The TET Offensive was the first impression of the war many of the guys got when they landed in Vietnam to commence their tour with the redesignated 1 OFP. Some were to go on and experience first hand the battle for FSB Coral. Over the next four years the OFP grew in size until it was eventually withdrawn to Australia in February 1972. Its history stands as a proud reminder, dedicated to the efforts and hard work of all who have served within its ranks.
The 1st Ordnance Field Park officially took over from the 6th Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) at Nui Dat on 1 February 1968. This came about by an instruction titled; “Raising / Reorganisation Instruction No. 5/68 – Ordnance Field Parks” dated 31 January 1968 and signed by Brigadier E.J.H. Howard, DSD, Army Headquarters Canberra. The instruction in effect approved the raising of a fourth Australian Regular Army Ordnance Field Park by the redesignation of the Vietnam detachment of 6th Ordnance FieldPark to 1stOrdnance Field Park and the redesignation of 1st Ordnance Field Park as 10th Ordnance Field Park. The location of the four Ordnance Field Parks were to be; 1st Ordnance Field Park (Vietnam), 3rd Ordnance Field Park (Townsville), 6th Ordnance Field Park (Enoggera) and 10th Ordnance Field Park (Moorebank).
The build up to the full 1st Ordnance Field Park, to serve the expanded 1st Australian Task Force based at Nui Dat, commenced on 11 December 1967 with the arrival of the Unit’s Officer Commanding, Captain Mike Clarke.
During December 1967 and January 1968 there was a staged change over of 6th Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) members returning to Australia and new arrivals for the Ordnance Field Park. The last group of new arrivals sailed into Vung Tau on board HMAS “Sydney” in late January 1968, just as the TET Offensive commenced.
Colin Cross was one of the new arrivals on the “Sydney” and he recalls landing on the beach at Vung Tau when they arrived. They were told that Vung Tau had been taken and a very scared young man found himself aboard the landing craft waiting for the gate to drop and thinking we would be killed by enemy fire. They hid under a bridge until a false alarm was called. Les Wilkinson recalls that they didn’t have any ammo anyway. Fortunately they all landed at Vung Tau without any major problems and were airlifted to Nui Dat to commence their tour of duty.
It was indeed a memorable occasion for the newly designated 1st Ordnance Field Park to find itself on the first day of operation involved in the TET Offensive which erupted throughout South Vietnam and lasted until late February.
The Bath Unit had previously been deployed to Fire Support Base (FSB) Anderson on 23 January, in support of 7 RAR and 2 RAR, on Operation COBURG. The operation was conducted in the Bien Hoa area in the expectation of an attack on the US Base at Bien Hoa during the traditional Buddhist celebration of the lunar New Year (TET) at the end of January. FSB Anderson was attacked several times during the TET Offensive. The unit showered on average 400 men per day and remained at the Fire Support Base until completion of the operation on 1 March. Operators were changed over on 13 February.
The new Self Service Store opened for business on 1 February in the former Stores Distribution shed.
Two Other Ranks were on daily Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) patrols with 2 RAR throughout February. Four men were attached to 1 Field Squadron Stores Cell for stocktaking and a relocation program lasting two weeks.
The Unit’s first cook, Eddy Place, was posted to the unit in January. He worked at 2 RAR for a couple of months until the Task Force Maintenance Area (TFMA) kitchen was completed and ready for use by all units in the TFMA.
Unit strength, as at 12 February 1968 was:
· Officers (1) – Warrant Officers/Sergeants (9) – Other Ranks (28).
· Total Unit Strength of 38.
2nd Lieutenant John (Monty) Brown assumed duty on 15 March as the Unit’s new Second in Command (2IC).
The increase to the unit’s stores scalings started to arrive during March and the extra work load was handled satisfactorily. Work commenced on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for a Forward Ordnance Field Park Group. Work also commenced on the new Bulk Break shed (80ft x 19ft) and was soon to commence on the new Self Service Bulk Store (60ft x 19ft). When completed it was hoped that this would relieve the problem of unit storage during the wet season.
Unit strength, as at 21 March 1968 was:
· Officers (2) – Warrant Officers/Sergeants (9) – Other Ranks (27)
· Total Unit Strength of 38
On 27 March hospitality was afforded to the Director of Ordnance Services (DOS),
Brigadier Lord, who made a visit to the unit.
L to R – Capt Mike Clark (OC), Cpl Keith Jones, Brig EC Lord (DOS),
Cpl Elwyn Spencer & Pte Allan Ham (RAASC)
(Photo – Australian War Memorial)
The cement floor for the two new sheds was laid in April and work on the actual structures was scheduled to commence in the near future. The Forward Ordnance Field Park Group, to operate as part of the Forward TFMA Group, was fully scaled up during April. In late April the Forward Group deployed to the US 9th Division Base of Bear Cat on Route 15, to provide support during Operation TOAN THANG, Phase 1.
