The Royal Australian Navy in the Vietnam War
Reproduced with kind permission of the author, Joe Straczek,
Senior Naval Historical and Archives Officer
The Royal Australian Navy's role in the Vietnam War is
sometimes overlooked by comparison with the Army's larger
numerical involvement. As well as serving in ships deployed to
Vietnam naval personnel served in clearance diving teams, the
Navy helicopter flight, in logistic support roles and in medical
Australian destroyers sailed nearly 400,000 miles in the
course of the war and fired more than 100,000 rounds of
The converted aircraft carrier HMAS SYDNEY carried about
16,000 Australian troops as the famed `Vung Tau Ferry'.
Australian Clearance Divers carried out several thousand ship
searches looking for bombs and other explosive devices.
A total of eight officers and sailors of the RAN were killed
and nearly 50 injured in the 10 years of our Navy's involvement
Early Goodwill Visits
Though the RAN did not become operationally involved in the
Vietnam conflict until 1965, HMA Ships VAMPIRE and QUICKMATCH
were the first ships in the area when they made a goodwill visit
to Saigon in 1962.
They were followed the next year by the Q Class destroyers HMA
Ships QUIBERON and QUEENBOROUGH. These were not operational
visits: but designed to show Australian government support for
the government in Saigon, and members of the ships company
visited the Vietnamese Special Forces training centre and carried
out other `flag showing' activities. During the 1963 visit the
small Vietnamese naval vessel KY-HOA accidently rammed and holed
QUIBERON whilst coming alongside her.
Vung Tau Ferry
As the overall role of Australia's military increased in
Vietnam so did the involvement of the RAN. The converted aircraft
carrier HMAS SYDNEY had been transporting Army personnel and
equipment from Australia to Vietnam since May 1965. This ship was
to become a familiar sight and temporary home to some 16,000
Australian military personnel as they deployed to Vietnam or
returned to Australia. Because of these trooping runs SYDNEY was
affectionately known as the `Vung Tau Ferry'.
During these deployments SYDNEY was escorted and protected by
other units of the RAN. On at least one such trip her escort
included the aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE, though MELBOURNE
did not enter Vietnamese waters. She entered the operational area
which extended out to 100 nautical miles.
Clearance Diving Teams
In May 1966 the RAN's underwater Clearance Diving Team 1
(CDT1) spent a short period in Vietnam working with USN divers.
Almost a year later the Australian government announced the
deployment of Clearance Diving Team 3. This team was made up of
personnel from the RAN's two existing diving teams, CDT1 and
CDT2, and after a period of additional training arrived in
Vietnam on February 6, 1967.
RAN CDT 3 was primarily employed in clearing rivers and
shipping channels of mines and booby traps laid by the Viet Cong.
This normally dangerous task was made especially so by the murky
conditions under which the divers had to work. Other tasks
assigned to the divers included salvage work and assisting in
trawler and ship searches.
Regular searches were also conducted of Australian Army water
transport and other ships. This task was known as Operation
STABLE DOOR and was intended to protect and secure South
Vietnamese ports and military shipping from sabotage by the Viet
Cong. As part of this operation RAN clearance divers conducted
about 7500 ship searches.
While the Clearance Divers operated as a distinct unit a
number of personnel were attached for short intervals to USN
diving teams. Such attachments provided the RAN clearance divers
with valuable experience and exposure to other operating
techniques. Perhaps the most unusual request for assistance
received by the RAN clearance divers came from the US Army 36th
Evacuation Hospital: they had just admitted a patient who had
eaten some C-4 explosive.
[Citation for RAN CDT 3 United States Navy
Meritorious Unit Commendation]
On The Gunline
In March 1967, one month after the announcement of the
deployment of the Clearance Diving Team to Vietnam, the (then)
Minister for the Navy, Mr Don Chipp, announced that the RAN's
newly commissioned guided missile destroyer HMAS HOBART would be
deployed to join the US Seventh Fleet to support operations off
the coast of Vietnam. HOBART departed Sydney on the 7 March 1967
and joined the US Seventh Fleet on 15 March. Her arrival at the
US Naval Base in Subic Bay began the six monthly rotation of RAN
destroyers which was to last until October 1971.
