RAAF Caribous Service Periods in Vietnam by Periods

C3192 Caribou

Hi Everyone,

We have been contacted by Wayne Buser from USA. He has asked for some help from 35 Squadron.

He has a web site about the de Havilland Caribou and Buffalo aircraft  www.dhc4and5.org. And also a section on the RAAF Caribous  – have a look when you get a chance:  http://www.dhc4and5.org/http://www.dhc4and5.org/Caribou_Photos.html 

Wayne has added 11 photos of a RAAF Caribou he took at the 1999 Downunder Airshow in Avalon and that started his RAAF section. Over the years many people from Australia have sent him photos and data.

Some of you may have info about the RTV/35 Squadron time in Vietnam. Wayne is redoing the RAAF section and hope to do a section on the RTV/35Squadron. He has also made a time line for the Caribous in Vietnam (attached PDF file). If you have time to contribute please verify the data the Wayne has entered. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE PDF RAAF Caribous in Vietnam PDF

If you know of any members of the RTV/35 Squadron who may have photos of data I would like to get in contact. I am happy to credit them for the photo or data.

Wayne is a Vietnam Vet who serviced in Vietnam in 1963 and 65. He is also the historian for the Army Otter and Caribou Association.

In the later 90’s Wayne worked in Canberra for the Hughes Aircraft Company.

Again, any help provided would be much appreciated.

Warm Regards,



A Brief History of 9 SQN Vietnam

9 Sqn chopper

Hello John,
            Thank you for sending that report to me.  It makes for interesting reading.  It also records, (rightfully so) that the last 12 to 18 months were probably the most difficult for the squadron and its maintenance.  It was in early October 1971 that the squadron moved out of the “Kanga Pad” and back to Vung Tau for its daily operations. 
Yet, it was in late October, when all four Gunships were scrambled to cover an Army Pilatus Porta which had been shot down in the Long Hai Hills.  The scramble started just after lunch, (probably about 1330) and finally stopped about 1800.  In that time four armourers, myself plus three, had been re-arming gunships one at a time, then refilling the hopper bins, while they continually covered the target.  When it stopped, we realized that they had cleaned us out of 7.62mm (1-in4) belted ammunition.  They had fired 107,000 rounds of minigun ammunition in that day – it was a squadron record.

            Also, there is a book titled “Shockwave” written by an Australian Army soldier which describes the life and flying of three of 9 Squadron aircrew.  They were FLTLT Norm Goodall (Pilot), CPL Neville Sinkinson (AFFITT – Crewman), and Gary – – –  (ADG – Gunner).  It is an outstanding book, and describes the era of the squadron during the last 18 months of the squadron in Vietnam.  After obtained a copy from our local library, I wrote a review of it and sent it to the library.  I have attached a copy of the review. 
            Once again, thank you for sending that report.

            Kind Regards,

            John C.

Book Review:
By Peter Haran.

There have been a myriad of books dealing with the Australian involvement in Vietnam in one way or another – but this book, “Shockwave” is long overdue. The very fact that an infantry soldier is writing about the RAAF’s helicopter support is a huge compliment to those pilots and crews of No 9 Squadron who supported our soldiers in Vietnam.
Peter Haran, who served two tours of Vietnam, the first with 2RAR in 1967-68, and the second with 3RAR in 1971, has written an account of the lives, difficulties, stresses, and some very personal accounts. Peter has followed the lives of one of the pilots, a Crewman and a Gunner, describing their typical days, which also included several other members of the squadron during periods of intense operations. Peter was also able to follow the lives of a few of our soldiers and how they related to the helicopter crews.

The period of time he chose to write about, 1970 – 1971, was probably one of the most difficult for the squadron. No 9 Squadron served with distinction in Vietnam from June 1966 until December 1971, including some brilliant support of our soldiers during the Long Tan operation in 1966, and the Tet Offensive in 1968, and many others, yet the squadron had more aircraft shot down and more lives lost during the last 18 months than any other period in its Vietnam Service.
As a Vietnam Veteran myself, I served with No 9 Squadron right through this period (December 1970 until December 1971), and I knew most of the men he was talking about. The manner in which he described the RAAF Helicopter Gunships, and the manner of their operations, and the way the crews communicated with and cooperated with the soldiers on the ground, Medical evacuations, as well as describing the intensity of the operations by the troops on the ground was raw, personal, accurate, and very descriptive. In my case, each time he began to describe a particular incident or operation, I remembered those men who died on such operations and his description of these brought back some raw memories.

During the intensity of many of these operations, he also paid tribute to the Maintenance men who, through dedicated and long hours of work, managed to provide 15 serviceable aircraft out of a total of 16 aircraft on most days. On some days, when preparing for a big operation, Operations asked for 100% aircraft serviceability, (i.e., all 16 aircraft), then the maintenance crews would work right through the previous night.
This book is mandatory reading for those who wish to know the real level of cooperation which existed between our valiant soldiers and the airmen of No 9 Squadron.