The 1st Australian Task Force deployed two battalions (1 RAR and 3 RAR) during Operation TOAN THANG to an area twenty kilometres north of Bien Hoa to intercept and disrupt the approach of enemy forces towards the capital, Saigon. Several Fire Support Bases (FSBs) were established to provide defended firing points for artillery and mortars which would cover foot patrols sent out by the battalions. One of these FSBs was named “Coral” and was situated seven kilometres north of the town of Tan Uyen.
May 1968 – FSB Coral showing layout & location of the TFMA Forward Group
The Forward TFMA Group deployed forward to FSB Coral on 13 May, the day after the initial occupation of the FSB had begun on 12 May. The initial occupation of the FSB on 12 May ran into problems and the defences remained unfinished at the end of the day. At about 3.30 am on 13 May, the base was attacked following a brief but intense rocket and mortar barrage. The 1 RAR mortar platoon position was over-run, along with one of 102 Field Battery’s 105 mm howitzers. With the aid of extensive air support, the attack was beaten off by 6.30 am and the captured gun-pit was retaken. Nine Australians were killed and 28 wounded, while the attackers lost more than the 52 bodies they left behind.
Into this scene, on 13 May, the Forward TFMA Group arrived by a heavily defended road convoy from Bear Cat. Their initial objective was to dig in and prepare their defences. At 2.15 am on 16 May, Coral again came under attack. The base was now defended by armoured personnel carriers, a rifle company from 1 RAR and an American mobile howitzer battery. The attack was repelled after four hours of fighting, with the Australians suffering five men killed and nineteen wounded. Further attacks were carried out on the base on 22, 26 and 28 May before the enemy switched its attention to another FSB named “Balmoral”, which was established about 4.5 kilometres to the north. FSB Coral was eventually abandoned on 6 June and all units returned to Nui Dat.
The following OFP personnel were either at FSB Coral for the duration of the operation, or spent some time there: Stan Hall, Colin Cross, Les Wilkinson, Graeme Patzel, Tim Moroney, John Redman, Alan Whitaker, Ron Meppom, Noel Coughlin, Doug Blatch, (Lt) Monty Brown, Jim Beattie, Stan Stefanowicz, Eddie Place, Stan Boldiston, Ron Holten and Tony Flanagan.
Doug Blatch recalls that he arrived at Coral by Chinook Helicopter, instead of on the road convoy, on 13 May. When they landed he was directed where to go by the ground controller. As he was going up the road to the TFMA position, coming towards him were two or three APCs with their duck boards half down with enemy bodies laying on them. They were being taken to a mass grave for burial.
Tony Flanagan recalls that he was at Coral for a week. During that time they were mortared twice. On 22 May some accommodation and stores tents copped it, and on the night of 26 May the Control Office got hit and one side was blown out. During these attacks Lt Monty Brown’s Armalite rifle was damaged and Stan Stefanowicz had a very close call when a mortar landed near his trench. Fortunately no member of the Forward TFMA Group was injured during this attack.
May 1968- Les Wilkinson digs in at FSB Coral & Doug Blatch checks out the end product.
(Photos – Les Wilkinson)
A large volume of stores was handled by OFP and the Forward Group during May. Engineers had not carried out any further building of the new stores shed so two tents were placed on the laid concrete slabs. The larger tent was used for the Bulk Break in May which was the largest handled so far by the OFP.
Phase 2 of Operation TOAN THANG commenced on 12 June and a Forward Group of 1 Corporal Clerk and 3 Private Storeman were deployed with the TFMA Forward Group and stationed at Long Binh. There was a change over of personnel after two weeks. The Forward Detachment at Long Binh returned to the unit after the completion of Operation TOAN THANG on 17 July. A full 100% stocktake of Forward Group’s scaling was undertaken to ascertain the total amount of stores lost in the mortar attacks on FSB Coral during May.
During July a detachment of personnel went to 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit (1 ACU) to assist Civil Affairs with the refugee housing program in the resettlement village of Ap Soui Nghe.
The new Self Service Store was completed in August. This new building had doors and could be secured out of working hours. All bulk holdings of Self Service items were transferred to an 80ft x 20ft tent. Stock from the over crowded MT & Tech store was transferred to the previous Self Service store. The requirement for more space has been brought about by the increased holdings of all types of stores.
During September all weapons were moved from MT shed No. 1 to MT shed No. 2. Sgt Sid Brent went on Operation TOAN THANG 2 with 1 RAR as Platoon Sergeant, 5 Platoon, B Company, on 28 Sept. Otherwise, September was a quiet month.
Commander Australian Forces Vietnam (COMAFV) Major General A.L. MacDonald visited the unit on 2 October. October was a month of building with unit labour completing the sheds for Controlled Stores and Bulk Break with lockable double doors. Both of the MT & Tech Sheds also had doors and new fronts completed for added security.
OC Captain Mike Clark completed his tour of duty on 31 October and Captain Maurice Galt assumed command of the Unit on 1 November.
