506 Signal Troop (Radio Relay)

 

By Ned Tindale

506 Signal Troop (506 Sig Tp) was the Radio Relay (RR) “Brick” Troop of 145 Signal Squadron (145 Sig Sqn) tasked for service in South Vietnam as Force Signals in early 1966.   

The Signalman component of 506 Sig Tp was made up entirely from the 5/66 Technical Electronic (Tech Elec) Course.  About February 1966 it was decided the course, on completion, would be the manning for the RR Tp of 145 Sig Sqn.  The course was moved from Balcombe to Watsonia most likely because the School of Signals at Balcombe had insufficient space because of the influx of National Serviceman.  So instead of doing high power High Frequency (HF) transmitters and receivers; we trained on the new Radio Terminal Set AN/MRC-69.  This equipment was one of the new packaged shelter equipment’s just sourced from the USA, for service in South Vietnam.

At Watsonia, we bunked up in the Hall of No 6 Building (Old 6 Signal Regiment HQ Building).   We were issued DP1 personal field equipment and slept on inflatable mattresses on the floor.  

As well as training on the new RR equipment, the course was given Intelligence Briefs on what to expect in South Vietnam.  We finished the course on the 14th May 1966 and went on pre embarkation leave.  We then went to Sydney by train and left Richmond RAAF Base on the 26th May for South Vietnam.  No Jungle Warfare training at Canungra, no work-up exercises, we literally marched out of the classroom onto a 707 and left Australian for the war.

We flew to Townsville, Manilla and then directly to Saigon.  On the leg from Manilla to Saigon they bought our weapons and front line issue of ammo up to the seats for us, so we could leave the plane ready for action.  Intelligence had told us the Viet Cong (VC) wore black pyjamas.  When we walked down the ramp at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat airport, there were hundreds of bloody nogs in black pyjamas all over the place.  That got the pulse racing!  They didn’t tell us they employed locals at the air bases all wearing black pyjamas. 

We flew to Vung Tau and spent the next week or so waiting for HMAS Sydney to arrive with our equipment and the rest of 145 Sig Sqn.   While we waited, the time was spent putting up tents, latrines, and shower points plus a boozer, as well as endless sandbagging.

Probably late June we started to get the RR equipment set up.  Sgt Brian McCauley, John Sullivan, Doug Collins and I went to Nui Dat Hill and set up a RR link back to Vung Tau.    Tails down to 103 Sig Sqn (Task Force Signals) COMCEN were WD-1/TT (D10) and WF-8/G (Spiral 4 - I think).  These were always a problem as the Engineers and Cavalry seemed to delight in knocking over small trees without looking up to see if cables were strung up on them.   Lots of liney work was involved in the repair of the cables.  We didn’t take the RR shelter off the International Mk 3 Truck until about a month after arriving and then we had fun sand bagging, using clay instead of sand.

 RR Antennas at Back Beach 
145 Sig Sqn and the RR Antennas at Back Beach, Vung Tau 1966.
Photo supplied by Brian Stevens [1966]

Lt Brian Stevens, the Troop Commander, adopted the system of changing the manning over for each of the four RR equipment locations about every 6 weeks (and shuffling the manning mix).  This was great as it meant we didn’t have to put up with the same crew all the time and we got around the country a bit.

 AN/MRC-69 Shelter being lifted on to Truck
AN/MRC-69 Shelter being lifted of the International Mk 3 Truck on VC Hill (Vung Tau).
 Photo supplied by Brian Stevens [1966]

My second rotation was to the RR Repeater on VC Hill (Vung Tau).  The shelter was still on the International Mk 3 Truck and didn’t come off until after I’d left to go to Saigon.  I went to VC Hill in August because I remember well the 18th.  I was on evening shift and when doing a channel level check on one of the Carrier Telephone Terminal TA-5006A/U equipment’s on the thru patches to Nut Dat, I was talking to Dennis Muller on the Order Wire (OW) and asked how things were up there.  Ned, I’m worried he said.  The guns have started up this arvo and have not stopped plus they are using small charges (i.e. close target).   Later that evening I asked how things were and he said the guns were still going hammer and tongs (I think what worried him was the COMCEN down in the rubber couldn’t tell him what was happening either).  It wasn’t until a day or so later we heard D Company, 6RAR had a major contact and the rest is history.

