Dummy SAS Missions

By Pete Bird

Introduction

October 1971 was a period of great change in South Vietnam as far as the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) was concerned. The Politicians had decided we leave rather than they lose their seats.  Here is the story of an unreported and generally unknown operation involving members of 104 Signal Squadron (104 Sig Sqn) that took place in South Vietnam in October 1971.

1ATF included a Squadron from the Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment known to the North Vietnamese (NVA) and the local Viet Cong (VC) as Ma Rung or "phantoms of the jungle" due to their stealth and the way they operated.  On the 5th October, 2 Sqn SAS creased operations.  The last patrol was extracted 2km from the Long Khanh border and the main body of 2 Sqn flew out of South Vietnam on the 10th October (1).

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
RAAF No 9 Squadron Iroquois Helicopter with two SAS soldiers deploying in South Vietnam
(Photo from internet source)

The Task Force Commander, Brigadier McDonald and his team didn’t want the NVA and the VC to be aware the elite fighting force was no longer operating in the jungles of Phuoc Tuy Province - covering the withdrawing 1ATF from Nui Dat.

Brigadier McDonald, along with Major Brian McFarlane (GSO2 (Ops)) and Major Jim Jeans (GSO2 (Air)) (2), met with Wing Commander of No 9 Sqn RAAF, Peter Mahood (3) and convinced him it was vital that for No 9 Sqn fly dummy SAS insertion and extraction missions to deceive the enemy into believing the SAS were still operating in the Province and a force to be reckoned with.   The RAAF, understandably so, deemed these missions to be extremely dangerous and weren’t keen on carrying them out, especially as they were preparing to return to Australia also in the near future. 

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
Five man SAS Patrol runs out of the jungle towards a waiting RAAF helicopter in South Vietnam
(Photo from internet source)

 

1ATF Command Post Signals

At the time working in the 1ATF Command Post (CP) were three 104 Sig Sqn Radio Operators, Signalman Darrell Shanhun, Neville Williams and Pete Bird.   The three operators had all trained together  at 7 Signal Regiment (7 Sig Regt), Cabarlah in Queensland and joined 104 Sig Sqn in South Vietnam, March 1971.  Other operators trained at 7 Sig Regt arriving around the same time, included George Ritchie, Les Mankey, John Pyke, Doug Knight and Cliff Packham.

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
1ATF CP at Nui Dat L-R Sig Darrel Shanhun (104 Sig Sqn), unknown and unknown Capt from NZ Army
who is the TF Duty Officer (Photo from the  Australian War Memorial  EXT/71/0705/VN) 

Having three 104 Sig Sqn Radio Operators working one at a time, in the 1ATF CP, usually doing eight hour shifts, left two Operators available to fly these dummy daytime SAS missions.    Shift timings determined Pete Bird and Neville Williams were the two 104 Sig Sqn members to fly a number of these missions.

 

Dummy SAS Missions

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
Dummy SAS mission in October 1971 (Photo supplied by Pete Bird)

I’m not sure which other units supplied participants for these dummy SAS insertions and extractions.  Possibly D&E Platoon.   Unfortunately on the 12th June 1971, when we were with the HQ 1ATF CP Forward up on Courtenay Hill on Operation Overlord, D&E Platoon, who were with us, lost seven of its finest when the APC they were on was hit by an RPG (4).

104 Sig Sqn
L-R  Pete Bird and Neville Williams on Courtenay Hill during Operation Overlord with HQ 1ATF (Forward)
in June 1971  (Photo supplied by George Ritchie)

The dummy SAS missions themselves were extremely dangerous, but thankfully uneventful.    They involved three Iroquois “Hueys” including two Bushranger Gunships making it apparent to those below what they were up to and heading to locations, with one hovering low to imply inserting or extracting the a patrol to give the impression it was business as usual for the SAS.

104 Sig Sqn - Story 75   104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
Dummy SAS mission in October 1971 and Neville Williams is the person in both photos
(Both photos supplied by Pete Bird)

We were onboard riding shotgun and to show that the missions were manned. These were daylight missions and left the participants highly vulnerable to ground attack.  The missions continued for around a week until 1ATF withdrew from Nui Dat starting on the 16th October 1971.

 

Dummy SAS Mission Details

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
Map marked with the dummy SAS insertion and extraction locations during October 1971 to cover the
1ATF withdraw from Nui Dat. 

Details for the dummy SAS missions flown to confuse the enemy as detailed in the 1ATF war diaries are shown in the table below with mission gird square marked on maps.  Red for insertion and blue for extraction. 