There was still a problem of inexperienced personnel being posted to the unit, with many replacements arriving up to a month after the requested date, necessitating change to return to Australia (RTA) dates for unit personnel. Because of a shortage of Control Office staff and the increased amount of work, all Control Office personnel worked back four nights a week for at least three months. Some personnel in Stores Platoon also worked nights to relocate all detail stores which were double or triple located. Self Service and Stores Distribution were relocated outside the stores yard to allow for more working area and to prevent unit vehicles driving up to the storehouses and getting stores.
A forward three man detachment was deployed to support Operation CAPITAL being conducted by 4 RAR in the area east and north east of Binh Gai, from 11 November until 27 November.
In December the Task Force Maintenance Area was advised that it would be involved in providing at least five Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) patrols per month. 1 OFP’s share of each of these patrols was three men, including a senior NCO. These personnel were involved for three days each, for each patrol. Much needed adjustable shelving, pallet racking and bin packs arrived during December to allow relocation and reorganising of stores to commence.
The implementation of new warehousing methods was almost completed during January. The following is a brief summery of events:-
MT & Tech
A 40ft x 20ft tent was erected and set up as a tyre store. It consisted of racks which allow tyres to be stored correctly, two high. A second palletised bulk storehouse was set up to cater for the increased holdings in bulk. Another storehouse was completely set up with adjustable shelving, storage and display. The detail storehouse was reorganised to allow adequate but separate receipts and issues areas and 392 bin packs.
The detail storehouse was reorganised to allow receipt and issues area similar to that of MT & Tech, but it held 204 bin packs and 16 storage racks. The high turnover of plastic water cans made it necessary for these to be stored in the open under tarpaulins.
The Bath Unit was not used this month and the opportunity was taken to getting the equipment serviceable and to training new personnel in its operation.
Bath Unit in operation out in the bush. (Photo – Lee Davidson)
On 10 February 2nd Lieutenant Alan Davis arrived to replace 2nd Lieutenant John (Monty) Brown as the Unit’s 2IC.
On 18 February the OFP Forward Detachment, including the Bath Unit, were deployed to Long Binh in support of 4 RAR and 9 RAR on Operation FEDERAL, which was being conducted in an area east of Long Binh. The Bath Unit also took on a second role of running the water point. During the TET Offensive in 1968 the enemy had successfully penetrated the Long Binh defensive perimeter with a regimental force. The operation was being conducted by the Australians to reinforce the US forces ahead of TET celebrations in 1969.
2Lt Alan Davis recalls that within a week of his arrival in country he was part of the TFMA Detachment deployed into Long Binh. He felt that the Yanks must have thought that the Australians were red hot because they positioned them where Charlie had broken through the previous year. It didn’t take long for the different combat styles of the US and Aussies to become apparent. The Australian’s engineering support dug in completely with APCs in hull down positions. A fifty percent stand to was in place and for the Australians that meant everyone in the pits with fifty percent manning weapons at their post. The night was almost as bright as day with helicopter gun ships, complete with search lights, swarming the skies overhead. The Aussies couldn’t understand why the US unit on their left, who were also on fifty percent stand to, were clearly visible sitting around watching a movie. They later found out that they relied on the air cavalry and electronic sensors for the teeth part of the fifty percent, but laid off the spirits and only drank beer ‘just in case’!
Connexes were used for the first time for the delivery of the bulk break in March. Generally this system worked very well, though it would have been easier if connexes were individually consigned to the major units.
The Forward Detachment continued its deployment at Long Binh during March. The Bath Unit was used every day during the current operation and went forward on all but six days, when either the vehicle had broken down or no escorts were available. The unit is showering up to 700 persons per day. There were problems with the equipment; mainly the heater and the pump. There was a need to investigate getting better and more efficient equipment.
The Forward Detachment returned from Long Binh early in April after 8 weeks. Demand for the Bath Unit continued to be heavy. Apart from operating at Long Binh in the early part of the month; it had operated from Nui Dat since its return, going out daily to Fire Support Bases with a 1000 gallon water truck. Alan Davis recalls that the service was so popular with deployed troops that they would provide APC escorts for the unit to get them to remote locations.
TAOR patrolling was cancelled during May with a resultant increase in available man hours in the unit. The Bath unit continued to be deployed almost daily.
There was a marked increase in non-unit duties during June with the increase in patrolling and defence commitments. Demand for the Bath unit remained high. There were about six days when the unit was unable to reach the Fire Support Bases due to enemy activity.
During July the loss of man hours continued to be high with two members detached to B Squadron 3 Cavalry Regiment (APCs) for the month to operate as infantry, and four members on TFMA duties.
Refresher courses for storemen commenced in July. Decreased use of the Bath unit this month due to the fact that most Fire Support Bases were being maintained by air and the wet season was making it difficult to get vehicles off the beaten track. Most deployments for the month were inside Nui Dat to shower Battalions returning from operations.
Refresher courses for storeman were completed in August. Examination results were not very impressive. Those who failed were required to do individual, oral and practical tests one week later and members were warned that failure would result in re-trade testing.
During September patrolling and defence commitments decreased and this trend was expected to continue into the future. The HQ building was extended by 10 foot by enclosing the verandah with a resultant increase in office space available.
