6th Ordnance Field Park (Det) 1967-68

6 OFP (Det) replaced the original 1 OFP (Det) and this was the last time personnel were to be exchanged on a unit by unit basis. The original OFP site was on a hill called Nui Dat 2. 6 OFP (Det) guys moved into a new location near Luscombe Airfield. With a build-up of the Task Force during 1967, the unit continued to expand until it was finally replaced as a Detachment and converted to a full OFP in February 1968.

 In the latter part of 1966 the 6th Ordnance Field Park (6 OFP), stationed at Gaythorne in Brisbane, took part in a major exercise called ‘Barra Winga’ at the Army’s Shoalwater Bay training ground in Central Queensland. The exercise was designed as a shake down for all units that were due to replace existing units in Vietnam whose one year tour of duty was due to end in April / May 1967.

A Detachment from 6 OFP was selected to replace a Detachment of 1 OFP that had been in Vietnam since April 1966 and were located at the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) base at Nui Dat. On the morning of 21 March 1967 an advance party from 6 OFP, consisting of Australian Regular Army members Warrant Officer Class 2 Jack McCallum and Sergeant Harry Stephens together with National Service Privates Graham Alexander, Ian Tasker and Bob Nash, left Sydney on a Qantas Commercial flight bound for Manilla in the Philippines. They were transported from Manila Airport to the American Air Force’s Clark Air Base where they stayed briefly until they boarded a USAF C130 transport, in the early hours of 22 March, for the flight to Saigon. After being processed at the Free World Forces Headquarters, they were loaded onto a RAAF Caribou for the final leg to Nui Dat.

Arriving at Nui Dat late in the afternoon they were eventually picked up and taken to 1 OFP (Detachment), which was located in its original position near SAS Hill. The three privates were handed brand new SLR rifles, still wrapped up in plastic and covered in protective grease, a couple of magazines each and a tin of ammunition. They were advised that if there was a mortar attack that night to jump into the nearest pit they could find as they wouldn’t have time to dig a hole for themselves in the rocky ground. As a special favour from the 1 OFP guys, the new arrivals were exempt from doing picket duty on their first night in country, as a special welcome to the War.

In late March 1967 Private Greg Quinlan (National Service) and in early April 1967, Privates Errol Marron (ARA), Ian McLean and Corporal Ron Vernieux (both National Servicemen) arrived to bolster the ranks of the advance party. The Officer Commanding of 6 OFP (Detachment), 2nd Lieutenant (later Lieutenant) Ken Hussell arrived on 15 April 1967 to familiarise himself before the balance of the Detachment arrived in approximately three weeks.

The ‘short timers’ soon settled in with the ‘old timers’ who loved to start each day with a reminder of how many days and a ‘wakey’ they had to go before they would be heading home.

Prior to the arrival of the rest of the Detachment, the new site for the unit at the eastern end of Luscombe Airfield had to be completed. Store sheds had to be built and accommodation tents erected. As well as becoming familiar with the routine of the OFP in Vietnam, the new arrivals were also employed as builder’s labourers assisting the Engineers pour the concrete slabs for the store sheds.

The balance of the Detachment arrived at Nui Dat on the afternoon of 5 May 1967. They had left Brisbane for Sydney the day before by train, where they stayed overnight. The next morning they caught a commercial flight from Sydney to Darwin. From there they boarded a RAAF C130 Hercules for the flight to Saigon and the final leg by RAAF Caribou to Nui Dat.

The balance of 6 OFP (Detachment) to arrive consisted of the following ARA members, Warrant Officer Class 2 Lawrie O’Neill, Sergeants Mal Gibson and Lew Wiskar, Lance Corporals Des Surtees and Ron (Bluey) Stoker. The National Servicemen were Privates Tony Anthony, Bob Gray, Les Matthews, Jim McIntosh, Terry O’Neill, Noel Peut and Jim Robinson.