All of the RAN's guided missile destroyers deployed to Vietnam
as did the Daring Class destroyer HMAS VENDETTA. HOBART and PERTH
made three deployments each and made BRISBANE two. During the
course of these operations the destroyers fired over 100,000
rounds of ammunition in support of military operations and
steamed 397,484 miles.
Typically the destroyers were operating on the `gunline'
providing fire support to Allied forces. They also took
part in Operation SEA DRAGON, the name given to surface ship
operations against North Vietnam. At various times the commanders
of RAN ships were delegated command of the `gunline' and SEA
Other tasks performed by the destroyers included screening the
US carriers on YANKEE Station and, in the case of PERTH,
supervising an abortive return of POWs to North Vietnam.
VENDETTA, which served in Vietnam from September 1969 to April
1970 was the only Australian-built destroyer to deploy. With her
six 4.5 inch guns and 40 mm Bofors she was more like a light
cruiser than the typical American destroyer.
On several occasions the destroyers operated close inshore and
were fired upon by North Vietnamese shore batteries. However, the
only fatal casualties onboard these ships occurred when HOBART
was attacked , on June 17, 1968, by an aircraft later identified
as belonging to the USAF. Two sailors were killed and a number
wounded. HOBART returned to Subic Bay for repairs.
While they were in the operational area the RAN destroyers
were supported by USN replenishment ships. At regular interval
the ships visited Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. This
was to allow maintenance to be carried out and to provide shore
leave and rest for the ship's crew.
[Citation for HMAS Hobart United States
Navy Unit Commendation]
[Citation for HMAS Perth United States
Navy Unit Commendation]
[Citation for HMAS Perth United States
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation]
General logistic support to the Australian military forces
operating in Vietnam was provided by SYDNEY supported by the
merchant-ships JEPARIT and BOONAROO. The latter two were
initially manned by civilian crews but had to be commissioned
into the RAN due to union bans . BOONAROO was the first ship to
commission into the RAN under the distinctive Australian White
Ensign. These ships transported almost 200,000 DWT of cargo to
South Vietnam with JEPARIT making a total of 42 trips. As well as
providing logistic support for the Australian Army and RAAF other
RAN personnel served ashore in Vietnam.
RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam
Members of Australia's Fleet Air Arm served with theUS Army's
135th Assault Helicopter Company based at Vung Tau and with the
RAAF's 9 Squadron. Known as the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV)
the first contingent of pilots and support personnel arrived in
Vietnam on October 16, 1967. These personnel were quickly
integrated into the 135th which was designated as an Experimental
Military Unit or EMU. On the February 22, 1968 the RANHFV
suffered its first fatality when LCDR PJ Vickers died as a result
of wounds received when his aircraft was hit by ground fire.
Throughout their service in Vietnam members of the RAN Fleet
Air Arm provided tactical airlift and gunship support to
Australian and allied forces.
Medical and Support Personnel
Members of the RAN also served at the Headquarters Australian
Forces Vietnam and as detached medical officers. This second
group were RAN doctors who served with 1st Australian Field
Hospital and US Army and Navy hospitals. While serving in this
capacity the Navy doctors were also involved in the Medical Civil
Action Program which provided medical support to the local
In April 1971 the (then) Prime Minister Mr John Gorton
announced that Australian forces in Vietnam would be reduced.
This led to the withdrawal of the clearance divers in May and the
RANHFV in June. The final RAN destroyer on the gunline, BRISBANE,
returned to Sydney on October 15 , 1971.
JEPARIT returned to Sydney from her final voyage on March 11,
1972 and was followed the next day by SYDNEY1.
The Whitlam Labor government, appointed on 2 Dec 1972,
withdrew all remaining Australian forces from and stopped
military aid to South Vietnam.
During the 10 years that the RAN was involved in the war,
eight officers and sailors were killed and another 46 were either
wounded or suffered other injuries. The dedication and
professionalism shown by members of the RAN earned the Service
the respect of our Allies and continued the traditions
established by Australian sailors in other wars.
- Information provided by Vietnam veterans who served
aboard HMAS SYDNEY indicate that she did one further
trip to Vietnam, returning via Hong Kong (after
rescuing the Kai Wing en route) and then the
Philippines, arriving in Australia in Dec 1972.
RAN Ships in Support of the Vietnam War