9 Sqn chopper


Salts, Blue Orchards and Us

There has always been rivalry between all three military services but as for me, I now wave a flag of truce as I reflect on days gone by in peace and war. There are so many memories, the reliable and beloved Huey helicopter, the seemingly vulnerable Spartan patrol boats and then of course those magnificent aircraft, the Caribous which always seemed to be here, there and everywhere.

How many times did we wait, resting at a rarely used remote airstrip, dirty, tired and eager to be gone from the bush? Listening for the familiar sounds of our saviour, the Caribou, which would soon take us back to our base where there would be hot showers, food and then some leave to do what soldiers like to do best and often. Suddenly there is the familiar drone of aircraft engines detected and a stirring restlessness spreads through the waiting group as diggers prepare to move.

The great relief as the now crowded Caribou becomes airborne and claws for height, yet seems still to be labouring with its load, banging, clattering and shuddering. In its thin metal belly, old soldiers doze and dream of what they might do; young ones shout above the deafening motors as they yarn and boast of their exaggerated intentions on leave.

The Caribou was very much part of our life on deployments in OZ or overseas. I can still recall the welcome airdrops of rations in New Guinea and forgave the RAAF crew returning to Lae for showers, hot meals and luxury living. (Forgiveness was only temporary).

There was the time in Vietnam when a mate and I spotted a Caribou with a Kangaroo proudly displayed on the fuselage preparing to land on our short improvised air strip. It had been awhile since we had seen fellow Aussies and better still, they had good old Bushels tea leaves aboard. It was then I began to realise the RAAF despite its bad habits of insisting on luxury and countless rules and regulations was not to be ignored. It was also that day when a lifetime friendship with one of the pilots began.

I often think of the many Navy and RAAF I shared drinks with and will always hold in high regard as comrades in arms. Jack Lynch and David Marlin immediately come to mind. That’s a major problem as we age; recognising such efforts and becoming sentimental about Navy and RAAF bastards we served with. I’ll have to toughen up.

Those Magnificent Caribou and Crew – For old warriors such as
David Marlin and Jack Lynch.

I’m sure you recall those lumbering slow Caribous.
In peace and war flying in support of me and you, cramped, noisy, rattling, shuddering and no hostess in such planes.
In headwinds it seemed you were going back from where you came.
Touching down on a muddy air strip the size of a postage stamp.
Daring take offs and landings in darkness with the aid of bright lamps.
Carrying soldiers, ammo, stores and even live food.
Welcome relief for distant outposts which caused good mood.
News from home and precious OZ tea leaves always part of the job.
Such thoughtful Caribou crews were most appreciated by our mob.
Oh, there were times airdrops would come crashing from above.
After cursing, a crumpled note is found; “From the RAAF with love”
History clearly records no matter when or where, they stood the test
Thanks Wallaby Airlines, you were bloody bonzer and the very best.

George Mansford
October 2014

The Origins of The Callsign “Wallaby” R.A.A.F. Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV) 1964

As the RAAF is planning to demob Caribous it is an appropriate time that the origins of “Wallaby” are explained. The like most tales of origins the name “Wallaby” Airlines was a combination of different events. To the best of my recollections this is how the nameless form; a name which later  became famous in Vietnam amongst many services and peoples including US, New Zealand and Vietnamese Armed Forces and French plantation operators, the only the occasional Brit on some civil aid project and of course the Australians who served both in the armed forces and the civil assistance programs.