The month of October saw the TFMA platoon, of which the OFP provided seven Other Ranks, deployed for two periods, one for five days and the other for two days. Kevin Dwyer was a member of the TFMA platoon which was on a five day Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) patrol. Kevin remembers that during this patrol they ran out of water and had to get a resupply by chopper. Later on they were patrolling along a track and the forward scout stopped for a break. Just as he did, he noticed signs that suggested the patrol had walked into a mine field. Everyone froze and they radioed for help to get them out of the mines. Unfortunately the only help they got was to be told to get off the track and find their own way out. Fortunately they did manage to extricate themselves from this sticky situation but this dramatic experience remains with Kevin to this day.
With the wet season ending, the Bath unit was deployed for three days at FSB Discovery. In addition, two members were provided for the TFMA Civil Affairs project. Bill Dobson was one of those selected for this project. He recalls that he and Tony (Pattie) Page and three Engineers had both good and bad memories working with the Civil Affairs Unit at the Duc Than village. They spent three weeks erecting a community hall and each of them stayed with a family, sleeping in their grass huts, eating together and washing at their well. They would do their building during the day and provide security at night. This particular village was constantly terrorised by the VC and one night the half finished building was destroyed by the VC. The team had to virtually start all over again. Bill feels that the village people had a dislike for the VC because they did not allow them to practice their faith. The villages were very warm and friendly towards them and didn’t want them to leave.
On 12 November Captain Maurice Galt (OC) ended his tour of duty and returned to Australia. He was replaced by Captain Alan Burkhill.
The late arrival of HMAS “Jeparit” in December caused problems with supply of stores. The Self Service Store has been extended and relocated and the accounting system modified resulting in better service to units.
For the past month the Bath unit was continuously deployed in the field at FSB Peggy in support of 8 RAR and 6 RAR during Operation ATHERTON. The deployment continued into January 1970. Bruce Chapman was at FSB Peggy on Christmas Day and recalls that they could hear Christmas carols being played from a plane as it flew overhead on Christmas eve night.
The problem of deployment previously to inaccessible Fire Support Bases has been overcome by taking the bath equipment off the truck on which it was mounted and flying it forward by “Chinook” helicopter. Water from local streams was utilised, after testing, if available, or else 500 gallon bladders were flown in on an as required basis.
A record number of requisition vouchers were satisfied in January 1970 due to arrival of “Jeparit” in late December 1969.
Considerable pressure was brought to bear on OFP during January to provide personnel for non technical duties over extended periods. The nature and duration of these duties were;-
Duty Personnel Duration
Civil Aid projects 4 6-8 weeks
Patrolling Activities 4 to 9 as required- up to 2 wks
Lieutenant David Walter (Ex 3 OFP) arrived in January to replace 2nd Lieutenant Alan Davis as the Unit’s 2IC.
In January the volley ball team played an ARVN team at the outpost of Ngai Giao. While they were there the truck nearly ran over a claymore mine near the volley ball court. This must have had an effect on their performance that month because they lost a return match at Ngai Giao, they lost another match at Long Dien, and finally they got done by a team of Vietnamese at the school ground near Long Dien.
The Director of Ordnance Services (DOS) Brigadier E.C. LORD (OBE) paid a visit to the unit on 22 January. He had previously visited the unit in March 1968.
In late January a Corporal and two Privates were sent to Ngai Giao with the TFMA Civil Aid building project for approximately six weeks and six men were provided for the TFMA Platoon which was placed under command of 8 RAR for an extended period. Instructions were given that first line ammunition was to be carried at all times until further notice as a TET precaution.
In February the OC TFMA and OC 1 OFP discussed proposed changes in defence procedures. OC TFMA proposed moving the 1 OFP Defence Platoon from the Eastern perimeter of 1 OFP. This would have meant rebuilding new bunkers after just having built the best bunkers in the area on the Eastern perimeter. 1 OFP Defence Platoon now protects the Unit’s own installations, and fills a gap in the ATF defence perimeter down Luscombe air strip.
On 12 February, Personnel with the TFMA platoon returned after operations with 8 RAR in the Warburtons (Nui Dinh and Nui Thi Vai Hills) area and ambushes in the rubber plantations west of 1 ATF.
Two men were sent to Vung Tau in late February as part of a squad to guard the unloading of the supply ship, HMAS “Jeparit”, for 5 days. Laurie Manna recalls that this duty in Vung Tau was a pleasant relief from life at Nui Dat and John (Plates) Symons recalls that it was a real ‘swan’ job.
By March, the Self Service Store was becoming harder to operate because of the unreliability of the supply system due to the withdrawal of US Army from Vung Tau. Stocks within the OFP have been relocated and reorganised, resulting in one and half storehouses being made available to receive an expected increase in stock holdings.
Preparation for the wet season got underway with the re-digging and repairing of storm drains, rebuilding levy banks, repairing roofs on storehouses and replacing worn or damaged canvas.
During the month personnel were attached to 8 RAR with the TFMA Defence Platoon Section. Patrol training was undertaken for seven members of the new TFMA Defence Platoon.
