Australia and the Vietnam War

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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

Other RAAF Personnel

Other RAAF personnel flew in Vietnam, carrying out logistics tasks and aeromedical evacuations using Hercules aircraft based at Richmond in New South Wales. Additionally, No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron worked on the airfields at both Vung Tau and Phan Rang and the RAAF provided Air Defence Guards for both of these facilities. RAAF personnel also flew as forward air controllers, to call in and guide artillery strikes as well as carrying out reconnaissance operations within the US Tactical Air Control System. Working with all the allied air forces, their role was to call in and control artillery and air strikes against enemy ground forces, and to carry out visual reconnaissance. Six RAAF personnel also flew F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft with the United States Air Force.

Patients lie on litters inside a C-130E Hercules transport aircraft. [AWM P02320.014]

Patients lie on litters inside a C-130E Hercules transport aircraft. [AWM P02320.014]

Medical evacuation

Patients lie on litters inside a C-130E Hercules transport aircraft. These wounded men were awaiting their return to Australia from Vung Tau, beside them sit two RAAF aircrew. Patients on these flights were looked after by members of the RAAF Nursing Service, over one hundred of whom served during the Vietnam War. Preparations for work on aeromedical evacuation flights included survival training in case aircraft had to ditch in the sea. But the nurse’s main concern was always for the patients whose survival depended on the skill and dedication of the RAAF’s medical personnel. By the time Australia’s involvement in the war ended more than 3,100 Australian and New Zealand soldiers had come home on such flights.

Members of No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (5ACS) begin work on a hanger at Vung Tau in June 1966. [AWM MAL/66/0037/37]

Members of No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (5ACS) begin work on a hanger at Vung Tau in June 1966. [AWM MAL/66/0037/37]

Airfield construction

Members of No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (5ACS) begin work on a hanger at Vung Tau in June 1966. These men are likely to be members of Detachment A, the first members of 5ACS to work at Vung Tau. The hanger for which they are preparing the site dated back to the Second World War. It was dismantled and brought to South Vietnam from an airfield in Parkes, New South Wales. By late June Detachment A numbered fifteen personnel but their labour was supplemented with that of Vietnamese workers who helped with the concrete laying. The hanger was completed in early October 1966.

The view from a Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ forward air controller aircraft as smoke rises from one of its target marking rockets next to a canal in South Vietnam. [AWM P00829.010]

The view from a Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ forward air controller aircraft as smoke rises from one of its target marking rockets next to a canal in South Vietnam. [AWM P00829.010]

Forward Air Controllers

The view from a Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ forward air controller aircraft as smoke rises from one of its target marking rockets next to a canal in South Vietnam. Australian Forward Air Controllers worked with a range of Allied forces in South Vietnam including the Vietnamese Air Force, the United States Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps, the Korean Army and the RAAF’s No. 2 Squadron. Thirty six Australian pilots flew as Forward Air Controllers before the last of them left South Vietnam. Between them they received fifteen Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Distinguished Service Orders and six mentions in dispatches.

Wing Commander  Anthony Powell at the controls of a Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ in 1967. [AWM P01953.010]

Wing Commander Anthony Powell at the controls of a Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ in 1967. [AWM P01953.010]

Wing Commander Anthony Powell at the controls of a Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ in 1967. Powell was one of the first Australians to serve as a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam and for several months he flew in support of the Republic of Korea’s 9th Infantry Division in the Nha Trang area. His tour ended in late 1967, by which time he had logged some 700 hours of operational flying, often at low altitude in light aircraft. For this, for his having controlled some 170 air strikes and for the many other command duties that he performed, Powell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Sadly, before he received this decoration Powell was killed in a car accident near Williamtown in New South Wales.

Vance Drummond – AFC, DFC and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry

Wing Commander Vance Drummond flew on combat operations in Korea before being taken prisoner in 1951. Awarded the Air Force Cross in January 1965, by December that year he was once more at war, this time as a forward air controller with the United States 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Bien Hoa in South Vietnam. On 24 July 1966 during a series of sorties over a fierce action between Viet Cong and a surrounded company of allied troops, Drummond and his American pilot spent some 11 hours in the air braving intense ground fire to drop illumination flares and mark targets for fighter bombers. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

The following October he flew the operation for which he was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. Drummond was killed in a flying accident off the New South Wales coast the following year, shortly before his award of the DFC was announced. The operations for which he was awarded these decorations and the many others on which Drummond flew were typical of those flown by Australian Forward Air Controllers in Vietnam.

