launch site for some of the first American spy satellites as well as other things which we weren’t allowed near. Later on, it became the site of a chemical weapons depot and the site of the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS). All of the chemical weapons that were once stored on Johnston Island were incinerated by 2000 and JACADS demolished by 2003.
The arrow in the pic above shows one of the missile sites – which weren’t there….
Johnston Atoll had never had any indigenous inhabitants, although during the latter part of the 20th century, there were on average about 300 American military personnel and 1,000 civilian contractors present at any given time. When we landed we were met at the aircraft by US Military Police who welcomed us to the Island and told not to take any cameras with us and not to ask any questions. They sealed the aircraft so we couldn’t go back to it until the next day when we were to leave.
I got married in Oct 1969 and we went down to Tassie for our honeymoon then it was back to Richmond and back into flying and running the flying/tech training centre. In 1972 I went to Palembang in Sumatra on a mapping survey – we went as support for the Army who had one of their Beech 200 aircraft doing mapping. In 1975, it was off to Cashmere working for the UN as a military observer group and replacing the Italian Air Force which had had enough and had just packed up and left. The RAAF painted three of their aircraft white and because of the altitudes in which the aircraft had to operate, oxygen supply for the passengers was installed. Pipes were run down each side of the aircraft with an outlet behind each seat.
During the hot summer months, the aircraft operated out of Srinagar in Cashmere which is at 5,700 ft and nice and cool. In the winter, we moved down to Rawalpindi (now called Islamabad) which is at 1,600 ft. Flying from one to the other required the aircraft to operates at levels up to 20,000 ft – thus the requirement for oxygen.
When I returned to Oz, I was sent on many trips to PNG (17 in all) and I reckon I’d have to go close to holding the “airports landed at” record – having been into 83 different PNG airfields.
Back then Work Place Health and Safety had not been invented and anything and everything was used to get the job done.
The photo at below shows a prop change at Wewak in PNG – look at the bloke on the gantry and the quality and stability of the engine stands. The empty 44 was a handy bench too. Can you imagine that happening today??
In 1978, after having spent 16 years in and around Richmond, reached the rank of Flt Sgt and being pretty proficient on radial engines, I was posted to 482 Maintenance Squadron at Amberley where there wasn’t a radial engine in sight. I was posted to the position of Flt Sgt in the F111 engine workshop and twelve months later I was the Maintenance Co-Ordinator.
Back then they had a thing called Centralised Maintenance. Number 1 and Number 6 squadrons only contained aircrew while all the maintenance blokes, GSE and all the aircraft were in 482 Mntce Sqn. 482 worked two shifts, one shift from 8.00am to 5.00pm, and the second shift from 5.00pm until they finished. It was a complete dog’s breakfast. The early shift would leave work for the late shift and the late shift would leave work for the next day, consequently the number of serviceable aircraft was always below what was required.
A lot of aircraft flew with CFU’s – carried forward unserviceabilities (used to be called COS – condition of serviceability).
482 Maintenance Squadron used to go to Butterworth each year for IADS (Integrated Air Defence Systems) and I had a trip up there in 1981. I also did two trips to Edinburgh for the Karinga trials – a new smart bomb that was being trialled at Woomera.
In Jan 1982, I accompanied 14 troops to McClelland AFB in Sacremento in the US for Cold Proof Load testing on the aircraft (see HERE). Back then the F111’s had cracking problems and the RAAF was determined to find out why. The D6AC steel used in the manufacture of critical F-111 structural components had a very low fracture toughness value. This means it was very brittle and susceptible to failures from very small fatigue cracks or manufacturing flaws.
The aircraft were placed in a large refrigerated hanger and the temperature was dropped to about 400C below to simulate flight at high altitude.
The airframe was then chained to the ground and hydraulic rams lifted the wing so that the tips were raised from the horizontal to a height of 3½ feet and then pulled down 1½ feet. If the aircraft survived that terrible stress test it was declared serviceable and allowed to fly – if it didn’t, the broken bits were replaced and the aircraft flew again.
