Raising 103 Signal Squadron for War

 

By Cliff King

Introduction

After some thirty five years I feel that its time that I put on paper my recollections of the Squadron from its inception until its disbandment in 1967.  I hasten to add that this is nearly all from memory except that the dates shown are from my records.

At first I feel that I must go back a little-bit to highlight where the number 103 came from.  I was posted to 1 Divisional Signal Regiment in November 1962.  I had just returned from a three year posting in the United Kingdom and was posted to the Chief Clerk of the Regiment.  The Regiment at that stage was a Pentropic Signal Regiment and consisted of five squadrons.  They were: 100, 101, 102, 103 and 104 Signal Squadrons.  Another Pentropic Signal Regiment was 3 Divisional Signal Regiment with its squadrons numbered 105, 106, 107, 108 and 109.   3 Lines of Communications Signal Regiment had 110, 111 and 112 Signal Squadrons.

The Regiment did not operate in a five squadron format.  It was an integrated regiment i.e. it had Australian Regular Army (ARA) and Citizen Military Forces (CMF) personnel.  It was, I believe, intended that all sub-units were to have their CMF personnel as part of the appropriate squadron.  It did not happen.  The Regiment was formed on a three squadron basis.  They were: 

  1. Command Operations Squadron (Command Ops) consisting of Australian Regular Army members of 100 Signal Squadron (Administrative Squadron), 101 Signal Squadron (Operating Squadron) Signal Centre etc. and 102 Signal Squadron which consisted of Radio Relay (B70s) etc.;

  2. Combat Operations Squadron (Combat Ops) consisting of ARA members of 103 Signal Squadron (Infantry Brigades) and 104 Signal Squadron (Other Arms);

  3. CMF Signal Squadron which consisted of all CMF personnel of all squadrons and included an ARA Administrative Officer and an ARA Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM).  There was also a CMF SSM.

Very few personnel would have known to which position on the establishment they were posted. i.e. Majors were posted to the Regiment not to a particular position.    So were all personnel where there was more than one trade.   Another example is a SSM.   He would have been posted to the regiment but not a particular squadron.   The position on the manning chart  would be determined by the Commanding Officer (CO).  The only personnel who would have known to which position they were posted were those personnel who were filling the one slot on the establishment e.g. the Commanding Officer, the Quarter Master (QM), the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (RQMS), the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), etc.  Majors were from to time moved around, such as from squadron commander to regimental second in command.   The same can be said of SSM’s.  One for example was employed as an internal checker.

New Designation for the Signal Regiment

103 Sig SqnOn the 22 December 1964, 1 Divisional Signal Regiment was redesignated 1 Signal Regiment and reverted to a three squadron regiment.  These were 100, 101 and 102.  It should be noted that from 22 December 1964, 103 and 104 were now spare numbers and were allocated to the new independent signal squadrons when they were raised officially, 103 on 6 December 1965 and 104 I cannot say for sure.   I believe that two squadrons in 3 Divisional Signal Regiment would have suffered the same fate.   There were no changes in personnel but the manning detail was amended to reflect the new establishment.  The same three  squadron set-up was continued.  At this time all the other signal regiments names were changed.   3 Lines of Communications Regiment became 2 Signal Regiment. 3 Divisional Signal Regiment became 3 Signal Regiment.  Northern Command Signal Unit (Squadron?) became 4 Signal Regiment.  Eastern Command Signal Unit (Squadron ?) became 5 Signal Regiment.  Army Headquarters Signal Regiment became 6 Signal Regiment. 101 Wireless Regiment became 7 Signal Regiment and a signal regiment in Brisbane, a Citizen Military Force (CMF), signal regiment became 8 Signal Regiment.  All these regiments were known by their number.  There was no such thing as the First Signal Regiment or Second Signal Regiment, as some units were intent to call themselves.

During the middle of 1965 it was decided to raise an independent signal squadron for service with a brigade.  This was to be called a "Task Force" and was to become 1 Task Force.  This name was changed later, in South Vietnam to 1 Australian Task Force.

1 Signal Regiment was charged with the task of fostering the raising of this unit and in fact supplied the majority of the personnel and equipment.

