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"Chietains in Vietnam !"

Discussion in 'Post-World War 2 Armour' started by nuvolari, Nov 4, 2005.

  1. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Nearly forty years ago, my regiment was amongst the first in the British Army to have their "Centurions" replaced by "Chieftains". We were therefore probably the most skilled in both operating the "Chieftain" and also coping with its many early problems, of which its early multi fuelled engine and poor high speed cross country performance ranked as the greatest. Since many of our elderly "Centurions" were being sold to other armies, especially the Australian, and the British Government were anxious to market the "Chieftain" abroad", I was required to accompany a shipment of "Centurions", and also as three well sorted "Chieftains" straight from the manufacturers, to Australia for trials purposes. En route by sea, we received a signal to divert to a place called Da Nang where tropicalisation kit was to be fitted and trials were to beqin.
    It took us only moments to discover that this place was in Vietnam, a country in which a very serious war was being fought at the time, but knowing that the Australian army was posted there in big numbers, we expected that the mods. and trials would be conducted at a rear base well away from the firing line. Sure enough, the port of Da Nang was a very comfortable billet with many well equipped factories and workshops where all the mods. were fitted very professionally by both Australian and American technicians. Unfortunately, whilst we were there, the Tet Offensive kicked off and the perimeter around Da Nang was seriously threatened, so much so that our little tank battle group was ordered to take up fire support positions some miles out of town. In no time at all all of our H.E.rounds were used up, so the Australian Brigadier in nominal charge of us ordered us forward to deal with some enemy strongpoints by using our A.P. on them. This was useless since our A.P.rounds merely went straight through the houses being used by the NVA without bringing the walls down, although the velocity of this ammo. certainly killed a few of the enemy merely by its shock waves. When this ammo was used up we were ordered to withdraw in good order,but our accompanying infantry
    (mainly Vietnamese,and who never ignored an order to withdraw without bugging out at high speed ! ) left us in the lurch, and very quickly we found enemy infantry swarming all over us. Luckily we found that they lacked any serious anti tank weapons apart from grenades, and even these they used singly rather than packing a bunch of 'em into a satchel ( which would have made our ears ring a tad or two ! ), so we were able to shoot 'em off each others hulls by using our tank's machine guns, and, in the case of my Troop Sergeant ( who couldn't close his turret hatch )a pair of Browning 9 mm. semi automatic pistols when he had his Sterling SMG jam on him. During the whole of this time our repeated radio calls for either infantry support or an airstrike had gone unaided, but we managed to withdraw leaving only one tank behind ( a Centurion that had managed to get both his tracks off the ground whilst trying to cross a metal road barrier). When we got back to our laager, we were astonished to find that the hulls and turrets of all of the "Chieftains" had great gouges in their armour, where clearly our small arms fire and that of the enemy had carved into the metal, whereas the "Centurions" only showed many signs of bullet splash and scratches to their paintwork. This both puzzled us as well as frightened the shit out of us, but we thought little of it until the next day when, having had our complaints about our radio calls being ignored, we were removing our standard fitment tank radios prior to fitting brand new US Signal Corps solid state radios
    onto the interior of our turret walls, and we found the stencilled signs
    " Vehicles of mild steel construction only. Use limited to trials and demonstration purposes " underneath our old radios ! Man, was the air blue ! I myself didn't stop swearing until about the third day. And the whole business wasn't made any better by a veteran Australian Troop Sergeant Major who poo-poohed our little combat as being of no big deal and who told us that in Korea when the Chinese swarmed all over his tank, then he'd just drive through a few houses to knock the buggers off !
    After this screwup, I was flown to Singapore for a weeks leave and then home.I nver found out what happened to our armour, although I heard rumours that once the ammunition had all run out, they were all driven off the dockside at Da Nang and into the sea !
    Cheers,
    Malladyne.
     
  2. Grieg

    Grieg New Member

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    Thanks for that very interesting anecdote marlin.
    Welcome to the forums. It's nice to have another member even older than me on board :smok:
     
  3. Zhukov_2005

    Zhukov_2005 New Member

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    Very nice story. And a Welcome to you as well! :D
     
  4. Simonr1978

    Simonr1978 New Member

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    Do you mind my asking which Regiment this was?
     
  5. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Which regiment ?

    My regiment (long since disbanded ! ) was the 17th/20th. Lancers,whose UK home depot was in Newark, Notts. At various times we had squadrons posted to either Belfast or Germany as part of the Rhine Army. These were generally light armoured units of reconnaissance vehicles, although we were at one time partly equipped with heavy armour. When with the "Glory Boys",I spent much of my service period detached to other regiments or branches of the army. When, in Vietnam, for example, I was posted to a brigade of the Australian army, who for logistic support obtained back up for their limited armoured presence in Vietnam from the 69th. Armoured Regiment attached to the US 4th. Infantry Division.
    Malladyne
     
  6. merlin phpbb3

    merlin phpbb3 New Member

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    vietnam

    Errrrrr? 17/20th.?????
     