About a year before the formation of RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV) a young group of pilots from 38 squadron had formed in association with several Qantas air hostesses who shared a flat in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. The association was neither constant nor regular. The girls had the irregular schedules in those days and the pilots were pulled at a moments notice for a MediEvac (Medical Evacuation Flights), SAR (a search and rescue flight), for some lost mariner or bush walker or the many detachments to other bases. Accordingly, although the relationships were friendly, they were infrequent. However occasionally some pilots turned up at the girls flat and a Chinese meal was shared or we just sat and talked or together we organised a party on the spot. The relevance of this casual relationship and its importance to the “Wallaby” callsign will soon become apparent.
In late 1963 we heard that crews had been picked for the ferry of the Caribous from the de Havilland factory at Downsview, Canada, to RAAF Base Richmond in Australia. Most of the co-pilots on Caribou ferry 1 and 2 were also “boggies” (See Note 1) who formed the nucleus of the contact with the air hostesses. The ferry further disrupted any contact with the girls.
Both the first and the second Caribou ferry had been completed by June 1964. During the the second ferry through RAAF Base Butterworth, Malaysia, the pilots on that ferry learned that a flight of Caribou aircraft would be committed to operations in Vietnam. Two pilots heard about it in an unusual manner.
After lunch each day the officers would go into the officers mess lounge room to listen to the world news on the radio. Believe it or not, back then people would sit and look at the radio as intently as people today look at the television. On this occasion i can remember sitting beside John Staal when we heard the announcement that a flight of RAAF Caribous were to be despatched to Vietnam. We looked at one another  and bolted for the aircraft lines. Simultaneously we had guessed that the SQN LDR Chris Sugden (Suggy – See Note 2), The Leader of our ferry of three aircraft, would be the first CO as he was the most widely experienced officer on our squadron/ He was down at the lines inspecting a Caribou and we wanted to be his first volunteers. After about a kilometre run, not a jog and it was about one half of a mile – we both ran up to Suggy absolutely puffed and, saluted and gasped out the news and begged to be allowed to join him if he lead the Caribous into Vietnam. Our Caribou ferry had been delayed by suspected sabotage (See Note 3) so he had got to know us fairly well. He agreed to recommend us if he was selected to lead the first group. With a bit of luck we were going to war!
Back in Australia a week later, those that were picked for Vietnam were given pre-embarcation leave then briefings and some intensive training. We started to think about what we might like to take to Vietnam to identify ourselves; slouch hats, flags, koalas? All the suggestions were dismissed as ‘kitchy’, too large or too expensive.
During this busy period the friendship with the Qantas air hostesses was renewed. At one of the get-togethers, a boggy (it may well have been John Staal), saw one of the girls with a Qantas pin; the golden kangaroo. We asked the girls if they could get us some pins. They told us they would try and also that they would organise a send off party for us. The party was a happy affair.  I remember two people from the evening. Mick Gwinn among the loadmasters because he was a big gentle giant and towered over everyone else, John Staal with Geertje arrived late as they had gone to a night club where the leading talent had sang a funny song about Vietnam and Delas England, a host, who had a smalll cardboard box jammed packed with a few hundred kangaroo pins; a great gift from Qantas. Sometime later the pins were given to Suggy who distributed them amongst the members of the RTFV group who flew from Malaysia into Vietnam.  I think each member had about five pins. The aim was to ward the pins to those people in Vietnam who did us a special service.
A day or so after arriving in in Vietnam Suggy gave a pin to the Base Commander Vung Tau, Colonel Dillard, US Army, (Note 3). Dillard was a most professional officer who did what he could to get us kitted, billeted, and supplied to become the an effective unit without delays. Likewise Major Dillard, US Army, the Executive Officer  to the Colonel (but  no relation) received a pin. Other people around Vung Tau also received the kangaroo aka Qantas Pins.
Major Schaumberg, USAF was our liaison officer and he was the most diligent in getting RTFV operational “in country”. RTFV had been integrated as part of the USAF air support services and was tasked by the USAF but most of the tasks were supporting the US Army and the South Vietnamese Army. Our induction had been completed in record time thanks in a large part to Schaumberg. The only item requiring agreement was a unit callsign that could identify us all for future operations.
So when Suggy gave Schuamberg a Qantas pin as appreciation for his services to us the conversation something like… “What’s this animal called Chris?”. Schaumberg sometimes had a peculiar manner of pronouncing and emphasising each syllable. On this occasion in an almost southern drawl, Schaumberg said, “AN-I-MAL”. Although I do not recall Schaumberg being a Southerner. Chris replied. “A Kangaroo. That could be a suitable name for our squadron callsign?”. Schaumberg was almost aghast. “KAN-GA-ROO? Hell Chris, that’s not an easy name to pronounce. The Vietnamese would find it impossible. Are they called something else?” Chris replied. “A Wallaby”. The name had an instant appeal for Schaumberg. He said it several times. “WALLA-BY”, sounded much better to Schaumberg, than “kangaroo”. It was Schaumberg who then said, that he would arrange for a “Wallaby” to become the identifier for the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV) which later became 35 SQN.
The “Wallaby” Airlines was named after a casual relationship with the QANTAS kangaroo.
Note 1 – according to the urban dictionary “boggie” is a contraction of “bograt”. Used exclusively and often derisively for any RAAF officer having the rank of Officer Cadet,  Pilot Officer,  Flying Officer.
Can anyone assist with the origins of this name? Perhaps it is development from “bogey”?