Three members of 1 OFP (Det) remained to become part of 6 OFP (Det). They were Sergeant Arthur Dionysius (ARA) and Private Harry Couper (National Service) who arrived in December 1966 and Corporal Bernie Fuller (National Service) who arrived in early March 1967.

The full compliment of 6 OFP (Det) at the beginning of its tour was; 1 Officer, 2 Warrant Officers, 4 Sergeants, 2 Corporals, 2 Lance Corporals and 14 Privates. In all a total of 25 personnel of which 10 were Australian Regular Army soldiers and 15 were National Servicemen. Several Privates were later to receive promotions during their time with the unit.

With the movement of 6 OFP (Det) to South Vietnam, formal ties were severed with the parent unit in Enoggera.

Noel Peut recalls that when they arrived in Nui Dat they were taken to the old 1 OFP (Det) site on SAS Hill and shown the tent that had been mortared in 1966. If they tried to scare him they succeeded. He also recalls that on their first night they were required to do picket duty and it was so dark he could not see his hands in front of his face.

The task of making the unit functional in its new location was the immediate aim of everyone. Tents had to be sandbagged, machine gun bunkers and weapon pits on the unit’s perimeter had to be completed and underground bunkers beside each tent had to be dug for protection during any mortar attacks on the base. All this whilst also providing the day to day operational requirement of and Ordnance Field Park in supporting the units within the Task Force Base. On a positive note, the new location was a vast improvement on the original location of the unit near SAS Hill.

The new facilities initially comprised a number of simple concrete-floored galvanised iron, open ended shelters for storage with hard standing to enable off loading of vehicles from daily stores convoys from the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1 ALSG) in Vung Tau. The Headquarters / Control Office building was a prefabricated Lysaght hut. Living quarters were to remain in the ubiquitous 16 x 16 foot sandbagged tents set amongst rubber trees to provide shade from the heat.

Mess facilities were initially provided by 6 RAR and them 2 RAR when it arrived shortly after. The food was mainly American rations and if you liked plenty of ham and chocolate milk then you were on a winner. Unfortunately, ‘eatherised’ eggs were not on the list of most popular foods. Two canteens were set up, one for the ORs and one for the Sergeants / Officers and the lives of the new arrivals began to settle into some sort of routine.

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1967 – OR’s Tent Lines. (Photo – Bob Nash)

The relocation of the OFP also brought about some change in the administration of the Task Force Administration Area (TFAA). With this move, all supporting sub-units of the TFAA were relocated and grouped in this new location. As well as being the Officer Commanding of the 6 Ordnance Field Park (Detachment), 2 Lt Ken Hussell soon found out that he was given the added responsibility of OC TFAA and promoted in rank to Lieutenant. Ken recalls that this additional appointment started many months of total frustration. For the technical operation of the Unit he was responsible to the DAQMG, Major Wells at HQ 1 ATF. For day to day matters he was responsible to Major Constable, OC 161 Recce Flight, for everything except discipline. He suddenly went from some 25 soldiers to about 180, and the bulk of his TFAA sub-unit commanders were Captains. This, together with the responsibility of running an Ordnance Field Park Detachment with its day to day problems, was a most trying time for him. Ken maintains that he survived the remainder of 1967 and into 1968 because he had the total support of all the soldiers within his unit.

It was soon discovered that truck licences were in short supply. Three of four guys were chosen to get their truck licence. They were required to drive around the base and over SAS Hill and if the hadn’t run over or into anybody they were given their licence.

As well as the task of securing the units perimeter, the stores and store sheds also had to be established in the new location. A lot of effort was spent in this regard. The new facilities began to take on a more personalised touch as signs were put up and the new guys began to settle into their role and add their own personal touch to their new work environment. The same could also be said about the accommodation tents. Packing cases were in demand to build tables, chairs, wardrobes and cupboards.

