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Unit Operational Matters

Preliminaries

As 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) settled into sustained operations in 1967/68, the availability of fighting equipment in battleworthy condition became a matter of concern.

Although reasonably adequate RAEME resources had made available to the Task Force, repair response times and repair standards were not being achieved

It was decided to reform the distribution of RAEME resources and add a field workshop to the Order of Battle of the Task Force.

Manpower and equipment, with some supplementation from Australia, was sourced from the field repair and recovery capacity of 1st Armoured Squadron Workshop(a sub-unit of the Armoured Squadron), 102 Field Workshop which was a heavy field workshop under command of 1st Australian Logistic Group (1ALSG) (located at Vung Tau) and from some reduction in the size of the LADs and EME detachments of some Task Force units, especially that integral to the Cavalry Squadron

The Unit took over the compound and facilities of the 1 Armd Sqn Wksp at the Task Force Operational Base, Nui Dat, on the perimeter, beside the Armoured Squadron. The additional facilities needed were built during 1969.

Major Norman Hicks-Hall, RAEME, was posted from 301 Fd Wksp, Bulimba, Australia, with his Adjutant and Quarter Master to raise the Unit.

Capt Brian Coulter, the OC 1 Armd Sqn Wksp, and his team, acted as an in-place Advance Party handling the preparations for the raising or 106 Field Workshop ahead of the rest Command and Control Group.

The Unit was formally raised, at Nui Dat, on 1st November 1968

Contents

 

Mission

The Mission of 106 Field Workshop RAEME while deployed on active duty with 1st Australian Task Force in the Republic of South Vietnam was

  1. to provide 2nd line EME services, recovery and repair support at the Task Force Base and throughout the Area of Operations with Forward Repair and Recovery detachments as ordered

In addition the Unit was

  1. to provide all in-theatre support for Armoured, Cavalry and Artillery equipment including

    • Through its Ordnance Stores Section, the supply of repair parts and assemblies to other Tech Support elements
    • Technical assistance to 2nd Advance Ordnance Depot, 1st Australian Logistic Group, Vung Tau in relation to inspection, preparation for issue, maintenance and, preparation for evacuation ex-theatre
  2. to take its place as a Combat Service Unit

    • being prepared to fight for its own protection
    • being prepared to hold ground to secure its own equipment and supplies and equipment and material undergoing repair
    • contributing to Task Force perimeter defence under command and control of Sector Command [the Armoured Squadron]
    • contributing standing, listening and fighting patrols to the 1ATF patrolling program under command and control of a designated Battalion (during 1970/71 this was 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn who were replaced by 4RAR in May of 71)
 

Command and Control

The Unit was under Command and Control of HQ 1ATF and as delegated

  • The Armoured Squadron for Base Sector perimeter defence
  • A designated battalion for AO patrolling

Technical Control was exercised from Force Headquarters by the ADEME and DEME, MGO Branch, Melbourne

 

Organisation and Operation

 

The organisation of the Unit depended on whether it was in its Engineering or in its Defence mode.

Unit Compound

The overall organisation, in both modes, is illustrated by the layout of the workshop compound

The photo was taken at Nui Dat in the Dry Season of 1971 and shows the fully developed site. It is contained in the Album for 1971.

 

Engineering Mode

In its repair and recovery function, the Unit was organised as

  1. Headquarters Pl

    • Command
    • Workshop Office
    • Unit Office and Orderly Room
    • Quartermaster
    • Recovery Section
    • Transport Section
    • Medic
    • General Duties Section
  2. Ordnance Stores Section
  3. 1 Platoon (Vehicles)

    • Platoon Headquarters
    • A Vehicle Section consisting of two APC repair teams and one Tank repair team, with reserves
    • B and C Vehicle Section
    • Service Station Section
    • Electrical Section (incl Control Electricians)
  4. 2 Platoon (General Engineering)

    • Platoon Headquarters
    • Fitting and Machine Shop Section
    • Welding and Sheet Metal Section
    • Gunnery and Turret Repair Section
    • Telecommunications Repair Section
    • Instrument Repair Section
  5. Forward Repair and Recovery detachments as required

Weighting

The Unit was heavy in repair and recovery capacity for Tanks and APCs and their ancillary equipments, especially tels.

This applied not only to the Vehicle Platoon and Recovery Section, but weighed heavily in the capacities and trade skills in the General Engineering Platoon.

For example, the Welding Section was quite heavily staffed. This was because of an urgent program, early in the deployment, to upgrade the sponson and belly armour of the Cavalry Squadron's vehicles to counter mine damage and crew deaths and injuries (especially drivers).

Although subsequently this upgrading was provided by the Base Repair organisation in Australia, the Welders continued to be heavily loaded with mine damage to A vehicles and as well, a modification to cut out the integral fuel tanks of the APCs and install modular steel tanks.

Forward Repair and Recovery

The provision of Forward Repair and Recovery took many forms but in most cases was related to Battalion Group, Cavalry and Armour deployments.