While there, we did acceptance tests on 4 A model F111’s which we bought from the USAF and which were to replace the 4 C models lost in Australia. Australia had ordered 24 C models of which only 24 were built. The C model had stronger undercarriage and a larger wing.
While at McClelland AFB, we heard that the USAF’s SR-71 Blackbird aircraft were based at Beale AFB, which was not all that far away. I rang Beale and told them that I was part of a 15 man group of RAAF bods who were at McClelland doing cold trials on our F111’s and would it be possible to have a look over their SR-71.
They were only too happy to oblige so we arranged for transport and off we went. They really looked after us, showed us all around the base and the aircraft, but we weren’t allowed to look inside. We saw where the aircraft were ‘hangered’, where the crew were kitted out prior to each flight and had a look at the maintenance section.
The SR-71’s, of which 32 were built, were introduced to the USAF in 1966 and retired in 1989, then were brought back for another run from 1993 until 1998. On the ground they were kept in “car ports” similar to the F111’s at Amberley, except at Beale, the car ports had walls and doors. When a SR-71 landed, it was immediately wheeled into the car port and the doors were closed so that any snooping satellite flying overhead couldn’t see how many aircraft were on the base – therefore not know how many were in the air.
As the aircraft could operate quite happily at 80,000 ft, the crew would wear “space suits” to give them a chance of surviving if something ‘nasty’ happened.
For an aircraft that was first flown in 1964, (the same year Holden released their EH model), they were remarkable. 85% of the aircraft was made from titanium, a rare and expensive material, with the remaining 15% being composite materials. Major portions of the upper and lower inboard wing skin of the SR-71 were corrugated, not smooth. The thermal expansion stresses of a smooth skin would have caused splitting or curling. By making the surface corrugated, the skin was allowed to expand vertically and horizontally without overstressing. As the aircraft’s J58 engines (which were designed to run on afterburner full time) were most efficient around Mach 3.2, this was the Blackbird’s typical cruising speed.
To allow for thermal expansion at the high operational temperatures which occurred at these speeds, the fuselage panels were manufactured so that they fitted together loosely while the aircraft was on the ground. Proper alignment was only achieved when the airframe heated due to air resistance at high speeds. This caused the airframe to expand several inches. Because of this, and the lack of a fuel sealing system that could handle the expansion of the airframe at these extreme temperatures, when not airborne, the aircraft would continuously leak fuel onto the ground, just like a 1960’s Land Rover.
The car ports had ‘gutters’ to collect the spilt fuel.
When departing on a sortie, the aircraft would only be partially fuelled. It would then depart, get up to Mach 3 or there abouts, thus heating up the airframe, causing it to expand which would seal everything, then it would hook onto a tanker that was orbiting and take on a full load of fuel.
While in flight, the airframe was kept at manageable temperatures by cycling fuel behind the titanium surfaces at the front of the wings. When it landed, it was not uncommon for the aircraft’s canopy to be over 300°C, too hot to approach.
The curved skin near the centre of the fuselage, inside the red line in the photo, is a ‘no-go’ area as there is no support underneath with exception of the structural ribs, which are spaced several feet apart.
Two girls were chatting over coffee, one said to the other, if you’re sick of your husband, why not leave him, the other replied, if I could do it without making him happy, I would.
We returned to Australia in May 1982 and by then the Centralised Maintenance trial was finally found to be a dud and in Feb 1983, 1 and 6 Sqn became independent once again and were back to operating level maintenance where each Squadron had the full complement of air and ground crews, GSE and their own aircraft. I was posted to 1 Sqn as WOE (as a F’Sgt) but was promoted to WO in March. 1 Squadron was the task squadron while 6 Squadron was the training and photographic reccy squadron.