Terry O’Neill soon stood out as the resident ‘builder’ and helped many guys acquire furniture for their tent. He was also responsible for refurbishing the new canteen. Unfortunately, Terry along with Les Matthews, was sprung one night by the OC, Ken Hussell (aka ‘The Hustler’), for drinking in the lines. For their punishment they were required to build a carport, with a movie screen on one side, to house Ken’s new Landrover and to keep it out of the elements. Terry’s building skills were later used to assist the local Vietnamese build new homes, after being relocated.

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1967 – OC Lt. Ken Hussell inspecting his new carport.
(Photo – Terry O’Neill)

At the time that 6 Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) took over from 1 Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) there were only two Infantry Battalions in the Task Force. The third battalion required to complete the Task Force was not scheduled to arrive until late 1967. This meant that for a majority of the time before this, both battalions were consistently out of the Task Force Base on operations. As a result of this members of the OFP were required to man nightly picket positions on the Base’s perimeter wire to cover those units who were out on operations. In most cases they covered the perimeter positions of the Artillery Batteries which happened to be out at Fire Support Bases supporting the Battalion operations. Over time this meant that the Unit supplied pickets to all the Artillery Batteries which included the New Zealander’s 161 Field Battery, the United States’ Battery A, 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 35 Artillery Mobile Howitzers as well as a Battery from the Royal Australian Artillery’s 1 Field Regiment.

During the period when 6 OFP (Det) was establishing its new site, the sand bag pit, near the old French Fort, was a hive of activity and most guys in the unit managed to score a trip to collect sand bags.

Des Surtees, being one of the unit’s regular truck drivers, scored many trips out to the sand pit. He recalls that the habit of leaving some filled sand bags at the sand pit over night was curtailed because of a particular incident that he was involved in. He was often the first truck to arrive at the sand pit, and on one particular occasion he was about to pick up some of the bags. Just as he was about to do this, one of the local Vietnamese kids, who were regulars at the pit and sold Coca Cola, said to Des “Don’t touch!” With that, the kid threw a burning match or cigarette onto the tops of the bags and all the tops were blown off. After that incident, no more sand bags were left uncollected over night.

Des also recalled another incident at the sand pit where he pulled a burning rag out of the petrol tank of an American truck parked next to him. It appears that the American had been giving the locals a hard time and they were trying to get even.

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1967 – Vietnamese workers filling sandbags for the Task Force Base at Nui Dat
(Photo – Ian McLean)

All the hard work in establishing the Unit was rewarded with a day trip to Vung Tau one Sunday a couple of months after the Unit arrived. At that stage, the Australian Forces did not have their own entertainment facilities in Vung Tau (the Peter Badcoe Club did not open until late 1967) so everyone headed for the American Forces Beachcomber Bar on the Back Beach. A good time was had by all but unfortunately the dancing girls came on just as the guys were required to return to Nui Dat. Whilst the urge to stay was strong, the thought of being caught on the road back to Nui Dat after dark soon over rode these urges.

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1967 – Enjoying a day at the Beachcomber Bar, Vung Tau
L to R: Jim Robinson, (Unknown), Jim McIntosh, Graham Alexander, Bob Nash,
Ian Tasker & Noel Peut.

(Photo – Bob Nash)

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1967 – Part of the “shotgun’ team protecting a Civil Affairs party building a new school in the Provincial capital of Baria.
L to R. – Jim Robinson, Jim McIntosh and Bernie Fuller
(Photo – Bob Nash)

Support was also provided to the Task Force by providing ‘shotgun’ teams to protect Civil Affairs personnel working in the villages. Because of the work they were doing for the local Vietnamese people, members of the Australian Civil Affairs Unit had a bounty placed on their head by the VC. The opportunity to go out with the Civil Affairs Teams had a dual purpose. It enabled Unit members to get away from the day to day routine for a while, as well as giving them the opportunity to mix with the local people. The kids in particular looked forward to having fun with the ‘Uc Dai Loi’ (Vietnamese slang for Australian).

