Australia and the Vietnam War

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Royal Australian Navy (RAN)

On the Gunline - Destroyers

The Royal Australian Navy's three Guided Missile Destroyers (DDGs). [L-R] HMAS Brisbane, HMAS Hobart and HMAS Perth. [Image courtesy of David Morgan]

The Royal Australian Navy’s three Guided Missile Destroyers (DDGs). [L-R] HMAS Brisbane, HMAS Hobart and HMAS Perth. [Image courtesy of David Morgan]

Australia’s largest naval commitment to the Vietnam War was the provision of destroyers, on rotation, to serve on the ‘gunline’ – delivering naval gunfire support for ground forces – with the US 7th Fleet. HMA Ships Hobart, Perth and Brisbane all served on multiple six-monthly rotations between 1967 and 1971. The Daring Class destroyer, HMAS Vendetta served one tour of duty on the gunline.

The Australian vessels emerged from the gunline largely unscathed but the requirements of operational service placed heavy demands on ships’ companies. Gunline destroyers needed to be constantly available to provide support to shore-based forces and to conduct off-shore patrols.

  • Leading Engineering Mechanic (LEM) John O’Callaghan, RAN, who sailed on two deployments in HMAS Hobart, talks about replacing Perth on the gunline. No: 0673 07/3/67 – 27/9/67 and 16/03/70 – 09/10/70.

