In 1966, the Australian contribution to the Vietnam War was increased to a brigade size force, 1st Australian Task Force, of two (sometimes three) battalions of infantry trained for tropical warfare, an artillery field regiment equipped with the M1A1 105mm howitzer, a squadron of cavalry equipped with M113A tracked carriers, a flight of reconnaissance helicopters and a squadron of engineers. Logistic support was provided by the establishment of 1st Australian Logistic Support Group, including hospital, transport, stores depot and workshops, at Vung Tau, some 30km away.
In the terms of repair and recovery, units in 1ATF all had light repair subunits (except for the engineer squadron who had a small workshop under command). The only repair support, above what the units were capable of themselves was from the workshop at Vung Tau, who were also tasked with the maintenance of the theatre reserve and the other depot inventory. Because of the time to get support from the workshop, equipment availability was a problem for the Task Force.
The enemy lived in well sited and well concealed bunker systems and were difficult for infantry, with supporting artillery and air support, to dislodge. In 1968 the Task Force was boosted by a squadron of Centurion tanks from 1 Armoured Regiment, RAAC, to break the impasse.
The squadron came with it's own workshop who had the job of supporting the tanks in the Combat Zone as well the job of total in-theatre repair of the aging, high maintenance centurions. It became apparent that this was not a suitable arrangement where the Squadron Commander needed to fight his tanks while being responsible for all the heavier maintenance on the Centurions.
In late 1968, a larger independent workshop, with increased scaling of repair parts and assemblies, ancillary trades and senior tradesmen, was added to the Task Force. This solved the Task Force's equipment availability problems as well allowing the heavier maintenance of the Centurions to be transferred to the independant workshop relieving the squadron of this responsibilty; the immediate repair and recovery response under the squadron's command being provided by a squadron section of 1 Armoured Regiment LAD.
Reprint from the DEME (Aust) Liaison Letter No 50 of August 1969
106 Fd Workshop, Type A and C Squadron Section, 1 Armoured Regiment LAD were raised at Nui Dat, South Vietnam on 1 Nov 68. Also on this day, 1 Armoured Sqn Workshop was disbanded. As a result of this reorganization, 106 Fd Wksp became responsible for the field repair of Centurion tanks, and C Sqn Sect, 1 Armd Regt LAD became responsible for their unit repair.
This article describes the principles used by the LAD section to carry out its role, and also expresses some observations of the authors related to RAEME support of tanks
LAD Work Area at Nui Dat, Nov 1968
Photo by Alf Lee
LAD Work Area at Nui Dat, Dec 1968
Photo by Alf Lee
B Vehicle Servicing Pit at Nui Dat; Constructed by LAD personnel
Photo by Lou Achammer
LAD Work Area at Nui Dat, Jan 1969
Photo by Alf Lee
LAD Work Area and Offices at Nui Dat, Mar 1969
Photo by Alf Lee
LAD Forward HQ digs in at Fire Support Base Lion, Nov 1968
Photo by Alf Lee
LAD Forward HQ & B2 Stores, Fire Support Base Julia, Feb 1969
Photo by Alf Lee
LAD Forward HQ, Fire Support Base Kerry, Feb 1969
Photo by Alf Lee
B2 Spares store Fire Support Base Kerry, Feb 1969
Photo by Alf Lee
B2 Stores Connex with Centurion Clutch arrives Fire Support Base Lion, Nov 1968
Photo by Alf Lee
LAD in the field, Operation Track Duster, Oct 1968
Track Duster took place during the initial work-up of the LAD, and involved a full squadron deployment. The LAD support consisted of a Forward HQ and the four Forward Repair Teams (Fitter’s Vehicles and ARVs). The picture shows LAD FRT 38Charlie looking somewhat tired out and grabbing a brew and a bite to eat. While on the left, the Sgt Electrician from Fwd HQ, the late Allan Jago, works on a Centurion Gun Control Equipment component. The crew commander of 38Charlie, Sgt “Ollie” Jensen at the right, was “loaned back” to the LAD from the Armd Sqn Wksp pending RTA at the end of October. This was also the case with many of the ex-Armd Sqn Wksp Fwd Repair Team personnel who, at this stage, were pending RTA in late Oct/ Nov 1968. These personnel, with the same vehicles they had used in the ASW, were either posted to the LAD, or loaned back pending RTA. This made the RAEME first line support provided to the Armd Sqn almost “seamless” during this transition period. It also allowed the main element of the ASW to devote its attention to the handover to 106 Fd Wksp, and the conversion of the static workshop facilities at Nui Dat to suit the new field workshop’s requirements. The official stand down of 1 Armd Sqn Wksp was on 1 Nov 1968 when C Sqn LAD Section and 106 Fd Wksp became operational.