Not long into their tour Unit members soon discovered what the monsoon season was all about. The tent lines in the Unit were located in an old rubber plantation which had not been worked for some time. The trees had not been tapped and some were getting old and rotten. Whilst the idea of having the tents in the shade of rubber trees was a good idea at the time, once the monsoons arrived, the strong winds associated with the monsoon storms soon started to play havoc with the rubber trees. There were quite a few near misses with rubber trees being blown over and just missing the tents. The guys in “The House of the Rising Sun” tent, Graham Alexander, Bob Nash, Ian Tasker and Greg Quinlan had been keeping a very close eye on one rubber tree at the back of their tent. This tree had survived a few storms until one night it decided that enough was enough and crashed straight through the middle of the tent. Fortunately the sand bag walls of the tent took most of the force of the tree, but Graham Alexander decided to hit the deck and copped a hit on his shoulder from a branch. The tent itself also managed to cushion the blow and he escaped without any major injury. Needless to say, many nervous nights were spent in the tents until the dry season arrived.

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1967 – Outside their tent the morning after it was flattened by a rubber tree.
L to R – Bob Nash, Graham Alexander and Greg Quinlan. Missing in action is Ian Tasker.
(Photo – Graham Alexander)

In September 1967 Unit members were involved in Operation “Ainslie”, which was conducted by 7 RAR in the Slope 30 area in Phuoc Tuy Province near Duc Than. The task of this operation was to clear the area and relocate all civilians to a secured area, just north of the Task Force Base, called “Hamlet 3” or Ap Suoi Nghe as it was later called. Initially members were involved in a road convoy to take equipment to a site which was established as a Fire Support Base prior to the operation commencing. Once the operation commenced, unit members were then involved in the actual relocation of the villagers, all their personal effects and livestock to the new secured village.

Terry O’Neill was riding shotgun on one of the trucks loaded up with a family and all their earthly possessions when the truck had an accident and rolled over. Terry remembers that an old guy on the truck sustained a serious injury to his head and had to be evacuated to hospital by chopper. Lawrie O’Neill recalls that the displaced villagers were none to happy to see their homes destroyed and were not looking forward to re-establishing themselves in a new village away from their gardens and food supplies. Although it was not a pleasant experience for those involved in this operation, unit members did try to do their best for the villagers by assisting them afterwards with the building of their new homes, basic though they might have been, at Ap Suoi Nghe.

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Sept 1967 – Operation “Ainslie” relocating villagers from Slop 30.
Lawrie O’Neill with one of the Vietnamese children being relocated.
(Photo – Lawrie O’Neill)

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October 1967 – L to R standing. Bob Gray, Ian Tasker, Ian McLean, Bluey Stoker, Jack McCallum,
Harry Couper, Lawrie O’Neill, Jim Robinson.
{Kneeling} Rob Duncan, Harry Stephens, Arthur Dionysius (going home) & Greg Quinlan.
(Photo – Lee Davidson)

By mid 1967 the decision was made that most support units would replace personnel on a man for man basis, rather than a unit by unit basis as had been the case in the past. This resulted in the commencement of the rotation of some members of the 6th Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) in late August 1967. Jim McIntosh, a third intake National Serviceman, was disappointed that he was selected in the first group to return to Australia, as he had requested to be allowed to serve out his time until Christmas 1967. Around this time a young ARA Corporal, Tony Flanagan, arrived to take over from the Orderly Room Corporal, Bernie Fuller, a National Serviceman, who was part of the first rotation group.

By November 1967 concerns were raised that the bulk storage sheds were inadequate. There was insufficient width to allow freedom of movement for the forklift which had increased workload due to double handling of pallets. Discussions with the DAQMG, 1 ATF, suggested that stores holding areas be increased with future changes to the force. No indication of when this will happen was given.

