Story 46 - First WIA for 104 Sig Sqn

By Reg Armstrong


At the beginning of June intelligence had reported the presence of VC main force units in the area North and North West of Xuyen Moc (YS6567).  The enemy units were identified as 274 Regt and HQ 5 Div.

Early July 1967, the Task Force deployed on Operation Paddington to try and destroy the enemy operating near Xuyen Moc, in Phuoc Tuy Province.  Operation Paddington, was a joint search and destroy operation, by the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (US Army), the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (US Army), the 1st Australian Task Force (2RAR, 7RAR and other units) plus Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC) units.  The six-day mission, resulted in 93 VC killed and was the second time the 9th Infantry Division “The Old Reliable” and the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) had fought together in South Vietnam.

Op Paddington - Op Order Map Xuyen Moc   Op Paddington - Op Order Map Ap Binh Chau
Click  Maps from the Operation Order Paddington

HQ 1ATF deployed into the field for the first time in 1967 for command and control of the operation and this included elements of 104 Sig Sqn.

As normal, Liaison Officers (LO), with 104 Sig Sqn Radio Operators, were attached to the other HQ’s involved.

LO Task, 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (US Army)

LO Captain Ian Wells (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam), Signalman Graeme Draper and I were choppered to the 1st Brigade (1 Bde), 9th Infantry Division (9 Div) at Bear Cat and stayed overnight.

The next day we moved with the 1 Bde HQ by road to Blackhorse and stayed overnight.

The following day we were choppered out to the bush where we set up the 1 Bde Tactical HQ at FSPB Bill which was near Thua Tich and established communications on the 1ATF Command Net as Callsign 21 (LO 1 Bde).

FSPB Bill, Op Paddington

FSPB Bill under Fire

On the night 13 July 1967 at approx 2015 hours, I was on radio duty with other American radio operators and incoming 82mm mortar shells started exploding around the FSPB.

As the radio tent was unprotected, we were ordered to evacuate to our fire pits.  I got about 5 - 10 meters from my pit, when I was hit in the upper thigh by shrapnel.  This was bad news and good news.  The bad news was that I was hit, the good news was if it had been 6 inches to the left, I would now have a very squeaky voice!

I made it to the fire pit and fell into it, where the other two Australians were.  The LO and Graeme applied a bandage to the thigh and reassured me I would be OK including the family jewels!  A number of Americans were also wounded at the same time at the FSPB base.

Dust Off

I was treated by American field medics, strapped to the side of a US Army OH-47 Sioux Light Observation Helicopter and evacuated to the 7th Surgical Hospital (US Army), Blackhorse.

Australian Sioux with Stretcher on side

Note:  This mode of evacuation was first used in the Korean war and was not the norm in Vietnam, as the Huey’s were used for Dust Off tasks.  It is unclear why the Sioux was used but it may have been available in the area and was the quickest way to get me to the US Army Hospital.

7th Surgical Hospital (US Army), Blackhorse

I was operated on at the US Army Hospital and several days later, transferred to the 8th Field Ambulance Hospital at Vung Tau.  At both Hospitals, the doctors, nurses and personnel were excellent and the treatment I received was first class.  Coincidentally, one of the medics was Alan Stephens who used to go to primary school with me in Perth and I hadn’t seen him since then.

8th Field Ambulance Hospital (Australian), Vung Tau

Return to Unit

By the end of July, I had recovered to the point where I was able to be sent back to 104 Sig Sqn at Nui Dat being the first squadron member to be wounded in action (WIA).  l returned to Australia at the end of my tour on the 23 December 1967.

May I conclude by saying that my experience pales into insignificance when compared to others who were less fortunate than me and suffered far worse and to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Footnote:  Also on Op Paddington, on that night (13 Jul), the US Army FSPB Mike was mortared.  During the mortar attack one of the 131 Div Loc Bty surveyors, Bdr Murray Poustie was wounded by two pieces of shrapnel.  He was also evacuated to the 7th Surgical Hospital (US Army), Blackhorse and later transferred back to the 8th Field Ambulance Hospital at Vung Tau.  See the web site 131 Surveyors for details at

Some records don't reflect the two Australians being WIA on Op Paddington because they were located with the Americans at the time they were wounded.

Acknowledgement:  All the research to obtain the tactical and technical information contained in this article was done by Denis Hare and, without his many hours of diligent work, it would have been somewhat mundane.

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