March was a busy period for the Bath Detachment. During the month they were deployed to the following Fire Support Bases; Peggy, Wilton, Anne, Discovery and Pat in support of operations carried out by 7 RAR and 8 RAR.
In April, Peter Renwick, Bruce Chapman, David Wade and John Symons spent about a week at Long Son Island as members of a TFMA patrol platoon. They were involved in the protection of some Engineers and civilians engaged in construction of a pipeline. They were also required for the defence of their platoon base, recce patrols, fighting patrols and securing LPs. It was during this time on Long Son Island that the platoon came under enemy fire from small arms and forty millimetre rockets. The contact lasted for five minutes but resulted in no casualties to either side.
During April the water point operated at FSB Tiger and FSB Elaine, while the Bath Unit deployed to FSB Bond.
The month of May saw a complete Audit carried out on all Ordnance accounting functions of the unit. The Audit, which was conducted by the Army Audit representative from Australian Forces Vietnam, commenced on the 21 May and was finalised by 27 May. The results were very satisfying in that no observations at all were recorded.
A Senior NCO (Sgt John Barker) was provided to supervise a TFMA Civil Aid project building chicken coops in the Dat Do area. Capt Alan Burkhill (OC at the time) recalls that the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people was a high priority at the time for the ‘powers that be’ in the Australian and American Command. Because of this, the unit was tasked to build ‘Chook Houses’ in the local villages. John Barker, who had served with Alan before, and was rumoured to have served with Brig Wingate’s Chindits in Burma during the Second World War, was chosen for the job. Alan admits to having a lot of misgivings about this activity, particularly when the villagers for whom the structures were erected, arrived clad in their black, loose fitting uniforms, to take possession of the ‘Chook Houses’.
Stocks of tyres and batteries reached a critical level during the month and tight control had to be maintained on all issues. The supply of self service stores improved and most items were available.
The Bath Unit deployed to FSB Le Loi on 8 May in support of 8 RAR during Operation NUDGEE.
Five personnel commenced a project at 17 Construction Squadron Workshops Stores Cell. The Stores Cell was returning to 1 ALSG at Vung Tau and the project involved a complete stocktake and repacking of all stores.
The Bath Unit and Water Point deployed to FSB Nola and the Water Point to FSB Kylie in late May.
“Dues Out” remained at a high level in June and there were several liaison visits to 2 AOD at Vung Tau to sort out the problem. This proved fruitful and certain remedial actions were agreed upon.
A special revision of the entire stock scaling held at the OFP was commenced during June. It was approximately fifty percent completed and revealed approximately 500 items of “dead stock” to date. Steps were taken to outscale these items to 2 AOD, Vung Tau. It was anticipated that the final figure of outscaled items of “dead stock” would be approximately 1,000 items with the result that a lot more storage space will be available when completed.
On 8 June, WO2 W J (Bill) Murray was presented with the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal by Major General C.A.E. Frazer (CBE), Commander of Australian Forces Vietnam (COMAFV) at a special ceremony at Nui Dat.
(Photo – Australian War Memorial)
During June the Bath Unit and the Water Point were deployed to FSB Nola, FSB Tess and FSB Discovery.
The month of July saw the overall percentage satisfaction of vouchers processed reach an all time high of 85.5%. On 15 July the Bath Unit and Water Point deployed to FSB Gail.
The special review of stock was completed in August with a total of 1085 items identified for outscaling to 2 AOD, Vung Tau.
During the last couple of months of July and August the TFMA was reallocated an area of ground on the outer perimeter of the Task Force base, between A Coy and W Coy 2 RAR(NZ). The acquisition was intended to alleviate the crowded accommodation area of the TFMA and allow them to accept some area of responsibility for the perimeter defence of the Task Force base at Nui Dat. At a conference of all sub-unit commanders of the TFMA, which was chaired by the OC TFMA, it was directed that the rank and file of the OFP would occupy this new location. This decision was taken despite the protests of the OC 1 OFP. An unrealistic occupation date was set by HQ TFMA, but after consultation a compromise was reached and a little more time was given for the move. However, to attain this goal the OFP was forced to close down for all but operationally urgent issues for two and a half hours on two separate days. Apart from this, a regular work party of approximately four men from the OFP were employed full time for about two weeks. This added to work during what are normally stand down periods. Consequently any maintenance within the OFP and any special projects which were in progress were brought to a halt. The new lines were eventually completed and the Other Ranks occupied them in early September.
The new ORs Lines completed in Sept 1970 (Photo – Lou Fatone)
During September two storehouses were emptied of stores in preparation for the receipt of 8 RAR returned stores. 8 RAR was due to return to Australia in November and was not being replaced. The Bath Unit equipment, with an operator, was deployed to the 8 RAR area to assist the battalion in the cleaning of equipment and containers to the standard required for their return to Australia. It was discovered that by attaching a restricting device, such as a nozzle, to the hose outlet of the bath unit, a considerable pressure could be built up without damaging the equipment. This coupled with the fact that the bath equipment has the capacity to produce hot water, made it ideal for cleaning such items as vehicles and shipping containers.