In March 1983, 1 Sqn was off to Tindal for war games. Tindal at that time was still in its infancy and the facilities were pretty basic. The runway had been built some years earlier and had started to deteriorate. One of our aircraft was lined up for take off and when the engines were run up to full power, part of the rubber expansion strip was ripped from the runway and ingested into the engine. Normally this would not have been all that serious, but when ACS had built the runway, they had fixed the expansion strips into the ground using large steel spikes. One of these found its way into one of the engines, which was at full power and didn’t do it a whole lot of good, resulting in an engine change and a lot of paper work.
After that, all take-offs were done from a rolling start.
After the war games were finished, we returned to Amberley only to find we were off to Butterworth for the annual IADS, then after we’d finished in Butterworth, it was down to Pearce for more exercises. At this time, Bondy was in Newport winning the America’s Cup and Perth was a buzz.
We finally got back to Amberley, unpacked the clothes, did the washing, patted the dog, then it was time to pack again and head for Butterworth for the 1984 IADS, then in September of that year we took 6 aircraft to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho for the inter-country bomb competition. We stayed there for 6 weeks and competed against the USAF and RAF and points were awarded for serviceability of aircraft, take off on time, on time on target, dropping closest to the target, etc. We didn’t win but we put on a good show.
At the same time, we had 4 aircraft in NZ – not bad for a squadron which had 12 aircraft.
After Mountain Home, we sent 4 aircraft home and 2 went to Eglin AFB in Florida to the test facility which is the biggest in the western world – covering 720 square miles. We stayed there for 2 weeks doing flight tests. The idea was to prove the accuracy of the flight manuals, the aircraft would be flown as per the manual and ground radar would produce a readout of the actual flight profile. Comparing the two would prove the manuals.
Luckily, we were close to New Orleans and at that time that city hosted the world expo. We managed to sneak a few days off and check it out. They had one of the Space Shuttles on display – how they got it there and how they got it back to Kennedy AFB is beyond me – but it was a huge attraction.
After Eglin, we went to Barksdale AFB which is in Louisiana and about 5 miles from Bossier City. It is the home of the USAF’s 2nd Bomb Wing, the oldest Bomb Wing in the USAF and is equipped with B52 Stratofortress aircraft. Here we got the results of the Bomb Competition and as there were a lot of different countries taking part in the competition, it was a good opportunity for each country to demonstrate to the others what each was about – it was like a mini expo, and a lot of fun.
After all the niceties were finished, we sent the aircraft towards Amberley, boarded a Herc and also headed for home.
On the 17th January, 1985, after 25 years, I decided I’d had enough and wanted to stay in the one spot for more than 3 months at a time, so I took a discharge. Just prior to leaving, the CO arranged for me to have a 1 hour flight in an F111 – as a going away present and a thank you for 25 years service. That was a real buzz I can tell you, we zoomed all around the place and had a ball.
Now as a Mister and not a WO, I decided to take a couple of months off to get used to civvy life then I bought an ENZED Hose Doctor franchise and ran that for 2 years. I eventually got sick of being dirty and sold the franchise and took a job as production manager with a stainless steel company making kitchens, hospital equip, air conditioners etc. I stayed there for 7 years.
I got back into the Hydraulics business and stayed there for a few years and eventually, DVA made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I finally retired.
I maintain a keen interest in my old Squadron and in the wonderful Caribou aircraft and currently I am the President of the RTFV/35 Sqn Association.
In between all this, I had two lovely daughters, one works with Boeing, the other is a Sergeant with the Qld Police. I went back to Vietnam in 2005 and marvelled at the changes that have taken place, especially in Vung Tau, where some of the facilities are definitely world class.
These days I travel a bit, enjoy life and don’t regret one minute of my RAAF time.
A 75 Year Old Lady rings her local hospital and this conversation follows: ‘Hello I’d like some information on a patient, Mrs Tiptree. She was admitted last week with chest pains and I just want to know if her condition has deteriorated, stabilised or improved? ”Do you know which ward she is in? ”Yes, ward P, room 2B ”I’ll just put you through to the nurse station. ”Hello, ward P, how can I help? ”I would just like some information on a patient, Mrs Tiptree, I was wondering if her condition had deteriorated, stabilised or improved? ”I’ll just check her notes. I’m pleased to say that Mrs Tiptree’s condition has improved. She has regained her appetite, her temperature has steadied and after some routine checks tonight, she should be well enough to go home tomorrow. ”Oh that’s wonderful news, I’m so happy, thank you ever so much! ”You seem very relieved, are you a close friend or relative?’ ‘No, I’m Mrs Tiptree in room 2b. Nobody tells you a damn thing in here.