Photo by Alf Lee
Tank Operations in South Vietnam
The tank squadron in South Vietnam consists of four troops of four tanks each, two sqn headquarters tanks, two Centurion bridgelayers and two Centurion dozer tanks. The sqn also has M113A1 series vehicles that are used as Armoured Command Vehicles (ACVs) and administrative vehicles.
The four tank troops are deployed in all combinations ranging from four troop, squadron operations, to independent, single troop operations. Wide dispersal of individual groups is common, distances separating troops, sqn headquarters or 1 ATF base can vary from a few miles to any distance up to seventy or eighty miles.
Individual operations can vary from one day to several months. During this time tank troops may be changed over for rest and refurbishment at 1 ATF base or, as has happened, may be deployed forward of 1 ATF base for two to three months.
The tanks may use a fire support base (FSPB) or other secure area as a firm base and probe from this on either a daily, or longer, basis. Alternatively, they may be used in an independent role, moving from leaguer to leaguer each day with infantry elements.
From the foregoing it can be seen that the sub-grouping and deployment of the tank squadron is completely flexible and diversified. The LAD support provided must be organized to be compatible with these characteristics.
LAD Tactical Considerations
RAEME first line recovery and repair support must be provided continually to the tank troops engaged in operations. Normally it is not possible to take recovery or repair elements forward to answer calls for assistance. This is because of the following factors:
- The insecurity of the routes between 1 ATF base and the areas where the tanks are operating.
- The mobile nature of most operations. The tank troops are moving continually, therefore their LAD support must move with them.
- The nature of the terrain and enemy threat. Recovery facilities must be available when likelihood of bogging is present or when immobilization because of a casualty is likely to invite enemy offensive action.
- The time and space problem created by operations taking place at long distances from the firm base.
- The requirement at times to deny the enemy and civilian population knowledge of the tank locations.
The LAD Section in Vietnam consists of one officer and thirty five other ranks. Vehicles include two Centurion ARVs and two M113A1 Fitter’s vehicles. A permanent LAD installation with B1 and B2 stores and static facilities for A and B vehicle repair is situated within the squadron area at Nui Dat.
Forward Repair Teams (FRTs) are provided as required to accompany the tanks on operations. The vehicles and personnel comprising these are governed by the number and types of squadron groupings deployed, distances and topographical factors, and other support available (e.g.) whether or not a forward Task Force Maintenance Area (TFMA) is to be established.
A forward holding of B2 stores is maintained in addition to the normal holding of repair parts. The forward scaling is held in binbacks and is accounted for with a separate Westleaf filing system and Issue and Disposal Register. The forward holding is replenished by either transferring stock from the rear holding or, when a forward TFMA is operating, by indenting directly on RAAOC.
The forward holding of B2 stores is maintained by one of the sgt vehicle mechanics normally situated in a FSPB. When a forward TFMA is deployed this member demands, receipts and returns stores without reference to LAD rear. A supply of expense items and certain essential spares are carried on each of the FRT vehicles. These are replenished from either forward or rear B2 stock.
It is desirable that each FRT consists of an ARV and Fitter’s vehicle. However, because of the normally wide dispersion of the squadron this is usually not possible. ARVs are therefore crewed to provide both recovery and repair support. The Fitter’s vehicles can provide only repair support. Determination of which vehicle type will accompany a particular group is based on a joint RAAC/RAEME appreciation considering such factors as the nature and location of the operation and the technical state of the tanks to be supported.
LAD Operating Procedure
The LAD section carries out all repairs to the Centurion Tanks with the exceptions of main engine changes, suspension stations changes and major repairs to turret equipment. All unit repairs can be carried out forward of 1 ATF base and this is the normal procedure.
FRTs accompany each element of the squadron and carry out repairs in-situ if possible. Parts may be flown in or, if the situation does not permit this, the casualty is towed back to a firm base for repair. At times it may be necessary to bring additional tradesmen forward from Nui Dat to carry out specific tasks (e.g.) the LAD Radio Mechanic is usually located at Nui Dat, but he spends a considerable time moving between various tank locations to rectify radio and intercommunication system faults.
