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1968

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The Beginning From Another Point of View

41961 WO2 R.C. Thompson, Art Gun, 106 Field Workshop, 1968-1969

I had been in country from Apr 1968, posted as the Task Force Armourer, and, as such, was at Coral.

I was then seconded to 1AFV Saigon to Capt. Aj. Lee to start up the General Engineering Section of the Equipment Inspection Service; the Vehicle EIS was already a goer under WO Allan Cook. This meant that I visited every unit in Vietnam at least once.

In late September 1968 I was asked, told, that I would be going to a new unit to be formed in country, 106 Field Workshop. It was suggested to me that we would need to get people from other Units, as the new Unit was not going to be staffed from Australia.

I got a list of positions that would be required to filled from other Units and while doing the EIS role, asked and got the best people, for example, Phil Smith and Terry Dillon just to name two.

As you can imagine Unit Commanders didnít want to lose their best workers. When Maj. Max Tinkler, OC 102 Field Workshop, found out what I was up to, he threatened me with all kind of things. I put the names forward and fortunately we got them.

I visited Engineers and asked what they could give us in the way of sheds, to be told that we could only get the standard shed on hard standing. I got them to give us extra thickness in concrete and also asked them to have two sheds face each other and far enough apart so that we could get a 105How in between them, under the overhang.

I then started on parts and equipment we would require for the new General Engineering Platoon to service the Task Force as well as doing Field and Base repairs on Cent Tanks. All this was done with the complete cooperation of Brian Coulter and all his staff at 1 Armoured Squadron Workshop.

Planning

I was interested to read John Strachanís account of when he arrived at AFV Saigon when he said he, Norm Hicks-Hall, Bob Stewart and Jim Hislop went into their serious planning conference. I would love to know what the serious part of the conference entailed, when all the so-called serious planning was done prior to his arrival and done by those already in country.

The 1 Armd Sqn Wksp was built up to a Field Workshop and then we were all posted on strength at the same time to 106 Field Workshop. Brian Coulter played a big part as the rest of us did, because along with Coulter, we became 106.

Machinery Loadings

I again disagree with John Strachan when he says that we got our extra machinery loaders from 102 Field Workshop. The one we had, was already in situ, and belonged to 1 Armd Sqn Wksp. We took the machinery out of the truck and put them in our sheds.

Fitters Track for Forward Repair Teams

As for the M113 Fitters Track for GE forward repairs, we didnít get one till just before Christmas. I took out the first FRT and that was to a Centurion that had its left hand front suspension damaged by a Viet Cong mine. While the tank was being dragged into FSB Julia approximately 50 clicks from the Task Force Operational Base at Nui Dat. When the EME Fix came in to the Workshop Command Post, my group were tasked to respond

suspension replacement - FSB Julia Nov68 - Gen Abrams watches
From left:
Brig Sandy Pearson,Comd AFV
Gen Creighton Abrams, Comd MACV
Maj Allan Vickers and Lt Owens
Sgt Southers (on the back of truck)
I am kneeling working on the suspension station
Gen Abrams gave his name to the modern US battle tank. He spent his whole career, from 1936, in the cavalry or the tanks, apart from Field Commands. He died of cancer in 1974 when serving as Chief of Army Staff, the only occasion that an incumbent has died while holding that Office.

We didnít have a Fitterís APC and definitely no specially adapted armoured mobile repair unit. We did however have a 3-ton truck with soft tyres.

We loaded a new suspension, left hand front, complete with its spring. Because of the urgency we did a free run (without escort) up the 50 kms to Julia.

On arrival the tank crew had removed the track and we got straight to work.

I had previously invented a frame that the suspension sat in, that was also used in itís removal, this frame sat on a 20 ton jack and moved over a sheet of steel that we carried with us. This method meant that we didnít have to remove the guards and of course the ready bins. The complete job was done in less that 2 hours, the tank crew, whose job it has always been, replaced the track.

This operation was carried out just after 106 were formed and the OC was Hicks-Hall, Claude Palmer didnít arrive till late January 1969.

Bruce Cameron, RAAC, who is writing the official history of the Armoured Regiment in Vietnam says the battle damage occurred on 14 Jan 1969 when a Centurion, ARN 160066, callsign 34Bravo, commanded by Cpl `Shorty` Britten had its left front suspension taken out by approximately 15kg of chicom explosive. The tank was recovered to FSB Julia on the 15th where the FRT attended.

While we were removing the suspension I looked around to see the MACV Commander, General Abrams, and behind him, the Commander, AFV, Brig (later General), Sandy Pearson along with Maj Vickers and Lt Owens.

The Handover

As to the handover, we all thought there wouldnít be one, mainly because we all were now part of the new unit.