Raising 103 Signal Squadron

On 15 August 1965, the 20th anniversary of the Victory over Japan (VJ Day), the squadron was 'conceived' under the auspices of 1 Signal Regiment.  Approximately 80 personnel formed the basis of the Squadron, which was to be called 103 Signal Squadron.  The personnel for Signal Centre Troop came from Command Ops.  The SSM (myself) came from Command Ops as did the Signal Centre Supervisor (Eddie Tarleton), the Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant (Ted Collings) came from Combat Ops.  The stores sergeant came from Command Ops and so on.  Administration Troop was fairly evenly divided between the two ARA squadrons of 1 Signal Regiment.   We occupied the area formally occupied by Combat Ops.   All excess Combat Ops personnel were transferred across to Command Ops.

The Officers, initially were, Major Ken Taylor who was Officer Commanding (OC) Combat Ops, Captain Reg Elder, recently returned from South East Asia, Lt Mick Thorne, from Command Ops Squadron.  I don’t recall when 2Lt Bill Lawrie joined us.

After some four months gestation period the Squadron was born on 6 December 1965.  All the personnel that had been placed in the embryonic squadron on 15 August 1965 were posted to the new squadron (103 Signal Squadron).  The posting order came with my self on the top of the order, next was Eddie Tarleton, then Ted Collings etc.  All of the names were by rank order and alphabetical within each rank.   The squadron was still fostered by 1 Signal Regiment but was not under command of the Regiment.  The strength of 103 Signal Squadron at this stage was still approximately 80 personnel.  

Major Ken Taylor was posted as OC on the 6 December 1965.  In February 1966, Major Peter Mudd was posted as OC.  Major Ken Taylor had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and posted as CO of 1 Signal Regiment.  Captain Reg Elder and Lt Mick Thorne left the Squadron.  Capt Duncan Spencer was posted in as Troop Commander, Signal Centre Troop.  He was employed as Squadron 2IC.  Lieutenant Bill Elliott arrived on 13 April 1966 and was given the job as Radio Troop Commander.  Second Lieutenant Bill Lawrie carried out the day to day duties as Troop Commander of Signal Centre Troop.

Since the inception of the Squadron, training had been carried out in many areas. We exercised both North and South of Ingleburn.  The Squadron was able to deploy very quickly and were able to move at very short notice day or night and to commence operating a signal centre in a few minutes of reaching the new site.  Contact drill was practised together with other minor infantry tactics.

The OC also introduced some forms of getting and keeping us fit. e.g.  There would be 'doubling days' when all members of the Squadron would move at the double whenever they moved around the area.  Another one was that all members carried their weapons one day per week.  We came under some ‘comments’ from the members of 1 Signal Regiment for this, but we put this down to them being ‘un-informed’ or just plain 'sour grapes.'   It was water of a ducks back to us.              

In January 1966 we received some 16 National Servicemen and other personnel were posted in to bring us up near to strength (124).   Training continued throughout the early months of 1966.  We knew where we going and every-one was as keen as mustard.

Task Force

In March 1966 we were to go across to Holdsworthy to deploy with Task Force for the first time.  We were all lined up ready to move when word was received that Task Force was not ready to receive us.  As we were all ready to move it was decided that we would deploy to an area South of Wollongong.  On this night (12 March 1966) the Government announced that Australia would replace 1 RAR with a brigade size force to be known a 1 Task Force.  This is what we had been waiting for.  There was great excitement in the Squadron.

Late in March we deployed with Task Force to the Gospers Training Area.  We were flown in by Caribou aircraft.  We were due to fly out of a bush landing strip in the Holdsworthy area but due to fog were not able to do so.  We then had to make a dash to the RAAF Base at Richmond and flew out of there.

During the time spent at Gospers we endeavoured to see if we could reduce the noise of the generators.  We even tried to bury the damn things.  This did help to some degree but was doubtful whether this would work in South Vietnam owing to the wet season with the water and high humidity.

The Squadron was scheduled to go to the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra in May 1966.  This did not happen as our movement to South Vietnam was now scheduled for the period late April early May.  However all of our National Servicemen did go to the Jungle Training Centre.  Maybe for political reasons?  Surely not!