… the day we sailed we had the bands and fanfare, families down saying goodbye and all that and we sailed off for Vietnam and the gunline. We sailed up, stopped off at Manus Island on the way for a refuel stop. Then went to the Philippines, had a few days in the Philippines so that the brass could have consultation with the US Navy people to get everybody sorted out so we were all playing from the same sheet of music and then we were deployed on to the gunline. At that stage we were operating as part of the US 7th Fleet. Now around about that time in Vietnam the Yanks had something like a dozen to 15 destroyers operating off the coast at any one time and we were expected to form a part of those ships on the line. [John O’Callaghan, HMAS Hobart, Australians at War Film Archive interview no: 0673]
  • On 17 June 1967, during her second deployment, HMAS Hobart was struck by three guided missiles fired by USAF F-4 fighter aircraft. HMAS Hobart, along with US Navy warships, was engaged in surveillance of a North Vietnamese radar monitoring station on Tiger Island east of Cap Lay when three missiles were fired from the ‘friendly’ aircraft. Two crewmen were killed by the attack. The first missile struck the ship amidships and killed Ordinary Seaman  R J (Ray) Butterworth and  wounded Able Seaman J R Parker and Ordinary Seaman R F Davidson. A second missile killed Chief Electrician R H Hunt and injured several more sailors. The ship spent four weeks being repaired at the US Naval facility at Subic Bay and returned to the gunline on 26 July 1968. [AWM P02562.003]
  • Ordinary Seaman  R J (Ray) Butterworth, RAN, was killed by the US attack on HMAS Hobart. [Image courtesy of Peter Manoel]
  • A member of HMAS Hobart’s crew inspects the damage. [Image courtesy of Barry Sims]
  • Damage from the second missile which hit HMAS Hobart, most of which landed in the after seamen’s mess deck. [Image courtesy of the Seapower Centre]
  • Crew members from HMAS Hobart in the ship’s boat. [Image courtesy of Allan Etherington.]
  • Damage to the deck of HMAS Perth, the only Australian vessel to receive a direct hit from enemy fire during the conflict. HMAS Perth came under fire from coastal defence batteries on 18 October 1967 and although the ship sustained only slight damage, seven sailors were wounded. Two of those wounded were evacuated by helicopter to USS Oriskany and then transferred to the US naval hospital at Subic Bay in the Philippines. [Image courtesy of Orm Cooper]
  • Cartridge shells litter the deck of HMAS Perth during gunline duties. [Image courtesy of Orm Cooper]
  • HMAS Hobart’s Mount 52 gun firing back on the gunline. [Image courtesy of the Seapower Centre – Australia]
  • HMAS Perth on operational duties with the US Seventh Fleet in Vietnamese waters. Leading Stores Assistance Naval (LSAN) William Griffiths takes his turn as lookout, c. January 1968. [AWM NAVY 15723]
  • Naval Airman Meterologist (NAMET) Robert Luis Pares, RAN, Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Geoffrey Wayne Furlong, RAN and LCDR James Stewart Dickson, RAN, at the chart table in HMAS Perth, c. March 1968. [AWM NAVY16012]
  • Crew in HMAS Perth receive inoculations against cholera and typhoid before Perth departs for her second deployment to Vietnam. [Left to right] Captain David Leach, Commanding Officer HMAS Perth, Leading Sick Berth Attendant (LSBA) Ian Lorimer of NSW, Ordinary Seaman Communications (ORDCO) Warwick Luttrell of ACT and Surgeon Lieutenant Dennis Morgan of SA, c. September 1968. [AWM NAVY17859]
  • HMAS Brisbane on her second deployment to Vietnam operates on the gunline. Crew members carry 5 inch shells during an underway replenishment (UNREP) at sea. [Left to right] Ordinary Seaman Underwater Weapons (ORDUW) Brian Simmonds, Ordinary Seaman Elecrical Mechanic (ORDEM) Allan Jamieson, Ordinary Seaman Steward (ORDSTD) Richard Hardstaff and ORDEM William Murphy, c. July 1971. [AWM NAVY22679]
  • HMAS Vendetta departed Sydney, 15 September 1969 and arrived at Da Nang on 2 October 1969. Vendetta, the only Australian-built destroyer to see active service on the gunline, was involved in an enemy bombardment from her anchorage at Da Nang the day after she arrived, 3 October 1969. [Image courtesy of Seapower Centre]
  • Sailors in HMAS Brisbane in shorts and sandals. [Image courtesy of David Morgan]
  • HMAS Perth engaged in Operation Sea Dragon with the US Seventh Fleet, just north of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, c. October 1967. The operations are aimed a destroying waterborne logistic craft taking supplies from North Vietnam into the south. Able Seaman Quartermaster Gunner (ABQMG) John Rose of NSW operates a target designating transmitter. [AWM NAVY14653]
  • HMAS Vendetta’s anti-swimmer patrol enters the water in Da Nang harbour. These patrols were an important precaution against enemy attack while at anchor.
[Image courtesy of Seapower Centre]
  • HMAS Perth’s Commanding Officer, Captain David Leach, RAN, passes the weight symbolising the official handover of gunline duties to Captain Alan Willis, Commanding Officer of HMAS Brisbane. Subic Bay, February 1969. [AWM NAVY MO91/12]
  • HMAS Brisbane operating on the gunline with the US Seventh Fleet during her first deployment to Vietnam, c. September 1969. Leading Radio Operator Special (LROS) William Brooks tunes one of the ship’s radio receivers. [AWM NAVY20136]
  • The Commanding Officer of HMAS Hobart, Captain Guy Griffiths prepares for a bosun’s chair transfer by highline to USS Samuel L Moore for a handover meeting, 8 May 1967. HMAS Hobart resumed Sea Dragon operations in the Gulf of Tonkin after her return from Subic Bay in the Philippines. [AWM NAVY13457]

Hobart and Perth were also involved in Operation Sea Dragon along the North Vietnamese coast between 1966 and 1968. Ships serving on Sea Dragon interdicted enemy attempts at seaborne infiltration and resupply along the North Vietnamese coast from the Demilitarised Zone to the Red River delta near Hanoi and often came under heavy and accurate fire from shore-based batteries. For the ships of the RAN serving in the waters off Vietnam, these operations were amongst the most dangerous of the war. In one tragic incident two members of Hobart’s crew were killed when the ship was mistakenly attacked by a US aircraft.

For the sailors who came under fire and saw friends killed and wounded, the war was every bit as real as it was for the ground forces in South Vietnam. No one going into an operational area can be sure of what will happen, only with hindsight is it possible to rank the relative danger of one type of service over another.

Map Icon

View a map showing the surface and aerial surveillance zones along the Vietnamese coast as well as the area of coastline in which Australian destroyers served on the gunline.

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View video of Interview 5 John O'Callaghan, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.0673

Story Icon

A press release issued by Austforce Vietnam for release on 15 March, 1967, advising of the visit of HMAS Hobart to the US Naval Base at Subic Bay in the Philippines and of the imminent addition of the RAN vessel to begin operations with the US Seventh Fleet in the Tonkin Gulf and the South China Sea. [AWM 98/306 Pt 2]