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Tactical Airlift

Tactical Airlift

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Published by: akaflorence on Dec 30, 2012
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Tactical Airlift - Caribou Operations:The End of an Era 
GPCAPT R. J. ‘Chuck’ Connor 
Tis paper is an edited transcript of a seminar that was presented on behalf of the Air Power  Development Centre on Wednesday 27 June, 2012.
Good morning all. What I thought I’d do today is give a condensed version o the burst on Vietnamthat we gave to the Joint Sta College a week ago, and acondensed version o the Kashmir presentation whichwe also give out there, and then talk about some o theother Caribou operations o which very ew people areaware unless they’ve actually been involved in thoseactivities. I’ll try and cover as quickly as I can the spano the 45 years o Caribou operations.Following a request rom South Vietnamese andAmerican governments, Cabinet resolved on 29 May 1964 to send a ight o six Caribou aircrat to SouthVietnam in support o Vietnamese and American orcesghting against the Viet Cong. At this time the RAAFwas accepting the delivery o the De Havilland DHC-4Caribou aircrat and only three had arrived in Australiaso ar. Te next erry ight was to be terminated inButterworth, Malaysia, and a newly ormed RAAFransport Flight Vietnam (RFV) would deploy romthere to Vung au, which was on the coast south-easto Saigon. Vung au would be home or the Caribousor the next seven and a hal years.Te unit was ormed on 21 July 1964, and therst couple o weeks involved crew amiliarization intactical operations in Malaysia—mainly just the styleand conguration o the aircrat. Te second erry ight deployed to Vietnam with three aircrat on 8August, under the command o Squadron LeaderChris Sugden. A second batch o three aircrat errieddirectly rom Canada on 29 August, and a urther singleaircrat in May the ollowing year. Tat brought up thetotal complement to seven aircrat and that numberwas maintained or the duration o the deployment toVietnam. Ater a brie settling in period and country amiliarization, the rst operational missions wereown on 14 August. wo aircrat, one own by theCO and the other by Flight Lieutenant Lancaster, wentrom Vung au to an Son Nhut in Saigon, then ew on to Pleiku in the north and returned. Tese missionswere without incident.
Map o Vietnam.
 
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Te unit was initially billeted on the aireld atVung au, but the conditions there were consideredso poor, with noisy equipment operating 24 hours aday, an open sewage ditch running through the middleo camp, and the troops were being quartered inbuildings without walls. Te entire unit picked up andmoved into town, selecting a villa which they rented.As the unit grew in size, other villas were taken overor accommodation. Te initial villa that was used by 35 Squadron (at rst still known as RFV), was ‘VillaAnna’ and that became quite notorious, particularly with the rumours that came back to 38 Squadron atRichmond. Te villas were nothing special. Some o them were rat inested and some needed a air bito work to get up and running, but at least the unit’smembers had a roo over their heads, they had wallsaround, there was no open sewage ditch—and the unitwas together.At rst the unit was placed under the commando the senior US ocer in Vietnam and this wasdelegated to the 315th Air Commando Wing. Later,command arrangements changed, so that RFV cameunder the 834th Air Division o the US 7th Air Force.Even using the word ‘command’ here is a little bitconusing, because it was really operational control.We were tasked through the American Air ransporttasking agencies, but Australian ocers maintainedcommand o the unit in the true sense throughout itstime in Vietnam.Te call sign adopted was ‘Wallaby’, ollowed by a mission number. Tat led to the RFV being reerredto as “Wallaby Airlines” and it quickly establishedan excellent reputation. It had to develop tactics tominimize the danger rom small arms and groundre. Tere were quite serious dangers, particularly inthe northern regions up in I Corps (said as ‘Eye Core’)and the northern part o II Corps. Te tactics involvedtransiting at above 3500 eet wherever possible,and remaining at that height until very close to thedestination aireld. Only at that stage would the pilotinitiate a steep spiral descent and y a short, airly steep, nal approach to land. Te aim o the game was,o course, to avoid providing a no-deection shot tosomeone sitting on the ground who wanted to have ago at you.Te aircrat were also most vulnerable on theground, and so, quick ofoad tactics were developed tominimize spending time where we were exposed likethat. Many o the little airelds into which we operateddid not have any gear or loading and unloadingaeroplanes. I we were carrying ammunition, ood oruel, or anything else that was palletized, we had theoption o breaking the pallet down and unloading itor else speed ofoading it. Breaking the pallet downwould take considerable time on the ground, makingaircrat very vulnerable.Te ellows developed the technique where they would undo all the straps, put the ramp level, backthe aeroplane up at a reasonable pace (with the loadmaster calling the distance to go), then drop it out o reverse into orward thrust and put a bit o power on,and virtually drive the aeroplane out rom under thepallet. It sounds a bit tricky and a bit dangerous, butreally it was the saest way to do it. Te pallets stayedairly horizontal all the way to the ground and ellat. Te Americans didn’t adopt this, but used to justpush the pallet over the ramp. It invariably landed onan edge and rolled back, damaging the ramp. And i it didn’t damage the ramp, it damaged the load thatwas attached to the pallet, because it was not beingsupported by the honeycomb structures that wereunder the load.With uel drums it was a simple case o using asimilar technique, but with the ramp down at about45 degrees. With a bit o practice we could neatly stack 13 uel drums in a nice line right in the middleo the uel arm and save any ground handling as well.So these were the techniques that were developed,and they were maintained throughout the whole o the deployment. As a result o that, we suered very little damage compared to some o the other tacticaltransport units.Te operations soon settled into a airly routinebasis. wo aircrat operated rom Vung au into theDelta and Saigon area. One aircrat was deployed toNha rang in the lower hal o II Corps area, romwhere it ed the Central Highlands, and the otheraircrat deployed to Da Nang, in about the middle onthe coast o I Corps. Da Nang essentially serviced ICorps and the aircrat met all the requirements o theairelds in that area, and more in II Corps. In the early days some air delivery activities carried out by RFV were to areas that were possibly the most demandingand dangerous imaginable, especially up towards theDemilitarized Zone that separated North and SouthVietnam—places like Dong Ha, Khe Sanh, Quang riand the ancient capital o Hue. In II Corps we operatedinto all the airelds in the most contested area, romDak Pek, Dak Seang, Ben Het, Dak o, Kontum, Pleiku,Phu My, Phu Cat, etc.
 