A crew commander and driver are permanently allocated to each FRT vehicle. Crews are kept as small as possible, but normally consist of the following:
- Sgt Recovery Mechanic,
- Cfn Recovery Mechanic,Cfn Electrician, Cfn Vehicle Mechanic
- Fitter’s Vehicle
- Sgt/Cpl Vehicle Mechanic
- Cfn Vehicle Mechanics x (2), Cfn Electrician
FRT vehicle crews are kept to a minimum, not only because of manpower shortages, but because extraneous personnel invariably have to ride on these vehicles (e.g. Engineer mine detection team, Infantry Battalion Medical Officer, Public Relations Officer). This has to always be considered when planning vehicle crews. Overcrowding will jeopardize crew safety and technical efficiency.
The size of the LAD forward headquarters element is determined by the nature of the operation. A full Squadron operation requires a forward HQ element of approximately six personnel led by the LAD OC or ASM. Support for two troop operations normally consists of the Sgt Vehicle Mechanic with forward B2 scaling and one or two vehicle mechanics. The commander of LAD forward co-ordinates all work within the FSPB and arranges repair parts replenishment. He also rearranges FRT crews when necessary to permit repairs to be carried out on casualties remaining in the FSPB.
Repair and servicing of squadron B vehicles is carried out at LAD rear in Nui Dat.
Each Centurion equipment is allocated a job number at the beginning of each month and an AAF F401, Work Sheet, bearing this number is placed in the vehicle Log Book. All work carried out on each vehicle is recorded on this work sheet by the tradesman performing the task. At the End of each month the work sheets are collected and transcribed to the AB 538, Workshop Journal. All B vehicle and other miscellaneous work carried out during the month is entered progressively in the AB 538 as normal.
B1 and B2 stores accounts are operated in accordance with current EMEI’s. When a forward TFMA is operating the forward B2 account is allocated blocks of indent and voucher numbers from the LAD registers. The forward HQ element operates its own AAF F114, AF G1033 and AF G54 registers for returned parts. When there is no forward TFMA all parts for RSG must be returned to LAD rear for action.
Field repairs to the tanks are carried out by 106 Fd Wksp, Type A. The workshop provides two types of FRTs to carry out repairs to tank casualties in the field. These are:
- A Vehicle Team to perform Centurion main engine changes.
- A GE Team to change mine or rocket damaged suspension stations in the field.
The workshop FRTs are kept on continual alert with all parts and equipment selected and ready for loading immediately a request for a FRT is received. Movement to the casualty is normally in road convoy, however workshops FRTs have moved by helicopter when road movement was not possible.
The FRT system for field repair as operated very satisfactorily under all conditions. Much of the success can be attributed to close liaison between the Armoured squadron and the Field Worksop. The system that has developed is based on a thorough understanding by each unit of the others capabilities, requirements and commitments.
Engine change techniques have been developed to the stage where a team of four tradesmen can complete the job in approximately twelve hours. The tank is prepared as much as possible by the crew and LAD tradesmen before the arrival of the workshop FRT. On one occasion four main engine changes were carried out in a FSPB in a week by the same team.
The foregoing gives an outline of the way in which RAEME first line support is provided for Centurions in Vietnam. During the course of service with the tank squadron several observations about our system occurred to the writer. Some of these observations are included below both as points of interest and, perhaps, discussion stimulators.
- Armoured Recovery Vehicles.
- The Centurion ARVs are used continuously on operations with the squadron. On occasions they have taken part in the actual battle in both offensive and defensive roles. The RAAC rely on these vehicles to a great extent, and are reluctant to move any considerable distance from base without being accompanied by an ARV. The crew commander and driver of this vehicle must therefore be fully conversant with RAAC radio, driving and tactical procedures. From my observations I consider that the Centurion ARV, when used for first line recovery, should be a RAAC vehicle crewed by RAAC personnel trained in tank recovery. “First Aid” repair capability could be provided by a vehicle mechanic from the LAD included in the crew.
- There is too much “paper work” involved in repair parts accounting in the field. The LAD forward headquarters element has to live in a FSPB under the same conditions as the infantry, these conditions are not conducive to the production of neat or voluminous paper work. I feel that the quantity of forms could be reduced if a complete review of existing documents was made. For example, the AAF G54, AF G1033 and AAF F114 for returned parts could all be combined on the one form. Perhaps a tag attached to the repair part.
