No. 9 Squadron - RAAF in Vietnam

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UPDATED: 28 Dec 04

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No. 9

Squadron 

Royal Australian 

Air Force

 


9 SQUADRON RAAF

 

This RAAF squadron derived originally from 101 (Fleet Co-operation) Flight which was embarked for part of its time on HMAS Albatross, thus explaining the Albatross head and Naval Crown in the badge.  In 1939 it became 9 Squadron with aircraft aboard RAN cruisers.  The unit disbanded in late 1944 after the cruisers had their aircraft and catapults removed.

Reformed in June 1962, the squadron was to be a search and rescue unit equipped with Bell UH-1Bs which were on order.  Experimental Army support tasks quickly supplanted the SAR role due to their success.

In this role the unit deployed to Vung Tau, becoming operational with eight helos on 13 June 1966 .  9 Squadron delivered ammunition and food to Australian troops in the field, carried out troop insertions and extractions and later entered the Dust-Off area.  They were also involved with psy-war operations, dropping leaflets produced and provided by the US Army’s Psychological and Passive Warfare Department and even aerial spraying against malarial mosquitoes around the Australian bases of Vung Tau and Nui Dat.

Almost immediately after arrival, 9 Squadron helos were working closely with the Australian Special Air Service who maintained long range patrols.  On 10 July 1966 two aircraft performed a hot extraction of a six-man SAS patrol.  This process continued, the official history stating;

            Time and again SAS patrols were plucked out of dangerous situations where their members were still closely pursued by aggressive enemy forces.

As with SAS co-operation, 9 Squadron became involved in casevac (dustoff) soon after arriving in Vietnam .  On 25 July 1966 five Iroquois flew out twenty members of No.6 Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) who had been killed or wounded during Operation Hobart nort-east of Long Tan.  USAF F-100s carried out air strikes on enemy positions only 100 metres from the landing area while the helos came in one at a time.

The first operational loss occurred on 18 October when a Huey collided with trees and caught fire while landing in an extremely small landing zone on Nui Thi Vai.  As the Australian military commitment to Vietnam grew, so did 9 Squadron, by late 1967 having an establishment of 16 helicopters and these quickly became the later and more capable UH-1D and –1H models.  By doubling the aircraft numbers and utilizing the UH-1H (sixteen of which were delivered direct to 9 Squadron in Vietnam ) the squadron’s lift capacity had been quadrupled.

An example of the extreme situations crew found themselves in was on 21 August 1969 during an evacuation of wounded 5RAR personnel.  During the hover to winch up the casualties the helo came under sustained small arms and RPG attack.  Both crewman were hit by bullets by saved from injury by their body armour, though a casualty was twice further wounded.  Subsequently the aircraft was found to be holed in eleven places, including one round which had passed between the pilot’s feet and smashed through the instrument panel and another which had holed the fuel tank.  [Note:  See additional information from one of the crewmembers below - webmaster]  

Another aircraft was lured into an ambush in March 1971 by a decoy smoke marker and a crewman was killed.

In April 1971 a SVN government patrol with Australian advisers was caught in a minefield and a 9 Squadron helo which was brought in to winch out the wounded came under sustained machine gun fire.  The engine stopped and A2-767 crashed and burst into flames, killing the advisers and the wounded Vietnamese being rescued.  An Australian medical orderly aboard was trapped in the wreck and burned to death, but the remainder of the crew, wounded, burned, injured and shocked escaped to be rescued at dusk by another 9 Squadron helicopter.

To provide fire support to Australian ground forces, the unit’s ground staff converted a B model into a gun-ship, official approval coming later, with two seven-rocket FFAR pods and four M60 machine guns all mounted to fire forward, in addition to twin-mounted M60s at the side doors.  This gunship was dubbed “Ned Kelly” and proved the concept.

Later “Bushranger” UH-1H gunships were officially converted with a pair of GAU-2B/A mini-guns (M134) and nineteen-tube rocket pods; these latter items were designed to be disposable ordnance and found unsuitable for repeated re-use, so the smaller M158 tube was re-introduced.  While government & RAAF management back in Australia wrestled with the problem of finance and how and where to obtain the necessary XM-21 kits (as used on the US UH-1C), 9 Squadron took the matter into their own hands, obtaining three such for the conversion by bartering beer and slouch hats with their US Army counterparts.   Initially the mini-guns were mounted on the rear pylons, but this proved to have insurmountable problems so they were moved to the forward pylons, a set-up unique to the Australian aircraft.

The first aircraft to be converted was A2-773 [see photographs], operational in December 1968, though for various reasons a light fire team (LFT) of a pair of RAAF gunships was not used operationally until April 1969.  Immediately LFTs and HFTs were in constant use and under fire, A2-772 being forced to land after small arms fire damage drained the transmission oil.

In June 1970, A2-382 was forced to ditch after small arms fire damage and the aircraft was written off.  Its replacement was A2-110 [see photo].  This aircraft was subsequently involved in an unusual “un-airworthy” incident when it was discovered that a 1.6-metre-long snake had taken up residence, requiring considerable dismantling of the aircraft before the reptile could be removed.  In March 1971 the co-pilot of A2-383 was killed by one of some twenty hits the aircraft suffered in an action north of Xuyen Moc.

9 Squadron’s last missions were flown on 19 November 1971 and on 8 December the majority of the squadron’s aircraft were embarked on HMAS Sydney and shipped back to Australia .

During five and a half years in Vietnam , the unit’s helicopters had flown over 237,000 sorties during which they had carried over 414,000 passengers, 4000 casevacs and nearly 12,000 tonnes of freigh. …the squadron had suffered seven aircraft written off or destroyed and 37 damaged, 23 by ground fire; four members of the unit had been killed, along with two others while attached to the squadron, and many more had been injured. (from the official history)

       

Note:  Article by Bob Livingstone (Australia Vietnam Veteran)


21 August 1969 - Update from Crewmember

I would like to set the record straight re #9SQN RAAF Vietnam. In the 'history' part, the aircraft described on the 21st Aug 69, was holed some 19 times. The Door Gunner, John Kerins was medevaced back to Australia following his wounds. The pilot was Pilot Officer R.B.Treloar, Co-Pilot was Flight Lieutenant Ian(Jim) Satrapa, Crewman was LAC Tony Reynolds-Huntley, the door Gunner LAC John Kerins. The aircraft Tail# was A2-381.(subsequently destroyed in a crash)
How do I know? I was the crewman on that aircraft.
Respectfully,
Anthony M. Reynolds-Huntley
Gateshead Newcastle NSW
Australia.


   
   
   
   
   
   
   


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