 AN/MRC-69 Shelter sangbagged on Nui Dat Hill AN/MRC-69 Shelter sandbagged on Nui Dat Hill.  RR Antenna top right in trees.
Photo supplied by Brian Stevens [1966]

I next went to Saigon, then back to Vung Tau before deploying on Operation Hayman to Long Son Island with 103 Sig Sqn in support of HQ 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF).  This was its first deployment forward from Nui Dat.   I guess we and 103 Sig Sqn were on a fast learning curve and we were told to dismantled the AN/MRC-69 shelter and just took the Radio Set AN/TRC-24 and the Telephone Terminal F1830 (and other bits) and were airlifted in by US Army CH-47 Chinook.   In hindsight, dismantling was not a good option, as the AN/MRC-69 shelter was designed to be airlifted with all the bits wired and secured ready to use, with a backup set of equipment in the terminal role.   Anyway we made it work and set the communication role for future deployments of HQ 1ATF (Forward) but this was the first and last time the RR equipment was dismounted from the shelter.

    Communications Op Hayman   145 Sig Sqn RR Detachment, Op Hayman
Left - RR Communications Operation Hayman.
  Diagram from Pronto in South Vietnam 1962-1972.
Right – 145 Sig Sqn RR Detachment on Operation Hayman.
  Gordon Hastie, Stan Haas and unknown.  Insert showing the RR Antenna.  Both photo supplied by Ned Tindale [Nov 1966]

About February 1967 we were told to move the RR equipment off Nui Dat Hill and down into the rubber with 103 Sig Sqn.   We resisted this as much as junior soldiers could.  Moving off the hill meant we lost our autonomy, no more commanded by a Cpl or L/Cpl but we would come under the watchful eye of 103 Sig Sqn’s Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCO), the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) and the Major (Officer Commanding).   Parades, weapon inspections, tent and dress inspections, gun pit duties, the lot, bugger!   This is why the RIP 506 Sig Tp sign in the photo below.   Our little patch moved down the Hill.

  506 Sig Tp Det sign on Nui Dat Hill
RIP 506 Sig Tp Det sign on Nui Dat Hill.  Photo supplied by Ned Tindale [Feb 1967]

After Operation Hayman, I did a second rotation to VC Hill and then once again to the Sqn at the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1ALSG), Back Beach, Vung Tau. 

The RR communication equipment (AN/MRC-69) performed great during our deployment to South Vietnam but the Onan 5KW (6.2KVA) generators became a real issue.  They ran at 3600RPM and at the end of 12 months had screamed their little hearts out and were knacked.  Towards the end they used a pint of oil over an 8 hour shift and Brian Stevens managed to scrounge some 8KVA diesel generators whilst bigger and heaver, ran at much more sedate speed of around 1600 to 1800RPM.

In Apirl 1967, my war was over.   I was Medevac’d back to Australia with an injury and spent my 21st birthday strapped on a stretcher flying in a noisy RAAF C130 Hercules between Darwin and Richmond.  The other members of 506 Sig Tp were replaced by 110 Sig Sqn only a few weeks later and many of their deeds supporting the Task Force with RR communications over the next 5 years are detailed in our Corps History as “Deployment Troop”.

 Ned Tindale

PS  Below is our manning, I hope I haven't missed anyone


506 Sig Sqn Manning (South Vietnam)

Lt Brian Stevens, Troop Commander.
Ex British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) veteran and Ex Warrant Officer Foreman of Signals, who did Officer Training (Knife and Fork).  We were fortunate to have someone with his expertise and experience as the Troop Commander on our first posting and on active service.  It’s hard to think what would have happen if we had ended up with a raw RMC or OCS graduate!

SSgt Roy Frost, Troop Foreman of Signals.
Later known as Supervisor Technical Telecommunications (STT).

Sgt Brian MacAuley, Troop Sergeant

Cpl Darryl Armstong
Cpl Ron Bell
Cpl Tony Bulcock (RTA early)
Cpl James Lobley
Cpl Harry Wright

Sig Laurie Batt
Sig Doug Collins
Sig Tom Drury
Sig Rod Eastment
(*)
Sig Peter Flaherty
Sig Stan Haas
Sig Gordon Hastie
Sig Denis Leggett
(*)
Sig Barry McDonald
Sig Ron Minton
Sig Dennis Muller
Sig John Sullivan
Sig Ned Tindale
Sig Paul Weaver

 (*)  Only a few weeks with the Troop before going to another part of 145 Sig Sqn


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