Story 72 - The First TAOR Patrol

By Ken Ellis, Patrol Commander, 104 Sig Sqn

104 Sig Sqn on Patrol in South Vietnam


The Task Force Signal Squadron (104 Sig Sqn) during its deployment in South Vietnam provided communications for the Headquarters of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF).  As well as its Signal duties 104 Sig Sqn had a combat role, being a unit from the Royal Australian Corps of Signals (RASigs) an Arms Corps during the Vietnam War.    While the unit did many combat activities as part of its communication tasks, it also conducted 1ATF Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) Patrols.  This commitment started in Dec 1968 and 104 Sig Sqn patrols were under the direct operational control of an Infantry Battalion starting with 4RAR who also up skilled the unit members on patrolling 104 Sig Sqnand working to their CP.

The OC gave me the task of commanding the first all 104 Sig Sqn TAOR Patrol  4344/68 because of past patrolling experience in Thailand.   The following unit members were part of the first overnight ambush patrol 27/28 Dec 1968:

Sgt Ken Ellis – Patrol Commander
Allen Summerfield – Radio Op
Mal Fergusson – Forward Scout
Bob Johnson – Gun Group (M60)
Geoff D’Arcy – Gun Group
Sgt Scott Laycock – Rifle Group (Patrol 2IC)?
Geoff Darcy – Rifle Group
Russell Hopkins – Rifle Group  (M79)
Stanley Montefiore – Rifle Group

Patrol Preparation

The members were selected for the patrol  by myself and the unit Squadron Sergeant Major WO2 Ron Still.  Each started preparing by checking their webbing, weapons, picking up additional ammunition from our Q Store (ammunition bunker) plus claymore mines, smoke and normal grenades and flares.  Rounds for the patrol M79 plus ammunition belts for the GPMG M60.  Each patrol member carried extra belts for the M60. 

As the Patrol Commander, I reported to the 4RAR CP for my patrol briefing involving operational matter that would concern the patrol task.   It included,  map references for listening and ambush positions, artillery support (including US Army), drop off and pick up locations, frequencies and callsigns plus other patrols working in the area, etc.

104 Sig Sqn
Sgt Ken Ellis being briefed for the patrol at the 4RAR CP

On returning to the unit I briefed the patrol members making it clear how important it was to follow all directions and orders given, as this was importance to ensure the safety of the team.  After checking our gear, we all loaded on to the truck, with a few other members of the unit as escorts and moved via LTL 52 to the start point.

104 Sig Sqn
Sgt Ken Ellis checking patrol members equipment before the patrol at 104 Sig Sqn

TAOR Patrol 4344/68 (27/28 Dec 1968)

On arriving at the start point we bade farewell to our escorts, took up secure positions, had a small meal, and did our last preparations before moving off to the night position as planned at 1630H.   Our night position was in Patrol Zone Rod in the vicinity of YS500657.

104 Sig SqnMap:  Patrol night ambush position

When we arrived at our position we carefully reconned and moved into the selected night position, proceeded to lay out our flares and trip wires plus position our claymore mines.  The mines were positioned on the two suspected tracks that could be used by the VC. 

104 Sig Sqn
Patrol Forward Scout Malcolm Fergusson
Note: Claymore mine bag slung over Malcolm's shoulder

When we were secure in our position after I had rechecked our position, I called in one sighter round from  our supporting artillery to land approximately 500 metres North of our position.   I indicated to our patrol that the incoming shell may hit the taller trees above our position but the projectile would be a non-exploding war head.  Within approximately 45 seconds the round passed over and landed in the correct position and direction.  As I had indicated, it clipping the tall trees at our position.    This also confirmed we were in the correct location.   I could tell that my patrol members now had become very confident with their Sgt Patrol Commander.

104 Sig Sqn
Patrol Gun Group Bob Johnson (manning M60) and Geoff D'Arcy

As the night went on it was very quiet and very dark; communications was by pull string between members.  In the early hours of the morning we heard noises to the North, without being able to identify if these were animal or human noises.  To ensure that we were prepared for whatever,  I ordered our Gun Group (with the M60) to face the direction of the noise, this disturbance went on for approximately 40 minutes, and then the sound faded out.  

104 Sig Sqn
Russell Hopkins who was part of the Rifle Group
Note: Russell carried the patrol M79 Grenade Launcher as well as his own weapon

When daylight arrived we prepared to decamp.  However retrieving our flares, it was found that one trip wire had been hit by either animal or unknown.   To avoid injury it was decided to let the flare go off and not recover our mines for 30 minutes.  This was a very anxious time for all patrol members but we prevailed and departure without incident patrolling back to the pickup point were our transport and escorts were awaiting at 0930H and return to Nui Dat. 

Patrol De-Briefing

De-briefing followed at the 4RAR CP discussing the patrol, especially the noises heard.   The following day a 4RAR patrol found signs of human enemy movement and a small cache of weapons plus some ammunition in the location of the patrol noises heard.   

104 Sig Sqn
Sgt Ken Ellis checking patrol location before calling in sighter round from supporting artillery

Patrol Summary

The patrol manning was RASigs tradesmen, including some national serviceman but all did their task to a high standard with outstanding discipline.  As the Patrol Commander I was very proud of our effect and my men, as was 4RAR.   Note:  This patrol’s night position was not far from the Long Tan Battle site plus another 104 Sig Sqn patrol (35/70) in June 1970 had a contact 3km to the North of our night location.

This was the start of many TAOR one or two and a few three night patrols by 104 Sig Sqn during the Vietnam War.

104 Sig SqnComment:  The Task Force Signal Squadrons of the Vietnam War were not only communicators but combat troops as per the RASigs role.  However they were the only Arms Corps soldiers as part of the 1ATF Order of Battle (ORBAT) who weren’t granted retrospective approval for  the Army Combat Badge (ACB) after 90 days service when it was introduced in 2005.

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