The Repair and Recovery detachments were planned by the Workshop Manager/ASM but were deployed by the Adjutant who was responsible for coordinating the transfer of Operational Command and the marrying up with that Commands A Echelon. Technical control was retained by the Workshop Manager/ASM

The technical operation of the Unit changed throughout the tour of duty. The operational environment encountered by 1ATF in 1968 was significantly different from that faced in 1970/71. This was reflected in the types of support and priorities required from the Unit. In 1968, much of the work related to close support. In 1970/71, lessened intensity of operations as 1ATF exerted dominance over its AO, ameliorated that type of demand but, due to the theatre equipment inventory ageing, increased the EME technical support and planning function so that supported Units could reach the battle fitness rates required. (Some of the equipment arrived in theatre when the original Battalion Group deployed to Tan Son Nuit in 1966)

The fact is, as has been demonstrated in earlier campaigns, the operation of RAEME Units is closely bound to the operational environments and demands of the Formations that are supported. It is not so much the repairing of what is delivered to a workshop, as it is the marrying of optimised repair and recovery resources to forward operational needs, current equipment battleworthy status and equipment replacement demands and availability. After all this is why the EME Service was formed during World War 2. In the British Army, not only was there serious equipment availability problems in the various theatres but, due to the inefficient deployment of tradesmen in the Services, the demand for even more tradesmen was placing a drain on the British War effort. This prompted a Government enquiry under Sir William Beveridge (1876-1963). The endorsed report (The Beveridge Report (1941-42) Parts 1 and 2) established the EME Service and defined its essential structure and modus operandi.

 

Defence Mode

While offensive combat is not a function for RAEME units, the equipment resources available to a Field Workshop means that they should be able to defend their perimeter as part of a Defence Sector. This capacity is enhanced by the training and experience that individual Officers and Men have gained by serving in Arms units and in the operation and firing of weaponry during repair and proving. In any circumstance it is their duty to defend themselves and prevent the loss of equipment and supplies including those under repair or recovery

The defence organisation will vary with circumstance, Perimeter Sector planning and orders, and the OC's assessment. The organisation for the defence of the workshop compound described here was that used in 1970/71 but it would have certain common elements. The structure was

  1. Command Post
  2. Three Platoon Sectors

    • 1 (Veh) Pl (with a Strong Point) right forward
    • 2(GE) Pl (with a Strong Point) left forward
    • HQ Platoon, (commanded by the OC,Ord Stores Section) in depth.
  3. A Mobile Reserve

    • commanded by the Workshop Manager with the ASM, with,
    • the Fitters track and 10 men from 1 Pl, and the Recovery Section with heavy machine guns mounted
    • located in the general area of the Casualty Park
  4. Protection Sections

    • commanded by the Workshop Manager
    • armed with light weapons, a ten man section was sited in pits in each of these locations

      • at the rear of the Vehicle repair facilities
      • at the rear of General Engineering area
      • beside the Stores Section
      • in the area of the Tpt Lines
    • the purpose of these deployments was to

      • detect and intercept infiltrators
      • prevent booby trapping
      • prevent pilfering
      • in case of hits provide early damage assessment and containment, such as for fire
  5. Ready Reaction Fire Team
    • Under command of the Workshop Manager
    • Established by the Quartermaster and controlled by the Transport Sergeant
 

Personnel Matters

Reliefs and Reinforcements

Approximately 60% of personel were sourced from a two year National Service Conscription Scheme based on random dates of eighteenth birthday

Throughout the deployment, the Unit stayed in place and personnel rotated through it. Reliefs were on individual drafts and were drawn from various Units and training organisations in Australia and from overseas postings and from the Reserve.

Personnel, including Officers and Artificers, were selected, rostered for training, and scheduled for deployment by the Corps Directorate in Melbourne

National Servicemen, after common military training in one of a number of Training Battalions, were given technical and corps training at the RAEME Training Center, Bandiana and selected personnel were posted to 106 Field Workshop in SVN

Everybody was required to complete a strenuous battle efficiency course at the Jungle Training Center, Canungra before emplaning for Tan Son Nuit Airport, Saigon

The changeover arrangements were that those being repatriated at the end of their tour, departed the Unit in the morning and returned to Australia on the same plane as their relief arrived. The Reliefs arrived at the Unit in late afternoon; Officers, including the Officer Commanding, and senior artificers, having been briefed by their incoming number and having signed the appropriate transfer instruments at Tan Son Nuit Airport.

The scheduling of reliefs was structured to retain Unit stability during changeovers while command and control arrangements were adjusted. Broadly the schedule, spread over some months was

  • Adjutant
  • Officer Commanding
  • Workshop Manager / 2IC
  • Stores Section Commander
  • Artificer Sergeant Major and Company Sergeant Major
  • Platoon Commanders
  • Platoon 2 i/cs
  • Quartermaster
  • Quartermaster Sergeant

Rank Structure

Because of the technical nature of the Unit and its mission, the posted rank structure and qualifications were heavy. The Officer Commanding, Workshop Manager and Platoon Commanders were professional officers and qualified engineers. Many of the technical sections, which in a normal unit of this size might be lead by sergeants, were headed and needed to be headed by experienced Warrant Officer Artificers.

Induction

This method of Relief, required particular arrangements for the induction of personnel into the Unit.