Note 2 – Squadron leader Chris Sugden (Suggy) the quintessential quiet achiever.
Possibly influenced by the example of this father, hey Dustin at Gallipoli in World War I, Suggy began his military career as a member of the 10th Light Horse. Later on he avoided RAAF parades occasionally stating that he was the only officer in the RAAF who carried a sword as a weapon of war and therefore he was not going to carry one on parade.
Here this life manage their own nursing home at Windsor while he was a member of the the RAAF. After he retired from the Royal Australian Air Force he found at Eungai Creek; later on-after lessons on laying bricks. He built his retirement home of double brick at Mackville and named it “Terra Firma”. The more firma Less the Terror. It was a very functional house having at least a dozen power points in the kitchen so he would never have to use a double adapter again. He brewed his own beer, played golf, and became president of the Nambucca Shire.
He was possibly the only RAAF officer who flew in three wars in three different roles; Boston bombers in WWII, Meteor fighter bombers in Korea and transport Caribous in Vietnam.
Suggy decided to test the ability of the Caribou to take off on one engine. Did this flight in Malaysia before the Caribous deployed to Vietnam just in case the situation arose when a single engine take off would be required. Some months later such a takeoff (the only operational one that I know of) was required from an air strip in the Mekong Delta. Daylight was rapidly disappearing and the area was known as unfriendly where a mortar or two could be expected after nightfall when a friendly forces reaction time would be delayed. The takeoff was successful. Fortunately for all concerned Suggy was captain of the aircraft when it had the engine problem. He did not have to make the decision of authorising one of the “boggies” to do it had a happened to them. On the other hand he had been such an inspiration to all that any boggie crew probably would have flown it out and told him later.
At his 80th birthday party Mike Lancaster, Suggy’s right hand man in Vietnam, sent the message. “what I would really like it is to place on record is my enormous respect for Chris as remarkable original thinker and an outstanding leader. The official histories will never be able to reflect how lucky we were in having Chris appointed as the first commander in Vietnam. He had the ability to nut things out from first principles and if the answer didn’t agree with the book so much bad luck for the book. Without a doubt he was the strongest and best commander I had during my RAAF career.”
Suggy was very proud of his part in RTFV. He was especially pleased that the popular reunions included all ranks and all musterings. Sadly Suggy died just a week before the US Air Medal metal was finally presented to all Wallaby airlines aircrew who had served in Vietnam; 42 years after the original recommendation. His eldest son Peter sent his dad was very happy that the efforts of the loadies were also recognised in the awards.
Note 3 – The day arrived when the first group of RTFV was to fly from Butterworth to Vung Tau. The meteorological forecast report (Wx) had a major storm on our route. The Wx did not deter Suggy so off he went and I followed with Kev Henderson as the co-pilot. Apparently most of the US Army at Vung Tau said “The Aussies will not make it today.” Apparently Col Dillard disagreed. He said that he had served near Australians in Korea and they always got through. That we did arrive as planned vindicated Gillard’s opinion, set the scene for the “Can-Do” attitude which was almost the unofficial motto for RTFV (Wallaby Airlines), and cause some amusement to Suggy, “that some Yanks thought we would not get through.”
Note 4 – (a) To extend the range of the Caribou during the ferry two large fuel bags were placed in each aircraft. Electric pumps were attached to the tanks so the fuel could be pumped into the normal fuel system (in the wings) as required during flight. On several occasions these fuel bags burst during flight. An examination of each event indicated a pin had been pushed through the bag. The lamination construction of the bag prevented a leak occurring immediately. Sometimes the damage developed over a month before a bag suddenly burst. When it did burst several hundred litres of highly volatile aviation gasoline sloshing around the cargo hold, stung the eyes and increased heart pulse rate of all on board because of the increased risk of an uncontrollable fire.
What to do? Our crew was halfway across the Bay of Bengal between Calcutta and RAAF Butterworth where the bag burst. There was no checklist for this event so the loady opened the rear ramp a bit to help get rid of the fuel which we hoped would solve the problem. Some minutes later the crew had the dreadful thought that perhaps some of the fuel would get into the anti collision rotating beacon on the underside of the aircraft and thereby cause an explosion. However if the beacon was switched off would that cause an increased chance of an electric arc in the system. We Switched off the beacon and flew on arriving safely at our destination some two hours later.
(b) Many of the clevis pins attaching the engine manifold outlets to the exhaust ring stack had been over torqued at some stage before the aircraft were handed over  to the RAAF. Consequently after the long flights in Canada a small handful of pins would be found in the lower section of the engine covers and some would be missing. The loadmasters/crewchiefspicked up a box of these  on the second ferry picked up a box each of these pins to last until Australia. However by Gibraltar the loadies (loadmasters) had had enough and they spent a day replacing all the pins and the problem seemed to be fixed after that.
(c) At Aden a seal to the hydrauiic independent propeller governing unit had a leak. When its sump was inspected a quantity of abrasive powder was detected. Only one unit was replaced on that ferry but other units had to be cleaned out in Canada.
Obviously someone knew we were off to Vietnam before we did One does not have an entirely comfortable feeling flying an aircraft when there is a likelihood of sabotage.
Thanks to Ken Howard, Peter Sugden, Kev Henderson and Jeff Pedrina whose worthy book, “Wallaby Airlines” caused me to finally write down these notes.