Assistance provided to 1 Field Squadron Workshops Stores Cell, in its relocation to Vung Tau, was completed during September.
Liaison between 1 OFP and 2 AOD in Vung Tau was reported to be a one way street with many visits to Vung Tau by OFP personnel in trying to sort out problems but very few visits to Nui Dat by 2 AOD personnel.
A barbecue was held on 27 September to celebrate Corps week.
Captain Alan Burkhill completed his tour of duty as OC of the OFP and was replaced by Captain Gary Smith on 27 October.
During November it was noted that the incidence of full oxygen bottles reaching the OFP empty was increasing. The main cause appeared to be faulty valves, but it could also appear possible that serviceable empty bottles are finding their way into the full bottle department. 8 RAR returned stores to OFP preparatory to the Battalion returning to Australia. Surplus webbing was given to a local ARVN unit.
On 28 November a volleyball team went to Xuyen Moc by helicopter to play a Regional Force team but the game was not completed as the helicopters got an urgent call to return to base.
In December, after repeated attempts, the Unit received a size 7 Case forklift which has proved to be a marked improvement on the old size 5 Massey Ferguson tractor forklift.
The Water Point was deployed to FSB Le Loi, FSB Feathers, FSB Raglan and FSB Bruiser during December in support of 2 RAR and 7 RAR during Operations CUNG CHUNG Phases 2 and 3.
On 4 December, OC Captain Gary Smith was travelling on an APC which detonated a 20 pound mine near FSB Garth. Capt Smith survived this incident without any injuries.
Christmas Day 1970 is a day that will forever remain in the memories of those guys who were with the OFP at Nui Dat. At approximately 7.00 pm, members of the TFMA Sergeant’s Mess were enjoying a relaxing drink at the bar, some were playing darts and others were having a ‘chat’, trying to make the most of being away from family and loved ones on this special day.
Suddenly, three gunshots were heard. Initially, it was thought fire crackers had been let off in the OR lines area or maybe it was a VC sniper attack. A short time later three soldiers were found lying on the floor of the Sergeant’s Mess with blood oozing out of their bodies. Within minutes, the real truth was to emerge, two sergeants were dead and one was seriously wounded. Within ten minutes, enemy fire had been ruled out and the shocking truth revealed, the shooting was done by an Australian soldier. Private Paul Ferriday of 176 Air Dispatch Company RAASC, had taken his rifle, loaded a full magazine and commenced to shoot, indiscriminately into the Sergeant’s Mess.
Events leading up to this tragedy reveal that Private Ferriday had been consuming alcohol since relatively early on Christmas morning. He had been drinking, on and off, both in the lines and at the ORs Canteen. By late afternoon he was substantially affected by alcohol. At about 6.00 pm he was intercepted by some of his fellow soldiers in the tent lines, holding a rifle with a loaded magazine, and stating an intention to kill a Warrant Officer attached to his unit. The rifle was taken from him, and he was warned in strong terms by one of his friends against any repetition of that conduct. He was also told not to have any more to drink.
He later returned to the canteen and consumed more alcohol. His behaviour in the canteen was markedly affected by the amount of alcohol he had consumed during the day. He returned to the tent lines about7.00 pm and was heard by a fellow soldier, whom he met on the way back, express some general resentment against the Army. He obtained his rifle from a neighbouring tent, into which it had been placed when taken from him about an hour earlier, together with a loaded magazine. He walked down to the tent at the end of the lines nearest to the Sergeant’s Mess. He entered the annexe to that tent, and then, having cocked the rifle he fired a number of shots in the direction of the Sergeant’s Mess.
The Sergeant’s Mess was about seventy-five feet from the tent annexe from which he had fired and there were about fifteen members in the mess at the time. Two of the occupants of the mess, Sergeant Allan Moss (Det 152 Supply Platoon RAASC) and Sergeant Wallace Galvin (HQ 26 Company RAASC) were shot and killed and Sergeant Frederick Bowtell (176 Air Dispatch Company RAASC) was seriously wounded.
Jim Golding recalls the events of that day. He was at FSB Garth running the water point. An opportunity arose for him to return to the OFP in the afternoon of Christmas Day. He had just got back from the bush by chopper, had a shower and was looking forward to having a beer with his mates. He was walking down to the ORs canteen to have a beer and heard three shots ring out. He can remember running to the tent where the shots came from. Someone arrived just before him. He believed it was the duty officer, Captain Gary Smith (OC 1 OFP) and heard him say as they walked in ‘I want the .#%*….Who fired those shots?’ At the time he could not see who it was. Then Private Paul Ferriday walked out and said ‘I did’. He was then taken down and shown what he had done. Jim just kept walking and went past the sergeant’s mess, which was right near where the shots were fired from, and soon realised what had happened. Unfortunately, two sergeants had been killed and another badly wounded. What happened after that was a blank to Jim as he was probably in shock. Jim never did get to have a drink because the camp was immediately put on alert.