View Vance Drummond's AFC, DFC and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. [AWM RC07137, RC07138, RC07139]

'He calls the shots'
This article about Vance Drummond appeared in the RAAF News during 1966 and describes his experience of aerial combat in Vietnam. [RAAF News, Vol. 8, no. 9, October 1966, p. 6. AWM RC07158]

Flying with United States forces

A Phantom F4-D in flight over Vietnam in 1971. Distinguished by the rondels of the RAAF and the United States Air Force, this aircraft was flown by an RAAF pilot, Flight Lieutenant Lindsay Naylor, who was attached to the United States’ 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Only six Australians flew operations in United States aircraft of this type during the war, some of them over Laos and North Vietnam, even though Australian personnel were not authorised to operate outside South Vietnam. The war was winding down by the time Naylor began operational flying with United States forces but he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in a hazardous ground-support mission over a fire support base outside Pleiku in April 1971.

A Phantom F4-D in flight over Vietnam in 1971. [AWM P01969.003]

A Phantom F4-D in flight over Vietnam in 1971. [AWM P01969.003]

Members of No. 2 Squadron’s Australian Airfield Defence Guard (ADG) prepare to fire on suspicious movement while on patrol outside the perimeter of the base at Phan Rang in 1969. [AWM P01961.004]

Members of No. 2 Squadron’s Australian Airfield Defence Guard (ADG) prepare to fire on suspicious movement while on patrol outside the perimeter of the base at Phan Rang in 1969. [AWM P01961.004]

Airfield Defence

Members of No. 2 Squadron’s Australian Airfield Defence Guard (ADG) prepare to fire on suspicious movement while on patrol outside the perimeter of the base at Phan Rang in 1969. ADGs were posted to the Australian base at Vung Tau, but members were also sent to Nui Dat to participate in patrols around the Task Force base’s perimeter while others were given the opportunity to serve as door gunners in 9 Squadron helicopters.

  • RAAF Airfield Defence Guards waiting to leave Nui Dat and begin a patrol.  Although stationed at Vung Tau, Airfield Defence Guards often took part in night-time patrols around the Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat.  [AWM P01951.008]
  • A patrol of Australian Airfield Defence Guards [ADGs] moving past abandoned buildings outside the gates of the Phan Rang airbase in 1970.  The Australian ADGs were the only personnel stationed at Phan Rang who operated beyond the defensive perimeter of the American-controlled base.  [AWM P01948.006]
  • Heavily armed Australian Airfield Defence Guards at Phang Rang in 1971.  The men are from No. 1 Section Airfield Defence Flight, which was attached to No. 2 Squadron RAAF.  They are shown with the weapons and ammunition that they normally took with them on patrols around the airbase.  [AWM P01964.001]
  • Australian Airfield Defence Guards [ADGs] responding to an incident at Phang Rang airbase in 1969.  In addition to carrying out routine night patrols around the airbase, the Australian ADGs at Phang Rang formed a standing Quick Response Team which could be deployed in emergencies.  [AWM P01961.002]
  • Sand-bag and barbed-wire defences protecting the RAAF zone of the Australian base at Vung Tau in 1966.  Australian Airfield Defence Guards constructed, maintained, and manned these positions, and carried out patrols beyond them.  [AWM P01948.005]

Australian ADGs began to serve at the large United States base at Phan Rang in 1967 where they were initially deployed to defend the base’s domestic area and the Australian flight lines. Later their duties expanded to include patrols outside the base. At times these patrols resulted in contacts with enemy forces and by the time Australia’s commitment to Vietnam ended the ADGs had been awarded an MBE, a Military Medal, eight mentions in dispatches and four Distinguished Flying Medals.


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RAAF News
In the early days the Australian logistics base at Vung Tau was a barren place, poorly equipped and lacking facilities. Through the work of units such as No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron, the base became a valuable operational hub for RAAF units in Vietnam. [RAAF News, vol. 8, No. 5, June 1966, front page. AWM RC07157]

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Vance Drummond; citations for Drummond's AFC, DFC and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. [AWM RC07137, RC07138, RC07139]

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'He calls the shots'
This article about Vance Drummond appeared in the RAAF News during 1966 and describes his experience of aerial combat in Vietnam. [RAAF News, Vol. 8, no. 9, October 1966, p. 6. AWM RC07158]

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‘Bird Dog’ This film focuses on Wing Commander Anthony Powell as he flies a United States Air Force Cessna O-1 ‘Bird Dog’ on a 1967 mission. [AWM F02719]