John (Sambo) was born and bred and grew up in Brisbane. He went to school at Grovelly (a northern suburb of Brisbane) and played league with the school and in 1959 was one of the initial players for the newly formed West Mitchelton team.
After school he started work at the now gone Arnotts/Morrows biscuit factory (which was on the corner of Coronation Drive and Boomerang St in Milton). Morrows started making biscuits and confectionary back in 1875 and in its day was one of the largest confectioner and biscuit manufacturing firms in Queensland. Morrows were the first firm in Australia to make “jelly-beans” which up to that time had been imported and was also the only firm in Australia making Christmas bon-bons.
In the 1960’s it was consolidated into the Arnotts team and for years was known as Arnotts/Morrows. It finally went to make way for the “Go-Between” bridge.
Sambo lasted there for 1 year, one of his tasks was to monitor the huge conveyor belt that fed the biscuits into the baking ovens. The belt was pretty old and would occasionally wander off the rollers, so a “belt watcher” would monitor the rollers and if and when necessary make adjustments to keep the belt on the straight and narrow. One day Sambo had been monitoring the belt from end to end and as it was working perfectly, he thought he would “nick off” for a few minutes to grab a coffee. When he got back he found the belt had run off the rollers and was busily dumping tons of biscuits onto the dusty old floor. He was called into the office and given an immediate DCM.
After Arnotts he went to MetalCraft and began a sheet metal worker apprenticeship. MetalCraft manufactured commercial refrigeration cabinets for industry and after 4 years as a Bratt and a 1 year indenture to the firm, he got his tickets. In 1964 his marble was pulled from the barrel and it looked like he was off to the Army as a Nasho, but, as he was in his last year of an apprenticeship, his enlistment was deferred. In 1965, now as a tradesman and not wanting to walk when you can fly, he applied to join the RAAF as a metal worker. He was taken to Amberley to undergo a trade test which he passed and was told he would be on the next intake in Jan 1967.
In Jan 1967 it was off to Edinburgh for Rookies, after which he was posted to 34Sqn at Canberra. At that stage he had never worked on aircraft and found the work was completely different to what he had been doing, luckily he had a sympathetic mate from 5Sqn who took him under his wing and got him up to speed. While there he played league for the RAAF and was in the grand final team that lost to Bungendore 5:3.
A funny thing happened at the end of the game, tradition had it that grand final teams swapped guernseys after the final bell, which they all did, but back in the change rooms Mr RAAF wanted the guernseys back as, under the RAAF’s equipo rules, their life had not expired and every member of the team had to pay a nominal amount to cover the costs.
One night, at about 7.00pm, he and 7 others, 4 of whom were girls, climbed into a mate’s Datsun Bluebird (designed to carry 4), armed with several cartons of Toohey’s finest and headed off into town for a party. While approaching Mach 2 along the two lane Canberra Avenue, the driver started to swerve in and out of traffic, causing Newton’s law to assert itself. The C of G of the poor little Datto was way out of kilter and it lurched into 7 end to end rolls from which Sambo suffered a broken left leg. One of the girls was hysterical over a broken finger nail and the others had only minor abrasions – what do they say about limp falling??