The role of 1stOrdnance Field Park became increasingly important as 1971 rolled on. Advice was received during January that the Ordnance Field Park was to be ready to move to 1 ALSG Area, Vung Tau by 1 March and a Forward Detachment was to remain at Nui Dat.
Lieutenant Garry Downs arrived on 7 January 1970 to replace Lieutenant David Walter as OO Stores Platoon and Unit 2IC.
Preparation got under way during February for the relocation to 1 ALSG, Vung Tau. The outscaling of stores and dismantling of tentage was also under way.
The initial structure of the divided unit was as follows, with surplus personnel going to 2 Advanced Ordnance Depot, Vung Tau to assist that unit pack up for the return to Australia:-
Detachment at Nui Dat — Detachment at Vung Tau
Officers 1 WO —- Clerk Tech 1
Sgt Storeman Tech — 2 Sgt Clerk Tech 2
Cpl Storeman Tech 3 — Sgt Storeman Tech 1
Cpl Clerk Tech 1 — Sgt Clerk Admin 1
Pte Storeman Tech 5 — Cpl Storeman Tech 3
Pte Clerk Tech 1 — Pte Storeman Tech 3
Pte Cook 1 — Pte Clerk Tech 5
TOTAL 14 — TOTAL 16
There was some adjustment of staff between Nui Dat and Vung Tau as future workloads changed. Lieutenant Garry Downs became the Officer-in-Charge of the Detachment that remained at Nui Dat.
The move to Vung Tau was completed by end of March. Stores held at Nui Dat were restricted to industrial gases, dry cell batteries, Task Force reserve of controlled stores and self service items. The Detachment also continued to undertake the monthly bulk break. All the tents were pulled down in the old lines and the remaining Detachment moved to new lines.
The OC, Captain Gary Smith was acting as Task Force Ordnance Officer (TFOO), HQ 1 ATF and was expected to remain in that position for a while longer. This meant that in the morning, as Officer Commanding 1st Ordnance Field Park Captain Smith would submit requests for controlled stores to Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force for approval. In the same afternoon, acting as the Ordnance Officer 1st Australian Task Force, he would approve these same requests.
During April the Detachment at Nui Dat. received a water blasting unit which was to be operated by members of the Bath section. This unit was to be used to clean tanks and other items of heavy equipment being returned to Australia.
A 100% stock-take at the Vung Tau location was undertaken during the month.
On 17 May Captain Geoff Olney (ex 2 AOD) was appointed as the new OC of the Ordnance Field Park to take over from Captain Gary Smith who was now the TFOO at HQ 1 ATF. Captain Olney was stationed with the Detachment of the Unit that had been relocated to Vung Tau.
By July 1971 the withdrawal of the Australian Task Force from Vietnam was well into the planning stage. The Tank Squadron was well into its preparation for its return to Australia. The Cavalry Squadron (then at Nui Dat) was preparing to move back to Vung Tau as was the Detachment of 1 OFP and l6l Reece Flight. Lt Garry. Downs, as well as being the Stores Officer at Nui Dat, was also given the responsibility as OIC of the wash point operation for equipment being cleaned and returned to Vung Tau for eventual return to Australia. Tony Slann and Jim Marshall were seconded to 1 Armoured Regiment to look after the cleaning of the Centurion tanks in preparation for their return to Australia.
Aug 1971 – Water and mud fly as Jim Marshall uses a high pressure cleaner to hose down a 52 Ton Centurion tank in preparation for shipment back to Australia. Quarantine regulations necessitated a thorough wash-down for all vehicles before they left Vietnam.
(Photo – Australian War Memorial)
During August, 2nd Lieutenant Rob Patterson, Warrant Officer Class Two Phil Warne and Sergeant Peter Shea moved from 2 AOD and established an “elastic sided” Ordnance Field Park at Vung Tau. A tent city at Vung Tau was erected to accommodate the Orderly Room, Q Store, Control Office and OC/HQ.
On 18 August the Australian Parliament officially announced the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam and the Detachment at Nui Dat commenced preparation for the move to Vung Tau by late October.
Exercise ENEMA, an exercise conducted to practice 2 AOD and 1 OFP in the techniques required to re-open 1 OFP commenced at 1330 hours on 18 August and ran for seven days. To ensure that the proposed techniques were effective, actual vouchers and stores were handled throughout the exercise.
On 15 September 1st Ordnance Field Park, Vung Tau assumed responsibility for Ordnance support for Australian Forces Vietnam from 2 Advanced Ordnance Depot. This expanded unit, with its administration under canvas took over warehouses from 2 AOD. A stores scaling based on 2 AOD’s usage history was used by 1 OFP Det at Vung Tau to provide continued Ordnance support to the Australian land forces in Vietnam thus enabling 2 AOD to close down operations and withdraw its assets to Australia.
Lt Garry downs recalls that the development of the scaling was a major activity that required OFP personnel to review the AOD’s records. As the AOD staff required access during the day to complete their activities, it meant that OFP personnel could not start work until about 1600 hours and would have their “working day” through until about 2330 hours.
