1968

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12th May 1968 1 RAR moved to FSB Coral. The move itself was disjointed due to the unsuitability of the original LZ resulting in the guns, 102 Bty, being exposed to enemy attack. The rifle companies had several contacts with enemy forces and had moved into their position by dark.

The enemy had watched the insertion and had probed the mortar position and about 0330hrs attacked the mortars and 102 Bty in strength. The mortar position was over run (losses 5 KIA, 8 WIA). The guns fired splintex and HE rounds with deadly effect. The defensive perimeter at this stage consisted of Battalion HQ, Support Coy, Arty HQ and the gun crews. The enemy over ran No 6 gun but the perimeter held and with the guns firing over open sights, supporting fire from adjoining batteries and air support the line was held. The supporting artillery fire was bought to within 20mtr of the Australian position.

The enemy withdrew about 0600hrs on 13th and the FSB consolidated its position. Clearing patrols, medical evacuation, re-supply and re-evaluation with the integration of the APCs of A Squadron, 3 Cav. The enemy attacked in force again on 15th / 16th May about 0230hrs and directed the assault against A Coy and B Coy positions. Part of 3 Pl position was over run but the platoon, led by Lt Weeks counter attacked and retook the lost ground and their mate’s bodies (2 KIA, 3 WIA).

On the night of the 15th May the battalion was still recovering from the effects of the battle that occurred on the night of the 13th. I stupidly decided to sleep above ground. My first recollection of the commencement of battle was the arrival of the first of hundreds of mortars and RPG7’s (rocket propelled grenades) into the immediate area. A millisecond later I was well established in the deepest recesses of my pit.
It’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated what it’s like to be exposed to a continuous bombardment of high explosive projectiles. The RPG’s can be heard coming in followed by the impact. The noise is beyond belief. It has a physical as well as aural dimension as the earth shudders and pulsates. You huddle in the bottom of your pit and pray for it to end as the term “foxhole religion” takes on a whole new meaning.
The barrage seemed to go on forever but probably lasted about ten minutes. One in our group had been killed by a direct hit and several others wounded.
The most spectacular memories I have of this battle are the duels fought between the Huey Cobra’s and the enemy 12.7mm Heavy Machine Guns. The enemy had moved the HMGs to the north-east and these guns were becoming a real problem for the ground-attacking F4’s as well as the Cobras.
The F4’s were pressing their attack so closely (down to about 150feet) that the aircraft’s lower fuselage was illuminated by the perimeter trip flares. As the aircraft flashed into view napalm canisters tumbled just once before striking the ground. A roaring torrent of fire followed by the explosion of after-burners. The aircraft pitches up and disappears reappearing again on another run.
The Cobra’s were initially having problems neutralizing the enemy 12.7mm’s. At one point a Cobra at about 250ft commenced to fly slowly down the upcoming stream of green enemy tracer. At almost a hover he let go with his own guns. Almost eyeball to eyeball, the US pilot in his Cobra, the enemy with his HMG, just hammering away at each other. Green tracer streaking skywards and the opposing red tracer streaming down from the night sky. The enemy 12.7mm was eventually silenced.
One Cobra pilot switched on all his navigation lights and lit up like a Christmas tree. The enemy gunner didn’t see the trap or couldn’t resist and let rip with a burst of fire. The other Cobra still blacked out and slightly behind and below let go with a salvo of rockets at the source of the green tracer. Problem eliminated.
While the air strikes were going on, the infantryman’s personal battle was raging on the ground. Among the rubber trees, men from both sides were fighting and dying. The enemy tactic was to move in close and avoid the artillery and air stikes. Wave after wave of enemy troops were being repulsed time and time again. It was bloody infantry fighting at its worst or best. No quarter asked and none given. The casualties were mounting.
The noise is difficult to describe. The clamor of hundreds of M16’s, SLR’s and AK47’s, machine guns,grenades, salvo’s of supporting incoming artillery shells, the thunder of outgoing artillery. Cobra’s strafing and rocketing, F4 Phantoms bombing, strafing and then the thunder of their afterburners. Spooky letting rip with mini-guns, the Dusters pouring their shells out into the distant tree line.
Patrols moved at first light to clear and secure the immediate area. Enemy corpses that had not been killed by small arms had been blown to bits but were still searched before being buried in a mass grave.
 