After 18 months at Canberra he was posted to 1BOCU (Bomber Operational Conversion Unit) at Amberley to work on the Canberras – at which unit he became proficient in his trade. 34Sqn was a VIP passenger carrying squadron and its aircraft always flew straight and narrow and did not suffer a lot of damage – consequently there was not a lot for a metal basher to do. The Canberras were a different story, they were tossed around the sky by fit and healthy young blokes and occasionally needed the healing hands of a metal basher. He stayed at Amberley for 18 months, and was then selected for a posting to Vietnam. Initially the posting was to 2Sqn, which would have been sensible as it had Canberras, but for reasons unknown, at the last minute the posting was changed to 35Sqn in Vung Tau – which had Caribous. He arrived in Vungers in June 1969, (as part of the A team) and not surprisingly, had never seen a Caribou beforehand. Luckily for a metal basher, the Caribou was just an aeroplane made from a heap of straight square panels all riveted together with two big engines stuck on it so with a bit of help from Wally Jones and Col Peterson it wasn’t long before he got the hang of the aircraft.
Sambo (left) with Wally Jones and GPCAPT McKimm, the OC RAAF Vietnam.
Sambo’s brother Les, who had joined the Army many years earlier and who he hadn’t seen for some time (and incidentally who had been instrumental in Sambo joining the RAAF), was also in Vietnam at that time. Les was an engineer and was stationed at Nui Dat. He rang Sambo and they made arrangements to meet in Vungers the following weekend and although there was an age difference (he was 15 years older) and there had not been a lot of contact over the years, they hit it off and became good mates.
One of Les’s responsibilities, he was a Sergeant at the time, was to maintain the movie theatre and bridge at Briara (not far from Nui Dat) which the Viet Cong would mortar regularly and which Les would repair regularly. Les would tell Sambo that the Viet Cong would not inflict a lot of damage on either the theatre or the bridge and it turned into a “sort of” game. They would bash it and Les would fix it.
After Vietnam, Les was posted to PNG where he was involved in repairing and building roads. At one time he found a crashed Japanese Zero which had been shot down into the dense tropical jungle and which still had the skeletal remains of the Japanese Pilot.
Always love a woman for her personality.
They have like 10, so you can choose.
One afternoon, while Sambo was in Vung Tau, one of the Caribous returned to base after having an altercation with what can only be described as a high flying “tree”. The story goes that during its take-off roll, the aircraft “slipped” on the wet and muddy PSP and failed to clear a strategically placed tree a short distance from the runway threshold. Investigations later found that Vietnamese trees are actually made from marine ply which is obviously why the local fisherman use these trees to build their sampans. Sambo and Col Peterson worked through the night and about 4.00am next morning, had stitched up the unprotected belly of the aircraft and had it back on the line.
Another time one of the 7 Caribous on line suffered some damage to its side door which required it to be removed for repairs. Sambo asked one of the framies (a Sgt – no names, no pack-drill) to get the door off so it could be taken back to metal basher castle for some TLC. The framie suggested Sambo just pull the handle situated at the rear of the aircraft as (he said) that released the door. An argument ensued, Sambo telling the framie that he was sure that handle was to drop the cargo door not the small entry door. The out-ranking framie got hot under the collar, leapt into the aircraft and gave the handle a mighty tug after which the cargo door very noisily parted company with the aircraft and plummeted to the ground. Luckily no one was under the door at the time.
Immediately the aircraft and the errant door were surrounded by the amused squadron personnel, most of whom were laughing uncontrollably. After things cooled down, the door was taken into the metal shop for repairs and then refitted with some difficulty as it had twisted and didn’t go back without a fight.
The squadron personnel would do the A, C and D services on the aircraft, but the E (major) service was done in Malaysia. These flights were a good opportunity to take some of the troops out of Vietnam for a few days and Sambo managed to have himself included on the manifest for one such flight. On arrival at Butterworth, he and a few of his mates caught the ferry and headed straight for the shopping mecca on Penang Island where they hired a car and toured the island. One point of interest was the rail journey to Penang Hill. This railway was opened in October 1923 and required passengers to change trains half way up where they boarded the cable driven cars. The top section was a funicular railway where a cable is attached to a pair of carriages, one of which goes up while the other goes down – counter-balancing each other. The railway was opened to the public in October back in 1923 and continued to serve the public until 1977 when new air-conditioned cars were introduced which now take passengers from bottom all the way to the top.
