Australia and the Vietnam War

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Supporting Armour - Engineers

Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Armoured Corps personnel work together on the repair and maintenance of an APC. [AWM EKN/70/0442/VN]

Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Armoured Corps personnel work together on the repair and maintenance of an APC. [AWM EKN/70/0442/VN]

Engineers carried many responsibilities in Vietnam, among them the construction of roads, water supply and reticulation, civil aid projects that could include building schools, installing windmills and maintaining roads and bridges, many of which were destroyed by the enemy more than once during the war. One of their more hazardous tasks, however, was mine clearing. These hidden weapons were the cause of many Australian casualties in Vietnam and armoured vehicles were particularly vulnerable. The danger grew as the war went on and on occasions such as Operation Renmark in February 1967 the havoc that mines could wreak was made tragically clear.

To counter the threat mini-teams from the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) were allocated to armoured troops on operations. These men had a particularly dangerous duty, sitting on the front of an armoured vehicle looking out for signs of mines which, if they were located, then entailed the nerve-wracking task of defusing any anti-lift devices and neutralising the mine.

  • A mobile repair team of the 106th Field Workshops, Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, carry out repairs on a Centurion Tank that struck a mine south of the Task Force Base at Nui Dat. The mobile workshop team carry out their work from an adapted APC known as a Repair Fitters Vehicle which includes a crane among its array of tools. [AWM EKN/69/009/VN]
  • An M113A1 Repair Fitters Vehicle from a Light Aid Detachment delivers parts to a Centurion Tank in the field.  In the background a truck carrying a rubber fuel bladder stands by to refuel the tank. [AWM BEL/69/0434/VN]
  • Army engineers hunt for mines to the south of Phuoc Tuy’s capital Ba Ria. They are ensuring that the way is clear for the APC in the background. [AWM EKN/68/0018/VN]

Also vital to the successful prosecution of armoured operations was the work of the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME). While crews were able to carry out certain essential maintenance tasks in the field, RAEME personnel were the mainstay of vehicle repair, they kept the armoured vehicles operational. RAEME sub-units operated as part of a Royal Australian Armoured Corps Regiment of Squadron and were known as Light Aid Detachments (LADs). LADs included those in the main support section that generally worked at the Task Force Base and sections allocated to each armoured troop. Each LAD was under the command of an Artificer Sergeant Major who would also advise armoured personnel on repairs and maintenance schedules and would also supervise the work of tradesmen.

Repairs were often carried out in the field under all manner of conditions and in a wide range of environments. Being in the field meant that RAEME personnel were just as likely as any soldier in the combat arms to encounter the enemy and in addition to working on all types of vehicles, not just armour, they too had to be ready to engage the enemy should the need arise. At times some of their number volunteered to replace wounded crew members so that vehicles could get back into action quickly.

To carry out their repair work LADs employed a variety of tools including specially modified APCs equipped with cranes, welding equipment and storage space in which spare parts were carried to avoid having to wait for much needed items to be brought to vehicles in the field. Heavier items were commonly brought to the site of break-downs or repairs by helicopter. Speed was often of the essence, as a disabled armoured vehicle offered a tempting target for the enemy.

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View Video of engineers on mine patrol. [AWM F03782]