- A.N. Other
- Naval Aviation, Post WWII
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
RANHFV 3RD Contingent – SBLT Andrew Perry, RAN
We took our first hit at about 150 metres. It came in under the seat. Then, just before we hit the ground, a bullet came through the windshield and I felt blood on my face.
SBLT Andy Perry, as part of the 3rd Contingent of the RANHFV commanded by LCDR Dave Farthing, RAN, arrived at Bearcat Camp on 10 September 1969. Early into his deployment SBLT Perry began to earn a reputation for his daring character and flying ability. His Platoon Commander commented: ‘He was a most unlucky pilot who on several occasions returned to base with his windows shattered by bird strikes. I always had the suspicion that the birds were sitting in the tree tops at the time of the bird strikes!’
In this period, the intensity and efficacy of Viet Cong attacks were beginning to peak, and consequently the support operations of the EMU’s started to intensify. For fear of a second Tet Offensive, the EMU’s began flying night-time ‘hunter-killer’ sorties against the North Vietnamese Army. These were particularly risky operations designed to draw fire upon a low flying Huey, illuminating the aggressing communist forces allowing the higher flying gunships to engage. SBLT Perry lamented that although the tactics were very effective ‘you sure drew attention to yourself.’
On 18 May 1970, a South Vietnamese outpost in the Binh Dai district of the Kien Hoa province was overrun by a heavily fortified Viet Cong Battalion. A combined flight of EMU and Dutchmaster (US Army 1st Air Cavalry) carrier Huey’s (slicks), commanded by LCDR Farthing, RAN, was tasked to insert three allied battalions to retake the position. At this point a standard EMU combat unit included one command and control helicopter, three gunships, two combat support aircraft and eight troop slicks. On this particular insertion nine helicopters were used, five short of a standard unit.
Under heavy .50 calibre machinegun fire the lead Huey, piloted by LEUT Marum, received several debilitating hits and was forced to return to Bearcat. SBLT Perry, who at the time was undertaking another sortie in an almost brand new Huey, volunteered to replace him as the lead helicopter in the assault. Without thought to his own safety or the arduous hours of flying he had already accomplished that day SBLT Perry offered his assistance.
Upon his first troop insertion SBLT Perry’s helicopter received multiple hits causing extensive damage. The helicopter was only made flyable again once repairs were completed stationary at the Landing Zone (LZ), an astonishing feat under incredibly onerous circumstances. On SBLT Perry’s third troop insertion the Huey was struck again, sustaining further damage to cockpit instruments and lighting, and deflecting shrapnel off the helicopter pedals which then embedded into SBLT Perry’s right foot. Despite the incapacity of the Huey, a loss of feeling in his foot and bleeding from his face SBLT Perry returned to the LZ twice more throughout the night, flying essentially blind.
‘By his courage, flying ability and cool commands of leadership, the flight of aircraft never faltered and the insertions were completed.’ SBLT Perry was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the US Silver Star and the South Vietnamese Cross for his acts of gallantry in this operation, making him the most decorated RANHFV veteran. The nearly new helicopter he used that day was never to fly again.
RANHFV 4TH Contingent – LEUT James Buchanan, RAN
I tilted the rotor, as though I was going to do a skidding take off and the friction of my skids on the deck of the patrol boat was sufficient to drag the boat in the direction I wanted to go.
LEUT J. Buchanan, RAN
On 10 October 1970, the 4th Contingent of RANHFV, with LEUT James Buchanan as second-in-charge, arrived in Dong Tam, where the EMU’s had moved from Bearcat Camp four days earlier. Operations for the EMU’s had now broadened, supporting the 9th and 21st Regiments of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (AVRN), in addition to the 7th ARVN. South Vietnamese outposts continued to be the main target of the Viet Cong, and the EMU’s were tasked to provide fire support, troop replenishments and medical evacuations. At this point, the EMU’s could expect to be fired upon every other sortie.