RAN Clearance Diving Team Three

CDT3TWith thanks to the RAN

Clearance Diving Team 3 – United and Undaunted

Without doubt one of the smallest, and unrivalled, Australian units to serve in Vietnam was Australian Clearance Diving Team Three (CDT3). They were an elite group of 49 officers and men; divers trained in the dangerous business of explosive ordnance disposal, who established an enviable reputation for courage and innovation in time of war in the spirit of the diver’s motto, United and Undaunted.

The RAN formally established a Clearance Diving branch in 1951, and a Mobile Clearance Diving Team in 1956. In March 1966 two distinct teams were commissioned in Sydney; CDT1 and CDT2. Shortly thereafter CDT1 deployed for exercises in South East Asia, including one week in Vietnam conducting operations with their American counterparts. The Commanding Officer of CDT1 was of the view that a RAN diving team would make a worthwhile contribution to the Australian effort in Vietnam and recommended that CDT1 be deployed for a three to six month period. The RAN approved the formation of CDT3 in late 1966 as one element of a larger naval contribution to the war in Vietnam.

The first contingent of six personnel arrived in Vietnam on 6 February 1967 and were initially attached to a United States Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team based in Saigon. They then moved to Vung Tau and assumed responsibility for the defence of shipping against enemy attack, known as Operation Stable Door. The team was responsible for searching the hulls and anchor cables of shipping in the Vung Tau anchorages or alongside, for improvised explosive devices. In one particular incident, Viet Cong sappers penetrated the Vung Tau port area and placed home-made and Russian limpet mines on the hull of the MV Heredia and a nearby wharf. The home-made device partially exploded during search operations, and team members removed the Russian mine. Additional tasks included the salvage of downed military helicopters, searching villages for ammunition caches and demolishing Viet Cong cave and tunnel complexes.

CDT3 had originally been directed not to participate in SEAL type operations (United States Navy Special Forces) or in operations along the Cambodian border, however, the prohibition was lifted in January 1969 allowing team members to make full use of their unique skills. Consequently, the operational focus from 1969 shifted towards the provision of explosive ordnance disposal support for offensive operations, with team members frequently being attached to American and South Vietnamese special forces. These operations intensified in 1970 and team members were often under enemy fire while they were engaged in the destruction of bunker complexes, tunnels, trenches, observation posts and log barricades erected by the Viet Cong in the rivers and waterways of South   Vietnam.

In August 1970 CDT3 was relieved at Vung Tau by South Vietnamese Navy personnel and airlifted to Da Nang. In three and a half years on Operation Stable Door, CDT3 searched 7,441 ships.

The eighth and final contingent returned to Australia in May 1971, bringing to a close four years of war service in trying and hazardous circumstances. The contingents had rotated through Vietnam at approximately six to seven month intervals. The one fatal casualty was a young sailor killed in a motor vehicle accident while on exchange with an American unit in Cam Ranh Bay. Seven personnel were decorated whilst others received recognition from the United States and South Vietnamese governments, including a United States Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation awarded to the first contingent.

CDT3 was disbanded in 1971 and did not reform again until 1991. The traditions established by CDT3 personnel in Vietnam have been carried forth by their successors who served meritoriously in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 campaign in Iraq.