A Split Decision

John Sinclair

One morning in the Command Post. Wireless comm about an actual incident. Call signs forgotten. Armoured Squadron Commander was Peter Burke

"Ironside for Bluebell. over" "Bluebell. over"
"Bluebell. Fetch your Sunray. Pronto. Repeat pronto. over." "Ironside. wait out"
"Bluebell for Ironside. over" "Ironside. over"
"Ironside. My Sunray in two minutes. My Sunray Minor available now. over" "Ironside. wait out"
"Ironside for Bluebell. over" "Bluebell. over"
"Bluebell. Negative your Minor. Repeat, fetch your Sunray. Pronto. over." "Ironside. wait out"
"Bluebell for Ironside. over" "Ironside. over"
"Ironside. My Sunray waits. over" "Ironside. wait out"
"Ironside for Bluebell. over" "Bluebell. over"
"Bluebell. Two Alpha engaging with canister. Taken a rocket strike to main armament. Noticeable droop 12 inches from end of rifling. Your view on clearing with one round of AP. over" "Ironside. Definite negative, repeat negative! Likely explosion in barrel and blowback! Strongly recommend barrel replacement. Do you need assistance? over"
(AP = Armour Piercing)
"Negative assistance. Two Alpha fired AP as immediate action. Removed end of the barrel. Continued engagement with canister. over" "Unbelievable! When can I see. over"
"Believe it! Pencil 1800. over and out" "Bluebell. out"

David Watts, C Sqn 1Armd Regt RAAC, 1971 comments

I was the Tech Offr/Battle Captain of C Sqn 1AR during 1971

Bruce Cameron in Canberra pointed out the 106 website to me this morning, 7 Oct 03, and suggested that I put the record straight.

Bruce was the troop commander of 5 Tp C Sqn 1AR at the time and the incident occurred on Op Hermit Park on 25 June 1971.

We were loosely based around FSB Pamela and I was in the ACV in the FSB when the NZ company of 4RAR (I think) encountered an occupied bunker system. It was very close to the FSB I recall; close enough to be able to distinguish the sounds of the various small arms being fired.

Bruce's troop was assaulting with the infantry and our Squadron Commander, Major Peter Bourke, was on his feet with the Infantry Company Commander coordinating the tank fire. (No armoured soldier in their right mind leaves their mobile slit-trench!) During the attack, Cpl Stan Hanuzewicz's tank took an RPG round on the muzzle

Bruce radioed to me to ask whether it was safe to fire. I remember asking if there was any noticeable damage (like droop!) to the barrel but was told no. I asked what was in the breech and was told APCBC and that the crew were reluctant to unload it to look down the bore.

I remember thinking back to the Long Armour Course at Bovington UK and the period at RARDE and thought that if there was sufficient deflection in the barrel for the projectile to jam, the barrel was most likely to blow at the area of the fume extractor, but anyway there was less metal around the bore outside the turret than inside. I remember telling Bruce to fire the round, but before doing so make sure that the surrounding vehicles were closed down.

I think it was Cpl Hanuzewicz who called that he was firing and I distinctly remember hearing a deeper sound as the gun fired.

Bruce reported back that part of the muzzle had been removed. I asked that the recoil indicator on the operator's guard be checked to ensure that there was no abnormally large recoil that might have damaged the recoil system and we decided that the gun could continue to fire canister

Bruce's vehicle also scored an RPG on the barrel. This round detonated over the driver's compartment and penetrated the barrel. The driver had lowered his seat but not closed down as the troop moved into the bunker system and consequently took much of the blast on his head.

One of the things about that action that I do remember is the shouts to cease fire that jammed the net as the gunner started to use the co-axial MG unaware that the wounded driver was trying to get out of the driver's compartment; the MG would have soon cut him in two. Bruce was also moving to the front of the turret to see to his driver and was in danger. Fortunately the gunner stopped firing before a greater tragedy occurred.

The ever ready forward repair team was soon out with two new barrels and the vehicles fully operational early the next morning.

That's how I remember it.
David Watts

Bruce Cameron, C Sqn 1Armd Regt RAAC, 1971, is writing a history of 1st Armoured Regiment in SVN (1968 - 1971) and adds this postscript

Interesting story about that barrel from John Scales, C Sqn 2IC in 1971 .

As part of preparation for the return to Australia, civilian financial advisers were sent from Canberra to Nui Dat to help with the change from war to peace accounting procedures.

They were present when the barrel was being written off. They told John that, as a major item of defence equipment had been damaged, the crew commander should be held accountable and an investigation conducted to determine whether or not any offence had been committed....as 2IC , this was his responsibility.

They also insisted that accounting procedures for handling monies be introduced in the Mess which would make its operation unworkable...problem solved by the late Capt Harry Percival, RAEME, buying all the stock with his own money... public funds were no longer involved and the Mess could continue trading as before

This will all be in the 1 Armd Regt book, but I'll probably be accused of making it up!

Bruce Cameron

Noel Newton, Corporal Armament Fitter at 106 Fd Wksp in 1971 comments

I've read the 1971 Articles on the web site and noted this article, Split Decision.

I think I can add to this article as Sgt John Loch (Boong as he was called in the apprentice school) and myself were the ones that did the hard work and changed the barrels. Dare I say, being only a corporal, I did the hard work. That should get a rise out of John who I last heard was tripping around Australia TPI. He is not well.

John, myself, two barrels and a five ton truck with no doors travelled in convoy with APC's and Tanks to where the damage had occurred. The APC's and tanks made a path through the scrub we followed.

At one stage we could hear rounds and artillery fire going through the scrub but couldn't see any action.

I remember when the APC's and tanks closed their hatches. John looked at me and said something like If anything happens I've got your gun and water bottles. I was driving and fighting to follow the track. I didn't see anything and we were probably too busy trying to drive. I don't recall what I was going to do with my rifle, probably knock on the back door of the nearest APC.

However we met up with the damaged tanks, changed the barrels, (John did help) and drove out with the damaged barrels. I fell off the back of one of the tanks while removing its barrel. I don't recall stopping to worry; I had to get back to work quickly.

John and other crew members had noticed people in black pyjamas moving through the scrub. We were in a small clearing and the tanks were circled in defence.

I recall asking John and others about what they (the black pyjamas) were doing and what should be done. Someone said they weren't shooting at us so we wouldn't shoot at them. Seemed reasonable so we kept working.

I have been led to believe that this changing of barrels was a first for RAEME in Vietnam. Somebody will probably be able to confirm this.

However I do know we took the barrels back to 106 where I thought they were cut up. I had some pictures and may be able to find them. I'll send them to the Web Site if I can.

I did suggest after the action, that next time they tie the barrels to the top of an APC and we travel inside.

Noel Newton