- Letter Writer
- History - post WWII, Letter to the Editor
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III
- June 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In your Book Review (Naval Historical Review, December 1998) of ‘The Vung Tau Ferry – HMAS Sydney and Escort Ships, Vietnam 1965-72’, your reviewer mentions a story he heard about sailors in HMAS Sydney attempting to persuade Australian troops ashore to fire on Sydney in order to strengthen claims that the ship was serving in a war zone. Understandably, the reviewer is rather reluctant to present this story as being authentic.
I had previously heard this same story in another context, and on that occasion too the source was reluctant to vouch for the accuracy of his story.
While I have no direct evidence as to the truth of that story, my own personal experience leads me to believe that it is most likely to be quite correct.
I travelled twice between Sydney and Vung Tau in Sydney. My first trip was from 17 January to 3 February 1968, and my second was from 15 to 28 February 1969. This gained me some notoriety in Army circles because I volunteered for the second trip (normal means of travel was by Qantas) despite having already experienced one voyage in the former HMS Terrible!
The intensity of the Vietnam War greatly increased with the advent of Tet, the lunar new year, at the beginning of February 1968. The following year saw Australia’s heaviest fighting of the war, including the battles at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral in May. By the end of the year much had been learnt, and it was well known that Long Son Island, in clear sight of Sydney’s usual anchorage off Vung Tau, harboured Viet Cong.
I boarded Sydney at Vung Tau during the morning of 15 February 1969, quickly settled in, and then relaxed on the flight deck as the ship prepared to sail in the afternoon. Near me were a few ratings, gazing wistfully at Long Son Island, and expressing the strong hope that the Viet Cong would loose off a few rocket propelled grenades at Sydney. Having reasonable knowledge of the destructive power of the RPG7, I joined the conversation. Initially I thought they must be kidding, but I soon became amazed at the obvious sincerity of this suicidal wish instigated by their fervent hope for hostile enemy action to force the issue of recognition of war service. I thought their thinking was sadly astray in seriously wanting to see an RPG7 come aboard, but, with recognised war service myself, I felt hardly in a position to criticise their point of view, so I let the matter rest. I have never forgotten that conversation of thirty years ago.
With that experience in mind, I have no doubt that those ratings, or shipmates with a similar attitude, might well have sought assistance, perhaps in jest, or perhaps only partly in jest, from soldiers going ashore earlier that day. Their attitude was so earnest that I would expect that it might not be too difficult today to find former ratings from Sydney who would remember trying to will some sort of enemy attack against their ship. Perhaps officers who served aboard Sydney at that time may have comments to offer?
John Bullen, Lieutenant Colonel (Retd)