  • It began with the allocation and registration of tent/bed and fire pit positions. This register, kept with the Unit Roll, the Leave Roll, and the Deployment lists, was held in the Unit safe to cover casualty identification.
  • Weapons and ammunition were issued together with bedding and some additional clothing needed for the working conditions
  • A series of briefings including theatre specific matters such as command and control arrangements, security, stand to, deployments and personal movement restrictions, defence and patrolling, medical, pay, messing and rest and recreation
  • A "buddy" system was used to ease individuals into the Unit and its routine
  • Each man had an in-depth debriefing on his personal circumstances, including family, financial, religious and political (see later) and help devised to ameliorate problems that might affect his tour
  • All reinforcements had supplementary training under CSM, so that no man went outside the wire until he showed competency in map reading and in the use and maintenance of his personal weapon.
 

Unit Routine

Because of the demands placed on the Unit, and the need to turn-round equipment quickly, the Unit did not have a daily routine. Some section or other of the workshop would be working through most nights. Messing arrangements were flexible, without particular mess times; catering was provided on a 24 hour basis. The same applied to the Stores Section and Q. There was however a general weekly routine.

  • The Command Post was manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Strong Point, eight eight bravo, was manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • The Unit was on full working roster Monday through Saturday.
  • On Sundays, except for those on work, patrolling or security duty, the morning was rostered for a Unit parade and orders, briefings on current and planned Task Force Operations, weapon and ammunition inspections and general make and mend; the afternoon set aside for sport and general recreation.
 

Communications

A switch board (on the Task Force telephone network) was located in the Command Post with lines to key offices.

The Unit was on the Sector Defence line and wireless net with stations at the Command Post, both Strong Points, in the Adjutant's Office

A Unit wireless net had stations at the Command Post, Adjutant's Office, Workshop Manager's Office, Stores Section, Platoon Headquarters and , the fitters track, recovery vehicles, forward repair detachments.

The Unit had a station, located in the Command Post, on the AO Sector Patrol net

Line connected the various Workshop Sections and defence locations through a switch board in the Command Post

 

Facilities, Accommodation and Equipment

The workshop facilities were mostly purpose built with concrete hardstandings, reinforced for the repair of centurion tanks, and with a highlift bay, the buildings being open sided of steel frame and corrugated steel cladding construction. Buildings for tels/inst (which was airconditioned), storehouses and offices were prefabricated modular wooden buildings.

Messing and kitchens were housed in prefabicated wooden buildings. One such building had been modified by the Unit to be open sided and was used for the Borlace Club

Accommodation was in flyed tents with sandbag half walls and duck board flooring. Furnishings consisted of steel frame beds, steel lockers and soldiers trunks. Two ablution blocks were built, a large one for the men and a smaller one split between the Officers and Sergeants. An unlimited supply of hot water (essential) was provided by diesel hotplate boilers. Thunder boxes and deep pits supplied sewage needs. The laundry was small and was located beside the mens ablution block. The laundry, due to the working conditions heavily soiled and of heavy volume, was handled by local Vietnamese contractors. Clothing, subjected to harsh cleansing to remove heavy oil and grease soilage, had a very limited life

240volt electricity was reticulated throughout from the Task Force system. 415volt 3 phase electricity was supplied by the Units own generators. Water was supplied by piping from variously located stand tanks that were filled every day by Unit Tanker which drew on the Task Force Water Point. Liquid waste was piped to large underground soak pits maintained by the Unit.

The workshop had a full complement of truck mounted machinery loadings. Of these only the Lathe loading, and the Tels, Instruments and Control Electricians were in everyday use. The remainder were brigaded under control of the Quartermaster and held in purpose built shelters. The standing workshop was separately equipped with the transit cases held by the Quartermaster. This arrangement enabled the Unit to deploy any composition of forward repair detachment at short notice and fully equipped while the standing workshop remained functional

 

Environment

Weather

The climate was hot to warm throughout the year with only a wet and a dry season. During the dry season, dust, swirling winds and ultraviolet radiation were the main influences. During the wet season very high humidity, mould and clogging red mud were prevalent.

Political

Throughout the world, views on the rightness or wrongness of the prosecution of the Vietnamese War were having a divisive impact on the foreign and domestic environment. In Australia the main Opposition Party was against the war and had a policy to disengage and withdraw the Australian Forces; this had significant support in the Australian community. The Anti War Protest Movement was strong and active; including, in some sections of that Movement, attacks on the ethics of the Defence Forces and the morale of individual soldiers. This was impacting on the Australian community's perception of the the Defence Forces

At the Unit level, the attitudes of both regular and conscripted soldiers covered the whole gambit of opinion. Any attempt to convert everyone to the official view, whether it be right or wrong, was absolutely counter-productive to Unit cohesion. The situation had to be accommodated by open and regular discussion both with and between individuals and groups. The key to resolving this difficulty was the fact that young Australian men were, on the whole, self-disciplined and embued with a heightened sense of mateship and fair go. Provided everybody respected others views, they were prepared and did set aside their own feelings for the good of their comrades and those they supported while they were in theatre

On becoming soldiers we have not ceased to be citizens
Oliver Cromwell