Australia and the Vietnam War

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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

9 Squadron

In November 1967 a 9 Squadron Iroquois lands to pick up members of the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) during operation Santa Fe, a gruelling three week-long operation through inhospitable country some 23 kilometres from the Task Force Base at Nui Dat. [AWM COL/67/1127/VN]

In November 1967 a 9 Squadron Iroquois lands to pick up members of the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) during operation Santa Fe, a gruelling three week-long operation through inhospitable country some 23 kilometres from the Task Force Base at Nui Dat. [AWM COL/67/1127/VN]

A second RAAF service began in Vietnam on 3 May 1966 when an advance party from No. 9 Squadron arrived at Vung Tau. The squadron’s helicopters arrived on 6 June aboard HMAS Sydney and were flown to Vung Tau that day before moving to Nui Dat at the end of the month.

No. 9 Squadron’s helicopters carried out a variety of roles in Vietnam. Most important were the transport of infantry and logistic support, but the helicopters were also used to drop leaflets over enemy territory. Some were also used in aerial spraying to rid the base of mosquitoes and, more aggressively, to kill vegetative growth around the base and to destroy agricultural plots in Viet Cong territory, denying the enemy a source of food.

Just two months after the squadron’s arrival in Vietnam, two pilots were called on to drop ammunition to the beleaguered troops of D Company, 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, at Long Tan. Flying in appalling weather at tree-top height; they dropped ammunition to the soldiers on the ground through driving rain and under intense Viet Cong fire. The squadron operated again that night, after the battle, to retrieve the wounded, guided only by the light emanating from the open hatches of armoured personnel carriers.

No. 9 Squadron was re-equipped with larger Iroquois helicopters in 1967. Now equipped with 16 helicopters, the squadron worked in conjunction with aircraft of the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam and United States forces, on the dangerous tasks of transporting men to and from patrols and evacuating wounded soldiers from the battlefield. On some occasions these operations ended with the death of helicopter crewmen and the destruction of the aircraft.

The last members of 9 Squadron left Vung Tau on 17 December 1971. Six squadron members were killed on operations, and another man, attached to the squadron from No. 1 Operational Support Unit, was also killed.

  • An Australian soldier of 5RAR wounded by a booby trap during Operation Beaumaris is lifted onto a 9 Squadron Iroquois.  Known as ‘dust off’s ‘ picking up wounded men proved to be one of the primary functions of 9 Squadron helicopters in Vietnam.  The squadron’s crews, often operating under fire, saved many lives while risking their own on such missions.  [AWM COL/67/0140/VN]
  • The 9 Squadron badge.  Worn only by squadron members serving in Vietnam the word ‘VIETNAM’ was removed from the badge at the end of the war. [AWM REL37783]
  • The view from the cockpit of a 9 Squadron Iroquois.  Flying ahead is another Iroquois, also of 9 Squadron.  This photograph was taken in November 1966, six months after the squadron began operating in Vietnam. [AWM VN/66/0094/02]
  • A familiar sight soldiers who served in Vietnam; an Irquois of 9 Squadron in flight.  So ubiquitous were these helicopters that for many they have become the iconic image of the war.  [AWM VN/67/1030/09]
  • Soldiers run towards a waiting Iroquois, these aircraft were often the means by which men were carried to and from operations.  [AWM VN/66/0094/05]
  • A 9 Squadron door gunner prepares to fire his M60 machine gun as South Vietnamese soldiers run towards his helicopter.  Incidents such as this, when men were picked up under fire as the aircraft hovered just above the ground were known as ‘hot extractions’.  This helicopter was flown by a naval officer, a member of the Royal Australian Navy Detachment to 9 Squadron.   [AWM P06482.018]
  • A sight familiar to many 9 Squadron aircrew, yellow smoke rises from the ground, indicating the location of the landing zone.  On this occasion a 9 Squadron Iroquois is about to pick up a Special Air Services Patrol.  Different colours or combinations of colours were used to ensure that the enemy did not deceive pilots into landing in hostile territory.  [AWM P00966.061]
  • Pilot Officer Michael Haxell at the controls of an Iroquois.  Haxell joined the RAAF as an airframe fitter but remustered as aircrew in 1965.  Aged 24 when this photograph was taken, Haxell was, at the time, 9 Squadron’s youngest pilot.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during his tour of Vietnam.  [AWM VN/67/0007/01]
  • The cockpit of a 9 Squadron Iroquois.  [AWM P01597.012]
  • An Iroquois flies supplies to an Australian patrol in the Nui Dinh mountains.  In rugged terrain helicopters provided the only means of resupplying men in the field but 9 Squadron flew resupply missions to soldiers in all sorts of situations throughout the war.  [AWM VN/66/0074/16]

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'Iroquois fly in farewell'
No. 9 Squadron RAAF left Australia for Vietnam in June 1966. This issue of RAAF News featured a story on the squadron and a photograph of its pilots who went on to provide invaluable support to the Australian Task Force. [RAAF News, vol. 8, No. 5, June 1966, front page. AWM RC07157]

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'They're home'
Six years after beginning operations in Vietnam, 9 Squadron returned to Australia in 1971. [RAAF News vol. 14, No. 1 Jan-Feb, 1972, Front Page. AWM RC07161]

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RAAF helicopter support for Operation ‘Hawkesbury’ In September 1968 No. 9 Squadron helicopters airlifted members of the 1st and 4th Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment (1 & 4 RAR) to an area north of the Task Force base at Nui Dat for Operation Hawkesbury. [AWM F02737]

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'Dust off', interview with Pilot Officer Michael Haxell who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for two emergency extractions of Australian troops in the face of heavy enemy fire in August 1967. [AWM F04725]