Back in Penang, apart from buying the SLR camera and stereo, as a joke he ordered 3 pairs of slacks, one green, one blue and one red. Not intending to ever pick them up, he only paid a small deposit, then a few days later boarded the Caribou for the exciting return trip to Vung Tau. What he didn’t count on was the tailor being a super sleuth as he somehow managed to trace Sambo back to Vungers whereby he had to pay the balance and take possession of the strides which he wore for some years after.
He also went on a 7 day R and R trip to Taipai, the cheap man’s Hong Kong. He went over and back via PanAm and came back armed with a new set of Wilson golf clubs which he was able to use for many years back in Oz, then sell for better than he paid for them. He also found time to scientifically check out quite a few of the local bars.
On return to Australia he was posted to 2FTS in Pearce to work on the Macchi where he was put to work carrying out a lot of mods. After about 4 months, a metal basher at Amberley wanted an exchange posting to Pearce to be with his sick father. Sambo exchanged with him and ended up at 3AD. During his time in Perth, he had bought a red 128 Fiat which he drove over the Nullarbor to Amberley, carrying another bod who had also been posted to Amberley. With mileage, subsistence and other expenses paid by the RAAF he ended up with a nice little profit.
Back at Amberley he was, once again, working on the Canberras and also the Iroquois as these aircraft were being repatriated from Vietnam. Some of these aircraft were sent to 3AD for major servicing before being put back on the line in Australia. The Iroquois required their work decks to be replaced and Sambo found his days were tied up repairing these aircraft.
He was married in 1972, while still in the RAAF and they had one daughter who was born in 1975. Sadly he divorced later that year and ended up with full custody of the daughter who he raised as a sole parent and who has since presented him with two lovely grand kids.
After his RAAF time, he bought a taxi licence (in 1988) and got to know most of Brisbane’s streets and short cuts, the whereabouts of all the public toilets, where to get a good coffee late at night and where to get a good cheap meal. He sold the license in 1992 and although he didn’t make a lot of money on the sale, he reckons he lived pretty well when he had it.
About 15 years ago, but who’s counting, he met the lovely Andrea who instantly swept him off his feet – and they’ve been together ever since.
Then, a chance encounter with his nephew led to him becoming involved with the Arana Hills Football Club. At first he would just help out in minor ways but gradually his involvement grew and it wasn’t long before he was the manager of the teams and on the board of the Arana Leagues (Social) Club – a position he held for 11 years. During his stewardship, he was responsible for raising a considerable sum of money for the juniors.
It was about this time that he commenced “negotiations” with the DVA for increased compensation for injuries he had suffered in Vietnam. He had been on a 10% disability pension as a result of a “bung” knee and after a lengthy battle and a lot of help from the Veterans Support and Advocacy Service at Toowong, the pension was upgraded to TPI rate.
Some years ago, John Webster, who was the Secretary/Treasurer of the RTFV-35 Sqn Association, decided he needed a tree change and moved south to the ACT. The Association was looking for a replacement and Sambo forgot to take a step backwards with everyone else. He has been the enthusiastic Secretary/Treasurer boss ever since and says one of the “perks” of the job has been the re-connecting with old mates he first met in Vung Tau.
Today, rapidly approaching the magic age of 70 years, he takes things a bit slower, he’s still a keen golfer and enjoys a game or two each week and finds (and enjoys) the RTFV-35 Sqn duties keep him well and truly occupied.
This song became famous among Australians in South Vietnam. There is hardly an Aussie who served there that did not know it, but these days most only remember the first verse.
It is sung to the tune of “The Children’s Marching Song” (From the film, ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ – 1958 starring Ingrid Bergmann as the English missionary, Gladys Aylward and Curt Jurgens as Eurasian Colonel Lin) and is based on the traditional Nursery Rhyme Nick Nack Paddy Wack (which are sound words with no actual meaning) the was originally adapted by Malcolm Arnold for the Mitch Miller Orchestra.
An introduction to a few basic meanings of some of the words is necessary to enjoy the sardonic humour of the piece.