Replacing the Radio Equipment

About a month prior to departure to South Vietnam our wireless equipment was replaced.  All of the radios C11/R210s and C42/45s were withdrawn and we were issued with AN/PRC-25 VHF manpack, AN/PRC-47 and AN/GRC-106 HF radios.    This equipment was compatible with the Americans.  This placed a very heavy load on our operators and technicians.   At least the equipment was new which more than can be said for the vehicles!

Deploying to Vung Tau, South Vietnam

103 Sig Sqn

By early April our equipment was packed and ready for transportation to South Vietnam on the Grey Funnel Liner, HMAS Sydney.  Staff Sergeant Ted Collings the SQMS, Sergeant Vince Good and a few members accompanied the stores.  Vince and his crew had cipher equipment to look after.  An indication of the state of the vehicles was that approximately eight had to be pushed of pulled on board.  What a start?

Note:  In the history of the Corps in South Vietnam Vin Good is shown as Vin Best.   I was able to comment on the draft of the history when a copy was given to the Signals Vietnam Veterans Association for comment.   This and several other errors were pointed out and I assumed passed to the author.   This was not changed in the final document.   Just what can you believe of history books? This is now taken as fact and it is not. So much for thorough research.

103 Sig Sqn
103 Sig Sqn members arrived at Tan Son Nhut, Saigon on this Qantas 707
Photo supplied by Reg Dando

The Squadron flew, by Qantas, during late April and early May. I flew out on 14 May 1966 to join the Squadron which was set up on the edge of the Back Beach, Vung Tau.  During the descent into Saigon airport the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) of Headquarter Company and myself were sorting and passing equipment to all personnel on board.  We had been working for sometime with head down when I had to race for the toilet as I was violently airsick with the result that my false teeth (top only) went down the toilet.  It took more than nine weeks to get these replaced.  Boy our troops were well looked after!

103 Sig Sqn
1ATF including 103 Sig Sqn at Back Beach, Vung Tau before deploying to Nui Dat
Photo supplied by Reg Dando

At Back Beach, all of our stores were under tarps with the exception of those that we needed for day to day use.  Our own cooks were cooking our meals.

It was about this time that Task Force became known as 1 Australian Task Force (1ATF) to avoid any confusion.  We were to be under the command of HQ II Field Force Vietnam (FFV) of the United States Army.  Our area of responsibility was to be Phuoc Tuy Province.

During this time our radio detachments were deployed where possible.  5RAR and the Americans were clearing the area which was to be occupied by Task Force.  It was, during this phase that the Force suffered its first casualty (KIA).  This was Private Noak, a South Australian National Servicemen.  The Task Force Commander Brigadier Jackson was after answers as to what happened. I can just imagine the pressure that he was put under by the politicians.

103 Sig Sqn
Vietnamese selling pineapples to 103 Sig Sqn members at Back Beach, Vung Tau
Photo supplied by Reg Dando

Preparing to move to Nui Dat

Early in June Task Force had planned the layout of the 1ATF vcombat base and a area had been chosen about 25km to the North North East of Vung Tau.  Sergeant Gary Fizzell (Radio Troop Sergeant) and myself were given the opportunity to do a reconnaissance from the air.  We took off in a UH-1 Huey from Back Beach, Vung Tau in a chopper with no doors.  As we were climbing, and fast, I asked Gary to pass the seat belts.  We were sitting with our toes out in mid air.  His reply was that there were no **** seatbelts.  We hung on somewhat.  We flew over the area, a rubber plantation near the small hill which was to be our combat base called Nui Dat.  We didn't see much.  You can't see much from a chopper doing some 80 knots at tree-top height.

103 Sig Sqn
Huey doors open and flying near Nui Dat.  Photo supplied from internet source

In the Air

Sorry to leave you up in the air.  Further reading may be found in the Web Book “Pronto in South Vietnam 1962-1972 Chapter 4 – Task Force Signals” and “Taking 103 Sig Sqn to War by Duncan Spencer”.

103 Sig Sqn
L-R  SSM WO2 Cliff King, Sig John Murray, Cpl George Stevenson and Cpl Gary Street
Photo supplied by Cliff King

 About the Author:
Cliff King was
a long time member of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals (RASigs) and the first SSM of 103 Sig Sqn (15 August 1965 to 6 July 1967).  He later served in a number of posting as a RASigs RSM before retirement.
 


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