Determination of the OFP scaling was an important task that required a balance between the ability to supply the Force’s needs, but not a state of over-supply of stock to return to Australia on unit closure. The task could be aligned to the operation of a bar which would close at 2200 hours. Up until that time there must be the ability to supply beer, soft drink, cigarettes, chips and peanuts of the requested brand (or suitable in lieu item) and quantity. At the same time, there was an objective of having virtually no stock when the bar closed.
The balancing act between not being out of stock and not being overstocked continued through until the OFP closed its doors. Tasks involved receiving stores from either the AOD or Australia as well as continuing an outscaling program of stores that were no longer required. The unit’s success in these activities was reflected in the high satisfaction rate of requested stores. Part of the glue that held this together was the high degree of accuracy or alignment between stores records and physical stock.
2nd Lieutenant Rob Patterson recalls that during the transition period the workload was heavy. Setting up one area and winding down another required a lot of work. The new OFP Team, with Captain Geoff Olney as the new leader, worked well into the night regularly for many months. WO2 Phil Warne, the WO Control, used his immense amount of knowledge to get the detail sorted out. Rob also recalls that when the physical transfer of stock took place it flowed across reasonably well. They had taken over three of the large warehouses and set up all the functions within the structure of the OFP. At the same time issues were done in a similar fashion to the AOD. Long hours were not unusual; however Rob could not remember anyone complaining and that was what the spirit showed.
October was a busy month at Nui Dat as the Detachment packed up for the move to Vung Tau. On the 16 October the main party and the stores left Nui Dat by road transport, with the remaining elements of the Task Force, for Vung Tau. As the Australian troops withdrew from the area, the Vietnamese Army (ARVN) were quick to move in to the remaining shells of buildings which had been the Australian base at Nui Dat.
Sergeant Hank Botcher was part of the last group to leave Nui Dat and he recalls that as they pulled out of the front gate there were hundreds of Vietnamese in trucks, carts, bikes or anything with wheels, just waiting for the Australians to finally leave the place. Hank reckons they would have stripped the place clean by the time the departing Australians had reached Baria.
The 1st Ordnance Field Park at Vung Tau conducted a progressive out scaling operation during the latter part of 1971 whilst still maintaining support in theatre. As it existed the 1stOrdnanceFieldPark was a unique unit, it was not really an Ordnance Field Park, not a Depot or not really a Composite Ordnance Company, but a mixture of all.
In the final days of the Vietnam Conflict the personnel of the 1st Ordnance Field Park worked long and hard hours, but produced credible results in providing the required ordnance support to the very end. This support contributed to the successful and orderly withdrawal of the 1st Australian Task Force and its supporting elements from Vietnam.
On 31 January the Unit closed down for business. The final stage was for all RAAOC elements and units to return to Australia by ship or air, taking with them all their serviceable and repairable equipment. Back loading of sea cargo to Australia was undertaken by HMAS “Sydney”, HMAS “Jeparit” and a large Japanese freighter the MV “Harima Maru” which was chartered by the Royal Australian Navy specifically to ship the squadron of Centurion tanks back to Melbourne as the deck strength of the Naval Support Ships was not sufficient for the task.
Some of this equipment was subjected to quarantine regulations, as directed by the Department of Agriculture, who had representatives present in Vietnam to supervise cleaning operations to prepare vehicles and equipments for return to Australia. Other items such as tentage, webbing, tarpaulins and anything that had deteriorated in the climatic conditions, or which was likely to be contaminated, were written-off, destroyed or donated to the Vietnamese to make use of as they saw fit.
Unit personnel commenced returning to Australia in February1972, with some returning by air and some accompanying the return of stores by sea. On return to Australia, there was leave to be taken and new postings to be assumed. Meanwhile the OFP’s stock and unit stores continued a gradual movement from ship to shore to 10 OFP at Holsworthy. Following arrival of the unit stores the “rear” party assembled at Holsworthy to outscale stores and finalise unit records. This group was somewhat top heavy as it included the OC Capt Geoff Olney, the 2IC (now) Capt Garry Downs, WO control, WO2 Phil Warne, the CQMS S/Sgt Davies, and stores platoon senior NCOs such as S/Sgt Peter Shea.
The high level of stores management that had been exercised in Vietnam was rewarded in the outscaling activities as there were minimal discrepancies between records and physical stock, and the close down of the unit was completed smoothly. This onerous task was finally completed in June 1972 and the rear party dispersed to new postings around Australia.
With the verification process completed, the reformation of the 1stOrdnance Field Park was able to proceed. The reformation process involved the amalgamation of both the 1st and 10th Ordnance Field Parks, with the amalgamated unit being designated the 1st Ordnance Field Park. On 21 July 1977, the 1st Ordnance Field Park was redesignated the 1st Field Supply Company, thus ending a long and impressive history of the Ordnance Field Parks in the Australian Army.
Its history stands as a proud reminder, dedicated to the efforts and hard work of all who have served within its ranks.