RAAF No. 35 Squadron

35SQNWallaby Airlines

Australia announced in June 1964 that it was committing additional   forces to South Vietnam, in support of the failing regime of that country.   Australian advisors had been on combat duty in Vietnam now for almost two   years.

The additional forces included a flight of six twin engined   Caribou transport aircraft of the RAAF. This deployment made Australia the first   country outside the United States, to send aircraft to the war zone.

The Caribou arrived at Vung Tau, in Phuoc Tuy Province on August   8th, 1964. The ferry crews handed over their aircraft to the personnel of the   newly formed RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV). Commenting on the conditions   Sqn Leader Sudgen had this to say: “Living conditions at first, were   unbelievably crude and all ranks moved off base into a villa at our own expense.   The US Army commander did not like this because he had given us at least equal   to what his own boys had, but I’m afraid that the treatment of the GI was like   something out of the last century.

“On base we had been split up into different billets, none of   which were much chop. The airmen’s hut was the worst and was located just a few   feet from an open sewer system which stank beyond belief. In addition there was   a generator alongside their hut which went flat out night and day. There were   only 12 toilets on base for over 1200 men and most of them were blocked.”

“We were short of all kinds of equipment and communications back   to Australia were just not working. If we asked for anything the first answer   from Australia was that it was not on our equipment establishment table! Suffice   to say, it was all very frustrating.”

Enemy ground fire was rarely a major threat to the Australian   Caribou and this was due to effective tactics devised by Sqdn Ldr Sudgen. As he   explains: “I was only hit by ground fire once. I devised a method of approach to   airfields which enabled us to maintain at least 3000 feet until almost overhead.   We then restricted our descent pattern to very close to the airfield itself.   This procedure was not followed by the American or Vietnamese pilots, so it was   wonderful insurance for us. While the others were prepared to drag their   aircraft in on long approaches, their was little likelihood of the enemy   bothering to come right in close to the strip, so in most areas we were probably   never exposed to ground fire. Of course there were numerous occasions when we   had to fly low because of the weather, but we always remained conscious of the   need to restrict our operating radius when at low altitude.”

The professionalism of the Australians was again highlighted one   day at Vung Tau when the base commander staged a practice ‘red alert’ just as   the Caribou were returning for the night. Everyone went to their assigned   defence positions near the edge of the runway to observe the Americans flopping   their aircraft onto the ground and using the whole runway to stop. Then a   ‘Wallaby’ came in, alighted on the edge of the runway, ran a few lengths and   turned off the runway at the first taxi way. It was all so expertly done and of   course in no way rehearsed or planned. Not one American said a word, they didn’t   have to.

The efficiency of the RAAF Caribou Squadron was noted by General   Wesmoreland, who after failing to get his own transport squadrons operating at   the same level of efficiency, cabled the Australian government in May 1966   requesting an additional 12 aircraft RAAF Caribou squadron for Vietnam. This   request was refused. Australia only had two such squadrons.

Being Australian there was always room for a joke or two…”A well   known loadmaster, named ‘Lurch’ was not adverse to the odd practical joke. One   day, while carrying a large number of Vietnamese, the aircraft ran into some   rough weather. Not being very good air travellers a lot of green faces were   evident. The crew decided to have some fun. After a particularly bumpy patch of   weather, the pilot made urgent motions to the load master – all passengers eyes   watched as the ‘Loady’ passed a sick bag to the distressed pilot, resulting in a   few more going green. At this stage the pilot turned to the side of the cockpit   out of sight of the passengers and tipped the contents from a tin of tropical   fruit salad into the bag. Wiping his mouth, the pilot now passed the new full   sickbag back to the ‘Loady’ and the passengers went a darker shade of green. The   climax came when ‘Lurch’ opened up the sick bag and ate the contents in front of   the passengers. Instant results were achieved – all 28 passengers called out for   sick bags.

On 24th May 1968, an RAAF Caribou captained by Flt Off Goodsall,   was hit by ground fire while operating in the Mekong Delta. Weather conditions   were poor and the aircraft was forced down below the cloud cover. In an attempt   tp reduce the effects of ground fire, Goodsall descended to very low level but   due to the sparseness of vegetation in this area, this was not as effective as   he wanted. One bullet penetrated the left side of the cockpit and struck the   nosewheel steering mechanism before disintegrating. Large of the bullet were   deflected upwards, wounding the pilot in the head. He collapsed over the   controls. The co-pilot Flt Off Cooper, quickly took control and returned to base   while the loadmasters dressed their Captains wounds. His wound was not serious   and he completed his tour of duty before returning to Australia.

35 Squadron supported Vietnamese, US, and Australian forces in   Vietnam and by the end of 1971 were the last RAAF Squadron operating in   Vietnam.

On February 13th, 1972, flying ceased as all ranks prepared to   return to Australia. On 19th, four Caribou took off from Vung Tau airfield for   the last time and flew to Richmond air base, NSW. After a formation flypast over   Richmond, the four Caribou landed, ending a period of 71/2 years active   service.

While in Vietnam 35 Squadron and its predecessor RFTV, set new   standards for Caribou flying, maintenance and safety. Even though the   “Wallabies” received little recognition in Australia, the unit played a   remarkable and vital role in supplying allied forces in the Republic of   Vietnam.

Supplied by Keith White

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