  7. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Correction

    Sory, I let that typo slip by me. My old C.O. would be spinning in his grave. It is , of course, the 17th./21st. !!!!!!!

    Malladyne.
     
  8. Gryle

    Gryle New Member

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    Re: "Chieftains in Vietnam !"

    That doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense,

    -Australia bought it's Centurions new in 1951, the Tet offensive was in 1968.
    -There was a safe tropical trials site in Australia, why would anyone send mild steel tanks to a war zone.
    -Australia had deployed in SVN at most around 8,500 troops, next to nothing compared to what the US had.
    -The Australian Task Force was operated out of Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province, several hundred kilometers south west of Da Nang. 1st Armoured Squadron Workshop that looked after the Australian Centurions was also located at Nui Dat, not Da Nang.
    -Australia didn't deploy any tanks to Korea so the Troop Sergeant Major would have been unable knock anyone (Chinese or otherwise) off his tank, or drive through any buildings. Perhaps he was bullshitting you?
     
  9. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Vietnam posting.

    You bet your ass it doesn't make sense to deploy mild steel armoured vehicles ANYWHERE in a warzone, least of all somewhere like Vietnam where a farm boy hiding in a bamboo thicket can zap 100,000.00's of dollars of sophisticated AFV with a fifty dollar RPG.
    If you are that bothered to get to grips with what I say, then maybe you should read it again ( or maybe I should post it again), since the point of the tale is that the whole scenario was a snafu from beginning to end, and, as far as I can tell from nearly 40 years later, N0-ONE, AT NO-TIME intended to OFFICIALLY deploy any of our armour ANYWHERE near a war zone, least of all me as a snot-nose Lieutenant !!! The mere fact that it WAS a SNAFU is borne out by the fact that upon my return to my base depot I was ordered to keep quiet about the whole thing, given a fast track promotion to Captain, and sent on a lovely jolly of a posting to Brussels to serve on a NATO weapons standardisation committee !!

    As far as the rest of your research is concerned, yep, I would pretty much all agree with it insofar as it reflects official policy, but my little jape was NOT official, and I had hoped you would have grasped that. Incidentally, I have been told that some years after this fiasco, the editor of a military modelling magazine was sent a poor quality print of a photo of the Chieftain that was left behind ( the one that stranded itself on some metal posts ). It was being displayed on a concrete plinth somewhere in 'Nam. It seems that when he tried to obtain a better print for publication, along with more information on it, he was very rapidly served with a 'D' Notice by the Ministry of Defence forbidding any publication !
    Ciao,
    Malladyne.
     
  10. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Vietnam posting.

    I forgot to mention about the grizzled Aussie tanker. I haven't a clue as to whether or not the Aussies deployed any tanks in Korea, but I doubt it since the US and the UK seemed to have taken care of that requirement as far as I know. But I don't think for one minute that he was bullshitting, and how I know is that, although he was serving with the Australian Army contingent in 'Nam, I, being born in Norfolk here in the UK, recognised his Norfolk accent and struck up an friendship with him. Prior to emigrating to Australia in the 1960's he had served in the British Army for many years and fought in Centurions in Korea whilst a junior NCO with the 8th. Hussars. If I gave the impression that he had fought in Australian tanks in Korea, then that wasn't my intention.
    Ciao,
    Malladyne.
     
  11. Gryle

    Gryle New Member

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    Re: Vietnam posting.

    Ahh, fair enough, you should have said.

    The RAAC didn't depoly to Korea since they only had M3 Mediums, Matildas, and a few Churchills. I had heard the Cents that were ordered got diverted to the RAC in Korea but I don't know how reliable that is. The only Australian armour there was a few LP2/LP2A carriers.

    The rest still stands, the bulk of the Australian force was deployed a bit over 600km from Da Nang. I don't see how you ended up under Australian control, or got your tanks refitted by Australian personnel since they shouldn't have been anywhere near there.
     
  12. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Armour in Vietnam

    You are dead right, me old matey, our tanks shouldn't have been anywhere near Vietnam, since they were ( as I indicated in my original posting ) originally destined for tropical testing in Australia and only got diverted to 'Nam en route. Insofar as there being any Aussie personnel in Da Nang, well, the bloody place was awash with them, although they were support troops and not front line personnel- Dan Nang, after all, was probably the biggest deepwater harbour and staging post for hundreds of miles around. I took my orders from the most senior Australian officer present, since I was the most senior British officer there ( a very junior looey ! - my Captain had flown off to Saigon for a briefing ) and was told that under pain of drumhead court martial that there was no way I could accept orders from an American officer ( can you imagine just how much cack would have hit the fan if it was discovered that there was an official regular British Army presence in Vietnam and that it was taking orders from the Yanks !! ).So, speaking for myself, I was only too pleased to protect my arse by taking orders from someone who, even if only an Australian, was the next best thing to a British officer...........well almost !!
    And even though he was only an Australian, to me, since he was a Brigadier- he was God All bleeding Mighty !
    Malladyne.
     
  13. GP

    GP New Member

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    Re: Armour in Vietnam

    Sorry marlin but i don't think you are who you say you are.
     