Serial

DTG (Oct 1917)

Location

Mission

Remarks/References

1

080700H-121700H

?  Details not located

Simulated SAS Activity

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 48, Log 354/355

2

091330H-091530H

E: 72 to 74 N: 83 to 85  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 50, Log 388
(Dummy Patrol Serial 2 and Serial 4 – Map 6430-II and 4530-III)

3

111330H-111350H

E: 61 to 63 N: 87 to 89  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 52, Log 412
(Dummy Patrol Serial 3 and  Serial 5 – Map 6430-II)

4

120830H-121030H

E: 73 to 75 N: 80 to 82  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Extraction

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 57, Log 474.  Observation by Bushranger 71 saw timber trucks (AWM95-1-4-236, Page 59, Log 507)
(Dummy Patrol Serial 2 and Serial 4 – Map 6430-II)

5

140900H-141300H

E: 63 to 65 N: 86 to 88  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Extraction

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 62, Log 539.  Dummy SAS Extraction completed (AWM95-1-4-236, Page 64, log 573)
(Dummy Patrol Serial 3 and  Serial 5 – Map 6430-II and 4530-III)

6

151330H-151530H

E: 36 to 38 N: 81 to 83  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 65, Log 578 (Log 590 details)
AWM95-1-4-236, Page 67, Log 609
(Dummy Patrol Serial 6 and Serial 8 – Map 6430-III)

7

181330H-181530H

E: 58 to 60 N: 86 to 88  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 79, Log 719
AWM95-1-4-236, Page 83, Log 752
AWM95-1-4-236, Page 88, Log 788 (Clearance)
(Dummy Patrol Serial 7 and  Serial 9 – Map 6430-II)

8

190900H-191300H

E: 37 to 39 N: 79 to 81  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Extraction

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 85, Log 765
(Dummy Patrol Serial 6 and Serial 8 – Map 6430-III)

9

210900H-211300H

E: 58 to 60 N: 85 to 87  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Extraction

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 93, Log 824
(Dummy Patrol Serial 7 and  Serial 9 – Map 6430-II)

10

231300H-231600H

E: 70 to 72 N: 93 to 95   Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 104, Log 895 (Multiple Log Entrances) (Dummy Patrol Serial 10 and Serial 13 – Map 6430-I)

11

241300H-241600H
(Sunday)

E: 35 to 37 N: 73 to 75   (RAAF Aborted)

Dummy SAS Insertion
(RAAF Aborted)

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 108, Log 923
AWM95-1-4-236, Page 110, Log 954
AWM95-1-4-236, Page 112, Log 961
AWM95-1-4-236, Page 113, Log 973 (RAAF Aborted)

12

251300H-251600H

E: 35 to 37 N: 76 to 78  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 113, Log 973
(Dummy Patrol Serial 12 and Serial 14 – Map 6430-III)

13

270800H-281300H

E: 67 to 69 N: 92 to 94  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Extraction

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 122, Log 1043
(Dummy Patrol Serial 10 and Serial 13 – Map 6430-I)

14

281000H-281200H

E: 33 to 35 N: 76 to 78  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Extraction

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 127, Log 1082
(Dummy Patrol Serial 12 and Serial 14 – Map 6430-III)

15

301330H-301530H

E: 34 to 36 N: 78 to 80  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion
(Still in Vietnam)

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 139, Log 1190
(Dummy Patrol Serial 15 and Serial ? – Map 6430-III)

16

011330H-011530H

E: 62 to 64 N: 77 to 79  Click for detail map showing mission grid square

Dummy SAS Insertion
(Still in Vietnam)

AWM95-1-4-236, Page 146, Log 1240
(Dummy Patrol Serial 16 and Serial ? – Map 6430-II)

 

Conclusion

During the war period for 1ATF of just over five years some 580 SAS soldiers served in South Vietnam.  They conducted 1305 patrols (includes 130 by NZ SAS) and inflicted 492 confirm kills on the enemy for the loss of one KIA (1).

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75   104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
Dummy SAS mission in October 1971 (Both photos supplied by Neville Williams)

104 Sig Sqn members were part of the deception in October 1971 deceiving the VC/NVA that the ‘phantoms of the jungle’ were still patrolling and protecting the withdrawing of Task Force.

 

Footnote

Upon withdrawal to Vung Tau, Darrell Shanhun, Pete Bird and Neville Williams continued to man the 1ATF Command Post and stayed on in Vietnam as a part of the 104 Sig Sqn Rear Troop who became known as the famous “The Pack of Bastards”, after the main element of unit returned to Australia.

 104 Sig Sqn - Story 75
Part of 104 Sig Sqn Rear Troop preparing to leave Vietnam and were known as the "Pack of Bastards".
 
L-R (Front): Doug Purcell, Dave Boyd, Ray Smith, Pete Bird, Neville Williams and Darrell Shanhun. 
  (
Photo supplied by Peter Bird)

Pete Bird, Neville Williams and Darrell Shanhun flew home in a Hercules on the 27th November 1971 along with Doug Purcell, Dave Boyd and Ray Smith (see photograph) and a number of other 104 members. The three National Servicemen were discharged after leave without ever reuniting with the Squadron back in Australia.

103 and 104 Sig Sqn were supporting and working directly with Infantry units in South Vietnam 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Why we were left off the approved units list for the Army Combat Badge I’ll never understand.

Special thanks to Brian Macfarlane, Jim Jeans and Neville Williams for your contributions to this story.

Pete Bird

Notes

1.     SAS Phantoms of the Jungle by David Horner.

2.     Details from Task Force CP ‘Personalities Everywhere’ CP List supplied by Jim Jeans below.

3.     Wing Commander Peter Mahood, DSO was tragically killed in a flying accident at El Alamein Army
  Camp, Port Augusta, SA on the 25 Nov 1978.

4.     See Veteran Story 66 – Honouring the Vietnam War Dead at the 1st Combat Signal Regiment for
 details. http://www.au104.org/Veteran_Stories/vetstory66.html

 

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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