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Te detachments at Nha rang and Da Nangoperated on a weekly basis, with a change over romMonday to Saturday. Later in the unit’s operationsthese northern detachments stopped and by 1969 allaircrat operated out o Vung au. Four aircrat weretasked Monday to Saturday inclusive, and one aircratwas tasked on Sunday. A standard week or the aircrew would be ve days o ying, one day o operationsocer, and one day o. Tat rotated, so that there werealways crews and aircrat available should a last minutetask develop. By 1969 the longest missions that we ew were into the Delta region. Tese would begin with a0630 take o and oten we wouldn’t get back to Vungau until ater dark, so they were long busy days.Te average sortie length in the Delta (once yougot there) could range anything rom ten minutes up toabout 30 minutes. Te transit time was typically aboutan hour to an hour 20, depending on where you wereoperating. One particular mission was always mostenjoyable as ar as we were concerned, and that was the05 Mission. Te reason or that was because we wouldleave Vung au or the Australian ask Force base atNui Dat and then head across to Saigon. From Saigon itwas back to Nui Dat, and then to a place called Ham anbeore proceeding up north to support the RAAF’s No2 Squadron, which was based at Phan Rang. Te aireldat Ham an was next door to an American re supportbase where they had 175mm howitzers. Te AmericanArmy Major who ran the re support base wouldmeet us with reshly brewed coee and reshly cookeddoughnuts when we took in his mail and passengerseach morning. It would have been churlish not to stopor morning tea, so o course we did.
 Wallaby Airlines Caribou preparing or take-o past 9 Squadron Iroquois, Nui Dat.
We then proceeded on urther north past CamRanh Bay and then across rom Nha rang to Dalat,another little aireld in between Dalat and Bao Loc,and then Bao Loc back to Saigon, back to Nui Dat andthen home to Vung au. In that trip o a morning andevening, rom Saigon to Nui Dat and vice versa, we werecarrying Australian Army personnel either leaving thecountry or arriving in. Every aternoon we’d also pickup a bunch o resh vegetables and things to take to thetask orce strip which was called Luscombe Field. Tatwas about the only support that we provided to theAustralian ask Force while we were there, as we weretactically and operationally part o the US 7th Air Forceand not part o the ask Force as were the choppers at9 Squadron.Early on in the peace, only two operations wereconducted in support o the Australian orces at NuiDat—Operation Kingston involving 5RAR, and thenshortly aterwards Operation Kings Cross. Very ew operations were done in support o our own Army. As Isaid, we did y the 03 Mission, which was the one thatwent twice a day rom Vung au to Nui Dat to Saigon,then back to Vung au. Tere was also the 07 mission,which went directly rom Vung au to Saigon and backat midday, lling in beore the 03 mission ew again inthe aternoon. Te 02 mission and the 01 mission wereown into the Delta and the 01 was a special that wasown i they needed some extra shuttling done.We carried everything rom uel to ammo,ice cream and vegetables, and people. A lot o thepeople we carried were, in act, Vietnamese, and asthe authorization or them to travel on the aircratwas approved at the local level, we really didn’t know whether or not any o those on board could have beenViet Cong—we just carried the passengers. Luckily, no-one we carried had suicidal tendencies, so we survived.Te unit kept going along this way until in June 1966its name was changed rom RAAF ransport FlightVietnam to 35 Squadron. Tat number in the RAAForiginally belonged to a transport squadron which ew C47s during the Second World War.At least twice in the history o RFV and 35Squadron, we were visited by USAF eciency expertswho wanted to observe our maintenance and operationalprocedures. Tis came about because although we wereying only 1.7 per cent o the tactical transport missions,while having only 1.4 per cent o the tactical transportaircrat, we were carrying something like 7 per cent o the total passengers and reight being lited by air withinSouth Vietnam. So we became o considerable interest,

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