  14. Zhukov_2005

    Zhukov_2005 New Member

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    An imposter?! Call Scotland Yard and grab the bloodhounds!
     
  15. Gryle

    Gryle New Member

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    Re: Armour in Vietnam

    I wouldn't go that quite that far, but it still doesn't fit well with what I've been able to find from other sources. The Tet offensive kicked off on the 30th of January 1968, the first Australian Centurions to arrive from C Squadron, 1st Armd Regt started their tour on the 29th of January 1968, just one day before. The workshop at Nui Dat only got setup just before the first squadron was deployed. The Cents themselves were sent in on LSTs and offloaded at Vung Tau, then floated up to Baria on landing craft. They never went near Da Nang, and I can understand why there might be a few Aussies there on leave maybe but not a whole lot, Saigon was much closer and most went home or to a safe third country for R&R.

    Must have been pretty top secret to slap a gag order on anyone who came near the Chieftains and have the trials conducted by british personnel. Most other trials conducted in or near Australia were done by Australian units including Matilda/Sherman/Churchill/Chaffee jungle trials for the US Govt/British War Office, and FV432/M113, Leopard/M60A1 and M551 trials for the Australian army. Even blew up one Centurion (or tried to) with a nuclear weapon for the british.

    You may be surprised to learn that since the 1 ATF was under US operational control, you were in effect taking orders from an American.

    Malladyne, you wouldn't remember where the shipment of Centurions was going would you?
     
  16. Ricky

    Ricky New Member

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    Hi Gryle, and welcome to the forum.

    Would I be correct in thinking that you have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces?
     
  17. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Armour in Vietnam

    I don't wish to be rude or dismissive, but it is of no consequence to me whatsoever if you believe me or not ! The only point that does piss me off is that those who disbelieve me clearly haven't read my post properly, since they seem to persist in believing that the armour I accompanied to Vietnam was part of an official shipment intended to reinforce the Australian/American forces there ! This is not so ! The tanks were samples of what the British Government hoped that the Australian Government would buy- be they Centurions then surplus to requirement, or brand spanking new Chieftains straight from the factory in Leeds, or wherever it was. The section of which I formed a part sailed on an Australian fleet auxiliary vessel from Hamburg and were destined for Darwen, but never made it, as I have said, since a signal was received diverting the ship to Da Nang. At all times I took my orders from the senior British officer on board ( a captain in the R.E.M.E ), or , in his absence, the Australian Brigadier I have previously referred to, who would, I agree ,have taken his orders from whatever American General had command (unless, of course, the Australians were present in sufficient numbers as to have warranted the command of an Australian General, but I don't think that was the case ). I had no idea that this pissant little story would turn out to be such a big deal, or I never would have submitted it. I did so because I thought it would be of interest to you all, certainly little else in my army career would have been, apart from the fracas in Germany with the Russian infantry officer I have mentioned elsewhere, and which reflected little glory upon me.
    However, if nothing else, it is stimulating !
     
  18. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Armour in Vietnam

    Sorry, guys,but my above post got cut-off in midstream, as it were.
    The overiding impression I carry with me to this day about this little story, is that it was a snafu from beginning to end. The tanks should not have been there even if they were suitable for combat- which clearly they weren't . The factory technicians that sailed with the armour were patently surprised at the presence of British Army personnel on board, the tanks themselves came to a sticky end, and, as must be obvious to everybody, this whole fiasco would most certainly have been the subject of a 'D' Notice, all the more so because of the presence and participation of British forces in a war as controversial as the Vietnam War, especially since we came within an ace of losing some of 'em-myself included !

    By all means continue to ask questions, and I'll do my best to answer them, but I can see no need at all for anyone to burst a blood vessel over it !
    Cheers,
    Malladyne.
     
  19. nuvolari

    nuvolari Member

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    Armour in Vietnam

    I hope not to appear to be monopolising this Forum today, but the doubts expressed by others as to the veracity of my little story has gotten me wondering. I have said elsewhere in this Forum that due to my research and subsequent book publication, I spend a lot of time in the USA.

    Other than the few contacts I still have left with some of my old American acqaintences from back in 'Nam during 1968, most of my time there is spent with US Air Force veterans from WW2. I do occasionally tell them of my experiences at Da Nang, and they, too, react incredulously and certainly ask as many questions as you guys do. Yet, to me, the whole episode seems to be no big deal, other than it does provide a bit of interesting bar-room ( or website ! ) conversation. Given the reactions of people generally, I have to ask myself as to what it is that people find to be remarkable in this story, and the answer is ( I think) that it is unexpected and comes as a surprise. All I can say to that is that having spent much of the last 12 years researching/ writing about military history of one sort or another, very little comes as a surprise to me nowadays !
    Whereas, obviously, the same cannot be said of those of you who query the authenticity of my Vietnamese story.
    Cheers,
    Malladyne.
     
  20. Gryle

    Gryle New Member

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    Thank you, but no I'm not now, nor have ever been in anyone's military, just have an interest in heavy tracked things with guns.
     

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