John Eaton First Post 41 / 2002
 

The next attack began about 0515hrs when the enemy after regrouping, tried to split A Coy and C Coy but was repulsed. A further attack was launched against D Coy, which was targeted by artillery and air strikes causing the enemy force to withdraw. This second wave of attacks cost the Australians 5 KIA and 19 WIA.

During the next week patrols found bodies, equipment and base plate positions close to the FSB. The centurion tanks of C Sqn (52 ton) were called up and in support of company size groups began aggressively patrolling the area.

FSB Balmoral was established 5 klm north of FSB Coral and was attacked on 25th May in force on the western area of the base. The 3 RAR D Coy defence was supported by tanks, artillery and air and the attackers broke off about 0530hrs. Again on the 28th the enemy attacked at about 0230hrs and after 2 hours withdrew leaving some 40 bodies on the battlefield.This was the last of the major assaults on FSB Coral and Balmoral. Company size patrols continued to find and close with the enemy. The combination of infantry and armour proved a lethal weapon and when clearing bunker systems.

THANKS
Some time around the middle of 2002, we were talking about CORAL and the part played in it by the Hueys, and we decided then that we would do our best to track down the pilots and say THANKS. We haven’t found them yet but ….   In the early hours of 16th May 68, the Battle of CORAL was getting serious. Our wire was breached by satchel charges and bangaloretorpedoes, mortars and RPGs were failing on 3 Platoon and the enemy was in several of our weapon pits and doing his best to breach the rest of our front. Spooky was up there too; the Gatlings were in action and the sky was illuminated with parachute flares as well as Charlie’s tracer and his rockets. Not know to us simple infantry men at the time, but also up there was Flight Lieutenant Roger Wilson RAAF of 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron US 7th Air Force, piloting a tiny Cessna controlling Spooky and the Heavy Fire Team. Running short of fuel and under intense ground fire Roger returned to Bien Hoa and refuelled. He the returned to Coral after a further 3 hours, culminating in controlling a napalm strike on our wire and effectively playing a major part in bringing the assault to an end. Having by then completed his allowable flying hours for the month Roger was ordered to CORAL as a ground controller for the duration. For his outstanding efforts on our behalf, Roger was awarded the DFC.
John Eaton and Col Adamson.

 List of KIA FSB Coral – Balmoral 1968

 

Pte     D.E. Abbott                                               1 RAR                          30th May

Pte     E.J. Bailey                                                 1 RAR                          13th May

Pte     L.N. Brown                                                3 RAR                          26th May

Pte     A.J. Cooper                                               3 RAR                          26th May

Cpl     I.K. Dawson                                              1 RAR                          14th May

Pte     J.W. Desnoy                                             3 RAR                           26th May

Cpl     R.B. Hickey                                              1 RAR                           13th May

Sgt     P.E. Lewis                                                3 RAR                           13th May

Pte     R.L. McNab                                              1 RAR                           13th May

LCpl W.H. Martin                                                1 RAR                           16th May

Pte     C.R. Nisbet                                               1 RAR                           14th May

Pte     J.A. O’Brien                                              1 RAR                           13th May

Cpl     J.G. Pearce                                              1 RAR                           14th May

Gnr     C.J. Sawtell                                             12 Fd Regt                   13th May

Gnr     I.J. Scott                                                   12 Fd Regt                   13th May

Pte     L.R. Sheppard                                         1 RAR                           13th May

Pte     W.M. Thomas                                           3 RAR                           26th May

Pte     B.M. Trimble                                             1 RAR                           13th May

Pte     A.J. Wallis                                                 1 RAR                           16th May

Pte     R.C. Watson                                             1 RAR                           13th May

Pte     H.W. White                                                1 RAR                           16th May

Cpl     J.H. Whitton                                             1 RAR                           13th May

Pte     J.T. Worle                                                  3RAR                            28th May

Sig     A.H. Young                                               104 Sig Sqn                 16th May

Pte     B.T. Young                                                1 RAR                            16th May

 

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