- B2 Stores
- The problem of supplying B2 stores to FRTs at up to four different locations creates a major stores accounting and handling problem. This is accentuated in Vietnam by a shortage of storemen in the LAD and could be overcome to some extent if more storemen were available. However, I feel that the problem is deeper than this alone, and a much more satisfactory parts service would be achieved if LADs with a large repair parts supply and return commitment were provided with attached RAAOC personnel to conduct the B2 Account.
- B Vehicle Repairs
- B vehicle repairs are often overlooked when Armoured LADs are discussed. However, the almost continual commitment of the tanks makes it necessary for the squadron B vehicles to also work continuously. The unit repair and servicing of these vehicles creates a continuous workload that should not be overlooked by anyone involved in planning associated with LAD support for tanks.
- LAD Vehicles
- On many occasions it is not possible to accompany tanks with B vehicles. Because of this LAD personnel, stores and equipment must be flown into the FSPB or come forward at a later date when B vehicle routes have been established. Once in the FSPB the LAD B vehicles and stores may not be able to be taken out at same time as the tanks. This restriction on the LAD mobility is often of some concern when planning operations. Because of this, each LAD element required to move forward should be provided with tracked armoured vehicles capable of carrying all stores and personnel necessary to support each squadron grouping. The current Armd Regt LAD establishment would not permit this if support had to be provided to three independent squadrons operating simultaneously.
- Armd Regt LAD Establishment
- The current Tropical Warfare division concept for the AMF suggests that tank squadrons from the armoured regiment will be allocated on the basis of one per division. In close country this squadron would most likely be divided into sub-squadron groups and allocated to the infantry elements of a particular task force. The current Armd Regt LAD establishment could not support three squadrons operating in this role. I consider that the Armd Regt LAD establishment should be rewritten to provide three squadron sections capable of operating completely independently from personnel, stores, repair and recovery aspects. These sections should be provided with the personnel and vehicles necessary to permit sub-division to cater for probable support of sub-squadron groupings.
This article was written to give Corps members an idea of the methods used to support the tank squadron in South Vietnam. At the time of writing the LAD section was in little more than the embryo stage of development. No doubt operating procedures will be varied as time passes. Therefore members warned for posting to this unit should not expect it to be exactly as described above. This also applies to the observations made in preceding paragraphs. At the time of writing these appeared to be significant and worthy of inclusion. However, variations to either the situation in Vietnam or AMF doctrine and equipment may cause all to become insignificant. Nevertheless, any discussion provoked because of them at this stage will at least help to broaden our knowledge and prepare us for a RAEME task that, because of the excellent performance of the tanks in Vietnam, has been revitalized and will no doubt be with us for a long time.
End of Reprint
Ed Sullivan takes over, 23 April 1969
Photo by Alf Lee
The above reprint from DEME (Aust) Liaison Letter No 50 of August 1969 was written some 42 years ago. It is contributed here for historical purposed only. The article gives some idea of the RAEME Repair Policy and organizational arrangements provided for technical support of the Ist Armoured Regiment RAAC Centurion Tank Squadron during operations in South Vietnam. The LAD Section commenced operating as an entity on the 1st November, 1968, and then until the tanks were withdrawn in September, 1971. There were four LAD Sections, C, B, A, and C (again) until disbandment. In total, around 142 RAEME, and 4 AACC personnel served overseas in the LAD Sections.
For the benefit of readers of younger vintage than those that were familiar with the RAEME workshop and accounting procedures of historical periods dating back over four decades, I would like to apologise for all the references to Army forms and documents in the article. However, this was our language at the time, and was understood by readers of the Liaison Letter in that past era. As an aside, even today, when I look at a clock and it is 10:45, I immediately think of the Workshop Repair Requisition AFG 1045. Also, as the reprint of the article is for historical edification, I think that it should be recorded that during the Vietnam era we had no computers, mobile telephones, photo copiers, fax machines, electric type writers, or electronic calculators. There was no telephone communication available for sub-units beyond the Vietnam theatre.
For historical purposes also, I have attached a list of the original members of C Squadron Section 1st Armoured Regiment Light Aid Detachment who were on posted strength from 1st November, 1968 or earlier. All except one or two of these personnel were transferred to the LAD Section from 1st Armoured Squadron Workshop upon its disbandenment on the 1st November, 1968.
I would like to acknowledge the help, guidance and effort contributed by Col(RL) John Sinclair in preparing this article for publication as a web page
Arte Et Marte
Alf (Ajj) Lee
28 July, 2011