But, low and behold, Capt. Brian Coulter, one day marched those he could find, down the road from the lines, black headdress on, and he dismissed them, for the last time, on the road outside the Unit entrance. If he handed them over to anyone, we, who were in the Orderly Room, and didnít see it.

It certainly wasnít official.

Wrap up

I commanded No 2 (General Engineering) Platoon for some time, as Jim Hislop, (later Lt Col) was still carrying out his duties at AFV Saigon.

GE Platoon - Senior Ranks
Back Row:
Lt Jim Hislop, WO1 Phil Smith and Sgt Alf Keevers.
Front Row:
SSgt Terry Dillon, WO2 Bob Thompson and Sgt Joe Gibbons.

This photo was taken on 1 Dec 1968 outside the first WO's and Sgt's Mess on the RAEME Birthday. The PMC, W01 Phil Smith, was away that day. (Phil Smith was my mate and now deceased)

WOs and  Sgts outside mess - 1Dec68
Back Row:
Sgt Crawford, Sgt Dadson, Sgt Smith, WO Thompson, Sgt Blakeney, WO2 Dave Smith and WO Riley.
Front Row:
SSgt Lilley, WO2 Pearce, Sgt Halleron and WO Cook.
That is my recollection of the birth of 106 Field Workshop RAEME.
Regards
Bob Thompson

John Strachan, Quartermaster 1968/69 comments

My article was never intended to be divisive nor was it ever going to present every point of detail from all those years ago, as oneís recollections are never 100% accurate in fact.

Still, I would make these points:

  • Planning. Of course most of the pre-planning was done prior to Norm Hicks-Hall, Bob Stuart and my arrival in SVN. Personnel already in theatre (1 Armd Sqn Wksp personnel and EME staffs at 1TF and AFV and others) and EME directorate staff in Melbourne did ALL the pre-planning. This involved the makeup of the unit establishment, the sourcing of personnel, the equipment tables, timings, the ordering of the main accommodation gear etc. The role of 1 Armd Sqn Wksp in this process was acknowledged, albeit briefly in the article.

    That is not to say when we arrived in Saigon there was no detailed planning. The detailed planning referred to in my article was not about the myriad of detail of the pre-planning process that had already been completed but rather that deemed necessary by the general and EME staff before we actually arrived in Nui Dat. This involved briefing sessions over a three-day period. I was not privy to all the planning meetings that Norm Hicks-Hall attended, but they included such things as operational situation briefings, changeover timings and phasing, the theatre repair policy (1st, 2nd and 3rd line) and repair priorities, personnel briefings and the like.

  • Handover. Technically, CAPT Brian Coulter did not handover to MAJ Hicks-Hall, as one unit was disbanded and another unit was raised. The parade, where I took the only photos that I know of, was a fairly informal affair and was conducted on the direction of MAJ Hicks-Hall to mark the occasion of the changes of EME units on the Orbat.

    The Adjutant, CAPT Bob Stuart, briefed us that this parade was a parade to acknowledge both the job well done by 1 Armd Sqn Wksp and the changed orbat situation - regardless of what Brian Coulter may have done separately with the men of his 1 Armd Sqn Wksp command.

    It was not a handover parade between commanding officers although it has been generally perceived as such.

    Brian was never formally on the strength of 106 Fd Wksp as far as I am aware even if he stayed a while after the handover day - as the unit rolls will probably attest. Brian, and the 1 Armd Sqn Wksp men who were absorbed into the new 106, did a great job and the changeover subsequently went exceedingly well and this was acknowledged.

    Machinery Loadings and Equipment. We took over a lot, but not all, of the major equipment from 1 Armd Sqn Wksp. Bob is correct that it included his machinery loading. Regardless, the majority of the machinery loading vehicles we ended up with, plus an additional Tels truck, came from 102 Fd Wksp. The Q store had to sort out extra kit that came with these vehicles - kit in addition to the regular CESs. We did not fully sort it out in my time in the unit. Hicks-Hallís, and later Claude Palmerís, attitude was to make sure all the major kit was there and serviceable to get on with the job at hand. The nice bits were to be done if we had the time.

    The unit was not operating in a self-sufficient mode on the formal establishment date. Major equipments, including the 102 machinery loadings, recovery vehicles, tilt bed trailer, fitters tracks, tells and Inst test kit etc arrived in varying stages Ė this had all been pre-arranged with delivery dependent whether gear was in theatre or shipped from Australia. Most of the sundry gear, general accommodation stores, clothing, consumables etc were obtained in theatre in the period when we were still administered by C Sqn, 1 Armd Regt.

I think the thrust of my original article is correct. There may well be some minor literary embellishments or time disconnects based on my un-researched recollections. So be it.

John Strachan