The Bath Unit was finally deployed forward in November 1967 to the Fire Support Base supporting 7 RAR on Operation “Santa Fe”, a search and destroy mission in the May Tao Mountains. The Unit remained at the FSB for the duration of the operation and approximately 1500 men used the facility. Where possible, personnel were rotated to gain experience in the operation of the Bath equipment. Lee Davidson recalls that one of his most memorable moments was when he, Bluey Stoker and Ken Rice were leaving Nui Dat for the first operation utilizing the mobile bath facility. They helped load all the equipment onto an Iroquois chopper and couldn’t fit a new 2.5 KVA generator inside, so the Sergeant loadmaster slung it from the belly hook under the chopper. When they were about 200 feet up a red light came on in the roof above them. As it flashed, the co-pilot said “We’regonna lose it!” They looked out at the sling spinning down with the new generator and it landed in a clearing with a great puff of dust. They kept going, as it was the spare. The old one did a good job anyway.

December 1967 was a busy month with stores arriving for 3 RAR, the extra Battalion for the Task Force announced earlier in the year, and the Centurion Tank unit, C Squadron 1 Armed Regiment. New members for the OFP build up to a full unit also started to arrive; among them was Captain Mike Clark, the new OC who arrived on 11 December 1967 along with about half a dozen other members.

After the completion of the December bulk break, the Stores Distribution section moved to the two Bulk Break sheds to allow for the setting up of a Self Service Store, in the vacated Stores Distribution shed. Head Quarters for the Ordnance Field Park was moved into the end of the Control Office building and the old HQ building was handed over to the Cash Office.

On 22 December 1967 the Task Force Administration Area (TFAA) officially became the Task Force Maintenance Area (TFMA) with the overall command going to the OC Head Quarters 26 Company RAASC. The day to day control of the OFP was still maintained by the Unit Officer Commanding.

Christmas Day 1967 was celebrated by the Unit members at the mess they shared with 2 RAR and were waited on by the Officers and Senior NCOs.

The hand over / takeover of the Unit’s stock between Lieutenant Ken Hussell and Captain Mike Clark took place on 27 December 1967.
During January 1968 there were a number of arrivals and departures as the Detachment slowly began to build up its numbers to a full Field Park. The last group of replacements arrived in Vung Tau on HMAS ‘Sydney’in late January 1968, just as the TET Offensive started.
On 31 January 1968 approval was given by Brigadier E J H Howard, DSD Army Headquarters, Canberra, to the redesignation of the Vietnam Detachment of 6 Ordnance Field Park as 1 Ordnance Field Park. This took effect from 1 February 1968.

On 4 February 1968, about a week after TET had started, some the remaining original 6 OFP (Det) members consisting of Lieutenant Ken Hussell, Corporal Bob Nash, Lance Corporal Graham Alexander, Privates Tony Anthony and Jim Robinson left Nui Dat to return to Australia. The usual route via Saigon to catch a Qantas charter flight was not possible as the airport was under constant attack during the TET Offensive. Instead they were flown to Vung Tau where they boarded a RAAF C130 flight to Butterworth Air Base in Malaysia. From here they eventually boarded the Qantas Charter flight home.

The last men to leave, from the original personnel in the Detachment, were Terry O’Neill and Bluey Stoker, who left on 12 March 1968 and Des Surtees who left on 9 April 1968.

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Dec 1967 – L to R. Tony Flanagan, Harry Stephens (going home), Peter Hogan,
Lawrie O’Neill, Jack McCallum.

(Photo – Lawrie O’Neill)

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Jan 1968 – L to R. Elwyn Spencer, Bob Nash, Tony Anthony, Lawrie O’Neil (going home),
Des Surtees, Graham Alexander, Greg Quinlan (going home) & Ian McLean (going home).
(Photo – Lawrie O’Neill)

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1967 – Stores Distribution- Ron (Bluey) Stoker. (Photo – Ian McLean)

 

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1967 – Store Sheds (Photo – Lawrie O’Neill)