IN THESE MODERN DAYS of trade expansion and spreading communities there is an ever increasing threat of Communism infiltrating into the free countries of Europe and Asia. In recent years this threat has come to Australia’s doorstep in South East Asia with the Communist invasion of South Vietnam by the method of open warfare.
With Australia as a member of the South East Asian Treaty Organisation, along with the United States, it was our duty to our Asian Allies to support them against Communist aggression.
Australia began her open support of South Vietnam in February 1967, which continued until September 1971. During these years many Australian warships, army regiments and air force squadrons took part in the war effort against the spread of Communism, and after the withdrawal of the combat forces the Australian Government kept a training group of army regulars in Vietnam to provide training in modern warfare for the South Vietnamese Regular Army troops.
One of the last exploits of the Royal Australian Navy in this war was the third deployment of the guided-missile destroyer HMAS Perth on the gunline in support of the US Seventh Fleet.
HMAS Perth sailed from Garden Island Naval Dockyard on 14th September 1970 under the command of Captain I. M. Burnside RAN and arrived in Subic Bay in the Philippines on 28th September to relieve HMAS Hobart after her six-month tour of duty.
In early October 1970 HMAS Perth had taken up her Naval Gunfire Support Station off Da Nang in support of the US 1st Marine Division in Military Region 1. Her first salvos of 76 lb. shells were fired at Viet Cong infiltration routes in the hills around Da Nang in the early hours of 4th October. On the same day Perth proceeded north to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and remained on this station until 24th October. During this period Viet Cong bunkers and supply dumps were the main targets of her gunfire. In addition she was called on to fire on enemy personnel sighted in the open. The DMZ was an area of many Allied air strikes and during these strikes Perth had to halt her bombardment as it was impossible to sight the fall of shot. Her Naval Gunfire Liaison Officers ashore were supplied by the 1st ARVN Division.
On 8th October, the Perth was engaged in her early morning H and I firings (harassment and interdiction) when her CIC reported three fast-moving radar contacts moving south from the north of the DMZ. Just as these contacts were approaching land the Perth’s guns opened fire. The following day it was found that the targets were motorized sampans running guns and ammunition south to Viet Cong infiltration positions. Two of the sampans were destroyed.
Also on 8th October the Perth was called on to bombard a suspected rocket site. In fact it was an active 175 mm rocket site and the bombardment destroyed two of the rockets on their launchers and killed their operating crew. The next few days found Perth firing at bunker complexes and VC troop movements.
On 23rd October the Perth assisted with the landing of a Seal Team (US Commando Unit) in the southern area of the DMZ to ambush enemy sappers transporting mines brought by WBLCs (waterborne logistic craft) from North Vietnam. Perth continued her routine H and I firings, and also remained alert to inform the Seal Teams’ patrol craft of any WBLCs or WCLCs (waterborne carrier logistic craft – troop transports) detected moving south along the coast.
On 24th October HMAS Perth departed for Subic Bay for re-ammunitioning and the fitting of new gun barrels and maintenance. Perth completed her gunnery trials and returned to Da Nang on 4th November. She returned to the gunline in the DMZ and remained there until 16th November. During this period low cloud and heavy rain of the north east monsoons interrupted her bombardment of the suspected troop positions.
Rear Admiral D. C. Wells, the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, joined the Perth on 7th November for an overnight stay.
After firing on bunkers on 15th November, the Perth went on a rescue mission. Some distance south-east of the DMZ a VNN coastal motorised junk called for assistance as she was short of fuel and was in heavy seas. Perth located her and escorted the vessel back to its base on the Cua Viet River.
On 16th November, HMAS Perth detached from Military Region 1 and sailed south to take up a new station in Military Region 3. On 18th November she anchored in Vung Tau Harbour and fired on a Viet Cong base camp in the Long Hai Hills. Her gunfire had good effect on the caves and bunkers in the hills. The enemy positions were destroyed. Later that day Perth sailed for a maintenance period in Singapore. While in this port liberty was given to the ship’s company, this being the most colourful and most enjoyable port for any sailor to spend his liberty in. On 2nd December Perth returned to Vietnam and took up station off the west coast of An Xuyen, Military Region 4, near the Cambodian border on the Gulf of Siam. Her primary task was to bombard Viet Cong positions in the U Minh Province. On 3rd December Perth joined a combined operation with land troops and helicopter gunships of the US 135th Assault Helicopter Company. Her gunfire caused a large secondary explosion, setting ablaze a petroleum and supply dump. This action gave the Perth and her crew a new name from the Americans, ‘The U Minh Earth Moving Company’, which was printed on the crew’s T-shirts.
On 6th December Perth’s guns found a new target, that of a Viet Cong engineering operation and base camp. Perth then sailed south near Hon Da Bac Island to fire on troop positions and canal targets for the 33rd AVRN Regiment. On 8th December she fired fifty rounds at a mobile radio unit of the VC and on the 11th December some VC were killed and the mobile radio unit was destroyed. This period in Military Region 4 often found the Perth acting as a communications link for the various army units ashore. During the evening of the 13th December the Perth intercepted and severely damaged a WBLC, killing one VC and destroying the load of stores.