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:
Shockwave
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

 

John Cameron’s Photo Collection

Click here to access the gallery

RAAF CARIBOU A4-171’s LAST FLIGHT

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)

The RAAF in Vietnam, by Chris Coulthard-Clark, 1995 (Click the Image to Buy the Book from Fishpond.com.au)

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.

Dakota, Hercules & Caribou in the Australian Service, by Stewart Wilson, 1991 (Click the image to buy the book)

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)

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.